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Appendix 2 - The Meaning of Proskyneō

Appendix 2

The Meaning of Pros­kyneō

It was stated in chapter 6 of the present book that when Satan said to Jesus, “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:7), Satan did not mean or expect that Jesus will “worship” him as God. In fact the Greek word pros­kyneō which is translated here as “worship” does not have “worship” as its primary meaning, as can be seen in any Greek-English lexicon. In two authoritative lexicons, BDAG and Thayer’s, “wor­ship” is only a second­ary or derivative mean­ing of pros­kyneō. The primary meaning is to express reverence, obeisance, or homage.

BDAG gives the following definit­ions of pros­kyneō, quoted here verbatim with citations omitted (the lone boldface is added):

  • to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure
  • (fall down and) worship
  • do obeisance to
  • prostrate oneself before
  • do reverence to
  • welcome respectfully

Thayer’s lexicon gives the following definitions of prosky­neō, quoted here verbatim with cita­tions omitted (the lone boldface is added):

  • to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
  • to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
  • kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
  • It is used a. of homage shown to men of superior rank;
  • b. of homage rendered to God and the ascended Christ, to heavenly beings, and to demons: absolutely (or to worship)

In both BDAG and Thayer’s, the two tiny words in boldface are the only definitions of proskyneō that have to do with divine wor­ship. In both these lexi­cons, the idea of worship is given far less prom­in­ence than the idea of kneeling or paying hom­age. In fact, only one quarter of BDAG’s citations have to do with “worship,” indicating that in the New Testament, the fun­damental mean­ing of proskyneō is not worship but kneeling or paying homage. The sense of “worship” is poss­ible in some contexts, but is derivative.

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