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It appears that for many people, worship is the same as “going to church” or “attending church”. But, where does the word “worship” come from, and what does it actually mean and refer to? And, what does the Bible say about worship?
In regard to the New Covenant: In what way and when and where should believers be serving and worshipping God? Are there some ceremonies or rituals that one should observe or perform? Also, does the New Testament command the keeping of some specific day of the week, or some other days, as “special time for worship”? Further: Some preachers have claimed that it is an “act of worship” if one gives money to the preacher or his church. Is that correct and biblical?
This article takes a closer look at those questions and others like them.
The word “worship” comes from the Old English worðscip which referred to the condition of being “worthy” – being respected and honoured. Putting that in another way: A person who was commonly respected, possessed the quality that was called worðscip, worthiness. That earlier meaning of the word “worship” is preserved in this passage in the 1769 KJ version:
Luke 14:10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. (KJV1769, highlighting added)
In that verse, the noun “worship” simply refers to respect, honour. “Worthiness”, if you please.
But, already around year 1300 the use and meaning of the word “worship” began to change. It came to be used as a verb, referring to the act of paying reverence to deity, or similar.
In the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments, the words which are relevant in this context, often refer to the act of bowing down in reverence, before the Lord.
Taking king James’ bible as an example: In 99 of the 115 Old Testament passages where the 1769 KJ version has words that begin with the stem worship-, the Hebrew text has the verb shachah which referred to bowing down.
In the Greek NT text, the relevant word is for the most part the verb proskuneô. Its meaning was similar to the Hebrew shachah of the Old Testament. It was combined from pros, “towards”, “before”, and kuneô, “to kiss”. On the practical level, the verb proskuneô referred to the act of bowing down before someone, and eventually even kissing that person’s hand.
The scripture-quote below refers to an occasion when Paul was in Athens at a place called Areios pagos (Ares’ hill). He was explaining to some Athenians that the true God cannot be “served” through physical rituals.
Acts 17:21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. 22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you fear the gods; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your devotion, I even found an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god. Therefore, the One to whom you show reverence without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of Heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He served with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. (VW06, comment added)
As Paul pointed out, it would be meaningless to “serve” the true God with rituals of some kind. Verse 25, “nor is he served with men’s hands, as though he needed anything”. God and his son Jesus are not benefited by men’s rites, nor can a believer be benefited by performing some rituals. See the next point.
The Old Covenant had physical rituals. Many of them were symbols which pointed to things that were to come. The New Covenant does not have such rituals.
Some bible-versions have in Philippians 3:3 the word “worship”. The Greek text has latreuontes (latreuô) which referred to “serving”. The apostle noted that in connection with the New Covenant, God is instead served in spirit:
Philippians 3:3 For we are the circumcision, who in spirit serve God and glory in Christ Jesus, not having confidence in the flesh. (DR1899, highlighting added)
(Here, the apostle used the word “circumcision” in a symbolic way, referring to the receiving of the Holy Spirit. See also Colossians 2:11 and Romans 2:29.)
Again, the New Covenant does not have any physical “service” or rituals of the kind the Old Covenant had. The saints [a] “served” God in spirit, and not through physical rites.
a In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.
Many people might find it hard to understand this with serving God in spirit, instead of “serving” him through physical rituals. This is because most churches have rituals which they call “worship”. People have been caused to think that they must practise such rituals, as if they somehow were a proper way to “serve” or “worship” God. (Please note that many or perhaps most of the rituals that are practised in churches, are of Catholic origin and have very little to do with the New Testament, or with what the saints practised.)
In the Greek text of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to some Jewish saints (“Hebrews”), we find several passages with the earlier mentioned verb latreuô, and also the noun latreia (“service”).
Here is one of those passages:
Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, [b] by which we may serve [Greek latreuô] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (VW06, note sign and comment added)
Please note that the context shows that the apostle was comparing the two covenants, old and new.
b “Let us have grace” = “let us show gratitude” (thankfulness). Today, the word “grace” is more seldom used in the meaning “gratitude”, and so, all might not understand what that words means in Hebrews 12:28. In short: Paul told those saints, that considering what God was giving them, they had all reason to give thanks to God. – See also his symbolic expression “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God”, in this passage:
Hebrews 13:12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. 15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (NASB95)
Regarding chapters 12 and 13 in the epistle to the Hebrews: Paul used symbol-filled language with analogies. He was comparing the two covenants, old and new.
Under the Old Covenant, people “served God” by taking animals and other things to priests who then burned those things, or parts of them, on an altar. There were even other rituals.
Those things had to be done by the temple in Jerusalem, which was the Old Covenant’s “lasting” or “permanent” place for “serving” God; that is what the words “lasting city” in the first part of the above-quoted verse 14 refer to.
In contrast to that, the New Covenant does not have any sacrifices (offerings), other than the Sacrifice which Jesus made when he gave his life in place of others. Also: The saints’ “service” was not bound to a temple or some special city or place. They could “serve” and “worship” God, wherever they happened to be. And, they had no priests or rituals connected to that. But – and this refers to the above-quoted verse 15 – they “offered” their thanks to God.
A note: Often, when churches and preachers ask for money, they call that “offerings” (a synonym for sacrifices), but that has nothing to do with what the New Testament teaches. The concept “giving offerings in church” has nothing to do with what the saints practised. The New Covenant does not have any offerings (sacrifices), other than the Sacrifice which Jesus made when he gave his life in place of others.
Many translations have in Hebrews 10:25 such wordings as “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”. Casual bible-readers might think that that refers to “going to church”. But, a closer study of the Greek text, including the context, shows that the apostle was in fact talking about the time and event when the saints were to be gathered and taken up to Jesus. Clarification:
The relevant word in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:25 is the noun episunagôgê which primarily referred to “gathering up” and “carrying away”. The word episunagôgê in that verse refers to the event which is mentioned in the only other passage where that word occurs in the Greek NT text – 2 Thessalonians 2:1. Both of those verses and their contexts refer to the day and time when the saints were to be gathered together and taken up to Jesus.
Hebrews 10:25 not turning our backs on our [coming] gathering [episunagôgê], as some do, but admonishing one another. And so much the more, as you see that day approaching. (BPT)
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now, we entreat you brothers, concerning the coming of our lord Jesus the Messiah, and our gathering together [episunagôgê] to him, 2 that you will not be easily troubled in mind, neither by spirit nor by speech or by letter, as if from us, alleging that the day of the Messiah has come. […] (BPT)
In short: Hebrews 10:25 has nothing to do with “going to church”.
John 4 records a discussion between Jesus and a Samaritan (non-Jewish) woman. She said:
John 4:20 “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (NASB95)
(“This mountain” = possibly mount Gerizim, far away from Jerusalem. “You people” = the Jews.)
Jesus told her that it really was not so, any longer:
John 4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NASB95)
A note: In that passage, each time when the above-quoted translation has the word “worship”, the Greek text has the earlier mentioned verb proskuneô which had to do with bowing down and expressing reverence and submission. (We do not know what language Jesus and that woman used in that discussion, but let us assume that the Greek text of the NT somewhat correctly echoes what was originally said.)
Under the Old Covenant, “serving God” was in many ways bound to one single place. From the days of king David to New Testament times, that place was Jerusalem and the sanctuary there. But, the New Covenant does not have any such earthly “place”. The saints had received the Holy Spirit and had direct access to God and his son Jesus and could “serve” them, wherever they happened to be. (This is regarding the above-quoted John 4:20–24.)
Actually, those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century, formed a “house of God”. God dwelled in them, through his Spirit. Through this, those people formed a spiritual, new-covenantal dwelling (“house”, “temple”) of God.
In short: The New Covenant does not have any physical “house of God” or “temple of God”.
A note: The saints did not have churches or altars or mortal priests. The resurrected Jesus was their only priest.
The saints did gather together. In each town or village, if and when there were several of them, they could meet and fellowship. However, if one studies that matter more closely, one will find that this was for them more like a daily matter, a community matter. They formed communities, within which they took care of the sick and the aged, and so on. And yes, they certainly spoke about spiritual things also, and yes, occasionally they even sang a hymn together. Sometimes they prayed together, and they could listen to brothers who spoke about the things and ways of the Lord. Add to that, among the saints there were prophets, people to whom the Holy Spirit gave special messages to convey to others.
When did they meet? Was it on some given day of a week? No; there is no indication that their fellowshipping would have been a “once-a-week” matter. For all we can see, it was more like a seven-days-a-week matter, a community-matter, and not a “church”. Acts 19:9 gives an example of this: The apostle Paul taught daily in a house owned by a man called Tyrannus. Not “once a week”, but daily. Another example: The in Acts 6 mentioned aid distribution which was arranged by the saints in Jerusalem, was a daily matter.
A note: That does not mean that people of our day should join some “religious community”. There are many such things, but they are not beneficial for those who join them. Instead, they are harmful. This is an evil world, with much confusion, deception, abuse and evil – very much so, also in religious circles.
A quite common stumbling point in regard to how to serve or “worship” God, is the matter of the two covenants, old and new. Many people have been caused think that the Old Covenant is still in effect, in some way or for some part. But, that is not so.
Galatians 3:17–19 shows that the Old Covenant was “added because of transgressions”, and that it was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” – that is, until Jesus came. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, it became possible to launch the New Covenant. When that happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside. The article eca086.htm has more on this.
There are many confusing dogmas in regard to the covenants-matter. Some of them claim that Romans 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:6 refer to a “spiritual application of the rules of the Old Covenant”. But, those who study and consider those verses and their context in more depth, will see that by the phrase “the letter” Paul referred to the Old Covenant and its rules, and that by the phrase “the Spirit” he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.
The article eca117.htm has some notes on 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6 and even Jeremiah 31.
The saints did not “go to church once a week”. Again, there is no indication that their fellowship would have been a “two hours a week” thing. It appears that it was more like a community-matter, all days of the week.
(A note: The meaning of Hebrews 10:25 was discussed earlier this article.)
Some writers have claimed that the saints observed the Old Covenant’s high days, including its weekly Sabbath (which was from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday). But, it is important to check what the New Testament really says about that matter – what Jesus and the apostles actually taught in regard to days and eventual keeping of such.
That matter is quite clear in the NT, but various writers and dogma-makers have caused people to read things into the Bible, instead of studying what it actually says. Also: Many bible-translations contain misleading wordings, in a number of passages which have a bearing on that matter. Those things have confused many people and made the whole matter complicated for them. Because of this, an all-covering clarification of the “days question” or “Sabbath question” cannot be compressed into only a few words. The article exa098.htm contains a detailed study on that subject.
The “Sabbath-question” includes even the matter of the Decalogue.
The word “decalogue” comes from the Greek Septuagint version (LXX) which has in Exodus 34:28 the phrase tês diathêkês tous deka logous, “the ten words of the covenant”. That is a correct translation of the wording in the Hebrew text. The actual “ten words” are recorded in Exodus 20, but it is in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 that they are given a “name”. Here is the first of those three verses, as the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation has it:
Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. (JPS1917, highlighting added)
The above-quoted JPS1917 translates the Hebrew text correctly, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”, Exodus 34:28, and “the ten words”, Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4.
Now, consider this: “The words of the covenant, the ten words” – that refers to the covenant which was made by Mount Sinai.
Important: This matter must not be misunderstood in any way. The New Testament makes it clear that much more was expected of the saints who were under the New Covenant, in the way of righteous, just living, than was ever demanded of the Israelites when they were under the Old Covenant.
The article eca058.htm has more on the matter of the Decalogue.
The article exa109.htm shows what and where the sabbatismos or rest of Hebrews 4:9 really was and is.
The article exa098.htm has more on whether the saints observed some special days, and on what Jesus and the apostles taught in regard to that matter.
And, they might continue, “After all, most churches have Sunday as their day of worship – the Lord’s day.”
Even though some people might find this hard to cope with, it is best to face the facts regarding the origin of Sunday-worship. Since the days of the emperor Constantine, Sunday certainly has been kept as a day of a certain “lord” – but then, one must also know which lord it was that Constantine caused people to bow down to. (Constantine: The Roman emperor who can be said to be the de facto founder of the Catholic Church.)
Those who want to know the facts and study this matter in more depth, will find that Constantine remained all the way to his death a servant of the lord Mithras the sun-god. One of his last acts was to uphold the rights of the priests of Mithras. When he forced people to begin observing Sunday as “the Lord’s day”, the lord which that day pointed to was the sun-god Mithras. It was Constantine who enforced the keeping of Sunday (Sun-day, Dies Solis) as the day of Sol Mithras Deus Invictus, whose servant he was.
In short: There is no biblical support or basis for Sunday-worship; it is fully and totally idol-related. That is how things are; there is no way out of that.
That is, Easter, Whitsunday, Halloween, Christmas, and so on. Even there, anyone who really wants to find the facts, can quite easily do that. Just as it is with Sunday-keeping, even those days are connected to idol-worship.
The article ewa057.htm has some notes on what Christmas and the Advent period actually symbolise and point to. Regarding Easter, look under the heading “Easter” on the page key16.htm.
Indeed, where does the custom of using candles in religious rituals really come from? There is no biblical example or support for such a practice. Clarification:
Many bible-translators have put “candles” and “candlesticks” into certain bible-passages, but the relevant words in the Hebrew and Greek texts refer to oil-burning lamps and lampstands. Neither the portable sanctuary nor the temple had candles; the menorah was a lamp-stand where olive-oil flowed through ducts into seven separate fires.
In short: The use of candles in “worship” is a Catholic thing, with no scriptural basis. Actually, some Catholic writers have admitted that candles were “commonly employed in pagan worship and in the rites paid to the dead” (‘Catholic Encyclopedia’, edition 1914, article “Candles”).
There is more to consider: Why is it that for instance in the Catholic Church, it is demanded that altar candles (and similar) must be made of beeswax, or must at least contain some beeswax? Really what do those candles and the beeswax in them symbolise and point to? Well, the beehive has since ancient times been used as a symbol connected to the Queen of heaven. That is where one must look for an explanation for why (for instance) the Catholic candles contain beeswax. It appears that the ritual burning of those candles probably is some kind of a symbolic offer to the Queen of heaven.
There are some notes on the candles matter, under the heading “Candles” on the page key09.htm.
A note: There is nothing wrong in using candles for non-religious purposes.
In some churches, priests walk around waving censers, burning incense in them (or perhaps even “frank-incense”). Should believers do such things, or take part in them?
One must keep in mind that what churches do, and what the saints practised, are two totally separate and different things. Again, the New Covenant has no mortal priests, no burning of incense, no altars, no sacrifices or offerings. It would be wrong to burn incense, for some “religious purpose”.
Many people have been caused to think that giving money to a church or a preacher is somehow an “act of worship”. One Californian TV-preacher went as far as to claiming that the word “worship” means “shipping worth”, that is, sending money to the preacher. – That “word interpretation” is total nonsense, but what about the claim that giving money to some church or preacher is an “act of worship”? Is that true? No, of course not. There is no mention in the Bible, or even the slightest indication, that giving money to a church or a preacher would somehow be an “act of worship”.
The article ema018.htm sorts out the “tithe question”. For more on the matter of money in connection with religion, look under the heading “Money” on the page key42.htm.
For the first, one must keep in mind that the modern-day concept “worship” has very little to do with the New Testament and the New Covenant or with what the saints practised.
Also, one must remember that in the passages where English bible-translations contain the word “worship” (or similar), the relevant words in the Hebrew and Greek texts for the most part refer to bowing down.
Bowing down “before God” is something that one can do in prayer (preferably in private, see Matthew 6:6) – but, there is no “commanded prayer position”. The important thing is to acknowledge the true God who is in Heaven and his son Jesus, as one’s Masters and Rulers. Bowing down to others in that way, or having some other “spiritual masters”, would be idolatry. In that connection – for avoiding idolatry – let us consider something Jesus said to his disciples:
Matthew 23:8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. (NASB77)
Those words of Jesus certainly are important to keep in mind, even for people of our day. Believers must not have any “spiritual leaders”, besides Jesus. And, they must not call any man “Father”, in connection with spiritual things.
And then, one must try to live in a way that it pleasing to God. One “serves” God, by the way one lives. A part of that is connected to how one treats one’s fellow human beings. Consider what Jesus said, to someone who had asked him what was the “chief rule” in “the Law”, that is, in the five books of Moses. Jesus replied, by quoting two passages in those books, parts of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18:
“Have love for the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest rule. And a second like it is this, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39, BBE)
Loving one’s neighbour – having care for one’s fellow humans, doing good works – was one of the central matters in Jesus’ and the apostles’ teachings.
Believers should live just and honest lives, as best as they can, and do good works when they are able and when that is fitting. That is an acceptable way of “serving God”. The article ega086.htm has some notes on this.
Also: In order to know how one should live, one must study the Scriptures. The articles ega027.htm, esa017.htm and esa027.htm have some notes on keys, helps and tools for deeper study and understanding of the Scriptures.
It is also important to understand the real facts concerning whether or not there is a New Covenant command to keep or observe some “religious high days”. This includes the Sabbath-question. – The article eca058.htm contains a study on the Decalogue. The article exa098.htm considers the matter of “holy days” in general, in connection with the New Covenant.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm
On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → eca086.htm
Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → eca117.htm
Should the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, be kept today? → exa098.htm
On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → eca058.htm
Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → exa109.htm
What all should know about Christmas and the Advent period and what they symbolise and point to. → ewa057.htm
What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → ema018.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → ega086.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → ega027.htm
How to study the Bible in a deeper way. → esa017.htm
Some notes on computer bibles, bible study software. → esa027.htm
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