Online Articles

Online Articles

What is Worship?

What is worship? Let us first examine the definitions of the two primary Greek words translated worship and then see how these words are used in the scriptures. Consider two words commonly used in a discussion of this subject, proskuneo and latreia, from Friberg's Analytical Greek Lexicon and Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

proskuneo — (1) from a basic sense bow down to kiss someone's feet, garment hem, or the ground in front of him; (2) in the NT of worship or veneration of a divine or supposedly divine object, expressed concretely with falling face down in front of someone worship, venerate, do obeisance to; (a) toward God (MT 4.10); (b) toward Jesus (MT 2.2); (c) toward the devil and demons (MT 4.9; RV 9.20); (d) toward idols (AC 7.43); (e) toward human beings as given or claiming to have divine power or authority (RV 3.9; 13.4b) — Friberg's Analytical Greek Lexicon

latreia — in the NT, religious service based in worship, service (of God), divine service, worshipFriberg's Analytical Greek Lexicon

Vine's Dictionary

1proskuneo (Verb) — "to make obeisance, do reverence to" (from pros, "towards," and kuneo, "to kiss"), is the most frequent word rendered "to worship." It is used of an act of homage or reverence (a) to God, e.g., Mt. 4:10; John 4:21-24; 1Co. 14:25; Re. 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:10 (2nd part); 22:9; (b) to Christ, e.g., Mt. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9,17; John 9:38; Heb. 1:6, in a quotation from the Sept. of De. 32:43, referring to Christ's Second Advent; (c) to a man, Mt. 18:26; (d) to the Dragon, by men, Re. 13:4; (e) to the Beast, his human instrument, Re. 13:4,8,12; 14:9,11; (f) the image of the Beast, Re. 13:15; 14:11; 16:2; (g) to demons, Re. 9:20; (h) to idols, Ac. 7:43. Note: As to Mt. 18:26, this is mentioned as follows, in the "List of readings and renderings preferred by the American Committee" (see RV Classes of Passages, IV): "At the word 'worship' in Mt. 2:2, etc., add the marginal note 'The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to man (see chap. Mt. 18:26) or to God (see chap. Mt. 4:10)'." The Note to John 9:38 in the American Standard Version in this connection is most unsound; it implies that Christ was a creature. J. N. Darby renders the verb "do homage" [see the Revised Preface to the Second Edition (1871) of his New Translation].

2latreia — Akin to latreuo (see No. 3, above), primarily "hired service," is used (a) of the "service" of God in connection with the tabernacle, Ro. 9:4; Heb. 9:1, "Divine service;" Heb. 9:6, plural, RV, "services" (AV, "service," and, in italics, "of God"); (b) of the intelligent "service" of believers in presenting their bodies to God, a living sacrifice, Ro. 12:1, RV marg., "worship;" (c) of imagined "service" to God by persecutors of Christ's followers, John 16:2. Note: For "soldier on service," 2Ti. 2:3, RV, see SOLDIER, B.

Now let us consider three verses where these words are used: proskuneo in John 4:23-24 and latreia in Romans 12:1-2, and Matthew 4:9-10 where both Greek words are used. I am including two translations of these passages.

John 4:23 through John 4:24 (NKJV)

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship1 the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship1 in spirit and truth."

John 4:23 through John 4:24 (NIV)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship1 the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship1 in spirit and in truth."

Romans 12:1 through Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service2. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1 through Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship2. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Matthew 4:9 through Matthew 4:10 (NKJV)

And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship1 me." Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship1 the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve2.'"

Matthew 4:9 through Matthew 4:10 (NIV)

"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship1 me."
Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship1 the Lord your God, and serve2 him only.'"


From both the lexicons and the verses cited it is evident that there can be a difference of meaning in these two Greek words translated "worship." Proskuneo is used to denote "an act of homage or reverence" and is what Christians have commonly called worship. It denotes a special coming before God in contrast to other times and occasions in one's life.

The other Greek word, latreia, relates to our service to God. In Romans 12:1 it covers the daily walk of a Christian as a living sacrifice before God. As Christians we are in the presence of God at all times and thus "everything we do" or "all of life" must be done with a consciousness of God.

I have used the term "service" to describe my daily walk with God. Others have chosen to say their walk with God is "worship" and will cite the NIV translation of Romans 12:1. It is important to be clear in how we use words so that we can properly communicate what we mean.

If someone disagrees with these distinctions made by looking at these Greek words, then I can clearly make these same points in another way.

The Bible clearly teaches there is a time where I place myself before God in a special way that requires preparation and concentration. The Lord's Supper is such an occasion where I must focus upon the significance of the Lord's death. I am to be involved in both outward acts, partaking of the bread and fruit of the vine and in an inward "discerning of the Lord's body" (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). When I partake of the Lord's Supper, I place myself before God in a special way. I must prepare for this occasion and learn how to concentrate and focus. This time has a beginning and an end. It is not an ongoing process without end.

The Bible also teaches that I am before God at all times and should serve Him with an awareness of His presence. "The eye of the Lord are on the righteous" (1 Peter 3:11). "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men" (Colossians 3:23). My entire life can be viewed as a sacrifice as Paul did his. "Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Philippians 2:17). My life as well must be a "living sacrifice" as I have an awareness of God and His will in everything I do (Rom 12:1-2).

For those who wish to describe their everyday service to God as worship I would give some warnings. If you choose to use "worship" to denote all of your life and its activities, you should also recognize that a different and more specific definition exists. Many are concluding that there can be only one definition of "worship" and, as a result, are trying to jam all verses and practices into one definition. This approach will bring several bitter fruits. Please consider these warnings.

  1. Do not deny the more specific, higher level of worship. Consider these common statements that some are making: "you cannot GO to worship, you are worship," "The five acts of worship are no more worship than anything else Christians do for God." When I hear these statements made without any clarification, then I cannot but conclude that these statements will deny this higher level of worship. So far, when I talk with these brethren, they readily acknowledge that there is a worship that we enter into, that requires a level of concentration that is different from our everyday life. When I receive this encouraging response, I then urge them to be careful in their use of words.
  2. Do not look down and label those who use different terminology. I am often disappointed to hear prejudicial labels such as "Ultra Conservative," "Traditional," and "Legalist" used by some just because they believe they have found something new to them in the Bible. Why do these brethren feel a need to distinguish themselves from others that have yet to accept what they have found? We need to guard against being impatient with others. We especially need to guard against the danger of developing a spirit of pride and factionalism. "But if you have bitter envy and selfseeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic" (James 3:14-15).

There are some who use these and other like issues to separate brethren. It becomes another device to plant bitterness against an alleged "ultra conservative boat" filled with "blind" men who are loyal to a "divisive movement." On the other hand they will describe those on their side of the wedge as "open minded" and "gracecentered." The scriptures do address the issues of factionalism, blindness, closedmindedness along with slander and bitterness. Why do some see the need to jump to these broad charges just because we have a difference in some areas?

Unfortunately some are forming a different human faction to compete with the evil faction that they hate. There is a big difference between a love for the truth of God and a love for a human faction. When Satan's tactics are used then I know that the grace of God is not a part it. Please watch your heart!