Worship Defined

Marva J. Dawn in her book, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, makes the point that there are several words in the New Testament that could signify worship.   Included are latreuo as paying homage to God and proskuneo as an attitude or gesture of allegiance to God.  She points out that these terms speak of esteem and proper behavior.  She goes on to say that other words indicate the bringing of offerings.  Offering no support for such a clam, Dawn’s analysis shifts immediately to the Old Testament usage of words indicating sacrifice.  However, it should be noted that Dawn originally is referencing the New Testament concerning the word worship, and again there is a difference of what can be understood as worship and the demeanor and activities of worshipers.*

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Both Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and Englishman’s Greek Concordance indicate that the term latreuo originally meant to ‘serve for hire.**   Both concordances demonstrate that latreuo as used in the New Testament means to render religious service or homage, so far so good.  As for proskuneo, both concordances indicate that the word describes a worshiper, a person who worships.  To put a fine point on both Dawn’s definitions and those of the concordances, they are all anthropocentric, that is they describe the actions and/or behaviors of the people involved in a religious service.  For those, like myself, who have been lead to the absolute sovereignty of God, we must look for a definition that attributes the actions to God alone.

The etymology of the word, worship, comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorðscipe and as a noun means …the condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown…  Here, from the Germanic language, one finds the more correct definition of one who is worship.  As a noun, worship is used to describe a person, place or thing.  It recalls an old salutation of ‘Your Worship’ which was used when addressing one’s class superiors, particularly aristocrats and clerics.  It is not until A.D. 1300 that the verb sense of reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being is first recorded.***   Therefore, from this one can determine that God is the only one who possesses the condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown, etc.  Accordingly, God is Worship.

This also harkens back to the words of the psalmist, who wrote: אֲ֭דֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח וּ֝פִ֗י יַגִּ֥יד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ׃  Which we translate as; Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.   Here the psalmist confirms that God is the actor and we are the ones being acted upon.  Thus, worship in its true form is the creature suffering the workings of the sovereign God, which results in prayers, praises, hymns and thanksgiving returning from us to God.  This fulfills the scripture where God says; so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


* Marva J. Dawn.  Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K., 1995).  p. 81. Dawn refers to the Old Testament as the ‘First Testament,’ in an effort to be sensitive to the modern mind.  Sadly, this is an intentional distortion which can only be destructive to the building up of the Church.

** NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries.  (The Lockman Foundation, 1998).  accessed April 24, 2014. http://biblehub.com/

*** Douglas Harper. The Online Etymology Dictionary.  accessed April 24, 2014. http://etymonline.com/

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