In the Christian Greek Bible there are two words sometimes translated by the English word "worship." One, latreuo, is used always of the Absolute Being, God the Father. The other, proskuneo, does not mean "worship" in the modern sense of the word, but rather a show of deep respect by bowing on knees and kissing the feet or fringe of a garment. It is something lie the deep bow of the Japanese, but more closely to that practice in the Middle East of fully bowing on knees to kiss the feet or hand of someone worthy or demanding deep respect.
In the Jewish Greek version of the Old Testament this word proskuneo is used when someone bows or prostrates to the ground, on knees or face, in deep respect for another. Examples of this can be seen in 1 Samuel (1 Kings LXX) 24:9, "David bowed with his face to the ground and did obeisance (prosekunesen) to king Saul." And, again, in the case of Abigail, "And Abigail saw David, and she hasted and alighted from her ass; and she fell before David on her face, and did obeisance to him (prosekunesen), bowing to the ground." (1 Samuel 25:23 LXX) It would seem clear that in these two cases proskuneo is not "worship" in the modern sense of the word, but rather a deep respect common in the Eastern world, and unknown in the Western.
In the Christian Bible proskuneo is used in this manner above, that is a bowing or kneeling in deep respect. This can be seen in a number of verses which are here listed:
Therefore the slave fell down and began to PROSKUNEO [RHM: do homage; RSV: fell on his knees] himself to (his master), saying, 'Be patient with me and I will pay back everything to you.'
Also, the soldiers would hit Jesus on the head with a reed and spit upon him and, bending their knees, they would do PROSKUNEO [KJ: bowing their knees; NEB: knelt; WMS: bending knees] to him.
As Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet and did PROSKUNEO [TCNT: bowed to the ground; RHM: did homage; GDSP: made obeisance] to him. But Peter lifted him up, saying: "Rise; I myself am also a man."
Look! I will give those from the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews, and yet they are not but are lying-look! I will make them come and PROSKUNEO [TCNT: bow down] before your feet and make them know I have loved you.
It is true the word proskuneo may be used more like the modern English meaning of "worship" -- veneration of a deity. This can be seen in the Greek translator’s rendering of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman at the well. John 4:20-24 reads, most translations rendering proskuneo as "worship" --- "Our forefathers PROSKUNEO in this mountain; but you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where persons ought to PROSKUNEO." Jesus said to her: "Believe me, woman, The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will YOU people PROSKUNEO the Father. YOU PROSKUNEO what you do not know; we PROSKUNEO what we know, because salvation originates with the Jews. Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true PROSKUNEO will PROSKUNEO the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to PROSKUNEO him. God is a Spirit, and those PROSKUNEO him must PROSKUNEO with spirit and truth." (Compare also John 12:20; Acts 7:43; 8:27; 24:11)
These should be enough to confirm that proskuneo has a wide range of meaning: from deep respect to actual "worship" of Almighty God. It ought also to be clear from the account of the Samaritan woman that Jesus teaches that "worship" belongs only to His God and Father. No where does Jesus ever encourage "worship" of himself. Indeed, in the temptation account, Jesus uses both proskuneo in combination with latreuo regarding the Lord God only. The account reads in Matthew 4:9, 10 as Satan says, "’All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.’ Then Jesus said to him: ‘Go away, Satan! For it is written, "It is the Lord your God you must worship [PROSKUNEO], and it is to him alone you must render sacred service. [LATREUO]'"
Some, mainly Trinitarians, but also others, believe in the worship of God (the Creator) as well as Jesus, His Son. Since the pre-existent Son, as well as the glorified Christ, are referred to by the designation "god" this amounts to the worship of two gods, contradicting historical monotheism of the Jews as well as the early Christians. However, what about those verses in the Gospels which have others "worshipping" Jesus according to the King James Version as well as some other versions?
We feel Jesus would never the worship of two gods, or worship of anyone other than his Father. A consideration of those verses where proskuneo appears when compared to a variety of translations, when applied to Jesus, mean simply a high degree of honor and respect, not "worship." We consider some of those verse below.
And, look! a leprous man came up and began to PROSKUNEO [TCNT: bow to the ground before; RIEU: did obeisance] to Jesus, saying: "Lord, if you just want to, you can make me clean."
While he was telling them these things, look! a certain ruler who had approached began to PROSKUNEO [MOF: knelt before] to Jesus."
Then those in the boat did PROSKUNEO [TCNT: threw themselves on their faces] to Jesus, saying: "You are really God's Son."
When the woman came she began PROSKINEO [RHM: bowing down; WEY: threw herself at his feet; MOF: knelt before] to Jesus, saying: "Lord, help me!"
Then the mother of the sons of Zeb'e·dee approached Jesus with her sons, PROSKUNEO [RHM: bowing down; KNX: falling on her knees; BER: kneeling; TCNT: bowing to the ground] and asking for something from Jesus.
And, look! Jesus met them and said: "Good day!" They approached and caught him by his feet and did PROSKUNEO [NEB: falling prostrate before; BER: knelt before] to Jesus.
and when the disciples saw Jesus they did PROSKUNEO [NJB: fell down before], but some doubted.
But on catching sight of Jesus from a distance (the demonized man) ran and did PROSKUNEO [ABUV: bowed down; NEB: flung himself down; WEY: threw himself at his feet] to Jesus.
Then the blind man said: "I do put faith [in him], Lord." And he did PROSKUNEO [NOR: kneeled before] to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 14:25
the secrets of his heart become manifest, so that he will fall upon [his] face and PROSKUNEO God, declaring: "God is really among YOU."
However, what about those two texts which show angels worshipping Jesus? Consider these:
Hebrews 1:6 --- "But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: ‘And let all God's angels PROSKUNEO to the Son.’" When Jesus was resurrected and thus brought again into the world after three days in Hades, all God’s angels must have bowed and prostrated themselves out of the deepest respect. This is not "worship" in the modern meaning of that word. The angel of the apocalypse says simply: "Worship (proskuneo) The God," in the absolute sense. In the end this text only shows the reaction of the angelic hosts to the victory of the Son and no doubt on his presentation in heaven to receive his kingdom, they showed proper respect after the Eastern manner. (Daniel 7:13, 14)
Revelation 5:14 --- "And the four living creatures went saying: ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and PROSKUNEO." (KJV adding "Him that liveth for ever and ever.") Some feel these four zoan or animals symbolize those angels as a group mentioned above. The celestial presbyters are a group about which there are a variety of interpretations. No matter, both texts deal with heavenly beings and no where are earthly servants enjoined to "worship" Jesus. Additionally, on the verse, the King James version adds a phrase which would indicate that this "worship" was being extended only to God Almighty. Or, proskuneo here may be viewed, not as worship, but of a gesture of deepest respect for both God Almighty and the Lamb.
Paul, in describing the apostasy of some Jews in Biblical history, writes: "They venerated [ESEBASTHESAN] and they rendered sacred (religious) service [ELATREUSAN] to the creation beside the One who created." (Romans 1:25, literal rendering) Since Jesus was a creature (or, creation) of God Almighty (Proverbs 8:22; Colossians 1:15) the danger of saying one "worships" Jesus should become clear.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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