This blog has in the last few days looked intently into words relating to worship and service. Maybe we understand much better than we did last week. What was that all about? So what? What do all the meanings mean?
Some more biblical instances. . . .
Here is a slightly different use of proskuneō:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. (Matthew 20:20)
Here, the English translation is not “worship,” but the word is still proskuneō. Zeb’s wife is not serving Jesus religiously (latreuō) or even necessarily honoring Him “worshipfully,” as I pointed out with the two different senses of proskuneō, toward the bottom of this previous post, but she is at least kneeling to request something of the greater one.
Now, words from Paul’s mouth as he is defending himself:
. . . a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! (Acts 26:7)
The word “worship” here is latreuō, not proskuneō. Paul is not speaking here of praying or singing words of adoration or reverent awe. His emphasis is something different; I might speculate that author Luke has Paul intentionally attempting to connect himself with Jewish priestly ritual, in order to spotlight the irony of the persecution Paul was enduring at the hands of his Jewish countrymen.
And next, words Paul penned through Tertius:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. . . . (Romans 9:4)
“Worship” here is latreuō. Again, there would appear to be a strong Jewish connection. Not that Jews didn’t engage in proskuneō; they surely did. But it would be a hermeneutical mistake to suggest, based on this text, that proskuneō-type worship “belongs” in any sense to the Israelites.
In Acts, Lydia of Philippi next provides an interesting example:
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. (Acts 16:14)
The word “worshiper” here is from sebō/sebomai, and this word is not closely connected with either proskuneō or latreuō. Therefore, it cannot be assumed, based on this verse, that Lydia prayed words of thankful adoration, sang hymns to Jesus as Christ (which might have been denoted by proskuneō), or engaged in any sort of priestly ritual or religious “service” (latreuō).
→ This kind of differentiation has been what all this has been about. In other words, it’s all been part of an effort to show 1) what each word is (likely) all about, 2) what individual verses/texts might logically be about, 3) what worship is about, and 4) how horizontal “service” differs. In all, specific contexts must be allowed their primary, meaning-determining function.
It ought to go without saying that, when the words “worship” and “service” are concatenated into the term “worship service,” there is no biblical reason for doing so. This unjustifiable amalgam has been one of the culpable historical developments as we look critically at the scenario in Christendom. Lack of understanding and off-base practice have resulted from various teachings and verbalizations, but the notion of a “worship service” is a crucial one.
This blog will now take a few days’ break from a comparatively intense verbal focus on worship, and then a few more posts will return to the topic of worship from other vantage points. If there are any particular areas of interest within the general area of worship that you’d like to see addressed (or if you’d like to write a guest blog!), please comment here, or send me an e-mail at BLCasey 14 ~ at ~ gmail ~ dot~com.
Some of the data below might seem unduly esoteric, but it’s interesting, just the same:
Category 1: proskuneō in Greek (compared with English renderings)
The word proskuneō (in different forms) appears 53 times in the current Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament. Of these,
- 47 are translated “worship” in most English Bibles.
- Most of the rest are translated “knelt” or “fell on his knees” or “bowed down” (e.g., in the New Revised Standard Version).
Category 2: worship in English (correlated backwards to Greek antecedents)
34 times in 33 verses in the New Revised Standard Version when the word “worship” appears, proskuneō is not the antecedent. Of these,
- 22 times, the root is latreuō or leitourgeia (or a related word).
- 10 times, the root is sebazomai (or a related word).
- 1 time, the root is eusebeō (Acts 17:23).
- 1 time, the root is threskeia (Col. 2:18, a word not identified by Jobes in her semantic domain).
When we try to interpret verses in “Category 2,” we should not assume that what is typically thought of¹ as “worship” is connoted in the biblical text. Examination of specific contexts may reveal vertical components, and vertical worship may well have been simultaneously in the hearts of the human subjects (or the rocks, Luke 19:40!), but expressions other than proskuneō (or gonupeteō or kampto to gunē) should not be assumed to mean the same things.
¹ That is to say, what is typically thought of in this age, in English-speaking churches, at least. Other vertical expressions include these and more: “bowing the knee,” “kissing toward,” “honoring,” or “praising,” “glorifying,” “adoring,” and “exalting.”