[box]RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life. [/box]
Have you ever wondered what someone meant when he said, “Bless you!“? If you just sneezed, chances are he isn’t all that sure himself why he is saying it. However, if the context is one of expressing gratitude or hoping for good things to happen to you, it is a word packed with positive vibes. It is used over one hundred times in most current popular English translations of the Bible:
- 131 – King James Version
- 133 – New King James Version
- 128 – New Living Translation
- 94 – New International Version
- 130 – English Standard Version
- 131 – New American Standard Version
(source for these numbers: blueletterbible.org)
According to Biblical usage, blessings is potentially multi-directional phenomena (examples given).
- you can bless other people (Proverbs 31.28)
- God can bless people (Deuteronomy 7:13)
- we are enjoined to bless our enemies (Luke 6:28)
- and we can even bless our Lord (Psalms145:2)
These uses of the word bless are derived from two basic Greek words (Vine’s Expository Dictionary) that have slightly different forms depending on whether they are verbs, adjectives, or nouns. Both words basically mean “to prosper, make happy, celebrate, or praise.” Context is an easy guide in knowing the reasonable choice for a given sentence. For instance, it is more likely we would be asked to see to our enemies happiness than to praise him for his ill treatment of us. On the other hand, there is not much we can do to prosper God, but He is worth praising.
The first Greek word, alphabetically speaking, is eulogio. It is a two part word meaning “well” from the eu, and “word” from the logio, which is a form of logos. As such, “to bless” means
- to praise or acknowledge goodness
- to speak in a way that causes or requests a person to prosper
- to celebrate or recognize something designated for special purpose (Luke 9:16)
- to take action to cause prosperity or happiness (Acts 3:26)
You might say it means speaking a “good word” that draws attention that is well deserved or that causes good things to happen.
The other main Greek word is makarizo. It literally means “large” and “lengthy,” in the vein that abundance is associated with prosperity and enhances happiness. There is one other Greek word, hosia, that is translated as blessings, but only in one place (Acts 13:34) and in one translation (Revised Version).
The evolution of the English word bless is a little more odd. It seems to have grown out of the Old English word bletsian (one variant of the spelling) which meant “blood.” It is supposed that this happened because during those time periods the sprinkling of blood was strongly associated with making something “holy,” which implied bringing forth that which was good. It is probably from this link with religious ritual that the English word bless came to sometimes mean “to make holy by formula or sign” or “to make the sign of the cross.” Neither of these uses of bless have any real Biblical basis that I can see.
Possibly, the use of “Bless me!” as an exclamation of surprise is due to it’s purported protective properties, especially when used in conjunction with the sign of the cross. This might be why people historically say it when you sneeze. For my part, I may be using the word bless in a more heart felt way more regularly now, and being more appreciative when people say they wish to bless me. 🙂