Re: Semantic range of PROSKUNEW

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Jun 26 1998 - 06:14:48 EDT

>David Moore wrote:
> Something that hasn't been done in this discussion is to enumerate
>and to
>consider as a group some of the instances when PROSKUNH was seen as
>inappropriate. We might mention instances of PROSKUNEW found in Esther at
>3:2 bis and 3:5 where Mordecai has refused to PROSKUNHSQE before Haman, but
>I especially mean those in the NT. There is the case of Jesus not bowing
>to the tempter, Peter who corrected Cornelius when the latter bowed down
>before him, and John who was admonished for bowing down before the angel
>who brought him the Apocalypse. In each of these cases, the impropriety of
>the PROSKUNHS had to do with the worship of a created being as opposed to
>God. I won't quote the passages that establish this fact as we are all
>familiar with them and their admonitions to worship only God.
> In each of these cases PROSKUNH was inappropriate; yet, in all the
>instances in which PROSKUNH is directed toward Jesus, never does he
>admonish or correct those who offered it. Shouldn't this strike us as a
>singular response that requires explanation. People bowed down before Him
>as Cornelius had bowed before Peter and as John had bowed down before the
>angel. He received this action and expression of ... what shall we say ...

Dear David,

Paul wrote in Gal 5:2 RSV: "Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive
circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you." But in Acts 16:3 RSV
do we read: " Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and
circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all
knew that his father was a Greek. " Presuming that Paul had not changed his
mind, the two passages show that the same act can be viewed very
differently, depending on the situation (the word "circumcision is
identical in both instances). The passages show it is very difficult for
us, 1900 years later to be sure we understand each situation completely.
What rescues us in this case is the words "because of the Jews"; without
them would Paul`s actions and words seem quite contradictory.

Regarding your argument, I find that what is made visible in PROSKUNEW in
the situation of Jesus and the tempter is "worship"; the slightest sign of
compromise to Satan would in reality be worship. But I am not so sure that
"worship" is what is illuminated in connection with Cornelius and Peter
and the angel and John. It may be, but it may also be that they did not
want to accept anything (to bow down) that had the slightest similarity
with worship (Compare Matt 19:17), because worship was reserved to God.

As to the PROSKUNEW of Jesus, I see two possible interpretations: (1) Jesus
is God and it was right to worship him, and (2) To bow down to Jesus was
not viewed as an act of worship and was therefore not corrected. The only
strong argument of which I am aware in favour of PROSKUNEW being used in
the sense of "worship" in relation to Jesus, is Hebrews 1:6. A strong
argument against such an understanding as regards PROSKUNEW with Jesus as
object in the gospels, is that to worship a *man* was completely out of the
question for a Jew in those days (Regardless of how we view Jesus, he
appeared as a man.)

To use the same line of reasoning as you, I cite Matt 8:2. The leaper bowed
down for Jesus., but as a sincere Jew he could hardly have viewed this as
an act of worship. We have similar examples in 9:18; 15:25; 18:26 and 20:20
(just to use Matthew). There is absolutely nothing in the context
suggesting that these people believed that Jesus was God. If what is made
visible of the concept PROSKUNEW in these four passages is "to bow down" or
"to do obeisance", the same is possibly true in all the other instances
where Jesus is object for PROSKUNEW. From a philological point of view,
therefore, the only way to view the believer`s PROSKUNEW of Jesus as
worship, is to follow the principle of Athanasius and Plato and beforehand
decide that the OUSIA Jesus is God. To go the other way and use the word
PROSKUNEW as a proof of worship is hardly possible because its semantic
range encompasses much more than worship.

(Even though the above comments borders on theology, the philological
element is more profound, because they do not discuss whether PROSKUNEW
applied to Jesus means worship, but rather, whether it is possible to
decide this on philological grounds.)


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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