A Reply to a Jehovah’s Witness
A Jehovah’s Witness (JW) by the name Bernard Maina sent the following comment to my article, “Worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ” https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/worshiping-the-lord-jesus-christ/.
The word “proskuneo” has different levels of meaning. A professor of Bible languages at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, wrote that in the King James Version (and other old translations into English) some uses of “worship” may seem to be:
“An unfortunate translation, according to modern English, but justified by the usage of earlier English, according to which to worship meant simply to honor. Worship is WORTHSHIP, or honor paid to dignity or worth. This usage survives in the [British] expressions ‘worshipful and ‘your worship.’ In the marriage-service of the English Church occurs the phrase , ‘With my body I thee worship.’ So Wycliffe [one of the earliest English Bible translators] renders Matthew 19:19. ‘Worship thy Father and thy mother;’ and John 12:26, ‘If any man serve me, my Father shall worship him.’ “- Word Studies in the New Testament, 1996 ed. Vol. 1, Sage software, p. 533, 534.
So, just like the Bible words shachah (Hebrew) and proskuneo (Greek), the word ”worship” in English also, until relatively recently, had various levels of meaning and could be applied to other men in a lower sense of the word. BUT THE VERY SAME WORD ALSO COULD BE USED IN THE HIGHEST SENSE TO APPLY TO THE ONE TRUE GOD ONLY.
Kindly now look at the definition of “proskyneo” according to respected scholars. W.E Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p 1247:
“PROSKYNEO…to make OBEISANCE, do reverence to… is the most frequent word rendered ‘to worship.’ It is used as an act of HOMAGE or REVERENCE
(a) to God….
(b) to Christ….
(c) to a MAN Matthew 18:26.”
“Obeisance, of course shows RESPECT, SUBMISSION, or REVERENCE” – Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1961.
Noted Bible scholar J.H. Thayer defines proskuneo:
”Prop [erly] to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence… hence in the N.T by kneeling in prostration to do HOMAGE (to one) or make OBEISANCE, whether in order to EXPRESS RESPECT or to MAKE SUPPLICATION. It is used
- of homage shown to men of superior rank [position]… Rev. 3:9
b. of homage rendered to God and the ascended Christ, TO HEAVENLY ANGELS.” p.548, Thayer’s Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament, Baker Book House Publishers, 1977.
Whereas both the English “worship” and the Greek “proskyneo” used to have various shades of meaning in the past, today the English word has evolved to have a restricted meaning in reference only to a deity. So a translator has to make sure that a rendering into English of “proskuneo” should convey the proper meaning in current English. That’s what New World Translation has endeavored to do. Its not meant to be disrespectful to Jesus and His Father.
Instead of quoting lexicons to show that proskyneo has several possible meanings depending upon the context, a fact that no informed Christian denies, Maina should have focused the discussion on how the word is employed and defined within the inspired NT documents. With that said, here is a list of all the occurrences of proskyneo within the Christian Greek Scriptures:
God the Father: Matthew 4:10; 18:26; Luke 4:8; John 4:20-24; 12:20; Acts 8:27; 24:11; 1Cor 14:25; Hebrews 11:21; Revelation 4:10; 5:14; 11:1, 16; 14:7; 15:4; 19:4.
The Lord Jesus: Matthew 2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6; 15:19; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; Hebrews 1:6.
Peter: Acts 10:25.
Angels: Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9.
Satan/beast/demons/idols: Matthew 4:9; Luke 4:7; Acts 7:43; Revelation 9:20; 13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4.
This list shows that the only time that proskyneo is ever deemed to be an appropriate response is when it is rendered to God and Christ.
Some may object and claim that Matthew 18:26 and Revelation 3:9 indicate that proskyneo can also be given to others without this being considered a sin against God. On the contrary, a careful reading of both these verses proves otherwise. Note, for instance, the context of Matthew 18:26:
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall MY HEAVENLY FATHER do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Matthew 18:21-35 Authorized King James Version (AV)
It is obvious that the king in the story is meant to be God the Father. As such, the worship (proskyneo) shown unto the king is actually worship directed to God. And here is what Revelation 3:9 says:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” Revelation 3:7-9 AV
Here the risen Lord tells the persecuted believers that he will make those false Jews that were troubling them bow before their feet and worship. However, the text doesn’t say that Christ is making these Jews worship the Christians, but rather that they will be made to worship before or by the feet of these persecuted believers. Worshiping someone and worshiping at someone’s feet is not the same thing, just as the following Christian scholar and apologist explains:
[iii] In John 12:20; Acts 24:11; 1 Corinthians 14:25; Hebrews 11:21, the true God, without further specification, receives worship. Matthew 18:26 also falls in the category of the worship of God, and specifically the Father, for although here the “master” in the Lord Jesus’ parable receives worship, he represents the “heavenly Father” (18:35) to whom sinners owe an immense sin debt greater than any possibility of payment (18:24). While Revelation 3:9 would be the best attempt to affirm that proskyneo does not necessarily refer to genuine worship peculiar to God alone in the New Testament, and the syntax of the verse is comparable to Luke 4:7 and Revelation 15:4 (cf. also Isaiah 45:14; 49:23; 60:14), a strong argument, it is possible that the verse speaks about the ungodly falling down to offer genuine worship to God “before,” that is, in the presence of, the church. The word “before” (enopion) can “pertain to a position in front of an entity, before someone or something” or pertain “to being present or in view, in the sight of, in the presence of, among” someone or something (BDAG). Neither the first, nor especially the second of these common significations (which is found elsewhere in Revelation; cf. 7:11, 15; 13:13; 14:3, 10) for this preposition require that the church itself be the recipient of worship, rather than God in the presence of the assembly. On this view, “I will make them to come and worship before thy feet” (poieso autous hina hexousin kai proskynesousan enopion ton podon sou) does not mean that the church itself received the worship, but that the ungodly will be compelled to come and worship God in the presence of these Christians in the eschatological judgment (Philippians 2:9-11) if they do not repent of their persecuting actions, fall down before them, and worship God in this life (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; cf. also the historical interaction of the church at Philadelphia with Judaism as recorded in Ignatius’ epistle to the Philadelphians 6:1; also note the different preposition in Revelation 22:8, where what is forbidden is John’s action when he epesa proskynesai emprosthen ton podon tou angelou). Also compare Revelation 3:9 to 2 Kings 18:22 kai hoti eipas pros me epi kyrion theon pepoithamen ouchi autos outos ou apestesen Ezekias ta hypsela autou kai ta thusiasteria autou kai eipe to Iouda kai te Ierousalem enopion tou thusiasteriou toutou proskunesete en Ierousalem… “And whereas thou hast said to me, We trust on the Lord God: is not this he, whose high places and altars Ezekias has removed, and has said to Juda and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?” Here the altar is not worshipped, but God is “before” the altar. Just as “before” does not of itself necessitate that the church itself receives the worship, so the connection of “worship” and the “feet” in Revelation 3:9 does not require this position. In Psalm 98:5, “worship the footstool of His feet” does not mean that the footstool itself is worshipped, but God is worshipped at the place where His “feet” are (cf. Psalm 131:7, LXX); God, not the footstool for the feet, receives the worship. Similarly (although with a different preposition), when “Jacob … worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff,” the word leaning is properly supplied, for the Greek prosekynesen epi to akron tes rhabdou autou does not by any means signify that Jacob worshipped his staff.
The conclusion that the worship of Revelation 3:9 is directed to God in the presence of the church is syntactically defensible. Since Revelation 19:10; 22:9, specifically forbid worship (proskyneo) of the created order, and the command is given to only “worship God,” it would seem out of place to conclude that worship is given to humans in Revelation 3:9. Thus, the conclusion that 3:9 refers to the worship of God in the presence of the members of the church, thus vindicating their faith, is to be preferred, and no exception to the rule that worship with proskyneo is properly rendered to God alone is found in the New Testament. (Thomas Ross, Does the Son of God Receive Worship? http://faithsaves.net/son-of-god-worship/)
In light of this, since the NT clearly affirms that proskyneo is to be rendered to God ALONE,
“And Jesus answered him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”’” Luke 4:8
“I, John, am he who saw and heard these things. When I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, ‘See that you not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’” Revelation 22:8-9
And since the Lord Jesus receives proskyneo according to the inspired Christian scriptures,
“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” Matthew 14:33
“And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.” Matthew 28:9
“And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,” Mark 5:1-6
And continued to receive proskyneo even after his physical, bodily ascension into heaven:
“While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. Then they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,” Luke 24:51-52
Christ must therefore be Jehovah God in the flesh. This explains why the NT takes OT texts that speak of the worship that Jehovah receives, or shall receive, and applies them to the risen Christ. Case in point:
“And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Hebrews 1:6
Interestingly, the 1970 revised edition of the New World Translation translated proskyneo here as worship as opposed to obeisance:
“But when again he brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: “And let all God’s angels WORSHIP him.”
And this is what Vine’s states regarding this passage:
A — 1: προσκυνέω
(Strong’s #4352 — Verb — proskuneo — pros-koo-neh’-o )
“to make obeisance, do reverence to” (from pros, “towards,” and kuneo, “to kiss”), is the most frequent word rendered “to worship.” It is used of an act of homage or reverence (a) to God, e.g., Matthew 4:10; John 4:21-24; 1 Corinthians 14:25; Revelation 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:10 (2nd part); 22:9; (b) to Christ, e.g., Matthew 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9,17; John 9:38; Hebrews 1:6, in a quotation from the Sept. of Deuteronomy 32:43, referring to Christ’s Second Advent; (c) to a man, Matthew 18:26; (d) to the Dragon, by men, Revelation 13:4; (e) to the Beast, his human instrument, Revelation 13:4,8,12; 14:9,11; (f) the image of the Beast, Revelation 13:15; 14:11; 16:2; (g) to demons, Revelation 9:20; (h) to idols, Acts 7:43.
Note: As to Matthew 18:26, this is mentioned as follows, in the “List of readings and renderings preferred by the American Committee” (see RV Classes of Passages, IV): “At the word ‘worship’ in Matthew 2:2, etc., add the marginal note ‘The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to man (see chap. Matthew 18:26) or to God (see chap. Matthew 4:10)’.” The Note to John 9:38 in the American Standard Version in this connection IS MOST UNSOUND; it implies that Christ was a creature. J. N. Darby renders the verb “do homage” [see the Revised Preface to the Second Edition (1871) of his New Translation]. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/view.cgi?n=3398
Vine’s asserts that Hebrews 1:6 is quoting the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:43, a fact that is also admitted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses since a footnote in the 1984 edition of the New World Translation http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/bi12/books/, cross-references Hebrews 1:6 with this verse from Deuteronomy http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/bi12/books/hebrews/1/#v58001006.
With that in mind, here is how the Septuagint renders Deuteronomy 32:43 http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/chapter.asp?book=5&page=32:
“Rejoice, you heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him (kai proskynesatosan auto pantes angeloi theou); rejoice you Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.”
Here we have the entire heavenly host being commanded to worship Jehovah God, a worship that is then ascribed to the risen Lord of glory!
This particular reading is not found in the later Masoretic version of the Old Testament, but is supported by the Hebrew textual tradition underlying the Dead Sea Scrolls:
“Rejoice, O heavens, together with him, and bow down to him all you gods, for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and will render vengeance to his enemies, and will recompense those who hate him and will atone for the land of his people.” (Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, translated and with commentary by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint & Eugene Ulrich [HarperCollins, paperback edition: October 22, 2002], p. 193; underline emphasis ours)
This means that Hebrews has basically taken a passage concerning the worship that the angels are to give unto to Jehovah, and ascribed that to the Son, thereby proving that Jesus is worshiped as God Almighty.
This is further brought out by the fact that the inspired writer cites the following Psalm, which describes Jehovah God as the unchanging Creator and Sustainer of all creation,
“O Jehovah, hear my prayer; Let my cry for help reach you… But you remain forever, O Jehovah, And your fame will endure for all generations… I said: ‘O my God, Do not do away with me in the middle of my life, You whose years span all generations. Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth, And the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; Just like a garment they will all wear out. Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will pass away. But you are the same, and your years will never end.” Psalm 102:1, 12, 24-27 New World Translation (NWT)
And applies it to Christ!
“And: ‘At the beginning, O Lord [the Son], you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; and just like a garment, they will all wear out, and you will wrap them up just as a cloak, as a garment, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never come to an end.’” Hebrews 1:10-12 NWT
Thus, the author has the Father addressing the Son with the words of the Psalmist, which he could only do so if he believed that Jesus is truly Jehovah God Almighty (even though he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit)!
Paul does something similar in Philippians since he alludes to a fiercely monotheistic passage where Jehovah swears that every knee will bow and every tongue shall swear allegiance to him,
“Make your report, present your case. Let them consult together in unity. Who foretold this long ago And declared it from times past? Is it not I, Jehovah? There is no other God but me; A righteous God and a Savior, there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, For I am God, and there is no one else. By myself I have sworn; The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness, And it will not return: To me every knee will bend, Every tongue will swear loyalty.” Isaiah 45:21-23 NWT
And applies it to the worship that every creature must give to the risen Jesus in recognition of his being Jehovah in the flesh:
“Therefore God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
That’s not all we find concerning the worship given to the risen Lord. The Holy Spirit granted the Apostle John a vision where the latter saw every created being in existence worshiping Christ in the exact same manner that they worshiped the Father!
“When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, and each one had a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense. (The incense means the prayers of the holy ones.) And they sing a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.’ And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, and they were saying with a loud voice: ‘The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’ And I heard EVERY CREATURE in heaven and on earth and underneath the earth and on the sea, AND ALL THINGS IN THEM, saying: ‘To the One sitting on the throne AND TO THE LAMB be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.’ The four living creatures were saying: ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and WORSHIPPED.” Revelation 5:8-14 New World Translation (NWT)
Now this creates (pun intended) a major problem for JWs like Maina. The fact that Christ is distinguished from every created being in existence shows that he is no mere creature, but is separate and distinct from the entire creation. John places Jesus on the Creator side of the Creator/creature divide. Christ being worshiped by the entire creation in the same way that the Father is worshiped reinforces this point, since this would be a blatant act of idolatry if he were not coequal with the Father in essence, glory and honor.
This leads me to my final point. Our Lord himself plainly testified that it is the express will of God for every creature to grant the Son the same exact honor that is supposed to be given to the Father:
“For the Father judges no one at all, but he has entrusted all the judging to the Son, so that all may honor the Son JUST AS they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” John 5:22-23 NWT
This not only explains why Christ could be given the exact worship that the Father receives, but also helps us understand why the first Christians prayed to the risen Jesus,
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59-60
“But An·a·niʹas answered: ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, about all the harm he did to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to arrest all those calling on your name.’… and immediately in the synagogues he began to preach about Jesus, that this one is the Son of God. But all those hearing him were astonished and were saying: ‘Is this not the man who ravaged those in Jerusalem who call on this name? Did he not come here for the purpose of arresting them and taking them to the chief priests?’” Acts 9:13-14, 20-21 NWT
“to the congregation of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in union with Christ Jesus, called to be holy ones, together with all those everywhere who are calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” 1 Corinthians 1:2 NWT
In the same exact manner that the OT saints prayed to Jehovah Almighty:
“Into your hand I entrust my spirit. You have redeemed me, O Jehovah, the God of truth.” Psalm 31:5 NWT
“Exalt Jehovah our God and bow down at his footstool; He is holy. Moses and Aaron were among his priests, And Samuel was among those calling on his name. They would call to Jehovah, And he would answer them. He would speak to them from the pillar of cloud. They kept his reminders and the decree that he gave to them.” Psalm 99:5-7 NWT
“Then the dust returns to the earth, just as it was, and the spirit returns to the true God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 NWT
With the foregoing in view, could the NT documents be any clearer that Jesus receives the worship that is due to God alone since he is Jehovah God Almighty in the flesh (even though he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit)?
Unless indicated otherwise, all scriptural references taken from the Modern English Version of the Holy Bible (MEV).