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Old Testament / New Testament / In Jewish Tradition
Words in Scripture
Todah* Hebrew for thanksgiving or a thank offering
l’hodot Hebrew verb, to thank
eucharisteo Greek verb, to thank
eucharistia Greek noun, thanksgiving
eucharistos Greek adjective, thankful
Note the similarity to Eucharist, the word many churches use for communion or the Lord’s Supper.**
OT: Thanks is offered for God Himself and His character (1 Chr. 16:34; 2 Chron. 7:3, 6; 20:21; or for His deliverance (1 Chr. 16:35). Certain psalms especially focus on thanksgiving. Many thank God for His righteousness (7:17; 106:1; 107 and 136 throughout) and for His great deeds (9:1, 26:7, 75:1).
NT: Jesus and especially Paul thank God for a wide variety of things, including God’s revelation (Mt 11:25, Lk. 10:21); God’s hearing Jesus at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:41); God’s provision of fellow believers (Acts 28:15; Rom 16:4); God’s work in the lives of believers in many churches (Rom. 1:8, among many others); leaders, including the secular rulers (1 Tim. 2:1). We also see numerous examples of giving thanks at meals, for example Luke 22:19, John 6:23 and Acts 27:35.
Where and When
OT: Most thanksgiving takes place in the context of communal worship, though sometimes it takes place individually (Jonah 2:9—Jonah could hardly have had community in the belly of a fish!). The Psalms include examples of both. Worship included the thank offering (Leviticus 7:12; 22:29-30), which ended with a meal for family and friends.
NT: Israelites continued to bring thank offerings to the Temple until its destruction in 70 AD. Paul mentions thanksgiving within the worship service, 1 Cor. 14:16-17.
How and Why
Thanking God is a part of worship and reminds His people of why we can trust Him and rejoice. Thanksgiving in the Old Testament is shown by example and by exhortation, while the New Testament rounds out a “theology of thanks.” In Paul’s letters, thanksgiving is closely connected with peace rather than anxiety (Phil 4:6, Col. 3:15), with living in all we do for the Lord (Col. 3:17) and with godly behavior (Eph. 5:4). Ephesians 6:18 encourages prayer “at all times,” whereby we are meant to cultivate a spirit of thanks in all situations, rather than a spirit of criticism or despair. Hebrews 13:15 describes thanksgiving as a sacrifice, perhaps because to properly thank God we need to give up something be it time, convenience, or focus on ourselves and our problems.
IN JEWISH TRADITION
Before meals, we bless and thank God for His good gifts with set blessings for certain foods, and a catch-all for the rest. Want to bless God before eating an omelette or Reese’s Pieces? Say, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, by Whose word everything came into being.”
A prayer called the Birkat Hamazon is recited after meals; after all, how much more thankful can we be once we know how good the meal was? Actually the practice is in accordance with Deuteronomy 8:10: “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.” This reminder when we are full and content, prevents us from forgetting that the food comes from God (see Deuteronomy 8:11-14)
Upon arising in the morning, traditional Jews recite a prayer called Modeh Ani, “I give thanks.” This simple prayer thanks God for restoring our lives for yet another day and is one of the first prayers that young children are taught.
A prayer called the Shehecheyanu is often recited when a Jewish holiday begins or when someone observes a Jewish ritual for the first time: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, and has sustained us, and has enabled us to reach this season.”
*Todah also means “thank you” in modern Hebrew.
** The term thereby emphasizes that the congregation is giving thanks for what God has done in Christ.