Worship: Greek Word Studies

Greek Word Studies Related to Worship

Word Studies in Worship
What is worship? Do you have a narrow view of worship, or an expanded view? We must not limit worship to special places, designated times, certain moods, specified acts of the church. The writers of the New Testament used a number of worship to describe Christian worship. Some of these words have rich Old Testament backgrounds, others are borrowed from the secular Greek setting and adapted for Christians. We study these words and their usages to understand worship.
Three concepts guide our study:

Eusebeo and related forms.
This word has a complex philological background. By the first century, this word based on Greek piety and mythology, was understood as "worship paid to the gods in cultic acts" or "conscientious and costly practice of cultic acts." Other shades of meaning enter our understanding of the term, but the "true content...for the educated Greek is reverent and wondering awe at the lofty and pure world of the divine, its worship in the cultus and respect for the orders sustained by it" (TDNT, VII, 177).
To understand this word in the first century, observe the use at Acts 17:23. Also observe other uses as listed below, and see that the word is never used in connection with the Christian assembly. The word describes a way of life, conduct, daily living, and the sum of individual actions. Read these verses: Acts 3:12; 10:2,7; 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 5:4; 6:3,5,6; 2 Tim. 3:12; Tit. 1:1, 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:3,6,7; 3:11; 2:9.
This word is related to life. This is our manner of life.

Latreuo and related forms.
Rom. 12:1 is the most familiar occurrence of this word. This word signifies service for a reward, work, labor, or in devotion and worship. The verb is found 90 times in Greek translation of Old Testament (Septuagint). "It is not enough to say that latreuein has religious significance. One must say that it has ceremonial significance....it means more precisely to serve or worship in the cult, especially by sacrifice" (TDNT, IV, 60).
In the NT, the noun occurs five times (John 16:2; Rom. 9:4; 12:1; Heb. 9:1,6). The verbal form occurs 21 times (Matt. 4:10; Luke 1:74; 2:37; 4:8; Acts. 7:7,42; 24:14; 26:7; 27:23; Rom. 1:9,25; Phil. 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 8:5; 9:9,14; 10:2; 12:28; 13:10; Rev. 7:15; 22:3). It implies adoration (Mt. 4:10; Lk. 4:8; Rev. 7:15; 22:3). It is unceasing and relentless in character (Luke 2:37; Acts 26:7). It refers to the sacrificial duties of the OT priests at the tabernacle or temple in the book of Hebrews. Most often the NT uses the word to communicate the whole conduct of believers toward God. Notice the relationship to life: Luke 1:74; Acts 24:14; 27:23; Rom. 1:9; Phil. 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 9:14; 12:28-29.
This term is also never applied to the Christian assembly. This worship is not distinct from life. "The service which Christians are to offer consists in the fashioning of their inner lives and their outward physical conduct in a way which plainly distinguishes them from the world and which corresponds to the will of God (TDNT, IV, 65).

Thraskeia and related forms.
A common term which designates worship in Greek life is not used often in the NT, never in the verb form. Josephus uses this word often (TDNT, III, 155-159).
Thraskeia is found in only four verses in the NT. Acts 26:5 refers to the formal system of Pharisaism. Col. 2:18 is a warning to avid the worship of angels. This refers to ceremonial devotion. The occurrences at James 1:26-27 refer to the Christian's religion of devotion. The nature of this devotion is described in this text, and is vitally connected to life. This word is never used with reference to the Christian assembly.

Proskuneo and related forms.
The most common Greek word indicating worship is proskuneo. The background of this word is uncertain, but common usage shows its sense to involve the custom of falling down before a person, kissing his feet, the hem of the garment, or the ground. Proskuneo means to worship, to do obeisance, to prostrate oneself, do reverence. The Greek OT uses the word to translate Hebrew words which mean to bow, to kiss, to serve, to worship, to tremble.
In the NT, the word appears most often in the gospels and in Revelation. This is true because the term seems to demand the presence of visible majesty. Jesus' physical presence evokes responses described by proskuneo (Matt. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 18:26; 20:290; 28:9; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 8=9:38; 12:20), as do scenes in the Revelation (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 9:20; 11:1,16; 13:4,8,12,15; 14:7,9,11; 15:4; 16:2; 19:4,10,20; 20:4; 22:8,9). At times it is used of the worship of God in his temple (Acts 8:27; 24:11). It appears only three times in the epistles (Heb. 1:6; 11:21; 1 Cor. 14:25). This word refers to conversion, surrender, and commitment of life after experience with God.
Jesus uses the word in his conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4:20-24). Here worship is future, not connected to place or external circumstances, accomplished in spirit and in reality. Again, the word is not used of the Christian assembly.

Sebo and related forms.
An important Greek stem or root used to speak of piety in life is sebo and its derivatives. We previously discussed eusebeo.
Sebomai means "to fall backward before" and indicates awe. In the Greek OT it translates the concept of fear, awe, worship, reference, and a life of service directed to God (Job 1:9; Isa. 29:13; 66:14; Jonah 1:9; Josh. 4:24; 122:25). NT usages are limited and do not refer to the Christian assembly specifically. This is the background of the "god fearers" or devout persons in Luke's writings (Acts 10:1-4; 13:43,50; 16:14; 17:4,17; 18:7).
Sebazomai is used only at Romans 1:25 in reference to idolatrous worship.
Sebasma is an object of worship or veneration and occurs twice n the NT at Acts 17:23 and 2 Thess. 2:4.
Sebastos is the adjective which is equivalent to the Latin Agustus denoting religious respect. The only NT use is referring to Caesar (Acts 25:21,25).
Semnos/semnotas is of greater interest. This is used of Greek gods and signifies lofty, majestic, exalted positions which demand a certain response. The NT occurrences are instructive: Phil. 4:8; 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4; 3:8; 3:11; Tit. 2:2; 2:7. Respect for God should be equal.
Again it is clear that the important words of worship drawn from the world of the Greeks and applied in a Christian context are not used in a ceremonial, liturgical way. None of the sebo words are used of the Christian assembly. These words help show the quality of a total Christian life.

What conclusions can we draw?

Return to Young Home Page
Last updated March 21, 2001.