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A very common Christian practice is to "say grace" or to "give thanks" before each meal. What is the Biblical precedent or command for this? In other words, why do we give thanks then and not before going to bed or going to work or any other common occurrence?

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If I have time later (and if no one else has responded), I'll find a few OT and NT passages to support "grace" before meals. In the meantime, you may be interested to know that the larger Christian groups (Catholicism, Orthodox, and I assume Lutheranism) do prescribe prayer before bed, upon waking, before big tasks, before "starting the day", and at certain specific times through the day. –  svidgen Nov 7 '12 at 22:10
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Also of interest, most of us don't actually follow those highly valuable prescriptions ... :( –  svidgen Nov 7 '12 at 22:11
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Not enough research for an answer: 1 Cor. 10:30 speaks of thanking God for a meal and Matt. 26:16 (Last Supper) speaks of giving thanks at the meal, so a tradition of giving thanks at meal time appears to have been present by that time. –  Paul A. Clayton Nov 7 '12 at 22:55
    
lots of folks say their prayers before bed, too –  warren Nov 20 '12 at 17:54
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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is definitely precedent: As Christians, we should be following the example set by Christ, who gave thanks before feeding the multitudes in Matthew 14:19-21 and Matthew 15:34-36. He also did so in Luke 24:30.

Matthew 14:19-21

King James Version (KJV)

19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.

21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

Matthew 15:34-36

King James Version (KJV)

34 And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.

35 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

36 And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

Luke 24:30 (King James Version)

King James Version (KJV)

30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

Paul also did so in Acts 27:35.

Acts 27:35

King James Version (KJV)

35 And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.

I could go on, citing verses that tell us to be thankful in all things, to pray without ceasing, but those would be weaker, and not specific to your question, so I'll stop with these three examples as Biblical precedent.

There is a command in Deuteronomy about giving thanks after the meal:

Deuteronomy 8:10

King James Version (KJV)

10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.

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I tried not to use @Paul A. Clayton's verses in the comments above, but those would have made good additions. It's also a nice side-note that there are specific Jewish blessings for certain foods, so the practice was almost definitely already in place at the time, as he suggested. chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/90551/jewish/… –  David Stratton Nov 8 '12 at 1:26
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There is one thing very important that we should always consider: we own nothing, all is for the Creator. If today we have such opportunity to have something good or bad, meal, job, incident, it is per God grace, why not just say: "thank you God", He knows why, and it is not by our own strength, do not be deceived.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE. I'd encourage you to read our faq and maybe some discussions from our Christianity Meta especially meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/q/692/30 This answer is obviously a thought on the matter from Christian perspective, but it falls a bit short of what we're generally looking for in the way of specific and defended answers. this question is asking about Biblical or traditional precedent. Could you edit it to explain that you see this as a traditional element and maybe what the origin of the practice is? –  Caleb Nov 19 '12 at 15:53
    
You might also consider that there is Biblical precedent for thanks before meals, so you might want to add that to your answer to help flesh things out. –  Caleb Nov 19 '12 at 15:54
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Grace before meals is a Jewish tradition that was in some respects followed by Jesus and also Paul, but is not technically 'commanded' in a legal sense from scripture.

As far as the overall origin of 'grace before meals' I would say it was established in all the ancient sacrifices which included eating portions of the sacrifice. Very early under the Levitical ceremonies food was associated with religious significance. It is no wonder then that a tradition around food has always accompanied various forms of Judaism and Christianity.

According to the rabbinic tradition found in Berakhot, Mishnah-, Tosefta-, Talmud tractate Benedictions:

“It is forbidden man to enjoy anything of this world without benediction,” b. Ber., 35a. “At good news one says: Blessed be He who is good and who does good. But at bad news one says: Blessed be the judge of truth … Man has a duty to pronounce a blessing on the bad as he pronounces a blessing on the good,” 54a. (TDNT, Kittel, p 9.410)

One can witness Christ followed this Jewish custom (he followed many of them) in the miraculous feedings. (See Matthew 15:36). This does not mean that he or his disciples fastidiously had grace 'before every meal'. The Pharisees who did every thing with 'caution' and a reverence to the 'external', attacked Jesus' disciples on one occasion for eating without even washing their hands so it would not be improbable that they also neglected whatever prayers might have been expected upon them.

Alfred Edersheim the Jewish historian actually confidently affirms that most likely Christ's prayer would have been the typical 'thanksgiving':

‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the world, Who causes to come forth (הַמּוֹצִיא) bread from the earth.’ (Alfred Edersheim , The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1.64)

It should be noted that the context of scriptures reference to Christ's observance is a large formally religious gathering in a prayerful need that is about to be miraculously answered. Hardly can this be translated into a legalistic rule mandating prayers of thanks before eating Chicken McNuggets on the run. However there are a few scarce stands of scripture in the Epistles that keep up with this theme, although somewhat always on the circumference of other subjects. First in Acts when Paul is on the stormy ship 'he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.' (Acts 27:34). Note that this occasion was also a formally religious one with calls of help and salvation.

Also,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)

See also 1 Corinthians 10:30-31.

However here is what we should really conclude (in my own mind). Paul's main use of 'thanksgiving' was in how he opened many of his letters with prayers. It was a way of life and although it also extended to formal religious meals, meals are not set aside as more special than the thanksgiving for all the good things we receive. The idea that any family who sits down at a table to eat without a prayer of thanksgiving is somehow inferior to one that does, is more of an interpretive cultural notion not directly established in scripture. In fact beyond the few references that I have mentioned little in the entire Bible would suggest 'grace' before meals as expected behavior for all Christians. The silence of the Bible on the subject is a strong argument against its legalization.

In the Old Testament 'thanksgiving' was most formally identified with singing and in the 'thanksgiving' sacrifice. In the New Testament it is sincerely giving our lives to God, in totality and in love to God and our neighbor. This high and extreme thanksgiving must toss aside all other forms as inconsequential especially those having to do with 'food and drink'. If I was to personally become legalistic in my thinking about 'grace', I would probably insist that public prayers be offered in the 'harvest in gathering' during our monthly salary banking transactions. Falling onto one knee in our cubicle when sighting our payroll deposit, which comes from God to buy our food and so much more, would be more in-line with Mosaic Law than saying a few words before a meal.

Having said this prayer and thanksgiving is a very good thing, so neither should we judge anyone who feels a duty to formally receive all food in a prayer (whether snacks and drinks are included in this 'duty' I leave it to those who concern themselves over it). In either case, whether offering prayers outwardly, or just being happy inwardly, in God's presence, in all occasions, we should receive in thanksgiving all that we receive, including gratitude for all those blessings contained in brothers and sisters in Christ, that may have their own view about these things.

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