- wur'-ship (Anglo-Saxon: weorthscipe, wyrthscype, "honor," from weorth, wurth, "worthy," "honorable," and scipe, "ship"):
2. Old Testament Worship
3. New Testament Worship
4. Public Christian Worship
Honor, reverence, homage, in thought, feeling, or act, paid to men, angels, or other "spiritual" beings, and figuratively to other entities, ideas, powers or qualities, but specifically and supremely to Deity.
The principal Old Testament word is shachah, "depress," "bow down," "prostrate" (Hithpael), as in Ex 4:31, "bowed their heads and worshipped"; so in 94 other places. The context determines more or less clearly whether the physical act or the volitional and emotional idea is intended. The word is applied to acts of reverence to human superiors as well as supernatural. the Revised Version (British and American) renders it according to its physical aspect, as indicated by the context, "bowed himself down" (the King James Version "worshipped," Gen 24:52; compare 23:7; 27:29, etc.).
Other words are: caghadh, "prostrate," occurring in Isa 44:15,17,19; 46:6, but rendered (English Versions of the Bible) "fall down." In Dan 2:46; 3:5,6,7,10,15,18,28, it (Aramaic ceghidh) is "worship" (English Versions of the Bible), 7 times associated with "falling down" and 5 times with "serve." `abhadh, "work," "labor," "serve," is rendered "worship" by English Versions of the Bible in 2 Ki 10:19,21 ff: "the worshippers (servants) of Baal." In Isa 19:21 the Revised Version (British and American) has "worship with sacrifice and oblation" (the King James Version "do sacrifice"). Isa 19:23 the King James Version has "served," the Revised Version (British and American) "worship." `atsabh, "carve," "fabricate," "fashion," is once given "worship," i.e. "make (an object of) worship" (Jer 44:19, the American Revised Version margin "portray").
The Old Testament idea is therefore the reverential attitude of mind or body or both, combined with the more generic notions of religions adoration, obedience, service.
The principal New Testament word (59 times) is proskuneo, "kiss (the hand or the ground) toward," hence, often in the oriental fashion bowing prostrate upon the ground; accordingly, Septuagint uses it for the Hithpael of shachah (hishtachawah), "prostrate oneself." It is to render homage to men, angels, demons, the Devil, the "beast," idols, or to God. It is rendered 16 times to Jesus as a beneficent superior; at least 24 times to God or to Jesus as God. The root idea of bodily prostration is much less prominent than in the Old Testament. It is always translated "worship."
Next in frequency is sebomai, "venerate," and its various cognates, sebazomai, eusebeo, theosebes, sebasma. Its root is sebas, "fear," but this primitive meaning is completely merged into "reverence," "hold in awe": "In vain do they worship me" (Mt 15:9, etc.). latreuo, is "serve" (religiously), or "worship publicly," "perform sacred services," "offer gifts," "worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for His worship." It is translated "worship" in Acts 7:42; 24:14 the King James Version, but "serve," American Standard Revised Version: "serve the host of heaven," "serve I the God of our fathers"; but both the King James Version and the American Standard Revised Version render Phil 3:3, "worship by the Spirit of God," and Heb 10:2, "the worshippers," the context in the first two being general, in the second two specific. In 2 Tim 1:3 and many other cases both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) give "serve," the meaning not being confined to worship; but compare Lk 2:37 Revised Version: "worshipping (the King James Version "served") with fastings and supplications." Rom 1:25 gives both sebazomai and latreuo in their specific meanings: "worshipped (venerated) and served (religiously,) the creature." doxa, "glory" (Lk 14:10, King James Version: "Thou shalt have worship," is a survival of an old English use, rightly discarded in the Revised Version (British and American)). threskeia (Col 2:18), "a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels" (the American Revised Version margin "an act of reverence"), has the root idea of trembling or fear. therapeuo, "serve," "heal," "tend" (Acts 17:25, King James Version: "neither is worshipped by men's hands"), is "served" in the Revised Version (British and American), perhaps properly, but its close connection with "temples made with hands" makes this questionable. neokoros, "temple-sweepers," "temple-keeper" (Acts 19:35), has its true meaning in the Revised Version (British and American), but "worshipper" is needed to complete the idea, in our modern idiom.
In the Apocrypha the usage is the same as in the New Testament, the verbs used being, in the order of their frequency, proskuneo, sebomai, threskeuo, and latreuo.
The New Testament idea of worship is a combination of the reverential attitude of mind and body, the general ceremonial and religious service of God, the feeling of awe, veneration, adoration; with the outward and ceremonial aspects approaching, but not reaching, the vanishing point. The total idea of worship, however, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, must be built up, not from the words specifically so translated, but also, and chiefly, from the whole body of description of worshipful feeling and action, whether of individuals singly and privately, or of larger bodies engaged in the public services of sanctuary, tabernacle, temple, synagogue, upper room or meeting-place.
Space permits no discussion of the universality of worship in some form, ranging from superstitious fear or fetishism to the highest spiritual exercise of which man is capable; nor of the primary motive of worship, whether from a desire to placate, ingratiate, or propitiate some higher power, or to commune and share with him or it, or express instinctive or purposed devotion to him. On the face of the Bible narratives, the instinct of communion, praise, adoring gratitude would seem to be the earliest moving force (compare Gen 4:3,4, Cain, Abel; Rom 1:18-25, the primitive knowledge of God as perverted to creature-worship; Gen 8:20, Noah's altar; and Gen 12:7, Abram's altar). That propitiation was an early element is indicated probably by Abel's offering from the flock, certainly by the whole system of sacrifice. Whatever its origin, worship as developed in the Old Testament is the expression of the religious instinct in penitence, prostration, adoration, and the uplift of holy joy before the Creator.
2. Old Testament Worship:
In detail, Old Testament worship was individual and private, though not necessarily secret, as with Eliezer (Gen 24:26 f), the expression of personal gratitude for the success of a mission, or with Moses (Ex 34:8), seeking God's favor in intercessory prayer; it was sometimes, again, though private, in closest association with others, perhaps with a family significance (Gen 8:20, Noah; Gen 12:7; 22:5, Abraham: "I and the lad will go yonder; and .... worship"); it was in company with the "great congregation," perhaps partly an individual matter, but gaining blessing and force from the presence of others (Ps 42:4: "I went with the throng .... keeping holyday"); and it was, as the national spirit developed, the expression of the national devotion (1 Ch 29:20: "And all the assembly .... worshipped Yahweh, and the king"). In this public national worship the truly devout Jew took his greatest delight, for in it were inextricably interwoven together, his patriotism, his sense of brotherhood, his feeling of solidarity, his personal pride and his personal piety.
The general public worship, especially as developed in the Temple services, consisted of: (1) Sacrificial acts, either on extraordinary occasions, as at the dedication of the Temple, etc., when the blood of the offerings flowed in lavish profusion (2 Ch 7:5), or in the regular morning and evening sacrifices, or on the great annual days, like the Day of Atonement. (2) Ceremonial acts and posture of reverence or of adoration, or symbolizing the seeking and receiving of the divine favor, as when the high priest returned from presenting incense offering in the holy place, and the people received his benediction with bowed heads, reverently standing (2 Ch 7:6), or the worshippers prostrated themselves as the priests sounded the silver trumpets at the conclusion of each section of the Levites' chant. (3) Praise by the official ministrants of the people or both together, the second probably to a very limited extent. This service of praise was either instrumental, silver "trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music," or it might be in vocal song, the chant of the Levites (very likely the congregation took part in some of the antiphonal psalms); or it might be both vocal and instrumental, as in the magnificent dedicatory service of Solomon (2 Ch 5:13), when "the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking Yahweh." Or it might be simply spoken: "And all the people said, Amen, and praised Yahweh" (1 Ch 16:36). How fully and splendidly this musical element of worship was developed among the Hebrews the Book of Ps gives witness, as well as the many notices in Chronicles (1 Ch 15; 16; 25; 2 Ch 5; 29; 30, etc.). It is a pity that our actual knowledge of Hebrew music should be so limited. (4) Public prayer, such as is described in Dt 26, at the dedication of the Temple (2 Ch 6, etc.), or like Psalms 60; 79; 80. Shorter forms, half praise, half prayer, formed a part of the service in Christ's time. (5) The annual feasts, with their characteristic ceremonies.
See PASSOVER; TABERNACLE; etc. Places of worship are discussed under ALTAR; HIGH PLACE; SANCTUARY; TABERNACLE; TEMPLE, etc.
3. New Testament Worship:
In the New Testament we find three sorts of public worship, the temple-worship upon Old Testament lines, the synagogue-worship, and the worship which grew up in the Christian church out of the characteristic life of the new faith. The synagogue-worship, developed by and after the exile, largely substituted the book for the symbol, and thought for the sensuous or object appeal; it was also essentially popular, homelike, familiar, escaping from the exclusiveness of the priestly service. It had four principal parts: (1) the recitation of the shema`, composed of Dt 6:4-9; 11:13-21, and Nu 15:37-41, and beginning, "Hear (shema`), O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh"; (2) prayers, possibly following some set form, perhaps repeating some psalm; (3) the reading by male individuals of extracts from the Law and the Prophets selected by the "ruler of the synagogue," in later years following the fixed order of a lectionary, as may have been the case when Jesus "found the place"; (4) the targum or condensed explanation in the vernacular of the Scriptures read.
It is questioned whether singing formed a part of the service, but, considering the place of music in Jewish religious life, and its subsequent large place in Christian worship, it is hard to think of it as absent from the synagogue.
4. Public Christian Worship:
Public Christian worship necessarily developed along the lines of the synagogue and not the temple, since the whole sacrificial and ceremonial system terminated for Christianity with the life and death of Jesus. The perception of this, however, was gradual, as was the break of Jewish Christians with both synagogue and temple. Jesus Himself held the temple in high honor, loved to frequent it as His Father's house, reverently observed the feasts, and exhibited the characteristic attitude of the devout but un-Pharisaic Israelite toward the temple and its worship. Yet by speaking of Himself as "greater than the temple" (Mt 12:6) and by quoting, Hos 6:6, "I desire goodness and not sacrifice," He indicated the relative subordinateness of the temple and its whole system of worship, and in His utterance to the woman of Samaria He intimated the abolition both of the whole idea of the central sanctuary and of the entire ceremonial worship: "Neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father"; "They that worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:21,24). His chief interest in the temple seems to have been as a "house of prayer" and an opportunity to reach and touch the people. We cannot help feeling that with all His love for the holy precincts, He must have turned with relief from the stately, formal, distant ceremonial of the temple, partly relieved though it was by the genuine religious passion of many worshippers, to the freer, more vital, closer heart-worship of the synagogue, loaded though that also was with form, tradition, ritual and error. Here He was a regular and reverent attendant and participant (Mk 1:21,39; 3:1; 6:2; Lk 6:6). Jesus did not Himself prescribe public worship for His disciples, no doubt assuming that instinct and practice, and His own spirit and example, would bring it about spontaneously, but He did seek to guard their worship from the merely outward and spectacular, and laid great emphasis on privacy and real "innerness" in it (Mt 6:1-18, etc.). Synagogue-worship was probably not abandoned with Pentecost, but private brotherhood meetings, like that in the upper chamber, and from house to house, were added. The young church could hardly have "grown in favor with the people," if it had completely withdrawn from the popular worship, either in temple or synagogue, although no attendance on the latter is ever mentioned. Possibly the Christians drew themselves together in a synagogue of their own, as did the different nationalities. The reference in James: "if there come unto your synagogue" (2:2), while not conclusive, since "synagogue" may have gained a Christian significance by this time, nevertheless, joined with the traditions concerning James's ascetic zeal and popular repute, argues against such a complete separation early. Necessarily with the development into clearness of the Christian ideas, and with the heightening persecution, together with the hard industrial struggle of life, the observance of the Jewish Sabbath in temple or synagogue, and of the Christian's Lord's Day, grew incompatible. Yet the full development of this must have been rather late in Paul's life. Compare his missionary tactics of beginning his work at the synagogue, and his custom of observing as far as possible the Jewish feasts (Acts 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8). Our notions of the worship of the early church must be constructed out of the scattered notices descriptive of different stages in the history, and different churches present different phases of development. The time was clearly the Lord's Day, both by the Jewish churches (Jn 20:19,26) and by the Greek (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) The daily meeting of Acts 2:46 was probably not continued, no mention occurring later.
There are no references to yearly Christian festivals, though the wide observance in the sub-apostolic period of the Jewish Passover, with references to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and of Pentecost to commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit, argues for their early use. The place was of course at first in private houses, and the earliest form of Christian church architecture developed from this model rather than the later one of the basilica. 1 Corinthians gives rather full data for the worship in this free and enthusiastic church. It appears that there were two meetings, a public and a private. The public worship was open, informal and missionary, as well as edificatory. The unconverted, inquirers and others, were expected to be present, and were frequently converted in the meeting (1 Cor 14:24). It resembled much more closely, an evangelical "prayer and conference meeting" of today than our own formal church services. There is no mention of official ministrants, though the meeting seems to have been under some loose guidance. Any male member was free to take part as the Spirit might prompt, especially in the line of his particular "spiritual gift" from God, although one individual might have several, as Paul himself. Largely developed on synagogue lines, but with a freedom and spirit the latter must have greatly lacked, it was composed of: (1) Prayer by several, each followed by the congregational "Amen." (2) Praise, consisting of hymns composed by one or another of the brethren, or coming down from the earlier days of Christian, perhaps Jewish, history, like the Benedictus, the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, etc. Portions of these newer hymns seem to be imbedded here and there in the New Testament, as at Rev 5:9-13: "Worthy art thou," etc. (compare Rev 15:3; 11:17, etc.); also: "He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory" (1 Tim 3:16). Praise also might take the form of individual testimony, not in metrical form (1 Cor 14:16). (3) Reading of the Scripture must have followed, according to the synagogue model. Paul presupposes an acquaintance with the Old Testament Scriptures and the facts of Jesus' life, death, resurrection. Instructions to read certain epistles in the churches indicate the same. (4) Instruction, as in 1 Cor 2:7; 6:5, teaching for edification. (These passages, however, may not have this specific reference.) (5) Prophesying, when men, believed by themselves and by the church to be specially taught by the Holy Spirit, gave utterance to His message. At Corinth these crowded on one another, so that Paul had to command them to speak one at a time. (6) Following this, as some believe, came the "speaking with tongues," perhaps fervent and ejaculatory prayers "so rugged and disjointed that the audience for the most part could not understand" until someone interpreted. The speaking with tongues, however, comprised praise as well as prayer (1 Cor 14:16), and the whole subject is enshrouded in mystery. See TONGUES, GIFT OF. (7) The meeting closed with the benediction and with the "kiss of peace."
The "private service" may have followed the other, but seems more likely to have been in the evening, the other in the morning. The disciples met in one place and ate together a meal of their own providing, the agape, or love feast, symbolizing their union and fellowship, preceded or followed by prayers (Didache x), and perhaps interspersed by hymns. Then the "Lord's Supper" itself followed, according to the directions of the apostle (1 Cor 11:23-28).
How far "Christian worship" was "Christian" in the sense of being directly addressed to Christ, is not easily answered. We must not read into their mental content the fully developed Christology of later centuries, but it is hard to believe that those who had before them Thomas' adoring exclamation, "My Lord and my God!" the saying of the first martyr, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," the dictum of the great apostle, "Who, existing in the form of God," the utterances of He, "And let all the angels of God worship him," "Thy throne, O God, is forever and forever," and, later, the prologue of Jn, and the ascriptions of praise in the Apocalypse, could have failed to bow down in spirit before Jesus Christ, to make known their requests through Him, and to lift up their adoration in song to Him, as according to Pliny's witness, 112 AD, "they sing a hymn to Christ as God." The absolutely interchangeable way in which Paul, for instance, applies "Lord" in one breath to the Father, to the Old Testament Yahweh, and to Jesus Christ (Rom 10:11,13; 14:4,6,8,11,12, etc.) clearly indicates that while God the Father was, as He must be, the ultimate and principal object of worship, the heart and thought of God's New Testament people also rested with adoring love on Him who is "worthy .... to receive the power and riches and wisdom, and might, and glory, and honor and blessing." The angel of the Apocalypse would not permit the adoration of the seer (Rev 22:9), but Jesus accepts the homage of Thomas, and in the Fourth Gospel declares it the duty of all to "honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (Jn 5:23).
The classical passages for Christian worship are Jn 4:23,24, culminating in (margin): "God is spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth," and Phil 3:3, "who worship by the Spirit of God." These define its inner essence, and bar out all ceremonial or deputed worship whatever, except as the former is, what the latter can never be, the genuine and vital expression of inner love and devotion. Anything that really stimulates and expresses the worshipful spirit is so far forth a legitimate aid to worship, but never a substitute for it, and is harmful if it displaces it. Much, perhaps most, stately public worship is as significant to God and man as the clack of a Thibetan prayer-mill. The texts cited also make of worship something far deeper than the human emotion or surrender of will; it is the response of God's Spirit in us to that Spirit in Him, whereby we answer "Abba, Father," deep calling unto deep. Its object is not ingratiation, which is unnecessary, nor propitiation, which has been made "once for all," nor in any way "serving" the God who `needeth not to be worshipped with men's hands' (Acts 17:25), but it is the loving attempt to pay our unpayable debt of love, the expression of devoted hearts, "render(ing) as bullocks the offering of our lips" (Hos 14:2). For detail it is not a physical act or material offering, but an attitude of mind: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit"; "sacrifices of praise, with which God is well pleased"; not the service of form in an outward sanctuary, the presentation of slain animals, but the service of love in a life: "Present your bodies a living sacrifice"; not material sacrifices, but spiritual: your rational "service"; not the service about an altar of stone or wood, but about the sanctuary of human life and need; for this is true religion ("service," "worship," threskeia), "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction"; not the splendor of shining robes or the sounding music of trumpets or organs, but the worshipping glory of holy lives; in real fact, "hallowing Thy name," "and keeping oneself unspotted from the world." The public worship of God in the presence of His people is a necessity of the Christian life, but in spiritual Christianity the ceremonial and outward approaches, if it does not quite reach, the vanishing point.
BDB; Thayer's New Testament Lexicon under the word; arts; on "Praise," "Worship," "Temple," "Church," "Prayer," in HDB, DB, New Sch-Herz, DCG; Commentaries on Psalms, Chronicles, Corinthians; Weizsacker, The Apostolic Age of the Church, II; Pfleiderer, Das Urchristenthum (English translation); Leoning, Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums; Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Service, as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ, and Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Hort, The Christian Ecclesia; Lindsay, Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries; McGiffert, A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age.
Philip Wendell Crannell