From the earliest times the records bear testimony that pronouncing the benediction or giving the blessing was a common practice. In the temple service, this duty was assigned to the Aaronites and was made an impressive part of the service. The form of the benediction used is given in Numbers 6:22-27. References to this practice may be found in Leviticus 9:22; Deuteronomy 10:8; 2 Chronicles 30:27. After a time, minute directions were given concerning it and careful preparation was made for this part of the service. All Aaronites, of proper age, were entitled to perform this service, except those who by previous conduct or on account of physical defect were disqualified. One who had killed another, whether intentionally or otherwise, who had violated the marriage vows, had given himself excessively to wine drinking or other excesses, or indeed had been guilty of unrighteous conduct or life, was not only prohibited from pronouncing the blessing, but was required to withdraw before this part of the service was performed. If one was blind even of one eye, or had a defect in his hands or speech, or was a hunchback, he was also excluded. Before the priest could engage in this service he was required to wash his hands. Then, with uplifted hands, while the people stood, he uttered the words of blessing. The main idea was that thus the name of Yahweh was put on the people. Later it came to be regarded as having some special blessing in and of itself, a result against which the more spiritual of the priests protested.
It was common not only to pronounce the benediction in the public worship but also in the family. We have such instances in
Genesis 9:26,27; 27:27-30. This practice prevailed also on many other occasions not only in Israel, but among the heathen as well. We may readily see, therefore, that from the very beginning of the Christian church the use of the benediction was common. In the course of time an extensive liturgy developed on this subject and it may be said that there are now three distinct ideas in the church as to the benediction. That section of the church which regards the minister as clothed with sacerdotal powers, holds that the blessings pronounced are actually conferred in the act of the utterance of the words, because of the powers conferred upon him when he was set aside for the sacred office. On the other hand it is held that it is merely a prayer that God may bestow certain blessings on the people. From this position others dissent, and teach that it is the declaration of the special privileges and relations in which those stand who have entered into covenant fellowship with Christ; that the blessings now declared are theirs by fight of that relation, and are conferred upon them by the Holy Spirit. The Greek and Roman Catholic churches take the first portion, and therefore we find among them much of detail and minutiae as to the manner in which it should be pronounced. In the Greek church the priest raises his hand with the thumb touching the third finger, signifying the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father alone; or according to others to form the sacred name IHS. In the Roman church the form is, the thumb, first and second fingers are to be open, to symbolize the Trinity. In this church too, the benediction is pronounced in a multitude of cases and in each case the thing so blessed by the priest is made sacred. Crosses, church vessels, houses, paschal eggs, churchyards, are thus blessed. Every parish has a collection of these forms of blessing in what is known as the "Benedictionale." The authority for this is based on some documents claiming to reach back to early church history, but as they belong to the forged decretal class, the position of the Roman church on this subject is untenable.
Apostolic benedictions, as we find them in the epistles, present considerable variety. One of the striking features is that in a number of cases there is the omission of the Holy Ghost. The best explanation seems to be that the Father and the Son effect the redemption of the world and the Holy Ghost applies the blessing so wrought out. "Grace, mercy and peace" may then be said to be sent from the Father and the Son through the Holy Ghost to be the possession of all who have come into the kingdom. The third person of the Trinity, being thus in the act of applying the blessing, is not mentioned. The fact that in other cases Father, Son and Holy Ghost are mentioned, proves that the writers knew the character and office of the Holy Ghost. The most common form used today is that in 2 Corinthians 13:14. Occasionally some changes are introduced by ministers, but it would seem best to adhere strictly to the Scriptural forms.
See BLESSING; SALUTATION.
Jacob W. Kapp