Lexical specifics and meaning theory (IID)

Modern linguistic theory teaches that the meaning . . . is not located in the word itself but is determined by the relationship the word has to other words . . . and by the contrast it forms with other words which share its semantic domain.  (Jobes 202)

Meaning is determined primarily by context.  The search for meaning may at times and with limitations be aided by lexicon/dictionary studies and by historical etymological factors, but each discrete text—taken as a whole, and sometimes including comparisons with other texts—will reveal meaning by virtue of comparisons and similarities.

To apply a music metaphor:  an 8th note has some meaning to a music reader who knows the language of musical notation.  However, it is only in the understanding of the musical context—the whole composition—that the musician may approach a full understanding of said 8th note.  Its style; its implied direction; its relation to quarter notes, half notes, and other 8ths . . . all these things and more are found in the note’s relationship to the whole musical context in which it is found.

The primacy of context is an important principle that I am hoping will guide all considerations of worship and service words.  I don’t want context to be lost in these posts that have been submerged in lexicography.

With that said, I’m going to offer more of a residual smattering of observations (those of Karen Jobes and my own) related to words she placed in the semantic domain for worship. Any preliminary conclusions drawn based on dictionary concerns must be made subservient to contexts in which the words are found.

The more frequently a given word is used in comparison to other words in its semantic domain, the more general and inclusive its meaning tends to be.  Proskuneō is the most frequently used of the verbs for worship. . . . Latreuō is the second most frequently used. . . . In contrast, eusebeō is the second most frequently used of the verbs in the extra-biblical works. . . .  (203)

Latreuō and leitourgeō share a very specific sense that distinguishes them from the other Greek verbs for worship that have a wider semantic range. (203)

The two related words latreuō and leitourgeō are more narrow in focus and application, denoting priestly “vocation.”  I would go a step further in asserting that these two words may not even belong in a discussion alongside proskuneo, kamptō to gonu, gonupeteō, sebomai, and sebazomai.  Actually, I don’t think Jobes would disagree:  she later depicted the relationships among three groupings of these words in circles that overlap each other but that do not touch the other circles.

. . . [T]he English word worship is both far too general and too conditioned by Western culture to adequately capture Paul’s vivid analogy of the Christian to the Old Testament priest.  (204, referring to Romans 12:1)

Jobes is right, right, right about this.  Once again, in case there’s any possibility that any reader has missed it:  the noun form of latreuō in Romans 12:1 should not be translated “worship.”  I am asserting this, not Jobes, and I suspect she would only partly agree.

The phrase kamptō to gonu (bend the knee”) may be a Semitic idiom and is included in the “worship, reverence” word grouping in Louw-Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, a very highly regarded work.

Jobes suggests that the lesser frequency of eusebeō in the NT, in comparison to secular literature, may indicate intentional choice against this word by NT writers.  To associate two separate passages in her article, and perhaps to extrapolate a bit, two things occur to me:

  1. Eusebeō’s association with pagan ritual could easily have given pause to a 1st-century writer.
  2. In any event, ritual was not what NT authors seem to have wanted to spotlight in terms of the “vertical” in the New Covenant relationship, and eusebeō seems generally to have denoted ritual.

The word eusebeō “refers to pious acts done for the benefit of or in obedience to an object of devotion,” Jobes comments.  Not incidentally, I have found that those who see worship largely from a vantage point of obedience to Deity’s demand are rarely the most exemplary worshippers.

The words eusebeō, sebomai, and sebazomai [1]share the root -seb.  While this factor is worthy of note, it should not be very significant in determining meaning.  Other etymological factors might be the “prefix” “eu” (which connotes “good”) and the differentiation of “voice” (sebazomai is in the middle voice, which edges toward the passive voice).  Context, however, is king:  it is best to depend primarily, and most heavily, on the context when we want to know what a word means.

Speaking of context, a reading of even isolated subcontexts using proskuneō will reveal that it has relatively predictable implications, although different applications.  Jobes notes,

[The word proskuneō is] always evaluated positively when used with respect to God or Jesus and always condemned when directed toward angels, Satan, demons, or pagan deity (e.g., Luke 4:7-8; Acts 7:43; Rev. 9:20). (207)

In the following post I will retransmit a Jobes image that displays graphically the relationship of all these words.  Then I will share some specific verses, inviting further examination of context, as each reader has time and interest.

[1] The word sebazomai, used only once in the NT (Romans 1:25), is related to a Greek honorific title for the Roman emperor.  This title, Sebastos, might be compared to the adjective “Reverend” today—a word that in my view should not be applied to a human, whether Caesar or not.

Worship-word domain(s) and proskuneō (IIC full)

The digest version of this post appeared a few hours ago.  My hope is that some who scanned that will have had their appetites whetted for more detail!

Toward a delineated, nuanced understanding and practice, this installment further discusses the semantic domain(s) for words translated “worship,” emphasizing meanings of proskuneō and related words.

After years of thought and observation, it’s admittedly gratifying to have my general conclusion about Romans 12:1-2 propped up by the scholarly work of Karen Jobes¹ in this area.  It does make perfect sense to read latreuō in Romans as a reference to the Levitical priesthood.  A morphed, New-Covenant understanding of the priestly “religious vocation” (as Jobes termed it)—in contradistinction to any notions of more vertically framed worship (e.g., humble adoration, praise, words of direct honoring)—seems to be what Paul is advocating.  To reiterate a couple items from the last post:  

  1. It is an interpretive mistake to make the word latreian in Romans 12 refer directly to things under the typical, modern Christian heading “worship.”
  2. It may not be assumed that all the biblical instances of the word “worship” refer to the same thing; however, various horizontal and vertical things may all be reasonably included in the same discussion, if one takes care.

Below are the words Jobes has identified as constituting the semantic domain for worship.  Here, she includes latreuō and leitourgeō in the broad category,² although she will subsequently explain that the range of meaning of these two words does not really overlap with the others.  I am adding gloss definitions, but please don’t hang your hat on these English-translation hooks.  I might point out now that several of these words may be used with secular meanings.

Five verbs
latreuō – perform priestly duty
proskuneō – give worship/homage, “kiss toward”
sebazomai – participate in religious revelry
sebomai – show honor (a pejorative term in the NT)
eusebeō – show piety

Three other expressions with close connections
leitourgeō – perform civil or prietsly duty
kampto to gonu – bend the knee
gonupeteō – petition on bended knee

Just prior to listing the above words, Jobes offered a sample of English NT verses with the word “worship,” noting that Rom 12:1, Matt 2:11, Mark 7:6-7, and Rom 1:25 each involves a different Greek word from the list above.  These verses do not all speak of the same thing!  Forgive my bold effusiveness; it might be better at this stage to point out more cautiously that

  1. The original words in each of those passages are different.
  2. The semantic relationships among the words are nuanced.
  3. Taken in the contexts of those passages, these words very likely do not speak of the same thing.

It is in learning which specific word was used in each specific context that we may begin to delineate and understand this whole concept-area more thoroughly and appropriately.  Giving attention to the document- or book-level context often reveals even more about the use of a word.

Now, I do note a slight discrepancy in Jobes’s article:  early on, she lists all eight of the above words as making up the whole:  “The range of meaning of these eight expressions comprises the semantic domain for worship.” (202)  Yet in a detailed discussion of proskuneō a few pages later, she notes, “However, gonupeteō is not a member of the semantic domain for worship.” (205)  This conflict is resolved in acquiring a more thorough concept of the two semantic senses of proskuneō (and then in extending thought into the range of meaning of gonupeteō):

Proskuneō’s “A” sense:  worship, homage shown by bowing (physically and/or in spirit), “kissing toward” in reverent adoration of God

Proskuneō’s “B” sense:  entreaty, petition made subserviently, on bended knee, i.e., request made of anyone in power, including a governmental/civil authority

Jobes believes that the magi’s proskuneō of Matt 2:11 falls into the 2nd category, i.e., that it is not hermeneutically justifiable to call this “worship” per se.  Her distinction—namely, whether there is a theologically motivated component—seems necessary because we are focusing on dictionary definitions.  While those men might have worshipped in the believing, Christian sense, what they did as “delegates of an eastern monarch” (Jobes 206) surely didn’t involve a developed understanding of the incarnation or of Jesus’ identity as Messiah.  As exegetes, we might well find a contextual reason to lean toward sense A or sense B, but all we can say, based on vocabulary, is that what they did was proskuneō:  that’s the word that was used.  And proskuneō isn’t restricted to spiritually motivated actions.

Context can give us clues as to the sense of the word, as in John 4, where a more theologically based sense A for proskuneō seems appropriate.  In the case of Matt 2:11 (and, e.g., Matt 20:20, from the mouth of James and John’s mother), either sense A or sense is possible, but the latter seems more likely.³

To return to the gonupeteō issue:  this word (used in Matt 17:14, 27:29; Mark 1:40, 10:17) is in the semantic domain with sense B of proskuneō.  In that sense, then, gonupeteō is not properly included in the semantic domain for theologically oriented “worship”; on the other hand, it is properly considered alongside proskuneō.

Most writers on worship seem to love the word proskuneō while ignoring kampto to gonu (bend the knee) and gonupeteō (petition on bended knee)This is a curiosity; at first blush, it seems to be an evidence of somewhat shallow study, and I’ve been both victim and the culprit in the past.  I’m impelled now to examine the NT (and other) passages that use these expressions—expressions that share in proskuneō’s general range of meaning.  A starter list of these passages is below.4

Through studies like this, we may gain a clearer understanding of the vertical and horizontal.  The expressions kampto to gonu, gonupeteō and proskuneo are all vertically oriented; some usages are spiritually/theologically specialized.

¹ PhD, Biblical Hermeneutics, Westminster Theological Seminary

² Why might one group latreuō and leitourgeō with proskuneo and related, vertical word-concepts?  Two possible explanations come to mind:

  • because almost everybody does it that way (to their hermeneutical detriment!)
  • because church life in most institutional churches—and particularly in high-church environments in which Jobes has made her home—naturally leads even the best scholars to lump every ostensibly churchy activity into the same category

³ Jobes appears to have made a mistake in referring to John 12:20 in this light; this instance of proskuneo does not relate directly to “petitioning Jesus for assistance or healing.” (205)

4 Matthew 17:14, Matthew 27:29, Mark 1:40, Mark 10:17, Mark 15:19, Luke 5:8, Luke 22:41, Acts 7:60, Acts 9:40, Acts 20:36, Acts 21:5, Romans 11:4, Romans 14:11, Ephesians 3:14, Philippians 2:10, Hebrews 12:12


Worship-word domain(s) and proskuneō (IIC digest)

If you’re not interested in many academic details, or if you only have 1 minute instead of 5-10, here is a condensed version of what will appear in full form in a few hours.

  • When the word "worship" appears in a Bible verse, one should ask what is behind that English word.  The answer to this question depends on the specific verse.  In order to understand, both the Greek vocabulary and the literary context must be considered.
  • According to Karen Jobes,¹ a list of eight Greek expressions constitutes the "semantic domain" for worship (and service).
  • Romans 12:1-2 refers to OT priestly service, and this text does not correlate directly to what believers generally put in the (vertical) worship category.
  • Even proskuneō (the most common Greek word translated "worship") does not always mean "worship" in a spiritual sense.  Comparing Matt 2:11 and John 4 reveals the likelihood that this vertical-worship word has two different senses.

More detail will be available at noon Eastern time!

¹ PhD, Biblical Hermeneutics, Westminster Theological Seminary

Words: Romans 12 and the latreuō relationship (IIB)

This post discusses latreuo, the Romans 12:1 semantic subdomain, and a more delineated understanding and practice (part B)

Most Christians have not understood the distinction between horizontal and vertical, and they sometimes gush forth about “such great worship this morning” when there has been no vertical component.  Not that there must be a vertical component in every gathering, but when the nature and purpose of any activity is clearly understood, its practice will be enhanced.

When I first read Karen Jobes’s fine word study[3] on worship words about six months ago, it gave me a new lease on thought-life in this area, so it’s probably bad form to begin a treatment of her work with a criticism.  I think this will really amount to a clarification, not a criticism, because there is good reason for her to have done what she did in writing for English Bible readers.

Jobes takes as her jumping-off-point all the words in the semantic domain for the English word “worship” rather than beginning with Greek words and concepts.  In other words, she takes as her sample a complete list of the English-Bible instances of “worship” and investigates what’s beneath them.

Her premise is fine, given that she’s explaining things primarily for English readers.  But I think the water actually gets a little muddy right off the bat for those trying to get to the bottom of all this.

If our goal is to understand what the referents are when we see “worship” in Bibles, OK.  If our goal, rather, is to understand how the earliest Christians thought about and practiced vertical worship, we might want to exclude a few things from Jobes’s study, or at least treat them separately.  You make the call for yourself.  In the end, I think you’ll see the differentiation, regardless.

Here, I’ll start with the very two words that could throw the unsuspecting reader off track:

Latreuō and leitourgeō[1] share a very specific sense that distinguishes them from the other Greek verbs for worship that have a wider semantic range.  In the New Testament[2] latreuō is used to designate duties performed in a religious vocation.  Forms . . . are used  . . . to refer to the temple service of Anna (Luke 2:37) and the altar work of the Old Testament priests (Heb. 8:5). [3]

The observation that latreuō in the NT refers to OT priests is crucial before we notice another text—Romans 12:1—and in it, an often-quoted NT instance of a noun form of latreuō, one of the words captioned above:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.*

* “Worship” (here in the ESV) is latreian in the original.

It is not within my intended scope in this post to treat Romans 12:1-2 contextually, and I’m not currently qualified to do that.  I do know enough about Romans to know that Israel’s history and theology are involved, so it makes perfect sense to read latreuō in Romans as a reference to the Levitical priesthood.  The priestly “religious vocation” (as Jobes termed it) of course gets a facelift under the New Covenant, and a morphed understanding seems to be what Paul is advocating.  Here is Jobes again:

Paul is drawing a close parallel between Israel’s priests and the priesthood of all Christian believers.  The priests of Israel offered sacrifices of dead animal flesh. . . .  What sacrifice, if any, is logikén—that is, reasonable or appropriatefor the corresponding Christian priesthood of believers to offer?  According to Romans 12:1, . . . his or her own living human flesh. . . .  [4]

Paul, then, is speaking of what Hebrew priests did in their vocational life and then is putting the offering of the Christian’s body into that frame.

Many modern Christians become confused here.  Based largely on Romans 12:1-2, they make Paul out to be saying that vertical worship is superfluous and that everything is summed up in so-called whole-life worship.  The logical inference, then, would be that Paul was negating, for instance, humble prayer he would have known from the Psalms, the worship of Isaiah, or the unrestrained praise of Miriam.  No, Paul was not negating vertical worship.  He wasn’t even dealing with it in Romans 12.

Paradoxically, many of the same Christians seem to hold in mind a relatively consistent grouping of mostly vertical activities, placing them under the mental heading “worship.”  It is an interpretive mistake to make the word latreian in Romans 12 refer directly to things in that grouping.

Summing up, for today
A single discussion might include such diverse English terms as worship and service and OT priests and honor and glorification and praise and religious ritual.  One can maintain a clearer head if he will differentiate the meanings of the original Greek words.  Whether you want to place latreuō in your worship category or not, it is undeniable that latreuō is referring to a different set of things than those referred to by some of the other words translated “worship.”

The overarching point is this:  we mustn’t indiscriminately intermingle all the times we see “worship” in the Bible.  It may not be assumed that each refers to the same thing; however, they may all be reasonably included in the same discussion, if one takes care.

[1] In these posts, I will use transliterated English spellings of Greek words, although Jobes uses Greek.

[2] Among other salient aspects here above are the words “In the New Testament.”  While we Christians might simply pass over those words thoughtlessly, I would point out that it is often important to notice how a word is used in scripture as well as how it is, or isn’t, used in secular literature and in non-canonical sacred writings.

[3] Karen Jobes, “Distinguishing the Meaning of Greek Verbs in the Semantic Domain for Worship,” in Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning:  An Introduction to Lexical Semantics (1994), 203.

[4] Ibid., 204

Words and understandings (IIA)

Worship words:  toward a delineated, nuanced understanding and practice

On Sunday mornings in many congregations, various men suddenly become active, having been assigned to do the “welcome” or “call to worship” or “table talk.”  Have you heard one of these speakers (we’ll call this person “John”) say something like this, just after a couple of songs led by “Jim”?

Wow, Jim. That was so great.  Y’all, you might think Jim and I planned that for several weeks together.  But it must have been the Holy Spirit working, because Jim just led two songs that talked all about the love and grace of God and Jesus and the way God gave us His grace to atone for our sins, and I was going to talk about sin and how I have to show grace to others when they sin, and if I don’t, I’m sinning too.  Isn’t this how to be a Christian by following Jesus who loves and forgives?  And He forgives me, too, so I’m so thankful.  What a great thing to focus on in this Christmas season as we worship the Lord together!

Actually, I’d prefer that such pseudo-inspired leaders didn’t attribute such definitional verbal haze, vague generality, and lack of purposefulness to the Spirit of God, thank you very much.

In less than a minute, John has gone all barista on us, making a Sunday morning smoothie¹ of inspiration, grace, atonement, sin, forgiveness, Christian identity, discipleship, love, gratitude, Christmas, and worship.

Where is the focus, actually?  Probably on John’s winsome personality. 

Where is the understanding?  Probably in the wind.

Everyone would have been better off if John had spoken clearly and specifically about just one or two of those things—perhaps grace and gratitude.  Like John, many men also spoon some presumptuous additives into their smoothies, deeming the songs to have been sung in order to serve their words.  (Preachers of sermons are probably the worst culprits in this.)

In the smaller conceptual context of worship, it is the same kind of smoothie—no matter how good it tastes in the moment—that I want to pour into a centrifuge in the next couple of posts, in order to separate the ingredients.

Most Christians have not understood the distinction between horizontal and vertical, and they sometimes gush forth about “such great worship this morning” when there has been no vertical component, or they are glad for the “blest tie that binds” when the order of the day has been closed-eye meditation on atonement.  When such elements are delineated and separated in our minds, I suspect we’ll be able to derive more benefits from the strawberry and the banana and the flax seed—or the worship and the teaching and the edification.

¹ Here, I am re-purposing a similar analogy from Gary D. Collier, who comments about the negative effects of throwing various scripture passages into a blender instead of treating each one separately within its context.

Proskuneo and latreian (4)

This post is the 4th (and probably the last, for a while) in a series about worship and service.  Proskuneo and latreian are two key biblical words (Greek antecedents) that can aid our understanding.

A new friend has recently commented, suggesting that Jesus’ depiction of worship in spirit and truth (John 4) is not exactly a positive highlighting, viewed through New-Covenant lenses.  If I’m reading him correctly, he believes that the inner faith-response to the singular act of Jesus on the cross constitutes the only “worship” indicated under the New Covenant.  I’ve never heard this shading before but have been thinking about it.

It appears to me that Jesus, as reported by John, was calling the woman to something a) not bound by location and b) genuine, true.  Both aspects may stand in contrast to Jewish worship of the time, but especially so in the first case.  Since as a Samaritan she was not exactly in the “in” crowd, perhaps Jesus was suggesting to her, by saying “in spirit,” that she could worship despite her lack of Jewish access to the temple.  This worship would not consist in temple service or in Jerusalem at all.  It would be, said He, homage-communication of the spirit, and it would be true — not feigned or dissociated from reality.

The genuine/authentic/true component of Jesus’ statement could also be conceived of as contrasting with then-current Jewish corruptions.  I’m not saying this is THE way to read it — only one possible way to read it.  Subjunctively stated, then, it would sound something like this:

“Woman, your worship doesn’t have to be like that of the Jews:  it could now exist regardless of Jerusalem, and could be engaged in more authentically than is typical, in the midst of the Jewish stuff these days.”

(Aside:  no matter whether I’m on target here, or how much any reader might disagree with me, we must all categorically reject the idea that the “in truth” part of the phrasing has anything directly to do with the CofC’s [or any other group’s] views on “correct” acts in the church assembly.  Not that “correctness” isn’t important, but this text has nothing to do with it.)

There’s really not much about worship in the gospels or the letters.  I take it that the early Christians just worshipped and didn’t find the need to write about it so much, but I acknowledge that it’s logically possible for worship to have been less a priority in, or almost absent from, Christian gatherings.  Possible, but not likely, I’d say.

On the horizontal, “priestly service” side, 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 unique honoring of our Lord’s offering doesn’t negate the offering of ourselves described in Rom. 12.  Hebrews passages — taken separately or conjoined with the entire New Covenant corpus — do also place Jesus at the core, philosophically and theologically.

Connections with 1st-century synagogue practices have been used to justify some elements of Christian worship that I don’t find valid in the New Covenant.  Coincidentally, I’ve just reviewed an issue of Worship Leader magazine in which so many assumptions are made along the lines of the “history of Christian worship” that I couldn’t keep up with my own question marks in the margins.  It’s hard to trust the thinking of public leaders and venues when so few seem to be able to distinguish between biblically implied/suggested/commanded things and historically, traditionally practiced ones.

As an example:  there is no biblical blueprint for a corporate assembly, despite the supposed plan propagated by, e.g., the late guru Robert Webber.  According to him and many others, the “authorized way” is something along these lines:

1 – gathering in (or the call into) the outer courts

2 – hearing the Word in scripture and sermon

3 – responding to the word

4 – going out to bear witness

I find no such pattern stated in scripture; to infer it is to superimpose mankind’s tradition. Moreover, some of those items are laden with baggage, and the layout emphasizes acts that are not, strictly speaking, worship.  The actual subject treated seems to be “the service,” as developed by institutional Christianity, ant not worship per se.  The four-point structure deals more with overall conceptions for Christian responses and the living of life.  It’s not wrong to use such a pattern for a corporate so-called “service,” but it smacks of the Old Covenant to legislate said pattern.

To any who think worship is contra-indicated in NC scripture (younger believers, these people do exist, and many of them are quite sincere), I would say this:  I don’t see that vertical worship communication (the proskuneo variety) was snuffed out with the cross.  It further seems that some expressions of, e.g., the Psalms are enduring, not obsolete.  Furthermore, doxologies such as those found in Philippians 2, Ephesians 1, and 1 Timothy 1 strongly suggest that first-century Christians were giving vertical, reverent, adoring attention to the Christ.  In addition, the example of the woman of Luke 7:36 appears as a striking example of a very literal act of spontaneous worship (proskuneo is, roughly, bowing and “kissing toward”) honored by Jesus.  Although shedding tears and wiping one’s feet with long hair should not be viewed a paradigm for all time, it is certainly presented positively in the narrative.  If this example were to be scoffed at, I would think Jesus, or Luke (ca. 40 years later) would have framed the woman’s action negatively.

In sum, at this juncture, I believe proskuneo is both assumed and indicated under the New Covenant.  I believe the same about latreia(n).  One is vertical, involving reverent homage shown to a greater being; the other is horizontal, effectively substituting service acts toward others for Old-Covenant animal sacrifices and various Levitical acts.  While there is certainly a spiritual connection between the two (proskuneo and latreian), the concepts are distinct, and we do a disservice to both the ideas of worship and service by amalgamating them.  This is obviously an oversimplification, but I trust that it helpfully delineates.

Below are links to some previous posts on worship and/or service.  Especially if some of the above is muddy, I would invite you to read past essays on related topics, and comment where you find me off-track (or where you agree).

Synagogue Worship as Model

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.

Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (2)

Beyond the practical considerations discussed yesterday, there are also exegetical and doctrinal reasons to steer at least one lane away from “whole life worship” ideas.

I discovered this helpful passage from a somewhat unlikely source–a southern CofC bulletin that quoted the Gospel Advocate:

… much discussion has taken place about something called whole-life worship.  Perhaps you have heard some describe the daily walk of a Christian as worship.  What follows this description is an emphasis, which is correct in and of itself, on the spiritual sacrifice of living a godly life.  Nothing could be closer to God’s will for man than to live our lives in such a way that everything we do in word or in deed is in the name of the Lord.  We should live our lives in such a way that Christ — not ourselves — is seen in us (Galatians 2:20).  Worship, either private or corporate, is not something that encompasses one’s whole life but is a specific spiritual event, an event with specific instructions to govern its observance and uniquely identified from all other activities and events of Christian life.

The misunderstanding comes with the mistranslation of some key scriptures in this discussion.  The New International Version, for instance, translates the Greek word latreuo as “worship” in Romans 12:1.  By this rendering, it would appear that the day-to-day service to God is, in fact, worship.  Nothing could be further from the true meaning of this text. . . .

Christian life includes worship and service, and it’s not as though the two are unrelated, but the concepts are distinct.  If we begin to think of our service as our worship, we forget what worship is.  The converse is also true:  if we begin to think of our worship as the sum of our Christian existence, we may effectively ignore the essence of living.

Personally, I need to attain to higher levels of devoted living and service to others.  Shoot—here in my own home, I can be a louse sometimes.  But even when I am at my husbandly and fatherly and householderly best, giving my words and actions to Jesus and being sacrificial and such, I may not be worshipping, nor need I be.  Worship is something else, and it is something not discussed directly in Romans 12.  No, this passage deals with living—with the sacrificed living that becomes, in an utterly significant sense, worship-with-quote-marks.  And in order to begin to grasp what the sacrificed Christian life is, I need to understand more of the history of sacrifice in the predecessing Jewish religion.

This historical antecedent is precisely what I’ve been procrastinating about, because the territory is so unfamiliar to me.  Whenever I work up the courage, a few Old Covenant passages will merit mention!

Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (1)

Introduced by a well-meaning young believer to some of David Crowder’s thoughts, I was recently reminded of how common the “whole-life worship” idea is.  It has been assumed and/or advanced by countless Christian songwriters and authors, and is pervasive—not only in pop Christian culture, but also in some more reputable, and perhaps dated, Christian writers.  A 1990 work of J.I. Packer, and his reference to Puritan interpretation, is referred to in this clearly well-intended, although overstated and often misstated, sermon transcript that I found in a quick search.

Another example:  Mike Root’s Spilt Grape Juice, a 1993 look at the assembly, is one I believed to have traveled the no-worship, all-horizontal path.  I never read it, but here, a reviewer differs with Root “on the subject of Godward, vertical praise being abrogated in the New Testament.”  The reviewer acknowledges that “Worship in all of life” is Root’s mantra and demurs, as I would.

It’s not as though whole-life worship is a bad idea, in essence, but two aspects cause me to take exception to its ramifications.  First, speaking from a pragmatic, realistic point of view, the notion of giving oneself wholly to God at every moment is, at best, captivating but unattainable.  I’m reminded of a most respected brother who, in a Christian musical enterprise in which we shared, was reluctant to arrange the Avalon song “Testify To Love” that used over-the-top expressions such as “with every breath I take I will testify to love.”  (Later, he politely gave in to filial pressure and did arrange it, but that’s beside the point.)  These kinds of thoughts call us higher; on the other hand, they can depress us even as they expound on lofty, unattainable ideals.

For every women’s conference that encourages sisters to look at all the dishes and consider that each one washed is an act of worship … for every Promise Keepers “totally sold out” and “go all out for God (and your wife and kids)” event … for every youth function that has featured speakers encouraging youth to do every single thing for the glory of God, we could find 99 believers who’ve been inspired and then have nearly expired trying to live up to all that.  Again, it’s a great idea, and one to which God seems to want us to aspire (but not to attain fully)—or else Rom. 12:1-2 and Col. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 10:31, etc., wouldn’t have been scribed.  Essentially the “everything for God’s glory” as a raison d’etre is a high, worthy calling, but it is ultimately frustrating for us sinners, and it does not quite touch the actual idea of worship.

While I believe that (vertical) worship must not be confined to the assembly but, rather, should surface regularly—i.e., on all days of the week in the heart and voice of the Christian—considering every deed to be Christian worship is neither logically warranted nor helpful.  This idea has the potential to leave many in its idealistic wake, and it also obscures the meaning of certain passages such as Romans 12:1.  For more, please check yesterday’s post and the one before that, and …

Please continue with me tomorrow.

Worship–ritual v. relationship

“Relationship.”  An overused word in our time, perhaps.  Yet it can scuff at the root of what life — both temporal and eternal — is about.  When considered in juxtaposition with ritual in the context of worship, relationship may be even more crucial.

Brad Carman, a preacher in Delaware, wrote this for his bulletin recently, springing out of Heb. 9:1-5:

In these opening passages, the author briefly takes his readers into the highly ritualized worship of the Jewish Tabernacle. . . .

. . . Almost everyone still has some rituals in his/her life and worship. (We sit in the same pew, order the same foods, sing the same songs, etc.) But more importantly, these rituals of Tabernacle worship serve a valuable purpose as summary of the first covenant God made with His people. They describe a system in which a Holy God is inaccessible to His people except through a series of sacrifices made by High Priest for himself and the people he represents. Sin has separated us from God and the idea of an intimate relationship with a Holy God is unthinkable under such a system.

That all changed when Christ came and ushered in a new and better covenant with God. This new covenant still involved a blood sacrifice but this offering was the blood of the Son of God, delivered to the eternal dwelling place of God. As our High Priest, he continually dwells in God’s presence providing us an opportunity for an intimate relationship.

In a recent interchange with Alan Knox on his blog, I found a thoughtful person with more time and careful insights than I:  he appropriately, kindly challenged several of my hastily penned comments.  Yet I continue to believe his understanding of the relationship of  worship and service is a trifle flawed.  (I know, I know — whose understanding isn’t flawed?  But this topic is important to me beyond most other things of the Lord, and most of the Christian world has gotten it so wrong.)

Brad’s comments above show something I concur with, believing it is significant:  a fundamental difference between Jewish and Christian worship lies in the difference between the “series of sacrifices” to which Brad refers above on the one hand, and the spiritual attitude of reverence, adoration, and homage on the other.

Under the New System, worship may must not be confined to ritual acts.  Rather, our worship of God is based on a more intimate (can anyone say “Incarnation” and not think there’s a different approach to God now?!) relationship.  Latreuo is the Greek word that appears to refer, more often than not, to the former, Jewish rituals (≈things done) and is found in Romans 12:2; proskuneo is the word that renders the attitude of obeisance, homage, reverential adoration (John 4, Revelation 4-5).  Hebrews 13:15-16 nicely sets these two word-concepts together, simultaneously differentiating and relating the two.

The above paragraph is an oversimplification, but I present it for thought and comment nonetheless.

[Coming soon … I’ve been thinking a lot about worship recently, spurred by Alan’s blog and various other stimuli.  I’m preparing a post on the notion of sacrifice in worship, and if you have any thoughts to contribute in advance, I’d love to see them.]