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I was comparing some of the synoptic accounts and noted that where Matthew uses προσκυνέω/proskuneō (prostrate before, worship), Mark and Luke generally don't.

Here is where my observation started, as Matthew notes that the mother of James and John bowed before Jesus, but Mark drops the mother and the bowing:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before (using a form of προσκυνέω/proskuneō) him she asked him for something. (Matthew 20:20 ESV)

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mark 10:35 ESV)

In the earlier cleansing of the leper, Matthew refers to the leper as bowing (προσεκύνει) and referring to Jesus as Lord (Matt. 8:2), while Mark has the leper simply kneeling (γονυπετῶν) and imploring (Mark 1:40), and Luke has the leper falling on his face (πεσὼν) and begging (Luke 5:12).

In the walking on the water, Matthew says that those "in the boat worshiped (προσεκύνησαν) him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'" (Matt. 14:33), while Mark just says that they were "utterly astounded" (Mark 6:51).

The one parallel in which Luke also uses a form of προσκυνέω is during the temptation (Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:7), but that passage is about worshipping Satan, not Jesus. Of course, Mark doesn't get into this level of detail, with regard to the temptations (Mark 1:13).

And then Matthew also has a couple of passages which uses forms of προσκυνέω, for which there are no exact parallels, including the arrival of the wise men (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11) and two of Jesus's post-resurrection appearances (Matt. 28:9, 17). Although, there is a possible parallel to one of these, as Luke does refer to the disciples as marveling (θαυμαζόντων) at one appearance (Luke 24:41). And then Luke does say that the disciples "worshiped (προσκυνήσαντες) him" following the ascension (Luke 24:52).

OK, so that is the data. What I'm interested in is an explanation for why Mark and Luke might have chosen to minimize the use of this particular word. Is there something specific to the particular audience involved in each Gospel? Along those lines, was there more concern that the Latin/Roman audience of Mark or the Greco-Roman audience of Luke might trip over the use of προσκυνέω, with regard to Jesus, despite the clarity offered in these Gospels that Jesus is indeed divine?

προσκυνέω is extensively used in Greco-Roman literature (e.g., Philo, Josephus, Plutarch), so the issue isn't that the word was unfamiliar.

[And I'm not really interested in answers which argue that the Gospel authors didn't think that Jesus was worthy of being worshiped, as being not divine or whatever.]

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  • Since the woman is making a request clearly she is not worshipping. Commented May 29 at 23:38
  • @RevelationLad. Valid point, but it is conveying more of a sense of prostration, rather than merely kneeling. Although, I won't get too hung up on the distinction of the semantic domains.
    – Dan Moore
    Commented May 30 at 0:15

2 Answers 2

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OK - here are the raw statistics. The verb προσκυνέω (proskuneó) occurs 60 times in the NT as follows:

  • Matthew - 13 times
  • Mark - 2 times [5:6, 15:19]
  • Luke - 3 times [4:7, 8, 24:52]
  • John - 7 times
  • Acts - 4 times [This means Luke uses it a total of 7 times - same as John]
  • 1 Cor - 1 time [14:25]
  • Hebrews - 2 times [1:6, 11:21]
  • Revelation - 24 times

A large majority of these describe an act towards Jesus.

All that this shows is the difference between writing styles and vocabulary of different authors. A similar analysis of numerous other words would show similar disparate distributions of words. For example:

  • προσλαμβάνω only occurs in Matt 16:22 and Mark 8:32 but 10 times in Acts
  • προσευχή occurs 3 times in Matt, twice in Mark and 3 times in Luke but never in John. It occurs 9 times in Acts.
  • προσεύχομαι occurs 13 times in Matt, 10 times in Mark, 18 times in Luke but never in John, 16 times in Acts, etc.

And thus we could continue. I see nothing significant in thus other than to note that the four evangelists obviously each wrote with a different emphasis; this latter fact has a huge literature and much speculation, only a little of which is helpful.

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  • Could the different quantities of vocabulary usage by author indicate each one's apparent education levels?
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 30 at 23:04
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    @JedSchaaf - different vocabularies are usually the result of the following causes: different culture, different education, different purpose for writing, different personalities, different social group (and its different vocabularies), etc, etc.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 30 at 23:35
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I hesitate to make too much of this, but the data do fit with the idea that Mark's Christology was relatively "low" compared to Matthew's emphasis of Jesus as the Son of David, while Luke (though presenting Jesus as the Son of God born of a virgin) goes out of his way to show him to be one of the "people of the land." Of course, only John's Christology is truly "high" but he is not under discussion at the moment. This article compares Mark's view of Jesus to the other gospels.

Others have mentioned that Mark presents Jesus as God's humble servant, while Matthew emphasizes Jesus as a new Moses and the new Davidic King- a king worthy of worship. Indeed, Matthew introduces Jesus as the "Son of David" in the very first line of his gospel, and only in this gospel is Jesus called Son of David at his Triumphal Entry. Meanwhile, many scholars have noted Luke's showing a "preference for the poor" in contrast to Matthew's emphasis on his kingship. Thus, in Matthew 2, the Magi who prostrate themselves before Jesus as the "newborn king," while in Luke 2 he is visited by shepherds, who do not bow before him. In Mark, his birth is not even mentioned.

None of this is conclusive. However, I would reiterate that Jesus not being overtly worshiped in Mark and Luke is consistent with Markan "low Christology" and Luke's "preference for the poor." Matthew presents Jesus in somewhat loftier terms, as the messianic King - the Son of David - to whom obeisance is rightly made.

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