Should We Worship Jesus?

The divinity of Jesus is arguably the defining belief of Christianity; it’s what makes us Christian rather than, say, Muslim or Jewish. Because of this, most people are surprised to find out that the New Testament does not explicitly teach this doctrine all that often. Sure, there a handful of passages that apply the title “God” to Jesus (such as John 1:1), but they’re few and far between. Instead, the New Testament authors chose to express their belief in Jesus’ divinity in other ways.

For instance, they sometimes wrote about worshipping Jesus. They told stories about people worshipping him, and they said that we should worship him, too. These kinds of passages are important evidence that the early Christians really did consider him to be God, but the issue is not quite as cut and dry as it may seem at first. The Greek verb that these passages use for “worship” is proskuneo, and it has a wide range of meaning. It can refer to the adoration due to God alone (for example, as in 1 Corinthians 14:25), but it can also refer simply to bowing down in reverence to another created being (for example, as in Matthew 18:26).

As a result, we cannot just point to passages that use the Greek verb proskuneo as evidence of Jesus’ divinity. Rather, we have to look at these texts more closely and see how the authors used that word. We need to find evidence that they were referring to the adoration due to God alone rather than merely bowing down in reverence. While we can’t definitively prove that to be the case every time the New Testament speaks of people worshipping Jesus, there are two passages where it’s quite clear.

Worship in Luke

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, right after Jesus ascends into heaven, we read:

“And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Luke 24:52)

While this verse doesn’t tell us much about the kind of worship/reverence that Jesus’ disciples gave him, the larger context of the entire Gospel of Luke sheds some light on it. Specifically, Luke used this word only one other time in his entire Gospel:

“’If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:7-8)

In this passage, the verb proskuneo (used twice and translated both times as “worship”) clearly refers to the adoration due to God alone. The devil is tempting Jesus in the wilderness, and he wants Jesus to worship him. In response, Jesus quotes a text from the Old Testament that tells us to worship God alone. As a result, when we go back to the end of the Gospel, there’s a good chance that the verb has this same meaning there too. However, this is not decisive, so let’s turn to the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke and intended to be the sequel to his Gospel, and see how he uses the verb there.

Worship in Acts

Just like in Luke’s Gospel, all the instances of the verb proskuneo in Acts also refer to the adoration due to God alone (Acts 7:43, 8:27, 10:25, 24:11). For the most part, these four verses are pretty unremarkable, but there is one exception:

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’” (Acts 10:25-26)

In this passage, we see something very similar to what we read about in Satan’s temptation of Jesus. Again, someone is tempted to worship a creature, and again, Luke tells us (through the mouth of one of the characters in the story) that we should not do this.

At this point, we see a clear pattern. Not only does every other instance of this Greek word in Luke-Acts (the name scholars give to this two-volume work) refer to the adoration due to God alone, but Luke also tells us in both volumes that we are not to worship (proskuneo) any created beings. As a result, it’s clear that for him, the word refers to the adoration due to God alone, not to the kind of reverence we can legitimately give to a mere creature.

Consequently, when we turn back to the end of Luke’s Gospel and see Jesus’ disciples offering him this exact kind of worship, the implication is impossible to miss: Jesus is in fact God. The disciples gave him the adoration due to God alone, and they were not rebuked for this (unlike Satan and Cornelius). We have no other choice but to conclude that they believed him to be God, and Luke agreed.

The Worship of Angels

Let’s turn now to the Letter to the Hebrews, which begins by contrasting Jesus with the angels to prove his superiority. Throughout the entire first chapter, the author quotes Old Testament texts about Jesus and the angels to make this point again and again, and one Old Testament quote in particular is very revealing:

“And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says,
‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” (Hebrews 1:6)

Again, the Greek word translated here as “worship” is proskuneo, so we need to examine this verse closely to see whether it refers to genuine adoration or to mere reverence. To do this, we first need to find its source; we need to see where in the Old Testament this comes from.

When we do that, we find something interesting: the author doesn’t seem to be quoting any single verse. Rather, it looks like he is drawing on two verses, Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7. Both of these passages have phrases that express this same general meaning, and the precise wording of the quote in Hebrews looks like a mix of both of them. While it may not be entirely clear in all English translations, in the original Greek some elements are taken from Deuteronomy 32:43, and some are from Psalm 97:7.

Another interesting piece of this puzzle is that if you look up Deuteronomy 32:43 in your Bible, you probably won’t find the phrase in question. It’s not there in the Hebrew manuscripts of Deuteronomy that most English translations today are based on; rather, it comes from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Greek-speaking Jews and Christians in the first century.

When we look at both of these passages in their original contexts, the object of this worship is clear as day. It’s God. In both Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7, the authors are talking about God, so they are obviously referring to the adoration due to him alone. Consequently, when we turn back to Hebrews, the kind of worship the author had in mind becomes clear as well. By quoting two verses about the worship due to God alone and applying them to Jesus, he was unmistakably teaching that Jesus is to be worshiped as God.

We Should Worship Jesus

From all this, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article should be obvious: yes, we should worship Jesus. He is more than just a creature, so we should not give him the reverence due to other created beings. Rather, according to the New Testament, we should worship him just like we worship God, which leads us to one inevitable conclusion: Jesus is God.

By

JP Nunez has been a theology nerd since high school. He has master's degrees in both theology and philosophy (with a concentration in bioethics) from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and he spent three years in Catholic University of America's doctoral program in biblical studies before realizing that academia isn't where he wants to be. During his time in Steubenville, he worked for two years as an intern at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, where his responsibilities included answering theological questions and helping to format and edit their Journey Through Scripture Bible studies. He blogs at JP Nunez: Understanding the Faith Through Scripture.

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  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    I have no better option.

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