Re: Semantic range of PROSKUNEW

From: Steve Long (
Date: Thu Jun 25 1998 - 08:50:16 EDT

>Dear all,
>In our quest for the semantic range of PROSKUNEW, we must not forget the
>Jewish background of many of the situations where the word is used. Both
>those writing the gospesls and the persons who did PROSKUNEW to Jesus, had
>the Hebrew HAWA as a part of their presupposition pool, so the semantic
>range of PROSKUNEW cannot be found without taking the semantic range of
>HAWA into account.
>The nature of the act PROSKUNEW indicates that it more often than not is
>done towards a superior, but it is very difficult, if not impossible to
>prove that inferiority/superiority is included either in the concept HAWA
>or PROSKUNEW. Two LXX examples: PROSKUNEW was done before strangers without
>any intention of viewing them as superior ( Gen 23:7,12). In 2 KINGS 5:18
>is PROSKUNEW used two times by Naaman with the meaning to "bow down"
>without any superior in view.
If we take the mindset of the individuals into account, considering their
backgrounds etc., Abraham was of Chaldean background, his customs would
have included bowing of respect, Naaman was an Assyrian, he also would have
bowed out of respect. It is a very oriental way to show respect. But would
a Jew of Jesus' day bowed out of respect?

Acts 10:25,26 is the key, I think to unscramble the different mindsets.
Cornelius would have been trained to prostrate himself as a sign of respect
and submission. He would have been acknowledging Peter's spiritual
authority in the same way he acknowledged Caesar's political authority. But
Peter refused to accept this oriental sign of respect and submission. His
statement KAGW AUTOS ANQRWPOS EIMI would indicate, to me at least, that his
mindset meant bowing indicated a sign of not only respect, but also
indicated a sign of something more than respect. Something not done between
equals and something not done to men at all, hence his emphatic use of

People use the same words differently depending on their background.
Actions have different meanings to one culture and to another. Cornelius
understood PROSKUNEW based on his culture and experience. Peter based his
understanding on a Galilean Jewish perspective. Finding one meaning for
PROSKUNEW won't work because the action meant different things to different
people. It could have meant respect to Cornelius and worship to Peter.

The definition is clear, it means to bow down, what people are thinking
when they bow down is harder to pin down. That is a problem with
translating PROSKUNEW as 'worship', the modern English gloss carries the
connotation of devotion to God. Of course, when Jesus uses PROSKUNEW in
John chapter 4, he is definitely talking about devotion to God, the idea of
physically bowing down is not really conveyed in context. I guess this
shows my Occam's razor idea not working so good.


Steve Long
Allegro Graphics, Inc., Allegro Digital Media, Inc.
4132 Industrial Drive, Saint Peters, Missouri 63376
1-888-819-8166 toll-free,

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