The answer to this probing question is best answered within the framework of another question: Is Jesus God? One of the clearest teachings in the entire Bible is that only God is to be worshiped. The nation of Israel was warned in its infancy, “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus rebuked the Devil’s invitation for worship by referencing the previously cited passage, saying, “Go Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10).
Significant is the fact that Christ applied the ancient text to include devil worship, indicating that the prohibition is leveled against all worship except the worship of God. Based upon this uncomplicated, unambiguous command, it is therefore sinful to worship the devil, or angels (Revelation 19:10), or human beings (Acts 10:25-26; 14:11-15), or any other creature, whether in living form or in graven image (Exodus 20:3-4; cf. Romans 1:21-32). None but God is worthy of worship!
Consequently, the question of greatest significance must be: Is Jesus God? If the answer is “No,” then Jesus, regardless of how righteous he lived in this life, regardless of how remarkable his teaching, and regardless of his self-sacrifice upon the cross, is absolutely unworthy and unfit to receive worship. But if the answer is “Yes, Jesus is God,” then certainly He is not only worthy of worship, but, as God, He must be worshiped!
Although denied by sectarian teachers since the days of the apostles, the evidence for the deity of Christ is conclusive, overwhelming, and irrefutable. The burden of proof begins in the opening line of God’s revelation to man and continues throughout, reaching even to the closing prayer. For a lengthy, yet still partial, examination of the biblical evidence that proves Jesus is God, the reader is referred to another article on this site, entitled, “Seven Reasons to Believe Jesus is God.”
A Serious Problem in the Church Today
As will become evident in Part IV of this study, the current assault upon the worship of Christ is not a new phenomenon, but has been ongoing since the emergence of Christianity under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit through the apostles of Christ. Heathen men mocked Christians for condemning Pagan idolatry, referring to them as atheists for worshipping a dead man and not a god.
The second and third century Christians openly opposed these vicious slanders, arguing in favor of one and only one God, but whose existence was present in the blessed trinity of Persons known as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three were worshiped in unity as the one true God of the Bible.
It is truly distressing to hear some associated with the church of Christ claiming that only the Father is to be worshiped. As regards those who deny the deity of Jesus (and yes, there are some who claim to belong to the church of Christ who even deny His sacred Divinity), this claim is at least consistent with their view that Jesus is not God and should not, therefore, be worshiped. But for those who whole heartedly accept the triune nature of God and acknowledge Jesus is divine in nature, the refusal to revere Him as worthy of worship is baffling indeed.
The church has suffered immensely by the teachings of sincerely misguided men who fail to thoroughly search and give the gravest respect to the authority of the Scriptures. Many have been lured into a diminished view of Christ simply by the title He assumed in the incarnation as “Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Instead of recognizing this significant title as an affirmation of His eternal nature as deity, it is commonly believed that Jesus – even in His existence prior to the incarnation (i.e. taking on human flesh) – was, and has always been, the Son of God, i.e., the offspring of God.
The picture crafted in the minds of many portrays a much older fatherly person (God the Father) holding the hand of a much younger offspring (Son of God). Even among those recognizing the eternal existence of the pre-incarnate Person of Christ, the outlandish idea of “eternal Sonship” is often embraced. However, the Scriptures never refer to Christ as the “Son of God” outside the context of the incarnation, but consistently applies the terms God and Jehovah to identify the pre-existing Person who became known as Jesus following the incarnation (cf. Isaiah 40:3).
Jesus is God, and the term “Son of God” is simply reflective of His eternal nature as deity in the same way that the term “Son of Man” is used to reflect His human nature as man. Jesus was not less-than-man or inferior to man, and neither was He some quasi-man, but the term “Son of Man” identified Him as fully man in the same way that every man is man. In the same manner, the term “Son of God” identified Him, not as less-than-God or inferior to God in any way, but fully God. (For a fuller treatment of this subject, the reader is referred to the article on this site: “Is Jesus the Eternal Son of God?”).
On account of these dreadful errors regarding the true nature of Jesus, we have men in the church forbidding the worship of Christ, claiming it is sinful to petition Christ in prayer or to address Him in any form of praise or song. And although many congregations do not possess men who openly oppose the worship of Christ, neither do they express the worthiness of Christ to receive worship. In these congregations, every prayer is addressed to the Father, and if questioned, the members readily acknowledge God the Father as the sole object of Christian worship.
God the Father has replaced the fullness of the Godhead as the object of Christian worship in many congregations today. As will be witnessed, these no longer follow the pattern of worship that defines the church in the New Testament, or the practice of the church seen in the early centuries of Christianity.
Characteristic of every divisive teaching, the broad spectrum of do(s) and don’t(s) include proponents in every corner. Some allege that no prayer, song, or conversation with Jesus is permissible. Others reject prayer to Christ, but authorize singing to Him; although warning that the same words spoken in song become sinful when verbalized in prayer. Still others argue that one may “speak” to Jesus in normal conversation, but a prayer to Christ is unscriptural – although the distinction between the two activities has not been clearly defined.
Regarding the singing enjoined by the church, songs such as “Tell it to Jesus,” “Jesus, I Come,” “O Jesus, I Have Promised,” “Jesus, Wonderful Thou Art,” “My Jesus, as Thou Wilt,” “Praise Him! Praise Him!” and all other songs that either speak to Jesus directly or instruct the worshipper to address Jesus in prayer or praise have been black-listed by some in the church today. Of course, the true test is not what whimsical, uninspired men are saying about worship directed to Jesus, but “What saith the Scriptures?” What does the Bible really say about this crucial doctrine?
Men are Commanded to Worship the Lord’s Anointed
Even in the Old Testament one will discover that reverence and homage are to be given to Christ. Psalm 2 is quoted by inspiration in the New Testament with reference to Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed (Acts 4:24-27; cf. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). Of particular interest near the conclusion of Psalm 2 is the command, “Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way” (v. 12). The word “homage” translates a Hebrew verb meaning, “Kiss with intensity or repetition” (Swanson, 1997). The ancient form of paying tribute, adoration, or submission was the act of kissing the hand or kissing toward the intended object of devotion.
Pagan worshippers incorporated this act into the worship of their false gods. The prophet Hosea even announced how the apostate people of God were sinning “more and more,” having formed molten idols of silver, they were saying, “Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves” (13:2). Hailey explained the intended sentiment: “Kissing the calves, or kissing the hand toward the calves or idols, was an act of devotion or homage expressed toward the false deity. The practice of ‘kissing the hand toward’ is found as early as Job and later in the days of Elijah (Job 31:27, 1 Kings 19:18). The Spirit instructs the kings of the earth to kiss the Son, that is, to do homage to Him (Psalm 2:12)” (1972, p. 19).
To do “homage” to the Son is to bow in worship and adoration. That this is the true meaning of the text is witnessed first in the appearance of the “wise men” who came in search of “He who is born king of the Jews,” specifically intending to “worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). When these distinguished men located the young child with His mother by following the star that stood over the house where they were staying, the wise men “fell to the ground and worshiped Him” (2:11). Here is clear evidence that the command to “Do homage to the Son” is binding upon humanity.
These travelers were guided supernaturally to Bethlehem with the sole intention of worshipping the newborn King (Jesus). It is impractical to deny the attendance of God in aiding these men to carry out their desire of worshipping the infant Jesus. The star that guided these men, standing over the babe, was not of ordinary celestial existence, but was obviously supernaturally positioned as the beacon of direction for the worshippers of Jesus. To suggest that this incident of men worshipping Christ was unsanctioned and sinful is to arraign God Himself with aiding and abetting an act of idolatry.
However, as Wayne Jackson attests, “The Wise-men were of a priestly class of Gentiles in ancient Media. These men obviously had some knowledge of the coming Messiah (cf. Num. 24:17) and were led supernaturally from the east to come and “worship” baby Jesus (v. 2). The balance of the New Testament record will confirm that Christ, as deity, is worthy of worship” (2011, p. 3).
It should also be noted that the text indicates “they worshiped Him” (v. 11). The masculine, singular pronoun excludes Mary from the worship. Contrary to longstanding Catholic dogma, Mary is never the object of worship in the New Testament, and for very good reason; Mary is not deity. But Jesus, as the Scriptures testify, was worshiped from birth to ascension and ever afterward in obedience to the ancient edict in Psalm 2:12.
The Worship of Jesus in the New Testament
The view that Christ is not worthy of worship seems very strange and even disassociated from Christianity when compared with the New Testament record. The Greek proskuneo appears 60 times in the New Testament and is translated “worship” each time in the KJV (see Strong, 1993).
The American Standard Version (1901) includes a footnote with this term which reads: “The Greek word denotes an act of reverence whether paid to a creature (see Matt. 4:9: 18:26), or to the Creator (see Matt. 4:10).” The New Testament writers unabashedly ascribe the status of deity to Jesus, and in His pre-incarnate existence, He is deemed the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3; cf. Colossians 1:15-17). As the Creator, He must be of the deity category; thus He is worthy of worship.
The Greek proskuneo is more specifically defined by scholars as:
“to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand; to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literal or figurative) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to), adore:- worship” (Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary).
“worship, fall down and worship, kneel, bow low, fall at another’s feet” (Newman, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament).
“to make obeisance, do reverence to (from pros, ‘towards,’ and kuneo, ‘to kiss’), is the most frequent word rendered “to worship” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary).
W. E. Vine, commenting further on the use of this word in the New Testament, relates, “It is used of an act of homage or reverence (a) to God… (b) to Christ… (c) to a man… (d) to the Dragon… (e) to the Beast… (f) the image of the Beast… (g) to demons… (h) to idols…” (1996, p. 686; emp. added).
The word proskuneo signifies conscientious, willful, and deliberate acts of humble, reverent, obedience; whether directed to the true and living God or to a false god of any variety. The term is used 14 times in the New Testament with reference to Jesus, and the Scriptures carefully portray 12 occasions upon which Jesus received worship:
1) “And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11).
2) “And, behold, there came a leper and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean’” (Matthew 8:2).
3) “And when He saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him” (Mark 5:6).
4) “While He spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshiped Him” (Matthew 9:18).
5) “And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matthew 14:33).
6) “Then came she and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me’” (Matthew 15:25).
7) “And he [man born blind] said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him” (John 9:38).
8) “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him” (Matthew 28:9).
9) “And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful” (Matthew 28:17).
10) “And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).
11) “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb [Christ]…” (Revelation 5:8).
12) Thomas, upon the occasion of the Lord’s second appearance in the upper room, reverently worshiped Christ, boldly confessing, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
The response of Jesus to Thomas’ worship is illustrative of the truth: “Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). Thomas believed Jesus to be God, confessing Him as both Lord and God. Jesus accepted this worshipful address by Thomas, even pronouncing a blessing upon those who believed without the benefit of the evidence Thomas was privileged to witness.
In fact, in no instance does Jesus ever rebuke, correct, or censure those offering worship to Him. If Jesus is not worthy of worship, why would He continually accept such without the first word of caution or reprimand? Jesus stands in striking distinction to Peter who refused worship (Acts 10:25-26), Paul and Barnabas who rejected worshipful address and sacrifice (Acts 14:12-15), and even to angels who opposed reverential bowing in their presence for worship (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9).
Jesus accepted worship. If it was proper to worship Jesus while He was alive on earth, and proper to worship Him subsequent to the resurrection, and proper to worship Him following His ascension, why is it now improper as a small sect among us is claiming? Did the nature of Christ inexplicably diminish following His glorious ascension and exaltation to the throne in heaven? Is Jesus now less than He was when worshiped on the pages of the New Testament? If not, then He remains worthy of all worship, and it behooves the church to bestow upon Christ the praise, honor, and glory reserved for God.
New Testament Authority for the Worship of Christ
In evincing the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, one of the foundational arguments used by the Hebrews’ writer is that the angels (through whom the Old Law was ordained; cf. Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19) must worship Christ (the author of the New Covenant). In this regard, the Father issued the command, “Let all the angels of God worship Him” (Hebrews 1:6). The pre-existing Word had always been worshiped as deity, but God leaves no doubt that even though condescending to take on human flesh, the angels were still required to worship Jesus, the man. Christ, as man, retained His divine nature as God, and therefore remains a worthy recipient of worship.
On account of the unprecedented condescension of Christ in taking the form of man and becoming obedient even to death on the cross, Paul explicitly states “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). Paul’s reference to bowing the knee is an undeniable allusion to worship (cf. Romans 11:4), and the confession of Jesus as Lord equates Jesus with Jehovah (cf. Isaiah 40:3). These statements indicate that every person will eventually bow reverently before Jesus.
The fulfillment of the command of God for the angels to worship Jesus and Paul’s prophetic declaration of all humanity falling before Jesus in worship was witnessed by the apostle John in his apocalyptic vision (Revelation 5:11-14). John declares that “every created thing which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” joined in unison, praising and worshipping the Lamb (Christ). In fact, Jesus and the Father were simultaneous recipients of the same anthem of praise and adoration (v. 13b).
If it is sinful to worship Christ, how do we account for the entire creation glorifying both God and His Lamb in unanimity? Will sin reign in heaven? And the attempted splitting of hairs by some who would claim a difference exists between a general anthem of praise versus worship is also without merit, for John specifically concludes the scene by stating, “And the elders fell down and worshiped” (v. 14). The worship was before the Lamb.
The obvious lesson depicted in this scene is that those who refuse to bow reverently before Christ in this life, will none-the-less do so in the hereafter. However, those not having their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life through obedience to Christ while on earth will ultimately be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
Those withholding all worship to Jesus would argue that they have obeyed the gospel and are accounted as children of God. Their confidence, though, is not unlike the misplaced confidence of the Pharisees who boldly protested to Christ that they were sons of “one Father, God” (John 8:41). Because of their opposition to Christ, Jesus announced they were of their “father the Devil” (v. 44).
The Pharisees refused to listen to Christ because they disbelieved His claim of deity. But Jesus countered, saying, “He who is of God hears the words of God” (v. 47). Though mostly overlooked, this statement is a claim to deity by Christ. When the Pharisees refused to hear Christ, they refused to hear God. Those refusing to worship Christ today are likewise refusing to worship God. The term “God” in the Bible is not an exclusive synonym for “Father” as many in the church seem to suppose (cf. Acts 20:28), but the term “God” denotes the sovereignty belonging equally to the fullness of deity, i.e., the Father, Word (Son), and Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19).
The New Testament explicitly authorizes Christians to worship Christ. In the opening address of the first Corinthian letter, Paul directs his message to “the church of God in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). The expression “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” has special significance.
The verb “call on” translates the Greek epikaloumenois, a present tense, middle voice participle, in dative case. The root is epikaleo, defined: “to call upon by pronouncing the name of Jehovah…an expression finding its explanation in the fact that prayers addressed to God ordinarily began with an invocation of the divine name” (Strong, 2001). Thayer links the usage in 1 Corinthians 1:2 with passages such as Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, 9:14, 21, 22:16, and Romans 10:13; giving the definition: “to invoke, adore, worship, the Lord, i.e. Christ” (1958, p. 239).
The Gospel Advocate Commentary states, “To call upon the name of Jesus as Lord is therefore to worship him. It looks to him for that help which God only can give. All Christians, therefore, are the worshipers of Christ” (Lipscomb & Shepherd, 1935, p. 21).
Another Greek scholar concurs with the preceding thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:2, stating, “It is used of worship, and here implies prayer to Christ” (Vincent, 1972).
After demonstrating the antiquity of the phrase “call upon the name of Jehovah” (see Genesis 4:26; cf. 12:8; 21:33; 26:25; 1 Chronicles 16:8; etc.), Spicq relates, “In the NT, the name is that of Jesus Christ, recognized as Lord and God, such that the formula ‘invoke the name’ is probably linked to baptism, where it is professed that ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved’ and where a person is purified of sins by ‘calling upon His name’ (Acts 22:16). This is the designation of Christians according to Acts 9:14, where Saul has the power to ‘bind all those who call upon Your name’” (1994, p. 45).
Spicq further explains, “First Corinthians is addressed to ‘those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in any place’ (1 Cor. 1:2), the church being the gathering of those who adore Christ, who celebrate his worship (cf. Ps 145:18) and pray to him from a pure heart. Over against the religious individualism of the Greek cities, all believers are united in their adoration of Christ as Lord and God” (Ibid.).
The quotation of scholars could be multiplied many times over, but the undeniable burden of Paul’s statement is that the Corinthian letter is inclusive of “all who in every place” invoke (call on in prayer), adore (praise), and worship Jesus Christ as Lord. The present tense form of the verb implies a continuous, ongoing activity, and the middle voice highlights the strong individual interest of each one in reverencing Jesus as Lord. In light of this single passage, to even hint that Christians may not “call” upon Jesus in prayer and worship is wholly inconsistent with the inspired text, demonstrating either gross ignorance or a disingenuous claim concerning proper Bible exegesis.
Truth be told, the Father alone cannot be honored as the sole recipient of Christian worship if it is intended that such worship is to be acceptable to God. Jesus made this point abundantly clear when He declared, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22-23).
Where does this leave one who refuses to honor the Son in worship? If Christ may not be worshiped the same as the Father, how do Christians honor Christ “even as they honor the Father”? This standard of truth makes it impossible to honor the Father with worship while consciously withholding worship from the Son. Every act of worship to God must include the Son as an equal recipient or else the worship is vain. No other interpretation satisfies the unambiguous language of Christ in this matter.
The deity of Christ alone should be satisfactory to confirm that He is worthy to receive worship in the highest and strictest sense of the word. If God cannot be addressed in prayer, praise, and song, is He really God? The continuing parts of this study will prove conclusively that Christ was addressed in prayer, song, and praise by the early church, and this without any censure by the apostles or heaven itself.
When Jesus was being praised by the masses while entering Jerusalem on the donkey and her foal, the Pharisees became indignant, admonishing Christ, saying, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Instead of following their counsel and denouncing the multitude’s praise and adoration as some in the church today are doing, Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:37-40). A week later, it will be recalled, a stone did bear witness to the deity of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:2; Luke 24:2).
True and unadulterated worship cannot be offered to God until the church comprehends the Being and essence of the God of revelation. The Bible gives us all the information we need to know God. What we do with that information is an individual matter as well as a congregational matter.
The church at Leiper’s Fork is committed to the restoration of New Testament Christianity. We implore the reader to do the same, casting aside the vain traditions and errant teachings devised in the hearts of uninspired men, and return to the Scriptures to determine whether or not Jesus, our Lord, our Savior, and our God is worthy to receive worship from the people of His own possession.
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Hailey, Homer (1972), Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).
Lipscomb, David and Shepherd, J. W. (1935), 1 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Newman, Barclay M., Jr. (1993), A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart,
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Spicq, Ceslas (1994), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson
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Strong, James (1993), Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary (Winterbourne, ONT: Online
Strong, James (2001), Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
Swanson, James (1997), Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old
Testament). electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems).
Thayer, J. H. (1958), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).
Vincent, Marvin (1972), Word Studies in the New Testament (Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers &
Vine, W. E. (1996), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).