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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is It Proper to Worship Jesus? "Worship" (Proskuneo /Shachah) - Different Levels of Meaning in Scripture

WORSHIP "Worship" (Proskuneo /Shachah). Different levels of meaning in Scripture.

A professor of Bible languages at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, wrote that in the KJV (and other old translations into English) some uses of 'worship' may seem to be

"An unfortunate translation, according to modern English, but justified by the usage of earlier English, according to which to worship meant simply to honor. Worship is worthship, or honor paid to dignity or worth. This usage survives in the [British] expressions 'worshipful' and 'your worship.' In the marriage-service of the English Church occurs the phrase, 'With my body I thee worship.' So Wycliffe [one of the earliest English Bible translators] renders Matthew 19:19, 'Worship thy father and thy mother;' and John 12:26, 'If any man serve me, my Father shall worship him.'" - pp. 533, 534, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1, Sage Software, 1996.

So, just like the Bible words shachah (Hebrew) and proskuneo (Greek), the word 'worship' in English also, until relatively recent times, had various levels of meaning and could be applied to other men in a lower sense of the word. But the very same word also could be used in the highest sense to apply to the one true God only.

Definitions of the Greek Word "Proskuneo" and the Hebrew Word "Shachah"

The Greek word proskuneo (or proskyneo) is defined in the 1971 United Bible Societies' A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 154: "[Proskuneo] worship; fall down and worship, kneel, bow low, fall at another's feet."

Even W. E. Vine writes in his An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 1247:

"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 for an act of homage or reverence (a) to God ...; (b) to Christ ...; (c) to a man, Matt. 18:26." ("Obeisance," of course, shows "respect, submission, or reverence" - Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1961.)

Noted Bible scholar J. H. Thayer defines proskuneo:

"prop. to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence ... hence in the N. T. by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication. It is used a. of homage shown to men of superior rank [position] ... Rev. 3:9 .... b. of homage rendered to God and the ascended Christ, to heavenly beings [angels]" - p. 548, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Baker Book House Publ., 1977.

The Hebrew word most often translated "worship" is shachah, and it is usually rendered as proskuneo in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Unger and White say of this word: "Shachah ... 'to worship, prostrate oneself, bow down.'" And, "The act of bowing down in homage done before a superior [in rank] or a ruler. Thus David 'bowed' himself [shachah] before Saul (1 Sam. 24:8). Sometimes it is a social or economic superior to whom one bows, as when Ruth 'bowed' [shachah] to the ground before Boaz (Ruth 2:10)." - Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, 1980, Thomas Nelson Publ., p. 482.

An Act of Respect to Kings, Angels, Prophets, and God

Perhaps the most famous Biblical Hebrew scholar of all, Gesenius, tells us in Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, p. 813, (#7812), 'Shachah':

"(1) to prostrate oneself before anyone out of honor .... Those who used this mode of salutation fell on their knees and touched the ground with the forehead ..., and this honor was not only shown to superiors, such as kings and princes, 2 Sam. 9:8; but also to equals; Gen. 23:7."

The act described by proskuneo (or shachah) was of bowing or kneeling, and it generally indicated an act of respect and a display of one's willingness to submit to or serve another person who occupied a superior position, regardless of his nature (somewhat similar to a salute in the military today). It was done, of course, in its very highest sense to God alone, but it was also done, in a lower sense of the same word, to kings, angels, prophets, etc. That is why proskuneo is translated "prostrated himself before" at Matt. 18:26 NASB, even though the KJV uses "worship" there. Notice how other trinitarian translations render that verse (RSV and NIV for example) where a servant "worships" [proskuneo] his master. And that is why, in the account of the man blind from birth whom Jesus healed, we see that man giving proskuneo to Jesus at John 9:38. The ASV, in a footnote for John 9:38, says,

"The Greek word [proskuneo] denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to a creature, as here [Jesus], or to the Creator."

At Rev. 3:9 Jesus shows the position of authority he will give to some of his human followers when he says he will make people "worship before thy feet." - KJV. The word used there is proskuneo! The ASV again adds this footnote: "The Greek word [proskuneo] denotes an act of reverence whether paid to a creature, or the Creator."

We can see the same thing at Is. 45:14. Here God, speaking to his faithful human followers of the last days, says: "and they [the rest of surviving mankind] ... shall fall down [shachah - 'worship'] unto thee, they shall make supplication [palal - 'pray': see The Jerusalem Bible and AT] unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee [see IN/WITH study]; and there is none else." - KJV, ASV. - cf. Is. 49:23. Even the ancient Greek translation, the Septuagint, says at Is. 45:14 - "and they ... shall [proskuneo - 'worship'] thee and make supplication [proseuchomai - 'pray'] to thee; and there is no God beside thee." (Notice all the trinitarian-type "evidence" here that could "prove" these men are "equally God"!) - The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, Greek and English, Zondervan Ed., 1970.

So we see that the king of Israel, for example, could receive proskuneo or shachah in his role as a representative of a higher authority (Jehovah), or he could receive it in recognition of his own earthly position of authority that God allowed him to have. For example, at 2 Sam. 14:22 Joab "worships" 'my Lord' (King David). The Hebrew word shachah translated in most places in the Bible as "worship" is here translated "did obeisance" in the RSV. In the Greek Septuagint the word used is proskuneo. So, in spite of their both sharing the same fleshly human nature, one gave the other proskuneo or shachah!

We see the same thing at 1 Kings 1:16, 31 when Bathsheba gives shachah to her husband and king, David. Not only does the Septuagint use proskuneo for these verses (3 Kings 1:16, 31 in Sept.), but at verses 21 and 31 she calls David, "The Lord of me" ("My Lord").

Angels, when acting as representatives of Jehovah and speaking his words, could properly receive proskuneo as representatives for a superior authority.

Gen. 18:2 uses shachah to describe what Abraham did to the angels (p. 37, New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1982, Tyndale House Publ.) who came to him, and what Lot did to two of those same angels (shachah) is described at Gen. 19:1. (Also see Unger and White, pp. 7 and 482.) Proskuneo is also used in these two scriptures in the Septuagint. Also see Numbers 22:31: Balaam "worshiped" (proskuneo - Sept. and shachah ["fell flat" - KJV] - Hebrew OT) the ANGEL and the angel accepted it! (Unlike Rev. 19:10 and 22:8, 9.)

"The angel of the Lord [angel of Jehovah/Yahweh], sometimes 'the angel of God' or 'my (or 'his') angel,' is represented in Scripture as a heavenly being sent by God to deal with men as his personal spokesman. In many passages he is virtually identified with God and speaks not merely in the name of God but as God in the first person singular." - New Bible Dictionary, p. 38.

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"Angel of the Lord [angel of Yahweh/Jehovah] - occurs many times in the Old Testament, where in almost every instance it means a supernatural personage to be distinguished from Jehovah ....Some feel the pre-incarnate Christ is meant." - p. 39. "Titles and Names of Jesus Christ. .... Angel of the Lord (Ex. 3:2; Judg. 13: 15-18)". - p. 624, Today's Dictionary of the Bible, Bethany House Publ., 1982.

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"Angel of the Lord. ...Christ's visible form before the incarnation." - p. 40, Smith's Bible Dictionary, Hendrickson Publ.

* * * * * * * * * *

"The Angel of the LORD.... Traditional Christian interpretation has held that this 'angel' was a preincarnate manifestation of Christ as God's Messenger-Servant." - footnote for Gen. 16:7 in the highly trinitarian The NIV Study Bible by Zondervan Publishing.

* * * * * * * * * *

"[The angel of Yahweh/Jehovah] is a heavenly being given a particular task by Yahweh, behind whom the angel's personality entirely disappears.... He is virtually a hypostatic appearance of Yahweh, the personified help of God for Israel.... Sometimes we cannot distinguish between Yahweh and his angel. When the reference is to Yahweh without regard to man, 'Yahweh' is used. Where man observes him, the expression 'the angel of Yahweh' is used. This preserves Yahweh's transcendence (e.g. Gen. 18 [Abraham "worships" angel(s) - see above]; Exod. 23:20-23). Because Yahweh's holiness could have destroyed Israel, only his angel was to go with the people." - [see 1 John 4:12; John 6:46.] - The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 101, Zondervan Publ., 1986.

And yet, the Israelites could, and did, say that God was with them (Josh. 1:17; 1 Sam. 10:7), that God had come (Ex. 20:20), that Jehovah was in their midst (Ex. 17:7; 29:43, 45-46), that Jehovah was leading them (Ex. 13:21) when it was Jehovah's angel (Ex. 14:19) who was actually, physically present, representing Jehovah.

So we see Abraham giving shachah to the Angel of Jehovah (as the direct, perfect representative of Yahweh) and the two other angels who accompany him. The Angel of Jehovah stays with Abraham (who calls him "Jehovah" since he is perfectly speaking God's thoughts to Abraham - possibly like speaking into a telephone while speaking to someone who isn't actually physically present) while the two angels approach Lot, who gives them shachah also.

Proskuneo is given to a person who (1) represents someone else in a position of higher authority or (2) occupies a position of higher authority himself (e.g., a king). Sometimes, of course, we may find a person who may receive shachah/proskuneo for both of these reasons. 1 Chron. 29:20 tells us, "And all the assembly blessed Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads and worshipped [shachah] Jehovah and the king [David]." - ASV - cf. Septuagint (proskuneo). The highest position of authority, of course, is that occupied by God (the Father, Jehovah, who alone is Most High - Ps. 83:18 - and who alone deserves worship [in the most high sense of that word].)

So, in the respect that the highest authority deserves absolute, exclusive devotion, loyalty, etc., we can see that He alone deserves exclusive proskuneo - in the highest sense. And yet, as we have seen, proskuneo, in a subordinate sense, is sometimes delivered to His representatives and to those He has placed in authority.

That proskuneo is not given to someone merely because he has a higher nature is also shown at Rev. 22:8, 9. Speaking on his own behalf as a creature with a higher nature, the angel stops John from rendering him proskuneo. Who would know better than John that only God deserves exclusive proskuneo (in the highest sense of the word)? Why would John do such a seemingly ridiculous thing? Obviously he did it because he thought the angel was acting at that moment in the capacity of the direct representative of God (see Robertson's Word Pictures, Vol. vi, p. 450) and thus should be given proskuneo! We cannot possibly believe that the Apostle John was unaware of exactly who should receive proskuneo! - - especially since he had been told, just a short time before, exactly the same thing -Rev. 19:10

No, John knew it was an angel, and knew that, unless that angel was in the role of a direct representative of God, he should not receive proskuneo in the highest sense! The only proper conclusion there can be is that at Rev. 22:8 John believed the angel had now assumed the role of the direct representative of God.

Notice what the angel, a person of superior nature to John, told him: "You must not do that! [You must not offer me proskuneo even though I am an angel and of a superior nature.] I am a fellow servant with you" - Rev. 22:8, RSV. Since his position (at that moment) was the same as John's ("a fellow servant"), even though he had a higher nature, he must not be given proskuneo in its highest sense!

Is It Proper to Worship Jesus? (Heb. 1:6 Examined)

If someone were to give the President of the U. S. honor or proskuneo in the sense of "respect" or "submission to authority," he would not do so because of the President's substance or nature but because of his position of authority. We would not give the President's son such honor or proskuneo because of his substance or nature even though it is equal to the President's. We would not call the President's son by his father's positional title ("President") nor by his father's individual personal name. (God's people throughout the Bible did not have last [family] names but only "first," or individual, personal names, e.g., Moses, John, Gabriel, Jesus, etc.) Most Americans would, however, give the President's son honor (or proskuneo in the sense of showing honor or obedience to authority) if the President gave his son a position of authority that deserved it.

We also do not give Jehovah (the only true, most High God) honor or proskuneo simply because of his superior substance or nature but because of his position and authority. As Rev. 4:11 expresses it "You are our Lord and our God, you are worthy of glory and honor and power, because you made all the universe and it was only by your will that everything was made and exists." - JB.

Jesus himself gives proskuneo to the Father alone since the Father (Jehovah) is his only superior, his God: Micah 5:4; 1 Cor. 11:3; 2 Cor. 11:31; Eph. 1:3, 17; 1 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 3:12.

Therefore, we must not give the Most High God's Son (Luke 1:32) honor or proskuneo simply because of his substance or nature (even if we should be convinced that his body is of the very same substance as the Most High God's). We must not call him by the Most High God's positional title ("The Most High God," "The Only True God," - Jn 17:1, 3), nor by God's relational title ("The Father" - Matt. 23:9; Is. 64:8, ASV), nor by his Father's individual personal name ("Jehovah" or "Yahweh" - Ps 110:1; Is. 63:16; Micah 5:4, ASV).

We do give the Most High God's Son honor and proskuneo (whether you translate it "worship," "obeisance," etc.) because his Father has given him a position of authority that deserves it! "thou [Father] gavest [Jesus] authority over all flesh" - John 17:2 - ASV. (Also see Luke 1:32) And "there is no authority except from God" - Ro. 13:1 - RSV. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28 NIV)

"The God" is the Father alone, Jehovah, who deserves our exclusive proskuneo in the highest sense! Since, in English, we usually reserve the word "worship" to translate proskuneo when it refers to God alone, it would be more appropriate to use "obeisance" for the occurrences of proskuneo when applied to other individuals in its lower sense. Nevertheless, we must be aware that proskuneo (and shachah) are applied to God, angels, and certain men in the Bible.

The trinitarian A Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, Vol. 4, p. 943, says the following about worship in the New Testament:

"Christian worship in NT times is usually offered to God as Father through Jesus Christ as His Son (see Ro. 1:8, Eph. 1:3; 3:14). The Aramaic 'Abba' ['Father'] appears to have been adopted as the peculiar title for God in the Churches (see Ro. 8:15)."

This trinitarian work, not unexpectedly, goes on to suggest that worship may have also been offered to Christ, but

"some indefiniteness attaches to this subject, partly owing to the two senses in which the Gr[eek] word [proskuneo] is used, and partly owing to the ambiguous usage of the title ['Lord']."

It further admits that although some trinitarians insist such scriptures as Mt 2:11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 17:14,15; 20:20 28:9,17; Lk 7:37,38; 17:15,16; 24:51,52; Jn 9:35-38; 20:17 prove that Jesus was 'worshiped,'

"it cannot be proved that in any of these cases ... more than an act of homage and humble obeisance is intended."

So this trinitarian reference work admits that the Father is definitely (and most often) given the exclusive worship that is due God alone, but that there are uncertainties that such is really the case with Jesus.

There is actually only one instance where, at first glance, we might think that Jesus is probably being worshiped in the highest sense of the word. But in reality it turns out to be just as ambiguous and dubious as the rest.

At Heb. 1:6 the KJV (and many other trinitarian translations) says: "And again, when he [the Father] bringeth in the first begotten [Jesus] into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship [proskuneo] him."

However, when we look up this scripture in the Old Testament (the trinitarian New Oxford Annotated Bible; New American Standard Bible [Ref. ed.]; and Dr. W. F. Beck [Lutheran] in his New Testament in the Language of Today [1964] all refer Heb. 1:6 to Deut. 32:43), we find that Deut. 32:43 does not refer to the Father bringing his firstborn Son into the world and, in fact, in the Septuagint, instructs the angels to worship God (Jehovah, the Father) with no reference to Christ or the Son whatsoever.

So there is the distinct possibility that Heb. 1:6 is saying that all the angels worship the Father at that time. But even if the writer of Hebrews is saying the angels "worship" [proskuneo] the Son, it certainly doesn't have to mean "worship" in the highest sense. Even these trinitarian translations admit as much in their renderings of Heb. 1:6 - The New English Bible; Revised English Bible; New Jerusalem Bible; An American Translation, Smith-Goodspeed; Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible; The Letter to the Hebrews - The Daily Study Bible Series, Dr. William Barclay.

We have, then, a few doubtful references to the "worship" of Jesus (and no references to the worship of the "equally God" Holy Spirit) as compared to many certain commands to worship Jehovah, the Father!

True Worship Defined

Let's examine the scriptures where Jesus himself clearly spells it out for us. At John 17:1, 3 Jesus in his final prayer to God says: "Father ... this is eternal life: to know thee, who alone art truly God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." - NEB. This is certainly clear enough. Jesus tells us there are two things we must know if we hope to even get on the road that leads to eternal life (Matt. 7:13,14).

(1) We must know Jesus Christ. We must know his name and exactly who he is. We mustn't "know" that Moses or David or the Holy Spirit, etc. are equally the Messiah. We must know that Jesus alone is the Messiah (that he is not even part of a multiple, or 3-in-one, Messiah)! We must also know much more, of course, including that Jesus is our savior and king and what he teaches us.

(2) We must know the only true God. We must know his qualities and his commandments for us. We must know his name and exactly who he is. And Jesus has positively identified this only true God whom we must know: "Father...this is eternal life: to know thee who alone art truly God. - NEB" (also see TC study, "Unitized Title" - 1 Cor. 8:5,6)

There is no mention of the Son being known as "the only true God" or the Holy Spirit being known as "the only true God." What a terrible slighting of the only true God (if he were truly three-in-one)! Instead Jesus insists that we must know the Father is alone truly God.  [See 'True' - The Only True God"]

This very same knowledge of true worship has been clearly taught by all Jews from Moses to Jesus (and up to today): God is Jehovah alone (Deut. 6:4; Ps. 83:18; Is. 44:6; 45:22) and Jehovah is the Father (never the Son or the Holy Spirit) - Is. 63:16; 64:8; Deut. 32:6. Archeology, history, and Scripture tell us undeniably that the faithful Jews never had any other God than the Father alone! - (see the ISRAEL study.) To know God is to know that the Father (Jehovah) is God alone - for the Jews and for Jesus.

There was another group of people who worshiped Jehovah. They hated the Jews, and the Jews hated them, but they worshiped Jehovah. However, these people, the Samaritans, did not really know the one they claimed to worship.

"... when the foreign peoples were brought in to dwell in Samaria, they brought their own gods with them (2 Kings 17:29). We are told a priest from Bethel came and told them how they should fear the Lord [Jehovah] (2 Kings 17:28). But all the probablity is that they merely added Jehovah to their list of gods because they were superstitiously afraid to leave him out. After all he was the God of the land in which they were living and it might be dangerous not to include him in their worship." - p. 169, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay, The Westminster Press, 1975 ed. (Also Hastings' A Dictionary of the Bible, p. 376, Vol. 4, 1988 printing, Hendrickson.)

So let's examine the only scripture where Jesus expressly teaches what true worship is. At John 4:9 Jesus has met a Samaritan woman and she quickly recognizes him as a Jew. At John 4:19 the Samaritan woman acknowledges that he is a prophet. Then she says, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." She is assuming that she is worshiping the only true God but is questioning the place where that worship should be done. Jesus, however, tells her it doesn't matter where you worship God but how. What matters is that you worship the only God in truth.

At John 4:22-24 Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. [Remember, the faithful Jews have always worshiped the Father alone, Jehovah, as the only true God.] But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must [dei] worship him in spirit and truth." - RSV.

Who did Jesus say really did know the true God? The Jews! And whom did the Jews know as the true God? The Father alone! (See the ISRAEL study.) Why didn't the Samaritans really know God? Because they worshiped others in addition to the Father! When speaking of worshiping in truth whom did Jesus say must be worshiped as God? The Father! (If God were truly three persons, surely Jesus would have stressed this "true" worship at this time: "Now is the hour when the true worshipers - unlike the Samaritans - will worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in spirit and truth.")

And Jesus (as he also did at John 17:1, 3 above) tells us in plain language exactly who we must worship in truth as God: "But the is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father..." The Samaritan woman didn't mention the Father - she was talking about where true worship should be done. It was Jesus himself who identified the God of true worship: the Father.

How terrible (if the trinity were really true) that Jesus when speaking of the false worship of the Samaritans who do not know God (although they worshiped the Father along with others) and giving us the knowledge of the true worship of God would completely ignore "God the Son" and "God the Holy Spirit"! Isn't it clear from a careful examination of John 4:22-24 alone that the Father alone is the only true God? (John 17:1, 3; 1 Cor. 8:6) And that we must worship (proskuneo) him alone in the highest sense of the word? As noted scholar A. T. Robertson says when discussing John 4:23 - "It does matter whether we have a true conception of God whom we worship." - p. 67, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 5.

Also see:

The Bible’s Viewpoint - Is It Proper to Worship Jesus? (g00 4/8 pp. 26-27; Watchtower Online Library)

Obeisance to the Glorified Jesus Christ (Insight-2 pp. 523-524; Watchtower Online Library)

Worship - Links to Information (Defend Jehovah's Witnesses)