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We see Mtt 2:11 having been translated with different phraseology across the versions.For instance :

NRSV ACE : On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.
NIV : On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
NABRE : On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

The NABRE translation appears to be closest to the original in that it uses the word ' prostrate' referring to the physical gesture of homage the Magi paid to Infant Jesus. We come across this word both in OT and NT on many occasions (eg. Num 14:5, Deut 9:18, Ruth 2:10 , Mtt 26:39, Lk 17:16). Prostration is an ancient gesture used even in modem times in the Orient in both religious and civil fora. In prostration, one falls face down, with the entire frontal body-right from the forehead to the toes-touching the ground. Phrases like 'fall down', 'bow down' etc do not in fact convey the original intent. My question is Why has the word 'prostrated' been replaced in most translations of Mtt 2:11 ?

3 Answers 3

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The operative verb in Matt 2:11 is προσκυνέω (proskuneó) from two basic parts: prós, "towards" and kyneo, "to kiss"; originally, to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior; to worship, ready "to fall down/prostrate oneself to adore on one's knees".

Its actual meaning is more varied and subtle. It occurs 60 times in the NT and most of the time it simply means to worship, as per Matt 2:2, 8. BDAG offers this meaning based on the multitude of Koine documents in the 1st century:

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

Thus, προσκυνέω (proskuneó) often involved falling prostrate but not necessarily. That is why most versions, in most places (80%) simply translate it as "worship".

In the particular case of Matt 2:11 (and V2 & 8) the "worship" offered by the magi involved "falling down" and thus would have involved prostration and obeisance.

Note that the fact that NT writers specifically says, in some cases that the προσκυνέω (proskuneó) involved "falling down" (eg, Matt 2:11, 4:9, 18:26, Acts 10:25, 1 Cor 14:25) and sometimes only falling to the knees (eg, Mark 15:19), and once "leaning on his staff" (Heb 11:21) suggests that at other times, other postures may have been used.

Finally, the NRSV is a bit inconsistent with its translation of the this verb as per the following:

  • Matt 2:2, 8, 11 - "do homage"
  • Matt 4:9, 10 - "worship"
  • Matt 8:2 - "kneel before"

... etc. Most versions take the simpler solution to more consistently translate the verb as "worship". In Matt 2:11, the fact that the worship involved "falling down", obviously involves obeisance.

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  • Yes, Joseph worshipped leaning on his staff as he was at death's door. Consider how many other Greek words could have been used by Matthew had he wanted to convey anything less than worship: Glory, esteem - doxa as in Luke 14:10 To be reverential, pious - eusebeo in Acts 17:23 To serve, cure, heal - therapeeuo in Acts 17:25 Religious observance - threskeia in Colossians 2:18 To worship publicly - latreu in Acts 7:42 A worshiper - proskunetes in John 4:23 To venerate, reckon venerable - sebazo in Romans 1:25 That Matthew chose an explicit word meaning worship is significant.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 10 at 15:34
  • Thanks, Anne. I have made it clear in the Question that prostration is used both in religious and civil fora ( In the political arena, it almost gets reduced to an ugly level of flattery ). That the Magi prostrated before Jesus would not mean that they worshipped him. On the other hand if they did not prostrate, it would not mean that they did not worship him ! Commented Jan 12 at 0:21
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Why has the word ' prostrated ' been replaced in most translations of Mtt 2:11?

Matthew 2:11 YLT

and having come to the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and having fallen down they bowed to him, and having opened their treasures, they presented to him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh,

Was Jesus worshipped as God? The worship of individuals in the bible who are not the true God can be found in the bible. examples are Daniel 2:46-47 KJV. Did Daniel commit blasphemy when he did not correct the worship of him? Yet in these verses, Daniel and David (1 Chron, 29:20 KJB) were not considered as the only true God.

The word worship "shacah" in hebrew and prsokuneo in english means kneeling or prostration to do homage. So if Jesus was worshipped (proskuneo) in a way similar to Daniel and David was not in violation of Exodus 34:14. Daniel and David were worship not as the true God, or God of gods.

When receiving worship, did Jesus ever believed that some were giving him the specific honor due only to God? The dual nature of Jesus was not known to the jews at this time and it is unreasonable to conclude that the believers were giving Jesus respect and honor due only to the Almighty God.

Are there bias then in translating the word worship to mean worhip of God? In Jesus' time, bowing low with one's face to the ground and kissing someone's feet indicated the the person to whom these are offered have a higher rank. If the word worship has similar meaning as proskuneo back then and now has a constricted meaning, the shift in the meaning should be reflected in translation.

Some translate proskuneo as 'bow down" "prostrate" when it is directed to other men, but translate it as worship when directed to Jesus. Observe,

Matthew 18:26 NLT

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’

Matthew 18:26 NASB

So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.

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 NASB and NLT want to make it obvious that the servant was not offering the rich man religious veneration.

Now observe how these same translators translate proskuneo, reverting to the old KJB use of worship when proskuneo is directed towards Jesus.

Matthew 28:9 NLT

And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.

Matthew 28:9 NASB

And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” And they came up and took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him

Matthew 28:9 KJB

And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

Why deviate from an accurate translation to an inaccurate one? It could be that translators need to add support to the idea that Jesus is God. But such practice is exposed as deceitful when it is translated one way when it refers to Jesus and another way when it refers to others.

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προσκυνέω Properly, to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior; to worship, ready "to fall down/prostrate oneself to adore on one's knees" (DNTT); to "do obeisance" (BAGD).

Strong 4532

Among the Orientals, especially the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence ("to make a 'salam'"); Latinveneror (Nepos, Conon. 3, 3),adoro (Pliny, h. n. 28, 5, 25; Suetonius, Vitell. 2); hence, in the N. T. by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance

Thayer

Undoubtedly, from a variety of sources, the word means to prostrate oneself in obeisance.

As to why some people have failed to translate the word correctly, this remains a matter of conjecture. There is never any good excuse for someone not to do their job properly.


KJV (1769 and 1611) 'worshipped him'

Wycliffe (1382) 'worschipiden him'

Tyndale (1534) 'worshipped him'

Coverdale (1535) 'worshipped him'

Matthews (1537) 'worshypped him'

Great Bible (1539) 'worshipped hym'

Geneva Bible (1560/1599) 'worshipped him'

Bishop's Bible (1568) 'worshypped hym'

Webster's Bible (1833) 'worshiped him'

Young's Literal (1862) 'having fallen down they bowed to him'

Green's Literal (1993) 'falling down, they worshiped Him'

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