What is the Meaning of Proskuneo?

1868 191 A correspondent sends a paper which censures J. N. Darby's translation on the ground that "when direct to God the Father, in every instance, he has the word 'worship' in his New Translation;" "in every instance where the Lord Jesus is worshipped, he has used the word 'homage.'" This is supposed to "need no comment." Nevertheless, comment is added; namely, that our Lord Jesus is looked upon in a subordinate or lower sense than God the Father; especially as where the creature is in question, the translator, "in nearly every instance, has used the word 'homage.'"

Such insinuations it would be almost as foolish to discuss as it was wrong to feel and express them. For in these evil days, I do not wonder at any attacks on that which is good. But it is impossible to conceive remarks more gratuitous than such criticism. Two qualities combined can alone account for them — malice and ignorance, equally intense and without excuse.

Matt. 4:10, the first instance given in the first list, refutes the calumny. The citation in answer to the devil is translated, "Thou shalt do homage to the Lord thy God," etc. Now here it is a question of adoration direct to God the Father; yet Mr. D. has "do homage." This is the opening proof that "in every instance" he has the word "worship" when direct to God the Father! Honesty may be prejudiced, but no honest man that understands the words in English, not to speak of Greek, can avoid seeing that the charge is false; and that the inculpated version gives pr. the sense of doing "homage" where God is distinctly and exclusively spoken of.

If the first instance proves exactly the contrary of what it was intended to illustrate, the second (Matt. 15:9) will sound quite as strange to any one who knows a word of the Greek Testament. The Englishman's Greek Concordance is referred to at the end of the second list; but this too, of course, rises up to rebuke this false witness. There is no form whatever of proskuneo in the verse. That which answers to "worship" here is a wholly different word, sebontai.

The third (Luke 4:8) is the passage parallel to Matt. 4:10, and simply repeats that which exposes not Mr. D., but his adversary.

John 4 gives several cases where all agree in translating pr. "worship;" and so of course Acts 8:27, and 24:11.

The next cases repeat old and add new blunders, by successive texts where pr. does not occur! In Acts 16:14 it is sebomene, in Acts 17:25 it is therapeuetai, in Acts 18:13 it is sebesthai, and in Acts 24:14 it is latreuo (and similarly in Heb. 10:2). This may suffice for the first list.

But perhaps as glaring a proof as can be of total absence of candour appears in the removal of Rev. 4:10 and Rev. 5:14 from their true place in the first list in order to eke out a fresh calumny in the second. For it is evident that He who sits on the throne in Rev. 4, 5, is not the Son as such in contradistinction from the Father, but expressly the Lord God Almighty, from whose right hand the Lamb, in chapter 5, takes the sealed book. Yet these are the texts with which the unworthy effort is wound up to make it appear that in every instance where the Lord Jesus is worshipped, J. N. D. has used the word "homage;" and in every instance where God is worshipped, he has retained the word "worship!" The truth is that in the two scenes of heavenly adoration in Rev. 4, 5 Mr. D. gives "homage" and not worship. Yet none but the most ignorant can deny that Almighty God as such is the object, in Rev. 4 alone, and in Rev. 5 conjointly with the Lamb (if we receive the correct critical text, which Mr. D. does).

Lastly, to show the ill-will of the third list (which is intended to prove that Mr. D. always uses "homage" where the creature is the object), it is enough to state that Rev. 19:10 is by folly or fraud left out here, though twice inserted in the first list. Thus the use and non-use is doubly false. For Mr. D.'s version of that verse gives the term "worship" (with an asterisk "* Or, 'do him homage'") where the creature or angel is concerned; and it says "worship God" (without giving the alternative of homage) where He is named. There is the usual heap of mistakes in this list besides; but we may safely refrain from further exposure. I have given enough to demonstrate that all three lists are untrustworthy; and I doubt that any amount of ignorance could have so erred without deliberate malice.

Any man who, knowing J. N. D., or having read his writings, can let party-spirit impute to him a lowering of the Lord Jesus to the condition of the creature, or a denial of divine honour and adoration equally with the Father, is beyond the reach of conviction by evidence. What I have said will satisfy others that his detractors are no way scrupulous. Why for instance does the second list leave out J. N. D.'s version of Heb. 1:6? There it is not doing homage, but worship; yet it is to the Son, and not to the Father.

The commonest of Greek and English Lexicons to the New Testament, such as Rose's Parkhurst, is clear that proskuneo expresses homage whether civil or religious (i.e., reverence, and worship). The following note Mr. R. gives from Dr. J. P. Smith's Scripture Testimony to the Messiah (ii., p. 270): "This word occurs sixty times in the New Testament. Two, without controversy, denote civil homage (Matt. 18:26; Rev. 3:9); fifteen refer to idolatrous rites (John 4:22; Acts 7:42 [?], 43; Rev. 9:10 [? 20]; Rev. 13:4, 8, 12, 15; Rev. 14:9, 11; Rev. 16:2; Rev. 19:20; Rev. 20:4); three, to mistaken and disapproved homage to creatures (Acts 10:25; Rev. 19:10; Rev. 22:8); about twenty-five clearly respect the homage due to the most high God; and the remainder relate to acts of homage to Jesus Christ. Of these (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11; Matt. 8:2; Matt. 9:18; * Matt. 14:33; Matt. 15:25; Matt. 20:20; * Matt. 28:9, * 17; Mark 5:6; Mark 6:51 [? xv. 19]; 5: [? 4:] 8 [Luke 24:52]), though some of them (marked *) denote a very deep and awful reverence, it cannot be said that any necessarily denote the worship due to God. But John 20:28 and Heb. 1:6, especially the last, against which no objection can be raised, are of a different order." — Note from the ed. of 1829. There must be some oversight as elsewhere in citing John 20:28, for the word is not there, though Thomas' emphatic address did pay divine honour to the Lord. But the passage demonstrates the absurdity of such as limit pr. to divine worship. Mr. D.'s version very properly applies it in both senses to our Lord. So Dean Alford, Mr. T. S. Green, Dr. G. Campbell (on the Gospels), Doddridge, and (one may say) every intelligent Christian.

What crowns the character of the present assault is the fact that, in a recent version of the New Testament by a learned and able Unitarian (Mr. S. Sharpe), pr. is habitually, indeed invariably, translated "worship," applied to God, our Lord, and the creature, whether in civil reverence or in religious worship. On the other hand I am not aware of a single orthodox Christian of competent biblical knowledge who would not in the main support the discriminating value given to pr. in J. N. D.'s version as against either the Authorized Version or Mr. Sharpe. We might generally translate proskuneo as "doing homage;" because this would embrace reverence both civil and religious. But it is an error in the present usage of the English language to translate it always as "worship," because in perhaps a majority of its occurrences in the New Testament this is not the true sense. The principle therefore on which Mr. D.'s version goes is undoubtedly sound, whereas the Authorized Version (perhaps through some change in the use of the verb "worship" as compared with its wider bearing two or three hundred years ago) is incorrect. The substantive and adjective are still applied as a title of respect to certain authorities. But the usage of the verb, as it often occurs in the New Testament, is now obsolete.