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

Off the (J.) Mark

Two very consequential subtopics have (re-)arisen as I’ve revisited the Youth Advance worship experiences of 1998.  The fundamental distinction, borrowed from lexical studies, may be seen in these pairings:

1) worship and 2) service
~ or, in other words ~
1) reverent messaging to the Creator and 2) living for others

Most members of that YA group understood some core worship concepts, but some of the teens, like many adults, were confused about what worship is (and isn’t).  And so I’d like to explain a dichotomy, working with a particular delineation.

In Leaven, Winter 1998—coincidentally, the same year of the Youth Advance about which I’ve been writingthe highly respected and consistently sought-after Dr. John Mark Hicks wrote this:

“The concept of all of life as worship is a consistent theme in the New Testament.”

Hicks appealed to Romans 12:1-2, as have so many before him and after him.  Although he also spoke with clarity about other ideas, he seemed to relegate a pervasive vertical worship principle, along with key NT words such as psalmos and proskuneo, to insignificance.  In articulating the notion of “whole-life worship” as the New Testament principle, Hicks was in effect negating the place of direct worship for the Christian.  Hicks has much to offer, and I’ve appreciated more than one thing I’ve heard from and about him.  However, inasmuch as he was suggesting that so-called whole-life worship is worship under the New Covenant, he erred.

Semi-significant aside:  Ironically enough, most of the American-English-speaking world also errs when it pronounces the word “err”—if one is interested in the original along with dictionaries’ current reflections of use, that is.  Indeed this interest seems increasingly uncommon:  it took me five tries to find an online dictionary that has the original pronunciation of “err,” which rhymes with “blur,” not “lair.”  Sadly, it takes a lot more than five tries to find groups of Christians that really understand and practice worship.  You may think that retreating to the original indicates antiquarianism (and I admit this tendency with English usage), but please consider that it may also indicate a sincere desire to get back to basics and original meanings (and I am proud of this tendency with biblical words and concepts).  The attested pronunciations of “err” are, of course, far less significant than the attested meanings of words that designate believers’ responses to God.

Now, back to Romans 12.  Christian living and duties are obviously important—and the specific occurrence of this text within the whole of Romans certainly bears that out—but they are not worship per se.  The idea that the presentation of the Christian’s body is the sum total of “spiritual worship” weakens both the philosophy and the reality of Christian worship—and merges it inappropriately with the notions of priestly (now, of course, all believers are priests) service, duty, and living, which are also important.  

I might say that what Paul articulates in Romans 12:1-2 reaches further than worship, but that would be a theological assessment, not a textually based fact.  Speaking objectively, we must say that Paul was not speaking of worship per se when he wrote logikan latreian in Romans 12.  Rather, he wrote of a different kind of responsiveness, in the light of God’s grace shown to all.  Moreover, a Bible translation is off the mark—darkened, I suspect, by centuries of presumptuous religious tradition that elevates liturgical leaders to the place of Hebrew priests—if it renders these Greek words “spiritual worship.”  

A better, admittedly verbose translation of logikan latreian might be that which is logically considered to be the equivalent of the old “priestly service.”  In an indirect sense, the new version of priestly sacrifice and service might be said to resemble—and to figuratively become—”worship,” and this seems to be what Paul was getting at in his Romans 12 exhortation to respond to God.  Whatever Paul meant, and even if I have mistakenly attributed the quote-marks around “worship” there, it seems unlikely—yea, impossible—that Paul would in one fell swoop have been negating vertical worship (≈ speaking/praying/singing adoring, reverent messages to the great God), when he actually models and exudes such worship in other places.

It is my studied position, then, that latreuo should be delineated as something other than proskuneo . . . and that the New Covenant version of the former compliments, but does not supplant, the latter.  (What is supplanted is the whole Levitical priest package!)  “All of life as ‘worship'” is an important, horizontally oriented idea that stands on its own, distinct from the essence of vertically oriented proskuneo.  There is nothing I know of in the New Testament that suggests we shouldn’t continue to praise or worship.  On the contrary, praise is secreted from the very pores of all scripture.  Direct worship of God is assumed.  They are normative in both Hebrew and Christian contexts.

In a multi-author book, I came upon a chapter that deals thoroughly with the NT worship words—showing, among other things, and much better than I could, that proskuneo and latreuo connote distinct ideas.  That article deserves a hearing and a spreading; I’ll probably sound this bell again soon, in order to delineate even more clearly the paradigmatic sense relationship¹ of these two words.

In the meantime, for more on Romans 12, worship, and service. . . .

¹ “. . . We may say that words are in paradigmatic relation insofar as they can occupy the same slot in a particular context. . . .  We should note that paradigmatic sense relations exploit the opposition or contrast existing between words. . . .”  Moisés Silva, “Sense Relations,” in Biblical Words and Their Meaning:  An Introduction to Lexical Semantics, p. 119

Worship: basis and perspective (2 of 2)


I’m dealing here with this opinion:  that Christian assemblies should have little or nothing to do with worship.  I don’t agree with this opinion, but it is not baseless, and I esteem quite a few of those I’ve heard articulate it through the years.

My intent in two posts on this subject is 1) to acknowledge two opposing viewpoints, and 2) to affirm — although not in the typical, glib, contemporary way — that it is very reasonable to assume that worship was, and should still be, part of the Christian gathering.

At the baseline, though, we must acknowledge this: we have strikingly little material that explicitly indicates a strong connection between the Christian assembly and worship.

So, what are we to do with this non-corpulent corpus of scriptural material?

Without looking these passasges up … in the letters, we have a few bits on group worship in 1Corinthians 12 and 14; a brief, possible mention in Romans 15; and somewhat tenuous implications for group expression in Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and Hebrews 13:15-16.  (Revelation chapters 4, 5, and 19, along with other passages in that document, also deserve hearty mention — especially given my view that Revelation speaks of the timeless Kingdom, not only of the future one.)  There are several worship-filled paeans — near-outbursts of praise — in Ephesians and Titus and 1Timothy and Colossians and 1Peter and Philippians and other places.  But these are individual expressions; the explicit, apostolic directives for worship in the Christian assembly are few, and brief.

I suggest that we not read the NC scriptures (assembly-related or otherwise) with a view toward proving the presence or absence of corporate worship.  Such a mindset — no matter the topic or preconception — is destined to misguide the student of ancient texts . . . or the student of anything, really.

No, rather than approaching Paul’s letters (or the gospels or Revelation or any other document) bent on proving something you already think or believe, it is far better to start with an attitude of letting the text stand on its own.  A text ought to be permitted to to say what it was originally intended to say, in its original historical and literary contexts.

In recent readings, trying to avoid preconceptions, I have seen plenty of evidence that the apostles and other writers thought worshipfully.  If one thinks worshipfully by nature and/or by habit, it seems that worship would surface naturally.  It would be expressed.  It simply seems logical to assume that worship would have appeared in many activities in which Christians were involved — whether individual or corporate.

If, as we read scripture, our assumptions and concerns could be more closely aligned with those of the original authors, in the original contexts, I suspect we would see various subjects, including worship, in better perspective.

As sure as I am that the early Christians (just like the ancient Jews) worshipped God — and Jesus Christ as God — I’m also sure that some now will not be able to shake their view that Christian assemblies are about edification only, not really involving worship per se.  But surely, Peter and Paul and the rest were sincere, regular — nigh unto perpetual! — worshippers.¹

God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Paul to the Philippians)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In God’s great mercy he has caused us to be born again into a living hope, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  (Peter to dispersed Christians)

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  (Paul to Timothy)

It’s really difficult for me to imagine Peter or Paul in a Christian meeting and not worshipping God.  What do you think?

¹ I seriously doubt they, along with today’s Jamie Grace, would have thought in such a teeny-bopper fashion as to “get their worship on” (what a ridiculous lyric), but every day was truly a “beautiful day” when the Lord of All was your Lord, and He loved you, and you loved Him and worshipped Him in return.

Service, worship, and interests (2)

Service, worship, and interests:  response to comments (part 2)

In a post a few days ago (Everything we do? (Nope.), I tried to say that it is both a logical and a biblical mistake for folks to think that everything we do is worship.  I find the biblical concept of worship to be more specific.

A friend who works as a preacher probed my essay a bit.  I decided to respond in multiple ways, and yesterday’s post was part of that, dealing with worship and service and Romans 12.  Today, I’d like to flesh out the secondary idea I had initially presented. . . .

(continued . . .)

I probably just should have left this part out of the post, but I had connected the notion of whole-life worship to what I referred to as preachers’ vested interests.  I have broad preconceptions that often lead me to look askance at church staff positions, but the linkage in the original post came from a specific church visit back in June.  When I heard this preacher in a friend’s church suggest that everything is worship, it rang hollow for at least two reasons.

First:  this preacher immediately proceeded to a Revelation passage that referred to proskuneo, yet it was clear that a) his words and b) John’s words were speaking of different things.  I’m kind of big on labels, i.e., using terminology intentionally.  And, not incidentally, I am more energetic than ever for a Restoration Movement principle:  I want to “speak of Bible things in Bible ways.”  My radar immediately went up when I heard “worship” referred to, immediately after “not-worship” was mentioned, as though they were the same thing.

Next (and here’s where the “interests” come in):  in that particular context, the preacher’s suggestion that everything the church does was “worship” struck me as serving his own purposes as chief executive of a church corporation.  By this I mean that, if the parking lot ministry people and the A/V folks and the custodians and the accountants and all the rest are supposedly worshipping when they direct traffic, turn knobs, clean floors, and fill in spreadsheets, then that “fact” appears on the surface to imbue all these activities with a special sense of worth.  In other words, if we can somehow make ourselves believe those things are “worship,” it makes them loftier and more tied to God; therefore, it is difficult to question them, change them, or say “no” when asked to do them.  All this ends up serving the corporation and ultimately, the CEO, a/k/a “pastor” or “preacher.”  People feel obliged to do all those things even more, and the end result is that the system perpetuates itself.

Not that any of those “ministry” activities are bad!  They are inherently neutral or even good.  And people may well be glorifying God’s purposes by doing them at times.  The fact is, though, they are not proskuneo.  What I am doing right now — expressing thoughts about some of the things of the Lord — is not in itself worship.  It may or may not glorify God, and people may or may not (likely not) be led to worship by reading, but the acts of writing and reading can’t legitimately be said to be worship.

You mentioned Hebrews 12:28, wanting to see if my ideas and those of this biblical writer would mesh.  I certainly don’t see any conflict, and I hope you trust me well enough to know I have great respect for the biblical text.  This passage doesn’t speak of proskuneo-worship — but what it says about latreuo could probably be said about the specific vertical response, too.  The Hebrews author doesn’t appear to define worship, really, but he uses a term in 12:28 that has a range of meanings.  That range of meanings includes religious rituals, service rendered for hire, service of God according to the Levitical law, ministration, and homage (according to Thayer).  The notion of homage, of course, dovetails with the notion of proskuneo (“kissing toward”), but the latre* word family seems rarely, if ever, to be used by NT writers with reference to the same things that proskuneo refers to.  Does this help any?

As for my indictment of preachers:  “vested interest” in this context, for me, meant “financial interest.”  I sincerely believe most preacher roles in view today have been morphed and aggrandized to the point that they cannot be identified with any roles described in the New Testament.  This status quo leads to a tenuous situation.  So that the institutional systems that pay their salaries are maintained, certain operational aspects of the church corporations must periodically be artificially propped up.  I don’t hide here that my view is cynical, but this doesn’t mean that preachers don’t do good.  I am simply naming the fact that preachers/pastors have a financial interest in operational perpetuation of their congregations, but the existence of extra-biblical church roles does not in itself imply that they are evil or even unwise.  For me, it does mean that they deserve to be questioned.

I would hasten to add that your particular role is not one I would care to criticize.  I absolutely believe you have a vested spiritual interest in helping your hearers understand and do worship more fully — that’s a better kind of vested interest!  In a future post, I plan to treat something closely related — what I’ll call “professional perpetuation.”  It’s certainly not just preachers who have “interest” in seeing their enterprises perpetuated.  My own profession does the same thing!  Eventually I will take my vocational calling to task, as well.  🙂

Service, worship, and interests (1)

Service, worship, and interests:  response to comments

Having read a post a few days ago about worship, a friend took exception and probed a bit.  I hope to clarify and to continue the dialogue here; this is part 1 of my response.

Dear Bill,

I have appreciate always appreciated your interest in worship and other things of the Lord.  Since we are not necessarily coming from the same place right now, I’d first like another opportunity.  I want to try to say differently what I meant to say in the post you commented on. . . .

First, and most substantively, I was trying to say that it is both a logical and a hermeneutical mistake for folks to think that everything we do is worship.  In my estimation, lumping every thought and action into the worship category is not accurate — either in reality or in terms of the way things should be.  My point is that the biblical concept of worship is relatively specific, not broad.

I further submit that it is a mistaken (and way-common) misinterpretation of Romans 12:1-2 that leads to the idea that the whole life is worship.  The idea that the presentation of the Christian’s body is the sum total of “spiritual worship” weakens both the philosophy and the reality of Christian worship.  Paul was not speaking of worship per se when he wrote of logikan latreian; one better translation of this expression might be that which is logically considered to be spiritual service.  In an indirect sense, priestly sacrifice and service might be said to resemble — or become, in a figurative sense — worship, and I think that is what Paul was getting at in Romans 12.

If I’m reading between the lines correctly, you seem to be working now with a different/broader definition of worship; maybe we’re not on the same track on this.  [For more background on my vantage point:  go here and scroll down to the 11/12/2012 entry, that began a series on proskuneo and latreian.  Actually, this post here (#3 in the series) gets right to the point, and will take less of your time.]  A word is just a symbol, and the word “worship” is no exception.  Perhaps the referent is different for you than for me.

Secondarily (and I probably just should have left this part out of the post!), I did connect preachers’ interests to this misconception of worship and living as church.  When I heard a preacher in a friend’s church (back in June) suggest that everything is worship, it rang hollow for at least two reasons.  This part of my earlier post was understandably somewhat offensive, and I want to explain more where I was coming from.

I’ll pick up here in a second post tomorrow. . . .

Personal application: John 9

[This post continues the lines of thinking begun with blogpost #1000.¹  John 9 has long been a favorite chapter; it is a chapter of deep impact, highlighting Jesus in an eminently compelling way.]  

Moving away from exegesis of John, I thought it would be good to share, for better or worse, some “personal application” musings.  For me, this material comes from the text, but in a less direct way.  I believe it is best to defer making these kinds of observations until some reasonable level of strictly text-based understanding is reached.  I’m not at all sure that I’ve arrived at a strong enough exegetical point to share personal application publicly, but I’m doing it, anyway — in order to challenge my own status quo (and maybe yours, too, serendipitously)….

Like the Jews of John 9, I wonder how often I have responded unwisely or inappropriately because of perceived threats to my preferences or my sense of well-being?

In my work life, I’m convinced it’s been way too often.  My professional emphases and preferences and “missions,” together with personal insecurities and hurts, have at times sent me scurrying into protective foxholes while I verbally “re-load.”  (I have no clue if that’s an accurate military image, but it seems to describe how I’ve operated at times.)  When I feel threatened, I ought to pray more, trust and observe a lot more, and defend/fight less.

I move more deeply into my personal sphere, and fear creeps in.  I ask, “What work of God have I rejected because of my personal agendas and biases?  Where have I been resistant to God?  When I have begun to see new truth, have I retreated, turtle-like?  The answers, while cloudy, are troubling.

I wonder whether some preconceptions have kept me in comfortable surroundings, whereas God might have been working just outside said surroundings.  (This is just what the Jews of John 9 were found doing.)  Has my closed mind hindered spiritual growth and/or service to others?

In personal doubt, worry, or pain, one can easily be diverted into human processes that obscure God.  Sometimes, I feel very little certainty of what is of God and what is not.  (More of the good stuff has surely been His.)  Yet I depend on planning-by-computer and accounting records and human communication . . . I should probably simply back off more and try to perceive the hand of God. 

In my first post on John 9, I asked the somewhat exegetical, but also introspective, questions below:

  • What do “the Jews” and the Pharisees think of Father God in this story?  How do they “use” Him? (vv. 16, 24, 29)
  • What does the blind man think of Him?  (9:31, 33)
  • What could be made out of the fact that Jesus only mentions God early in the story but not later?

And I might apply some of that to myself now.  What do I think of Father God, and how can I discern what I really think of Him?  Have I relegated Him, ancient-Jews-like, to history, or is He a living, active force likely to astound?

If I were blind and then given my sight by God, would my thoughts of the Father be radically altered right away?  Would I give Him praise and honor?  What about now, in the 21st century?  How do I experience and respond to the less miraculous, less obvious, but equally God-originated events in my life?  The “little stuff” is more problematic than the major events, I suspect.

Next in the series . . . exegetical thoughts on John 11.


¹ Incidentally, I now feel rested from blogging, after a long break, and am getting back into it, in full swing!

Digging in: John 9 (1000)

[This is public blogpost #1000.  In this post, I’m going to attempt to merge concisely some very significant areas–exegesis, religious challenge and reform, and worship.  And then I’m going to take somewhat of a break.  This is a longish blog, but I hope you’ll take the time, because there won’t be any more blogs coming from me anytime soon!]

Digging In:   John 9

One of the Marvelous Happenings in the Life of Jesus

Exegetical Interpretation, Focusing on Christian Challenge/Reform and Worship
With a Timely, Eulogistic Postscript

John 9 has long been a favorite chapter, and it’s not because I memorized it as a child or because it was read at a family funeral.  This chapter is of deep impact on me because the story highlights Jesus in a way that simply won’t let me go.

While it would have been nice, I suppose, to have a true essay worked out, I would need more time for that, “living with” the text for a period of weeks or even months.  I trust that it will be beneficial to see the process of asking questions of the text, not only the reaching of conclusions.

Method  Ideally, I would start with two or more readings of the entire gospel, in different versions — perhaps one with more of a sentence-for-sentence orientation, and another, more of an expansive paraphrase.   Initially, my method was simple:  to read/refresh myself on the whole of chapter 9, and jotting questions I had while reading.  The “first pass” through chapter 9 resulted in the need for a second pass.  Within about an hour and a half total, I had approximately two pages of notes/questions.  (An irresistible 3rd pass is yielding almost as many additional questions and bringing tears to my eyes, but the new material will have to wait.)  For sake of brevity — ha! — I am selecting only a few of these questions to blogshare (to coin a term).

Book-level questions

Bypassing for the moment the typical, academic, background questions that are important but are more stock-in-trade (author, date and place of writing, audience, etc.), I ask such things as these, from a perspective that is mostly “zoomed out” on the entire gospel of John:

    • What special features can be found in John’s vocabulary and literary style?
    • Within the whole gospel, does chapter 9 constitute a bona fide pericope?  Does John use pericopes as, say, Matthew does?
    • What is the relationship of blindness and sin for John?
    • How does God the Father relate to Jesus in the narrative?  Is Jesus called “Son of Man” earlier? later? throughout? often?
    • How does John’s stated purpose (20:30-31) relate, or not, to key aspects found in this passage, such as spiritual blindness, sin, coming to faith, and worship?  How might belief in 9:35-36 be tied to the overall, stated purpose?

Smaller-context questions

Now zooming in more to the immediate context:

    • Where are we in the progression of John’s narrative when we reach the events of chapter 9?  What occurs immediately before, and immediately after?  (The answer to these questions may be singularly significant.)
    • Check 9:1-2 for chiastic structure.  (Note the three mentions of blindness.)
    • Note the various portrayals in this chapter:  disciples, Jews, neighbors, Pharisees, and the man.  (Larger question:  how is each group painted in John overall, as compared to Mark?)
    • What is the relationship of blindness and sin for each of the above people/groups?
    • Could there be a larger inclusio from 9:1-34 (“the Jews’” idea of sin as bookends)?
    • Note the relationship between eyesight and light and works, as in verse 4.
    • Is “Siloam” Aramaic?  Translation relationship to Greek “apostle”?  Any significance to be found in Jewish background there — either with the Siloam pool or with the use of the word in OT texts?  What is John saying by inserting the definition of the word?
    • Chiasm in 9:13-16 vicinity (Pharisees, had been blind, Jesus, mud ==> Sabbath, Pharisees <== mud, Jesus, see, Pharisees/Sabbath). Yes? Investigate.
    • Examine the use of “disciples” in 9:27-28 vs. its use in John overall.
    • How does the Father God figure in to this story?
      • What do “the Jews” and the Pharisees think of Him?  How do they “use” Him? (vv. 16, 24, 29)
      • What does the blind man think of Him?  (9:31, 33)
      • What could be made out of the fact that Jesus mentions God early in the story but not later?
    • Hermeneutically speaking, are questions (such as the above group) significant from both John’s and the first readers’ points of view?  Does John show any bias or agenda that his first-century readers would naturally share, or naturally be resistant to?  How is God potentially working through John to say what needs to be said?  And how do these answers affect my own point of view?
    • What is the significance of the label “Son of Man” in this particular text?  (It seems significant for John in the ultimate responsiveness of the [formerly] blind man.)  (9:35)
    • There appears to be a mirroring mini-chiasm in 9:39:  blind ==> see; see <== blind?  Do “judgment” and “guilt” complete this mini-structure?
    • Note some striking, possibly unusual, recurring, or significant vocabulary words and phrases in NASB:  blind, works of God, displayed, Light of the world, spit, seeing, eyes opened/opened my eyes (vv. 10, 13, 17, 30, 32), mud, miraculous signs, prophet, put out of the synagogue, “give glory to God,” disciples.

Musings  Some musings and commentary stem from these types of questions!

I.  In terms of challenge to the status quo and religious power structures it seems to me that there are battles presented in this chapter — a battle of people and cliques, a battle of systems, and ultimately, a battle of and for the Kingdom.  Clearly, the Jews and the Pharisees are the “conservatives” here, resisting challenge and change — while the simple facts of the blind man’s story necessitate, on the other hand, that traditional viewpoints are challenged.

Although the connection of blindness and sin might be an easy target for preachers of sermons, one should not dive into a topical sermon that uses a snippet of John 9 without first knowing a good deal about the context(s) here.  We could not, in other words, legitimately draw any conclusions about the equation of spiritual blindness and sin without knowing more of how John the inspired writer uses and develops those ideas (or doesn’t) within the literary context.  Just as significant would be some cultural insights — related, for example, to blindness, begging, synagogue norms, Pharisees, and more.  This area, like so many others, requires more investigation.

It has long seemed to me that the parents in this story are presented as weak and sniveling.  (Textual clues gained in further investigation could bolster or counter this impression.)  Out of fear, they deflect attention and responsibility.  On the other hand, the “Pharisees” and “Jews” groups are not “weak,” but they are in some sense blind and foolish.  Note, for example, that they pronounce a cloudy half-truth regarding Jesus and the Sabbath in v. 16, and they resort to name-calling in v. 34.  The Jews in power are more interested in protecting their system than in avowing the obvious wonder that has just occurred at the hands of Jesus.  From their standpoint, 1) Jesus is a threat, and 2) the now-seeing man — although formerly negligible — may now be a threat, too.

Something that struck me 25 years ago, and still strikes me today (and here, I hope I’m not just coddling my earlier reading) is this:  the Pharisees could not even see, much less accept, the God-glorifying miracle that had obviously occurred because they were too invested in protecting their empire.  John presents unadorned facts in v. 7 (that the man “returned seeing”) and in v. 9 (that he kept saying “I am the one”).  Waxing prophetic, I would assert that the implications of the Pharisees’ stubbornness here are momentous for institutional Christendom, and for various cliques and sects.  Could the Pharisees legitimately be seen to represent some of the entrenched “clergy” of later eras?  The implicit warning echoes through the centuries:  Watch out that you’re not building your own structures, and pay attention to the work of God, or else you may be found blindly rejecting Him.

In contrast to the Pharisees and the parents stands the blind man.  I would imagine that a Jewish person reading or hearing John’s gospel would find intense irony here:  the blind man appears as largely a positive example, although he would previously have been a worthless drain on society — a mere opportunity to be seen giving alms!  Initially, the man is trusting and obedient.  He also makes an ostensibly false assumption:  that “God does not hear sinners.”  No, he doesn’t quite “get” everything about Jesus yet (no one could), but he is open, and he is coming to faith.  (Who wouldn’t be experiencing new things after having been given sight?!)  Not only can he see the ground in front of him for the first time in his life, but he is beginning to see who and what Jesus is.  An encouraging message surfaces:  that one can travel the road of discipleship, progressively coming to see more truth.

II. In terms of worship … the response seems so beautifully unfeigned and unaffected — the man simply worships, when confronted with the truths that Jesus is 1) from God and 2) able to work miracles.  (Let alone, for now, the question of the meaning of “Son of Man.”)  The antecedent worship word here is proskuneo, which

  • is not inherently a “religious” thing to do
  • means “kissing toward” as an act of homage, and implies bowing down
  • has nothing directly to do with so-called whole-life worship
  • is rather the simple act of response — by one who recognizes greatness far beyond oneself

Letting alone the so-called worship wars of our times, and jettisoning any historical connections related to liturgy/”services,” or checking off items on a list on Sunday mornings, or any other corruptions of biblical worship ideals, we see worship, pure and simple, in this text.  We see that an unconstrained person, when he observes the reality of Jesus, worships.

And that is a beautiful precedent that both instructs and compels.  Lord, may we.

~ ~ ~


It worked out to honor my grandfather, Andy T. Ritchie Jr., by publishing my blogpost #1000 on this, the 104th anniversary of his birth.  (I even set the posting time as 19:09 CDT, the year of his birth, but this part is useless trivia.) 

Andy Thomas Ritchie, Jr., son of Andy T., Sr. and Fannie Mae Cobb Ritchie, was born and raised in the Nashville, Tenn., area.  He married Kathryn Delma Cullum in 1933; the pair had four children — Andy T. III, Edward, Bettye, and Joan.  I am #7 of 10 grandchildren, and there are 29 great-grandchildren.

Granddaddy taught music at David Lipscomb College and Bible and music at Harding College.  (Both later become universities.)  He was a concert singer who recorded an album in addition to his performing on stage and on radio.  He influenced thousands through his

  • personal conversations and correspondence
  • leadership of personal evangelism meetings and “lily pool” hymn sings on the Harding campus
  • direction of the Harding Chorus for several years
  • much-remembered classroom teaching (see here for an external mention)
  • inimitable, compelling leadership of worship  in song, and preaching — in his own congregation, and in other states
  • manner of living life

I think Granddaddy would have appreciated a good deal of what I’ve written on this blog to date, although certainly not all.  He himself wasn’t known for his writing as much as for his leadership in other veins, but he did publish articles in multiple periodicals and wrote a full-length book on worship.  I imagine that, were he alive today, he would also have expressed being inspired by John 9, and would have appreciated my exegetical efforts, along with the highlighting of the challenge of the (Jewish) status quo.  (Therein, certain goals of the Restoration Movement which influenced both of us are also highlighted.)  Granddaddy probably would have appreciated most the emphasis on the worship of God the Son, as seen in this compelling story.

Believe it or not, one of the more memorable aspects of Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., almost eluded mention until the fourth draft of this postscript.  He was severely sight-impaired for the last 20 years of his adult life, having suffered detached retinas related to diabetes, and later became legally blind.  This mention of his blindness, written after the main portion of this post, leads me to include, here, a prayer song I wrote for a family reunion some years ago.  Please take a moment to read at least the words of Lord, I Want To See

Granddaddy entered the land of the eternally living and seeing in 1983.

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

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.