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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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BENEDICTION.—Benedictions on the assembled people pronounced by an officiating priest or minister were a regular part of the liturgies of the temple and the synagogue, but no direct mention is made of these in the Gospel narratives. Quite similar in character, however, are the benedictions on persons, which are not a part of the ceremonial of Divine worship. Of these there are several examples in the Gospels (Luke 2:34; Luke 6:28; Luke 24:50 and Mark 10:16). All such words of blessing are liable to have magical power attributed to them, but in form and origin they are simply a prayer addressed to God for the wellbeing of some person or persons in whose presence they are uttered. They may be exemplified from the benediction of the Jewish liturgy: ‘The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace’ (Numbers 6:24-27). In the NT the verbs εὐλογεῖν (Luke 2:34; Luke 6:28; Luke 24:50) and κατευλογεῖν (Mark 10:16) denote ‘to utter a benediction’ in this sense.

εὐλογεῖν properly means to ascribe (to God) praise and honour (benedicere). In accordance with the usage of the OT and NT and of the Christian Church, this act also is termed ‘benediction.’ It is of the nature of thanksgiving and praise to God for His goodness, and differs essentially from that kind of benediction which is a prayer that Divine favour may be shown to those whom the speaker ‘blesses.’ In the NT this second kind of benediction is expressed by εὐχαριστεῖν, ‘give thanks,’ as well as by εὐλογεῖν. The Jewish custom of blessing God on every possible occasion (see below) supplies a probable explanation of the designation of God in Mark 14:61 ὁ εὐλογητός, ‘the Blessed.’ It does not, however, appear that this title was current in Jewish literature (Dalman, Words of Jesus, p. 200).* [Note: Enoch 77:1 seems to supply a parallel. In Berakhoth vii. 3 (ed. Surenhusius) הַמֽבֹרָךְ is an epithet qualifying אֲדנָי.] Elsewhere in the NT εὐλογητός is used as an epithet of God (e.g. Luke 1:68). This is the Jewish usage of הַמברָךְ.

The double sense of εὐλογεῖν, just explained, is due to the meaning of בֵּרַךְ and the LXX Septuagint use of εὐλογεῖν. It has a third signification when God is the subject, namely ‘bless,’ i.e. prosper. This also is a meaning of בֵּרַךְ (see Blessing). In the Gospels the only instances of the third usage are cases where the participle εὑογημὲος, ‘blessed,’ is employed, εὐλογεῖν meaning to pronounce a benediction never occurs in John, but εὑλογημὲνος appears in John 12:13.

1. Benedictions on men.—In Jewish life the occasions of pronouncing benedictions on men were numerous. Besides those of the temple and the synagogue, and perhaps even older than these, were the salutations customary at meeting and parting, entering a house and leaving it, which were all benedictions. The blessings of the aged and of parents were specially valued, and were often a part of the solemn farewell of the dying. In the temple a benediction was regularly pronounced at the conclusion of the morning and evening sacrifices. The statement in Luke 1:21 that the people waited for Zacharias may be an indirect reference to this custom. But the intercessory benedictions recorded in the Gospels are chiefly of the nature of greetings or salutations (Luke 1:28 f., Luke 1:42, Luke 13:35 = Matthew 23:39 = Psalms 118:26). Our Lord commends to His disciples the practice of saluting a house when they enter it, i.e., of pronouncing a benediction on those resident in it (Matthew 10:12 = Luke 10:5). The actual words of such a benediction are given in Luke 10:5 ‘May peace rest on this house’ (cf. Luke 1:40). Christ’s farewell to His disciples before His ascension was expressed in words of blessing (Luke 24:50 f.). It is to be understood in the light of what has already been said regarding Jewish customs. Simeon’s benediction (Luke 2:34) was that of an old man and a priest. But in any circumstances benedictions were appropriate as expressions of goodwill (cf. Luke 6:28 and Mark 11:9 f.).

εὐλογημένος (= בָדוּךְ) in formulas of blessing may, be understood to express a wish, ‘Blessed be thou.’ This is clearly the meaning in Psalms 118:26 (LXX Septuagint), and consequently in Mark 11:9 = Matthew 21:9 = Luke 19:38 = John 12:13 and Matthew 23:39 = Luke 13:35, where the Psalm is quoted. In the Gospels Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 makes the phrase a statement, and so does Authorized Version except in Luke 19:38 (cf. Mark 11:10). There are similar phrases in Mark 11:10 and Luke 1:42. μακάριος, although translated in the Authorized and Revised Versions ‘blessed,’ is not used in benedictions, and has a different meaning (see Blessing).

There is at least one clear reference to the attitude adopted in the act of benediction (Luke 24:50). The uplifting of the hands there spoken of (cf. Leviticus 9:22) is not peculiar to benedictions; according to ancient custom, Babylonian and Egyptian as well as Hebrew, when prayer was offered in a standing posture the hands were uplifted or spread out (Psalms 28:2, Isaiah 1:15 etc.). It is not equally certain that the laying of hands upon the children who were blessed by Christ (Mark 10:16) is directly connected with the act of benediction as such, although Genesis 48:14 may be quoted in support of that view. The request made to Christ is that He should touch the children (Mark 10:13 = Luke 18:15; but cf. || Matthew 19:13), and that is something different from a request that He should bless them (see Mark 5:28, and cf. possibly Luke 2:28). Matthew 19:13 may be regarded as an interpretation of Mark 10:16; benedictions of persons are intercessory prayers on their behalf.

2. Benedictions of God.—The practice of uttering benedictions on God is a highly characteristic expression of Jewish religious life. It is broadly formulated as a duty in the Talmud in the words, ‘Whoever benefits from this world without (reciting) a benediction, acts as if he robbed God’ (Berakhoth, 35a). Any circumstance or event which recalls or exhibits God’s goodness or power is an appropriate occasion for ‘blessing’ God. At circumcisions, redemptions of the first-born, marriages, etc., benedictions of this class were employed along with others invoking blessings on men. Sometimes unusual experiences and special circumstances called them forth. But the ordinary routine of life, and particularly the daily meals of the family and the individual, equally fulfil the conditions which prompt their use. The Jewish ‘grace’ pronounced at meal-times was an act of thanksgiving to God, that and nothing more. The procedure is described in the Mishna (Berakhoth) and in other Jewish sources. When several sat down to a meal together, one usually gave thanks for all, although each in certain circumstances was expected to do so for himself. A company is said to be constituted by the presence of three persons. The meal commenced with a benediction and with the breaking of bread. Whoever broke the bread also spoke the benediction. This was the part of the master of the house, the giver of the feast, or the most important person in the company. There were differences in the words of blessing, according to the formality of the occasion and the character of the dishes that were served. During one meal several benedictions might be pronounced, referring to the various articles of food separately (for the ordinary formulas used in blessing bread and wine, see Blessing). During the Passover meal benedictions were pronounced at several fixed points. Every meal was concluded with a benediction. In the Passover meal the last benediction was spoken before the actual conclusion; a hymn was sung at the very end.

It is not easy to draw a line in principle between the thanksgiving of God which is benediction and that which is denoted by the word ‘praise’ (αἰνεῖν). But there is a practical distinction. The use of special formulas, and especially of the word בָּדוּךְ ‘blessed’ (εὐλογημένος), is characteristic of benedictions.

There are only three references in the Gospels to benedictions of God other than those pronounced at meal-times. In each case they are prompted by unusual manifestations of Divine favour to the speakers (Luke 1:64 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, Luke 2:28; Luke 24:53). The actual words of benediction are not recorded in any case. Luke 2:29-32 is a prayer supplementing the benediction proper.

Four narratives in the Gospels allude to blessings pronounced at meal-times. The occasions are the miracles of the feeding of the 5000 and of the 4000, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the evening meal at Emmaus. The reference in every case to the breaking of bread is noteworthy. It emphasizes the character of the act as one in accordance with Jewish custom. The Jewish formulas of blessing at meal-times make it perfectly certain that no blessing on the food is asked, but that God is thanked for the food. Illustrations of this meaning of the word ‘bless’ are found in the parallel narratives of the Gospels themselves. Luke 22:19 has ‘give thanks’ (εὐχαριστήσας) in place of the ‘bless’ (εὐλογήσας) of Mark 14:22 and Matthew 26:26; John 6:11 has ‘give thanks’ where the Synoptists have ‘bless’ (cf. also the parallel expressions in 1 Corinthians 14:16). When the grammatical object of the verb is an article of food, ‘bless’ then signifies ‘pronounce a benediction over,’ i.e. ‘give thanks to God for’ the food in question (so Mark 8:7 and Luke 9:16). The same construction occurs in the OT (1 Samuel 9:13), (in the Mishna בִּדַךְ עִל is generally used). Christ’s blessing of the elements in the institution of the Lord’s Supper should no doubt be understood in the light of these facts.

The only other passage in the NT where a material object is said to be blessed is 1 Corinthians 10:16, and it really belongs to the category just explained. The expression ‘cup … which we bless’ means simply ‘cup for which we give thanks,’ over which we pronounce our benediction. In Jewish phraseology material objects may be consecrated or hallowed, but they cannot be said in the same sense to be blessed.

Mark 6:41 (and so the parallels) speaks of Christ looking up to the sky, and implies, no doubt, in accordance with the circumstances, that He stood while He offered His prayer of thanksgiving. But the ordinary Jewish practice seems to have been to sit while grace was being said. In John 6:23 it is not obvious at first sight why the words ‘when the Lord gave thanks’ have been added. Perhaps they were intended to mean ‘when the Lord was giver of the feast.’ The statement in Luke 24:30 that the risen Christ was recognized in the breaking of bread seems to imply that the disciples were familiar with the manner in which He acted on such occasions, and that there was something peculiar or characteristic in the procedure which He followed. Doubtless the act as He performed it was always deliberate and impressive.

The application of the word εὐλογεῖν to meals is common to the Synoptists, but St. Matthew (Matthew 15:36) and St. Luke (Luke 22:19) both substitute on one occasion εὐχαριστεῖν for St. Mark’s εὐλογεῖν (Mark 8:7; Mark 14:22). εὐλογεῖν with God as explicit object occurs in St. Luke only (Luke 1:64; Luke 2:28; Luke 24:53). St. John does not use the word at all in this sense (see John 6:11 and cf. also John 11:41).

Literature.—See the authorities cited at end of art. Blessing.

W. B. Stevenson.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Benediction'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​b/benediction.html. 1906-1918.
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