The word bless changes its meaning

In the Bible Dictionary of the Saint Joseph Edition of The New American Bible:

BLESSING  The word bless changes its meaning according to whether its subject is God or man. Man blesses God by his acts of adoration and thanksgiving. Men bless other men by wishing them well or happiness.   

Please explain the change in meaning.    


It changes its meaning as it is English. And English has changed from Anglo-Saxon to Old English to Shakespearean English to 2014 English.

It was supposed to be a translation of the Latin “bene (well) + dicere (to speak of)” but no Anglophone understands it that way today.

Think of it in terms of its opposition “maledicere” (to speak evil of). Once you find the English word for that and that would be the antonym of “bless.”

Our English word “blessing” comes from the Latin Bene-diction literally “well/good speak” or “to speak well/good.”

When we bless God, we are not making God more holy, rather we are “speaking well about God.”

When we bless other humans, we are wishing them well; or we are speaking good (wellness) towards them.

The grammar here can cause headaches, because the different words can be nouns, adjectives and adverbs and it all gets mixed-up.

Does that help?

No, the verb bless has many more meanings than that.

First, we can ***bless ***things other than God or people, we can bless food (e.g., consecrate it).

You can ***bless ***yourself by making the sign of the cross.

You can ***bless ***God by naming him holy.

You can ***bless ***your lucky stars (calling yourself fortunate).

A bishop or other religious person can call ***bless ***you by calling down God’s protection.

You receive a ***blessing ***when you hear good news (or have something good happen to you, such as the birth of child).

You say it as an expression of surprise, when you suddenly exclaim “God ***bless ***me!”

You can say it ironically as a curse, as when Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist: " An emphatic and earnest desire to be ‘blessed’ if she would."

You can say it in British slang as a sign of affection, “***bless ***her cotton socks.”

You can receive something that initially sounds like unfavorable news into favorable news (a ***blessing ***in disguise.)

You can be happy ("***blessed ***ignorance.")

The word “bless” has many meanings. Incidentally, some think its origin comes from the pre-Christian Old English word *blóedsian *which supposedly referred to rites involved blood, (perhaps a parallel could be drawn to the use of blood to mark doorways in Exodus 23.) Even though the word long ago lost these associations, one can still see the similarity between the consonant sounds in “blessed” and “blood.”

Praise and thanksgiving are given to God for his wondrous works, and a blessing is invoked by the Lord on man that he may enjoy peace and gladness of heart and the abiding goodness of the Most High.

This may or may not be pertinent to what OP is referring to, but it may be of interest to others all the same.

I found a site last week with a bunch of Jewish Euphemisms - and the one on blessing/cursing is: (4) of line 7 from the top. It’s a pretty squished writing, but was worth sorting out in a Word Doc., for me.

The Hebrews won’t write ‘cursed God’ as they think it will offend Him. So, they write ‘blessed’ instead and use the words around it to infer the real meaning. Ever fascinating studying the ways of the Hebrews. :slight_smile:

“(4) avoidance of “cursing” (or rather, “blaspheming”) God: the Hebrew verb barakh ברך (“bless” or “praise”) is employed (I Kings 21:10, 13; Job 1:5, 11; 2:5, 9), or, instead of the verb, the object is changed from “YHWH” to “the enemies of YHWH” (II Sam. 12:14); and”

1 Kings 8-10 (KJV)

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth.

9 And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people:

10 And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme ((In the Hebrew, it is the word for ‘blessed’)) God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.

Job 1:5 (DR 1899)

5 And when the days of their feasting were gone about, Job sent to them, and sanctified them: and rising up early offered holocausts for every one of them. For he said: Lest perhaps my sons have sinned, and have blessed ((tho 'blessed is written, ‘cursed’ is actually meant)) God in their hearts. So did Job all days.

In The Book of Sirach, Chapter 51 Verse 22 states:

   And now, bless the God of all,    
  who has done wondrous things on earth;

With The Book of Tobit, a footnote mentioned:

Chapter 3 Verse 11: Blessed are you and “Blessed be God” are traditional openings of Jewish prayers.

The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 10 Verse 22 states:

   It is the Lord's blessing that brings wealth,     
    and no effort can substitute for it.

I asked my parish priest what the difference was between blessing an object and blessing a person. He basically said there really wasn’t, and both were asking God to use either the object or person, etc to be seen not as simply objects or that person to others, but that people can see the hand of God moving.

He pointed to a crucifix and said that if he blessed it, then he’d be hoping that it would be seen by others and basically they would sense/get closer to God through it.

I think most people misuse the word to mean “luck” or something, probably due to cultural reasons.

In The Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 17 Verse 7 states:

  Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,     
   whose hope is the Lord

I have generally found some words can only be understood by understanding first their opposite.

“Love” for instance has always been a huge source of philosophical opinion, but I have never seen anyone be philosophical about the meaning of “Hate”. It is actually regarded as a simply understood word that even a child understands. So how can the definition of “Love” be complex when it is just the opposite of a simple to understand concept?

With “Bless” one can understand it as the opposite of “Curse”.

Curse is a desire that others will act (third person) or is a personal act (second person) that is detrimental to another (first person). It affects either their name (ie their status) or their circumstances (ie their existence).

I think it would be wrong to say “Bless” changes meaning, that it would be better to say “Bless” cannot be applied in all senses to God as it does to other people, ie it is impossible to curse God’s circumstances, and therefore impossible to bless God’s circumstances.

It is however possible to curse God (ie His Name) and that is also the only way we can bless God too (through His Name). This is also applicable to people.


Bless God = Magnify Name Only
Bless People = Magnify Name or Existence.

Psalm 28, Verse 6 states:

  Blessed be the Lord,    
  who has heard the sound of my pleading.

Psalm 145 states:

   I will extol you, my God and king;      
   I will bless your name forever.         
   Every day I will bless you;

I walked by my parish church and the sign “Have a blessed summer” appeared.

What does this mean? That they gave up? :slight_smile:

Or are they giving summer a good name? :slight_smile:

Have a blessed summer may mean
Have a blissfully happy or contented summer.

In The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 14 Verse 19 states:

   Taking the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

In The Second Book of Chronicles, Chapter 20 Verse 26 states:

 On the fourth day they held an assembly in the Valley of Beracah - for there they blessed the Lord; therefore that place has ever since been called the Valley of Beracah. 

Ephesians 1: 3 states:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the formation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.

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