Should Jesus be Worshiped?
A Practical Conundrum Facing
Those Who Believe Only the Father is God
[Presented at the Association for Christian Development's One God Seminar held at Akron, Ohio, June, 2006]
I grew up in a tradition that
subscribed to a reactionary Christology. Our opposition to the juggernaut of
evangelical trinitarianism defined us. Unfortunately, the byproduct of theology
by anti-association resulted in an unnecessarily low Christology. In the past,
singing songs to Jesus was prohibited because he cannot hear us. Worship of
Jesus was out of the question because that would be outright idolatry
(worshiping one who is not God). I used to believe that Jesus’ heavenly
ministry was limited to sitting at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews
8.1). However, I have come to realize that he is much more involved in life here
on earth. He baptizes new Christians with holy spirit (Matthew 3.11;
Before I can delve into the conundrum facing unitarians today, the stage must be
set with the paradox that provokes such a question. Jesus was a strict
monotheist who championed the Jewish Creed known as the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4;
What is worship? Is it true that modern worship is limited to singing songs to God/Jesus? Who in the Bible was worshiped? Can one who is not God be worshiped? Isn’t that idolatry? Can I worship the Father with everything and then have anything left to worship someone else? The beauty of the belief that only the Father is God is that it is single hearted. I can devote myself fully to one person. After all, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6.24). How can I honestly fixate upon the one God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength if I am also obliged to worship another? What would Jesus do? Who would he worship? How would he worship? What would he say if someone wanted to worship him today? Isn’t the inevitable result of a strict monotheistic faith strict monotheistic worship? These questions and many others need to be answered by the Socinian community of our time. The orthodox community has no need to raise these questions because their doctrine of God does not require an inspection into this subject. Thus, we go it alone—a quest to determine biblical worship and what it means to the modern monotheist.
The modern use of the word “worship” includes within it the limitation that it is exclusively performed to a deity. This is most likely a result of two factors: (1) the mutation of the word “God” from a title to a name (2) the fact that the three largest religions in the western world (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) claim to be monotheistic.
(1) The biblical definition of
the word “God” is one who is in the role of God to others or one who is mighty.
In fact, humans were called “gods” on several occasions (Genesis 23.6;
(2) Since the three massively popular religions that color American culture are monotheistic, worship is also monotheistic. That is to say, that worship is done to God only. Thus, if you are worshiping Jesus then he must be God (however that works out). One can simply not worship one who is not God without being called a heretic or idolater. Even so, the biblical understanding of worship is much more flexible.
The Old Testament word for “worship” is shachah (hxv); “a primitive root; to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God):--bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.”
This is how
shachah is translated in the
There are two ways in which the word “worship” is used in the Tanakh: general
worship and religious worship. “Adoration proper was expressed by prostration
to the ground, or even by lying prone with the face touching the ground (Genesis
Some examples of general worship—homage paid to someone other than God—are listed below. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a sampling.
The Torah is unwavering in its sole subscription to strict monotheistic worship. The most cherished creed of the Jewish people declares without hesitation or apology, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one!” (Deuteronomy 6.4). This theme repeats throughout the book of Deuteronomy (4.35, 39; 7.9; 10.17-18, 20-21; 32.12, 39; etc.). The inevitable consequence of a strict monotheistic faith is strict monotheistic worship. Although the word “worship” is flexible, the particular kind of worship done to God (religious worship) is exclusive. Consider the texts below that explain that worship/service is to be done to Yahweh alone:
Yahweh is the one to whom the people must cling. If one finger lets loose of Yahweh to grasp for another god, then they are no longer clinging to Him. He wants to be worshiped with all the heart and all the soul—everything. If one worships with everything, there is nothing left for anyone else.
Yahweh is a jealous God. He does not want to share His worship with anyone or anything else. “No injury to God compares with the denial of His uniqueness and the transfer to another of the recognition due to Him. In this light must be understood His references to Himself as a jealous God (Exodus 20.5).” Consider the following texts that demonstrate the forcefulness with which Yahweh demands single-hearted loyalty.
This is no small matter to God. He says that He will wipe them off the face of the earth if they follow other gods. This is not a suggestion. This is a commandment with distinct consequences for disobedience. Out of the twenty-seven texts in Deuteronomy involving worship/service, twenty-one command the people not to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 4.19, 28; 5.9; 7.4, 16; 8.19; 11.16; 12.2, 30; 13.2, 6, 13; 17.3; 28.14, 36, 47, 64; 29.18, 26; 30.17; 31.20).
The evidence from the Torah is overwhelming. Yahweh is God. He is to be worshiped whole-heartedly. The rest of the Old Testament confirms this simple monotheistic service to Yahweh. Even so, many hypothesize that Jesus changed everything. It is to this proposition that we will now turn.
The chief word for worship in the New Testament is proskuneo (proskunew) “meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand; to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore).” In the KJV proskuneo is translated worship each of the sixty times it appears in the NT. However, in the NASB there are some changes made to accommodate the more modern definition of worship as only to deity.
This is how proskuneo is translated in the NASB
The New Testament, although written in Greek, is still a Jewish document (written almost exclusively by Jews). Here as in the OT are found references to general worship. For example, when the magi came to Herod with news that the King of the Jews had been born, he deceitfully asked them to report the new king’s location so that he could “worship” him. The only information that Herod was aware of was that this child was to be the King of the Jews, the long awaited Messiah. It is in this context that Herod feigned that he would prostrate himself to Jesus. Confessing Jesus as God or worshiping as such was not a thought in Herod’s mind.
Furthermore, the Philadelphians are promised that those who are of the synagogue of Satan will be made to “worship” at their feet. This is not to say that Philadelphians are not humans or that the reference is to an angel. Either of these two possibilities is ruled out by the immediate context. Consider the texts below in which the broad sense of proskuneo is used.
The Bible does not cease to believe that only Yahweh is God once the page labeled “The New Testament” is turned. In fact, the believers in the NT confirm and support the ancient Shema. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment (Mark 12.28-30), he could not help but start at Deuteronomy 6.4 as a lead-in to the next verse. This is proof that he accepted and confirmed the Shema without question or hesitation. Did God stop being jealous once Jesus was born?
A text that clarifies who we are to worship can be found in the letter to the Corinthians. “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things, and we exist through him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). The Father, God, created all things. He is the source from which everything, including Jesus, originated. He is the one God, and we are able to come and worship Him through the one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Father made everything, and we experience all things through Christ. The Lord Jesus is eminently important—he is the highest exalted person in the universe next to God. Yet, he himself confessed that the Father was his God. “Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God’’” (John 20:17).
Jesus once discussed this subject with a Samaritan lady. He had been traveling for a long while and was wearied from the journey, so he rested by the well. As he relaxed, a woman came up to draw water. Jesus asked her for a drink, and a conversation began during which the topic of worship arose. The Samaritans believed that they should worship God on Mount Gerizim, while the Jews believed that they should worship in Jerusalem. The woman asked about this because she considered Jesus to be a prophet and because she sincerely wanted to understand why there was such a difference between the two.
John 4.21-24 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
Three times Jesus stated that worship is to be done to the Father. Then in the last sentence, he equated the Father to God. In Jesus’ mind, they were the same. Repeatedly in the Old Testament, religious worship was only to be done to God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 6:13; 8:19; 10:20; 11:16; 13:4; 26:10; Joshua 24:14; 1 Samuel 7:3; Psalm 99:5, 9). Jesus did not change that, but instead brought the worship of Yahweh to the next level.
Furthermore, he explains that God is spirit. “Primarily it here indicates that God is not corporeal [physical or material], and therefore needs no temple.” Jesus is making a categorical statement about God’s substance in order to answer the question about where He should be worshiped. God can be worshiped anywhere because He is not limited to being in one place at a time as all men are. That is to say, location does not matter; truth does. It is very important for us to understand whom to worship. Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
One of Satan’s goals is to divert the worship of Yahweh to himself. He endeavored to do this when he tempted Jesus in the beginning of his ministry. The third temptation (according to Matthew 4) was to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory…if you fall down and worship me [the Devil].” Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to the kingdom. He was willing to fulfill Jesus’ destiny without the need to die on the cross. This must have been very alluring (temptations by definition are appealing), but Jesus put his foot down. He quoted from the Old Testament: “You shall worship Yahweh your God, and serve Him only.” The worship issue was clear for Jesus. He was not about to hedge even for a moment. He would worship only the Father as God. We must do the same.
But what about all of those times when people came up to Jesus and “worshiped” him (Matthew 2.2, 8, 11; 14.33; 15.25; 18.26; 28.9, 17; Luke 24.52; John 9.38 et al.)? Do these references fall under the broad umbrella of the word “worship” or the narrow? Some authorities are willing to admit the worship of Jesus may more properly fit into the broad usage rather than the narrow: “Jairus’ act (Mark 5.22; Luke 8.41) was prompted by intense yearning, a father’s self-abandonment in the sore sickness of his child, and must not be taken as implying a full recognition of Christ’s Divinity.” In fact, several of the times that Jesus is “worshiped,” it is not an act of adoration; rather, it was an act of humility or desperation in an attempt to make a request. A second category of proskuneo done to Jesus was performed as recognition of his kingship. The rest of the times were in the context of understanding or confession that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus is never worshiped as God, but rather as the Son of God—God’s appointed human Messiah (Psalm 2.6-8; 1 Chronicles 17.11-14; Luke 1.31-35).
But, what if the translators think Jesus is God? Then they will translate proskuneo as “worship” rather then “bow down”, effectively steering the modern reader to confession that Jesus is God. The reasoning is circular. Jesus is God, so let’s translate proskuneo worship. Jesus is worshiped; therefore, he must be God.
An enlightening section of Scripture, which I believe clarifies this, can be found in the second Psalm. “Worship Yahweh with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the son, that he not become angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in him!” (Psalm 2.11-12). We are to worship Yahweh and do homage to the son. The Father is the object of our religious fixation. The son is bowed to in reverence of his position and what he has done. In fact, the words “do homage” can be literally translated “kiss.” Like loyal subjects falling on their knees before their king and kissing his hand, we are to come before God’s appointed king—Jesus Christ. This is exactly what these people did in the references listed above. They fell down before their king or before the one who was able to perform healings as an expression of desperation, gratitude, respect, honor, etc. They were not worshiping in our modern usage of the word; but rather, they were paying homage. If I saw Jesus right now, I would likewise fall to the ground out of respect and pay homage to Yahweh’s anointed king.
Every knee will bow to Jesus in reverence and honor (Philippians 2.10), but he is not the object of our religious worship. In fact, the next verse (Philippians 2.11) states that everything is done to the glory of God the Father. It is as if Jesus is in heaven with his finger pointing toward God. Let’s not fixate on his finger, but rather take his cue and look to the “one God and Father of all who is over all through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6)” as our object of religious worship. I have intended herein to begin a discussion on this subject. I do not claim to have exhausted the issue. Our community needs to open an investigation into this practical doctrine. I can only hope that I have helped others to see the issue more clearly and spur some investigation on this subject.
 The American Century Dictionary page 667
 Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon #07812
 New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon #07812
 Hastings Dictionary page 14.
 Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology page 561.
 Strong’s Greek Lexicon #4352
 New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon #4352
 The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 728
 Hasting’s Bible Dictionary page 14.
 Matthew 8.2; 9.18; 15.25; 20.20
 Matthew 2.2, 8, 11; Mark 15.19
 Matthew 14.33; 28.9, 17; Mark 5.6; Luke 24.52; John 9.38; Hebrews 1.6
 This is a remarkable parallel to proskunew because kunew also means to kiss.