Thrust Statement: True worshipers worship by the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus.

Scripture Reading: John 4:21-24; Philippians 3:3

Most of us assume that if we wish to know what a word means, a look in the dictionary will answer our question. Obviously, this is true as far as definitions are concerned. But as to what is communicated by that word, we need to look at more than the dictionary. Words do not stand alone. They are spoken by one person and addressed to another. The social relationship, the dynamic of power that exists between speaker and hearer in the wider society, makes an enormous difference as to exactly what is communicated.[1]

            This essay is concerned about the meaning of words. Even though this paper explores the various Greek words translated “worship,” nevertheless, one must always be conscious that definitions do not always, in and of themselves, convey the intent of the author’s original meaning. One such word today is the English word worship. Worship, among many Churches of Christ, is one of the most misunderstood words within this fractured movement. None of the splinter groups can agree on how worship is to be executed when Christians assemble on Sundays.  This essay seeks to explore the various words translated as worship in the Greek New Testament. One objective of this essay is to investigate the most prevalent concept of worship as is currently understood by many believers and to investigate how the Holy Spirit utilizes various words to convey what worship is.

Some consider worship as consisting of five acts engaged in on Sunday morning between the hours of 9 am and 10 am. In this specific gathering of the saints, God has ordained, according to some, five rituals with specific details concerning how each act is to be carried out. Any deviation from this “divine pattern” warrants expulsion from the so-called “loyal” church.  On the other hand, many believers do not believe that God has ordained a worship service with any prescribed rituals to be performed in an established way. Some maintain that worship is one’s way of life twenty-four hours a day—not just one hour on Sunday morning.

ANALYSIS OF THE VARIOUS GREEK WORDS

TRANSLATED AS WORSHIP

A study of the Greek nouns and verbs translated worship in the New Testament should assist individuals in their search to understand the biblical concept of worship. Believers must learn to reevaluate and reinterpret what has been handed down to them concerning the subject of worship. Nevertheless, the traditions of the church make it difficult, if not impossible, for many to read the Bible on this subject. In fact, a high percentage of the Christian’s theology has been passed on to them by teachers who learned them many years earlier. A consideration of the verbs and nouns in the teachings of Jesus and His chosen envoys will assist one’s understanding of worship.

Today, worship is generally identified as liturgy or ritual. In other words, worship is what one participates in on Sunday morning or Sunday evening. If one does not engage in a prearranged set of acts—singing, praying, preaching, communing, and giving—then one has not worshipped, according to many Christians. Such things as love, service, outreach, and fellowship are seldom associated with spiritual worship.

Since the Holy Spirit employs a number of words to convey what worship is, then an analysis of each word should help to shed the extra baggage attached to the English word worship.[2] In the New Testament, five verbs and three nouns radiate some light concerning worship. The verbs are: sevbomai (sebomai), sebavzomai (sebazomai), latreuvw (latreuw), eujsebevw (eusebew), and proskunevw (proskunew). The nouns are: sevbasma (sebasma), ejqeloqrhskeiva (et&elot&rhskeia), and qrhskeiva (t&rhskeia). The objective of this essay is to identify the various Greek words in their Classical Greek background, the Septuagint Greek usage, and the New Testament practice.

Classical Greek: Sebomai

       In Classical Greek, the root seb (seb) meant originally “to step back from someone or something, to maintain a distance.”[3] The ideas associated with words built from this root convey the following definitions: “trepidation raging from shame, through wonder, to something approaching fear.”[4] Günther summarizes the various definitions in his article:

Sevbomai (sebomai), to reverence, shrink back in fear, worship; sebavzomai (sebazomai), show religious reverence, worship; sevbosma (sebosma), object of religious reverence, holy thing, sanctuary; eujsebevw (eusebew), reverence, be devout; eujsevbeia (eusebeia), devoutness, piety, fear of God, religion; euvsebhv'" (eusebhs), God-fearing, devout, pious; qeosevbeia (t&osebeia), fear of God, reverence for God, devoutness; qeosebhv" (t&eosebhs), devout, God-fearing;  ajsevbeia (asebeia), impiety, godlessness;  ajsebhv" (asebhs), godless, impious; semnov" (semnos), honourable, worthy of reverence, venerable, holy; semnovth" (semnoths), honourableness, dignity, holiness.[5]

Words from the stem seb are frequent in classical Greek and carry the idea of devoutness and religiousness. This devoutness does not carry the same connotation as in the Bible; that is, a committed obedience to a single, personally conceived God. With the Greeks, it was simply a holy anxiety, awe, or veneration called forth by the grandeur in things, men, or deities. In the Classical age, sebomai applied to objects as well as to men or to the gods. Further, it could also apply to one’s country, a landscape, dreams, parents, heroes, the dead, and so on.[6] For the Greeks those worthy of reverence were not only members of one’s own household but also their gods and laws.

Since the word sebomai conveys ethical behavior, a comparison between the positive form (sebomai) and the negative form (asebomai) enhances one’s appreciation and perception of this word. The purpose of this correlation is to enhance the ethical ideas associated with sebomai. Whenever one considers the negative aspect of a word, the negative often brings out the positive more forcefully. For instance, if a man was a misfit in the community or antisocial, he received the name ajsebhv" (asebhs, “godless,” “impious”). Paul, too, employed this word in his letter to the Romans. “He writes: However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked (ajsebh', asebh), his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).[7]

The Greek word is from aj (a) plus sevbomai (sebomai), which means, impious, ungodly, wicked, and sinful. Again, one observes Paul’s use of this word in Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (ajsebw'n, asebwn).” Thus, the word asebomai has “an ethical and religious content.”[8] In other words, an individual that was asebhs was placed side by side with a[diko" (adikos, “unjust”); adikos is employed to describe the individual that is doing contrary to what is right. Adikos was that point of one’s behavior that was against the ordinances of the state, while, on the other hand, asebhs describes conduct against the gods.

            The Complete Biblical Library summarizes the Classical Greek usage of sevbomai (sebomai) with the following succinct definition:

In both the active and middle forms,[9] this verb denotes the act of “worshiping, revering,” or “the sense of awe, fear,” usually in a religious sense. Nonetheless, it is also applied to esteemed persons such as parents (Liddell-Scott). Essentially, though, the middle form means “to worship, fear” when directed to an individual. The religious connotations tend to dominate.[10]

Septuagint Greek: Sebomai

      In the Septuagint (LXX),[11] sebomai usually translates the Hebrew word ar}y`  (y*r@, “to fear, worship, and revere”). In the Old Testament, God is the one who is to be revered, or worshipped, instead of idols. Joshua (1406 BCE=Before Common Era) uses this word in his comments about the twelve stones removed from the river Jordan as reminders of what God had accomplished for the children of Israel; but this was not all. This memorial would remind the Israelites that they were to fear the Lord. Listen to Joshua’s explanation: “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear (sevbhsqe, sebhst&e, from sevbomai) the LORD your God” (Joshua 4:24). One should keep in mind that the word sebomai means, “to feel awe or fear before God, and to worship.”

         Also, Jonah (782 BCE), in response to questions by sailors, uses the word sebomai: “I am a Hebrew and I worship (sevbomai, sebomai) the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (Jonah 1:9). God also employs this word in His conversation with Satan concerning Job, and Satan too utilizes this word in his conversation with God. Both God and Satan make use of the word sebomai to describe Job’s  (ca. 2000 BCE) attitude toward God: “Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears (qeosebhv", t&eosebhs[12]) God and shuns evil.’ ‘Does Job fear (sevbetai, sebetai[13]) God for nothing?’ Satan replied” (Job 1:8-9).

         If Job had “cursed” God, he would have been guilty of not “worshipping God” in truth. For one to worship God correctly, then there must be fear that stands in awe, which is true worship. Without this kind of awe toward God, one’s worship (fear) would be rejected by God. Another example of how this word is employed is found in Isaiah’s rebuke of the people of Israel. Through Isaiah, God forcefully sets forth the truth that false “reverence” is despised:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth    and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship (sevbontai, sebontai[14]) of me    is made up only of rules taught by men (Isaiah 29:13).

A true reverential fear (worship) of God includes the following:

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

For one to fail to put into practice this kind of fasting would be for one to worship in vain.

New Testament Greek: Sebomai

            In the New Testament, this word sevbomai (sebomai) is generally understood to mean worship, that is, the showing of respect and reverence to a deity. Jesus responds to the Pharisees and to the teachers of the Law concerning genuine worship:

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship (sevbontai, sebontai) me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men’ (Mark 7:6-7).

One cannot show disrespect to others and, at the same time, worship God in truth. Reverence for God involves respect for others. Thus, John writes:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him (1 John 2:9-11).

            Sebomai occurs ten times in the New Testament.[15] It occurs once in the present passage (Mark 7:6-7), which is a citation from Isaiah 29:13; Jesus also employs this word in His confrontation with the religious leaders (Matthew 15:9), which is a parallel passage to Mark 7:6-7. Sebomai also occurs eight times in the Book of Acts. Paul also utilizes this word in his Roman letter to characterize pagans in their relationship to the other human beings: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped (ejsebavsqhsan, esebast&hsan[16]) and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:25). In other words, the pagans demonstrated respect and reverence for humans rather than to the Creator.

            As stated above, Jesus draws attention to the callousness of many in Israel. He calls attention to their display of outward reverence for God, but, on the other hand, they failed to love one another as God commands. Thus, as a result of their actions toward their parents, their worship was in vain because their hearts were far from God. They did not care two-cents about their parents. They sought to by-pass their responsibilities toward their parents through a vow to God. Jesus says: “They worship (sevbontai, sebontai) me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:9).

            The Jewish leaders actually created legal (illegal in God’s sight) traditions to side-step a positive statement of God. Thus, their worship was in vain. Once cannot reverence, or worship, God and, at the same time, not respect others. One’s service, one’s outreach, one’s fellowship, and one’s activities toward other humans flow out of one’s worship for God. This devotion, or worship, involves love for God and love for man. This kind of love is best illustrated with the parable of judgment against the religious leaders in Matthew 25:31-46. In this parable, Jesus castigates the religious leaders for their persecution of His people. This parable deals with hunger, nakedness, visitation, and so on. When one renders service to others, that, according to Jesus, is worship, or reverence toward God.

            Sebomai is also employed by Luke in narrating the story of Lydia and her household: “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper (sebomevnh, sebomenh[17]) of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). Because of her worship, she met with others who also honored God. She did not go to worship, but rather, she praised God because of her reverence, or respect for God. In order for one to see at a glance all of the occurrences of this word sebomai in the New Testament, the following citations are cited in full for one’s observation:

They worship (sevbontai, sebontai[18]) me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men (Matthew 15:9).

When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout (sebomevnwn, sebomenwn[19]) converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43).

But the Jews incited the God-fearing (sebomevna", sebomenas[20]) women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region (Acts 13:50).

One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper (sebomevnh, sebomenh[21]) of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message (Acts 16:14).

Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing (sebomevnwn, sebomenwn[22]) Greeks and not a few prominent women (Acts 17:4).

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing (sebomevnoi", sebomenois[23]) Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there (Acts 17:17).

Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper (sebomevnou, sebomenou[24]) of God (Acts 18:7).

“This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship (sevbesqai, sebest&ai[25]) God in ways contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13).

There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped (sevbetai, sebetai[26]) throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty (Acts 19:27).

 

Not one of the above Scriptures relate to a “worship service.” One was a worshiper of God whether in a synagogue or home or marketplace. This worship had to do with choice—serving God or others. It is significant that this word sebomai is never employed in reference to five acts carried out on Sunday morning.

New Testament Greek: Sebazomai

       Another word of the seb (seb) family is sebavzomai (sebazomai, “to honor religiously, to worship, to revere”). Sebazomai is related to sevbomai (sebomai, “to revere”). Paul, to the Christians at Rome, employs this word: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped (ejsebavsqhsan, esebast&hsan[27]) and served (ejlavtreusan, elatreusan[28]) created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:25).

This citation is the only occurrence of this particular word in the New Testament. Paul is describing the rebellious elevation of the creature to the place of reverence that belongs only to the Creator. This worship is not simply pious reverence but an act or acts of worship. In other words, the honor issues in devotion (sebazomai) and service (latreuw) to the creature rather than the Creator. Lawrence O. Richards, a contemporary biblical scholar, points out: “Sebomai and other words in its group mean ‘to show reverence for.’”[29]

New Testament Greek: Sebasma

       Sebasma (sevbasma) is a noun; this word is also of the seb (seb) family. In Greek the result of an action is indicated by the ending ma (ma). Sebasma is the abiding result of sevbomai (sebomai, “worship, devoutness, reverence”).  Sebasma refers to the object of worship or place of worship. In other words, it refers to idols and shrines that are granted the religious honor indicated in the verb sebavzomai (sebazomai). Paul uses this term sebavsmata (sebasmata) to allude to the many idols crowding the marketplace of Athens:

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship (sebavsmata, sebasmata[30]), I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship (eujsebei'te, eusebeite[31]) as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you (Acts 17:23).

Paul also employs this term to describe the "son of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:3) in his letter to the Thessalonians: "He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped (sevbasma, sebasma), so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God" (2:4). Sebavzomai (sebazomai, “to honor religiously, to worship, to revere”) is not utilized by the Holy Spirit to denote a “worship service” for the believer, but rather, this word signals one’s attitude toward Yahweh, that is to say, serving God or other gods.

Classical Greek: Eusebew

       Eujsebevw (eusebew, “to act piously toward”) is also related to the seb (seb) family. Eusebew is from euj (eu) plus sevbomai (sebomai, “show awe, reverence”), especially to show reverence in a religious sense. In the classical and later Hellenistic writers, one could interpret this word in a broad sense to show “respect” for all the various orders of life including domestic, national, and also international life. This word expressed the very heart of the Greek religion. It meant to “show piety” with the social orders that were controlled by the gods. Forrester explains the word this way: “In the Hell.—Rom. Period eujsevbeia, [eusebeia] mostly stands for the worship of the gods (including inner involvement), but the broader sense of respect for the orders of life still remains.”[32]

Septuagint Greek: Eusebew

            This word does not occur in the Septuagint until very late and only in apocryphal material.

New Testament Greek: Eusebew

            The verb form occurs only twice in the New Testament, each time in association with non-Jewish circumstances. In Acts 17:23, Paul says that the Athenians “worshiped” and unknown god. But the divine recipient of this reverence was proclaimed by Paul to be the Creator-God who established the very order to which the Athenians gave so much reverence. Even though this verse is cited above, this Scripture is given again to assist one in seeing the context of eujsebevw (eusebew):

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship (sebavsmata, sebasmata[33]), I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship (eujsebei'te, eusebeite[34]) as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you (Acts 17:23).

            The second occurrence is in Paul’s first letter to Timothy:

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion (eujsebei'n, eusebein[35]) into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God (1 Timothy 5:4).

If one is to put his religion into practice, then one must demonstrate his worship by caring for his own family. This is true worship. Again, it is significant that the Greek word, eujsebevw (eusebew) is not employed to describe a public worship service for the Christian community. This word designates one’s attitude of awe or reverence toward God and one’s concern or piety for those in need.

Classical Greek: T&rhskeia

       During the time of Herodotus (ca. Fifth Century BCE), qrhskeiva (t&rhskeia, “religion, worship”) is a noun denoting “religious worship” or “religion.”[36] At a later date, papyri and nonliterary documents indicate that t&rhskeia can mean either the “ritual” of religious service or the “worship” or “reverence” of the gods. Moulton-Milligan make the following succinct observation:

As against the common idea that qrhskeiva means only ritual, Hort (on Jas 1.28) has shown that the underlying idea is simply “reverence of the gods or worship of the gods, two sides of the same feeling”—a feeling which, however, frequently finds expression in qrhskeiva or ritual acts.[37]

Septuagint Greek: T&rhskeia

       The noun as well as the verb occurs only in the apocryphal material of the Septuagint: “For the worshipping (qrhskeiva, t&rhskeia) of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil” (Wisdom of Solomon 15:27).[38] Again, in the apocryphal writings: “For, bear in mind, that if there be any power which watches over this religion (qrhskeiva", t&rhskeias) of yours, it will pardon you for all transgressions of the law which you commit through compulsion” (4 Maccabees 5:13).[39] It appears, at least from the contexts, that both ideas of “ritual” and “religion” intersect.

New Testament Greek: T&rhskeia

            T&rhskeia occurs only four times in the New Testament. The first occurrence is in the book of Acts: “They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion (qrhskeiva", t&rhskeias), I lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 16:25). This admission prevented Paul from being misunderstood as some criminal revolutionary. Paul informs king Agrippa that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament religion rather than being its competitor.

The second and third occurrences are in James:

If anyone considers himself religious (qrhskoV", t&rhskos[40]) and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion (qrhskeiva, t&rhskeia[41]) is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:26-17).

With James, religion, or worship, is more than ceremony; it is godly behavior before God. A contemporary biblical scholar points out: “. . . when as Reformed theologians we ask what worship is. Worship must above all serve the glory of God.”[42]

            The fourth occurrence of this word is found in Paul’s reference to the worship of angels in his letter to the Colossians:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship (qrhskeiva/, t&rhskeia) of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions (Colossians 2:18).

Paul and James both utilize the same word (qrhskeiva/, t&rhskeia) to describe pure religion and the worship of angels. James uses this word to describe one’s relationship to orphans, widows, and the world that is in antagonism against God. Again, it is significant that of the four occurrences of this word in the New Testament, not one time is it employed for a public worship service with five rituals to be performed in a prescribed manner.

New Testament Greek: Et&elot&rhskeia

            JEqeloqrhskeiva (et&elot&rhskeia, “self-made religion or voluntary worship”) is not present in Classical Greek or in the Septuagint.  This word is used only once in the New Testament. Paul uses this word in Colossians: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship (ejqeloqrhskiva/, et&elot&rhskia[43]), their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). This word is a compound of ejqevlw (et&elw, “to will”) and qrhskeiva (t&rhskeia, “worship”).

            Et&elot&rhskeia is not utilized in the Scriptures to refer to what Christians do in their assemblies on Sunday morning as such. In other words, the above sin could be committed whether Christians are assembled for a corporate gathering or not assembled for a public worship service. In this context, Paul is dealing with one’s devotion to angels rather than to God.  This passage has nothing to do with five acts performed on Sunday morning.

Classical Greek: Latreuw

       In non-biblical Greek, the verb latreuvw (latreuw, “serve”) is related to the noun lavtron (latron, “reward, wages”); thus, the first meaning of latreuvein (latreuein, “to work or serve for reward, then to render services, to serve”). This word is used of bodily services and of workers on the land; also, in some cases, it is used of the service of the gods.[44] Non-biblical Greek employed latreuw with secular as well as with worship of the gods. Generally this period of Classical Greek preferred another word for cultic worship.

Septuagint Greek: Latreuw

Latreuw, in almost every case in the Septuagint, translates the Hebrew verb  db^u* (u*b^d, “serve”). This word occurs around ninety times in the Septuagint (LXX). Of the ninety occurrences of this word in the LXX, seventy of these occurrences are found in the following books: Exodus (17 times), Deuteronomy (25 times), Joshua (19 times), and Judges (9 times). The LXX chiefly employs latreuw when the Hebrew reads u*b^d  for the religious or cultic service. This understanding is significant for an understanding of its use in the New Testament. This Hebrew word u*b^d, is frequently rendered douleuvein (douleuvein, “to serve”) in the LXX. Perhaps, Strathmann expresses the distinction between latreuvein (latreuein, “to serve”) and douleuvein (douleuvein, “to serve”) best:

It is to be noted that the books which frequently have latreuvein [latreuein, “to serve”] use it mostly when db^u* u*b^d, “serve”) has a religious reference. . . . latreuvein is always used in these writings in the religious sense. The translators of these book (sic) thus attempted to show even by their choice of words that the relation of service in religion is something apart from other relations of service.  In other writings, where the term latreuvein hardly occurs at all, there is no such concern. Here douleuvein is used almost uniformly for db^u* no matter whether the relation is religious or secular. Nevertheless, latreuvein is distinctively religious not only in the books where it is chiefly found but wherever it appears in the LXX.[45]

Latreuein is not to be taken only in a purely spiritual or ethical sense. In the LXX, it is not adequate to say that latreuein only has religious implication, that is to say, ethical overtones. In other words, one must surmise that it also has sacral significance. Strathmann says, “latreuvein (latreuein) means more precisely to serve or worship cultically, especially by sacrifice.”[46] For example, when God gave Moses the assignment of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses says, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship (latreuvsete, latreusate[47]) God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).

Also, God repeatedly told the ruler of Egypt to “Let my son go, so he may worship (latreuvsh/, latreush[48]) me” (Exodus 4:23). The conflict between God and Pharaoh existed in whether Israel would be allowed to perform cultic/sacral worship and offerings. Thus, latreuw parallels the idea of offering sacrifice to God. This concept also appears to be the thinking of Paul in his letter to Christians in Rome: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (latreivan, latreian[49])” (Romans 12:1).

The Holy Spirit chose latreuein to describe cultic worship, not douleuvein. Douleuvein (douleuvein, “to serve”) is not considered a term for cultic worship. Whenever the translators of the LXX desired to isolate a word for the purpose of cultic worship, the authors employed latreuvein. Again, Strathmann says that the word latreuein “never refers to human relations, let alone to secular services.”[50] Comparison of Classical Greek usage and Septuagint (LXX) usage of latreuein sheds light on its possible meaning in the New Testament. In non-biblical Greek, the words latreuw and latreia were employed in secular as well as cultic settings. But in the LXX, these words were more or less restricted to cultic worship in general.

            To express a cultic setting, the non-biblical Greek prefers qerapeuvein (t&erapeuein, “to heal”) and qerapeiva (t&erapeia, “serving, serve, care”). But the LXX does not adopt this phenomenon.  Yet, the LXX does use t&erapeia at least once in a religious sense in the book of Isaiah:

17 no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants (qerapeuvousin, t&erapeuousin[51]) of     the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 54:17).

As one pursues a study of these words, one observes that these words are employed in the LXX in the sense of healing or cherishing.

New Testament Greek: Latreuw

            Is there any basis for translators translating logikhVn latreivan (logikhn latreian) as “spiritual act of worship” in Romans 12:1? The New International Version (NIV) translates this phrase as “spiritual act of worship.” In responding to this question, the words of Milton S. Terry are helpful in answering this question. He writes:

It is the usus loquendi (common use of words) of their inspired authors which forms the subject of the grammatical principles recognized and followed by the expositor. . . . Now we attain to a knowledge of the peculiar usus loquendi in the way of historical investigation.[52]

Examples of the common use of words are found in the above study of non-biblical Greek usage and LXX usage, which sheds light upon the troublesome phrase (“spiritual act of worship), at least troublesome to some. Many Christians object to the NIV’s translation of the Greek phrase. The above comments by Terry should be kept in mind as one pursues an investigation of the verb latreuw. For example, the verb latreuw is employed in the Old Testament in a setting of temple worship. There are many Scriptures in the New Testament that are influenced by this cultic setting of the Old Testament. For instance, Luke writes:

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped (latreuvousa, latreuousa[53]) night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2:36-37).

Again, in this same vein, Luke writes to Theophilus:

But I will punish the nation they serve (douleuvsousin, douleusousin[54]) as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship (latreuvsousin, latreusousin) me in this place’ (Acts 7:7).

But God turned away and gave them over to the worship (latreuvein, latreuein[55]) of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? (Acts 7:42).

Once more, one cannot help but observe that the ministry denoted by latreuein is always offered to God or to a heathen god. Also, in the New Testament, one is cognizant that the verb form is employed in the sense of adoration or service. For instance, Jesus uses latreuein in His conversation with Satan: Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship (proskunhvsei", proskunhseis[56]) the Lord your God, and serve (latreuvsei", latreuseis[57]) him only’” (Matthew 4:10). This word (latreuein) is also used of martyrs in the book of Revelation: “Therefore,  ‘they are before the throne of God and serve (latreuvousin, latreuousin) him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them’” (Revelation 7:15).

Again, one should compare Revelation 22:3 with the above citations: “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve (latreuvsousin, latreusousin) him.” Luke also uses this word in describing the unwearying prayer of Anna in the temple:

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped (latreuvousa, latreuousa) night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2:36-37).

Paul employs this word in the sense of hope or prayer in his defense before king Agrippa: “This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve (latreu'on, latreuon[58]) God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me” (Acts 26:7). Even though the New Testament incorporates the religious use of latreuw from the LXX (Septuagint), the New Testament carries a more developed and extended meaning than the LXX, that is to say, one’s walk or devotion. For example, Paul, in his defense, told governor Felix: “However, I admit that I worship (latreuvw, latreuw) the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:15).

Paul also employs this same word in the beginning of his letter to the Christians at Rome: “God, whom I serve (latreuvw, latreuw) with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you  in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you” (Romans 1:9-10). Then, in the Philippian letter, Paul also uses this word: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship (latreuvonte", latreuontes) by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:3). In the above citations, one quickly discovers that latreuw is employed almost exclusively for “serving” God, which is one’s worship or adoration.

The Philippian passage is quite revealing as to Paul’s concept of worship. Paul in writing this epistle dealt with certain individuals who demanded that Christians be circumcised and go back to the Jewish Temple with their ceremonials and ritual worship. But Paul tells the Philippian believers that one cannot worship God by doing those things now. This short epistle also reveals that certain ones relied upon their own righteousness through law, but Paul countered this belief with: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9).

In the Old Testament, worship for the Jews centered on the Temple. Why? Their worship foreshadowed the coming of the Messianic Age. The Jews had a place to worship (Jerusalem), but Christians do not have a specific geographical location. Also, the Jews had an exact pattern for the construction of the Tabernacle and the Temple. God gave to Moses a blueprint for building the Tabernacle and the furniture; but, for the Christian, God has not given a pattern for a so-called worship service. The author of Hebrews calls attention to the pattern for the Tabernacle: “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern (tuvpon, tupon[59]) shown you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5).

In the Christian dispensation, believers are the temple of God. For every believer, Jesus is the pattern. In the Jewish Temple, they had a Court of the Gentiles, a Court of the Women, a Court of Israel, a Court of the Priests, and the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:3). The Holy of Holies was too sacred even for the regular priests to enter. Since the sanctuary was a copy and shadow of reality, it had to be exact, no exceptions. But today, there are no structures with a pattern—such as a worship service—but for the believer, the only pattern is Jesus.

In contrast to the ritual worship of the Old Testament, Paul writes: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship (latreuvonte", latreuontes) by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). In spite of Paul’s words, there is still a tendency to exalt buildings and an inclination to go back to mechanical forms. In the Messianic Age, the true worshipper is not one who goes devotedly to early morning celebration and then claims the rest of the day or week to live anyway he/she pleases. God’s claim on the believer is on every part of one’s life—twenty-fours a day, not just Sunday morning.

This passage in Philippians, so it seems, may refer to the eschatological significance of the outpouring of he Holy Spirit. Philippians 3:3 appears to be an allusion to John 4:24 where Jesus speaks of one worshipping “in Spirit and in truth.” The coming of Christ has ushered in the new age of salvation; the Holy Spirit is the sign of this redemption in Jesus. Christians have the Spirit and are able to offer worship that is pleasing to God. It is in this vein that Paul says:

Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:8-9).

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).

            As one peruses John 4:24 and Philippians 3:3, one cannot help but observe the similarities between the two passages. If John 4:24 does not refer to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the coming of Jesus, then the phrase “in spirit and in truth” may be contrasting ritualism versus the outpouring of one’s soul in confession to God. But Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria appears to be more than just a reference to the inward versus liturgical worship. It is true that God commanded ritualism in the Old Testament, but even their ritual worship still had to come from the heart. Thus the phrase “in spirit and in truth” must mean something different. All worship, whether Old Testament or New Testament, must be genuine.  Nevertheless, the new age of worship would no longer employ a mechanical form of worship, but rather a worship that flows out of a grateful heart for salvation made available through Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

            It appears, so it seems to this author, that worship “in spirit and in truth” is speaking of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In other words, all worship is through Jesus and within the sphere of the Spirit. Paul seems to capture this concept when he writes:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you (Romans 8:9-11).

            As stated above, the Jews had to have both ritual and correct inward disposition. For example, even though the Israelites expressed their worship in ceremonial forms through sacrifices and festivals, nevertheless, their worship still required upright behavior, a submissive spirit, and acknowledgement of sin in their lives. The rituals themselves were of no use if the person did not worship God with his/her heart and life. For instance, David poses the following questions: “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill (Psalms 15:1)? In response to these questions, David goes right to the heart of the matter:

2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous,  who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, 4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD,   who keeps his oath even when it hurts, 5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent (15:2-5).

            For the psalmist David, the heart is crucial. God, through Isaiah, also calls attention to the role that the heart plays in one’s relationship to Him: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13). A perusal of the book of Isaiah reveals that God is very much concerned about ethical behavior. One cannot separate one’s ethical conduct from required rituals. Again, Micah, too, calls for response to certain questions concerning right performance and ritual:

6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8).

Gary Workman correctly says that “in spirit and truth” is not a new concept:

To look at worship under the former dispensation as just a set of perfunctory rituals does those people a great injustice. Jesus’ statement about “in spirit and truth” is not a new concept at all. It was always God’s expectation that man should “serve him in sincerity and truth” (Josh. 24:14).[60]

In other words, all worship, in any age, whether with or without ritual, must be in sincerity and truth to be acceptable to God. One cannot divorce the heart from his/her actions. But is this the concept that Jesus is presenting to the woman of Samaria? Has there even been a time in which one could worship God acceptably without a right attitude? There is definitely a contrast between worship in the Old Testament and worship the Messianic Age. In the “now” age, true worship will not consist in rituals, but rather in service that is by the Holy Spirit  “in and through Jesus.”

            What does “truth” (ajlhqeiva/, alht&eia) mean in John 4:24.  Does this “truth” refer to Jesus? Jesus in speaking to His disciples says: “I am the way and the truth (ajlhvqeia, alht&eia) and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Christ’s sacrifice made God’s grace operative once and for all, and He is the high priest of God’s people. The Christian community is a “spiritual house” and a “holy priesthood” to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5; see also verse 9). For Peter, the offering up of spiritual sacrifices is worship. The “spiritual sacrifices” (pneumatikaV" qusiva", pneumatikas t&usias) is equivalent to Paul’s spiritual worship in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (logikhVn latreivan, logikhn latreian).

            What is one’s spiritual sacrifice? For Paul and Peter, it is the presenting of one’s life to God as a living (zw'san, zwsan) sacrifice (qusivan, t&usian). As one reads the words of Peter and Paul, it is significant that neither apostle identifies worship as five acts, or rituals, performed in a prescribed manner. How does one present his/her body as a “living sacrifice,” which is one’s spiritual act of worship? James, the brother of Jesus, says: “Religion (qrhskeiva, t&rhskeia) that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

            Also, as one reflects upon true sacrifice, one concludes that worship consists of praise offered to God by confessing His name and doing good and sharing one’s possessions with others. It is in this same vein that the author of Hebrews writes: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice (qusivan, t&usian) of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16). Paul, James, and the author of Hebrews address themselves to true worship, that is, the presenting of one’s body as a living sacrifice, not five acts performed on Sunday morning. The worship that God is seeking is to look after orphans and widows, keeping oneself from the pollutions of the world, and confessing the name of Jesus.

            Just as the offering up of animal sacrifices occurred in the Tabernacle or Temple, so every Christian offers up his/her body as a living sacrifice. Today, Christians need no cultic building! Why? Well, today every believer constitutes a temple. Listen to Paul as he calls attention to this new concept: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple (naoV", naos[61]) and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple (naoVn, naon[62]), God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Again, Paul continues this idea about the body being the temple of God in the sixth chapter: “Do you not know that your body (sw'ma, swma) is a temple (naoV", naos) of the Holy Spirit (aJgivou pneuvmato", &agiou pneumatos), who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (ejn tw'/ swvmati uJmw'n, en tw swmati &umwn)” (6:19-20). Since the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer, then his/her ethical conduct must be kept clean. One’s worship must proceed from within his/her shrine as a priest of God.[63]

            All Christians are urged to right behavior. In other words, “spiritual worship” means being involved at the deepest level of our natures. It is easy to concentrate on one’s customary place of worship, singing, teaching, giving, breaking bread, praying, and so on, but none of these activities is ever defined as worship in the New Testament. One can say that singing, teaching, giving, breaking bread, and prayers are expressions of one’s worship. Again, one must reflect upon a worship that proceeds from his/her inmost being “in and through” Jesus.  As one reflects upon God’s deeds in creation, in history, and in redemption, then one quickly sees causes for unceasing worship and praise. There are many citations from Scriptures that one could reflect upon to cause one to stand in awe and wonder (see Psalms 33:1-19; 99:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21; Jude 24-25).

THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION’S
TRANSLATION OF

“SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP”

            Even with the above data about what worship consists of, some still object to the NIV’s translation of logikhVn latreivan (logikhn latreian) as “spiritual act of worship.”[64] The question is: Is “spiritual worship” a proper translation of Paul’s Greek as rendered in the NIV (Romans 12:1)? The KJV translates these two Greek words as “reasonable service.” Why do some translate these two Greek words as “spiritual act of worship”? Is the NIV correct in this rendering?  In order for one to arrive at a correct translation, one must investigate the historical background to Paul’s terminology. But before proceeding, it is necessary to address the traditional concept of worship in order to set the stage for a proper understanding of Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1.

            As stated earlier, within some Christian circles, worship is generally identified with form, or ritual; that is to say, five acts, not service. It is the general consensus of many Christians that that is true worship.[65] For example, Bromling writes: “Bible students have discovered that the New Testament worship is expressed through five actions: singing, praying, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, studying the Word of God, and contributing to a common treasury.”[66] Bromling is correct in speaking of these five external acts as expressions of one’s worship, but he is not correct in limiting worship to five acts performed on Sunday morning, if one understands him correctly.[67] His interpretation appears to advocate a dichotomy between worship and service.

            Another writer of this persuasion is Gary Workman. Workman, editor of The Restorer, also has an observation about service and worship that is close to Bromling’s understanding. He writes: "Service is broader than worship. All worship is service, but not all service is worship.”[68] There is truth is his statement, but his distinction that “all service” is not worship is going too far. This statement, at first glance, may seem to be true, but only at the cost of misreading “service” passages and separating the “service” Scriptures from their context. If there is a distinction in the Scriptures, it is so keen that it is difficult for one to make this separation in light of its use in Scripture.  The split is like the “joints and marrow” or the “thoughts and intents” of the heart.[69]

One must be respectful of Bromling’s suggestions, as mentioned above, concerning worship as centering around five acts, But this concept of worship presents certain problems for the interpreter of Scriptures. For example, there is not one command from any apostle for someone to “go to worship.”  Nor does one ever read of a “worship service” in any of the books of the New Testament that is associated with the Christian community. One cannot find in the New Testament the expression—five acts of worship—that is commonly employed by many Churches of Christ. This idea of going to worship is totally foreign to the writers of the New Testament.

Is it not strange that in all of the congregations that Paul established, he never wrote about or talked about five acts of worship or a set order of worship? It would seem, at least to the average reader, that Paul would have addressed this subject of a worship service had there been such a pattern. The so-called five acts found in Scripture are more descriptive of their gatherings rather than prescriptive. In other words, there is no blueprint or pattern for a worship service with five rituals to be performed in a precise manner. What was the purpose of Christians coming together? Paul gives some insight to this gathering in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40). If individuals do not adhere to proper decorum when people assemble, then there will be nothing but chaos. A lack of understanding concerning true worship can lend an air of plausibility to one’s interpretation.

            For one to say that there is no blueprint, or set pattern, for the assembly does not negate the command of God for Christians to assemble to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). It is true that the Scriptures speak of Christians coming together to preach, to teach, to sing, to pray, to break bread, and to encourage one another, but there is not one Scripture that commands Christians to come together to worship—not one. Perhaps, Hugo McCord explains the external acts—expressions of worship—best, when he writes:

Outward, physical expressions of respect by themselves cannot be called reverence and worship. Unless there is an external bowing down in the heart, there is not worship. The essence of worship, then, is nothing outward. This writer in other years erred in speaking of “five acts of worship.” He did not understand the word. The fruit of the lips, singing, is not worship in itself, but it accompanies what is done in the heart (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Corinthians 14:15). As long as men can honor God “with their lips,” but “their heart is far from God” (Matthew 15:8), so long is it true that worship itself is purely internal. . . . As with singing, and as with the Lord’s Supper, so with the other three acts of worship (as I formerly call them), nothing external alone is worship: the praying, the contribution, the Bible reading, so this writer learned to speak of five expressions of worship.[70]

            Bromling refers to the above article by McCord with approval, but, on the other hand, he seems to revert to the ideas of a “pattern” to follow for a so-called worship service, namely, five acts of worship. These remarks concerning Bromling’s thoughts about worship are not to impugn his love for God. One can appreciate his remarks for worship. He, like McCord, wants to follow the teachings of God. Perhaps, this area under discussion is not the easiest subject to write about—whether by Bromling, McCord, Burdette, or anyone else for that matter because of traditions. This theme about worship is very difficult to grasp.

            Since the Scriptures never define a public worship service for the believer, it is incumbent upon every Christian to go back to the original sources to find an answer as to what worship is all about. In order to do this, one must analyze the various words employed within their context to determine the various aspects of what worship is. Every interpreter should endeavor to take himself/herself from the present and to transport himself/herself into the historical position of the author of the text, to look through his eyes, to note his surrounding, to feel with his heart, and to catch his emotions.[71] Much of one’s theology has been passed on to him/her by teachers who also learned their theology many years earlier from others. It is not uncommon for all Christians to bring their theological heritage, their ecclesiastical traditions, their cultural norms, or their existential concerns to the Scriptures as they read. And this phenomenon results in all kinds of selectivity in getting around certain texts. Every Christian is confronted with the same problems of interpretation that others are confronted with.[72]

            As stated above, the NIV translates logikhVn latreivan (logikhn latreian) as “spiritual act of worship.” Is the NIV correct? Bromling says no! For example, Bromling  comments on “Errors to Avoid” in order to have a proper concept of worship.[73] Under this caption, he lists three errors that Christians must be cognizant of. For instance, the first error, according to Bromling, is a mistranslation of logikhVn latreivan (logikhn latreian) as “spiritual act of worship” in Romans 12:1. In his analysis of this passage, he objects to the phrase being translated “spiritual worship,” which is the way many translations translate the phrase. For example, consider the following translations of Romans 12:1:

So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer (GNB).[74]

I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical “Temple worship” for you (JNT).[75]

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering (The Message).[76]

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship (NAB).[77]

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 (NASB, update).[78]

I urge you therefore, 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 (NASB).[79]

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship (NCV).[80]

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (NIV).[81]

I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people (NJB).[82]

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (NRSV).[83]

            Bromling’s apprehension over this translation (“spiritual worship”) appears to be over his concern about equating everything one does as worship. In the following quote, he goes right to the heart of his concern: “It is absurd to consider every action of man (whether it be eating, sleeping, or watching television) an act of worship.”[84] One must agree with Bromling that it is foolish to parallel every act of man—husband and wife making love, going to the toilet, and so on—as worship. One must also agree with Workman’s comments concerning that attitude which equates everything one does as worship. He labors the point quite well: “There are those who have even gone so far as to say that incidental actions in our daily lives are worship—brushing our teeth, taking a bath, tying one’s shoelaces, playing a ball game, and the like.”[85]

            Workman is correct in calling attention to an abuse of Romans 12:1.  Nevertheless, a misuse of a passage does not negate the import of a word.  For one to make this text mean something God did not intend is to manipulate the text. A word of caution is in order concerning Bromling’s statement about “watching television.” It is true that watching television is not worship. But, on the other hand, if something comes over the “tube” that a Christian ought not to watch, and he/she then turns the knob to another channel, is that action not as a result of one’s worship? In closing this section on the meaning of latreuvw (latreuw) and latreiva (latreia), it is significant that neither word is employed, or connected, with a so-called “worship service,” but simply represents one’s service to God, whether assembled or not.

New Testament Greek: Eusebew

     The verb eujsebevw (eusebew, “worship, revere, respect, show piety toward”) occurs only twice in the New Testament. It appears once with a god as its object and once with humans.  This Greek word is identified with a display of devotion toward, a sense of respect, a sensation of veneration, and a feeling of honor. The first occurrence is in Acts 17:23. Paul utilizes this word in his speech before the Areopagus in Athens: “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship (sebavsmata, sebasmata[86]), I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship (eujsebei'te, eusebeite[87]) as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  The Athenians were proclaiming veneration to an unknown God, but, according to Paul, the divine recipient of this worship, or honor, should be the Creator-God who established the very order to which the people of Athens gave so much worshipful interest in the Areopagus.

            The second occurrence is found in First Timothy 5:4: “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion (eujsebei'n, eusebein[88]) into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” Paul encourages children or grandchildren to “show piety” to the widows by supporting them. In other words, when one looks after a widow, then this is, according to Paul, worship. It is also significant that this Greek word eujsebevw (eusebew) is not once applied to a so-called “worship service.” This worship, or respect, is something that is applicable to one’s way of life, not a Sunday morning worship service.

 



[1] Justo L. Gonzalez and Catherine G. Gonzalez, Liberation Preaching: The Pulpit and the Oppressed (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980), 94.

[2] See Given O. Blakely, “Worship, What Is It?”, The Word of Truth 30, no. 4 (April 1987): 5-7; idem., “Thought Concerning ‘Worship’,” The Word of Truth 32, no. 3 (April 1989): 11-12; idem.,  “Ordinances and Will Worship,” The Word of Truth 32, no. 1 (September 1988): 1-5.

[3] Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), s.v. “sevbomai,” by W. Günther, 2:91.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 92.

[7] All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.

 

[8] Brown, The New International Dictionary, 92.

[9] In Greek there are three voices: active, middle, and passive. The active and passive voices are used as in English. The middle voice represents the subject as acting in some way that concerns itself,  or as acting upon something that belongs to itself.

[10] Thoralf Gilbrant, The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary, The Complete Biblical Library,  vol., 16 (Springfield, Missouri: 1986). S. v. “4431, sevbomai (sebomai) verb,” author not listed.

[11] The Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, begun some two hundred years before Christ. It is often abbreviated as LXX.

[12] Adjective: masculine, singular, nominative—“fearing God, religious.”

[13] Verb: third person, singular, present, middle,  indicative; from sevbomai: “to feel awe or fear before God, to worship.”

[14] Verb: third person, singular, present, middle, indicative.

[15] See Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17’ 18:7, 13; 19:27.

[16] Verb: third person, plural, passive, indicative, “to fear,” specifically “to have referential awe,” from sebavzomai, sebazomai.

[17] Verb: present, middle, participle, feminine, singular, nominative; from sevbomai (sebomai, “worship; show reverence or respect for”).

[18] Verb: third person, plural, present, middle, indicative.

[19] Verb: present, middle, participle, masculine, plural, genitive.

[20] Verb: present, middle, participle, feminine, plural, accusative.

[21] Verb: present, middle, participle, feminine, singular, nominative.

[22] Verb: present, middle, participle, masculine, plural, genitive.

[23] Verb: present, middle, participle, masculine, plural, dative.

[24] Verb: present, middle, participle, masculine, plural, genitive.

[25] Verb: present, middle, infinitive.

[26] Verb: third person, singular, present, middle, indicative.

[27] Verb: third person, plural, aorist, passive, indicative; from sebavzomai (sebazomai).

[28] Verb: third person, plural, aorist, active, indicative; from latreuvw (latreuw).

[29] Lawrence O. Richards, Expository dictionary of Bible Words (Grand Rapids: Regency, 1985), 640.

[30] Noun: neuter, plural, accusative; from sevbasma, sebasma.

[31] Verb: second person, plural, active, indicative; from eujsebevw, eusebew, “to show piety towards.”

[32] Geoffrey w. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), s.v. “eujsebhv" [eusebhs], eujsevbeia [eusebeia], eujsebejw [eusebew], vol., 7, 177.

[33] Noun: neuter, plural, accusative; from sevbasma, sebasma.

[34] Verb: second person, plural, active, indicative; from eujsebevw, eusebew, “to show piety towards.”

[35] Verb: present, active, infinitive; from eujsebevw (eusebew), “to show piety towards.”

[36] Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., The Complete Biblical Library, The new Testament Greek-English Dictionary (Springfield, Missouri, 1990), s.v. “2332, qrhskeiva, t&rhskeia.” Vol., 13, 121.

[37] James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 293.

[38] See Samuel Bagster & Sons (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 1851); reprint, Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990), 68.

[39] Ibid., 232.

[40] Adjective: Masculine, singular, nominative.

[41] Noun: Feminine, singular, nominative.

[42] Hughes Oliphant Old, Guides to the Reformed Tradition: Worship (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984): 2.

[43] Noun: feminine, singular, dative—“self-willed (arbitrary and unwarranted) piety.”

[44] Gerhard Kittle, ed., and Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translator and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, reprint 1968), s.v. “latreuvw, latreiva,” by Strathmann, 58-59 (page references are to reprint edition).

[45] Ibid., 60.

[46] Ibid.

[47] From latreuvw (latreuw); verb: second person, plural, future active indicative, singular—“to work for hire, to serve; to be bound or enslaved to; to serve gods.”

[48] From latreuvw (latreuw); verb: third person, singular, aorist, active, subjunctive.

[49] From latreiva (latreia); noun: feminine, singular, accusative—“service.”

[50] Strathmann, Theological Dictionary, 62.

[51] From qerapeuvw (t&rapeuw); Verb: third person, plural, present, active, indicative, singular (“to be an attendant, to serve”).

[52] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, nd), 294.

[53] From latreuvw (latreuw); verb: present, active, participle, feminine, singular, nominative (“to serve”).

[54] From douleuvw (douleuw); verb: third person, plural, active, indicative, singular (“to be a slave, to serve”).

[55] From latreuvw (latreuw); verb: present, active, infinitive (“to serve”).

[56] From proskunevw (proskunew); verb: second person, singular, future, active, indicative (“to do reverence to”).

[57] From latreuvw (latreuw); verb: second person, singular, feminine, active, indicative (“to serve”).

[58] From latreuvw (latreuw); verb: present, active, participle, neuter, singular, nominative (“to serve”).

[59] From tuvpo" (tupos); noun: masculine, singular, accusative.

[60] Gary Workman, “What Is Worship,” The Spiritual Sword  24, no. 2 (January 1993): 7.

[61] From naov" (naos); noun: masculine, singular, nominative—“a temple.”

[62] From naov" (vnaos); noun: masculine, singular, accusative.

[63] For a more detailed study of this philosophy, see Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, complete in one volume (New York: Scribner’s and Sons, nd), 11f., 108, 115f., 121-8, 144f., 152f., 241, 309, 338.

[64] See Brad T. Bromling, “True Worship of the Church,” The Spiritual Sword 24, no. 3 (April 1993): 14-16. Following the original publication of this paper (December 15, 1992), Bromling shared with me that he had changed his original views as published in The Spiritual Sword  following my analysis of his article. It is still  necessary to review this article in this revision of my earlier work, since many do not have access to this material as originally published.

[65] Ibid. Please keep in mind that Bromling no longer holds to the views postulated in his article published in The Spiritual Sword; nevertheless, the writers for this journal still  hold to the earlier views of Bromling.

[66] Ibid., 14.

[67] This concept of worship seems to be the thrust of his paper, unless I have misunderstood the point of his argument. If one refers to what Christians do on Sunday morning as “five acts” or “five expression” of worship, I can see no real difference. The question is: Has God ordained a worship service with five expressions of worship to be performed on Sunday morning in order for there to be true worship?

[68] Workman,  “worship,” The Spiritual Sword 24,  no. 2: 7

[69] See Mike Root, Split Grape Juice: Rethinking the Worship[ Tradition  (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1992), 17-26 for an excellent chapter on the myth of dichotomizing worship and service.

[70] Hugo McCord, “Worship,” Firm Foundation 99, no. 22 (June 1, 1982): 10. Emphasis mine.

[71] See L. Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Sacred Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962), 115.

[72] For an excellent explanation of the problems that Christians experience in interpretation, see Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 58.

[73] Bromling, “Worship of the Church,” The Spiritual Sword 24, no. 3 (April 1993): 14. Even though Bromling no longer holds to this position, nevertheless many in this paper still espouse the same understanding as set forth in Bromling’s article. Thus, it is necessary to deal with the philosophy in spite of Bromling’s clearer perception of this subject. This analysis is given in order to help others who are still where Bromling used to be.

[74] Good News Bible: Today’s English Version, American Bible Society, (1992: New York, NY).

 

[75] The Jewish New Testament, (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications) 1996.

 

[76] Peterson, Eugene H., The Message, (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group) 1997.

 

[77] The New American Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) 1997.

 

[78] The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1996.

 

[79] The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.

 

[80] The New Century Version, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing) 1987, 1988, 1991.

 

[81] The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

 

[82]The New Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition, (New York: Doubleday) 1990.

 

[83] The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

 

[84] Bromling, “Worship of the Church,” The Spiritual Sword 24, no. 3 (April 1993): 16.

[85] Workman,  “What Is Worship?” The Spiritual Sword 24, no. 2 (January 1993): 7.

[86] From sevbasma (sebasma); noun: neuter, plural accusative—“an object of worship.”

[87] From eujsebevw (eusebew); verb: second person, plural, active, indicative—“to show piety towards.”

[88] From eujsebevw (eusebew); verb: present, active, infinitive—“to show piety towards.”