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What does “Thanksgiving” mean in the Bible?

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It becomes clear as we read through the scriptures that the children of God ought to give thanks everywhere and in every situation to God Almighty. Thanksgiving is essentially an “offering of thanks” to God for His gifts and mighty works in our life. It is an expression of our complete dependence on God and, in like manner, our gratitude towards Him for His provision, deliverance, character, incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection.

True thanksgiving is not primarily about outward deeds or actions. Instead, it is about the “disposition of the heart“, and as a result, we can draw closer to God, enabling us to see His salvation and grace. Psalm 50:23 says, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” 

This picture of thanksgiving is something that develops theologically throughout the Bible. Starting in the Old Testament, thanksgiving is closely tied with the verb “to bless” (barakh, for example, Deuteronomy 8:10). The most common Hebrew noun used for “thanks” is “Todah” which is derived from the verb “to praise, confess”. Reading the book of Genesis, you do not see many instances where people offer thanksgiving to God, but as you continue to read, and in the book of Leviticus, we see the institution of a “thanks offering” as part of the sacrificial system (Leviticus 7:11-15; 22:29). 

The people were to perform a thank offering to express their appreciation to the LORD for deliverance from illness, troubles of various kinds, death, or any blessing they have received from Jehovah. Thanksgiving was a form of joyful praise and, at the same time, a serious event, as seen through the sacrificial process. The book of Psalms builds on this and focuses on thanksgiving from an individual and a communal perspective. In Psalms, thanksgiving is often accompanied by cries and shouts of joy, music, and singing (Psalms 42:4; 95:2; 100:4). By the time we get to the book of Nehemiah, thanksgiving was rendered by two large choirs (Nehemiah 12:31, 40).

In the Jewish prayers of thanksgiving, we observe the following, giving us insight into the importance of thanksgiving to God as it should encompass every facet of our life:

According to the Mishnah, the standard prayer for food begins with, “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe” (Berakhot 6:1; Neusner, Mishnah, 9). Those praying then acknowledge God’s sovereignty over the specific item being blessed, whether fruit, wine, vegetables, or loaves of bread.

The Babylonian Talmud forbids anyone from enjoying any pleasure from the world until they have first offered a “blessing” to God, who has provided it (Berakhot 35a; Simon, Tractate Berakoth, 134–36). The Babylonian Talmud views the blessing as a means of thanks because pleasure is only made available through God’s goodness and love (Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, 168).

Chris McKnight, “Thanksgiving,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

We should give thanks in every situation, whether good or bad, for this is God’s divine will for us. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In the New Testament, thanksgiving is associated with the concept of “grace” (using the Greek word “Charis”). We see offerings of thanksgiving in many areas, such as to God in worship (1 Timothy 2:1), individual prayer (Acts 28:15), and at meal times (Mat 15:36-37). There are many instances of thanksgiving, and it is often a response to the redemptive work of Jesus. Jesus, Himself offered thanks on many occasions. For example, He was reflecting on the division between those accepting Christ and rejecting Him; and God’s work in terms of wisdom and sovereignty. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;”

Thanksgiving was also a part of the early church’s worship life, and Paul instructs the churches to give thanks to God for all things because this is the will of God for them (1 Corinthians 14:16; Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As the gospel message spread, it resulted in an overflow of thanksgiving towards God (2 Corinthians 4:14-15; 9:11-12). By the time we get to Revelation, we see the four living creatures, the angels, and the 24 elders in the heavenly throne room offering thanksgiving to God, and this ought to be a model for our offering of thanksgiving to God. Amen! Revelation 11:17 says, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” Hallelujah!!

Likewise, as children of the living God, we must be thankful to God. It must be a characteristic of our life in Christ because “thanklessness” is regarded as a rejection of God, leading to further sin and eventual judgment. Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Let us, therefore, be thankful to God for creating and sustaining the world and for His salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ to pay for our sins. Let us come before the presence of God both privately in thankfulness (Matthew 5:6; Luke 17:12-19) and corporately to declare God’s goodness as the church family and for the world to see. May we use every opportunity to offer thanks unto God, for He alone is worthy of our praise and may it be for the glory of God. Amen!


Eugene E. Carpenter and Philip W. Comfort, Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined and Explained(Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000)

Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987)

Chris McKnight, “Thanksgiving,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Guthrie, Theology as Thanksgiving, 181–216

 Chris McKnight, “Thanksgiving,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

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