Re: Semantic range of PROSKUNEW

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Thu Jun 25 1998 - 10:04:33 EDT

Dear Larry,

Thanks for your comments. So as not to bug the list, I will make this
my last submission. Hopefully any loose ends will be clarified.

---Larry Swain wrote:

> Edgar,

> As one who has not participated in this discussion, I hope maybe I
can shed a point or two. First, your references to Origen and the
later Iconoclast debate are interesting and correct. However, they
are beside the point.<

I don't agree here, Larry. I believe that the comments of Origen and
other early church members provide solid synchronic data about how we
might *possibly* understand PROSKUNEW.

>The references demonstrate that at least as early as the second
century CE the Church (or at least Origen's corner of it) was
beginning to attempt to deal with the issue being debated here and to
clarify that "worship" to God is, must be, of a different degree than
that offered to humanity and that this clarification was still
occurring 500 years later. It does not however, shed much light on
what is happening in NT Greek.<

In my opinion, my methodology cannot be rightly faulted here, sir. In
Moises Silva's commentary on Philippians, he utilizes John
Chrysostom's comments vis-a'-vis the Greek of Philippians, to
ascertain what Paul meant in his Epistle to the brothers and sisters
of Philippi. Chrysostom is much further removed from the NT than
Origen is. Yet, I think his comments are worth hearing. It doesn't
mean that we must view either Origen or Chrysostom (or Theodore of
Mopsuestia) as final authorities--but they provide testable,
synchronic data to B-Greekers of the twentieth century. :-)

>Next, you mention that BAGD doesn't rule out PROSKUNEW being used in
reference to inferiors or equals. While this in and of itself is true,
is required of you that in order to make this assertion, you must also
provide evidence. So I ask: are there uses of this word in Koine in
the circumstances you posit? I am not aware of one, nor have I seen
any referred to in the usual tools that we use. Without such
supporting references, your argument doesn't carry much weight.<

In BAGD, Ex. 11:8 is cited as an example of PROSKUNEW being used in
the LXX. I guess that one COULD interpret Moses' words in Ex. 11:8 as
describing an inferior bowing down to a superior; I do not understand
it that way. Even if the Egyptians would acknowledge that the
Israelites were correct in their religious beliefs, and the Hebrew God
was the Living and True God--this does not mean that the children of
Israel were superior to the Egyptian officials who would bow down to

Furthermore, I see no reason to view the Christians in first century
Philadelphia as "superior" to the Jews who persecuted them. Being a
Christian does not make one superior to a non-Christian (Rev. 3:9).

Regarding PROSKUNEIN and Jesus, Gerald Borchert says concerning John

"The use here of PROSKUNEIN ("worship") as applied to Jesus is unique
in this Gospel. While the term can be used in secular parlance for
rendering "obeisance" or prostrating oneself before another HUMAN and
kissing the person's feet in an act of **utmost respect**, in the
Biblical context the term, when applies to God, is meant to signify
worship" (Borchert 325).

Borchert feels that what took place in John 9:38 was an act of
worship, because he believes that Jesus is God. I do not wish to
debate that here, however. What I want to draw your attention to, is
the fact that Borchert admits PROSKUNEIN can be used to delineate an
act rendered to "another human" and as a sign of "utmost respect."
Borchert does not limit these secular acts to just those who are your
superiors. Maybe that is his intent, but that is not how I read him.
While Borchert views John 9:38 in a religious sense, not all scholars
agree. Both GRB Murray and R. Schnackenburg do not view John 9:38
through religious spectacles (i.e., they say that the man was NOT
worshiping Jesus).

Murray's exact comments are as follows:

"PROSEKUNHSEN is commonly translated [in John 9:38], "he worshiped
him" . . . but this is doubtful. KUNEW means "to kiss," its extension
in PROSKUNEW reflects the Eastern custom of prostrating oneself before
a person and kissing his feet, ESPECIALLY of one viewed as belonging
to the supernatural world, e.g., a deified king . . . Note also Acts
10:25, and Rev. 3:9, which is significant in view of the frequent and
consistent use of the term in Revelation for the worship of God or
pseudo-divinities. It would seem that in John 9:38 the healed man is
ascribing honor to the Redeemer from God, which is beyond that due to
other men but short of that due to God Almighty" (Murray 159-160).

Again, Murray says that PROSKUNEW could be performed "before A
PERSON," especially of a "superior." According to this Johannine
scholar, PROSKUNEW is not limited to those who are your superiors. It
is also clear that Murray does not view John 9:38 as proof that Jesus
is worshiped while on earth. The man is seen as ascribing honor to the
God-sent redeemer. This honor is greater than that given to other men,
but LESS than that given to God Almighty. With these comments, I agree.

Finally, Schnackenburg says:

"The man's action is not the expression of formal adoration of Jesus,
but of the honor due to the God-sent bringer of salvation which itself
gives honor and adoration to God. It shows the man's advance from his
Jewish faith (vv 31-33) to Christian faith" (Schnackenburg 2:254).

>In reply to your question regarding Mark 5:6, the point Jonathan has
made is that PROSKUNEW is used of one of lesser stature giving
"respect" (an attempt to use a word that gets the idea across and not
one with loading-I suspect that this isn't doing the job, but I have
no other) to one of greater stature. So to translate this verse as
the demon-possessed man "falling on his knees" (or face or
genuflecting or doing obeisance) is fine, but it the declaration of
Jesus as Son of the Most High demonstrates that the demoniac is
"respecting" one of greater stature than he. So again, your citation
of Earle is not really germane to the point you wish to make.<

I cited Earle's comments on Mark 5:6 to show that PROSKUNEW does not
always mean worship, in the Biblical context. Of course, Jesus was and
is superior to any human. This doesn't mean that the man was
worshiping Jesus when EDRAMEN KAI PROSEKUNHSEN AUTWi. I think if you
look at the context of my citation, you will find that I cited Mark
5:6 to show the non-religious import of PROSKUNEW contra Jonathan.

>More to your point about this verse would be a discussion of the
semantic field of LATREUSEIS-how should/can it be translated here.<

That would be an interesting discussion. It is another subject, however.
>Getting down to the end of your last post you indicate that your main
argument is that PROSKUNEW does not necessarily have religious import.
 I don't think Jonathan or anyone else would disagree with this. IN
fact I seem to read Jonathan saying the same thing.<

I understand Jonathan to be saying that PROSKUNEW is only given to a
superior, a deified king, a lord, a god, and cannot serve as a sign of
respect between two friends. I disagree. You must also remember that
the primary person we are discussing here is Jesus. What is the
PROSKUNEW rendered to Jesus in the Bible? I am arguing that the
PROSKUNEW given to Jesus was not religious (i.e., it was not
worshipful). I think that Jonathan has different thoughts here.

>The Isaiah 49:23 passage only works in fact IF PROSKUNEW is a lesser
offering respect to a greater. The whole passage is talking about the
great reversal God will affect for Israel-those who now are Kings and
Queens will be as servants to them-those who now receive genuflection
from you will genuflect to you. That is to say the first shall be
last the last first. A reversal of roles is what is in view here, and
it loses its punch and makes much less sense in my opinion if
PROSKUNEW simply means to bow to.<

Our disagreements about Gen. 23:7 and Isa. 49:23 eventually become
subjective. You may regard the Hittites or Israel as superior, but
that is hard to objectively prove. IMHO, understanding PROSKUNEW in
Isa. 49:23 as "groveling" or "bowing down to" strikes a perfect
balance between "worship" and "obeisance."
>I'm not at all certain what meaning you attach to the observation
that only the One on the throne receives "worship" in that passage.<

The One on the throne is _prima facie_ the Father. The Lamb is given
glory and honor, etc. But only the One seated on the throne is given
worshipful adoration. BAGD even applies Rev. 5:14 to the One seated on
the throne, and not to Jesus. As a matter of fact, I see no examples
in Revelation where Jesus is given PROSKUNEW.

Take Care,

Edgar Foster

Classics Major

Lenoir-Rhyne College

Get your free address at

b-greek home page:
To post a message to the list,
To subscribe,
To unsubscribe,[]

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:50 EDT