The Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.

The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “to kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).

In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew) , ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff.)

Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include:

  • “to think well of” (San Blas Kuna)
  • “to speak good to” (Amganad Ifugao)
  • “to make happy” (Pohnpeian)
  • “to-cause-to-live-as-a-chief” (Zulu)
  • “to sprinkle with a propitious (lit. cool) face,” (a poetic expression occurring in the priests’ language) (Toraja Sa’dan) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • “give good things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • “asking good” (Yakan) (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • “praised, saying good things” (Central Yupik) (source: Robert Bascom)
  • “greatly love” (Candoshi-Shapra (source: John C. Tuggy)

In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru also uses “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).

When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “to speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)

Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)

See also bless (food and drink), blessed (Christ in Mark 11:9), and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

translations with a Hebraic voice (Exodus 20:2-14)

Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.

I am Yhwh your God,
who brought you out
from the land of Egypt,
from a house of serfs.
You are not to have
any other gods
before my presence.
You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any figure
that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the earth;
you are not to bow down to them,
you are not to serve them,
for I, Yhwh your God,
am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, to the third and the fourth (generation)
of those that hate me,
but showing loyalty to the thousandth
of those that love me,
of those that keep my commandments.

You are not to take up
the name of Yhwh your God for emptiness,
for Yhwh will not clear him
that takes up his name for emptiness.

the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work,
but the seventh day
is Sabbath for Yhwh your God:
you are not to make any kind of work,
(not) you, nor your son, nor your daughter,
(not) your servant, nor your maid, nor your beast,
nor your sojourner that is within your gates.
For in six days Yhwh made
the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in it,
and he rested on the seventh day;
therefore Yhwh gave the Sabbath day his blessing, and he hallowed it.

your father and your mother,
in order that your days may be prolonged
on the soil that Yhwh your God is giving you.

You are not to murder.

You are not to adulter.

You are not to steal.

You are not to testify
against your fellow as a false witness.

You are not to desire
the house of your neighbor,
you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor,
or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Source: Everett Fox 1995

bin dein Gott,
der ich dich führte aus dem Land Ägypten, aus dem Haus der Dienstbarkeit.
Nicht sei dir
andere Gottheit
mir ins Angesicht.
Nicht mache dir Schnitzgebild, —
und alle Gestalt,
die im Himmel oben, die auf Erden unten, die im Wasser unter der Erde ist,
neige dich ihnen nicht,
diene ihnen nicht,
denn Ich dein Gott
bin ein eifernder Gottherr,
zuordnend Fehl von Vätern ihnen an Söhnen, am dritten und vierten Glied,
denen die mich hassen,
aber Huld tuend ins tausendste
denen die mich lieben,
denen die meine Gebote wahren.

Trage nicht
Seinen deines Gottes Namen
auf das Wahnhafte,
denn nicht straffrei läßt Er ihn,
der seinen Namen auf das Wahnhafte trägt.

des Tags der Feier, ihn zu heiligen.
Ein Tagsechst diene und mache all deine Arbeit,
aber der siebente Tag
ist Feier Ihm, deinem Gott:
nicht mache allerart Arbeit,
du, dein Sohn, deine Tochter,
dein Dienstknecht, deine Magd, dein Tier,
und dein Gastsasse in deinen Toren.
Denn ein Tagsechst
machte Er
den Himmel und die Erde, das Meer und alles, was in ihnen ist,
am siebenten Tag aber ruhte er,
darum segnete Er den Tag der Feier, er hat ihn geheiligt.

deinen Vater und deine Mutter,
damit sich längern deine Tage
auf dem Ackerboden, den Er4 dein Gott dir gibt.

Morde nicht.

Buhle nicht.

Stiehl nicht.

Aussage nicht
gegen deinen Genossen als Lügenzeuge.

Begehre nicht das Haus deines Genossen,
begehre nicht das Weib deines Genossen,
seinen Knecht, seine Magd, seinen Ochsen, seinen Esel,
noch allirgend was deines Genossen ist.

Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976

« Moi-même, IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms qui t’ai fait sortir
de la terre de Misraîm, de la maison des serfs,
il ne sera pas pour toi d’autres Elohîms contre mes faces.
Tu ne feras pour toi ni sculpture ni toute image
de ce qui est dans les ciels en haut, sur la terre en bas,
et dans les eaux sous terre.
Tu ne te prosterneras pas devant elles et ne les serviras pas.
Oui, moi-même, IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms, Él ardent
je sanctionne le tort des pères sur les fils,
jusqu’au troisième et au quatrième cycle pour mes haineux,
Mais je fais chérissement jusqu’au millième à mes amants,
aux gardiens de mes ordres.
Tu ne porteras pas le nom de IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms, en vain:
car, IHVH-Adonaï n’innocente pas qui porte son nom en vain.
Souviens-toi du jour du shabat pour le consacrer.
Tu travailleras six jours: fais tout ton ouvrage.
Le septième jour, shabat pour IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms,
tu ne feras aucun ouvrage, toi, ton fils, ta fille,
ton serviteur, ta servante, ta bête,
ton métèque qui est en tes portes.
Oui, six jours, IHVH-Adonaï a fait les ciels et la terre,
la mer et tout ce qui y est,
puis il s’est reposé le septième jour,
sur quoi IHVH-Adonaï a béni le jour du shabat et il le consacre.
Glorifie ton père et ta mère, pour que se prolongent
tes jours sur la glèbe que IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms, te donne.
Tu n’assassineras pas.
Tu n’adultéreras pas.
Tu ne voleras pas.
Tu ne répondras pas contre ton compagnon en témoin de mensonge.
Tu ne convoiteras pas la maison de ton compagnon,
tu ne convoiteras pas la femme de ton compagnon,
son serviteur, sa servante, son boeuf, son âne,
et tout ce qui est à ton compagnon. »
Et c’est au soir, la caille monte, elle couvre le camp,
et le matin, c’était une couche de rosée autour du camp.
La couche de rosée monte, et voici: sur les faces du désert,
une croûte fine, fine comme givre sur la terre.
Les Benéi Israël voient et disent, chaque homme à son frère:
« Mân hou ? Qu’est-ce ? » Non, ils ne savaient pas ce que c’était.
Moshè leur dit:
« C’est le pain que IHVH-Adonaï vous donne en nourriture. »

Source: Chouraqui 1985


Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic all have one term only that refers to what can be expressed in English as “sky” or “heaven(s)” (as a physical and spiritual entity). While there is a slight overlap between the meaning of the two English terms, “sky” (from Old Norse sky meaning “cloud”) typically refers to the physical entity, and “heaven” (from Old English heofon meaning “home of God”) typically refers to the spiritual entity. While this enriches the English lexicon, it also forces English Bible translators to make decisions that can be found only in the context in the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. Most versions tend to use “heaven(s)” even if the meaning is likely “sky,” but the Contemporary English Version (NT: 1991, OT: 1995, DC: 1999) is an English translation that attempted to be more specific in the separation of the two meanings and was used as the basis for the links to verses used for this and this story (“heaven”).

Norm Mundhenk (in The Bible Translator 2006, pp. 92-95) describes the difficulty that English translations face (click here to see more):

“A number of years ago an old lady asked me a question. What did Jesus mean when he said, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’? I do not remember what answer I gave, but I was surprised at how concerned she seemed to be about the verse. It was only later, after I had left her, that I suddenly realized what it was that she was so concerned about. She knew that death could not be far away, and all her life she had looked forward to being with God in heaven. But this verse said that ‘heaven will pass away’! What did that mean for her hopes? In fact, of course, in this verse Jesus was talking about the skies or the heavens, not about Heaven as the place of God’s presence. If I had realized the problem in time, I could easily have set the lady’s mind at rest on this question that was troubling her so much. However, I suspect that she is not the only person to be misled by the wording of this verse. Therefore, it is very surprising to find that even today many English versions (including the New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, Good News Translation) still say ‘heaven and earth’ in verses like Matt 24:35 and its parallels (Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33). The Contemporary English Version (CEV) and Phillips’ translation seem to be aware of the problem, and in Mark 13:31 both of these have ‘earth and sky’ instead of ‘heaven and earth.’ But in some other passages (such as Matt 5:18) the traditional wording is still found in both of those translations. The New Century Version (NCV) does have ‘earth and sky’ more consistently, and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) has ‘sky and earth’ in these passages. (Although ‘sky and earth’ is closer to the Greek, it seems more natural in English to say ‘earth and sky’; but either way, at least the meaning is correct.)

“Louw and Nida’s Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament (publ. 1992) suggests that the Greek expression being translated here, ho ouranos kai he ge is ‘a more or less fixed phrase equivalent to a single lexical unit’ and that it means everything that God created, that is, the universe. They then quote Mark 13:31 as an example, using ‘heaven and earth’ in their translation of it. However, they go on to say that there ‘may be certain complications involved in rendering ho ouranos kai he ge as ‘heaven and earth,’ since ‘heaven’ might be interpreted in some languages as referring only to the dwelling place of God himself. The referents in this passage are ‘the sky and the earth,’ in other words, all of physical existence, but not the dwelling place of God, for the latter would not be included in what is destined to pass away.’ In my opinion, English itself is one of the languages where the word ‘heaven’ will be interpreted as referring only to the dwelling place of God himself, and translations into English should not use ‘heaven’ in these passages. It is probably because these passages are so very familiar that translators do not realize the meaning they are giving their readers when they use the expression ‘heaven and earth’ here. In modern English we might talk about a rocket ‘soaring into the heavens,’ but we would certainly not describe it as ‘soaring into heaven,’ because ‘heaven’ is not another way of referring to the sky or to outer space.

“In fact, it is surely important in all languages to have some way of distinguishing the concept of ‘sky’ from the concept of ‘dwelling place of God.’ In these passages translators should never use a term meaning ‘the dwelling place of God.’ It may not be necessary to use a term meaning ‘sky’ either, if there is some other expression in the language which gives the correct meaning of ‘everything that has been created’ or ‘the universe.’ There are of course places in the New Testament where Heaven, as the place where God lives, is contrasted with the earth. In these passages, translators should be careful to give the correct meaning. A good example of this is in the Lord’s Prayer, in Matt 6:10: ‘Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ Similarly, 1 Cor 15:47 says that ‘the first man [a reference to Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.’ Passages like these are referring to Heaven, not to the sky. Other NT passages where heaven refers to God’s dwelling place, in contrast with earth, are Matt 5:34-35, 16:19, 18:18, Acts 7:49, James 5:12, and Rev 5:3.
“Sometimes in the New Testament, the word ‘heaven’ is used because of the Jewish reluctance to use the name of God. ‘Heaven’ in these cases is used in place of ‘God’ and refers to God himself. This is the case in the many references in Matthew to ‘the kingdom of heaven’ where other gospels have ‘the kingdom of God’ (e.g., compare Matt 4:17 with its parallels in Mark 1:15 and Luke 10:9). It is also most likely the case in references like Matt 16:1, Luke 20:4, 5, John 3:27, and even perhaps Col 1:5.

“There are some places, such as Matt 11:25, where God is called ‘Lord of heaven and earth.’ Since God is of course the Lord of Heaven as well as of the universe, it may not matter so much which interpretation is given in these passages (others are Luke 10:21 and Acts 17:24). Nevertheless, the intended meaning here is likely to be ‘the universe.’ This is because this expression in Greek, as Louw and Nida say, is a set expression referring to everything that has been created. Acts 17:24 in fact combines the idea of the creation of the universe with the idea of God as Master or Lord of the universe. (…)

“Old Testament background The use of ‘heaven and earth’ in the New Testament is very similar to what we find in the Old Testament, because it is largely based on the Old Testament.

“The Old Testament begins with the story of creation, which is presented as the creation of the heavens and the earth, with lights to shine in the heavens and give light to the earth. Birds are created to live in the heavens, animals to live on earth, and fish to live in the sea (Gen 1:1-2:4).

“As we can see from the way the creation story is told, it is meant to be understood as the creation of the universe. Although in English the regions above the earth have traditionally been called ‘the heavens’ in the story of creation, they cannot be called ‘Heaven,’ in the sense of the place where God dwells. In terms of modern English, it would probably be better to say ‘the sky and the earth’ or ‘the earth and the sky.’ The story of creation then becomes an important theme throughout the Old Testament. (…)

“In most passages, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, when ‘heaven and earth’ or ‘the heavens and the earth’ are mentioned, the meaning is the created universe. It is not a reference to Heaven, as the dwelling place of God. In English, translators have not been careful to keep this distinction clear, and this is probably true in many other languages as well. However, as we have seen, this can lead to real confusion for ordinary Bible readers. It is better if translators find ways to make the meaning clear in these passages. ‘Heaven’ should be mentioned only in passages which clearly mean the dwelling place of God. In other passages, an expression should be used which means only ‘sky.’ Or else, the whole expression ‘heaven and earth’ can be translated in a way to show that the whole universe is meant.”

Other languages that have a semantic distinction similar to English include:

  • Hungarian: ég — “sky”; menny — “heaven”
  • Tagalog: kalawakan — “sky”; langit/kalangitan — “heaven”
  • Swedish: sky — “sky”; Himmel — “heaven”
  • Loma: “up” — “sky”; “God’s place” — heaven”
  • Mossi: saase — “sky”; nyingeri — “the up above”(source for Loma and Mossi: Bratcher/Nida)
  • Roviana: mamaṉa — “sly”; maṉauru — “heaven” (an old word, meaning “empty, open space of the sky”) (source: Carl Gross)
  • Kayaw: mô̄la or “canopy-under”/mô̄khû̄la or “canopy-above-under” — “sky” (atmosphere where there is just air); mô̄khû̄ or “canopy-on/above” — “heaven” (invisible abode of God and angels)
  • Burmese: မိုး ကောင်း ကင်/moe kaungg kain — “sky”; ကောင်း ကင်/kaungg kain — “sky” or “heaven”; ကောင်း ကင်ဗုံ/kaungg kain bone — “heaven”
  • Mairasi: Sinyavi — an indigenous term that is used for both “sky” and heaven”; Surga — loanword from Sanskrit via Indonesian referring to “heaven” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

Many languages follow the original biblical languages in not making that distinction, such as: