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The Worship of Jesus: Proof of His Divinity?

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Question #1:   I would be interested in your comments on what I find to be a particularly convincing point that one cannot use the worship of Jesus as a proof of the Trinity. Since the Greek verb proskyneo is often used of respect for human beings, the putative "worship" of Jesus cannot really be used by Trinitarians to support the deity of Jesus. For when Jesus is the object of proskyneo, it is just as valid to understand the act as one of respect and not necessarily a recognition of divinity.

Response #1:   On the one hand you seem to be saying that "worship does not equal worship" (i.e., it doesn't necessarily include the connotation of recognition of divinity); on the other hand, you seem to be saying that "Jesus is not really worshiped" in the way we now mean that word. However, if worship isn't really worship, then perhaps no one is really worshiped (God or anyone else - and who is to say?). According to your interpretation, how can we say for sure that the "honor" God the Father receives when this verb is used of Him is really worship due to divinity alone? For evidence used to impeach one set of passages has equal force when applied to the others. To be frank, I have never liked the polemical, debate-oriented approach to the Bible for just this reason, namely, because, when someone is trying to prove a point (rather than in humility and love trying to understand scripture), the end result is inevitably distortion, be it to a larger or smaller degree. If you or anyone else is truly searching for God's truth, then diligently searching out the positives in love is a far superior way to go.

Please know, however, that the fact that Jesus is/was/will be worshiped is clear from scripture. "Holy, Holy Holy" say the cherubim (seraphs) in Isaiah's presence, and we know from scripture that this was Jesus, representing the Father in Christophany (Jn.12:41). And Paul in Hebrews 1:6 quotes "let all the angels of God worship Him" as referring to the Firstborn, Jesus. If the angels should worship Him, how much more mortal men? Really, scripture leaves no doubt about the divinity of Christ or the humanity of Christ (or of His worth and appropriateness as an object of worship). A secular atheist without an axe to grind would come to the same conclusion every time, even though he didn't believe a word of it. Only by selective use of scripture (or by rejecting the face value of what it says) can a different result be reached. This is important, because without accepting both Jesus' divinity and His humanity you cannot truly accept Him, who He really is, what He has done for us in coming into the world, in taking on a genuine human nature, and in dying in our place.

In Him who is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, the God-man

Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

Excuse me, but you did not really address the substance of my question. The linguistic point about which I was interested in your view is the meaning of the words for worship. The Greek word Proskuneo, which is the only word for worship ever applied to Jesus (and there are many other words for worship: Latruo, Sebazomai, Sebasma, Sebomia, Eusebeo, and Threeskia), means to bow in honor, reverence or entreaty. Proskuneo is a word that can equally be applied to the honor rendered to anyone in a position of honor or authority, including a king, a teacher, a healer etc. The use of that word does not in itself indicate whether or not divine worship is intended. That would have to be determined from the context. The examples of people "worshiping" Jesus during his earthly ministry are at most ambiguous as to the intent of the worshiper, but in the majority of the cases it is clear that they were showing respect or entreaty to him as master, healer, or in awe of the power that he exhibited, but there is no reason to think that in any of those cases the worshiper actually had an intent to worship Jesus as being God incarnate. In fact, many of those examples were public, in the presence of enemies seeking a reason to destroy Jesus, who would certainly have made an issue of anyone rendering divine worship to Jesus, so it is clear that the Jews of Jesus day did not view bowing (proskuneo) to a teacher or healer as unusual or blasphemous in any way.

Actually, based on the examples you have given me which you view as being divine worship of Jesus, it would appear that you probably do agree with me on the above. You cite none of those examples as evidence of divine worship of Jesus. Rather, you cite the cherubim in Isaiah, the angels in Hebrews 1:6, and the scene in Revelation 5 as examples that you believe are more clearly divine worship. So it does appear that you agree that the context would have to be examined to determine whether those examples represent worship of Jesus as God. In short, there is no example or instruction in scripture for the church to worship Jesus.

Response #2: 

Your statement that proskyneo is "the only word for worship ever applied to Jesus" is at best misleading. I have given you three clear examples descriptive of worship of Jesus. Words are used to describe these (and other) instances. The fact that other words for worship are not used for Jesus in worship would not in itself mean very much, if anything, unless you address the practice and description of worship in general. Worship can and is described in the NT and OT without using words meaning "worship". Take a look at the Psalms (especially the final book) where the faithful are entreated over and over again to "Praise God!", to exalt and extol Him, but generally without specific calls to "worship" (although that is clearly what is going on). Does that mean there is no worship of God in these Psalms? Look at it another way. The word proskyneo is used only 50 or so times in the NT, and of these, if we subtract your objections to their use for Jesus, we find only a handful directed toward the Father (most of which are quotes from the OT) and none except Jesus' quotation Deut.6:13 occurs in the synoptic gospels. To follow your line of reasoning, we might conclude "God is seldom worshiped in the New Testament, and almost never in the Gospels". This would be an erroneous conclusion of course.

Even on the basis of proskyneo, I can't agree with your analysis. From the human point of view, from the point of view of the word proskyneo, from the point of view of the actions taken by the "worshipers", or indeed, from virtually any point of view, is there really any difference between what the Magi do before the infant Jesus when the proskyneo-worship Him (Matt.2:2-11), and what the Disciples do before the resurrected Lord when they proskyneo-worship Him (Lk.24:52)? Given that the Magi knew of this prophesied King of the Jews as the coming Messiah from the prophets (where else would they have known of Him from?), their "falling down to worship" sounds like worship to me - can you say for certain they didn't feel Him to be divine? The other words you cite, Latruo, Sebazomai, Sebasma, Sebomia, Eusebeo, and Threeskia, can also all be used figuratively and secularly (and are). Often, but not always, this does involve emperor worship - but in this case we have a fine line in the mind of the worshiper between what is human and divine. We know the emperors were human and not divine, but they received divine honors, especially in the east.

This last point gets us to the gist of the issue: "worship" is, at its base, really an attitude and display of reverence (involving often physical and verbal displays, but it varies). You are right that this does not have to be given to the divine only, but that cuts both ways: since the word can be used for human and divine objects, unless we are in the head of the worshiper, we can't say whether it is worship or mere respect without interpreting. Where I disagree with your analysis/conclusions is your assumption that the content of proskyneo-worship or proskyneo-respect is somehow different depending upon the object. It's not the object per se, but rather the subject's appreciation of the object. You cannot tell from the verb anything about the object - this is your point from the other side. Without evaluating the object (not proskyneo), we can equally conclude that all occurrences = divine worship, or alternatively that no occurrences = divine worship; or even that some do and some don't - but if we choose the last solution, then the only way to tell whether a particular passage is worship of the human or the divine is to be derived solely from the context, not from the vocabulary.

Finally, when you say that "there is no example or instruction in scripture for the church to worship Jesus", this does not follow from any evidence you provide. At the most, your analysis, if accepted, might support "there is no place in the Bible where a direct command is given using proskyneo in respect to Jesus". But that is a far different matter. Yes, I do think that we should/will "do as they do" (re: the heavenly host in respect to their clear worship of Jesus). That is true for all creatures:

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every name that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

If this is not worship, what is?

In Revelation five, the bulk of the chapter is devoted to worship of the Lamb. You imply that because these events follow the resurrection, ascension and session, somehow they are not to be considered. But I say that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8), and that the worship of Him now in His glorified state is a clear enough proof both of His worthiness as an object of worship (i.e., of His divinity), and of the fact that the worship He received before His glorification was genuine as well.

Please see also the following links:

Bible Basics Part 4A:   Christology:  The Study of Jesus Christ

Jesus is God.

Jesus is God and Man.

Yours in the Lamb worthy of all honor, glory and praise, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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