Jason B. Ladd

Author | Apologist | Entrepreneur

A History of Thanksgiving in the New Testament

history of thanksgiving new testament

Thanksgiving is upon us.  It is a time to understand the history of Thanksgiving and express our gratitude for all we have been given.

It’s a time to be thankful not only for things, but for circumstances.

This post will look at the history of thanksgiving in the Pauline Epistles.  We are far removed from the time when Jesus walked the earth.  Our distance in time from his earthly ministry sometimes diminishes the impact of his acts.

history of thanksgiving new testamentWe read about his miraculous works.  But when we skim the Bible like we skim a news article or a blog post, we don’t feel the full effect of what He has done for us, for what He has done for the world.

This Thanksgiving, we will sit around a table and give thanks.  We will give thanks for our families, for our health, for our jobs.  Many of us will give thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice.

But will we really feel it?

I know who really felt it: the Apostle Paul.  Talk about a change of heart.

Paul was a persecutor of Christians.  He watched the coats of the men who stoned Stephen (the first Christian martyr).  Struck blind on the road to Damascus after an encounter with the risen Lord, his sight was eventually restored.  He went on to pen thirteen books of the New Testament.

If anyone knows what to be thankful for, it’s Paul.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul talks about the light of the Gospel, and how God has given “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  In verse 15, Paul tells how God’s grace is extended to more and more people so that it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

history of thanksgiving new testamentIn 2 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul teaches about the cheerful giver:

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (v.6 ESV)

Paul tell us we will be “enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (v. 11).  He goes on to say that charitable ministries are not just about provisions for the needy, but also in the thanksgivings to God.

In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul exhorts us to substitute thanksgiving for filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking.

In Philippians chapter 4, Paul tells us not to be anxious.  Instead, we should let our requests be made known to God.  We should do this with prayer and supplication and thanksgiving.

history of thanksgiving new testamentIn Colossians chapter 2, Paul encourages to be abounding in thanksgiving.  We should do this, he says, since we have received Christ.  We should “walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as [we] were taught.” (v.6-7).

In Colossians chapter 4, Paul says we should be watchful in thanksgiving as we continue steadfastly in prayer (v.2).

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, Paul is overjoyed after Timothy’s report of the burgeoning faith of their brothers in Christ in Thessalonica.  Paul’s thanksgiving to God is from the reassurance of their faith.

history of thanksgiving new testamentIn 1 Timothy chapter 2, Paul urges:

“supplications, prayers, intercession, and thanksgivings be made for all people, all kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

And in the Book of Revelation, John describes how the angels fall on their faces before the throne of God and worship:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (7:12).

Whether you have much or little, give thanks for whatever provision God has made in your life.

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Remember, Jesus did not promise an easy and happy life for those who follow Him.  He promised joy and righteousness.  The former will crumble during times of suffering, but that latter will endure.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?


Photo credit: hildgrim / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo Credit: Eric Enstrom, 1918 / PD

Photo Credit: Marjory Collins, 1942 / PD

Photo credit: The U.S. Army / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo Credit: FSA, 1936 / PD

About Jason B. Ladd

Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.

8 Replies

  1. Hello Jason.

    While I believe that the apostle Paul was a great holy man http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/the-greatness-of-the-apostle-paul-die-grose-des-apostels-paulus/ I really struggle with this idea of thanking God for good things.

    Let me explain why: I know that every days, countless children are starving, most of them being doomed to die under an atrocious pain.
    In comparison to them, I truly live in paradise.
    If I were honest, I should pray to God: “Lord, I thank you that you decided to give me wealth whereas they are horribly suffering.”

    And I just cannot utter such a sentence.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think you’ll find that this post is not about giving thanks for “good things.” It’s not even really about giving thanks for “things,” even though that is what comes about very naturally. I think the Scripture referenced shows us that Paul modeled something quite different. Most things Paul is thankful for are intangibles. He is thankful for the abundance of grace poured out by God. When he references being enriched, he qualifies thankfulness as a response to the ability to be able to give back to others. In short, Paul does not say to be thankful for “good things,” he says to be thankful in all things.

      Your next point involves the problem of suffering. Suffering is the result of the wrongful use of free will. No explanation will dull the pain of its existence, but understanding it as a byproduct of one of the greatest possible goods, free will, can help us find meaning in this world full of absurdities as you describe it.

      1. “Your next point involves the problem of suffering. Suffering is the result of the wrongful use of free will.”

        The problem is that there are many natural evils which predate the fall.
        But even if I were a YEC, this would not get God off the hook:


        So I can pray to God He helps me overcome a temptation or increasingly become a more loving person, but I cannot thank Him that I am glad I feel so good if I know that so many persons are suffering atrociously everywhere.

        Or maybe I could, if one defines the word “thankfulness” in such a liberal way to make it compatible with just “expressing one’s joy”.

        1. It looks like we agree on one of the main points. Thanking God for “feeling so good” is indeed a shallow sentiment, and nowhere do I suggest that in my post. God has given us plenty of opportunities to thank Him for the good things He’s given us. Of course, we need not be thankful for evil, whether moral or natural.

          1. Sam Hall

            Jason & Lothar, one other point of agreement on what is “good” is that both of you express compassion for those who suffer.
            Lothar, I presume you’re using other sources besides the Bible to assert the “many natural evils which predate the Fall.”

          2. Sam, Great point. Have we stumbled upon another example of an objective moral value? Compassion for the suffering? You might also be interested in our discussion threat on the Halloween post at http://www.jasonbladd.com/2013/10/30/trick-or-treat-should-christians-celebrate-halloween/#disqus_thread

  2. lovely and timely post. With the light of faith, even the difficulties are occasions for thanksgiving because with God, everything is for the good of the soul. It is nice to be reminded of the proper attitude towards God and His goodness.