Worship Defined

The word worship is most often a translation of the Greek word προσκυνέω. In the New Testament and the Septuagint, its most basic meaning is “to bow down or prostrate oneself.” It is most often used in the Book of Revelation, but the gospel accounts utilize the word quite a bit. In Acts, it is used in reference to idolatry worship (the first use is in Acts 7:43), temple worship at Jerusalem (Acts 8:27; 24:11), and of Cornelius bowing down at Peter’s feet (Acts 10:25). Paul uses the word either one or three times depending on the authorship of Hebrews: 1 Corinthians 14:24, Hebrews 1:6, and Hebrews 11:21. Only one of these is in reference to the Christian assembly, but, even then, it is in regards to an unbeliever acknowledging the presence of God: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

Besides this Greek word, which is in most cases (60 of the 70 instances), there are eight other words translated worship: σέβω (“to show reverence for”), λατρεία (“temple service; worship”), λατρεύω, σέβασμα (“object of worship”), προσκυνητής (“worshipper”), εὐσεβέω (“worship”), σεβάζομαι (“worship”), and θρησκεία (“worship”).

In the below slideshow, right-click and select “view image” to get a larger version of each word study if you would like to read the individual references.

Outside the book of Revelation, there are two times that the word worship is used in reference to Christian worship: Romans 12:1 and Philippians 3:3. In both instances, a word from the same family is used: λατρεύω. Below are references in which the Greek word (often translated serve) is used concerning Christianity:

λατρεία

 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

λατρεύω

“But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14).

“For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you” (Romans 1:9).

“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3).

“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).

“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

In the above verses, we learn that one’s daily life is service to God. We offer up the sacrifices of dedication to Him and love towards one another through our actions. It is also seen that Paul served (or worshiped) God daily in prayer during the day and at night. Nowhere is this word used in the context of an assembly that takes place on the first day of the week in which five acts are performed. What we often call “worship service” is not actually found in the New Testament at all. Elements of it are, but worship is not confined to a one-hour period on Sunday. As priests in God’s kingdom, we continually serve Him in the most holy place as we pray without ceasing (Hebrews 10:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

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