Biblical Sanity for Benediction Madness

What is the benediction and who is it for?

The benediction, or pronouncement of blessing, is not our creation because it is not our blessing that we either receive or pronounce. It is God’s blessing and so we receive it from him, and it is he who ultimately pronounces it. From Scripture it is clear that the benediction is always pronounced on those in God’s covenant community and never on those outside of it. We see these parameters in Numbers 6, from which the church takes her most common benediction.

Christ Icon BenedictionThe LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”’ So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:22-27).

Several things are clear from this text:

1. The Lord institutes the benediction, and so it belongs to him.
2. The Lord tasks his priests with the pronouncement of benediction.
3. The benediction puts the divine name (i.e., reputation and power) on the people.
4. Following from (3), the benediction was not just an after-the-fact description of God’s blessing; it was the precursor to God’s blessing and prepared the covenant people for it.

In fact, the benediction was so important that, as John Kleinig notes: “From the people’s point of view this was the climax of the sacrificial ritual. It was the only spoken part of the ritual which had been instituted by the Lord himself.”

Other examples in Scripture of bestowing God’s blessing make it even clearer how significant the benediction is and that it belongs exclusively to the church.

In Mark 10:13-16 (parallels: Matthew 19:13-15, Luke 18:15-17), parents are bringing their infants to Jesus that he might bless them, but the disciples try to forbid them. Jesus rebukes his disciples by saying, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” The grounds that Jesus gives for receiving the children to himself to bless them is that the kingdom of God belongs to them (and ones like them). The only grounds a pastor has for blessing the people of God is that they are the people of God, and so the King and all his kingdom blessings are theirs.

Finally, Paul speaks a Trinitarian benediction to the Corinthian church as he ends his second canonical letter.

“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Here again, it is evident that the benediction is restricted to the people of God in Christ assembled in fellowship (an apostle’s epistle is read publicly to the assembled congregation) to hear his true word. It is for those who have communion in the Holy Spirit. The “all” is not “all people whoever they may be”, but “all of the assembled saints” — those who know the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Lord’s purpose for the benediction does not change from the moment it is instituted to the present day: it is given from the Lord through his minister exclusively to the assembled people of God in Christ for the purpose of putting his name and blessing upon them.

Timothy Maschke summarizes well everything I’ve said here: “Using the words of Numbers 6:22-27, the pastor speaks the trinitarian blessing on the people. The last word of the liturgy comes from God, who hosted the service. The Benediction is more than a prayer or a wish. By His most holy name, the Benediction bestows God’s blessing on the people for the rest of the week” (Gathered Guests, 2nd edition, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009; pp. 177-78).

Some have defended pronouncing the benediction on anyone and everyone on from Jesus’ command to “bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28) . When, however, we understand what Jesus says in the previous verse it makes it clear that this is something other than the priestly benediction.

Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.

The way we are to bless those who curse us is to show love to them, do good to them, and pray for them. It is a command to act in a blessing way to those who are our enemies. This is not a command for the called and ordained servant of the Triune God to put His name on the rebellious and unredeemed masses.

Receiving the benediction is the unique privilege of the assembled people of Christ’s kingdom, and pronouncing it only on them is the unique responsibility of the called and ordained servant of Christ’s kingdom.

About Pastor John Fraiser

Pastor Fraiser didn't begin as a Lutheran, but he became one as soon as he could. He grew up as a Baptist and received his M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. With time on his hands following his seminary studies, he began reading the writings of Martin Luther and became convinced that Lutheran doctrine was a faithful presentation of the doctrine of Scripture and answered many of his perplexing Baptist questions. After joining the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, he went on for graduate philosophy studies, while also taking post-graduate courses at Concordia Seminary. Though he intended to teach philosophy in a university setting, he also applied as a candidate for ordination through the Synod’s colloquy program with the plans of bi-vocational parish ministry. Following colloquy, he assisted in a vacancy at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in LaGrange, Kentucky where he was eventually called as pastor. He said 'no' to a philosophy PhD fellowship and was ordained on Luther’s ordination date – April 3rd – in 2011. Pr. Fraiser is married to Emily, and they have a four-year-old daughter named Jillian.


Biblical Sanity for Benediction Madness — 65 Comments

  1. Prediction: In about a month, an LCMS clergy person is going to give a keynote speech to a gathering of like-minded LCMS clergy persons. I predict that offense will be given and taken. I suspect that those among us who cannot bear the battle’s strain, will blame the problem on the offense takers, even though giving and taking offense are just two sides of the same sin. They will blame those who bring the message and blow the trumpets. Some will say, “if those fanatics would just shut up, this dog shit would taste and smell a lot better.

    This is a prediction of no particular prescience. It’s a process that has deviled the church its whole existence. We are a compromised church that hear’s the trumpet’s warning call, then jumps up and runs off in all directions at once.

    For the sake of the founders of this church whose spirit still lives in many, I pray that I am fanatically wrong. I would be warmly satisfied to be your fool to be wrong on such a Missourian issue. It’s the justification issue of our day, a petty little thing no more than a matter of simple church etiquitte.

    What do I say when a pagan sneezes? I usually say nothing because a sneeze is just a sneeze, but when I do say something, because the pagan looks miserably ill, I say, “Gesundheit.” And if God has put this little pagan in my care, I ask if I can make her some chicken soup, ’cause that will make it feel all better.

  2. @boaz #50
    Boaz, you aren’t the one I was referring to. And Yes, it is only for the believer. Tune into Issues Etc at 4:30 est to hear Pr. Fraiser discuss this article.

  3. Hey, never accuse me of being “bleedingly” obvious. I’ve got that plausible deniability thing down real good.

  4. bless (v.)
    Old English bletsian, bledsian, Northumbrian bloedsian “to consecrate, make holy, give thanks,” from Proto-Germanic *blodison “hallow with blood, mark with blood,” from *blotham “blood” (see blood).
    From the Online Etymology Dictionary

    BLESS: redden with blood
    . . . today when we give you the greeting, “God bless you,” we are actually saying, “God bathe you in blood.”
    From Word Origins and their Romantic Stories, Funk and Wagnalls

    I like them both! It is from/because of His blood that I am blessed.

  5. If the pastor’s responsibility is to pronounce the benediction only on repentant Christians, then our hymnals are wrong and our pastors are incompetent.

    The suggestion that listeners know from the rest of the service and communion fellowship who the benediction is for is wrong. There’s nothing said to suggest it’s not for them.

    This stuff isn’t a game. If you really want to take these positions, then take them seriously and make your practice comply with it. Kick out those to whom the blessings are not to be pronounced to make it clear.

    This is really just more propagandizing about Newtown and nobody is really serious about restricting the pronouncement to only repentant Christians.

  6. @Jay #5

    “So……you are assuming that you know the hearts of everyone in the audience at Newtown, that they are all not of his kingdom. (Ie. those not in LCMS).”

    Since I didn’t say anything about this, it seems clear that you’re the one making assumptions. For the record, though, I don’t bother with knowing hearts. I almost always can’t. What I look at is a person’s confession and practice.

    “Again, your assumption is that all the members of the Corinthian church to which Paul was preaching were of one unified mind about Jesus when we know that the Paul was also preaching to the members at Corinth straying and certainly not worshipping Jesus completely in their hearts–including fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. Yet Paul blesses them with the benediction.”

    You haven’t finished reading the text from 1 Corinthians 6. If you did you would see that Paul *isn’t* calling them all the things you list. He actually says the opposite. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul is talking to saints. Notice how he begins his letter: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

    So, no, Paul isn’t pronouncing the benediction in 2 Corinthians on unbelievers. While he cannot judge the heart either, he judges their confession and their repentance and calls those in the assembly “saints”.

    Unique privilege ???

    Yes. So what privileges, if any, do you believe are given only to those with faith in Jesus Christ?

    I think the haughtiness and sequestering needs to end. Jesus declaration is not to hide faith under a box unless people turn over the box and entirely know the contents inside by heart. (Nor can you assume that you know all of it either.)

    I have no idea what you’re talking about here. I don’t know why you’re wandering off into scolding about hiding faith when no one’s said anything about it.

    So let’s get back to the topic at hand. Can you explain why the biblical pattern for benediction is to deliver it only to those who belong to the communion of the Holy Spirit? It seems your mind is made up, but what of the facts? What of my exegesis?

  7. @boaz #6

    The suggestion that listeners know from the rest of the service and communion fellowship who the benediction is for is wrong. There’s nothing said to suggest it’s not for them.”

    We aren’t busy looking to determine who has faith in the heart. We examine confessions. If a baptized person has made confession of the Scriptures, come to the divine service, confessed his sin, received absolution, listened to the reading and preaching of God’s Word, received the body and blood of Christ, then we pronounce the benediction upon them. If they come as spectators to all of this, then clearly they are spectators to the benediction too.

    This stuff isn’t a game. If you really want to take these positions, then take them seriously and make your practice comply with it. Kick out those to whom the blessings are not to be pronounced to make it clear.

    It’s precisely because the benediction isn’t a game that we can’t just go around treating it haphazardly. Now, while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with dismissing before the Supper those who do not confess the faith, welcoming them to stay does not include the presumption that everything said to the assembly applies to them — especially where proper Law has been preached. When Law is properly preached, it will be clear that we do not regard them as possessing God’s saving blessing.

    If I attended a service in a mosque, I should not think that by sitting in their service everything pronounced is intended for me — especially when they make it clear that they believe I am condemned for not believing in Allah and making their confession.

    This is really just more propagandizing about Newtown and nobody is really serious about restricting the pronouncement to only repentant Christians.”

    Actually, it’s only you and a few other commenters who insist on talking about Newtown. The rest of us are concerned to get clear on the biblical teaching of the benediction.

    I don’t see you addressing the points that I have made in the post, but instead you insist that I and others address your points.

    Let’s hear a defense from the Numbers 6 and 2 Corinthians 13 for applying the benediction to those outside the fellowship of the church. I made my arguments from the text, and you just ignored them. Are you concerned about what the text says? If so, let’s have your argument from the Scriptures.

  8. @Beggar #5
    a comment not germane to the post, but meant to help on a related issue:

    Those etymologies for “blessing” are nice sentiments, but people don’t usually use words in connection with the etymology (real or folk). Some times people do use words with reference to the etymology (real or folk), hence my use of the word “nice” at the beginning of this comment. But when used this way people point out the fact that they are using the word in an etymological way. (And BTW, the etymological meaning I intend is not insulting, merely the early Romance Language versions of the Latin roots nescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” (see un-) + stem of scire “to know”)

    But one of the main points of the historical liturgical practice of the Church is to keep the meanings of words consistent from one generation to the next. In this case the etymology (real or folk) of the word “blessing” that you gave could be a teaching point, and a very useful one–if true; or a nice illustration if not true.

    But ascribing an etymological meaning to the common use of a word like this after sneezes wouldn’t be accurate. People just say “bless you” after a sneeze because that’s what they were taught to say. For the vast majority of English speakers they don’t mean anything more than a polite acknowledgement of the fact that someone sneezed. It might seem that such an etymology would have value in the teaching of the Church. If it ends up to be true, then it would. But at this point the evidence does not bear this out.

    With respect to the etymology of “bless” sources like the Online Etymological Dictionary and F&W may refer to a proto-germanic source in this way ” derived from Proto-Germanic *bl?ðis?janan” . That’s not really a source from which the word “blessing” is derived. Any time a language has “Proto” put in front of it and the word marked with an * in the definition what it means is that this is what some linguists THINK and CONJECTURE might possibly be a word that MAY HAVE existed which IF IT DID really exist MIGHT POSSIBLY be a source for the word we have now.

    Unfortunately most of these conjectures come into dictionaries as if they were historical facts. They are not.

    All we can go by for an actual etymology for the English use of the word “bless” is the documented uses that date back only to the 1100s A.D. where the word is used in Bible translations and Christian literature. No pagan examples pre-dating this have been brought forward. That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be in the future. And perhaps one of the readers may have an updated OED that has earlier examples of English usage than those available to me right now.

    But what this means is that the association of “bless” with “blood” without any further documentary evidence is totally conjectural based on historical linguistic theory and not on actual data.

  9. @Bror Erickson #47
    Unfortunately you do not rest your case on the basis of God’s Word. Until you make your case based on Holy Scripture, you have none.

    @Eric Brown #45
    “My dear friends: If you want to become able teachers in church and school, you must necessarily become thoroughly acquainted with all teachings of the Christian revelation. But that is not all that is necessary. You must also know how to APPLY these teachings correctly.”
    -C.F.W. Walther “Law and Gospel” (emphasis is Walther’s)

    You do not know how to apply these things. You throw out Gospel when the Law should be spoken and you bless and confirm people in their unbelief when they should be shaken from it. Would you have sent Jonah to Ninevah and had him speak the Benediction and then leave? That is the type of indiscriminate use of the Word you are suggesting. God’s Word does indeed never return to Him empty, but that does not mean we still cannot and do twist it and misuse it and apply it improperly, which is exactly what you and Bror Erickson are doing. As Pr. Fraiser has said, please refute his article with Scripture, because without Scripture all you are doing is telling us what you think. And what you think clearly has no basis in God’s Word.

  10. @Rev. McCall #11

    … really?

    Where have I done anything? When have I done any of these things which you say? When I have in fact said a benediction outside of the divine service (or hospital room visits of members)?

    As for Ninevah, here you go.

    Read, and I would say judge for yourself how I speak about Jonah and Ninevah, but if you wantonly accuse people of having no knowledge of how to apply law and gospel I am dubious of your ability to judge anything.

  11. “And now a final blessing of hope through faith in Jesus Christ” – Pr Morris

    This doesn’t sound like a benediction on pagans to me.

  12. “And now a final blessing of hope through faith in Jesus Christ” – Pr Morris

    With Rev. Morris’s co-officiants leading a gathered congregation in prayers to false gods and heathen idols, his public pronouncement of “a final blessing” over such an interfaith prayer service constitutes blasphemy against the true and triune God.

    “We then encourage all of you, on behalf of the Newtown clergy, uh, give to one another all the love and care and support that you can. And clergy will be available for you at this time at the platform for a time of prayer according each to their teachings and beliefs.” – Rev. Morris

  13. @Eric Brown #12
    You have said those things when you state that pronouncing the Benediction upon unbelievers is OK.
    You have said those things when you wrongly interpret the Benediction as some sort of pronouncement of Law upon the hearer.
    As to when you have done them, outside of what you advocate for and have done on this blog, I do not know. That is why I said: ” That is the type of indiscriminate use of the Word you are suggesting.”

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