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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Blessing (2)

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1. Introductory.

2. Terms.

3. Jewish usage.

4. Usage in the Gospels.


1. Introductory.—The main underlying idea of the characteristic New Testament word for ‘blessing’ (εὐλογεῖν) seems to be that of goodwill, which, on the part of man towards God, has its appropriate expression in praise and thanksgiving. The close connexion of these two last ideas is clearly seen in the New Testament in the interchange of the expressions for ‘to bless’ (εὐλογεῖν) and ‘to give thanks,’ namely to God (εὐχαριστεῖν, cf. e.g. Mark 6:41 || and with John 6:11; and see, further, below, § 4), and is explained by the Jewish development of the term for ‘blessing’ (bĕrâkhâh; cf. further, § 4 b). In Jewish religious terminology, under the influence of the high ethical views of God’s character and uniqueness, and His relation to Israel and mankind, that had been developed, ‘blessing’ acquires a lofty spiritual connotation. God ‘blesses’ man and his world by His ever active, beneficent Providence; man ‘blesses’ God by thankful recognition of this, and by pure acts of praise; man ‘blesses’ man by invoking the Divine favour for his fellows’ benefit (cf. e.g. Psalms 129:8); and even when material things are the objects of blessing, this finds its proper expression in an act of thanksgiving to the Divine Giver.

The original sense of the Heb. verb bçrakh (Piel, denominative from berekh, ‘knee’) is more probably ‘to cause to make progress’ (so Cheyne) than any notion of adoration (‘to bend the knee’). The primitive conception of blessing and cursing, according to which they were regarded as possessing an objective existence, more or less independent or the speaker after utterance (cf. Genesis 27:35), naturally became moralized with the progress of monotheistic religion (cf. Proverbs 26:2 for a denunciation of ‘the causeless curse’).

2. Terms.—The terms for ‘blessing’ used in the Gospels are—

(a) εὐλογεῖν, ‘to bless,’ and εὐλογητός, εὐλογημένος, ‘blessed.’ All these forms are common in the LXX Septuagint, where, in the vast majority of instances, they correspond to some form of the Heb. word ברך or its derivatives.

εὐλογεῖν is used—

(A) of men: (1) as in Greek writings, in the sense of ‘to praise,’ ‘celebrate with praises,’ viz. God. So several times in the Gospels: e.g. Luke 1:64; Luke 2:28; Luke 24:53 [syn. αἰνεῖν, ‘to praise,’ and δοξάζειν, ‘to glorify’; see under αἰνεῖν, below]. (2) ‘To invoke blessings upon’ (a sense peculiar to Biblical Greek): e.g. Luke 6:28. (3) ‘To bless’ material objects (i.e. to bless God for their bestowal): e.g. Luke 9:16.

(B) of God: (4) ‘To bestow blessings, favour, upon men’: e.g. Luke 1:42 (εὐλογημένος). [The compound κατευλογειν, ‘to call down blessings upon’ occurs, according to the best attested reading, in Mark 10:16].

(b) εὐχαριστεῖν,* [Note: The derivatives εὑχάριστει (‘giving of thanks’) and εὑχάριστει (‘thankful’) do not occur in the Gospels.] ‘to give thanks,’ viz. to God, esp. for food: e.g. Matthew 15:36; Matthew 26:27. With this compare also—

(c) ἐξομολογεῖν, ‘to celebrate,’ ‘give praise or thanks to’ (τινί): Matthew 11:25 and, || and—

(d) αἰνεῖν, ‘to praise, extol’ God: Luke 2:13; Luke 2:20; Luke 19:37; Luke 24:53 (reading doubtful). [Cf. the use of the synonymous expression δοξάζειν, Luke 17:15, and διδόναι δόξαν τῷ θεῷ, [Note: See, further, on this expression Grimm-Thayer, Lex. s.v. δόξα, ii.] ‘to give glory to God,’ Luke 17:18—both of thanksgiving].

(e) μακαρίζειν, ‘to pronounce blessed’: once only in Gospels, Luke 1:48; and μακάριος, ‘blessed,’ ‘happy’ (esp. in a congratulatory sense): e.g. in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11, Luke 6:20-22; cf. John 20:29). Both words are common in the LXX Septuagint.

It is remarkable that the term εὑχαριστεῖν occurs very rarely (and only in the Apocryphal books) in the LXX Septuagint. The common LXX Septuagint equivalent for ‘to give thanks’ (Heb. hôdâh) is ἐξομολογεῖν. αἰνεῖν is also of frequent occurrence there. The Bishop of Salisbury (The Holy Communion2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 135 n. [Note: note.] 34) suggests that εὐλογεῖν in the NT was ‘often purposely exchanged … for the more classical and intelligible εὐχαριστεῖν.’

3. Jewish usage.—The elements that entered into the Hebrew idea of ‘blessing’ [Note: The wide variety of meaning attached to ברך in the OT (cf. Hebrew Lexicon, s.v.) well illustrates this.] sketched above (§ 1) were elaborately developed in later Jewish usage. Here the most important points for the illustration of the Gospels may be briefly summarized.

(A) Blessing of persons.—According to Jewish ideas, God is the sole source of all blessing, both material and spiritual; and to Him alone, therefore, praise and thanksgiving are due (cf. Ephesians 1:3 for a beautiful Christian application of the idea). Thus, even in the great Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27), which filled so large a place in Jewish liturgical worship both in the temple and (in a less degree) in the synagogue, it was not the priest per se who blessed, but God (Sifre, ad loc.).* [Note: The special sanctity with which the Aaronic blessing was invested in the later period lay in the pronunciation of ‘the ineffable name,’ which was permitted to the priests only. Originally, however, this restriction was not in force. Thus the Mishna (Ber. x. 4) cites Ruth 2:4 as proving that ‘the name’ was used in ordinary greetings; cf. also Psalms 129:8.] The blessing of man by man finds one of its most prominent expressions in greeting and farewell, a custom of great antiquity, and not, of course, in itself specifically Jewish. [Note: See the article ‘Salutation’ (with reff.) in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopaedia3, iii. p. 739 f.] But the formulas connected with it naturally reflect Jewish religious sentiment in a marked degree. The fundamental idea of goodwill is worked out into an invocation of the Divine favour and providence, and consequent prosperity, on the recipient. These ideas find beautiful expression in the Priestly Blessing, and in the poetical amplification of it embodied in Psalms 67. [Note: The whole Psalm gives a fine analysis of the contents of the Hebrew idea of blessing. Other echoes of the Priestly Blessing occur in the Psalter (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19).] The characteristic word employed in greeting and farewell is ‘peace’ (Heb. shâlôm, Greek είρἠνη), which has a wide connotation, embracing the notions of security, safety, prosperity, and felicity.§ [Note: Note that this word forms the climax of the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:26).] Thus the regular formula of greeting is ‘Peace be to thee’ (Judges 6:23, Daniel 10:19), and, for farewell, ‘Go in peace’ (cf. 1 Samuel 1:17 etc.). ‘To greet’ is expressed in Hebrew by the phrase ‘to ask of a person concerning peace (welfare)’ (cf. Genesis 43:27, Exodus 18:7 etc.), and similar formulas.|| [Note: | For further details see the Hebrew Lexicons, s.v. שָׁלוֹם.] The use of the word ‘blessed’ (Heb. bârûkh), both in solemn greeting (1 Samuel 15:13 ‘Blessed be thou of J" [Note: ″ Jehovah.] ,’ cf. Psalms 118:26 ‘Blessed is he that cometh’) and parting (1 Kings 10:9), should also be noted in this connexion.

The custom of imparting a solemn blessing at final departure (from life [Note: 2 Kings 2:9.] ) is attested in the Talmud (e.g. Ber. 28b—death of Johanan ben Zakkai, circa (about) 75–80 a.d.).

Besides the salutation, other forms of blessing prevailed, notably the blessing of children by parents (and sometimes by others). This custom is well attested in the OT (cf. e.g. Genesis 9:26; Genesis 27:7 f., Genesis 48:9). Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh is esp. notable, because it fixed the formula which has been used among the Jews in later times.** [Note: * For boys the formula runs: ‘May God make thee like Ephraim and Manasseh’; for girls: ‘May God make thee like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah’ (cf. Ruth 4:11). Any other blessing suggested by the occasion or special circumstances might be added. See, further, Jewish Encyc. (as cited below, § 4, end).] The earliest literary evidence for the existence of this particular custom is quite late (17th cent.); but that some form of parental blessing was well known by the NT period may be inferred from Sirach 3:9 (cf. Mark 10:13-16 and|| [Note: | For further details see the Hebrew Lexicons, s.v. שָׁלוֹם.] ).

According to the minor Talmudical tractate Sopherim (xviii. 5), which contains valuable old traditional material: ‘In Jerusalem there was the godly custom to initiate the children at the beginning of the thirteenth year by fasting the whole Day of Atonement. During this year they took the boy to the priests and learned men that they might bless him, and pray for him that God might think him worthy of a life devoted to the study of the Torah and pious works.’* [Note: Quoted by Schechter, Studies in Judaism, p. 380.]

(B) Blessing of things.—The feeling of praise and thanksgiving, which is so striking and prominent a feature of Jewish devotional life and worship, has crystallized itself into a regular form of benediction known as Bĕrâkhâh (lit. ‘Blessing’). In its technical sense the term denotes a set form of prayer, which opens with the words, ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who,’ etc., and, in its fully developed form, closes with a repetition of the same words. This class [Note: The most important example is the well-known group of the ‘Eighteen Blessings’ (Shĕrnónç ‘Esrç), the nucleus of which is undoubtedly pre-Christian. It is notable that here the element of petition accompanies that of praise and thanksgiving (for text of these in English see Singer’s Heb.-Eng. Prayer-Book, pp. 44–54).] plays an important part in the Jewish Liturgy.

In its simplest and shortest form the Bĕrâkhâh opens as described, but has no closing refrain. It contains a brief expression of thanks to God for some benefit conferred or privilege enjoyed. [Note: A very large number of these short Benedictions, expressive of thankful recognition of God’s goodness and providence as shown in various ways, has been developed. For a full enumeration see Jewish Encyc. s.v. ‘Benedictions,’ or the Prayer-Books.]

Undoubtedly the most ancient kind of benediction is that recited at the meal. The Book of Samuel attests the antiquity of the custom, for in one passage (1 Samuel 9:13) we are told that the people refused to eat the sacrificial meal until it had been blessed.

The Biblical command on which the obligation of grace at meals (Heb. birkath ha-mâzôn)—i.e. according to the Rabbis (Ber. 21a, 48b; Tos. Ber. vii. 1), grace both before and after eating—is founded, occurs in Deuteronomy 8:10 (‘When thou hast eaten and art full, thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee’).

The Benediction over bread, which is recited before the meal begins, and which may have been known to our Lord, runs: ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who bringeth forth bread from the earth.’ The corresponding one said before drinking wine is: ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who createst the fruit of the vine’ (cf. Luke 22:18).

Note.—The Benediction (thanksgiving) over wine was especially associated with the hallowing of the Sabbath and festival days embodied in the ceremonies of Kiddüsh (‘Sanctification’) and Habdâlâh (‘Separation’ or ‘Distinction’). For a full description of these observances see the Jewish Encyc. s.vv. ‘Kiddush’ and ‘Habdalah’; and for a possible connexion with the Gospels reference may be made to an article by the present writer in the Journ. of Theol. Studies (iii. [1902] p. 357 ff.) on ‘The Jewish Antecedents of the Eucharist.’ Though thanksgiving is an essential, and indeed the most prominent, element in consecration or sanctification, the ideas must be kept distinct. Cf. Bp. of Salisbury, op. cit. p. 135 f.

The more important Benedictions in this connexion are reserved for the recitation that follows the meal. Of these there are now four (see Singer’s Prayer-Book, p. 286). The first (‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord … who givest food unto all’) is ascribed by the Talmud (Ber. 48b) to Moses; the second (‘for the land and for the food’) to Joshua, who led Israel into the land; the third (‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who in Thy compassion rebuildest Jerusalem’) to king Solomon; the fourth (‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God … who art kind and dealest kindly with all’) to the Rabbis of Jamnia in the 2nd cent. a.d.§ [Note: Cf. Jewish Encyc. iii. 9.]

The act of thanksgiving after the meal is not explicitly alluded to in the Gospels. That the custom is an ancient one, however, appears from the fact that, by the time of the compilation of the Mishna, rules as to its ordering had been fully developed (cf. Ber. vii.). It constitutes a sort of service, with responses (which vary according to the number, etc., of those present). Details and text of prayers can he read in Singer, pp. 278–285.

Another ancient form of Benediction (with responses), which, however, is not alluded to in the Gospels, is that offered before and after the reading of Scripture (for the modern forms cf. Singer, p. 147 ff.). This has a Biblical basis in the practice of Ezra mentioned in Nehemiah 8:6, and was doubtless well known in the time of Jesus.

Enough has been said above to make it clear that the set form of Benediction, based as it is upon Biblical precedents, had been developed by the NT period. The first tractate of the Mishna (compiled in its present form, probably from earlier collections, at end of 2nd cent. a.d.) deals with the various forms of the Bĕrâkhâh (hence its name Bĕrâkhôth = ‘Blessings’), and embodies the earliest Rabbinical tradition on the subject. According to the Talmud (Ber. 33a), the recognized Benedictions were formulated by the ‘men of the Great Synagogue.’ Later the rule was deduced that a Benediction, to be regular, must contain the name of God and the attribute of God’s kingship (Ber. 40b).

4. Usage in the Gospels.—The Jewish conception of ‘blessing’ (cf. §§ 1 and 3) is reflected in the Gospel narratives in its purest and most elevated form. The central thought of God as the sole object of praise, of God’s favour as the highest form of felicity (cf. Luke 1:28), the duty of rendering thanks to Him as the Great Giver and Father, are strikingly enforced, especially in some of the sayings of Jesus. The Gospel usage may best be illustrated by an analysis of the passages in which the terms enumerated above (§ 2) respectively occur. These may be grouped as follows:—

(a) Passages involving the use of εὐλογεῖν, ‘to bless,’ and its derivatives:

(1) With a personal object expressed, viz.:—

(A) God: Luke 1:64; Luke 2:28; Luke 24:53.

With this division should be considered the use of εὐλογητός, ‘Blessed,’ which is always explicitly applied to God in the NT. The term occurs twice in the Gospels, once as a periphrasis for God, Mark 14:61 (Cf. the regular Jewish periphrasis, ‘The Holy One,’ ‘Blessed be He’), and once in a liturgical ascription of praise, Luke 1:68 (opening line of the Benedictus).

(B) Man: in the sense of ‘to invoke blessings on,’ Luke 6:28; esp. at solemn parting or farewell, Luke 2:34; Luke 24:50 f. (cf. the Rabbinical parallel quoted above); of solemn blessing of children, Mark 10:16 (better reading κατευλόγει), cf. Matthew 19:14, and the Jewish illustration already cited.

Note.—Here it may be remarked that the blessing was imparted either by the imposition of hands, in the case of one or a small number (cf. Genesis 48:17-18, Matthew 19:15, Mark 10:15); or, in other cases, with uplifted hands (Leviticus 9:22, Luke 24:50; cf. Sirach 50:20).

Here naturally comes to be considered the use of εὐλογημένος = ‘blessed’ (viz. by God): it occurs six times in the acclamation, borrowed from Psalms 118:26 [Psa 117:26], of ‘him that cometh’; Matthew 21:8; Matthew 23:35 and the || passages, Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38, John 12:13 (where D [Note: Deuteronomist.] reads εὐλογητός); once of the mother of the Lord and her Son, Luke 1:42 (εὐλογημένη, κ.τ.λ., in Luke 1:28 is not well attested); also of ‘the nations on the King’s right hand’ (Matthew 25:34), and of ‘the kingdom of David’ (Mark 11:10).

(2) With a material object: Mark 8:7, Luke 9:16 (both of food). ‘In these cases blessing the bread must be understood as “blessing God the giver of the bread” ’ (Westcott), in accordance with the Jewish usage illustrated above (§ 3).

(3) Absolutely, without any object expressed (always of food and sustenance): Mark 6:41 || Matthew 14:18 (feeding of the five thousand), Mark 14:22 || Matthew 26:26 (in ref. to bread at Last Supper), and Luke 24:30.

In close connexion with the above we have to consider here—

(b) The use of εὐχαριστεῖν, ‘to give thanks,’ in the Gospels.

(1) Of food and wine. The word occurs eleven times, and in eight of these has reference either to food or wine, viz.: Mark 8:8 || Matthew 15:36 (of the feeding of the four thousand), Luke 22:18 (in ref. to the bread at the Last Supper), John 6:11; John 6:23 (of feeding of the five thousand), of thanksgiving over the cup at the Last Supper, Mark 14:23 || Matthew 26:27 and Luke 22:17.

It is clear from a comparison of the parallel passages noted above that εὐλογεῖν and εὐχαριστεῖν are freely interchanged (cf. Cremer, Bib.-Theol. Lex. s.vv.; Swete, JThSt [Note: ThSt Journal of Theological Studies.] iii. [1902] 163). It thus appears that the predominant idea in the Gospel usage of such expressions as ‘blessing the bread’ is not so much that of sanctification or consecration as of thanksgiving to God for the gift.* [Note: Cf. the valuable remarks of the Bp. of Salisbury on this point (op. cit. p. 135 f.). He notes the occurrence of the expressions εὐχαριστηθεῖσα τροφή, εὑχαριστηθεὶς ἁρτος, etc., ‘thanksgiven food,’ ‘thanksgiven bread,’ where we should say ‘consecrated food or bread’ (ib.). Cf. also Didache x. and xv.]

(2) Of thanksgiving to God in other connexions: Luke 18:11, John 11:41.

(3) Of thanksgiving to Christ: Luke 17:16.

(Note here that the act of thanksgiving was accompanied by ‘glorifying God’ (Luke 17:15) and that it is on this feature that Jesus lays stress (Luke 17:18), ‘Were there none found that returned to give glory [here = ‘to render thanks’] to God save this stranger?’)

(c) and (d) The use of the terms ἐξομολογεῖν, ‘thank,’ and αἰνεῖν, ‘praise’ (cf. δοξάζειν, ‘glorify’), in a more or less synonymous sense (the sense of thanksgiving), has been sufficiently explained above (§ 2), and does not call for further remark here.

Note, however, that αἰνεῖν is never used of or by Jesus.

(e) The use of μακάριος, ‘blessed,’ is frequent in the sayings of Jesus (its employment in the ‘Beatitudes’ has already been noted above). It is used especially in a congratulatory sense, corresponding in the LXX Septuagint to the Hebrew term ’ashrê = ‘happy’ (lit. ‘O the happiness of’). In this way it is employed, especially in personal address (a good instance occurs in Matthew 16:17 ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona,’ etc.). Especially notable are such sayings as that recorded in Luke 11:27-28 (‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee’ … ‘Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it’), in which Jesus pointedly insists on the idea that true blessing and true blessedness are to be found in thought and action that are immediately related and directed to God and the Divine requirements. The Jewish conception of blessing and blessedness is thus set forth in its purest and most elevated phase.

Literature.—The most important original authorities for the Jewish data are the recensions of the tractate Bĕrâkhôth extant in the Mishna (various ed. of Heb. text; English translation in Barclay’s Talmud, 1877, and De Sola and Raphall’s Mishnah, 1845), and the Tosephta (Heb. text, ed. Zuckermandel). For a full account of these see Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. ‘Berakot.’ For an account of the various Jewish forms of blessing see the articles ‘Benedictions,’ ‘Blessing of Children,’ and ‘Blessing (Priestly),’ with the literature cited, in the same work. Cf. also the art. ‘Abschied’ in Hamburger’s RE [Note: E Realencyklopädie.] für Bibel und Talmud, vol. ii. Some relevant data are also to be found in the article ‘Benedictions’ (by R. Sinker) in Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. There is a valuable ‘Additional Note’ in Westcott’s Hebrews on ‘The Biblical Idea of Blessing’ (p. 209 ff.); and a careful synopsis of references in Harper (W. R.), Priestly Element in OT2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , (1905) 136 ff. Reference may also be made to the works of Edersheim (esp. The Temple: its Ministry, etc., where the Jewish material is set forth fully) and those of the elder Lightfoot. Other references have been given in the body of the article.

G. H. BOX.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Blessing (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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