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There are many similar questions, and you will think it is a repeat unless you read the rest of the body. The magi seeking to worship a king seems strange. Even stranger is Herod's claim to want to worship that king.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:1–2, ESV)

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” (Matt. 2:7–8, ESV)

The German university professor, Heinrich Greeven, wrote the article for this word in TDNT, put together by Gerhard Kittel using top German scholarship. Dr. Greeven here disagreed with the answers previously given at this site.

Greeven, Heinrich. (1964–). "προσκυνέω, προσκυνητής." G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 6, p. 758-764). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Septuagint (LXX)

The Septuagint. In the LXX προσκυνεῖν is virtually the only rendering of הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה on the one side and סָגַד24 or סָגֵד (Aram.)25 on the other; both words have the basic sense “to bow.” It is also used once each for נָשַׁק “to kiss,” עָבַד “to serve,” “to worship” Ps. 97:7, זוּעַ (Aram.)27 “to tremble,” and in 3 instances it is equivalent to כָּרַע (“to bow”) with הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה, Est. 3:2 (twice), 5. προσκυνεῖν naturally suggested itself for חִשְׁתַּחֲוָה, since the Heb. word, originally denoting only a movement of the body, had become a cultic tt. The further definitions which often accompany it, e.g., “to the earth”28 or “to do obeisance,” leave us in no doubt as to the meaning.30 It makes no odds whether the proskynesis is to God or the gods or to men. That προσκυνεῖν can be used for (→ n. 26) or par. to נָשַׁק (Ex. 18:7) shows that the element of kissing, including cultic kissing, was still present in the Gk. word at the time of the LXX.

Almost three-quarters of the instances of προσκυνεῖν in the LXX relate to veneration and worship of the true God and Lord or to that of false gods.... -- Greeven, Vol. 6, p. 760-761.

New Testament

Dr. Greeven references every occurrence of προσκυνέω in the New Testament. Based on its use in the New Testament, he sees προσκυνέω differently.

  1. When the NT uses προσκυνεῖν, the object is always something—truly or supposedly—divine. Mt. 18:26: πεσὼν … προσεκύνει αὐτῷ (v. 29: πεσὼν … παρεκάλει [different word] αὐτόν) is an exception only in appearance, for Mt. can hardly be using these words for the proskynesis of a slave to his master or to the king, → 163, 16. This is refuted not only by the use of προσκυνεῖν elsewhere in the NT but especially by the fact that Mt. has altered or expanded his Marcan original in no less than five passages in order to describe the gesture of those who approach Jesus explicitly as proskynesis: the leper in Mt. 8:2 cf. Mk. 1:40; Jairus in Mt. 9:18 cf. Mk. 5:22; His companions in the boat, Mt. 14:33 cf. Mk. 6:51; the woman of Canaan, Mt. 15:25 cf. Mk. 7:25; the mother of James and John, Mt. 20:20 cf. Mk. 10:35. The only instance to the contrary seems to point in the same direction, for it is very probable that Mt. 27:29 cut out the proskynesis of the soldiers (Mk. 15:19) because elsewhere the word always expresses true adoration for Mt. As regards Mt. 18:26 it may thus be concluded that the parable is not pure in Jülicher’s sense but gives us a glimpse of God Himself behind the ἄνθρωπος βασιλεύς. -- Greeven, Vol. 6, p. 763.
  1. The conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in Jn. 4:20–24 leaves an initial impression that προσκυνεῖν is used here in a wholly figurative sense, since Jesus speaks of προσκυνεῖν in spirit and in truth. But if prostrating oneself no longer plays any definite role, the reference in the statement and answer is to the place of worship. Furthermore, there obviously stands in the background the technical use of the word for the pilgrimage of Jews to Jerusalem, so also Jn. 12:20; Ac. 8:27; 24:11. If instead of naming a place to which the pilgrims should go to worship Jesus says that the true place of worship is in the spirit and in truth this is an oxymoron. Undiluted προσκυνεῖν, the act of worship which is concrete in place and gesture, is lifted up to a new dimension: “spirit and truth.” -- Greeven, Vol. 6, p. 764.

This is only an introduction to Dr. Greeven's article.

I'm hoping for answers taking Dr. Greeven's article into account; not necessarily agreeing with it.

Supplemental

 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped [προσεκύνησεν] him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” (Acts 10:25–26, ESV)

Peter rejects the proskynesis of Cornelius with the words: “I too am a man,” Ac. 10:25 f. -- Greeven, Vol. 6, p. 764.

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  • do you really think Herod wanted to worship the king?
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:08
  • 4
    @steveowen: The OP is simply inquiring as to the meaning of the word, regardless of whether the speaker meant it seriously, or was simply pretending.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:31
  • based on, 'Even stranger is Herod's claim to want to worship that king.' there is an intended inference apart from the word meaning.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:45
  • I fail to grasp how Matthew 18:26-29 is an exception only in appearance, for Mt. can hardly be using these words for the proskynesis of a slave to his master or to the king, → 163, 16. I am also puzzled by the intellectual rigor of his other points; it seems to me that the author is indulging in eisegesis, rather than exegesis; to state matters plainly, one needn't be a slave in order to bow to a person of superior rank: nobility before a king, as with the magi; Herod, an ordinary Jewish king, before the prophesied Messiah; soldiers before their superiors; debtors before their lenders etc.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:48
  • It's strange that Herod, who at least pretended to be a Jew, would even pretend to want to worship a human king.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:52

3 Answers 3

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The Bible teaches that only God may be worshiped (Exo 34:14; Deut 8:19; Matt 4:10; Luke 4:8; Rev 14:7). Peter, Paul and the angel that gave the Book of Revelation to John all prevented people from worshiping them (Acts 14:14–15; 10:25–26; Rev 19:10; 22:9).

Yet, in the King James translation, in 13 verses, Jesus was worshiped. For example, when the magi from the east "saw the Child with Mary His mother; ... they fell to the ground and worshiped Him” (Matt 2:11; cf. 14:28-33; 28:8-9; 16-17).

The purpose of this article is to determine whether that means that Jesus is God.

The English word “worship”

The word “worship” normally means that the object of worship is a god; either the true God or a false god (Cambridge, Merriam-Webster). Therefore, given these definitions of worship, if Jesus is worshiped, then He is God.

The Greek word “proskuneó”

The Greek word, translated as “worship” in the New Testament, is proskuneó. It is used in 43 passages. In 14, people and heavenly beings worship God. In 10, it is used for worship that is illegal in terms of Exodus 20:2-5, namely where people worship idols, the beast, or the image of the beast. We also find 13 passages where Jesus received proskuneó.

The following indicates that the meaning of the Greek word proskuneó is different from the English word “worship:”

(1) Dictionary Definitions

Dictionaries define proskuneó, not as “worship,” but as “to do reverence to” (Strong's Greek: 4352) or as “to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence” (New Testament Greek Lexicon). Synonyms for reverence is to show respect, admiration or to worship.

(2) Translated as “bow down”

Consistent with this definition, the NASB translates 6 instances, where Jesus is the object of proskuneó, not as “worship,” but as “bow down.” In these 6 instances, it is clear from the context that Jesus was not worshiped, as per the meaning of the English word “worship.” People merely showed respect to Jesus by bowing before Him (Matt 8:1-2; 9:18-19; 15:25; 20:20; Mark 5:6; 15:19).

(3) Not God in the context

And even when the NASB translates instances of proskuneó (before Jesus) as “worship,” there often is clear evidence in the text that it does not necessarily mean that people thought of Him as God: For example, the magi “fell to the ground and worshiped” Jesus as a baby (Matt 2:11). However, they were looking for “he who has been born King of the Jews” (Matt 2:2); not for God. They did not honor Jesus as God but as the "King of the Jews." We see similar evidence in Matthew 14:32-33, Matthew 28:1, 8-9, and John 9:35-42.

(4) Proskuneó before people

In three instances, people proskuneó before other people (Matt 18:26; Rev 3:7-9; Acts 10:25).

(5) God instructed angels to proskuneó Christ.

According to Hebrews 1:6, “God” (Heb 1:1) instructed the angels to “worship” Jesus. That makes a distinction between Jesus and God. Consequently, that Jesus is worshiped does not mean that He is God.

Conclusion

The English word “worship” is not always a valid translation for the Greek word proskuneó because there is a marked difference between the meanings of the two words:

  1. Proskuneó merely means to show extreme respect to another being by bowing down.
  2. While the word “worship” implies that the one worshiped is a god (the true God or a false god), people also proskuneó other (superior) people.

Consequently, the fact that people and angels proskuneó before Jesus, by itself, does not prove that He is God, just like it does not prove that other people, before who some people bow, are God. On the other hand, it does not mean that He is not God. If He was merely a created being, God's command to the angels to worship Him would be quite astounding. Other factors must be considered to make than claim. Nevertheless, the risk remains that proskuneó is translated as "worship" because the translators believe that Jesus is God.

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  • “ God's command to the angels to worship Him would be quite astounding.” why do you think so? Jesus is raised from the dead having been triumphant over evil, exalted above all names and made heir to all things!
    – Steve
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 12:24
  • 1
    I hear what you say, but the things you mention still make Him a mere human being. I cannot imagine that God would instruct the entire universe to bend the knee before a human being (Phil 2:20) and give Him glory equal to God (John 5:23; Rev 5:13). But I guess that is just my opinion. For me, that would be astounding.
    – Andries
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:13
  • 1
    @RevelationLad – Good questions - Your first point is that if the English word “worship” is different in meaning from the ancient Greek word proskuneó, which basically means “bow down,” then Christians would have been allowed to proskuneó before other gods because it is not real “worship.” No. Proskuneó may be translated as worship or as “bow down” DEPENDING ON WHO receives the proskuneó; not on the physical action. The moment that proskuneó is given to a divine being (as Roman emperors were assumed to be), then it is what we would call “worship,” and Christians are not worship other gods.
    – Andries
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 6:00
  • 1
    @RevelationLad – Your second point is that, in a situation where a person already bows down before somebody else, and the word proskuneó is added, what extra meaning would proskuneó bring? Rev 4:10 is an example where proskuneó is used together with “fall down before …” In such instances, in the case of non-divine beings receiving proskuneó, I would understand it as “fall down and give reverence” but as “fall down and worship” in the case of divine beings. The point again is that whether proskuneó is “worship” or giving reverence does not depend on the act but on the being WHO receives it.
    – Andries
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 6:06
  • 1
    @RevelationLad – Your third point is, since the question of worship to God only was as important in Bible times as it is to us today, why is the NT filled with passages regarding worship to Jesus? E.g., in 1 Thess 3:13 Paul prays that the Lord (Jesus) “may establish your hearts without blame in holiness.” To this I respond that WE MUST WORSHIP JESUS. Everything comes and goes through the Son. God created all things through His Son, maintains all things through His Son, and gives us everything we need through His Son. Similarly, we thank and WORSHIP GOD THROUGH HIS SON.
    – Andries
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 6:18
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What does προσκυνέω (translated worship) mean in Matt. 2:2?

It means : "pay homage", "obeisance", "bow to him"

The English word "worship" has a narrow meaning and it is used exclusively for veneration of God. The Greek verb "proskuneo" has a variety of meanings including "worship" therefore translators must find terms that accurately convey what is implied by the use of "proskuneo" in the various verses that it appears.

The magi drop to their knees and prostrate themselves to the baby Jesus, they do so because he is the "king" and not God. Their astrological talents have led them to him.

Most of the English translations revert to the KJV's "Worship", they do this because the gesture of prostration is directed to Jesus. Here are some examples.

Matthew 2:2

NASB “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

NIV "And asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

The correct translation of the word " προσκυνέω "that applies in the context.

Weymouth New Testament

Inquiring, "Where is the newly born king of the Jews? For we have seen his Star in the east, and have come here to do him homage."

Young's Literal Translation

saying, 'Where is he who was born king of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and we came to bow to him.'

NRSVA "Asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[a] and have come to pay him homage."

NWT" Saying: “Where is the one born king of the Jews?+ For we saw his star when we were in the East, and we have come to do obeisance to him."

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  • 1
    One would hope this ample explanation would remove the need to carry on about 'worshipping Jesus' strangely makes him God! +1
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 23:45
  • @steveowen This partial explanation in no way removes application of 'worship' to Christ, either as a baby or as the King of God's Kingdom. The one who is declared to be God in the beginning, prior to becoming the man, Jesus, is worshipped in Rev. 5:14, even in the NWT (KIT). A lot more explanation is required.
    – Anne
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 12:40
  • 1
    @anne correct! "no way removes application of 'worship' to Christ". He is worthy of worship - but this does not make him God, he was never God, never will be. He has a God - just as we do.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 13:01
  • @steveowen If Jesus is not God, he is not worthy of worship. God alone is worthy of all worship, and in Rev. 5 he who sits on the throne of heaven, and the Lamb at the center of that throne receive all heaven's worship.
    – Anne
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 13:29
  • 1
    See that logic is not biblical. The Lamb is not God and God is not the Lamb - fact. That is biblical. God calls His angels to worship J and rightly so. Worship is an act of glorification, Jesus IS the glory of God and so should be worshipped, honoured, etc. as this honours God. I know you can't grasp that, very unfortunate really. The whole 'Jesus is God' stuff tragically dismisses what he accomplished on the cross.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 13:57
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προσκυνῆσαι (proskynēsai) Verb - Aorist Infinitive Active Strong's 4352: From pros and a probable derivative of kuon; to fawn or crouch to, i.e. prostrate oneself in homage. (from Bible Hub)

Jesus did not reject obeissance (worship) because he was not worshipped as God. He was heir to the throne of David, he was David's lord, the messiah. The word worship as it was applied to the people at the time of its writing should be considered to determine what the verse in question means. The statement "only God can be worshipped" is not true, because if it is true, then Revelation 3:9 would mean that Jesus intends the wicked people to worship christians as God. The bible shows that there are individuals in the bible who are not the true God that received worship. Daniel was one of those individuals that received worship, Daniel 2:46 KJB Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. David was also worshipped in 1 Chronicles 29:20. In Matthew 18:26 KJB The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

The beginning sentence of point # 1 of this question reads "When the NT uses προσκυνεῖν, the object is always something—truly or supposedly—divine" if by divine meaning God, is not true as Revelation 3:9 shows. Did Jesus intended the wicked people to worship christians as God? In the bible we find status and authority showed by actions like kissing or washing another's feet, falling to one's knees and prostration to indicate respect and deference to another person of higher rank like what we find in Matthew 18:26.

It would seem unwise to use the word worship to indicate religious veneration which is reserved only for God in Matthew 2:2 when that is not its meaning. Were the astrologers from the east there to worship baby Jesus as the only true God? Note too of the same word worship (proskuneo) in Revelation 3:9 KJB Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. What sense is conveyed if we take proskuneo to mean sacred service that is due to God in these verses ?

In Matthew 4:10 (Deuteronomy 6:13) ASV we read, Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. The word worship here is the same proskuneo, but, the word serve, which is also translated as worship is what Jesus describes as belonging only to God. serve λατρεύσεις (latreuseis) Verb - Future Indicative Active - 2nd Person Singular Strong's 3000: To serve, especially God, perhaps simply: I worship. From latris; to minister, i.e. Render religious homage. (From Bible Hub)

The word serve (latreuseis /latreuein) only refers to sacred service to God, it is never used to describe respects paid to Jesus, So, in Matthew 4:10 we find proskynein and latreuein in Jesus' reply to Satan's temptation. There is nothing in the New Testament were we find sacred service (latreuein) being offered to Jesus.

The bible contains no record of Jesus seeking worship and sacred service whereas God seeks it. To the contrary he says in John 5:41 ASV I receive not glory from men. John 8:50 ASV says But I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.

Dr Greeven may see προσκυνέω differently, but both Old Testament and New Testament teaches only one true God should be worshipped/served.

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