Word Study #89 — Bless, Blessed, Blessing

As is so frequently the case, a study of the concept of “blessing” bears little resemblance to common assumptions about the word. In all the 44 New Testament uses of the verb, eulogeo, the 8 uses of the adjective or participle eulogetos, and the 13 uses of the noun form, eulogia, only one, II Cor.9:5, where Paul applies it to the generosity of the relief offering which the Gentile churches sent to their famine-stricken Judean brethren, makes reference to anything material being given or received. The other words, makarios (49x), makarizo (2x), and makarismos (3x), have no such reference at all.
So although giving thanks for “every good gift” (W.S.#25) is certainly appropriate, the common admonition to “count (or brag about) your blessings”, if applied to acquisitions, benefits, possessions or prerogatives, might well be questioned.

Classically, eulogeo (etymologically, a combination of the prefix eu- , “good or well”, and logeo, a form of lego, “to speak or say”), usually intended “to bless or praise a god, to honor a person, or to call down or bestow blessings on someone” (L/S), and the noun form, eulogia, “a eulogy, glory or good repute, or a gift or bounty”.
The New Testament, however, tends toward a narrower usage. Frequently, it is paired with “pray / prayer” – proseuchomai , or even treated as its synonym (I Cor.14:16); or as when Jesus preceded his feeding of a crowd (Mt.14:19, Mk.6:41,8:7; Lk.9:16) with prayer, and in accounts of the Last Supper (Mt.26:26, Mk.14:22, Lk.24:30, I Cor.10:16). The use of aorist participles in those latter accounts makes “after he had prayed” a more likely rendition than the common idea of “blessing the bread” as if it were somehow magically changing its substance or character. People, and God, are “blessed” in the New Testament. Inanimate objects are not. Jesus “blessed” children (Mk.10:16), his disciples (Lk.24:50,51), and humanity in general (Ac.3:26). Simeon (Lk.2:28), the disciples (Lk.24:53), and faithful people (Jas.3:9) are said to “bless God.” The crowds that greeted Jesus in Jerusalem (Mt.21:9, 23:9, Mk.11:9,10; Lk.13:35, 19:38; Jn.12:13) proclaimed Jesus and his Kingdom “blessed”. The faithful are admonished to “bless” their persecutors (Mt.5:44, Lk.6:28, Rom.12:14, I Cor.4:12, I Pet.3:9), as well as to pray for them (Mt.5:44), and actively to do good to them (Lk.6:27).

Blessing also has to do with the conveying of an inheritance (W.S.#79,80), as in Heb.11:20,21 and 12:17, Gal.3:14, I Pet.3:9, and most notably, Jesus’ gracious invitation to the Gentiles/nations who had behaved in a faithful manner (Mt.25:34) even without recognizing him, addressing them as “blessed by my Father”, and offering them the inheritance “prepared for you from the foundation of the world”!

The title, eulogetos, “the Blessed” or “the Blessed One”, is applied exclusively to God (Mk.14:61, Lk.1:68, Rom.1:25, 9:5; II Cor.1:3,11:31; Eph.1:3, I Pet.1:3), never to anyone else.
“Blessing” is on the list of praises ascribed to the Lord Jesus in Rev.5:12,13; 7:12, although all the other uses of eulogia are specifically from God.

Makarios, on the other hand, is in another category altogether. Classically, it was used primarily of the “bliss” of the gods, or of dead heroes, although it was also used in extremely deferential address, as “honored sir…” It conveyed an especially close relationship with one’s patron gods.
This was the word Jesus chose for the faithful, according to both Matthew’s (5:3-11) and Luke’s (6:20-22) account of the “beatitudes”, in which he enumerated the results of the characteristics he expected of the citizens of his Kingdom. This deviated as sharply from the extant cultural definitions and expectations as it does from ours today. He also applied it to Peter’s recognition of his identity (Mt.16:1), and the privilege extended to his disciples to see (Mt.13:16, Lk.10:23) what many generations had longed for. It describes the condition of a servant who is found to be carefully following his master’s instructions (Mt.24:46, Lk.12:37, 38,43); the person who (Mt.11:6, Lk.7:23) “does not take offense” at Jesus and the things he is doing; and the one whose hospitality is extended to folks unable to reciprocate (Lk.14:14). Jesus gently corrected the enthusiast who cried out in the crowd, “Blessed is the one who bore you and nursed you” (Lk.11:27) by responding, (v.28) “Rather, blessed are those who are listening to the Word of God, and keeping it!”

Paul uses “blessed” of God (I Tim.1:11, 6:15), and of Jesus’ return (Tit.2:13); and James (1:12,25) of the person who persists in working at faithfulness. It is the preferred description of the faithful in the Revelation – 1:3, those who read and hear the message; 14:13, those who die in the Lord; 16:15, who stay alert for the Lord’s coming; 19:9, who are invited to the Lamb’s wedding feast; 20:6, who are a part of the first resurrection; 22:7, who keep the sayings of this book; and 22:14, who do as Jesus commands.

I think, despite the one single instance where Paul calls himself makarios to be presenting his case before Agrippa (Ac.26:2), it is safe to say that for the most part, people are not – and probably can not be – the initiators of a condition of makarios / makarismos (blessedness). It is received from the gracious hand of the Lord, as the result of a relationship of obedient conformity to his directions.
Eulogeo and its associated words, however, are within our prerogative – and indeed our responsibility – to share and convey to others, be they brethren, or antagonists, or the Lord himself.
Nineteen of the uses of eulogeo refer to “blessing” received by people, and ten by God. In fifteen instances, people are doing the “blessing” (or instructed to do so); eight time it is God/Jesus. And there are nine references where it could be a synonym for prayer. We see an interesting slant in Heb.6:7: rather than calling the provision of sun and rain on the fields “blessings”, the writer suggests that the land is “blessed” when that provision is rightly used to bear a fruitful harvest! The “blessing” appears not to be the provision, but the reward for its intended use!

Indeed, in the case of either eulogeo or makarios, “blessing” consists, not of “stuff”, nor favorably manipulated circumstances, nor of abilities, power or prestige, but rather of connectedness, through the Lord Jesus, to the Kingdom of God and its gracious Sovereign.
“(Eulogetos) Blessed (be) [praise to] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed (eulogesos) us with every spiritual blessing (eulogia) in the heavens, in Christ!” (Eph.1:3)

May we gratefully receive, and faithfully share, his gracious blessing!

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