Proskuneo and latreian (3)

I’m thinking still about worship and its Koine Greek antecedent word-concepts.  From Roy Lanier of yesteryear, fast forward a few years.  [This post continues thoughts from two days ago.]

Max Lucado once exhorted, “Live your liturgy.”¹  In reading that, the high-church liturgists may feel validated, and we all may feel somewhat justified in continuing our patterns when we read Lucado’s words.  After all, pretty much all of us have liturgies.  Yet I think the point was that discipleship through the week is also significant.  If we could be more consistent, things would be better.  Here’s my extrapolation on Lucado’s admonition:


If you’re going to do worship in Q style, live in that style.  Or if you worship in Z style or Y style, live in that style.

You might think there would be more connection between life and the unimportant (in some cases, silly) liturgies pretty much all of us experience on a weekly basis.  From mountain church to sea-level church to rolling-hills church — it doesn’t matter how “high” or “low” your tradition is — our corporate patterns are, way too often, just so much fluff.

And we fiddle while Rome burns.  Our lives are pathetic.  We really don’t live “up to snuff” (that’s redneck for “consistent with standards”) with any of our would-be-transformative Sunday “worship” activities.

Something needs to be re-calibrated.  We could either cease trying to engage in so-called worship activities, or we could try to bring the other 117.5 waking hours a week into harmony.

Essentially, some cognitive consonance in this sphere would be nice — and highly advisable from the eternal perspective.

Now, to move from the inspirational-yet-human to the specifically God-breathed . . .

Romans 12 tends to come up in worship discussions among enlightened Christian-types.  Romans 12, however, does not deal with worship, strictly speaking.  The noun here is not “proskuneo.”  It’s “latreian,” a cognate of “latreuo” which speaks of sacrificial ministry (think animal sacrifice, then transfer that to the NC).  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“Little Kittel”) reports these bits:

  • latreian is used 9x in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and “refers generally to cultic worship”
  • a connection exists with OT priestly service and douleuein (general service)
  • in the ancient Philo’s writings, this word is said to “embrace the ministry of virtue and spiritual service to God” — wonder if the oft-cited Philo is why some English versions translated “logiken” as “spiritual”?

Etymologically related to the above, the root latron means, roughly, “to work for reward” and “to serve.”  This, friends, is an idea quite distinct from the meaning carried in the word proskuneo, which means “kiss toward.”   Proskuneo connotes bowing, obeisance, and reverential homage shown toward another, greater being.

The expression in Rom. 12:1 is logiken latreian; logiken is a relatively uncommon biblical word and could be said to have spawned our word “logical.”  Latreian is also uncommon in this particular form.  Its basic meaning is “service rendered for hire, ministration,” and it further is said to be related to the likes of Levitical priestly service.

Robertson’s Word Pictures  gives this further insight:

Which is your reasonable service (ten logiken humon latreian). “Your rational (spiritual) service (worship).” For latreia, see on Romans 9:4 . Logiko is from logo, reason. The phrase means here “worship rendered by the reason (or soul).”

I think Robertson may be affected by church tradition here in linking “service” with “worship”; I do not not see anything directly vertical, i.e., human-to-God, in Rom. 12:1.  I rather think Paul is suggesting that offering ourselves becomes, rationally (or even figuratively?) speaking, the New equivalent of Old priestly service.  Logiken ≈ logical ≈ rational, and latreian ≈ horizontal service, not vertical worship.  Assuming I’m right, this verse is not about worship per se but is about Christian living more generally.  Worship, after all, was never halted, but animal sacrifices were.

Paul is saying, I am convinced, that when we offer our whole selves to God, the resulting “sacrifice,” so to speak, becomes the equivalent of the priestly service that is no longer a part of how we approach God.


¹ Here, although I highly doubt Lucado had this level of zing in mind when he wrote his phrase, I’ll acknowledge my bias against the high church.  The disconnect between corporate worship and life is exaggerated when the corporate worship is in a dead language.

By the way, the term “high church” is inherently questionable, as though other ways and means exist on a lower, undignified plane.  This reminds me of another inherently questionable term:  “Reformed.”  Yeah, I know that things needed drastic reforming in the time of Luther and Calvin, but the use of “reformed” today seems to imply a progress, a development, a reformation that no longer reflects the situation.  Today, there is not just one church institution that is reforming, or that needs reforming.  We all need reforming — certainly including the “Reformed” ones — and many other groups at least make efforts at reforming along the way.

5 thoughts on “Proskuneo and latreian (3)

  1. John Eoff 11/16/2012 / 12:06 pm

    Brian, in my opinion the definition of worship offered above as “work for reward” may be exactly what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of worship in spirit and in truth. After all is that not exactly what old testament worship was all about——the physical offering of animal sacrifice for the reward of forgiveness of sin. It is obvious from the question of the woman to whom he was speaking that the offering of animal sacrifices was the worship that she had in mind. That was a figure of the “truth” worship which was to replace it——-Jesus’ own body offered for the reward of permanent remission of sins. This new worship, with it’s much greater reward, thus is not a physical act which we can perform but is instead “spiritual” in nature, having been performed for us, and our acceptance of it is the only responce we can make to it; purely spiritual. Thus our worship in spirit and truth is a work (performed by another) for the utmost reward, eternal life (spiritual life in the spiritual eternal kingdom). We are physically passive in this work—worship— being only able to acknowledge it through faith in Jesus resulting in eternal life.


    • Brian Casey 11/21/2012 / 10:41 am

      Thanks for your thoughts on this, John. I don’t think I completely follow your thinking on worship here. Are you suggesting that Jesus’ depiction of worship in spirit and truth is a *negative* thing, viewed through New-Covenant lenses? (“Work for reward” certainly seems negative to me, in this context, although I don’t mind earning a salary in my job.) 🙂 I’ve never heard this shading of the John 4 passage (etc.) before but can certainly think about it. I’m going to opt for a new post on this, instead of sharing my response only as a “comment reply.” If interested, please check back tomorrow on my blog. I’ll include a few key lines from that essay-in-progress below….

      (No matter whether I’m on target at all here, or how much you might disagree with me, please know that I nearly categorically reject the idea that the “in truth” part of the phrasing has anything to do with CofC views on “correct” actions!)

      Hebrews certainly seems to corroborate that Jesus’ sacrifice is the true, central replacement for the *latreuo* or *leitourgeia* of the Old Covenant. (No more animal sacrifices! Jesus — once and for all!) But this doesn’t negate the offering of ourselves described in Rom. 12, does it?

      I acknowledge that there’s really not much about worship in the New Covenant writings. I take it that the early Christians just *worshipped*and didn’t find the need to write about it so much,

      I don’t see that vertical worship communication (the *proskuneo *variety) was snuffed out with the cross. . . . Doxologies such as those found in Philippians 2, Ephesians 1, 1 Timothy 1 suggest that Christians were giving vertical, reverent, adoring attention to Christ, and the example of the woman of Luke 7:36 appears as a striking example of very literal act of spontaneous worship (proskuneo is, roughly, bowing and “kissing toward”) honored by Jesus.

      I’ll be referring readers to several previous posts on worship, too. A couple of these are from prior writings that Cecil Hook had read and commented on:

      A Paramount Worship Text John 4

      Truly and Spiritually

      Thought you might like at least some of the stuff there.

      This one is probably even more apopros, I think: Synagogue Worship as Model

      That’s all for now. Heading to chiropractor! Have a great Thanksgiving, and if you’re not too put off by responses, check for I can’t remember if you subscribed or not, but if so, it will come to you automatically when it goes online.



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