I’M STRUGGLING OVER how to put the Bible word “blessed” into today’s English, for folks who don’t read the Bible.
I’ve been paraphrasing parts of the Bible lately.
Genesis and the Gospel of Luke will go live as soon as the website coder puts the finishing touches on my coming Casual English Bible website (which you’ll soon find at CasualEnglishBible.com). At the moment, I’m working on the Book of Acts, which is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. With Luke and Acts done, I’ll have paraphrased a fourth of the New Testament.
There are a bunch of words that trip me up as I try to put the Bible into casual English. They’re words we use in church or when we’re talking to other Christians. But they’re not words we hear very often when we’re chatting with other folks.
Take the word blessed.
My Bible study group spent the better part of our session this past Sunday trying to explain what “blessed” means. We’re studying the Beatitudes. Each one starts with “Blessed.”
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
Our class leader for the day said he doesn’t like subbing “blessed” with “happy.”
The Greek word for blessed sounds like this in English: makarios. When we look that word up in a Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament, we learn that it can mean “happy,” “to be envied,” and “fortunate.” It can also ID someone who receives divine favor and benefits.
So what do we do with “blessed”?
I’d consider myself blessed if I had figured out a bell-ringer of an answer to that. I’d be happy and fortunate, and I’d be envied by all those who wish they had thought of it first.
Here’s my beta solution for the paraphrase of Luke 6:20.
“Consider yourself fortunate if you’re poor, because God’s kingdom belongs to you” (Casual English Bible).
If anyone out there has a better way of putting it for people who aren’t Christians, I’d love to hear it.
There are lots of other “blessed” ways the Bible writers used the word.
“Bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28)
My attempt to paraphrase it:
“When someone says bad things about you, say good things about them” (Casual English Bible).
Not as succinct. But it says something we can picture in our head, which is more than the other paraphrase does. At least, that’s my opinion.
Still, I’m not sure I’m capturing the essence of the word in either of these examples.
All I know for certain is that I can’t use any variation of the word “bless” in a paraphrase for folks outside the faith. I think it’s Christian jargon as far as many of them are concerned.
Like the word “grace.”
We use it all the time. But try to explain what it means.
It’s not easy.
Yet we have to work on figuring out what the words mean to us, so we can explain them to people who never use them.
For more about “blessings” and paraphrasing
- “Blessing,” Illustrated Bible Dictionary, page 77.
- Wrestle God, get a blessing
- How to bless someone’s soul before we kick the bucket
- Why I have to translate Bible scholars
The Easy-to-Read Version starts out Luke 6:20 as “Great blessings belong to you who are poor …” I guess this would mean a future promise, since many poor don’t consider themselves blessed. If we say, “Bless you,” I think we are meaning “May the Lord bless you,” which I then figure that it means that we want the Lord to do some good things for the person being blessed. However, I have more difficulty with the word “grace” than I do with “blessing.”
Stephen M. Miller
The problem with the Easy-to-Read version is that it uses the word I’m trying to translate. That’s cheating. We can’t use “blessed” to explain what it means to be “blessed.”
Often misquoted as “It is better to give than to receive” are Jesus’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Your word “happy” seems to fit there. But blessings also seem to indicate some sort of reward. Not necessarily a dollar-for-dollar thing — but some genuine spiritual benefit with some sort of physical manifestation.
I’m very much looking forward to your new Casual Bible, Steve!
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks Steve. I’m not sure there’s a single word we can use to replace “blessed.” I agree with what you’re saying about it referring to happiness and a reward of some sort.
“Blessed” is still the best word to translate. It conveys the love of God directed to an individual. “Fortuneate” is a bad choice since it conveys the idea that God’s love is shown like a roll of the dice. “Happy” doesn’t convey “Blessed” – you can be happy, but not have the blessing of God on your life.
Stephen M. Miller
Yeah but if we do this, we’re requiring people outside the faith to speak our language. I think we need to speak theirs, and to learn to translate our Christianese into English they can understand.