Re: Semantic range of PROSKUNEW

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Wed Jun 24 1998 - 22:39:19 EDT

---Jonathan Robie wrote:

> At 02:45 PM 6/24/98 -0700, Edgar Foster wrote:
>I stick with my original contention that PROSKUNEW >can properly be
>expressed to a creature (whether he or she is your superior).

> I find this contention surprising. If I look at Louw >& Nida's
glosses, I
> see these:
> a worship 53.56 [L&N...4077]
> b prostrate oneself before 17.21 [L&N...1517]

> BAGD describes it this way:

> "used to designate the custom of prostrating oneself >before a
person and
> kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground, >etc.; the
> did this in the presence of their deified king, and >the Greeks
before a
> divinity or something holy; (fall down and) worship, >do obeisance to,
> prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome >respectfully in
Attic Gk
> and later"

> Take a good look through BAGD, and I don't think >you'll get the
> that the word is used for people who are your status >or lower, or
that it
> is used lightly at all.

Thanks for the cordial discussion, Jonathan.

Louw-Nida is a fine work, and BAGD is too. Be that as it may, I don't
think that BAGD rules out PROSKUNEW being rendered to equals or toward
those who have an inferior status.

Ralph Earle refers to the definition of PROSKUNEW given in BAGD.
Ironically, Earle believes that PROSKUNEW can and does mean worship.
But notice his comment on Mark 5:6:

"It is true that PROSKUNEW . . . means "to make obeisance, do
reverence to, worship" (A-S, p. 386) . . . The pertinent question
remains: Would the demon-possessed man [in Mark 5:6] be worshiping
Jesus, even though he called Him "Son of the Most High God" (NASB,

Earle's answer:

"Probably "fell on his knees in front of him" (NIV) is a safer
translation" (Earle 37).

Neither the man nor the demons possessing Jesus were likely to be
rendering "worship" to the Son of God. Evidently, the man simply fell
before Jesus (with no indication of his religiosity).

> Perhaps it could be argued that KAI AUTWi MONWi >LATREUSEIS is the
> thing that is exclusively for God, and that TON QEON >SOU
> not require us to worship him only, but that makes no >sense in this
> context, since the conversation goes like this:

> Satan: Worship me and I'll give you all this!
>Jesus: It is written: worship the Lord your God and >serve him only.

I am not arguing that TON QEON SOU PROSKUNHSEIS "does
not require us to worship him [God] only." Only YHWH is to be
worshiped (according to Holy Writ), but others can also properly
receive PROSKUNEW. The import of Jesus' words seem to be:

"PROSKUNEW which results in an exalted degree of adoration or
reverence is reserved for only YHWH. If I bow down to you Satan,
showing you extravagant honor and glory, I would be guilty of
worshiping you and displacing YHWH as the sole Master and Lord of my
spiritual life" (a very loose paraphrase of Matt. 4:10).

In other words, certain actions that are directed toward God can also
be shown to our fellow humans. In the OT, both God and humans are said
to properly receive "exclusive devotion" (Cf. Ex. 20 and Canticles 8).
The difference is a matter of degree, not kind (Compare "I love my
car" vs. "I love my wife (husband)").

> LATREUSEIS might be an example of Hendyasis? Could >this mean "you
> serve only God in worship"? I'm sure I'l get some >opinions on this
> may be way off here...

Briefly, let me say I would view LATREUSEIS as an intensifier of
PROSKUNHSEIS. Yet, it is also to be differentiated from LATREUSEIS.

>In Jaroslav Pelikan's wonderful series _The Christian >Tradition_, the
>great Iconoclastic Controversy is discussed. The >iconoclasts were very
>disturbed that the orthodox were rendering devotion to >icons. The
>orthodox retorted, however, that "the worship of >mortals, for example
>of kings, was nevertheless permissible" (Pelikan >2:126).
>This is proof that the word devotion is used for >things other than
>which is, I think, the very thing you said you were >disproving.

Read on.

>The point I want to make here is that the Greek Church >(even back to
>Origen of Alexandria in Contra Celsum) has >persistently made a
>distinction between "worship" rendered to BOTH God and >creatures, and
>"worship" (hE LATREUTIKH) that is to be directed only >to God
(Pelikan 2:126). PROSKEUNEW can be gievn to >BOTH God and man; hE
>only to be given to God. But even in the case of >PROSKEUNEW, there is
>a distinction made between PROSKEUNEW rendered to >creatures and
>PROSKEUNEW directed toward God.

> This is very interesting, and I don't have it at >hand. Can anybody
type it in?

Do you mean Pelikan? His work is too long for me to type; I would
recommend checking the reference given above. Also, I have spoken with
prominent individuals associated with the Greek Orthodox Church. They
tell me the same thing I have read in Pelikan's book.
>Semantically, I could express PROSKEUNEW to you, >Jonathan, without
any pangs of conscience. :-)

>It's not something I'm particularly used to, Edgar! It >might be fun
>but after a while, I think I'd find it uncomfortable. >Hey, if you
prostated yourself at my feet, would you >have to agree with my posts?

No, no, no . . . :-))

> >I really don't think that PROSKEUNEW is
> >restricted to those who have absolute authority over you (See below).

> But what you cite below seems to illustrate that it >*is* restricted
> those who have absolute authority.

But notice the main point I'm driving at here. PROSKUNEW is given to
those who have authority, but that is not all:
>This prostration [in Rev. 3:9] has no religious >significance but is
>simply the traditional (oriental) expression of homage >and honor,
>which we have chosen to translate "grovel" (Aune >52A:238).

> Grovel, eh? Hey, I don't grovel before someone unless >they have
some pretty
> serious authority!

The verses in the OT and NT must be viewed in their cultural setting,
Jonathan. You may not feel comfortable bowing to someone not in
authority; orientals, however, did not feel this way in times of
antiquity. In Gen. 23:7, Abraham "bowed" before the Hittites (he
performed PROSKUNEW). Are you saying that the Hittites were superior
to Abraham? What about the eschatological prophecy of Isa. 49:23?
There we read that kings and queens (superiors) will render PROSKUNEW
to their inferiors (status wise).

One more observation. In Rev. 4 & 5, when the Lamb and the One seated
on the throne are spoken of in the same context--only the One seated
on the throne receives PROSEKUNHSAN (Notice what BAGD says about Rev.


Edgar Foster

Classics Major

Lenoir-Rhyne College

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