Giving thanks and having an attitude of gratitude is a central theme throughout the Bible. As Christians, we are repeatedly encouraged to give thanks to God and have hearts overflowing with gratitude. But just how prevalent is this theme of thankfulness in Scripture? How many times is the word “thankful” actually mentioned?
In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine the number of occurrences of the word “thankful” in the Bible. We will look at how many times it appears overall, as well as how it is divided between the Old and New Testaments. Key passages will be analyzed in their biblical context and important takeaways highlighted.
Here are some key things we’ll cover:
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- The total number of times “thankful” appears in the Bible
- Breakdown between Old Testament and New Testament occurrences
- Analysis of key passages and verses with the word “thankful”
- What we can learn from the biblical emphasis on thankfulness
- Ways to cultivate thankfulness in our daily lives
So let’s dive in and explore the significant, but perhaps surprising, presence of “thankful” throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
Total Occurrences in the Bible
First, looking at the total picture, the word “thankful” appears 5 times in the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible. This includes both singular and plural forms of the word.
This number provides an interesting insight – while concepts like giving thanks and having an attitude of gratitude certainly permeate Scripture, the specific word “thankful” is not actually used all that frequently.
However, as we’ll see, these few occurrences that do exist emphasize the importance of thankfulness in powerful ways. The infrequency of the literal word reveals an expectation that thankfulness would characterize God’s people rather than needing to be constantly commanded.
Old Testament Occurrences
When we divide the usage between the Old and New Testaments, we find only 1 occurrence in the Old Testament.
This single use is found in Psalm 100:4 (NKJV):
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
In this climatic Psalm of praise, we receive a command to be thankful as we enter God’s presence. As part of a grateful heart that recognizes God for who He is, we are to be thankful to Him.
The psalmist models this attitude of gratitude throughout the Psalms. So again, we see the expectation of thankfulness even if the specific word is not used extensively.
New Testament Occurrences
When we turn to the New Testament, we find the remaining 4 occurrences of “thankful,” all in the Pauline epistles.
The first New Testament appearance is in Acts 24:3 as Paul stands on trial before the governor Felix:
We accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
Here Paul emphasizes accepting his imprisonment and trial with thankfulness, as part of his overarching trust in God’s sovereignty.
This exemplifies finding gratitude even in the midst of difficult circumstances – a recurrent biblical theme.
The second New Testament occurrence is in Romans 1:21:
because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Within a passage describing humanity’s descent into sin and depravity, Paul identifies a lack of thankfulness as a core component of this downhill progression.
When people fail to honor God and give Him thanks, it leads to downward spiral of foolishness and darkness. We must be wary of taking God for granted.
The next appearance in Philippians 4:6 gives a powerful exhortation:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Giving thanks is tightly linked to prayer and making requests of God. We are exhorted to combat anxiety and replace it with gratitude, approaching God with thankful hearts.
Finally, Colossians 3:15 reads:
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Here, thankfulness is paired with living at peace within the body of Christ. As Christians, we are called to be thankful people in all our relationships and community together.
As we have seen by analyzing the occurrences of “thankful” and key biblical passages:
- Though not overly common, the specific word carries weight when it appears
- Thankfulness is assumed as a baseline attitude for God’s people
- We are to be thankful to God in approaching Him and acknowledging Him
- Lack of gratitude is a dangerous first step away from God
- Giving thanks combats anxiety and characterizes our prayers
- Thankfulness contributes to peace within Christian community
The biblical emphasis is clear: those who have received Jesus’ grace are called to live out continual thankfulness in their walk with God and with others.
In light of the priority Scripture gives to thankfulness, here are some ways we can actively cultivate gratitude in our daily lives:
- Begin each day by thanking God for specific blessings and provisions
- Keep a thankfulness journal recording things large and small you are grateful for
- Reflect on verses about thankfulness like those above
- Pray through the Psalms, adopting the psalmists’ grateful hearts
- Write thank you notes to encourage and appreciate special people
- Share your gratitude with God and others out loud
- Count your blessings when you face difficult times and anxieties
- Let thankfulness overflow naturally from a heart amazed by the gospel
In summary, while “thankful” may not be frequent, its strategic appearances emphasize thankfulness as a critical faith characteristic. This expectation of gratitude should mark our attitudes, prayers, and relationships. As those who have received the ultimate gift in Christ, we get to live each day with hearts overflowing with thanks. Our gracious God is so worthy of our praise and gratitude!
Let’s pursue cultivating thankfulness more and more, keeping in step with the biblical emphasis. May our lives be characterized by joyful gratitude to God and others as we reflect on the undeserved blessings we have in Christ.