As Western thinking Christians today, it is a common practice for us when praying before a meal to say, “Lord bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to your service.” Where did this practice of blessing the food before the meal come from and can we find a biblical base for doing it? Some research into the history of this subject provided some interesting answers.
First of all, in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus would have grown up on, there is not a single instance in which there is a command to bless the food before a meal. The only passage that would come close to indicating this would be Deuteronomy 8:10, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless (praise) the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.” In this verse however, it says to bless, “after the meal” and not before the meal. Also, this verse says to direct the blessing towards God and not the meal itself. Marvin Wilson says, “Unlike the practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times, the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer, they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver.” Why was this the case? Wilson continues, “The ancient Hebrews would have never thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them; it would have been an insult of sorts, to God! If everything that God created was very good (Genesis 1:29-31, and Genesis 9:3-4), why should someone imply that it was unholy and profane and needed to be blessed again by God? The idea that you had to sanctify, cleanse, or purify what God had already said was good would have been foreign to the early Jewish people. To do this would have suggested that food and drink were unacceptable until they were blessed and made holy through prayer.” How then did our practice of blessing the food originate? In all likelihood, this practice has its origins in Greek thought. The Greeks and Gnostics shared the belief that material (physical) things were, by nature, unholy and unclean. Therefore, according to this belief, it was necessary to “make holy” the things that were of this world.
You could point out that there are several examples in the new Testament of Jesus giving a blessing at meal time. For example, in Matthew 14:19 it says, “He gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Also, in Matthew 26:26 it says, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.” Almost every Bible scholar agrees that the “thanks” or “blessing” that Jesus would have given at these meals would have been the b’rakhah (blessing, benediction) that Jews have said for over two thousand years before meals. Jesus would have said, “Barukh attah, Adonai Eloheynu, melekh-ha’olam, haMotzi lecheem, minha’aretz”, or in English, “Blessed are you O lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” In this age-old prayer that Jesus would have recited, again God is the one being blessed and not the food.
What does this short study tell us? Let’s not bless the food since food is already one of God’s blessings to us. Instead, let us bless God for providing our daily bread for us! We should express our gratitude and thanks to God who provides all our needs, including our need for food. By blessing God and thanking Him for our food, it will help us to focus on God and to thank Him in every area of our life. As Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Note: I gleaned this lesson from the following sources that you may want to look at further. They are:
- Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus; Spangler and Tverberg-pages 91-99, ”For Everything a Blessing”
- Our Father Abraham; Wilson, pages 177-178, “Where the Church Went Wrong”
- A Continuing Quest; Pryor, pages 205-207,”Why Do We Bless Our Food”
- Jewish New Testament Commentary; Stern, “Notes on Matthew 14:19
About the author:
Bob is the creator of this site and a disciple of Ray Vander Laan. Along with his wife of 50 years, he teaches a Bible study at Christ’s Church in Roswell, NM. He is also an avid hunter and fisher.