Only God may be worshiped, but in the New Testament Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?

Only God may be worshiped. 

God commands us to worship only Him (Ex. 34:14; Deut. 8:19). There has always been one sin which God did not and will not tolerate, and that is worshiping any god other than the Creator.   This is confirmed by the New Testament.  Peter (Acts 10:25–26) and Paul (Acts 14:14–15) both corrected others for trying to worship them.  In the book of Revelation John twice attempted to worship an angel, and each time the angel’s response was:

Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God” (Revelation 19:10; compare 22:9).

Earlier in Revelation we are told to “worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (14:7).  Jesus similarly said to the devil, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Luke 4:8).

Yet, Jesus was worshiped.

Magi from the eastWhen the magi from the east “saw the Child with Mary His mother; … they fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Mt. 2:11).

After He walked on water “those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” (Mat. 14:28-33).

After His resurrection “His disciples … came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him” (28:8-9).  “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped Him” (Matthew 28:16-17).

In the KJV there are 13 verses saying that Jesus was worshiped.  (See Worship verses in the New Testament.)

Worship defined

Cambridge dictionary
Cambridge

The Cambridge dictionary defines worship as “to have or show a strong feeling of respect and admiration for God or a god.”  Merriam-Webster similarly defines it as “reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power.”  In other words, “worship” implies that either God or a false god is the object of worship.  Therefore, if Jesus is worshiped, then these definitions would imply that He is God.

Proskuneó 

The Greek word, translated “worship” in the New Testament, is proskuneó.  It occurs in 43 passages.  (See Worship verses in the New Testament.)

In 14 of these passages people and heavenly beings worship God.  In 10 passages people worship idols, the beast or the image of the beast.  These define the legal and illegal forms of worship, as per the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.  4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them

We also find 13 passages where Jesus receives proskuneó.  The question in this article is whether that means that Jesus is God.

Bow Down

The KJV always translates proskuneó as “worship.”  The NASB, in contrast, translates 6 of the 13 instances, where Jesus receives proskuneó, not as “worship,” but as “bow down.”  The reason is that in these 6 instances it is clear that Jesus was not worshiped, as per the meaning of the English word “worship.”  The following are those six instances:

The leper and Jesus1.There came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Mat 8:2; KJV).

2.There came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live” (Mt. 19:18-19; KJV).

3. A ”Canaanite woman” who had a daughter who was “cruelly demon-possessed.”  She came to Jesus, “and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me” (Mt. 15:25; KJV).

4.Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him” (Mt. 20:20; KJV).  She asked Jesus that, in His kingdom, her two sons may sit one on His right and one on His left.

5. When a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit “saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him” (Mark 5:1-5; KJV).  When Jesus asked the man his name, he answered, “My name is Legion; for we are many” (Mark 5:1-9; KJV).

6. While taking Him to be crucified, the soldiers spit on Jesus, and mockingly were “bowing their knees worshipped him” (Mark 15:16-19; KJV).

In these six instances, “worship” is clearly not an appropriate translation.  The people merely showed respect to Jesus by bowing down.  The demon-possessed man certainly did not worship Jesus.  For this reason the NASB replaced “worship” in these passages by “bow down.”  Matthew 8:1-2 in the NASB, for instance, reads:

When Jesus came down from the mountain, … a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said …

Conclusion: The fact that Jesus received proskuneó (worship) does not mean that He is God.

People receive proskuneó.

The word for worship (proskuneó) can therefore merely mean to show respect by bowing down.  We find the same in the following passages where people receive proskuneó.

1. The debtor worships the king.

Matthew 18:26In the first example proskuneó is translated as “prostrated:”

In one of Jesus’ parable a debtor “fell to the ground and prostrated himself” before the king saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” (Mt. 18:26; NASB).

2. Jews will worship the church.

In the following verse the word proskuneó is translated as “bow down:”

Jesus promised the church in Philadelphia, “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” (Rev. 3:7-9; NASB).

3. Cornelius worships Jesus.

Cornelius worships PeterIn a vision “an angel of God” told Cornelius to invite Peter to his house (Acts 10:3-5).  When Peter arrived, “Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him” (v25).

This does not mean that Cornelius thought that Peter is God, for Cornelius said, “Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33).  Worship, again, is not the right translation.  Bow down to show respect would have been more appropriate.

Conclusion

The Greek word proskuneó is therefore not entirely equivalent the English word “worship.”  “Worship” implies God or a god, while proskuneó means to show extreme respect, but it may also be shown to superior human beings.  That Jesus received proskuneó does not prove that He is God.

Jesus is worshiped.

Consider some of the instances where Jesus receives proskuneó, and where the NASB translates proskuneó as “worship:

1. The magi from the east worshiped Jesus.

They “fell to the ground and worshiped” Jesus as a baby (Mt. 2:11).

The magi were looking for “He who has been born King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2); not for God.  They did think that of Jesus as God.  They gave him honor as the King of the Jews.

2. The disciples worshiped Jesus after He walked on water.

Jesus walks on waterThose who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”” (Mt. 14:32-33)

They did not offer Jesus proskuneó because they thought that He is God.  They said He is God’s Son. The title “the Son of God” is reserved in the New Testament for a specific being.  At His trial the chief priests asked Jesus, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt. 26:63).  And the devil said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Mt. 4:3, 6).  Nathanael said, “You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).  John called Him, “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).  The Father gave the Son of God to have life in Himself (John 5:25-26).  John concluded “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).  Believers are sons of God, but the title “the Son of God” refers to a specific being, namely the Christ; Israel’s expected Messiah.  That His disciples confessed Him as “God’s Son” does not mean that they thought He is God; they gave proskuneó because He is the Messiah.

3. Mary Magdalene worshiped Him after His resurrection.

Mat. 28:8 And they (Mary Magdalene and the other Mary) left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.

They “came to look at the grave” (Mt. 28:1).  They did not think of Jesus as God.

4. The man born blind worshiped Jesus.

In John 9 Jesus heals a man that was born blind.  Jesus later made Himself known to the man, and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The man responded, “Lord, I believe.”  Then the man “worshiped Him” with the Pharisees looking on (John 9:35-42).

Probably all the man did was to bow down to Jesus, with the Pharisees looking on.  He did not for a moment think that this was God standing before Him.

5. The angels worship Jesus.

In Hebrews 1:6 we read, “let all the angels of God worship him.

But who gave this instruction?  The first word of the letter to the Hebrews is “God.”  Verse 2 shifts the focus to “the Son.”  Verse 6 starts with the words, “when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says.”  It is therefore God who said, “let all the angels of God worship him.”  That means that Jesus is not God.

Conclusion

The thesis which we want to test is that Jesus is God because He received proskuneó from people and angels:

Firstly, above 6 instances were listed where Jesus received proskuneó, but the NASB translates proskuneó as to bow down.

Secondly, 3 instances were listed where people receive proskuneó, and it was argued that it only means to show respect.

Thirdly, in the current section four instances are discussed where Jesus received proskuneó, and the NASB translates proskuneó as “worship,” but in these instances Jesus was not worshiped as God.

It is therefore concluded that the fact that Jesus received proskuneó does not mean that He is God.  The reverse is probably true, namely that the translators translate proskuneó as “worship” because they believe that Jesus is God.

Dictionary definition of proskuneó

The conclusion above is based on how proskuneó is used in the New Testament, but it is confirmed by the dictionary definition of the Greek word proskuneó (Strong 4352).  Proskuneó is defined as follows:

Strong's concordanceStrong’s: “To do reverence to” (Synonyms for reverence is to show respect, admiration or to worship.)

HELPS Word-studies: to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior; to worship, ready “to fall down/prostrate oneself to adore on one’s knees” (DNTT); to “do obeisance” (BAGD).

“The basic meaning of 4352 (proskynéō), in the opinion of most scholars, is to kiss …. On Egyptian reliefs worshipers are represented with outstretched hand throwing a kiss to (pros-) the deity” (DNTT, 2, 875,876).

NAS Exhaustive Concordance: to do reverence to

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: From pros and a probable derivative of kuon (meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore) — worship.

Conclusion

There is a marked difference between the meaning of the English word “worship” and the Greek word proskuneó.  “Worship” implies that God or a god is revered, but any superior person can be given proskuneó.  To say that Jesus received proskuneó therefore does not prove that He is God.

Furthermore, above 11 of the 13 passages, in which Jesus receives proskuneó, are discussed, and we have found good evidence that the fact that Jesus received proskuneó does not mean that Jesus in God.  It is therefore proposed that the same applies to the remaining two brief passages:

After His resurrection “the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful” (Mt. 28:16-17).

At His ascension “He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:51-52):

Based on the findings above it is proposed that, in these two passages, proskuneó must be understood simply as that Jesus is shown the highest honor possible, without implying that He is God.

Eyes to the ground

Another difference between “worship” and proskuneó is that the Cambridge dictionary defines worship as “a strong feeling,” while proskuneó is an external physical activity, as indicated by the following:

Firstly, as discussed, many times the NASB translates proskuneó as “bow down” (Mt. 8:1-2; 9:18-19; 15:25; 20:20).

Secondly, in the Bible, God was worshiped at a certain place.  Paul “went up to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 24:11).  The Ethiopian eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27).  John was to “measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it” (Rev. 11:1).  This perhaps implies that worship was a ceremonial activity.

Thirdly, proskuneó is often used together with falling to the ground

Fell to the ground and worshiped Him” (Mt. 2:11)
Fell to the ground and prostrated himself” (Mt. 18:26);
Fall down and worship” (Mt. 4:9; 4:10; 5:14; Rev 19:4; 22:8).
Took hold of His feet and worshiped Him” (Mt. 28:8-9).
Kneeling and bowing before Him” (Mark 15:16-19).
Fell at his feet and worshiped” (Acts 10:25; Rev. 19:10).
Fall on his face and worship” (1 Cor. 14: 26; Rev. 7:11; 11:16)

proskuneóThe strong connection between proskuneó and falling down implies that proskuneó is a physical act of showing respect.  It is proposed here that proskuneó means to cast the eyes down to the ground.  This can be done while bowing the upper body, or by kneeling or by prostrating on the ground.

It is proposed above that proskuneó means to cast your eyes down to the ground before a superior person as a sign of respect.  It can be done by bowing .

All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11 reads:

God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The phrase “every knee will bow” does not contain the word proskuneó, but is similar in meaning.

It is God Who gave Jesus “the name which is above every name.”  This confirms that Jesus is not God and that Jesus is subordinate to God.  As usual in the New Testament, the title God is used in these verses exclusively for the “Most High,” who Jesus referred to as His “Father.”

Furthermore, every knee will bow to Jesus “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).   To worship Jesus is to worship God.  This is discussed in the article Jesus in Philippians, where it was concluded that Jesus is the link between God and the universe.  Through Jesus all creative and sustaining power flows from God to the creation, and through Jesus the worship of the universe flows to the invisible God.  By giving honor to Jesus, we give honor to “God the Father.”  Conversely, if we do not honor Jesus, we do not honor God:

All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:23).

Although He is not God, that we must honor Him equal to God.  In our admiration and worship we must not distinguish between God and His Son.

Heavenly beings worship Jesus.

We see how the Son is honored in Revelation.  Revelation 5 describes events in heaven when Jesus arrived in heaven at His ascension (see Introduction to the Seven Seals).  In that chapter heavenly beings worship Jesus:

The “four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (Jesus see John 1:29), each one holding … golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8-9).

The word “worship” (proskuneó) does not appear in this quote, but, as discussed, “fell down” is often associated with proskuneó.  The Lamb (Jesus) therefore here receives proskuneó (reverence) from the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’” (5:11-12)

God commanded all angels to worship His Son (Hebrews 1:6).  Here they do it.  In these verses Jesus receives honor, but in the next quote God and the Lamb receive honor together:

Then John heard “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them … saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’.  And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped” (5:13-14).

Note the words, “every created thing.”  This confirms that Jesus was not created.

Jesus said that the Father and Son will receive equal honor (John 5:23).  Here “every created thing” bring equal honor to Him who sits on the throne (the Most High) and to the Lamb.

Summary

The Bible teaches that only God may be worshiped: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Luke 4:8). But in the King James translation there are 13 verses in which Jesus is worshiped.  The question in this article is whether this means that Jesus is God.

Most Christians will argue that Jesus is worshiped because He is co-equal with the Father, but the Bible maintains a clear distinction between God and Jesus (see Jesus is not God).  The Bible also teaches that Jesus is subordinate to God (see God is the Head of Christ.

Gabriel said to Mary that Jesus will be called the Son of the Most High.  When the New Testament uses the title God, 99% of the time it refers to the Most High.  In this usage of the title “God,” Jesus is not God.

But then the question remains, why is Jesus worshiped?

Worship versus Proskuneó

The conclusion in this article is that “worship” is not a good translation for the underlying Greek word proskuneó: “Worship” implies a relationship with God or a god, while proskuneó often simply means to show respect to another created being.

1. In the New Testament (NASB) proskuneó is therefore often translated as “bow down.”  In these instances it is clear that Jesus was not worshiped, as per the meaning of the English word “worship:” People merely showed respect to Jesus by bowing down.

2. In other instances the NASB translates proskuneó as “worship,” but there often are clear indications in the text that the people or angels who gave Jesus proskuneó did not think of Him as God.

3. There are also instances in the New Testament where people receive proskuneó.

Proskuneó is therefore not equivalent the English word “worship.”  This conclusion is confirmed by the dictionary definition of the Greek word proskuneó, for instance, “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior.”

Therefore, the fact that people and angels proskuneó Jesus does not prove that He is God.

Worship the Lord your God only.

On the other hand, Jesus quoted the Ten Commandments, “you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Mt. 4:9). And when John proskuneó (worshiped) the angels, the angel prevented him from doing so, instructing him to “worship (proskuneó) God” (Rev. 19:10).

It was the Jewish culture to show respect to other people.  When Abraham saw “three men were standing opposite him; … he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth” (Gen 18:2).  It is good to show appropriate respect to other created beings.  Jesus said, “one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:26).  Paul wrote, “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

But there is a point where showing respect to another creating being becomes a sin.  It is proposed here that that point is when showing respect to another being replaces the worship of God; as if that being is God.  Our highest adoration and reverence must be reserved for God, through Jesus Christ.

We must worship Jesus.

Finally, as discussed in the article Jesus in Philippians, Jesus must be worshiped; not because He is God, but because to worship Jesus is to worship God.  Our worship flows through Jesus to God.

Articles in the Christology series: Is Jesus God?

1.     The three views of the Son
2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God.
3.    Jesus in Colossians
4.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God?
5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
6.    Jesus is not God.
7.    God is the Head of Christ.
8.    Jesus is called God.
9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God.
10.  God created all things through His Son.
11.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?  Current article
Support article: Worship verses in the New Testament
12.  Jesus has equality with God.
13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles
14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?