Monday, May 4, 2009

Christian terminology

Do you ever hear a word used so often and in so many contexts that its meaning becomes obscure? This happens to me sometimes with words used frequently in Christian circles.

It happened to me recently when someone was praying. Bless this, bless that, we bless You, Lord.

Now there was nothing particularly wrong with this prayer except that I found myself wondering about the meaning and origin of the word "bless." Do we use it too liberally? What synonyms could we substitute to make our speech a little richer?

Here are a few of the phrases that I hear a lot among American Christians. I hear similar phrases in Russia, but this word study is going to be in English.

"I am so blessed." (expressing thankfulness)

"You are such a blessing." (acknowledging that God allowed someone else to be a positive influence)

"Bless you. "(wishing health or another good outcome in someone's life)

"We welcomed our newest little blessing...." (children as blessings)

"Let's bless the food." (offering thanks and asking for favor)

"We bless you, Lord." (honoring the Lord)

In short, I think of a blessing as "something good" that comes from God. When we bless someone, we are praying for God to bring him something good. When we call someone a blessing, we mean that our lives have been made richer because of something he/she has done. We might give someone our "blessing" to show approval, thus confirming that a certain plan is bound to succeed (in a Christian sense we might mean that we believe it is the will of God).

So if a blessing comes from God, why do we bless His name? He doesn't need something that comes from Him in the first place.

It turns out that this word means not only to bestow favor upon someone, but also to praise. To me this is confusing, but looking in the original Hebrew (for example, Psalms), the same is true there.

Here's a quick look in the dictionary:

To Bless

–verb (used with object), blessed or blest, bless⋅ing.
1. to consecrate or sanctify by a religious rite; make or pronounce holy.
2. to request of God the bestowal of divine favor on: Bless this house.
3. to bestow good of any kind upon: a nation blessed with peace.
4. to extol as holy; glorify: Bless the name of the Lord.
5. to protect or guard from evil (usually used interjectionally): Bless you! Bless your innocent little heart!
6. to condemn or curse: I'll be blessed if I can see your reasoning. Bless me if it isn't my old friend!
7. to make the sign of the cross over or upon: The Pope blessed the multitude.

My conclusions:

-we do not always realize the depth/range of meaning of certain words that we use often (see observations about the Holy Spirit)
-we should be ready to explain the meaning of words that we use, especially in connection with our faith. Another religion might use a similar term, and we need to be able to differentiate.
-we should be ready to express what we mean in other words, to make our language richer, more understandable, or more specific


  1. Я, помню, поразился, что американцы желают благословений тому, кто чихнул. У нас говорят: "будь здоров", а у вас благословляют :)))

  2. Да, мне не понятно когда говорят "будь здоров" или "не болей," как будто от тебя зависит или ты специально заболеваешь. И в ответ, "я постараюсь." :)


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