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The New World Translation (NWT) translates προσκυνεω and προσκυνεω in Matthew 4:8-11 like so (emphasis mine):

Again the Devil took him along to an unusually high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him: "All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me." Then Jesus said to him: “Go away, Satan! For it is written: 'It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.'" Then the Devil left him, and look! angels came and began to minister to him.

However, in Matthew 28:16-20, the NWT renders προσεκύνησαν like so (emphasis mine):

However, the 11 disciples went to Galʹi·lee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged for them to meet. When they saw him, they did obeisance, but some doubted. Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: "All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things."

Obviously the NWT translators thought that two different meanings of προσκυνεω are operative between these two passages; whereas a translation like the NIV renders them all uniformly as "worship." What contextual clues are there to help us know if the author intended these uses of προσκυνεω to be understood having the same meaning or a different meaning?

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  • 2
    Great Question - not even the NWT translators can answer this question. They translate it with their own theology in mind - "worship" when it applies to God and "obeisance" when it applies to Jesus. Further, a large majority of the occurrences of this verb are applied to Jesus!
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 4:00
  • 1
    Jehovah Witnesses say it is worship when directed to God but obeisance when directed to Jesus because Jesus isn't God. Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 20:36
  • Mt 4:9 ‏ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כָּל אֵלֶּה אֶתֵּן לְךָ אִם תִּפְרַע אֵלַי‏- MHeb., תִּפְרַע JArm. 1. to expose; 2. to let the hair grow freely; 3. to pay (for this meaning cf. (?) Latin pecuniam solvere); HALOT. "And he said to him, All these things will be given to you, if you repay me." Mt 4:9 Matityah Shem Tob
    – Betho's
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 18:11
  • תִּפְרַע in Exod. 5:4; 32:25; Lev. 10:6; 13:45; 21:10; Num. 5:18; Jdg. 5:2; 2 Chr. 28:19; Prov. 1:25; 4:15; 8:33; 13:18; 15:32; 29:18; Ezek. 24:14 - And when they saw him, they bowed to him. Mt 28:17. הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ in Mt 2:2; 2:8 ; 14:33 ; 23:7 ; 28:17
    – Betho's
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 18:38

5 Answers 5

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First, the BDAG definition, which is singular, for this word, προσκυνέω is:

to express in attitude or gesture one's complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully

The 60 occurrences of this verb in the NT can be classified according to the wording of the stated object:

  • worship to "Him" (ie, Jesus), Matt 2:2, 8, 11, 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 15:25, 28:9, Mark 5:6, 15:19, Luke 24:52, John 9:38, Heb 1:6,
  • worship to God, Matt 4:10, Luke 4:8, John 4:21, 23, 24, 1 Cor 14:25, Rev 4:10, 7:11, 11:16, 14:7, 19:4, 19:10, 22:9.
  • One servant "begs" him [another servant], Matt 18:26
  • Rev 3:9 - those who belong to the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews but are liars instead. I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
  • worship "me" (ie, Satan), Matt 4:9, Luke 4:7
  • worship demons, Rev 9:20
  • worship the Dragon, Rev 13:4
  • worship the beast, Rev 13:4, 8, 12, 14:9, 11, 19:20
  • worship the image to the beast, Rev 13:15, 16:2, 20:4
  • worship to him (an angel), Rev 19:10, 22:8
  • images of false gods to worship them, Acts 7:43
  • No explicit object but only an implied object or general worship at a temple, etc: Matt 20:20 [Jesus implied], Matt 28:17 [Jesus implied], John 4:20 [God implied], John 4:22, 24 [The Father implied], John 12:20, Acts 8:27, Acts 10:25 [Peter implied], Acts 10:25, 24:11, Heb 11:21 [God implied], Rev 5:14 [God and the Lamb implied], 11:1, 15:4 [God implied].

Let us observe several patterns in this survey.

  1. the grammatical construction used for "worship to Him/God" (usually the dative) is identical to that used when describing worship to Jesus (again with the dative)
  2. With the exceptions to be listed below worship to anything other than the Father and Jesus is condemned and unlawful and sinful. This is true of the worship of the beast, the dragon, the image of the beast, Peter, an angel, images of false gods, etc. (See the above list for references.)

The exceptions

The exceptions to the above observations are these (my literal translations):

A: Matt 18:26 - Therefore, having fallen down the servant was "worshipping" to him saying, have patience with me and I will pay all to you. Note that in this case, the purpose of the "worship" is to beg time for paying the debt, not adoration of the servant. Thus, in this instance, it would be better to translate προσκυνέω as "begging on his knees" as most versions correct render it.

B: Rev 3:9 - Behold, I give [those] from the synagogue of Satan, those declaring themselves to be Jews but are not (but they lie) - behold I will cause them to come and "worship" before your feet and that shall know that I loved you. Again, observe that the purpose of this bowing at the feet of the saints is not to give adoration to the saints but to acknowledge that they were correct to worship God and that God loved them. Thus, in this instance, it would be better to translate προσκυνέω as "fall down at your feet" as most versions do. Further, notice that the grammatical construction has no dative; that is we do not have "worship to them" or similar - they simply fall at the feet of the saints to acknowledge something.

CONCLUSION

The grammatical construction in all cases in the NT of worship to God (προσκυνήσει τῷ Θεῷ, etc) and worship to Him/Jesus and thus no difference in translation by context or grammar is warranted.

APPENDIX - Command

Regardless of how we translate the verb προσκυνέω, we are told several times in the NT that whatever it is, we must only do it to God alone, Matt 4:10, Luke 4:8, Acts 10:25, 26, Rev 19:10, 22:8, 9.

Yet, despite this, the NT records numerous cases of people worshipping Jesus (as listed above) as one of the many pieces of evidence of the deity of Christ. This is not the only evidence of this in the NT, we also have Jesus referred to many times by the titles of God in the OT, but this is the subject of another question that I will not enter here.

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  • Very well-written answer Dottard! About this: "we also have Jesus referred to many times by the titles of God in the OT" Please, it would be tremendously helpful if you could create a list of all the times something applied to God(Yahweh) in the OT is applied to Jesus in the NT. Ok, that might be too much to ask, so can please you list all the significant times when something is applied to God in the OT and Jesus in the NT? It would help so much!
    – Rajesh
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:31
  • @Rajesh - I did this in another answer - let me find it.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:31
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    @Rajesh - yes I was about to include that link but you found it. well done.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:36
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    @Dan - good point, quite valid and agreed. However, this is not obvious from the NT - we get that from extra-Biblical material; but I fully agree.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 9:04
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    Thanks, the grammar is helpful; but I'm specifically looking for contextual clues. Context is often a powerful override when determining the meaning of a word for a particular usage.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 2:12
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Yes, and the NWT translators differentiate and they are plain wrong in doing that, because in the second instance also the same strong semantics is in the προσκυνέω, that is to say the divine honor and worship is offered to Christ, which is clearly said in the very ending of Matthew 28, for the worship is given to the one who shares the same name with the Father, for nobody can be with the Father without being baptized in the name (not names) of the Father and the Son and the H. Ghost (Matthew 28:19), that is to say, it is impossible for man to be with the Father without the Son and H.Ghost, and if so, then all three are God, the latter Notion expressed by the singular of the word "name". Thus, God is Trinity and who does not have Son cannot have Father (John 14:6; 1 John 2:23) and who does not have H.Ghost cannot know the Father (1 Cor. 2:11).

Therefore, again, if the Son and the H.Ghost are necessary for the Father to be linked with humans or make humans to be linked with Himself, then necessarily the Son and the H.Ghost are also God. So, how then προσκυνήσις to the God-Son, the Lord Jesus Christ be any less than the worship in the strong sense of divine worship?

NWT translators, be better in the next edition of your translation and try to abstain from a worthless penchant of misleading both yourself and the readers.

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Part of the confusion may lie in the fact that the English word "worship" had a wider semantic meaning than it does today. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him (Matthew 28:9) meant something different to a 17th century reader of the King James Bible than it does today. The Oxford English Dictionary includes an archaic definition of "worship" as "an act of paying honour or respect".

Laurent Cleenewerck writes on this in the introduction to The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible: New Testament

In modern English, “worship” (like prayer) has mainly taken on the meaning of an act (invocation, prostration) offered exclusively to God. However, the original and official semantic range of this word used to be much wider, as was the case of the Greek word προσκυνῆω (proskuneo) which is normatively applied to God but also to human beings. The idea conveyed by proskuneo is that of “offering obeisance,” “making a physical demonstration of veneration and respect” or “prostrating oneself.” With this in mind, the New American Bible sometimes translates proskuneo as “to do homage,” including when applied to Jesus.

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What contextual clues are there to help us know if the author intended these uses of προσκυνεω to be understood having the same meaning or a different meaning?

The context in Matthew 4:9 tells us that the word "Worship" (proskynēseis) is not the same as sacred service.

Worship προσκυνήσεις (proskynēseis) Verb - Future Indicative Active - 2nd Person Singular Strong's 4352: From pros and a probable derivative of kuon; to fawn or crouch to, i.e. prostrate oneself in homage.

Matthew 4:10 has the word "serve" (latreuseis)

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.

There is no record in the New Testament where (latreuseis) sacred service was offered to Jesus.

The clues are there in the verses cited.

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    Actually, Matt 4:10 has both words applied to God, ie, including "worship" which the NWT translates inconsistently - you have avoided the question.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 20:44
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There are several intertextual clues that Matthew uses to draw parallels between the temptation scene and the commission scene.

First off, in both scenes there is a claim of authority over the nations, with a further parallel of this authority being "given":

Again the Devil took him along to an unusually high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him: "All these things I will give you"

All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations

Matthew undoubtedly draws these parallel to show us that Jesus has obtained what Satan offered him in chapter 4 not by worshipping Satan, but by remaining obedient to God even unto death.

A second parallel between the two scenes is that both take place on a mountain:

Again the Devil took him along to an unusually high mountain

However, the 11 disciples went to Galʹi·lee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged for them to meet.

The fact of the mountains by itself may not be too impressive, but as Gage and Carpenter have argued1, Matthew seems to have placed these two mountains as the first and last of a seven mountain chiastic structure.

It's clear from Matthew 1 and his observation of the three sets of 14 generations that Matthew is not foreign to seeing meaning in the number seven, suggesting this set of seven mountains may not be an accident of the text. Further, the second mountain (of Sermon on the Mount fame) and the sixth mountain (home of the Olivet discourse) have strong parallels to each other with the beatitudes of the former finding a counterpart in the woes pronounced by Jesus in the latter.

This chiastic structure would place the mountain of temptation and the mountain of the great commission in parallel with each other and invite us as readers to compare the two. Reflecting on this comparison, Richard Hays writes2:

The devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will only fall down and worship him (προσκυνήσεις), but Jesus repels this seduction by a ringing quotation of Deuteronomy 6:13 LXX: "The Lord your God you shall worship (προσκυνήσεις) and him alone you shall serve" (Matt 4:9-10). Once this commandment has been forcefully set forth in the narrative, readers have little choice but to interpret Jesus' acceptance of worship from other characters as an implicit acknowledgment of his divine identity.

Finally, the parallels we have drawn are further corroborated by noting Jesus' final statement in the great commission: "And look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things." His statement that "I am with you" forms an inclusio with Matthew 1:23 and the name Immanuel, "With Us Is God", given to Jesus there. Again Hays3:

[I]n view of Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as "God with us" and his use of the verb [προσκυνεῖν] in settings where it unmistakably narrates an appropriate human response to Jesus' epiphanic self-manifestation (14:33, 28:9, 28:17), it is hard to deny that, in and through these references to worshiping Jesus, Matthew is identifying him as nothing less than the embodied presence of Israel's God, the one to whom alone worship is due, the one who jealously forbids the worship of any idols, images, or other gods.

In sum, given the parallels between the temptation narrative and the great commission narrative, along with the other contextual evidence, we should interpret the use of προσκυνεῖν in both passages in the same way - as something due to God alone, and which is yet portrayed as proper to Jesus as well.


1 Gage, W. A., & Carpenter, S. P. (2014). A Literary Guide to the Life of Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts: How the Synoptic Evangelists Tell the Story of Jesus (p. 20). St. Andrews House.

2 Hays, Richard B.. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (p. 167). Baylor University Press. Kindle Edition.

3 Ibid. 167

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