|wur'-ship ((shachah) bow down, (proskuneo) kiss toward, (weorthscipe) honor, (weorth) worthy, (scipe) ship)
RELATED: Amen, Sacrifice, Worshipper
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Homage rendered to God which it is sinful (idolatry)
to render to any created being ( Exodus
34:14 ; Isaiah
2:8 ). Such worship was refused by Peter ( Acts
10:26 ) and by an angel ( Revelation
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
wur'-ship (Anglo-Saxon: weorthscipe, wyrthscype, "honor,"
from weorth, wurth, "worthy," "honorable," and scipe, "ship"):
Honor, reverence, homage, in thought, feeling, or act, paid to men, angels, or
other "spiritual" beings, and figuratively to other entities, ideas, powers or
qualities, but specifically and supremely to Deity.
The principal Old Testament word is shachah, "depress," "bow down," "prostrate"
(Hithpael), as in Exodus 4:31, "bowed their heads and worshipped"; so in 94 other
places. The context determines more or less clearly whether the physical act or
the volitional and emotional idea is intended. The word is applied to acts of
reverence to human superiors as well as supernatural. the Revised Version (British
and American) renders it according to its physical aspect, as indicated by the
context, "bowed himself down" (the King James Version "worshipped," Genesis 24:52
; compare 23:7 ; 27:29 , etc.).
Other words are: caghadh, "prostrate," occurring in Isaiah 44:15 , 17 , 19 ; 46:6,
but rendered (English Versions of the Bible) "fall down." In Daniel 2:46 ; 3:5
, 6 , 7 , 10 , 15 , 18 , 28 , it (Aramaic ceghidh) is "worship" (English Versions
of the Bible), 7 times associated with "falling down" and 5 times with "serve."
'abhadh, "work," "labor," "serve," is rendered "worship" by English Versions of
the Bible in 2 Kings 10:19 , 21: "the worshippers (servants) of Baal." In Isaiah
19:21 the Revised Version (British and American) has "worship with sacrifice and
oblation" (the King James Version "do sacrifice"). Isaiah 19:23 the King James
Version has "served," the Revised Version (British and American) "worship." 'atsabh,
"carve," "fabricate," "fashion," is once given "worship," i.e. "make (an object
of) worship" (Jeremiah 44:19, the American Revised Version margin "portray").
The Old Testament idea is therefore the reverential attitude of mind or body or
both, combined with the more generic notions of religions adoration, obedience,
The principal New Testament word (59 times) is proskuneo, "kiss (the hand or the
ground) toward," hence, often in the oriental fashion bowing prostrate upon the
ground; accordingly, Septuagint uses it for the Hithpael of shachah (hishtachawah),
"prostrate oneself." It is to render homage to men, angels, demons, the Devil,
the "beast," idols, or to God. It is rendered 16 times to Jesus as a beneficent
superior; at least 24 times to God or to Jesus as God. The root idea of bodily
prostration is much less prominent than in the Old Testament. It is always translated
Next in frequency is sebomai, "venerate," and its various cognates, sebazomai,
eusebeo, theosebes, sebasma. Its root is sebas, "fear," but this primitive meaning
is completely merged into "reverence," "hold in awe": "In vain do they worship
me" (Matthew 15:9, etc.). latreuo, is "serve" (religiously), or "worship publicly,"
"perform sacred services," "offer gifts," "worship God in the observance of the
rites instituted for His worship." It is translated "worship" in Acts 7:42 ; 24:14
the King James Version, but "serve," American Standard Revised Version: "serve
the host of heaven," "serve I the God of our fathers"; but both the King James
Version and the American Standard Revised Version render Philippians 3:3, "worship
by the Spirit of God," and Hebrews 10:2, "the worshippers," the context in the
first two being general, in the second two specific. In 2 Timothy 1:3 and many
other cases both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)
give "serve," the meaning not being confined to worship; but compare Luke 2:37
Revised Version: "worshipping (the King James Version "served") with fastings
and supplications." Romans 1:25 gives both sebazomai and latreuo in their specific
meanings: "worshipped (venerated) and served (religiously,) the creature." doxa,
"glory" (Luke 14:10, King James Version: "Thou shalt have worship," is a survival
of an old English use, rightly discarded in the Revised Version (British and American)).
threskeia (Colossians 2:18), "a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels"
(the American Revised Version margin "an act of reverence"), has the root idea
of trembling or fear. therapeuo, "serve," "heal," "tend" (Acts 17:25, King James
Version: "neither is worshipped by men's hands"), is "served" in the Revised Version
(British and American), perhaps properly, but its close connection with "temples
made with hands" makes this questionable. neokoros, "temple-sweepers," "temple-keeper"
(Acts 19:35), has its true meaning in the Revised Version (British and American),
but "worshipper" is needed to complete the idea, in our modern idiom.
In the Apocrypha the usage is the same as in the New Testament, the verbs used
being, in the order of their frequency, proskuneo, sebomai, threskeuo, and latreuo.
The New Testament idea of worship is a combination of the reverential attitude
of mind and body, the general ceremonial and religious service of God, the feeling
of awe, veneration, adoration; with the outward and ceremonial aspects approaching,
but not reaching, the vanishing point. The total idea of worship, however, both
in the Old Testament and New Testament, must be built up, not from the words specifically
so translated, but also, and chiefly, from the whole body of description of worshipful
feeling and action, whether of individuals singly and privately, or of larger
bodies engaged in the public services of sanctuary, tabernacle, temple, synagogue,
upper room or meeting-place.
Space permits no discussion of the universality of worship in some form, ranging
from superstitious fear or fetishism to the highest spiritual exercise of which
man is capable; nor of the primary motive of worship, whether from a desire to
placate, ingratiate, or propitiate some higher power, or to commune and share
with him or it, or express instinctive or purposed devotion to him. On the face
of the Bible narratives, the instinct of communion, praise, adoring gratitude
would seem to be the earliest moving force (compare Genesis 4:3 , 4 , Cain, Abel;
Romans 1:18 - 25 , the primitive knowledge of God as perverted to creature-worship;
Genesis 8:20, Noah's altar; and Genesis 12:7, Abram's altar). That propitiation
was an early element is indicated probably by Abel's offering from the flock,
certainly by the whole system of sacrifice. Whatever its origin, worship as developed
in the Old Testament is the expression of the religious instinct in penitence,
prostration, adoration, and the uplift of holy joy before the Creator.
2. Old Testament Worship
In detail, Old Testament worship was individual and private,
though not necessarily secret, as with Eliezer (Genesis 24:26), the expression
of personal gratitude for the success of a mission, or with Moses (Exodus 34:8),
seeking God's favor in intercessory prayer; it was sometimes, again, though private,
in closest association with others, perhaps with a family significance (Genesis
8:20, Noah; Genesis 12:7 ; 22:5 , Abraham: "I and the lad will go yonder; and
.... worship"); it was in company with the "great congregation," perhaps partly
an individual matter, but gaining blessing and force from the presence of others
(Psalms 42:4: "I went with the throng .... keeping holyday"); and it was, as the
national spirit developed, the expression of the national devotion (1 Chronicles
29:20: "And all the assembly .... worshipped Yahweh, and the king"). In this public
national worship the truly devout Jew took his greatest delight, for in it were
inextricably interwoven together, his patriotism, his sense of brotherhood, his
feeling of solidarity, his personal pride and his personal piety.
The general public worship, especially as developed in the Temple services, consisted
(1) Sacrificial acts,
either on extraordinary occasions, as at the dedication of the Temple, etc., when
the blood of the offerings flowed in lavish profusion (2 Chronicles 7:5), or in
the regular morning and evening sacrifices, or on the great annual days, like
the Day of Atonement.
(2) Ceremonial acts and posture of reverence or of adoration,
or symbolizing the seeking and receiving of the divine favor, as when the high
priest returned from presenting incense offering in the holy place, and the people
received his benediction with bowed heads, reverently standing (2 Chronicles 7:6),
or the worshippers prostrated themselves as the priests sounded the silver trumpets
at the conclusion of each section of the Levites' chant.
(3) Praise by the official ministrants of the people or both together,
the second probably to a very limited extent. This service of praise was either
instrumental, silver "trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music," or it might
be in vocal song, the chant of the Levites (very likely the congregation took
part in some of the antiphonal psalms); or it might be both vocal and instrumental,
as in the magnificent dedicatory service of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:13), when
"the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising
and thanking Yahweh." Or it might be simply spoken: "And all the people said,
Amen, and praised Yahweh" (1 Chronicles 16:36). How fully and splendidly this
musical element of worship was developed among the Hebrews the Book of Ps gives
witness, as well as the many notices in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 15 ; 16 ; 25
; 2 Chronicles 5 ; 29 ; 30 , etc.). It is a pity that our actual knowledge of
Hebrew music should be so limited.
(4) Public prayer,
such as is described in Deuteronomy 26, at the dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles
6, etc.), or like Psalms 60 ; 79 ; 80. Shorter forms, half praise, half prayer,
formed a part of the service in Christ's time.
(5) The annual feasts,
with their characteristic ceremonies.
See PASSOVER; TABERNACLE; etc. Places of worship are discussed under ALTAR; HIGH
PLACE; SANCTUARY; TABERNACLE; TEMPLE, etc.
3. New Testament Worship
In the New Testament we find three sorts of public worship, the temple-worship
upon Old Testament lines, the synagogue-worship, and the worship which grew up
in the Christian church out of the characteristic life of the new faith. The synagogue-worship,
developed by and after the exile, largely substituted the book for the symbol,
and thought for the sensuous or object appeal; it was also essentially popular,
homelike, familiar, escaping from the exclusiveness of the priestly service. It
had four principal parts:
(1) the recitation of the shema',
composed of Deuteronomy 6:4 - 9 ; 11:13 - 21 , and Numbers 15:37 - 41, and beginning,
"Hear (shema'), O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh";
possibly following some set form, perhaps repeating some psalm;
(3) the reading by male individuals of extracts from the Law and the Prophets
selected by the "ruler of the synagogue," in later years following the fixed order
of a lectionary, as may have been the case when Jesus "found the place";
(4) the targum or condensed explanation in the vernacular of the Scriptures read.
It is questioned whether singing formed a part of the service, but, considering
the place of music in Jewish religious life, and its subsequent large place in
Christian worship, it is hard to think of it as absent from the synagogue.
4. Public Christian Worship
Public Christian worship necessarily developed along the lines of the synagogue
and not the temple, since the whole sacrificial and ceremonial system terminated
for Christianity with the life and death of Jesus. The perception of this, however,
was gradual, as was the break of Jewish Christians with both synagogue and temple.
Jesus Himself held the temple in high honor, loved to frequent it as His Father's
house, reverently observed the feasts, and exhibited the characteristic attitude
of the devout but un-Pharisaic Israelite toward the temple and its worship. Yet
by speaking of Himself as "greater than the temple" (Matthew 12:6) and by quoting,
Hosea 6:6, "I desire goodness and not sacrifice," He indicated the relative subordinateness
of the temple and its whole system of worship, and in His utterance to the woman
of Samaria He intimated the abolition both of the whole idea of the central sanctuary
and of the entire ceremonial worship: "Neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem,
shall ye worship the Father"; "They that worship him must worship in spirit and
truth" (John 4:21,24). His chief interest in the temple seems to have been as
a "house of prayer" and an opportunity to reach and touch the people. We cannot
help feeling that with all His love for the holy precincts, He must have turned
with relief from the stately, formal, distant ceremonial of the temple, partly
relieved though it was by the genuine religious passion of many worshippers, to
the freer, more vital, closer heart-worship of the synagogue, loaded though that
also was with form, tradition, ritual and error. Here He was a regular and reverent
attendant and participant (Mark 1:21,39; 3:1; 6:2; Luke 6:6). Jesus did not Himself
prescribe public worship for His disciples, no doubt assuming that instinct and
practice, and His own spirit and example, would bring it about spontaneously,
but He did seek to guard their worship from the merely outward and spectacular,
and laid great emphasis on privacy and real "innerness" in it (Matthew 6:1-18,
etc.). Synagogue-worship was probably not abandoned with Pentecost, but private
brotherhood meetings, like that in the upper chamber, and from house to house,
were added. The young church could hardly have "grown in favor with the people,"
if it had completely withdrawn from the popular worship, either in temple or synagogue,
although no attendance on the latter is ever mentioned. Possibly the Christians
drew themselves together in a synagogue of their own, as did the different nationalities.
The reference in James: "if there come unto your synagogue" (2:2), while not conclusive,
since "synagogue" may have gained a Christian significance by this time, nevertheless,
joined with the traditions concerning James's ascetic zeal and popular repute,
argues against such a complete separation early. Necessarily with the development
into clearness of the Christian ideas, and with the heightening persecution, together
with the hard industrial struggle of life, the observance of the Jewish Sabbath
in temple or synagogue, and of the Christian's Lord's Day, grew incompatible.
Yet the full development of this must have been rather late in Paul's life. Compare
his missionary tactics of beginning his work at the synagogue, and his custom
of observing as far as possible the Jewish feasts (Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:8).
Our notions of the worship of the early church must be constructed out of the
scattered notices descriptive of different stages in the history, and different
churches present different phases of development. The time was clearly the Lord's
Day, both by the Jewish churches (John 20:19,26) and by the Greek (Acts 20:7;
1 Corinthians 16:2) The daily meeting of Acts 2:46 was probably not continued,
no mention occurring later.
There are no references to yearly Christian festivals, though the wide observance
in the sub-apostolic period of the Jewish Passover, with references to the death
and resurrection of Jesus, and of Pentecost to commemorate the gift of the Holy
Spirit, argues for their early use. The place was of course at first in private
houses, and the earliest form of Christian church architecture developed from
this model rather than the later one of the basilica. 1 Corinthians gives rather
full data for the worship in this free and enthusiastic church. It appears that
there were two meetings, a public and a private. The public worship was open,
informal and missionary, as well as edificatory. The unconverted, inquirers and
others, were expected to be present, and were frequently converted in the meeting
(1 Corinthians 14:24). It resembled much more closely, an evangelical "prayer
and conference meeting" of today than our own formal church services. There is
no mention of official ministrants, though the meeting seems to have been under
some loose guidance. Any male member was free to take part as the Spirit might
prompt, especially in the line of his particular "spiritual gift" from God, although
one individual might have several, as Paul himself. Largely developed on synagogue
lines, but with a freedom and spirit the latter must have greatly lacked, it was
(1) Prayer by several,
each followed by the congregational "Amen."
consisting of hymns composed by one or another of the brethren, or coming down
from the earlier days of Christian, perhaps Jewish, history, like the Benedictus,
the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, etc. Portions of these newer hymns seem to
be imbedded here and there in the New Testament, as at Revelation 5:9-13: "Worthy
art thou," etc. (compare Revelation 15:3; 11:17, etc.); also: "He who was manifested
in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations,
Believed on in the world, Received up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16). Praise also
might take the form of individual testimony, not in metrical form (1 Corinthians
(3) Reading of the Scripture
must have followed, according to the synagogue model. Paul presupposes an acquaintance
with the Old Testament Scriptures and the facts of Jesus' life, death, resurrection.
Instructions to read certain epistles in the churches indicate the same.
as in 1 Corinthians 2:7; 6:5, teaching for edification. (These passages, however,
may not have this specific reference.)
when men, believed by themselves and by the church to be specially taught by the
Holy Spirit, gave utterance to His message. At Corinth these crowded on one another,
so that Paul had to command them to speak one at a time.
(6) Following this, as some believe, came the "speaking with tongues,"
perhaps fervent and ejaculatory prayers "so rugged and disjointed that the audience
for the most part could not understand" until someone interpreted. The speaking
with tongues, however, comprised praise as well as prayer (1 Corinthians 14:16),
and the whole subject is enshrouded in mystery.
See TONGUES, GIFT OF.
(7) The meeting closed with the benediction and with the "kiss of peace."
The "private service" may have followed the other, but seems more likely to have
been in the evening, the other in the morning. The disciples met in one place
and ate together a meal of their own providing, the agape, or love feast, symbolizing
their union and fellowship, preceded or followed by prayers (Didache x), and perhaps
interspersed by hymns. Then the "Lord's Supper" itself followed, according to
the directions of the apostle (1 Corinthians 11:23-28).
How far "Christian worship" was "Christian" in the sense
of being directly addressed to Christ, is not easily answered. We must not read
into their mental content the fully developed Christology of later centuries,
but it is hard to believe that those who had before them Thomas' adoring exclamation,
"My Lord and my God!" the saying of the first martyr, "Lord Jesus, receive my
spirit," the dictum of the great apostle, "Who, existing in the form of God,"
the utterances of He, "And let all the angels of God worship him," "Thy throne,
O God, is forever and forever," and, later, the prologue of Jn, and the ascriptions
of praise in the Apocalypse, could have failed to bow down in spirit before Jesus
Christ, to make known their requests through Him, and to lift up their adoration
in song to Him, as according to Pliny's witness, 112 AD, "they sing a hymn to
Christ as God." The absolutely interchangeable way in which Paul, for instance,
applies "Lord" in one breath to the Father, to the Old Testament Yahweh, and to
Jesus Christ (Romans 10:11 , 13 ; 14:4 , 6 , 8 , 11 , 12, etc.) clearly indicates
that while God the Father was, as He must be, the ultimate and principal object
of worship, the heart and thought of God's New Testament people also rested with
adoring love on Him who is "worthy .... to receive the power and riches and wisdom,
and might, and glory, and honor and blessing." The angel of the Apocalypse would
not permit the adoration of the seer (Revelation 22:9), but Jesus accepts the
homage of Thomas, and in the Fourth Gospel declares it the duty of all to "honor
the Son, even as they honor the Father" (John 5:23).
The classical passages for Christian worship are John 4:23 , 24, culminating in
(margin): "God is spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and
truth," and Philippians 3:3, "who worship by the Spirit of God." These define
its inner essence, and bar out all ceremonial or deputed worship whatever, except
as the former is, what the latter can never be, the genuine and vital expression
of inner love and devotion. Anything that really stimulates and expresses the
worshipful spirit is so far forth a legitimate aid to worship, but never a substitute
for it, and is harmful if it displaces it. Much, perhaps most, stately public
worship is as significant to God and man as the clack of a Thibetan prayer-mill.
The texts cited also make of worship something far deeper than the human emotion
or surrender of will; it is the response of God's Spirit in us to that Spirit
in Him, whereby we answer "Abba, Father," deep calling unto deep. Its object is
not ingratiation, which is unnecessary, nor propitiation, which has been made
"once for all," nor in any way "serving" the God who 'needeth not to be worshipped
with men's hands' (Acts 17:25), but it is the loving attempt to pay our unpayable
debt of love, the expression of devoted hearts, "render(ing) as bullocks the offering
of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). For detail it is not a physical act or material offering,
but an attitude of mind: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit"; "sacrifices
of praise, with which God is well pleased"; not the service of form in an outward
sanctuary, the presentation of slain animals, but the service of love in a life:
"Present your bodies a living sacrifice"; not material sacrifices, but spiritual:
your rational "service"; not the service about an altar of stone or wood, but
about the sanctuary of human life and need; for this is true religion ("service,"
"worship," threskeia), "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction";
not the splendor of shining robes or the sounding music of trumpets or organs,
but the worshipping glory of holy lives; in real fact, "hallowing Thy name," "and
keeping oneself unspotted from the world." The public worship of God in the presence
of His people is a necessity of the Christian life, but in spiritual Christianity
the ceremonial and outward approaches, if it does not quite reach, the vanishing
BDB; Thayer's New Testament Lexicon under the word; arts; on "Praise," "Worship,"
"Temple," "Church," "Prayer," in HDB, DB, New Sch-Herz, DCG; Commentaries on Psalms,
Chronicles, Corinthians; Weizsacker, The Apostolic Age of the Church, II; Pfleiderer,
Das Urchristenthum (English translation); Leoning, Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums;
Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Service, as They Were at the Time of Jesus
Christ, and Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Hort, The Christian Ecclesia;
Lindsay, Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries; McGiffert, A History
of Christianity in the Apostolic Age.
Philip Wendell Crannell
bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, caghadh, christian worship, define, history of worship, new testament worship, proskuneo, scipe, sebomai, shachah, types of worship, weorth, worship