The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: W

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Worship of Christ?

The Greek "proskuneo", "to make obeisance, do reverence to" (from pros, "towards," and kuneo, "to kiss"), is the most frequent word rendered "to worship." It is used of an act of homage or reverence... (a) to God, eg, Mat 4:10; Joh 4:21-24; 1Co 14:25; Rev 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:10 (2nd part); Rev 22:9; (b) to Christ, eg, Mat 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9,17; Joh 9:38; Heb 1:6, in a quotation from the LXX of Deu 32:43, referring to Christ's second advent; (c) to a man, Mat 18:26; (d) to the Dragon, by men, Rev 13:4; (e) to the Beast, his human instrument, Rev 13:4,8,12; 14:9,11; (f) the image of the Beast, Rev 13:15; 14:11; 16:2; (g) to demons, Rev 9:20; and (h) to idols, Act 7:43 (from Vine's).

"Jesus Christ is described in fourteen places in the KJV as being worshipped and accepting that worship. We know that Christ is worthy of great glory and honor, but should we in fact worship him in the sense that we worship God? Clearly it is vitally important to understand what it means to worship Jesus. Trinitarians sometimes argue that the worship of Jesus in the Bible is evidence of his identity with God, contending that we are to worship only God, and if Jesus is worshipped then he must be God. Do these scriptures in fact tell us that we are to worship Jesus and in what way and is that meaning of worship exclusive to God?"

"We should notice immediately that if we refer to any of the newer translations, such as for example the RSV, NIV, or NASB the number of incidents in which the word worship is used about Jesus drops from fourteen to about six. The NEB has none. As we shall see, this is not because the KJV translation was poor, but rather because the meaning of the English word worship has changed over the centuries, as have many other English words with meanings unfamiliar to modern readers of the KJV.

"The encyclopedic Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists as a second, obsolete definition of worship (verb): 'To honour; to regard or treat with honour or respect. To treat with signs of honour or respect; to salute, bow down to. To honour with gifts. To invest with, raise to, honour or repute; to confer honour or dignity upon.' And (noun): 'The condition (in a person) of deserving, or being held in, esteem or repute; honour, distinction, renown; good name, credit... (Common down to 16th century). So, the English word worship commonly meant the act of honouring a person, not necessarily a deity.'

"Although the (1611) KJV was translated at the turn of the 17th Century, the now obsolete usage had not completely disappeared at that time and further, the language of most or all of the passages in which in the KJV cites the 'worship' of Jesus was actually copied verbatim by the KJV translators from Tyndale's translation of a century earlier. It is probable that these translators were comfortable with the older language, and also possible that it meshed as well with their Trinitarian biases.

"To people raised in western democracies of the 20th Century, the idea of 'worshipping' a human may seem quite foreign and blasphemous. To people of earlier times, it would be second nature to bow in homage to royalty, magistrates or to anyone with the direct, personal power of life and death over you. If you failed to lower your head to the monarch, the monarch might well lower it for you by having it removed from your neck. When all men were declared to have been created equal, it became incongruous that one equal should bow to another.

"Citizens of western democracies today are likely to take pride in bowing to no man. Consequently the meaning of the word worship has come to be restricted to the honor or respect paid to a deity, since it is only to a deity that people now bow. We will see that the older meaning of worship is in fact a good translation of the Greek source word ("proskuneo"), which means to bow down in respect, to prostrate, to kneel, pay obeisance, honor or homage, regardless of the object of that homage, and that the modern versions have generally so translated the word.

"The second point we should notice is that while about ten different Greek words are translated into English as 'worship' in the KJV, only the Greek work 'proskuneo' is translated 'worship' in respect to the worship of Jesus... Since most of the other Greek words for worship are exclusive to the worship of a deity, we might suspect that "proskuneo" has a different meaning that is less exclusive and may include other than divine worship. We will find that in fact to be correct" (John MacDougal, "The Worship of Jesus Christ").
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