At St. Luke’s, we have started a sermon series to look at phrases that sound biblical, but aren’t actually in the bible. I’ve been having fun looking at the true origins of some of these sayings, and it got me curious about the origins of other common sayings. For example, have you ever wondered why we often say, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes? Why not when someone coughs or gets the hiccups?
The phrase itself dates back millennia in the bible. We see in Numbers 6:24 a prayer of blessing for others. But when did it start being used for people who sneeze? The earliest account of it that I could find comes from the year 77 A.D. It was believed that sneezing was either your soul being thrust from your body, or it was an evil spirit being thrust from your body. Either way, asking for God’s blessing for that person seemed appropriate.
However, it was several centuries later during the plague of 590 that Pope Gregory I declared that everyone must pray unceasingly in order to end the plague. Part of that command was for everyone to bless someone who sneezes because a sneeze was seen as the first sign of getting the plague. Asking for God’s blessing was asking for God’s healing for that person.
Wherever the phrase and practice comes from, I think it’s a pretty good one! Next time you hear someone sneeze, ask for God to bless them. In fact, don’t just limit asking for God’s blessings to sneezes. Do it the next time you hear someone cough or get the hiccups and see how they respond! You might just brighten and bless their day.