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When ‘Blessed’ Means ‘Happy’


Growing up in an unbelieving home, I never heard the word blessed as a child. After I came to Christ, I heard it often. I didn’t know what it meant; I just knew it sounded holy and spiritual. It was “white noise”—one of many undefined church words whose meanings are masked due to frequent use.

Years later, I heard someone say that in passages such as Psalm 1 and the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 and Luke 6, blessed actually means “happy.” If blessed meant “happy,” I reasoned, why had no one told me that in the hundreds of books I’d already read? And if the Hebrew and Greek really meant “happy,” why wasn’t it translated that way in our Bibles? It made no sense.

Then I started digging for the truth. Many years later I dug deeper than ever while researching my book Happiness. My search yielded rich and surprising discoveries.

Happiness Emerges in the Old Testament

To understand the happiness God offers His creatures, there’s no word in Scripture more important than the Hebrew word asher.

Standard Hebrew dictionaries routinely give happy as the closest English equivalent for asher. Nevertheless, it’s most commonly translated “blessed” instead. Proverbs 28:14 is one of many examples: “Blessed is the one who always trembles before God” (NIV).

Commentaries and study notes explain that the person who fears God is happy. But that meaning would not even occur to most people when they see the word blessed. Of course, had asher been translated “happy” here—as it is more than twenty other places in the King James—readers wouldn’t need commentaries or study notes to understand its meaning.

If you played Password or Catch Phrase and the word was happy, you’d win with clues such as “joyful,” “glad,” “cheerful,” and “delighted.” But suppose someone offered you the clue “blessed.” Would happy pop into your mind? More likely you’d respond by saying “fortunate” or “holy.” And when you found out the key word was happy, you’d probably say, “Huh?” and wish for a different partner.

What Does the Word Blessed Mean Today?

There are millions of online references to the “Blessed Virgin Mary.” Do most people suppose this means the “Happy Virgin Mary”? No. They would naturally think of the “Holy Virgin Mary.” Likewise, upon hearing of “the blessed sacrament,” few would think it means “the happy sacrament.”

In the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, the first synonym listed in the definition of blessed is “of, relating to, or being God.” The second definition is “set apart or worthy of veneration by association with God.” The synonyms include “consecrated, hallowed, sacred, sanctified.”

Every definition and synonym cited for blessed relates to holiness. Virtually nothing relates to happiness, though a few dictionaries acknowledge that it once meant “happy.”

I asked people on my Facebook page, “What comes to mind when you hear the word blessed?” More than 1,100 responses followed. Some associated blessed with being covered, favored, or having peace and contentment. Others said that blessed means “lucky.”

About 30 percent of responders mentioned “undeserved favor” from God, similar to the way most people would define grace.

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Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org), a nonprofit ministry dedicated to teaching principles of God’s Word and assisting the church in ministering to the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled, and unsupported people around the world. Before starting EPM in 1990, Randy served as a pastor for fourteen years. He is a New York Times best-selling author of over fifty books, including Heaven (over one million sold), The Treasure Principle (over two million sold), If God Is Good, Happiness, and the award-winning novel Safely Home. His books sold exceed ten million copies and have been translated into over seventy languages.