Proskuneo=obeisance?

I’ve been having a long chat with a Jehovah’s Witness lately. (I’ve also been busy with work, which is why I’ve not been around much lately.) Anyway, he asked me why I do not worship God the Father only and pointed to John 4:23 (“Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him.” –New World Translation).

I replied, “The verse you have cited does not say worship the Father only. Where are you getting ‘only’ from?” He responded with Matthew 4:10 (“Then Jesus said to him: “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.'”–NWT). So I answered, “Yes, and Jehovah is a triune God, so this verse does not prove that we should worship only God the Father and not God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”

I also pointed out that Jesus is worshipped many times in the New Testament, and God commands the angels to worship him using the same Greek word that was used in John 4:23. So he then tells me that the Greek word, proskuneo, is also used to mean “give obeisance to” and points to Revelation 3:9.

So I took it upon myself to look up the passages where the word is used in the New Testament. It apparently is used a total of 54 times (Mat. 2:2, Mat. 2:8, Mat. 2:11, Mat. 4:9. Mat. 4:10, Mat. 8:2, Mat. 9:18, Mat. 14:33, Mat. 15:25, Mat. 18:26, Mat. 20:20, Mat. 28:9, Mat. 28:17; Mark 5:6, Mark 15:19; Luke 4:7, Luke 4:8, Luke 24:52; John 4:20, John 4:21, John 4:22, John 4:23, John 4:24; Acts 7:43, Acts 8:27, Acts 10:25, Acts 24:11; 1 Cor. 14:25; Heb. 1:6, Heb. 11:21; Rev. 3:9, Rev. 4:10, Rev. 5:14, Rev. 7:11, Rev. 9:20, Rev. 11:1, Rev. 11:16, Rev. 13:4, Rev. 13:8, Rev. 13:12, Rev. 13:15, Rev. 14:7, Rev. 14:9, Rev. 14:11, Rev. 15:4, Rev. 16:2, Rev. 19:4, Rev. 19:10, Rev. 19:20, Rev. 20:4, Rev. 22:8, Rev. 22:9). Now, the only possible place where the word is used for an action performed for someone other than Jesus and could mean “give obeisance to” instead of “worship” is Revelation 3:9. All the others clearly refer to worship, including Acts 10:25-26 where Cornelius worshiped Peter and Peter said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”

Revelation 3:9 reads, “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” (The New World Translation says “obeisance” instead of “worship.”) However, is it not likely that this is referring to the same type of situation as in 1 Corinthians 14:25 where the object of the worship is God and other humans are present (before the worshippers)? In other words, could the passage not just as easily read “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship [me] before your feet, and to know that I have loved you,” since there is no object specified? I mean, isn’t that the whole point, anyway, to show that the synagogue of Satan was worshipping a false god (said they were Jews and were not)?

So, ultimately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying that proskuneo should be translated as “obeisance” when referring to Jesus because the word means “obeisance” when used for actions directed at persons other than God and worship when it refers to actions directed at God, but they cannot provide any examples of such usage from the New Testament other than a single questionable one. I think the internal evidence is on the side of the Orthodox Christians.

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3 Responses to “Proskuneo=obeisance?”

  1. Andrea says:

    good point on your conclusion… i’ll open this up to my jehova’s witness neighbor, sure will start another interesting talk…

  2. cesty says:

    You have raised some good points!

    Regarding Rev. 3:9, I would just simply tell your JW friend that even if obeisance is taking place, that doesn’t mean worship isn’t happening.

    For, obeisance is to be understood as: “a movement of the body expressing deep respect or deferential courtesy, as before a superior; a bow, curtsy, or other similar gesture.” -dictionary.com

    Do we not do these things when we worship God? In other words, do we not express deep respect for Him and acknowledge Him as Superior to ourselves when we worship Him?

    You see, it’ not the ‘movement’ itself that designates an act of worship; rather, it is the thought behind the movement that determines if worship is really taking place. ;)

    Hence, your JW friend does not have a valid argument.

  3. cesty says:

    I need to clarify something here, as I just realized that my previous thought may have given the impression that I am saying Rev. 3:9 is speaking of worship in the same sense that worship would be rendered to God.

    That is not what I am saying.

    The point that I was making is that an act of obeisance does not necessarily eliminate the possibility that worship is taking place. You see, it is all a matter of context.

    Again, the movement itself doesn’t necessarily constitute that worship is taking place. It’s the thought behind the movement that determines if worship is happening.

    And since there are plenty of passages in the Bible which make references to Jesus being God, it is evident that such a word, when used in reference to Him as being the object of its focus, is without a doubt referring to worship in the sense that God would be worshipped.