What is Worship? An Inductive Study of Every Use of the Word Proskuneo.
In this post:
- ➤Introduction: The Use of “Worship”
- Worship in Matthew
- Matthew 2:2, 8, 11 — Magi and the birth of Jesus.
- Matthew 4:9, 10 — Satan tempts Jesus in the desert.
- Matthew 8:2 — Jesus and the leper, plus a definition translation.
- Worship in Mark
- Worship in Luke
- Worship in John
- Worship in Acts
- Worship in 1 Corinthians
- Worship in Hebrews
- Worship in Revelation
- ➤Summary of Worship from Matthew through Revelation
- ➤My Thoughts on This Material
- ⤷Additional Resources (video, audio; written)
➤Introduction: The Use of “Worship”
We are searching for the truth of the word and meaning of what Jesus said in:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)
The word that is translated as “worship” in this passage is the Greek word “proskuneo.” With what Jesus said in mind, let’s review every instance of the word “proskuneo/worship” being used in the New Testament. Ready? Let’s go.
Worship in Matthew
Matthew 2:2, 8, 11 —
Magi and the birth of Jesus.
► Mat 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
“AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THELEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MYPEOPLE ISRAEL.'”
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
► Mat 2:11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
→Until we come to verse 11 do we see worship in an action. The magi fell to the ground and worshiped Him.
Matthew 4:9, 10 —
Satan tempts Jesus in the desert.
► Mat 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said,
“It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ONBREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'”
Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON THEIR HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST ASTONE.'”
Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”
Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; Mat 4:9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
► Mat 4:10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”
Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.”
→Satan wants Jesus to make a trade and it includes worship by Jesus of Satan. The action given is the falling down and worship of Satan.
Matthew 8:2 —
Jesus and the leper, plus a definition translation.
► Mat 8:2 And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.
→Here, the translators made a definition translation. They did not use the word “worship” but rather its literal meaning, “bowed down.” They could have easily translated it, “And the leper came to Him and worshiped before Him.”
► Matthew 9:18
While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”
→The translators did the same thing in this passage. They used the definition of the word proskuneo instead of the English word, worship.
► Matthew 14:33
And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
→Here, the translators used the word worship. There is no action given in this passage as to how they worshiped.
► Matthew 15:25
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
→The translators used the definition.
► Matthew 18:26
“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
→This passage expands the definition by using, “prostrated himself before him” for the word proskuneo.
► Matthew 20:20
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.
→Again, the definition of the word is used.
► Matthew 28:9
And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.
→We have a bit more of a view as to what worship entails. The worship is so low that one can grasp the feet of the Lord.
► Matthew 28:17
When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.
→ Here, there is no action given.
Summary of Worship in Matthew:
Of the 13 verses in Matthew, the word proskuneo shows the following:
-5 times, no description of action
-8 times, falling down, bowing, prostration, grasping of feet
As we continue our study into the other 25 verses from Mark to Jude, we will see the very same information. There is no deviation from what we see in Matthew’s use of the word proskuneo.
It should be noted that nowhere are any of the 5 acts commonly called worship in the texts associated with proskuneo. However, some form of prostrated submission is very commonly associated with proskuneo. This reminds me of James 4:4-10, which brings up an important spiritual point about submission and humility, saying,
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
Until we are humble before him, we are not a worshiper. Worship is not a group activity until we get to Revelation—but we’ll get there in due time.
Worship in Mark
► Mark 5:6
Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;
► Mark 15:19
They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him.
→Mark’s two usages uses the definition form of proskuneo.
Summary of Worship in Mark:
-2 times, bowing down
Worship in Luke
► Luke 4:7
“Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”
► Luke 4:8
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”
► Luke 24:52
And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
Summary of Worship in Luke:
-3 times, no definitive action, but “before me” is mentioned.
Worship in John
► John 4:20-24
Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me,an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
► John 9:38
And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
► John 12:20
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast.
Summary of Worship in John:
-7 times, translators used the word worship with no action given to it.
Worship in Acts
► Acts 7:43
‘YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA , THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. I ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.’
► Acts 8:27
So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship,
► Acts 10:25
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.
► Acts 24:11
since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.
Summary of Worship in Acts:
-3 times, no action given
-1 time, the action is described along with, “fell at his feet and worshiped,” some sort of bowing
Worship in 1 Corinthians
→Paul used the word one time in 1 Corinthians, and it is one of my favorites when discussing this topic. It is the only one that shows worship at an assembly. What is interesting is that the group of Christians are not worshiping. It is the unbeliever who comes to a point of worship in his life. This worshiper is shown to be doing proskuneo by its definition.
► 1 Corinthians 14:25
the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
Summary of Worship in 1 Corinthians:
-1 time, the action is described along with, “falling on one’s face.”
Worship in Hebrews
→To round out the final two passages before we get to Revelation, the book of Hebrews uses the word twice. Once there is no description of action given, and the other gives us the only divergence from the definition. I believe that this divergence is due to Jacob’s age, which made it impossible to bend his physical body into a fully bowed down/prostrated position. He was about to die, and this was the best he could do.
► Hebrews 1:6
And when He again brings the first born into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP”
► Hebrews 11:21
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
Summary of Worship in Hebrews:
-1 time, no action given.
-1 time, “leaning on top of staff” in the infirmity of old age
Summary of Worship from Matthew to Jude:
-19 times, No description of action
-13 times, falling down, bowing, prostration, grasping the feet, leaning on a staff
Worship in Revelation
→Revelation contains much of the same information, but it is less definitive in meaning, as the book is one of symbols and visions, and even starts out saying that it “signifies” things. Much of the imagery—such as physical harps being handed out, a massive dragon, and 144,000 saved—is indeed symbolic. For that reason, it is more difficult to use when discerning the meaning of “worship.” Still, we’ll take a look, because it’s packed with proskuneo. Ready? Here we go.
► Revelation 3:9
‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie –I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.’
► Revelation 4:10
the twenty-four * elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
► Revelation 5:14
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen. “And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
► Revelation 7:11
And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
► Revelation 9:20
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;
► Revelation 11:1
Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.
► Revelation 11:16
And the twenty-four * elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,
► Revelation 13:4
they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”
► Revelation 13:8
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
► Revelation 13:12
He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.
► Revelation 13:15
And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
► Revelation 14:7
And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
► Revelation 14:9
Then another angel, a third one followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,
► Revelation 14:11
“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever *receives the mark of his name.”
► Revelation 15:4
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”
► Revelation 16:2
So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore onthe people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.
► Revelation 19:4
And the twenty-four * elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
► Revelation 19:10
Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he *said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
► Revelation 19:20
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
► Revelation 20:4
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ fora thousand years.
► Revelation 22:8
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things
► Revelation 22:9
But he *said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.
➤Summary of Worship from Matthew through Revelation
Summary of Worship from Matthew through Revelation:
Combining all 60 references from Matthew to Revelation we have this:
9 times- worship of the dragon and the image of the dragon.
1 time- worship of demons with no action given to describe that worship
1 time- liars bowing down to the saints
24 times- no description of action
19 times- falling down, bowing, prostration, grasping the feet, leaning on a staff, falling down AND proclaiming “Amen, Hallelujah!”
➤My Thoughts on This Material
As Christians, it is important that we let God define words the way that He wishes them to be defined. “Proskuneo” seems to always be some form of bowing down, prostration, or submission. Bowing is a sign of submission across many cultures and continents, from Japan to Saudi Arabia. Jesus said that this submission/prostration would occur in a location—spirit.
As Christians who are baptized into Christ and receive the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, when are we not in Spirit? When should we not be in submission?
Notably, there is no such thing as a “worship service” ever listed in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 11, the Corinthians were rebuked, and it says in verse 20, “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” They were rebuked for not doing what they were supposed to, and what they were supposed to be doing was assembling to take the Lord’s Supper—yet nothing is said about worshiping. In the Bible, there is no denotation of “five acts of worship,” or even anything like that. People were never even said to be “going to worship,” “assembling to worship,” or having a “worship service.”
So what does calling our assembly “worship” do? Look at most congregations. They have a “Bible class” at 10AM and “worship” at 11. Because we use the word “worship” in a way that God does not, we put an emphasis on one hour of the week. It becomes a rote ritual to please God. Suddenly only 20% of the people show up for Bible class—because it’s just not that important. Shouldn’t we call it assembling? Isn’t the time where we study the Bible, as the Bereans did, noble and edifying? With one simple twisted word, Satan has changed the entire purpose of our assembly.
It would seem to me that we assemble to instruct one another through various means, including Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph, Col), and that we take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance and proclamation of all that He is, including His death. It is safe to say that our assembling is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Eph 5:12)
Hebrews 10:24-25 really sums it up, saying, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to assemble together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
⤷Additional Resources (video, audio; written)
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment below, anonymously or with whatever name your good folks gave you!
For more of my thoughts on this subject, please see the following resources:
- What about Abraham and how he worshiped?
- A podcast/sermon on “Looking for Worship in All the Wrong Places”
- The visual aid to go along with the podcast.
- What is worship? How is it different from service? Well, God tells us!
- The wonderful Kent West, owner of the “Westing Peacefully” website (check it out, as he has great thoughts that have contributed to my own growth) took one of my sermons and made it into a video, so all the references you need are available as you listen. That’s just below:
With love, always,