the weblog of Alan Knox

Just Semantics? (Worship)

Posted by on Dec 10, 2008 in discipleship, scripture, worship | 10 comments

In this series, I’m going to discuss various biblical terms that are often misused or misunderstood because of the way we use the English terms today. In other words, we often read our modern day definitions into scriptural words. This is not a valid way to understand Scripture.

In this post, consider the English word “worship”. According to wiktionary, these are common definitions of the word “worship”:

  1. The devotion accorded to a deity or to a sacred object
  2. The religious ceremonies that express this devotion
  3. (by extension) The ardent love of a person

Of course, in “Christian” circles, the word “worship” is often associated with a church meeting (“worship service”) or a portion of that meeting that includes singing (“worship time”) or a type of music (“worship music”). But, what does the word mean when we find it in the New Testament?

The English word “worship” translates two different Greek terms: προσκυνέω (proskuneō) and λατρεύω (latreuō). The first term (προσκυνέωproskuneō) is used in this passage:

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25 ESV)

This term carries the sense of devotion, reverence, or subservience. It is similar to definition #1 above.

The second term for “worship” (λατρεύωlatreuō) is found in this passage:

For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh… (Philippians 3:3 ESV)

This term is related to serving in response to a deity, primarily by serving other people. There is not a corresponding definition in the list above. For example, in Acts 13:1-2, the prophets and teachers in Antioch were worshiping (serving) the Lord.

Notice what is missing? Nothing about a church meeting. Nothing about singing. Nothing about music.

Instead, “worship” in Scripture points to someone who is yielding his life to the Lord and serving the Lord – primarily by serving other people.

Yes, I know that we call our church meeting a “worship service”, but its not really worship and its not really service. In fact, if our life is not demonstrating that we are yielding to God and serving others, then we are not worshiping, regardless of what we call our think we’re doing in our church meetings.

When we read the word “worship” in Scripture and we think about our church meetings, then we are reading modern, illegitimate meanings back into the Scripture. When we do this, we are not understanding Scripture the way the the original authors (and God!) intended for us to understand it.


Just Semantics?
1. Servant
2. Pastor
3. Worship
4. Preach


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-10-2008


    I love the series Alan. The fact is it is more than semantics! These words have huge meanings for us. For example churches split (or now divide the older saints from the younger saints) over “worship” music. We leave churches because we don’t have a good “worship” experience (what does that mean anyway). We have books on the right way to conduct a “worship” service. Pastors stand up in the pulpits and they introduce the singers and say “lets “worship” together”.

    It is funny that when Jesus talks to the woman at the well he never brings up any of these when He says “those who worship”. But hey its just “semantics” right?

  2. 12-10-2008

    Alan, I know your focus is on the New Testament, but what about the Hebrew term(s) for worship? I forget the exact terms off the top of my head, but I’m fairly certain that one of the terms translated “worship” can also mean “serve.” I don’t have time to investigate it all fully, but that would further support this notion.

    Maybe it’s my background, but this word is probably more important and yet misused than the others discussed in this series. Lionel is exactly right about churches splitting people up over music and people leaving because the “worship” wasn’t good. I have a friend who is an amazing pianist, and he played at the church we grew up in. We spent a summer California with Campus Crusade, so an older lady in the church played in his place, and when we got back people were telling him, non-stop, “I’m so glad your back, I just couldn’t ‘worship’ the same without you.” The misuse of this term has severe effects on people’s relationships with God, and in the story I just mentioned, even with other Christians.

    So, good post (and series)!


  3. 12-10-2008


    Without lessening the importance of Christians worshipping together, we must come to understand that, worship, as a follower of Christ, includes the whole of life.

    Worship includes how we use our time, our words, our relationships, our leisure, etc. It includes the way we work, our attitudes towards our employers, our fellow workers, etc. There is no part of the life of a follower of Christ, which is not a part of worship.

  4. 12-10-2008

    not much to add here, but it makes me think of the whole concept of a “worship pastor”, which is kind of a double-wammy when it comes to biblical words that we are reading our own meanings back into… This position is such a bizarre creation of our own imaginations, that not only in worshipping equated with music, but beyond that, we need a special person to “lead” us into worship. It’s weird as I’ve talked more with a few people who are involved with “worship ministry”, the more I’ve realized that today there is actually a pretty elaborate batch of teaching that has evolved around this whole modern concept of worship. It’s almost like a parallel insider-knowledge to that of the preacher, where you essentially have someone acting as a mediator, only in this case they mediate the “worship experience”, instead of the truth found in scripture…. Daniel

  5. 12-10-2008

    I think that much of what passes for “worship” in churches today really hinders our expression of love and devotion to God. There is a tremendous amount of peer pressure among “worshippers” to perform acceptably for the group. That is seen in performance-based church “services” (funny word for an activity that is often critiqued by the audience). Only the musical, the literate, the educated are judged qualified to bring “worship” to God. The rest of us just spectate and go home and worship, where we can pray, sing and enjoy the Lord without feeling inadequate. And we can serve without fear of criticism, too.

  6. 12-10-2008

    Thanks, everyone! You have some good thoughts on worship to continue this discussion.

    Alan Reynolds,

    There are corresponding Hebrew terms that are rougly synonymous with the Greek terms: devotion and service.


  7. 12-10-2008

    Thanks for this post. Much appreciated.

    Question: Is there any place in the N.T. where one of the words for “worship” is used in conjunction with some kind of meeting together?

    Openly displaying a lack of knowledge,
    Brant Hansen

  8. 12-10-2008


    Thanks for the comment. The closest connection that I can find to “worship” and the church meeting is in Acts 13:

    Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping (serving) the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:1-2 ESV)

    By the way… if this is the same Brant Hansen, I enjoy your Kamp Krusty blog. When is Jesus going to blog again?


  9. 12-12-2008

    Thanks, Alan! I’m honored.

    And Jesus is fixin’ to blog again real soon-like. I get no shortage of material for the “If Jesus Had a Blog” series from my radio listeners…tragically.

    And thank you for the answer to my question. That’s fascinating. And so are the other word studies you’re posting. I hope to link to them sometime soon.

    Thankful for you in South Florida,

  10. 12-12-2008


    Thanks for the link. I always look forward to your posts. My son is waiting anxiously for Jesus’ next blog post.