Re: Semantic range of PROSKUNEW

From: David L. Moore (
Date: Fri Jun 26 1998 - 11:18:29 EDT

At 12:14 PM 6/26/98 +0200, you wrote:
>>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.

        I grant that we may not understand all the nuances of PROSKUNHS in it's NT
context because of our cultural and temporal distance. What I am pointing
out, is that there is some principle funcioning that makes PROSKUNHN
inappropriate in cases where it was offered to other messengers of the
Gospel, but not in the case of Jesus.

>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.

        In both these cases, the implication is that PROSKUNH is inappropriate for
them because it is reserved for God, and that is also the point relative to
the temptation in the wilderness. Acts 10:25, 26 says, "Cornelius met him
and fell at his feet in reverence (PROSEKUNHSEN). But Peter made him get
up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself.'" The clear implication
is that Peter is a man and not God. Revelation 19:10 is even more
explicit; here we read "I fell at his feet to worship him (PROSKUNHSAI
AUTWi). But he said to me, 'Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you
and withe your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship 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.)

        It is precisely these passages which show situations in which PROSKUNH was
inappropriate which call into question your number (2) above. In the last
part of your paragraph above, you seem to be putting the cart before the
horse. I think there are many things regarding especially what the Jewish
people of that epoch believed about the Messiah that we may not fully
understand. You might consider the possibility that it is the treatment
accorded to Jesus that best shows us what the Jewish people of His day
believed and felt about this Person.

>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.

        They believed He could forgive their sins: they believed He could heal
them with a touch. I think we have become so used to reading these stories
that they don't always impact us as they should. The Pharisees recoiled at
the suggestion that He could forgive sins; "That's only the prerogative of
God," they said. Well, what are we to make of it?

>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.

        I disagree with your categorization of Athanasius as driven by
preconceived notions. One tries different theories and settles on the one
that best fits the data. Your last sentence above is a surprising
statement for a linguist. The full semantic range of a word is almost
never expressed in any one instance of its use. That "its semantic range
encompasses much more than worship" would not affect the meaning of any
specific use of the word in the NT.

>(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.)

        I hear you saying, "How can you see a forest there with all those trees in
the way?"

David Moore

David L. Moore
Miami, Florida, USA
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