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Mary - "Blessed" or "Fortunate?"

By Gary F. Zeolla

46And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 12:46-48; NKJV).

46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit was very glad because of God my Savior. 48For He looked with care upon the humble state of His slave. For, look! From now on all generations will consider me to be fortunate" (Luke 12:46-48; ALT).

The context of this passage is shortly after an angel visited Mary. The angel told her she would miraculously conceive the Messiah (verses 26-38). Mary then visits her relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant (verses 39-56). During this visit, Elizabeth's exclaims, "When the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy with great happiness!" (verse 44; ALT). The part of Mary's response relevant to this article is quoted above.

At the end of verse 48, Mary is either saying that she will be called "blessed" or that she will be considered "fortunate." Most translations have "blessed" in verse 48, such as the New King James Version quoted above. But I used "fortunate" for my Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament. And I have received some rather heated emails from Catholics and those of an Eastern Orthodox persuasion complaining about this translation.

But which is of these translations is most accurate? And what difference does this make? The latter question will be addressed first by looking at the meanings of the English words "blessed" and "fortunate."

Definition of "Fortunate" and Implications

We'll look at the second word first in two different dictionaries.

fortunate adj. 1. receiving good from uncertain or unexpected sources; lucky. 2. bringing or indicating good fortune: a fortunate decision. fortunately, adv. fortunateness, n. - Syn. FORTUNATE, HAPPY, LUCKY refer to persons who enjoy, or events that produce, good fortune. FORTUNATE implies that the success is obtained by the operation of favorable circumstances more than by direct effort: fortunate in one's choice of a wife; a fortunate investment. HAPPY emphasizes a pleasant ending or something that happens at just the right moment: By a happy accident I received the package on time. LUCKY, a more colloquial word, is applied to situations that turn out well by chance: lucky at cards; my lucky day (Webster's Dictionary).

fortunate adj. 1. 1. Bringing something good and unforeseen; auspicious. 2. Having unexpected good fortunate; lucky (American Heritage Dictionary, p.527).

So fortunate has two possible definitions, as indicated by the numbers in each dictionary. But these two meanings are closely related and overlap. They show that "fortunate" refers to something that is good but unexpected. Something good "just happens." Most specifically, fortunate "implies that the success is obtained by the operation of favorable circumstances more than by direct effort." So it is not so much what the person does that brings about the good event, it is something that happens to the person.

This word can be synonymous with "happy" and "lucky." But there are somewhat different connotations. "Happy" (in this sense) more focuses on the pleasant ending, while "fortunate" more focuses on the unexpectedness of the event and that it was not due to a direct effort on the person's part.

Meanwhile, "lucky" implies the idea of "chance." So as a Christian who believes in the sovereignty of God, "lucky" is not a word I often use. Things occur not by chance or fate but through the providence of God.

So "lucky" would not fit in the context of the above passage (nor in the Bible in general), but "happy" or "fortunate" would. In fact, Young's Literal Translation (which was the starting point for my translation) has in this verse, "henceforth call me happy shall all the generations."

Needless to say, this is wording is rather awkward, so when I updated it, I changed the word order to make it more readable. But I also changed "happy" to "fortunate." I did so as "happy" has a wide range of meanings, as can been seen in its definition in Webster's.

happy adj., pier, piest. 1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing. 2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy: a happy mood. 3. favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky: a happy, fruitful land. 4. apt or felicitous, as actions, utterances, or ideas. 5. obsessed by or quick to use the item indicated (usu. used in combination): a trigger-happy gangster.

So "happy" has five different possible meanings. There is some overlap between these meanings, but some of them are rather different. In such cases, not all the meanings of the word would apply in a particular context. And in this context, only definition 3 would fit. And there "fortunate" is given as the definition. But "fortunate" itself really has only one general sense to it, the idea of a good but unexpected event occurring that was not due to direct action on the person's part.

It was totally "unexpected" for Mary to have been chosen to bear the Messiah. There simply was nothing "special" about her for her to have been chosen. She was one of a "humble state." And her being chosen was not due to something she had done. She did not "earn" the position of bearing the Messiah. It is something that "just happened" to her, though the providence of God.

So "fortunate" does fit well in this context. But what about "blessed?"

Definition of "Blessed" and Implications

blessed adj. 1. consecrated; sacred; holy; sanctified. 2. worthy of adoration, reverence, or worship: the Blessed Trinity. 3. divinely or supremely favored; fortunate: Blessed with common sense, she handled the problem neatly. 4. blissfully happy. 5. beatified. 6. bringing happiness and thankfulness: the blessed assurance of a steady income. 7. (used as an intensifier): every blessed cent. blessedly, adv. blessedness, n (Webster's Dictionary).

blessed adj. 1. a. Worthy of worship; holy. b. Held in veneration; revered. 2. Rom. Cath. Ch. Enjoying the eternal happiness of heaven. Use as a title of those who have been beautified. 3. Enjoying happiness; fortunate. 4. Bringing happiness; pleasurable. 5. Slang. Used as an intensive: not a blessed dime (American Heritage Dictionary, p. 187).

So blessed has as many as seven different meanings. And these meanings are quite different from each other, so they all cannot fit in a given context. But "blessed" can be used synonymously with "fortunate" or even "happy." This is seen in definitions 3 and 4 in both dictionaries. In fact, switching to the thesaurus section of my Webster's software program, one of the synonyms given for "blessed" is "fortunate," and one of the synonyms given for "fortunate" is blessed." Also given is "happy." 

So if "blessed" is taken in the sense of being synonymous with fortunate or happy, then there really is no difference between using "blessed" or "fortunate" or even "happy" in Luke 1:48. The interpretation given above would apply with any one of these translations. However, if "blessed" were taken with some of the other definitions, then a totally different interpretation would result.

If "blessed" is taken in the sense of Webster's definition 1, then the passage would be saying that Mary is an especially "sacred" or "holy" person. As such, looking at definition 2, she would be "worthy of adoration, reverence, or worship." Or as definition 1b in the American Heritage Dictionary puts it, she would be "held in veneration; revered." This moves us toward the Roman Catholic attitude towards Mary. Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

II Devotion to the Blessed Virgin

971 "All generations will call me blessed." "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship." The church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs…. This very special devotion … differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Sprit, and greatly fosters this adoration." The liturgical feast dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," expresses this devotion to the Virgin Mary (p. 253; ellipses in original).

So the Catholic Church officially teaches Mary is not to be worshipped. However, it does teach that Mary is to receive "very special devotion" and "adoration." And the Roman Catholic Church specifically appeals to Luke 1:48 with the translation of "blessed" for this attitude toward Mary. But if Luke 1:48 were rendered as "fortunate," then it would not supply support for this adoration of Mary.

This explains why I received the heated emails from Roman Catholics and even Eastern Orthodox (who hold a similar attitude towards Mary) complaining about my translation of this verse. But this leads to the most important question, which is the correct translation? This question will be addressed next.

Lexicons

The Greek word in question is the verb makarizo. Below is the definite for this word as given in all four lexicons on my BibleWorks program. I have copied their definitions in full, except to omit the Greek words since they do not copy properly.

as an evaluation of someone as being happy because of favorable circumstances regard as happy, think of as blessed, consider fortunate (LU 1.48) (Friberg).

consider fortunate or happy (UBS Dictionary).

Att. to bless, to deem or pronounce happy, Lat. gratulari, Od., Hdt., Att.; ironically, while we bless your simplicity, Thuc (Liddell and Scott).

regard as happy
to regard someone as happy or fortunate in view of favorable circumstances - 'to regard as happy, to regard as fortunate.' 'we regard as fortunate those who have endured' Jas 5.11; 'all generations of people will regard me as fortunate' Lk 1.48 (Louw and Nida).

I'll also add the definition from Bauer's lexicon (which I only have in hardcopy format), "Call or consider blessed, happy, fortunate" (p.486).

First, it should be noted that the format of definitions in lexicons is similar to that of the dictionaries quoted above. If a word has more than one basic definition, then the different possible definitions are numbered. But there are no numbers used in any of the lexicons for makarizo. This means that makarizo has only one basic meaning. The different renderings given for this word in the lexicons are just synonymous ways of expressing this singular definition.

Second, two of the lexicons use happy, blessed, and fortunate in their definitions; two give just fortunate and happy, and one gives just blessed and happy. And one even specifically cites Luke 1:48 and translates it using fortunate.

Third, on a technical note, makarizo is a verb while happy, blessed, and fortunate are all adjectives. So to express the thoughts of these words in verbal forms, then the indicated possible translations are given as phrases, such as "call blessed" or "consider fortunate."

Fourth, any one of these three adjectives used in such a phrase would constitute accurate translations. However, and this is the most important point, if "happy" or "blessed" are used, it would only be in their senses as being synonymous with fortunate. "Blessed" or even "happy" would not be accurate if they are taken in any other sense.

In other words, from the dictionary definitions above, we saw that "blessed" and "happy" have several different possible meanings while "fortunate" is more focused with only one basic meaning. But one of the meanings for both happy and blessed is synonymous with the meaning of fortunate. And since all three of these words are being used for the one meaning of makarizo, then the meaning of this Greek word can only be the one that is found for all three of the possible translations. And this meaning was to refer to an event that was good but unexpected and that was not the direct result of action on the person's part.

So, "blessed" is an accurate translation, but only if the reader takes it with the meaning of being synonymous with fortunate. If blessed is taken in the sense of indicating Mary is worthy of adoration or "very special devotion," the passage is being misinterpreted. That simply is not the meaning of the Greek word.

The same situation applies to happy. It is accurate, if taken as synonymous with fortunate but inaccurate if taken in the sense of any of its other definitions.

However, the word "fortunate" is the only one of the three given possible translations that can only mean what the Greek word means. So that is why I used it for the ALT. It is the translation that is most focused and most accurately expresses the meaning of the Greek word.

Other Uses of the Word

After looking up the meaning of a Greek word in a lexicon, another step in helping to understand its meaning is to see how it is used elsewhere in Scripture. In the case of the verb makarizo, it is only used one other time in the New Testament, in James 5:11. I'll quote this verse and the preceding one for context from again the NKJV and the ALT.

10My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord -- that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful (James 5:11; NKJV).

10Take [as] an example of suffering, my brothers [and sisters], and of patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of [the] Lord. 11Indeed, we consider the ones enduring to be fortunate. You* heard of the patient endurance of Job and the outcome [brought about by the] Lord; observe that He is very compassionate and merciful (James 5:11; ALT).

So the NKJV uses "count blessed" while the ALT uses "considered fortunate" for makarizo in this verse. So both versions are being consistent with their renderings of this word in Luke 1:48.

However, once again is the question of how "blessed" should be taken in the NKJV. Does this word mean that we should show adoration or "very special devotion" to Job and others who have endured? Hardly. Yet this is how this verse must be interpreted if one wants to interpret Luke 1:48 as teaching we are to adore Mary. The reason being, the exact same word is being used in reference to Mary as to Job and others who endure.

But if we take "blessed" as being synonymous with fortunate, then this verse makes sense. Looking specifically at Job, with all that happened to him, the loss of his property, his children, and his health, you would have expected him to be "crushed" by it all and to end up cursing God as his wife suggested. But unexpectedly, he endured. And his endurance what not due to strength or fortitude within himself; it was God who gave him the strength to endure. This is most clearly brought out in my translation by the bracketed words in verse 11.

Moreover, my translation of ‘fortunate" is not open to misinterpretation like the NKJV's "blessed" is. The focus in this verse is on God, and what he has done in the life of Job and others who have endured. So this verse should lead us to praise God for being "very compassionate and merciful," not to adore the recipients of God's graceful actions.

Cognate Adjective

Sometimes it is helpful to look at cognates to the Greek word in question, to see what their definitions are and how they are used in Scripture. This is especially helpful when the word in question is only used once or twice in Scripture, as in this case. Cognates are words that are derived from the same root but have different grammatical forms, such as "joy" (noun), "joyful" (adjective), "joyfully" (adverb), and "rejoice" (verb).

In the case of the verb makarizo, the most commonly used cognate is the adjective makarios. It is used 48 times in the New Testament. The lexicons give only one basic meaning for it, which is basically the same as the meaning given for the verb, namely, "happy, blessed, fortunate." So the same discussion above for the translation of the verb would apply to the adjective.

This adjective is used most notably in the Beatitudes. Quoting from the ALT:

1Now having seen the crowds, He went up into the mountain, and after He had sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2And having opened His mouth, He began teaching them, saying:

3"Happy [or, Blessed, and through verse 11] [are] the poor in spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.
4
Happy [are] the ones mourning, because they will be comforted.
5
Happy [are] the gentle [or, considerate], because they will inherit the earth.
6
Happy [are] the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness, because they will be filled.
7
Happy [are] the merciful, because they will be shown mercy.
8Happy
[are] the pure in heart, because they will see God.
9
Happy [are] the peacemakers, because they will be called sons [and daughters] of God.
10
Happy [are] the ones having been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

11"Happy are you* whenever they insult you* and persecute [you*] and by lying say every evil word against you* because of Me. 12Be rejoicing and be continually glad, because your* reward [is] great in the heavens, for in this manner they persecuted the prophets, the [ones] before you*" (Matthew 5:1-11).

So I used "happy" to render this adjective, while giving the alternate translation of "blessed." But again, either of these words should only be taken in the sense of being synonymous with "fortunate." And in retrospective, it might have been better if I had used "fortunate," both for consistency sake with how the verb is rendered and since this English word is more focused in expressing the meaning of the Greek word.

But the important point is, it simply would make no sense to say we are to show adoration to the poor in spirit, the ones mourning, etc. But it fits perfectly well to say it is an unexpected good not brought about by their own efforts for the poor in sprit to inherit the kingdom of God, for the ones mourning to be comforted, etc. Of course, it is God who brings about these unexpected, good results.

Conclusion

The point of Luke 1:48 is not to lead use to show adoration or "very special devotion" to Mary. But we should follow Mary's lead in praising God for the "fortunate" circumstance of one of a "humble state" being chosen to bear the Messiah. By being so born, Jesus is "one of us." He understands our plight. As the writer to the Hebrew puts it:

14Therefore, having a great High Priest [who] has passed through the heavens-Jesus, the Son of God-let us be holding fast our confession. 15For we do not have a High Priest [who is] unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [One] having been tried in all [respects] in the same way [we are, yet] without sin. 16Therefore, let us be approaching with confidence [or, a joyful sense of freedom] to the throne of grace, so that we shall receive mercy and find grace for well-timed help (Hebrews 4:14-16; ALT).

Bibliography:

Verses marked "ALT" taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible: Second Edition. Copyright 2005 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org). Previously copyrighted 1999, 2001 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Verses marked "NKJV" taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1982, as found on BibleWorksfor Windows™.

Young, Robert. Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (YLT). Public Domain, 1898. As found on BibleWorksfor Windows™.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Second College Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.

Baur, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 2nd ed. Trans. and rev. by William Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Fredrick W. Danker. Chicago: University of London Press, 1979.

BibleWorksfor Windows™ Copyright 1992-1999 BibleWorks, L.C.C. Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika. Programmed by Michael S. Bushell and Michael D. Tan.

Friberg, Timothy and Barbara. Analytical Greek New Testament. Copyright 1994 and Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Copyright 1994. Both as found on BibleWorksfor Windows™.

Liddell-Scott Greek English Lexicon (Abridged). Public Domain. As found on BibleWorksfor Windows™.

Louw, Johannes and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon. Second edition, copyright 1998 as found on BibleWorksfor Windows™.

Newman, Barclay M. Jr. A Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Copyright 1971 by United Bible Societies and 1993 by Deutsche Biblelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), Sttugart. As found on BibleWorksfor Windows™.

Webster's Talking Dictionary/ Thesaurus. Licensed property of Parson's Technology, Inc. v. 1.0b. Software Copyright 1996 by Exceller Software Corp. Based on Random House Webster's College Dictionary. Copyright 1995 by Random House, Inc.

The above article originally appeared in the free Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site October 1, 2005.

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