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God bless you

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God bless you (variants include God bless or bless you[1]) is a common English phrase generally used to wish a person blessings in various situations,[1][2] especially to "will the good of another person", as a response to a sneeze, and also, when parting or writing a valediction.[1][3][4] The phrase has been used in the Hebrew Bible by Jews (cf. Numbers 6:24), and by Christians, since the time of the early Church as a benediction, as well as a means of bidding a person Godspeed.[5][6] Many clergy, when blessing their congregants individually or as a group, use the phrase "God bless you".[7]

Origins and legends[edit]

The locution God bless you forms a part of many Christian benedictions, such as this Lutheran priest offering a benediction at the conclusion of the Divine Service.

The locution "God bless you" is used in Christian benedictions.[8] In the Aaronic blessing, "Invoking the name of the Lord in this benediction transferred the name, the identity and presence, of God onto his people."[8] While used by clergy in Christian liturgy (especially during the benediction), the phrase "God bless you" is regularly used among believers with one another, who call upon God to grant the recipient of the phrase favour and protection.[9][3] In the periodical Christianity Today, the philosopher Dallas Willard wrote:[3]

Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. It isn't just words. It's the actual putting forth of your will for the good of another person. It always involves God, because when you will the good of another person, you realize only God is capable of bringing that. So we naturally say, "God bless you." You can bless someone when you will their good under the invocation of God. You invoke God on their behalf to support the good that you will for them. This is the nature of blessing. It is what we are to receive from God and then give to another.[3]

National Geographic reports that during the Roman Plague of 590, "Pope Gregory I ordered unceasing prayer for divine intercession. Part of his command was that anyone sneezing be blessed immediately ("God bless you"), since sneezing was often the first sign that someone was falling ill with the plague."[10] By AD 750, it became customary to say "God bless you" as a response to one sneezing.[11] However, the Pope Gregory story appears to be apocryphal.[12]

Some have offered an explanation suggesting that people once held the folk belief that a person's soul could be thrown from their body when they sneezed,[13] that sneezing otherwise opened the body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits,[14][15] or that sneezing was the body's effort to force out an invading evil presence.[13] In these cases, "God bless you" or "bless you" is used as a sort of shield against evil.[16] The Irish Folk story "Master and Man" by Thomas Crofton Croker, collected by William Butler Yeats, describes this variation.[17] Moreover, in the past some people may have thought that the heart stops beating during a sneeze, and that the phrase "God bless you" encourages the heart to continue beating.[13][14][15]

In some cultures, sneezing is seen as a sign of good fortune or God's beneficence.[13][18] Writing around 400 BC, Xenophon records a chance sneeze as being seen as a good omen from god.[19] Alternative responses to sneezing exist in various languages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jucker, Andreas H.; Taavitsainen, Irma (10 April 2008). Speech Acts in the History of English. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 171. ISBN 9789027291417. God bless you has been attested as a leave-taking term since 1740 and can be today heard in the US as an explicit wish or blessing and as an implicit leave-taking term. Some also use the reduced variant of God bless.
  2. ^ Alhujelan, Naser S. (2008). Worldviews of the Peoples of the Arabian Peninsula: A Study of Cultural System. p. 369. ISBN 9780549703549. The expression "May God bless you" includes blessing, meaning growth, happiness, and many other good things. It is often said by family and loved ones as a kind of prayer.
  3. ^ a b c d Willard, Dallas (8 January 2014). "The Right Way to Give Someone a Blessing". Christianity Today. Retrieved 15 June 2022.
  4. ^ Lewis, Roger (1997). The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Applause. p. 415. ISBN 9781557832481. The letter ends with the solemn valediction 'God bless you .'
  5. ^ Everett, Isaac (1 May 2009). The Emergent Psalter. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 132. ISBN 9780898696172. The beginning of this psalm echoes the priestly benediction from Numbers 6: May God bless you and keep you.
  6. ^ Wachspress, Amy (8 June 2012). Memories from Cherry Harvest. Counterpoint LLC. p. 91. ISBN 9781593764890. reciting the ancient Jewish benediction a parent gives to a child: "May God bless you and keep you and may God's countenance shine upon you and bring you peace."
  7. ^ Driscoll, Rev. Michael S.; Hilgartner, Rev. Msgr. Richard B.; Kelly, Maureen A.; John Thomas Lane; James Presta; Corinna Laughlin; Jim Schellman; D. Todd Williamson; Paul Turner; Catherine Combier-Donovan; Diana Macalintal; Sr. Genevieve (2012). The Liturgy Documents, Volume Two: Essential Documents for Parish Sacramental Rites and Other Liturgies. Liturgy Training Publications. p. 439. ISBN 9781616710279. Thus, in the Book of Blessings, as in the Divine Office, while clergy may close with a true blessing ("May almighty God bless you."), laypersons can only request God's blessing ("May the good Lord bless us.")
  8. ^ a b Cherry, Constance M. (17 August 2021). The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. Baker Academic. ISBN 978-1-4934-3218-9.
  9. ^ Smart, Robert Davis (29 March 2017). Legacy from Christ: What'S My Message?. WestBow Press. ISBN 978-1-5127-8094-9.
  10. ^ Patrick, Bethanne Kelly; Thompson, John Milliken (2009). An Uncommon History of Common Things. National Geographic. p. 74. ISBN 9781426204203. In Rome during the plague of 590, Pope Gregory I ordered unceasing prayer for divine intercession. Part of his command was that anyone sneezing be blessed immediately ("God bless you"), since sneezing was often the first sign that someone was falling ill with the plague. Although the populace did not understand that the sneeze was the source of transmittal, they may have sensed it was connected to the disease. "God bless you" became a verbal totem invoking divine mercy on the sneezer.
  11. ^ Whiting, Bartl Jere (1977). Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases. Harvard University Press. p. 178. ISBN 9780674219816. The year 750, is commonly reckoned the era of the custom of saying "God bless you," to one who happens to sneeze, etc.
  12. ^ O'Conner, Patricia T.; Kellerman, Stewart (12 September 2009). "An allergic reaction". Grammarphobia. Retrieved 17 September 2023.
  13. ^ a b c d Snopes Urban Legends – Bless You!
  14. ^ a b Ed Zotti, Editor. Why Do We Say "God Bless You" After a Sneeze?, Straight Dope, 27 September 2001.
  15. ^ a b Madsci.org, Mad Scientist posting by Tom Wilson, M.D./PhD, Pathology, Div. of Molecular Oncology, Washington University School of Medicine
  16. ^ Stollznow, Karen (2014). ""God Bless You!" – A Blessing in Disguise?". Skeptic Magazine. 19 (4). Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  17. ^ story by T. Crofton Croker (1898). "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry: Edited and Selected by W.B. Yeats". Project Gutenberg.
  18. ^ Re: Why does plucking my eyebrows make me sneeze?, MadSci Network posting by Robert West, Post-doc/Fellow, 1997-08-05
  19. ^ Wertheimer, Linda (27 May 2006). "Ancient Sneezing: A Gift from the Gods". NPR. Retrieved 13 May 2024.

Further reading[edit]