I am a Christian and learned recently that the word for worship in the Greek means to bow down. Why would God physically want us to bow to Him? I understand it has more to do with the heart, but if you love someone why let them bow to you? Does the Greek word for worship mean we must bow down to worship?
Some Christians believe that worship occurs during a church service when the worship team leads then in singing “worship songs.” Worship is connected with singing songs. But what is worship according to the New Testament? Is it bowing down in a church service? Our question is, “Does the Greek word for worship mean we must bow down to worship?”
Most Common Greek Word For Worship
There are five Greek words that are translated as “worship” in the New Testament. The most common Greek word is also the first word that occurs in the New Testament. While the English word “worship” occurs a total of forty-four times in the New Testament, it occurs for the first time in Matthew 2:2.
Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him. Matthew 2:2 (NASB)
The Greek word for “worship” in this verse is proskyneo. It occurs thirty-two times times in the New Testament. It is the most common word for worship. It literally means”to prostrate oneself in worship” or “to bow down and worship.” It is translated as “worship, worshiped, worshiper, worshipers, prostrated, bow and bowed down. The meaning of this verb is illustrated in Matthew 2:11; 4:9; 8:2; 9:18; Acts 10:25 and Revelation 19:4.
Other Greek Words Translated As Worship
A different Greek word is translated as worship in Matthew 15:8-9.
THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.
Matthew 15:8-9 (NASB)
The Greek word for worship in this verse is sebo. It is translated as “worship” four times. This word has the sense of “reverence” combined with “fear.” That is, the individual so highly regards an individual that he has a sense of fear. This is translated as “God-fearing” in Acts 17:4 and 17.
Two more Greek words are translated as “worship” in Acts 17:23.
“For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” Acts 17:23 (NASB)
The first Greek word is sebasma. It is translated as “worship” two times in the New Testament. It refers to a place of worship, but the second Greek word, eusebio, means “to act piously toward.” This second word occurs only one time as “worship.”
The next Greek word for worship occurs in Romans 12:1 and occurs three times in the New Testament.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:1 (NASB)
The Greek word for “worship” in this verse is latreia and it refers to religious service.
The last Greek word that is translated as “worship” in the New Testament occurs in Colossians 2:18. It is translated as “worship” only once.
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels . . . Colossians 2:18 (NASB)
This Greek word is threskeia and it refers to ritual acts of worship.
Does God Want us To Bow Down?
Therefore, what is worship? Since the most common Greek word for worship is proskyneo, does that mean that worship occurs when we bow down? The answer is no. A person may physically bow down during a church service, but the mere act of bowing down does not mean that one has worshipped God. Worship occurs in the heart. God wants us to humble ourselves and bow down on the inside. To discover what can happen during worship visit, “What does it mean to worship, praise and glorify God?”
The prophet Isaiah tells us that our God seeks men and women who have humble hearts and tremble at His word. That is, God looks at our hearts.
“For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
Isaiah 66:2 (NASB)
The Hebrew word for “contrite” can also mean “crippled” or “beaten.” That is, God looks to a man or woman who comes to Him in humility, trembles at His Word, and desires to please Him. That is what God desires. Now notice Psalm 95:6-7 connects worship and bowing down. Kneeling is an act of humility.
Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you would hear His voice . . .
Psalm 95:6-7 (NASB)
We will never worship God if worship is about us, if it is all about the songs or about the preaching. Worship begins with a submissive heart. Worship seeks to praise and honor the Lord. Jesus said in John 4:24 that we must worship in spirit and truth.
God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24 (NASB)
Worship occurs inside. True worship is sincere, honest and from the heart. God knows when our worship is not one of humility.
True worship is a humble and contrite heart before the Lord. Isaiah 29:13 reminds us that real worship is not lip service, hearts removed and reverence that is only filled with tradition.
Then the Lord said,
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote . . .
Isaiah 29:13 (NASB)
Real worship occurs in a humble and submissive heart that longs to obey our God. Worship occurs when our heart longs to totally love God and yield to Him.
1. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 539.
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