In 1 Kings 1:53, it is written,

53 So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and bowed himself to king Solomon: and Solomon said unto him, Go to thine house. KJV, 1769

נג וַיִּשְׁלַח הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה וַיֹּרִדֻהוּ מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיָּבֹא וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה וַיֹּֽאמֶר לֹו שְׁלֹמֹה לֵךְ לְבֵיתֶךָ

The word וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ is a verb conjugated in binyan Hitpaʿel from the lemma שָׁחָה. It is translated in the LXX by the verb προσεκύνησεν, a conjugation of the lemma προσκυνέω.

What is the difference when the action of this verb is performed to the indirect object of a man (e.g., לַמֶּלֶךְ, ibid.) versus when the action of the verb is performed to the indirect object of God (e.g., לַיהְוֶה cp. 1 Sam. 15:30)?

  • 2
    Note that this word is also known as the hishtafel from חוה.
    – Susan
    Feb 24, 2015 at 5:46
  • Why would you imagine there is one?
    – fumanchu
    Aug 8, 2015 at 2:44
  • I think there is an anaolgy here to hekal: when a king lives in it, we call it a "palace"; when a g/God lives in it, we call it a "temple". But it's just a hekal. That's a noun, of course, but I think the principle is the same for this verb: it's the same action ("bow", "prostrate") but connoting different things depending on object.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 19, 2017 at 10:20

1 Answer 1


Addressing the Greek, strictly speaking there does not seem to be a strong distinction between προσκυνέω as it relates to God and as it relates to men. Exodus 20:5 (LXX) explicitly states that one shall not bow down before (οὐ προσκυνήσεις) other gods, but, as you point out, the action is seen before men in the Old Testament. Other examples are:

1 Chronicles 29:20 LXX

And they bowed the knee and worshipped the Lord, and did obeisance to the king [προσεκύνησαν τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ τῷ βασιλεῖ].

3 Kingdoms (1 Kings) 2:13 LXX

And Adonias the son of Aggith came in to Bersabee the mother of Solomon, and did obeisance to her [καὶ προσεκύνησεν αὐτῇ].

On the other hand, the word λατρεύω (which also appears in Exodus 20:5) applies in the Old Testament exclusively to the worship of God (or other gods):

Exodus 3:12 LXX

Ye shall serve God upon this mountain

Deuteronomy 28:46-47 LXX

And these things shall be signs in thee, and wonders among thy seed for ever; because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God with gladness and a good heart, because of the abundance of all things.

Daniel 3:18 LXX

Be it known to thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods

3 Maccabees 6:6

When the three friends in the land of Babylon of their own will exposed their lives to the fire rather than serve vain things, thou didst send a dewy coolness through the fiery furnace.

As an outcome of the iconoclast heresy in the 8th century, the Seventh Ecumenical Council clarified the theological use of the two terms pretty much within the scopes found in the above Septuagint examples.

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