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The English word “worship” derives from the Old English “weordhscipe” and means “worthship,” i.e. worthiness, dignity, or merit, the recognition accorded or due to these, the paying of homage or respect. In the religious world the term is used for the reverent devotion, service, or honor paid to God, whether public or individual. The church building is a place of worship and the forms of divine service followed by various Christian groups or congregation|congregations are forms of worship. The verb “to worship” may be used both transitively, to worship God, and intransitively, to worship, to attend or to participate in worship.



When given to God, worship involves an acknowledgment of divine perfections. It may express itself in the form of direct address, as in adoration or thanksgiving, or in service to God; it may be private, or it may be public, involving a cultus. Worship presupposes that God is, that he can be known by man, and that his perfections set him far above man.

There has always been public worship in the Bible. In patriarchal times there was both the privacy of prayer (e.g., Gen.18.1-Gen.18.33) and the public act of setting up an altar (e.g., Gen.12.7). From the patriarch|patriarchs onward, we can divide the Bible into four periods. First, while Moses established the basis of the public worship of Israel and gave it its focal point in the tabernacle, we know little about the actual performance of worship. As 1Sam.1.1, for example, shows, the tabernacle remained the center for the pilgrimage Festival|festivals with their round of Sacrifice|sacrifices; at the same time it shows the wealth and depth of private devotion that they represented.

In the second period worship became highly organized in the temple ritual, which had its origin in the tabernacle set up in the wilderness. It was led by priests assisted by the Levites, and included a complex ritual and system of sacrifices.

The third stage was that of the synagogue, which developed among those who remained in exile. This greatly differed from worship in the temple. Whereas the latter was centralized in Jerusalem, the former was found wherever there were Jews. In the synagogues, however, the emphasis was more on instruction than on worship, although the latter was not neglected.

The fourth stage was that of the early Christian churches. Jewish Christians continued, as long as they were permitted, to worship in the temple and in the synagogue, though for them the whole ceremony|ceremonial and sacrificial system ended with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ|Jesus. Public Christian worship developed along the lines of the synagogue.

Important terms

Are used in the Bible to denote bending the knee (gónu) or falling on the knees in genuflect|genuflection or even full prostration. These words are important because they describe a gesture of worship which also symbolizes the inner attitude.

In the Graeco-Roman world the terms could have a secular reference too, for the slave would genuflect before his master. Bowing the knee did not occur in the official cult, but it had an established place in the worship of the chthonic deities, especially in cults which had stood under oriental influence.

Genuflection is common in the Old Testament. It may sometimes be practiced before men, e.g. the man of God (2 Kings 1:13) and the king (1 Chron 29:20). On the other hand, even though standing is the normal attitude in prayer (Gen 18:22; 1 Sam 1:26), there is also kneeling before God (1 Kings 8:54; Dan 6:10). Bending the knee or kneeling is a sign of humility, self-abasement, and homage (Isa 45:23). The rabbi|rabbis later made a distinction between brief genuflection and full prostration with outstretched hands and feet.

In the New Testament the reference is almost exclusively to bowing the knee. The main uses are in connection with prayer to God (Luke 22:41), petition|petitions to the Lord (Matt 17:14), greeting of the teacher (Mark 10:17), and homage, whether to the king (cf. Matt 27:29), to Baal (Rom 11:4), to the divine Judge (Rom 14:10f.), or to Jesus at His public manifestation as the Lord (Phil 2:10). The gesture is expressive of humility, need, respect, submission, and adoration. It passed into the Early Church as an established practice in both individual and common prayer.


Closely related to gónu phrases and gonupetéō is the more general word proskuneîn, which is in some ways the closest general expression to the English worship. The etymology and early history of proskuneîn are obscure, though an etymological connection with the word “kiss” is favored. It is conjectured that in the ancient Greece|Greek world kissing the earth was practiced as a means of honoring the earth deities. This in turn involved an element of bending or prostration which was originally alien to the Greeks in other spheres. Hence, proskuneîn came to mean “to prostrate oneself in token of reverence,” “to do obeisance.” Since worship seems to have been implied by the act or gesture from the very first, it was natural that the word should also be used quite early for the inner attitude of worship.

Since obeisance was already a common gesture in OT worship, it is not surprising that proskuneîn occurs frequently in the LXX. It can still carry with it the thought of kissing (cf. the parallelism in Exod 18:7), but the predominant sense is that of bowing (to the earth) in obesiance, i.e. doing reverence, honoring, worshiping. In some instances obeisance is done to men, e.g. to the prophet or to the king. This may be a courtly gesture (cf. Abraham in Gen 23:7, 12), but in other cases the obeisance seems to be paid to the man only as a representative of God (cf. 1 Sam 20:41). Protest against obeisance to a man is expressed by Mordecai, who refused to bow down to Haman (Esth 3:2). Angel|Angels, as the messengers of God, may be the object of obeisance. In the main, however, the LXX reserves the word for the worship of deity, whether it be the false idol (Exod 20:5, et al.) or the true God (Gen 22:5, et al.). Hence, the term carries with it the same sense as the English “worship.” The predominant use is for the worship of God, though a subsidiary generalized sense remains. The main difference is that the Greek word is by origin more closely connected with the gesture of prostration or obeisance.

In the New Testament the use of proskuneîn is almost completely confined to the gospels, Acts, and Revelation. Apart from two Old Testament quotations in Hebrews, the only instance in the epistles is in 1 Corinthians 12:45. Even here the word is used of the man who comes in as an unbeliever. In Acts the term is never used for Christian worship apart from the earliest worship in the Temple. Even when the primitive Church bows the knees in prayer, a phrase with gónu is used rather than proskuneîn. The implication seems to be that proskuneîn was deliberately avoided as a term for primitive Christian worship, possibly because of its pronounced association with the visible worship of a visible god in paganism.


In John’s gospel there is an important use of proskuneîn in 4:20-24. In contrast to the localized worship which underlay the woman’s question, Jesus refers here to the worship which is in spirit and in truth. The restriction of worship to a single locality is thus set aside. Whether or not worship itself is to be a purely inward matter with no outward expression is, however, much more doubtful in view of the use of proskuneîn. True worship is certainly an inner act of the spirit. External obeisance is neither a prerequisite nor a guarantee. Nevertheless, there is the same ambivalence as in the prophetic message, for inner worship is by no means incompatible with outward expression, and can even demand this. The most that one can say, then, is that Jesus dissociates true worship from the fulfillment of a given gesture at a given place. The testimony of the epistles seems to support this, for here proskuneîn is no longer essential to worship. In practice, the Primitive Church apparently did not find it possible to keep the word without also keeping the outward gesture; it thus abandoned the word.

Proskuneîn is, however, an important term in Revelation. A distinction is here made between worship of the beast on the one side and the worship of God in the heavenly sanctuary on the other. The act is obviously in view, though it surely has symbolical significance in the great scenes depicted in Revelation 4 and 5. The point is that behind proskuneîn lies the utlimate acknowledgement of conflicting total claims. In the end, however, the nations of the world will all worship God (Rev 15:4).

The fact that proskuneîn can be used again for the final homage at the parousia lends support to the thesis of GreevenTWNT, VI, p. 766. As he sees it, proskuneîn in the NT demands in the main a visible act or concrete gesture of obeisance to visible deity. This is possible during the incarnation and during the forty days between Easter and Ascension; hence the synoptic use. It will be possible again at the Second Coming; hence the use in Revelation 15:4. In the intervening period, however, proskuneîn is not the proper term for Christian worship; hence its avoidance in Acts (apart from temple worship) and the epistles (apart from the unbeliever of 1 Cor 14). Nevertheless confined to no specific place or gesture, the church may still engage in true worship, not just spiritually, but in the Spirit, by whom Christ is continually present with His people.



The verb latreúō and the noun latreía introduce us to a different sphere from that of gonupetéō or proskuneîn. The basic meaning here is that of wages, or more generally service, eventually with no necessary thought of reward and in a far more comprehensive sense than that of slavery. Bodily service is first denoted, e.g. on the land, or in the specific sense of a cupbearer, etc. The word can also be used for care of the body, the cherishing of life. In the classical world it is not a highly significant religious term, but there are instances of its use in connection with the worship or service of the gods. The performance of acts associated with the cultus seems to be the main connotation, e.g. the making of the necessary preparations.

In the LXX the verb occurs predominantly in Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. It has the sense of service, but in these books, and indeed throughout the Old Testament, the reference is always religious. In each case, however, the service denoted consists not merely in the general serving of God but in the cultic act of sacrifice. The word is freely used for the service of other gods (Exod 20:5, et al.), but the consistent demand of the Old Testament is that Israel should serve the true and living God. This imparts a deeper element to the cultic act. Serving the Lord in offerings is based on an ultimate decision or committal of the heart. This is magnificently brought out in Deuteronomy 10:12ff., which speaks of loving and serving God with the whole heart and soul. This service requires an ethical as well as a cultic outlet, for the man who loves and serves God in this way will keep God’s commandments and statutes. The call of Joshua for a choice between serving other gods and serving the Lord has the same emphasis (Josh 24:14ff.), especially in v. 19 with its stringent insistence that keeping the commandments is an essential part of the required service.

The noun latreía is much less common than the verb. It is used almost exclusively for cultic worship, whether general or specific (e.g. the Passover in Exod 12:25f.). A remarkable feature in contrast to general Greek usage is that the non-religious use has been virtually abandoned. Latreía, however, is neither a very general term on the one side (serving God) nor a very specific one on the other (the priestly ministry). It simply denotes the cultic worship of God. As is learned from the verb, this rests ultimately on a profound self-commitment to God in love and fear.

As in LXX, so also in the New Testament the verb is more common than the noun. Latreúō occurs most frequently in Luke/Acts and, as one might expect, Hebrews. Under OT influence it always bears a religious reference. The service denoted by it is the service of God (or the gods). In Hebrews the sacrificial ministry of the Old Testament (as distinct from that of false gods) is in view. An important difference from Old Testament usage is that in Hebrews 8:5 and 13:10 the author seems to break down the rigid LXX distinction between latreúō for cultic service and leitourgéō for the specific ministry of the priests; compare also 9:9. Nevertheless, the general impulse of the New Testament is to extend rather than to narrow down the range of religious meaning. Apart from the use in Matthew 4:10, where latreúō denotes the worship one must offer God in contrast to the obeisance demanded by the devil, this extension takes place in the three main areas of prayer, work, and life.


The use for the ministry of prayer occurs in Luke’s writings

When Anna is said to serve God with fasting and prayers night and day (Luke 2:37), the fasting and prayers seem to constitute an important part of the service rather than adjuncts to it. There is a similar reference in Acts 26:7, for here the service which the tribes render in hope of fulfillment of the promise surely includes prayer. This is important, for while prayer was undoubtedly implied in the cultic offerings of the Old Testament, it did not originally constitute the true content of latreía,


(b) Even more significant is the use of latreúō for the work of the New Testament ministry.


This is the specific contribution of Paul in Romans 1:9. The apostle speaks here of serving God in the spirit in the Gospel of His Son. If he had merely said “with my spirit” one might have seen a reference to worship in spirit and in truth. The phrase “in the gospel,” however, indicates preaching the Gospel as in 2 Corinthians 8:18. It need not be supposed that Paul is simply saying that preaching is a constituent part of the worship in the congregation, though this is a reasonable implication and it might indeed underlie the thought of the apostle (cf. the place of exposition in the structure of synagogue worship). What Paul is doing is rather describing the ministry of the word itself in cultic terms (cf. his use of “sacrifice”). This ministry is not just service in general; it is worship. Paul does not, of course, mention preaching as such. Hence it is possible to see a broader reference. All his committal and endeavor on behalf of the Gospel is a service of God in this sense. Possibly there is even a hint of prayer as well as the outward activity of ministry, though at the deepest level latreúō here surely indicates Paul’s whole dedication to God, the underlying motivation, total commitment after the manner of Deuteronomy 10:12ff.




(c) The whole life of the believer can also form the content of latreúō.


This may be seen already in the Benedictus, where service of God is to be in holiness and righteousness (Luke 1:74). A similar use is to be found in Acts 24:14, where Paul claims that he serves the God of his fathers in fidelity to the law even though after a way which is called heresy; cf. v. 16 (cf. also the “with pure conscience” of 2 Tim 1:3). Hebrews 12:28 has the same line of thought when it speaks of serving God with reverence and godly fear; the reference is surely to manner of life (ch. 13) rather than a pious sense of the numinous. The term is even broader, perhaps, in Philippians 3:3, where the true circumcision, service in the spirit, is contrasted with legal circumcision, life after the flesh. It is possible, of course, that the thought here might be that of spiritual worship as compared with worship according to ritual enactment, but the general context supports a contrast between two wholly different ways of life, the joyous way of the Spirit and the painful way of legal blamelessness. Latreía occurs only five times in the New Testament, and in three instances it refers to the sacrificial cultus of the Old Testament (Rom 9:4; Heb 9:1, 6). In John 16:2 also there is perhaps a hint of the sacrificial background when Jesus says that the killing of the disciples will be regarded as a doing of service to God. Similarly the logikē latreía of Romans 12:1 is set in the context of presenting the body as a living sacrifice to God. Here, however, the sacrifice is a self-consecration which embraces the renewal and transformation of life. It is also “logical,” which means that it is a reasonable thing to do, but also that it follows a logical pattern and has its ultimate basis in the Logos. Latreía thus bursts the bounds of the cultic and acquires a total reference both inward and outward. Yet in so doing it preserves the cultic association, for the very heart of this latreía is self-offering to God on the basis of God’s self-offering for us. Orientation and content are thus given to the life of service. For service is truly rendered to God only if it is in its very essence the worship which finds legitimate and necessary expression in acts of prayer and praise.







Leitourgia and the verb leitourgéō relate etymologically to service rendered on behalf of a people or nation, i.e. the body politic. From the very earliest examples the words have a technical sense in the Greek world. They are used for specific services which the wealthy, either voluntarily or compulsorily, render for the city or community at their own expense. Some of these liturgies, both general and special, could be extremely costly. In the imperial period the word took on a rather wider range of meaning, embracing all compulsory official service rendered in state or community. The papyri have many references to the assignment and limitation of such services, and especially to the burden which they imposed. Then the word acquired a very extended and loose sense from which the official element disappeared. Thus slaves rendered liturgies to their masters, mothers to their babes, friends to friends, fathers to sons, even courtesans to their clients. In the mysteries the term found a cultic use which tended to give it a new technical sense. Temple employees were said to perform liturgies and cultic acts could be described as liturgies performed to the god.

The cultic use is predominant in LXX. Of the hundred or so instances of the verb, only a very few are non-religious, and the same is true of the forty examples of the noun. No trace remains of the original classical sense, and even the general meaning has more or less disappeared. The object of liturgy is either God in person or His Tabernacle, Temple, altar, or name. In particular, both verb and noun are used for the particular services rendered by the priests and Levites. The priestly functions are liturgy or liturgies. The verb occurs either in the absolute, with “to the Lord,” or with an accusative “to render the liturgy or liturgies of the tabernacle.” The use is almost always literal. Only in the Apocrypha (Ecclesiastes and Wisdom of Solomon) does one find a tendency to spiritualize the concept. Incidentally, it is highly improbable that the LXX translation used leitourgéō and leitourgía because they were already cultic terms in the mysteries. Strathmann TDNT, IV, 22 is surely on the right track when he suggests that the official and solemn aspects determined the selection of these words for priestly functions. Though rendered primarily to God, liturgy was a national institution of benefit to the whole people. In distinction from the latreía or diakonía groups, leitourgía has the dignity associated with public service, and this is probably the decisive factor.

The words leitourgéō and leitourgía do not have the same importance in the New Testament as they do in the LXX. In fact, the verb occurs only three times and the noun six times. Three of the nine instances are in Hebrews, and the other six are restricted to Luke/Acts and Paul. The noun leitourgós and the adjective leitourgikós yield another six instances, but three of these are in Hebrews and the other three in Paul. In spite of its abiding influence through the word “liturgy,” the group can hardly be regarded as significant in the New Testament.

In Hebrews and also in Luke 1:23 the usage falls within the framework of the Old Testament. Thus Zacharias is said, quite naturally, to fulfill the days of his liturgy. Hebrews again finds a perfectly natural use for the concept in 9:21 (the liturgical vessels) and 10:11 (with reference to the sacrifices). More interesting is the transfer of the term to Christ Himself, who offered a better liturgy when He gave Himself definitively upon the cross (Heb 8:6). The sacrificial reference of the term explains its usage in relation to the high-priestly ministry of our Lord. Thus far it might appear as if leitourgía were an improper term for Christian worship. Its sacrificial associations would surely imply an extension of sacerdotal ideas to the services of the Church. In Acts 13:2, however, the liturgy of the prophets and teachers suggests prayer and fasting along the lines of the spiritualizing of the word in the intertestamental period (cf. Philo). Paul goes even further and applies the word both to the collection which he organized for the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 9:12) and also for the gift which the Philippians made to him (Phil 2:30, cf. Rom 15:27). Three explanations are possible here: (1) that the word is used quite generally for service; (2) that it echoes the thought of the official liturgies of classical times; and (3) that it identifies the collection or gift as a sacral act. In view of the role which the collection seems to have assumed in later worship, it is perhaps not overfanciful to catch a cultic note in Paul’s use. This is hardly denied in Philippians 2:17 (cf. the association with sacrifice), though the precise meaning of the v. is hard to determine. If Paul is offering both the faith of the Philippians and also himself, then his ministry (and martyrdom) are the liturgy. On the other hand, if it is the faith of the Philippians which renders the service, their Christian life would seem to be the liturgy. Either way, one finds a certain approximation to the development already noted in respect of latreía. The term is certainly not used for official functions performed by the apostles, prophets, teachers, or presbyters of the infant Church. Hence, if the word is to be used in the Church, it must not be given the sacerdotalist implications of, e.g. a special application to the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper.






̔Ομολογία (homología)


Homología and the verbal form homologeîn bear the basic sense of saying the same thing or agreeing in a statement (homo = what is common, log- = word). This leads to a varied use in law and commerce, e.g. to admit what is said, to confess a charge, to confirm the receipt of money, to agree or submit to a proposal, to promise. The noun homología can imply agreement in a discussion, the agreement of practice with theory or principle, or an agreement or compact. The concept of living harmoniously (with nature) is an important one in Stoicism. In a religious sense, which is acquired rather than original, the concept denotes either the acceptance of vows or, more commonly, the confession of sins. Under oriental influences the confession could be made to a priest with a view to the placation of deity in a time of affliction.

If confession of sins is basic in the Old Testament, it seems to be associated here with a very different type of confession, namely, the confessing or praising of God in His mighty acts. Psalms like 22, 30, et al., bring out the connection. Acknowledging his sin, the psalmist finds salvation, and his penitence becomes praise and thanksgiving. Thus the confession changes its character. Admission of sin becomes acknowledgment of the grace and power of God. The confession of wrongdoing yields to confession of God, not so much in the sense of a confession of faith, but rather in the sense of a confession of praise, a magnifying of God.

For this confession both of sin and of praise the LXX prefers compound forms to the simple homologéō and homología, though outside the Bible a word like exomologeîsthai is not used in the sense of “to extol.” The underlying Hebrew, which has the force of praise as well as confession of sin, controls the LXX at this point (cf. 1 Kings 8:33, 35; Neh 9:3). The presupposition in both Hebrew and Greek is that the confession and praise take place publicly in the congregation. This means that the praise also carries with it an element of proclamation. To confess God’s gracious work is to declare it (Ps 118:17ff.). Nor should the element of prayer be overlooked, for confessing the name of the Lord can be an act of prayer corresponding to calling on the name of the Lord. The single word “homology” or confession can thus bind together in a unique way the fundamental constituents of true worship, namely, confession of sin, praise of God, the declaration of His acts, and prayer to Him. All this presupposes, of course, the confession of faith as well.



Jesus Himself witnessed a good confession before Pilate. In so doing, He set an example for all Christians to follow (1 Tim 6:13). Baptism provides an opportunity for the basic confession, which may take an interrogatory form (cf. Matt 16:13ff.; John 1:19ff.; Acts 8:37). If all Christians are to confess, those called to the work of the ministry have a special task of confession. The emphasis here is not so much on testimony to faith as on proclamation, witness, evangelism, or even personal teaching. Confession is the confession of Jesus, of what God has done in Him. This apostolic confession lays upon the hearers an obligation to confess their sins and join in the confession of Jesus as Savior and Lord. Since the theme of confession is the gracious reconciliation which God has wrought in Christ, confession still redounds to God’s honor and glory, and lends itself admirably to praise and thanksgiving.

The noun homología is seldom used in the New Testament. It has a fluidity of sense which shows how rich the concept is. The author denotes the fixed confession of faith from which the Church is not to turn aside; this possibly had a hymnic form. The confession of Timothy (1 Tim 6:12f.) might also refer to a fixed body of doctrine accepted at baptism or ordination, but the emphasis seems to be more on the element of public avowal. Paul uses the word quite freely in 2 Corinthians 9:13. The collection gives evidence of the response and obedience of the Corinth|Corinthians and in this way redounds to God’s further glory. Hints of the declaration of the Gospel and the confession of faith lie behind the term here. The fact that confession and obedience go hand in hand shows that there is no fundamental rift with James, who states that words without works are hollow and worthless (James 2:14ff.).

Of the compound forms exomologeîsthai is the most important. Used with “sins” as the accusative, it denotes public confession (Rom 14:11; Acts 19:18; James 5:16). More commonly, however, it is a word of praise. Paul uses the term in this sense in Romans 15:7ff. Christ is confessed as Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:11). This ultimate “homology” of creation is anticipated already in the worship of the Christian Church. The magnificent songs of Revelation might be described as homological in form and content, though the word itself does not occur.

“Homology” is not a direct equivalent of worship. Nevertheless, it is in many ways the most comprehensive and significant of all the Greek words the Bible uses for the veneration of God. This is because it is able, as no other term, to combine the most important features in genuine Christian worship. In the New Testament especially, the new stress on the declaration and attestation of Christ, and of God’s saving work in Him, adds substance and depth to what is included already in the LXX use. Confession of sins is still an indispensable part of worship. The confession or praise of God in prayer also retains its role. Confession of faith, however, emerges as a central act of worship. This is twofold in content; it is confession of Jesus and it is also confession of the facts and doctrines relating to Him. It is also twofold in form; it is public profession in the congregation and it is also the declaration of the Gospel in apostolic witness and evangelism. Preaching, far from being an alternative to worship, is an intrinsic aspect of it. Confession of Jesus Christ, whether in the congregation or to the world, is to the praise of God’s glory. As in the Old Testament, “homology” is this praise of God which culminates in the heavenly anthems and in creation’s acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Lord. An understanding of Biblical “homology” is perhaps the most important single key to an understanding of Biblical worship.




Worship in the Old Testament



Basic principles

A study of the words associated with worship shows that, while certain concepts like bowing the knee or obeisance are concerned with the human aspect, the roots of Biblical worship are to be found, not in human emotions, but in the divinely established relationship of God to man.

This is important, for it means that the basis of worship is theological rather than anthropological. The common question as to whether the origin of worship is to be found in such emotions as fear, awe, the sense of the numinous, is thus beside the point from a Biblical standpoint. Such a question presupposes that worship is subjective, that it arises from within man himself, that it is intrinsically a reality within man, that even as a reaction it takes its substance from the reacting person, that there is not necessarily any external object corresponding to the inner emotion.

That human emotions and reactions are involved in worship is, of course, undeniable. Awe, fear, gratitude, and love may all be experienced in worship. The point is, however, that these are not the controlling factors. They do not constitute the true essence. In the Bible the beginning lies in the object of worship rather than the subject. Nor is this an indefinite object. It is not the mystery behind the universe. It is not the universe itself. It is not an unknown factor. It is not man’s own potentiality. The object of worship, at once its starting-point and controlling factor, is not a projection of man. It is God.

God is self-declared in the Bible as the living God who is from eternity to eternity, who made the world, who created man in His image, and who set Himself in relation to man. In all the dealings between God and man the initiative is with God. He is subject as well as object. He tells man what to do and what not to do. He controls man’s destiny. He judges his shortcomings and saves him from his sins. It is God, this God, whose Person and acts are both the theme and the formative principle of genuine worship. If there is awe in worship, it is awe of God; if there is love, it is love of God; if there is praise, it is the praise of God; if worship is response, it is the response of man to the living God who has made Himself known to man in His words and works.

The response of worship is not just any response. Worship is controlled by its object, who is also subject. Hence, it is worship in specific forms. There is first the form of confessional praise of God, the declaration of His grace and mighty acts. This confession combines the recitation of what God has done and the praising of God for it. In practice these may be separated into reading and proclamation on the one side and the singing of psalms and hymns on the other. Nevertheless, when worship is genuinely Biblical, there is an indissoluble relation between the two. Genuine proclamation is praise, and genuine praise is also proclamation.

There is, secondly, the form of service, which is capable of broad expansion, but which also has its narrower aspect, namely, the rendering of service to God by the performance of cultic acts. In this respect the Bible preserves an admirable balance. Religious exercises cannot be a substitute for total service of life. On the other hand, total service of life must not squeeze out the specific service toward God expressed in religious exercises. Within this Godward service the sacrificial ministry plays an important role in the Old Testament. This ministry is not discarded in the New Testament; it is consummated in and by the high-priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. Already in the Old Testament it brings to light a decisive aspect of worship. The relation between God and man is one which man has disrupted by his revolt and sin. Atonement must be made for the restoration of this relation. The priestly ministry of the Old Testament prefigures the greatest of all God’s acts of deliverance, namely, the act by which, incarnate in His Son, He graciously bore the penalty of sin and thus provided for its remission and for the restoration of man to fellowship with Himself. The priestly ministry is no erratic block in the total structure of worship. In its fulfilled New Testament form, it is both the supreme theme of worship and also that which enables man to offer acceptable service and praise. In its Old Testament form it is a part of service to God, a summons to penitence and dedication of life, and a prefiguring of the divine work which is the heart and substance of the confession of praise. Without it, there would be no true worship, only misguided idolatry and a fearful expectation of judgment.

Finally, there is the form of prayer. This is itself another aspect of God-oriented worship because (a) it includes confession of sins and (b) it is a confession of the name of God, a confident calling upon the God who intervenes for man to incline graciously to the petitioner and to meet his needs. The very fact that God has the initiative means that prayer as well as praise is of the very essence of worship, for prayer is also proclamation and praise. The prayer offered to God is a recalling of the great things that He has done. It is a magnifying of God for them. Far from being a despairing cry in the dark, it is a confident asking directed to the self-revealed God on the basis of what He has revealed about Himself. Even the urgency of crisis or complaint cannot wholly conceal this underlying confidence, which is sustained, not by selfrighteousness, but by the divine truth and faithfulness.

An additional point is that Biblical worship is not left to the caprice of man. It is not controlled by arbitrary desires or contingent needs. It does not ask what things will be most helpful, or will best express the impulse to worship, from a human standpoint. It learns how to worship from the God who is the object of worship. This is especially clear in the Old Testament where God tells Moses in minute detail how this people, redeemed by Him out of Egypt, is now to worship and serve Him both in the desert and later in the Promised Land. Many of these things the people had no great desire or instinct to obey. They found the rituals of alien gods far more congenial. The Biblical lesson is surely plain. In worship, as in all else, the believer is not to trust his own instincts. He himself does not know at all what is best for him. He has to learn how to worship God. This will be according to the way which God Himself has appointed. The rigid detail is no longer to be found, of course, in the New Testament. But the same principle applies even if in a different way. All Christian action is subject to the overruling of the Spirit and the normativeness of the word. If detailed regulations are no longer given, the basic constituents of worship are plainly presented in Old Testament and New Testament alike. The forms used by Christians, even though they vary widely in detail, must be so fashioned as to express and embody these essential elements in proportion, purity, and power.


Family worship


The oldest form of worship in the Old Testament is that of the family. Even before Israel became a people, it was already a worshiping family, the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After the Exodus, when the children of Israel became a nation, and national forms of worship were established, the family continued to play an important part in worship. The rise of the synagogue later made possible a more continuous form of congregational life and offered new opportunities for instruction. Even this did not oust the family as a unit of worship.


Praise and prayer

A difficulty in the patriarchal age is to distinguish between domestic and personal prayer. Nevertheless, it would appear that when Abraham called on the name of the Lord in various places (e.g. Gen 12), his whole household participated in this worship. The substance of this calling is not given, but there can be little doubt but that it contains the basic elements of prayer and thanksgiving. This is expressed in the prayer of Abraham’s servant (Gen 24). This prayer brings out very well the family nature of worship, for the servant invokes in v. 12 the Lord God of his master Abraham. In the days of national worship the centrality of sacrifices at the sanctuary removed from the home one of the great occasions for prayer and praise, but there is no reason to suppose that family prayer perished in consequence. Grace at meals had become a fixed habit by the end of the Old Testament period, and probably long before. How soon and to what extent psalms might have been used in the home it is hardly possible to say. The hymn at the Last Supper is an indication that by the time of Jesus, the psalter was in use in the home. The singing of the Hallel at the Passover is in fact attested by other sources, though information is scanty as to the wider use of the psalter, and practice undoubtedly varied considerably from family to family.



The patriarchal sacrifices were domestic or personal. Thus Abraham built altars at the places where he called on God. Jacob at Bethel set up a pillar and poured oil on it. Incidentally, it is worth noting that this use of what was probably a familiar practice does not mean that the patriarchs derived their religion from surrounding peoples; they simply used common forms to worship the true God. By institution the Passover was a family sacrifice, a lamb for a house. When the institution of a central tent or Temple put an end to family offerings, this rule was still observed even though the offering had to be made at the central site. Centralization by no means destroyed the family aspect, for households made the journey to Jerusalem and rendered their offerings together (just as family worship may be maintained in congregational worship through the family pew). Like the sign of deliverance, the great covenant sign of circumcision was also a family matter. It was first given to Abraham as an ordinance for his whole house (Gen 17:9ff.). Even when Israel’s worship was set on a national basis, the family character of circumcision persisted (cf. Luke 2:21ff.). In the last resort, of course, the nation as a whole made its offerings as the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.



A part of religious life which was very clearly committed to the family in Old Testament days was that of instruction both in the faith of Israel and also in its worship. In patriarchal times this may be presupposed. After the Exodus it was plainly enjoined upon the people in the exhortations of Deuteronomy. The “Hear, O Israel” was to be taught diligently to the children (Deut 6:4ff.). The commandments were also to be explained to them (Deut 6:20ff.). Explanation of the commandments entailed a rehearsal of the great acts of God (6:21ff.). The duty of not hiding these things from children and grandchildren underlies a great historical psalm (Ps 78; cf. v. 3f.). The witness of Exodus 12:26 and 13:14 is to the same effect, for an explanation is here to be given, not only of the Passover ritual, but also of the great act of divine deliverance which it commemorates. As noted, much of the duty of instruction could later be delegated to the synagogue, but the family had to insure that this instruction was in fact given. At this level the family basis was to stand Israel in good stead in the days of dispersion which commenced with the exile, and the synagogue itself might not have been possible without a prior tradition of instruction in faith and worship in the home.


Public worship

The Tabernacle

The public worship of Israel might be said to have commenced with the observance of the Passover in Egypt. This was rapidly followed by the institution of a whole system of worship laid down by God Himself through revelation to Moses. This worship was centralized for the whole people in the Tabernacle or tent of meeting. A tent was obviously the only practical structure during the desert march, but it also seems to have embodied an important principle, namely, that the living God is not to be tied, as it were, to a permanent structure (Acts 7).

The details of the worship prescribed for the Tabernacle are so multifarious that it is hardly possible to cover them all in the present context. Attention may be drawn, however, to certain features which seem to have particular significance.

a. The festivals. The worship of God in Israel is to a large degree concentrated on the great festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The people had a duty to be present at these and to make the appropriate offerings in the Tabernacle. These festivals were essentially the occasions of joyful and grateful remembrance, so that they embodied the declaratory or confessional aspect of worship. Passover was the festival of liberation; Pentecost, the festival of God’s constant provision; and Tabernacles, the festival of God’s guidance of the pilgrim people through the wilderness.

b. The sacrifices. Sacrifice had had a place in Biblical worship from the very first. With the Sinaitic revelation it was given a more organized national form. Various offerings were instituted which are listed in Leviticus 1ff. The sacrifices serve different purposes, so that some support can no doubt be found for the various explanations which have been advanced, e.g. sacrifice as an offering of life, or as an occasion of fellowship with God. Nevertheless, at the heart of the sacrificial system is the truth that God hereby makes provision for the atonement without which no true worship is possible. This truth is particularly expressed in the great annual ritual of the day of atonement when shrine, priesthood, and people are all purified (Lev 16). The proleptic form of atonement in the Old Testament required not only a Temple with sacrifices but also a priestly ministry of high priest, priests, and Levites. The ritual aspect of Israel’s worship should not obscure the fact that confession of sin has its place here (Lev 4:23f.). During the later days of the monarchy it is possible that psalms of penitence (Ps 51 et al.) were used on the occasion of propitiatory offerings.

c. The Ark. Within the Tabernacle a prominent place is occupied by the Ark of the Covenant. This is a reminder (a) that God Himself is not to be represented in wood or stone, (b) that the basis of the whole worship of the Tabernacle is the covenant which God made with His people, and (c) that the worship of the sanctuary does not exclude, replace, or weaken the requirement of a broader service of God in fulfillment of the ethical imperatives of the law. The setting of the Ark of the testimony within the tent is important, because it shows that any rift between the priestly and the prophetic ministry arises only through departure from the basic understanding of worship in Israel. The service of the sanctuary is not an autonomous sphere. Its purpose is to set forth the God of Israel, to bring the people to living fellowship with Him, and to keep before them the demand for a life consecrated to the divine service. The absence of a visible representation of God is by no means a failure in objectivity. On the contrary, God is not identified with the things He has made. His true objectivity as the God of creation who is also the God of the covenant is thus safeguarded. God is confessed as the God He truly is. His praise is set forth, His salvation typified, and His law made known.

d. The Sabbath. An institution apart is the Sabbath. This is not a ceremony, nor is it centralized in the sanctuary. One might almost group it under family or individual worship. Nevertheless, it is an observance of the whole people. By origin it is more a day of rest than a day of worship, characterized by what is not done rather than by what is done. On the other hand, the Sabbath has a positive side from the standpoint of worship. It is a standing memorial of (a) creation (Exod 19:11) and (b) the deliverance from Egypt (Deut 5:15). The sanctifying of the day to God also brings out a fundamental aspect of worship, namely, that of the sanctifying of God’s name and of all life and activity in this name. Through the centuries the Sabbath served to stamp Israel as the people set apart for the service of the true and living God, and at a later stage it provided a natural day for synagogue worship.


The Temple


Entry into the Promised Land brought with it a localizing of the place of worship. In the first instance Shiloh was the worship center, and it would appear that the tent of meeting, perhaps by now a semi-permanent structure, served as the house of God during the age of the Judges. The Ark came to be detached from this site as a result of the disaster at Aphek, and Shiloh was then apparently forsaken (Ps 78:60), so that the way was cleared for a more lasting centralization in Jerusalem. The Ark was brought there as a first step. David then conceived the purpose of building the Temple as a new center of worship. Nathan’s opposition to this plan had a double ground, (1) that God is not to be indebted to man for a house, and (2) that God had intentionally chosen a tent rather than a temple, possibly as a symbol that He is not confined to any place, that His true dwelling on earth is among men, and that His eternal dwelling is in the heavens (2 Sam 7:5ff.). In spite of the objection, however, David received permission to begin assembling materials, and Solomon finally built and consecrated a Temple which was to be the home of Old Testament worship during the days of the monarchy.

In essentials the Temple worship is the same as that of the Tabernacle. The festivals are held there, the sacrifices are offered, the Ark is given a new setting. If the priesthood is now especially invested in the Zadokites, the sacrificial ministry of high priest, priests, and Levites continues on a more highly organized basis. The Day of Atonement still occupies a prominent place. Evidence in the Psalms suggests that the Feast of the New Year acquires increased importance, though the thesis of a divine enthronement involves a reading of pagan rituals into the Old Testament doctrine (not always clearly understood in practice) concerning the relation of the earthly king to the divine Ruler of Israel. The new feasts added after the Exile (e.g. Purim) are hardly of sufficient importance to merit individual treatment here.

The great new contribution made by Temple worship is the development of the poetic and musical side on a scale hitherto unparalleled. Psalms had been used in worship before, but they would seem to have been compositions for individual occasions (cf. the songs of Moses and Deborah). How far they had been regularly sung in Tabernacle worship one cannot determine. David, however, gave a new place to music, as may be seen already in the procession which brought up the Ark (2 Sam 6:5). When plans were made for the Temple, he set up the orders of singers and musicians which should be responsible for the praise of God in the sanctuary (1 Chron 25). Above all, he composed many of the psalms for the great collection which became the hymn book of Israel and which is still the heart and nucleus of all Biblical praise.

The psalms, though varied in character, are peculiarly adapted for public worship, whether at the regular sacrifices, during the annual festivals, or on special occasions. In the later days of the postexilic period particular psalms or groups of psalms came to be associated with particular services. Thus the songs of ascents (Pss 120-134) were sung at the feast of Tabernacles, and the Hallel psalms (113-118) at Passover. In greater detail Psalm 7 was a psalm for the feast of lots, Psalm 29 for the feast of weeks, Psalm 148 for the beginning, and Psalm 136 for the end of the Passover. The instruments used in accompaniment were harps, cymbals, cornets, and trumpets. Individual psalms had their own settings, though these prob. underwent considerable development during the long period from the building of the first Temple to the destruction of the last.

The divine indwelling of the Temple was symbolized by the Shekinah which filled the house when the Ark was brought up into it (1 Kings 8:10f.) and which Ezekiel saw departing when the Temple was so defiled by idolatry that judgment could no longer be averted (Ezek 10:18; cf. 1 Sam 4:22). The presence of the divine glory imparts peculiar sanctity to the Temple, yet not at the expense of a localization of God or a rigid distinction between the holy and the profane. God is worshiped in the sanctuary because He has set His name there. He is the God whom heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain (1 Kings 8:27). He will hear in heaven the prayer which is offered toward the Temple as well as the prayer and praise in the Temple itself. Thus the worship of Israel maintains a freedom from cultic restriction even while it is given a specific focus according to the divine command.




The Synagogue

The overthrow of the first Temple created a new situation. This was even more serious than the temporary dislocation caused by the capture of the Ark and the destruction of Shiloh. For the greater part of a century the people had no Temple. Many of them were in an exile from which they and their descendants did not return. Even when the second Temple was built, the Jews of the dispersion could not possibly use it as a place of regular offering and festal rejoicing. It was thus inevitable that a form of extra-territorial worship should develop, and since the building of a temple outside Jerusalem was prohibited (that at Elephantine was probably regarded only as a proto-temple, and it seems to have been the only one of its type), this form could not be a duplication of the worship of Jerusalem. It had to be a new form adapted to the new circumstances.

Whether or not the new form of synagogue worship appeared in the Old Testament period is a matter of conjecture. On the other hand, the word “synagogue” itself simply means “congregation” (it is an alternative for ecclesia church in the LXX), and it is more than likely that even prior to the more specific organization of the synagogue, meetings were held by the dispersed Jews for functions which later came to characterize developed synagogue worship.

Thus the return of Ezra to Jerusalem brought a new stress both on the reading and also on the exposition and teaching of the law. This seems to imply (1) that the exiles came to see a need for instruction beyond the rudiments provided in the home, and (2) that groups in the dispersion had already met for study of the law which would help preserve the integrity of their faith in an alien setting. The recitation of the shema (“Hear, O Israel”) might well have served as another integrative factor, and it is difficult to suppose that common prayers did not develop on the basis of existing Old Testament prayers (cf. the individual prayers of Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra). In spite of Psalm 137, one can hardly believe that there was any real or permanent refusal to make use of the poetic treasures of the psalter among the exiles. While remembrance of the great festal songs of Jerusalem would bring almost intolerable nostalgia, the expression of religion in psalm could hardly be neglected or set aside when the traditional practice of Temple worship was no longer possible.

How and when such developments took place is not recorded. What is known is that prayer, the reading (and exposition) of the Old Testament (especially the law), the recitation of the shema, and the singing of psalms did become the constituent elements of synagogue worship, and that impulses in this direction are to be seen from the exilic or early postexilic period onward. Synagogues as such are known from the 3rd century, even though it is unlikely that a fixed form of worship had as yet established itself. The requirements of the situation and the restriction of the priestly ministry to Jerusalem were already forcing the movement in the direction actually taken, and it is significant that authentic forms of Biblical worship resulted.





Individual worship

Family worship on the one side and public worship on the other did not exclude a very rich practice of personal religion in Israel. The patriarchs are early examples, for many of the prayers and acts of devotion recorded in Genesis are at the individual level. Moses, too, is a man who enjoyed a deep personal relation with God. The enactments of the law provide for many individual acts of religion even within the context of public worship. In the days of the later judges Hannah offers an outstanding example of personal supplication and thanksgiving offered on the occasion of a visit to the shrine at Shiloh. The age of the monarchy and the exilic and postexilic periods present a whole series of men of prayer, confession, praise, and consecration, from David, through kings like Hezekiah and prophets like Jeremiah, to the great figures of Daniel and Nehemiah. How far the intense personal devotion of these men is representative of the whole people one can no more say than in the case of outstanding Christians, but the general presentation of the Old Testament gives no grounds for supposing that, for all their eminence, these were isolated individuals.

In this sphere, as in the worship in the Temple and later in the synagogue, the Psalms played a highly important role. Many of the psalms are written in “I” form. Attempts have been made to make out that this is a collective “I,” but, while there are instances which might support this, recent scholarship has veered to the view that such psalms are genuinely personal. They express the individual piety of the authors, whether in prayer, complaint, confession of sins, confession of faith and hope, or confession of praise. They also provide expression for the personal piety of those who use them. As noted, it is possible that they were sometimes used by individuals on occasions of confession and thanksgiving in the Temple. In addition, committed to memory, they were an inexhaustible treasury of devotion and guidance for everyday life. Other material learned from infancy, e.g. the shema, could contribute to the same end, and later the instruction of the people in the whole law, and to some degree in the prophets as well, offered supplementary sources. Even so, the extraordinary range, variety, and poignancy of the Psalms adapted this book uniquely for service in the field of individual worship.









The word idolatry is built up from idol and latreía. It denotes the serving of idols or other gods. All worship which is not directed to the true God is ipso facto idolatry. Some forms of worship used in alien cults may be incorporated into the worship of Israel according to the law—this is not idolatry. On the other hand, idolatry can include the use of the prescribed forms of Yahweh worship if idols or other gods are made the objects of veneration. The question of idolatry arises in Israel, not because the true worship of Yahweh develops out of surrounding cults by a process of religious evolution, but because the people resisted the knowledge and worship of God and inclined to the religious ways of those around them. Already at Sinai one can see this, for even before the worship of God was properly established, the people demanded a visible image, fashioned the golden calf, and made this the center of what was apparently an orgiastic cult. On the human side, the story of especially preexilic worship in Israel is a story of conflict between the prescribed worship, which was never wholly abandoned, and the idolatrous cults which constantly intruded into the life of the people. If there is development, it is not the development of a pure concept or form of worship. God Himself gave this at the very outset. The development, if any, is in the understanding and practice of the form and concept already given. Nor is there any steady advance either in individuals or in the people as a whole. The pure practice of worship comes into conflict with the impure, and this conflict rages continually, so that a Solomon, e.g. is probably further from God in later life than in his young days, while periods of declension and reformation alternate in the ongoing life of Judah.


Canaanite cults

Foreign influences

The worship of Yahweh suffered attack from without as well as from within. The foreign invasion began in strength in the days of Solomon, whose attraction to alien wives was accompanied by an equal attraction to their alien forms of worship (1 Kings 11:1-8). Matters of civil policy, e.g. the advantageousness of foreign alliances, were allowed to control ecclesiastical practice. The example thus set was followed with no less abandon by both the divided kingdoms. In Israel the reign of Ahab constituted a climax, for Ahab allowed himself to be dominated by his Zidon|Zidonian wife, Jezebel. He began his reign inauspiciously by building a temple and setting up an altar to Baal in Samaria (1 Kings 16:32). Jezebel, however, went further, extirpating the prophets of God, teaching the ways of foreign despotism, and fostering an idolatry which through intermarriage affected Judah as well (2 Kings 8:18). The penetration of alien cults into the S continued steadily during the final days of the monarchy. Ahaz, for example, had a copy made of the altar he saw in Damascus (16:10ff.). Manasseh worshiped “the host of heaven” (21:3). Josiah’s attempt to end the forms of worship established by Solomon (23:13) enjoyed only temporary success, for Ezekiel paints a dark picture of vile religious practices in secret chambers in the Temple (Ezek 8:7ff.), and Jeremiah tells how those who escaped to Egypt turned naturally to the worship of the queen of heaven as their fathers, kings, and princes had done in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem (Jer 44).

A survey of the actual history of worship in Israel suggests indeed that prior to the Exile the conflict did not go in favor of Yahweh worship. There was, if anything, decline rather than development in the final stages of the monarchy. It needed the sharp judgment of the destruction of kingdom, city, and Temple to bring the remnant to a realization of their loss and a clear understanding of the issues. It needed contact with alien cults in their own setting to bring home to the exiles the truth and worth of the divine revelation and the divinely instituted worship. It needed the reconcentration on essentials—the Word of God, prayer, and praise—to give insight into the inner meaning of that which externally, perhaps, had seemed to be only one liturgical form among many others. It needed the throwing back wholly upon God’s grace, and hence upon faith in Him, to commit the people of God to true belief in the one God, and to obedience to His will, with a fullness and intensity hardly ever displayed even after previous deliverances.


The prophetic witness

The place of the prophets

Not without reason the prophets are mostly depicted as champions of true theology and pure ethics. The truth of this understanding, however, means that the prophets had also to be champions of genuine worship. Contending for a true theology, they had to oppose the cults of false gods. Contending for a pure ethics, they had both to condemn immoral religious practices and also to oppose the error of a divorce between worship and righteousness. One of the major tasks of the prophets was to recall the people from the worship of idols, or the false worship of the true God, to genuine worship. In this sense the prophets have a powerful witness to give in the field of worship no less than in the spheres of ethics and theology.



This is first a witness against idolatry. Consistently from the earlier prophets to the great writing prophets these men oppose and condemn the Canaanite and alien cults. Thus a man of God comes from Judah to Bethel to cry against the altar of Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:1ff.). Ahijah the prophet pronounces judgment on Jeroboam for going after other gods and molten images (1 Kings 14:7ff.). Elijah stages the great contest on Carmel with a view to bringing the people back to the allegiance and worship of Yahweh alone (1 Kings 18). Amos cries against the royal sanctuary at Bethel: “Seek not Bethel” (Amos 5). To come to Bethel or Gilgal is to compound transgression (4:4). Hosea declares judgment on Ephraim because it has made many altars to sin (Hos 8:11). Micah warns the people that graven images will be cut off and the groves plucked up (Mic 5:13ff.). Jeremiah, as noted, condemns the worship of the queen of heaven (Jer 44), and Ezekiel, in his horrifying depiction of the worship of the sun and of weeping for Tammuz within the very precincts of the Temple, prophesies ineluctable judgment and destruction because of these abominations.



Increasingly, however, the witness of the prophets is directed against a pure externalism of worship which emphasizes the performance rather than the inner spirit. This theme is clearly enunciated by Samuel in his famous dictum that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). This principle underlies the condemnation of David by Nathan, for the great contribution made by David to the worship of God gives him no right to play fast and loose with the divine commandments. Amos sounds the same note. Quite apart from the idolatry of Bethel, this is futile worship because it goes hand in hand with manifest injustices committed against the people. Even when the great religious festivals are held in honor of Yahweh, He hates and despises them, nor will He accept the offerings nor hear the praise. What He wants to see is righteousness and judgment (Amos 5:21ff.). This line of thought is powerfully pursued by the prophets of Judah, where the worship of Jerusalem was ostensibly offered in accordance with the divine precepts. Yet, as Isaiah puts it, the sacrifices are to no purpose, attendance at the Temple is futile, God finds the solemn feasts wearisome, and He closes His eyes to the worshipers. Why? Because they make only an external show of devotion. Their conduct is blatantly at variance with their religious practice. The great essentials of true service of Yahweh—the seeking of judgment, the helping of the oppressed, the championing of widows and orphans—are all neglected. Nowhere, perhaps, is there a more graphic depiction of religious formalism, of external acts of worship divorced from true faith and active obedience, than in the later passage in Isaiah which speaks of the fast of pleasure or contention in which a man bows down his head like a bulrush and spreads out sackcloth and ashes, but gives no evidence of a true fast of the heart (Isa 58:3ff.). From a different perspective Malachi pours similar scorn upon the observances of the postexilic Temple. The point here is that no true worship of God lies behind the external practice, for even the practice itself is careless and slipshod. The people worship at the least expense to themselves, neglecting to pay tithes (Mal 3:10) and bringing only torn and lame beasts as sacrifices (1:8, 13). In Malachi, too, disobedience to the ethical precepts of the law (3:5) is still a fundamental reason why the worship, even though based on the law, cannot be acceptable to God.


True worship

It has been argued sometimes that because of these attacks on formal worship the prophets are to be viewed as opponents of the Temple system. This conclusion has even been broadened out into the thesis of a rift between prophet and priest, between prophetic and priestly concepts of religion. The prophets supposedly contend for pure faith issuing in righteous action, whereas the priests regard the cultus, and especially the sacrificial ministry, as the heart of religion. The existence of tensions and conflicts is not to be denied. Nevertheless, these surely arose out of corruptions rather than out of fundamental incompatibility. After all, the prophets were also against false prophets, i.e. the abuse of prophecy. Two of the great Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were themselves priests. The destruction of the Temple and cultus is proclaimed as a judgment, not as healthy surgery which will make possible the replacement of false religion by true religion. Toward the close of the Exile one of the main functions of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah is to promise success in the rebuilding of the Temple, and to summon the people to take part in this work which will make possible the reinstitution of cultic worship. The priest Joshua is called upon to play a special role in this venture, so that it is idle to think in terms of hostility between priest and prophet.

The prophetic witness against sacrifices, fasts, assemblies, and even prayer has to be set in perspective. The prophets naturally condemn these altogether when offered to idols. They also scorn and judge them when offered by those who simply engage in the action but are not truly committed to faith in God and obedience to His command. This does not mean, however, that the prophets are calling for the complete cessation of all religious practices. They seek a purification of worship, not by its curtailment or reconstruction, but by concentration on the basic essentials. If worship is to be what it was meant to be, then there has to be knowledge of God, true faith in Him, a humble walk before Him, a recognition of His gracious acts, a commitment to His will and ways. When these are present, and only when they are present, true worship is possible and has its proper place. Worship by its very nature is confession and service. On the other hand, the forms of worship cannot be substitutes for the inner core of faith and obedience. To put it simply, offering and festival are of no value without a penitent, faithful, and obedient heart. Where there is a penitent, faithful, and obedient heart, it is right and proper, by divine appointment, that there should also be festival and sacrifice (carefully note the change from v. 16 to v. 19, because of v. 17, in Psalm 51). The prophets are thus the champions, not of prophetic religion against priestly religion, but of genuine worship against an unworthy and useless counterfeit.


Worship in the New Testament

Forms of worship

In the gospels

The gospels presuppose the forms of worship native to Palestinian Judaism in the early 1st century a.d. This means that the Temple still occupied an important place in primitive New Testament worship. Zacharias, father of the Baptist, was a priest, and God’s revelation came to him as he fulfilled his ritual ministry in the Temple (Luke 1:5ff.). Joseph and Mary were careful to keep the law of circumcision and the law of purification (2:21ff.). When Jesus reached the appropriate age, He went up to the Temple for the Passover; it is significant that His proleptic ministry on this occasion took place among the doctors of Israel in the Temple, and that He gave to His parents a reply which at least carries the suggestion that the Temple, the [[House of God, was His proper place (Luke 2:42ff.). A noteworthy feature in Luke is that the beginnings of the Gospel are thus set very plainly in the framework of the life and practice of Israel.

The Temple maintains its importance throughout the incarnate life and ministry of Jesus. He attends the feasts: Passover, Tabernacles, the Dedication. He also weaves the feasts into the pattern of His ministry. Teaching in the Temple court, He shows at Tabernacles that He is the true water of life. The Passover is the setting both of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and also of the accomplishment of the new exodus by His self-offering on the cross as the Lamb which takes away the world’s sin. The promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit takes place significantly at Pentecost.

If Jesus has words of criticism for Temple worship, they are directed against those who corrupt and defile it rather than against the worship as such. His driving out of the merchants and overturning of the tables for money is an act of defense of the Temple (cf. John 2:17) which arouses the hostility only of ecclesiastics and profiteers. Jesus foresees the overthrow of the Temple, but He does so with the sadness of the true worshiper, not with the crazy zeal of the revolutionary.

Nevertheless, Jesus recognized that the Temple had to be knocked down, and that it could not be replaced in its familiar form. God never really agreed to have a permanent dwelling built for Him, and the various Temples had to perish. The true promise was that God would build a house for Himself of the lineage of David. This promise had now come to fulfillment in Jesus, the One in whom God tabernacled among men in living presence. Hence the Temple had reached its end and goal in the Person of the incarnate Son. Jesus could appreciate it because it had served as a type and figure of the true and final presence which God was to manifest in Him. But he could not preserve it in its existing form. He could only “fulfill” it (John 1:14; 2:19ff.).

The same applies to the sacrifices and sacrificial ministry of the Temple. One may assume that as Joseph and Mary made their offerings, and as Jesus Himself attended the feasts, so He and His disciples continued to participate in sacrificial worship. The life of Jesus, however, was oriented to the making of one sacrifice for sins forever (Heb 10:12), which would fulfill the Passover, the regular offerings, and also the special ritual of the day of atonement. Hence, when the temple sacrifices ceased with the destruction of the sanctuary, there would be no need to restore them. They had already reached their consummation. The types had given way to the reality in the self-offering of the Lord. Similarly, Jesus accepted the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood during His incarnate life. Yet He came to fulfill the ministry of the eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:1ff.). He was concerned neither to restore nor to replace the sacerdotal service of the destroyed Temple. If a newer form of Passover was set up when the Last Supper became the Lord’s Supper, it should be noted that here, as in the Jewish modification, the core and center of the ancient ritual was removed with the necessary abandonment of the slaying of the passover lamb. Jesus had offered Himself as the final Passover (1 Cor 5:7) of the new and definitive redemption.


In the true prophetic tradition, Jesus has no time for the perverting of true piety into empty formalism. He censures not only the display of prayer but also the prayer which is merely vain repetition (Matt 6:7). He also condemns severely the exaggerated emphasis on ritual practice which makes this a substitute for genuine righteousness (Mark 7:6ff.). Nevertheless, He does not reject either form (cf. the Lord’s Prayer and the new ritual of the Lord’s Supper) or ritual observances (Matt 23:23) as such. His call is the prophetic call for the inner walk, the true consecration, and the right conduct which will naturally find expression in religious exercises and which alone give substance, reality, and power to the external motions.


In Acts and the epistles

The witness of Acts and the epistles is similar to that of the gospels. The only important difference is that with the Gentile mission and increasing separation from the Temple and synagogues the churches have to develop their own forms of common worship. Even Jewish Christians obviously come under increasing pressure as persistent evangelism arouses the hostility of the ecclesiastical authorities.

The Temple still figures prominently in the worship of the infant church. After the ascension the disciples were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God (Luke 24:51-53). Part of the fellowship of the Jerusalem church was daily attendance in the Temple (Acts 2:46). Peter and John healed the lame man when on their way to the Temple at the hour of prayer (3:1ff.). Like Jesus, the apostles stood in the Temple and taught the people (5:25). At a later date Paul was anxious to be at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost (20:16). One of his first acts on reaching the city was to make his way to the Temple and undergo ritual purification (21:23ff.). When arrested and accused, Paul protested strongly that he had not offended in any way either against the law or against the Temple. The witness of Stephen shows that the Early Church had a strong sense of the transitoriness of the earthly Temple (7:47ff.). The problem of Judaizing was important at this very point, for those who attached greater importance to the Temple naturally wanted the Gentiles to become Jews so that they could worship there. The Church, led by Stephen and Paul, came to see that this was neither possible nor right. Nevertheless, so long as the Temple remained, it was for Jewish Christians a proper center of the true divine worship which is in faith, obedience, sincerity, and truth.

The relation to the synagogue is equally strong, though the opportunity of exposition soon made the synagogue a place of contention and separation. Stephen seems to have engaged in synagogue evangelism (6:9ff.). Paul makes the synagogue the starting point of his missionary work in the various cities. He preaches in the synagogues at Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. He finds a house of prayer at Philippi. It was Paul’s custom to attend the synagogue, and he reasons for three Sabbaths in the synagogue at [[Thessalonica] (17:1, 2). Even as late as Acts 28:16 he calls the Jewish leaders of Rome together—his detention probably prevents his worshiping at the synagogue—and seeks to win them for the Gospel. In most of the Pauline churches the first converts came from the synagogues, though in no instance does a whole synagogue seem to have become a Christian congregation.

The division which took place in the synagogues through the preaching of the Gospel meant that Christians were forced to hold their own gatherings. They had been prepared for this by the special times of fellowship which the first disciples had enjoyed with their Lord, whether informally by the way or more formally at meals. Already the first church in Jerusalem met together in the upper room for prayer (1:14; 4:23; 12:12). The breaking of bread, whether in the form of common meals, the Lord’s Supper, or both, played some part in the movement toward the Church’s independent worship. Outside Jerusalem Paul (and Barnabas) apparently took steps to bring believers together for their own gatherings, which in some instances might have been supplementary to synagogue services, though there was a definite separation at Ephesus (19:9). The comparative ease with which synagogues could be formed, the pattern of worship already provided, and the conversion of leading members (cf. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, at Corinth, 18:8) helped to make the formation of Christian congregations a smooth and simple process. It was prob. through meeting in houses, due to the absence of church buildings, that one reads of house-churches (cf. Philem 2). The apostles made provision for the supervision of the new assemblies (Acts 14:22). Somewhat after the pattern of the synagogue, the two chief ministers were the elder (bishop) and deacon, though it is perhaps a mistake to see too close an assimilation to synagogical forms.


In addition to prayer, Paul commends a diligent study of the Scriptures, whether by reading or by committing to memory (cf. 2 Tim 3:15ff.; Eph 6:17). He also calls for a life of self-discipline, which may even include celibacy if this is the divine command (1 Cor 7:1ff.), but which certainly includes a keeping under of the body for the sake of better service (1 Cor 9:24). The discipline of fasting is not neglected (2 Cor 11:27). Thanksgiving is also to be the constant attitude and exercise of the believer (1 Thess 5:9). The grave and sober conduct expected of bishops and deacons (1 Tim 3) does not specify a personal exercise of piety, but this is surely implied. Timothy as a man of God is exhorted to pursue godliness (1 Tim 6:11). While the worship of the individual merges into that of the fellowship, and also into general uprightness of life and conduct, the personal exercise of religion is no unimportant aspect of worship in the New Testament.


Elements of worship




Though the New Testament does not give any detailed information on the structure of the first Christian services, it leaves little room for doubt concerning the basic elements in primitive worship. These are, of course, the elements already learned from the principles of worship and from Old Testament practice. Their embodiment in synagogue worship might well have led to their immediate use in the infant Church, since an early description like that in Justin’s Apology (I, 65-67; c. a.d. 150) reveals a close similarity to the practice of the synagogue. Nevertheless, even without this model, the fundamental elements would surely have found a place, and distinctive Christian features have, of course, their own origin.

Prayer in the more specific sense of petition is naturally a first constituent element. The very first duty of the Church between the ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit was to wait in prayerful expectancy. Persecution quickly forced the Jerusalem church to its knees in common prayer. The needs of Christians, the needs of apostles and teachers, the needs of the world—all provided constant material for intercession. Common concern produced common petition. One cannot say how exactly the Church prayed. Perhaps a leader prayed for the whole, perhaps individuals prayed in course, perhaps there was recitation of a form or forms of prayer. Rather surprisingly, there is no immediate reference to a congregational use of the Lord’s Prayer (even the use in Didaché 8 is individual), but this was later found to be natural enough. The Amen, having acquired a new and even deeper meaning from its use by Jesus (cf. also 2 Cor 1:20), occurs frequently in the New Testament and probably served as a congregational response, as in synagogue worship (cf. Justin, in loc.). Stock phrases like Maranatha might well have been used also (1 Cor 16:22; cf. Rev 22:20; Didaché 10, 7); otherwise it is hard to see why they should be preserved in Aram. Blessings, whether from the Old Testament or in the new Christian form of 2 Corinthians 13:14 or Revelation 22:21, probably came into rapid use. The epistles especially seem to testify to the emergence of distinctive vocabulary of Christian worship even in the New Testament period. Whatever the forms, however, the essential element of prayer itself belongs to worship from the very outset, and a genuine Christian service without it is almost unthinkable.






Closely related to prayer is praise, the confession of God’s nature and works. Indeed, prayer in the form of thanksgiving is itself praise. Almost all the prayers recorded in the New Testament contain an element of doxology. They recall God’s acts, and thus sound a note of assurance and triumph. Quite apart from prayer, however, the praise of God has its own place in New Testament worship. The infancy stories show how the life of Christ began with angelic and human canticles which ultimately served as new songs in the congregation. The cry of jubilation uttered by the Lord took quasihymnic form. Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn—probably the customary Hallel—at the Last Supper. Paul refers to a psalm at worship in Corinth, and to hymns and spiritual songs in Ephesians 5:19. Scholars have discerned possible fragments of early Christian hymns in such passages as Philippians 2:6ff. and 1 Timothy 3:16. The hymns of Revelation show that songs are sung in heavenly as well as earthly worship, though some expositors think Revelation 4 and 5 might be based on the worship of the congregation. In the earliest period the psalter was prob. the hymnbook of the Church, but if the reference in Pliny’s letter to TrajanEpp. X. 96 is to Christological hymns, it seems that quite early new and more specifically Christian hymns found a place in the confession of praise.





Confession of sin

The confession of sin is at the heart of worship, for, as the worthiness of God is exalted, the unworthiness of man demands acknowledgment. The prayers and psalms of the Old Testament are full of the recognition of guilt, which obviously goes hand in hand with a plea for forgiveness and restitution, and with praise and thanks for the divine mercy and pardon. In the New Testament the Gospel is by its very nature a divine word to sinners. The baptism of John stands at the entry with its summons to repentance and conversion. Jesus takes up the same call, followed by His apostles in the first preaching of Acts. Peter, confronted by Jesus, confesses that he is a sinful man (Luke 5:8). The prayer which God hears in the Temple is the penitent prayer of the publican rather than the self-congratulatory prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:9ff.). In the Church’s worship, the great occasion for the confession of sin is at baptism, when the old life of sin is renounced and the new life of faith and obedience is begun. In postapostolic days the public confession of specific faults was required when the Excommunication|excommunicated sought readmittance. It may be seen from 1 John 1:8f., however, that confession of sins to God, whether individually or in concert, played a continuing role in the life of believers. Paul in his letters refers again and again to the utter dependence of himself and all believers on the divine mercy. Thus, even though there is no great evidence of specific prayers of confession in New Testament worship, this element must be presupposed as the basis of all prayer and praise. Prayer itself has to be in the name of Jesus, since there is nothing in oneself or in one’s own name which could constitute a valid ground of either access or answer (cf. the role of Jesus as High Priest and Intercessor in Heb 7).





Confession of faith (baptism)



Reading of Scripture

Rather strangely, the New Testament does not refer to the reading of the Old Testament in the common worship of the Church. Paul’s epistles are publicly read (1 Thess 5:27), and this might well have formed the beginning of the later New Testament readings (cf. Justin’s “Memoirs of the Apostles,” Apology I, 66). The traditional texts relating to the Lord’s Supper also seem to have been rehearsed (1 Cor 11). In the light of synagogue practice, the extensive use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, the later knowledge of the Old Testament displayed in the postapostolic period, and the early patristic references to Old Testament reading, it is virtually impossible to suppose that the New Testament church did not include Old Testament readings in common worship. The fact that there were sermons (e.g. Paul at Troas) supports this. A sermon in the synagogue was primarily exposition. Early Christian preaching was especially concerned to show the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ. Furthermore, the mention of an interpretation seems to presuppose reference to the Old Testament. The high estimation of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3:15ff.) is a further consideration. Great freedom was no doubt exercised—even the synagogue had as yet no prophetic lectionary. But the reading of God’s written word, first in the Old Testament and then increasingly in the New Testament, was surely a constituent part of worship from the very first, as it patently was in both Temple and synagogue, and then again in the Church of the 2nd century.



In contrast to reading, preaching is solidly attested. Paul preached at Troas. The prophesyings at Corinth also seem to be forms of Christian exhortation. The needs of evangelism and education as well as edification made it essential that the ministry of the word be included in the early services. The synagogue provided a partial parallel, the teaching of Jesus an example. The apostles were specifically called to the ministry of the word (Acts 6). At a later time bishops were to be apt to teach (2 Tim 3:2). Preaching combined several aspects of worship: declaration of God’s work, confession of faith, underlying prayer, the climax of praise. Early preaching was particularly related to the Old Testament on the one side and to the life and work of Christ (later the New Testament) on the other. While not restricted to formal exposition, it had a strong expository content if one may judge from the sermons in Acts. Among Gentile Christians in particular a good deal of information would have to be passed on in preaching, for the same level of Biblical knowledge could not always be assumed as among Jewish Christians or the early “god-fearers.” Apollos, a man mighty in the Scriptures, exercised an important ministry in this field (Acts 18:24ff.). In the postapostolic period Justin gives evidence of the secure position of preaching in the normal Christian service.


The Lord’s Supper

If baptism was an addition to synagogue worship (though not without some parallel in proselyte baptism), this is even more true of the Lord’s Supper. Both Biblical and patristic evidence supports the view that this was from the very first a constitutive part of weekly worship. Certainly in Justin’s time there is no disjunction between ministry of word and ministry of sacrament, and the examples of Troas and Corinth suggest that, with variations of time and structure, the same applies in the New Testament period as well. The one gathering embraces not only prayer, praise, reading, and preaching, but also the holy meal, which was prob. accompanied by blessings (cf. Didaché 9-10) after the manner of the Passover. The Lord’s Supper took the place, not only of the Passover, but also of the Temple offerings. This is why sacrificial language soon came to be used in respect of it (cf. Mal 1:11). Yet, it was not strictly a replacement. The Lord’s Supper shows forth the one sacrifice for sins for ever. Christ as High Priest has made a sacerdotal ministry redundant. Hence the ministers of the Supper, whether apostles, bishops, presbyters, or deacons, are truly ministers, not priests. The focal point is declaration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for mankind. This is the ground of the fellowship here enjoyed with God and with fellow believers. Ultimately, then, the Lord’s Supper, like all else, is Christological rather than, in the narrower Old Testament sense, liturgical. To describe it as quintessentially liturgy is in the last resort misleading. It is also to do despite to its very real place and significance within the Church’s worship as a perpetual reminder that worship is possible only on the basis of the atonement which God Himself has made by His self-offering in the Son.


The collection?

The reference to a weekly allocation in 1 Corinthians 16, the liturgical significance ascribed to alms in Philippians 4:18, and mention of an offering in patristic writings, have led to the view that a collection formed a basic element in Christian worship. Difficulties in the way of this conclusion are that Paul does not speak of a church collection, that the Philippian gift, like the Jerusalem collection, was probably a special project (though rapidly succeeded by extensive poor relief), and that Tertullian refers only to a chest for spontaneous giftsApology 39. 1-6. Furthermore, some scholars argue that Justin’s offertory is that of bread and wine for communion, though this was no obvious part of the original institution. On the other side, one should consider that almsgiving had a long Old Testament history, and that the importance of liberality as part of serving God is beyond dispute. Thus, if it is too much to say that the collection is a constitutive part of the service, there are good grounds for its later inclusion. The kiss of peace falls into something of the same category.


Occasional services?

It has often been noted that there are no marriage or funeral services in the New Testament. It should be remembered, however, that such services are only an application of the basic elements of worship—prayer, praise, reading, exposition, and the Lord’s Supper where appropriate—to specific situations. In fact, the New Testament itself mentions certain occasions, e.g. confirming by the apostles, ordaining, and perhaps the anointing of the sick, when Biblical signs (laying on of hands, anointing) were used along with other liturgical elements. This does not mean that there were developed services of confirmation, etc. It simply shows that there can be rapid adaptation of the basic elements to particular needs, sometimes with a particular sign. The consecration of Paul and Barnabas to missionary service at Antioch offers an instructive example (Acts 13:2ff.). Whether or not any given service can find a precedent in the New Testament, the New Testament certainly offers the materials from which a genuinely Biblical service may be constructed, and the injunction that all things are to be done in the Lord means that the introduction of elements of worship is never a misplaced or unwarranted intrusion.


Essence of worship


The Holy Spirit

Worship in Judaism

The development of the synagogue

Reference has been made already to incipient stages of synagogue development during the later Old Testament period. It has been shown that at least the elements of synagogue worship almost certainly found a place in the religious life of the exiles. So far as the organized synagogue is concerned, however, the subject is wrapped in obscurity, for, apart from a possible reference in Psalm 74:8, there are no data until the 3rd century b.c., and the first assured allusion to a synagogue as a place of worship dates only from the 1st century a.d. In the main, scholars incline to the view that the organized synagogue is the product of the measures taken by the dispersed Jews to fill the gaps caused by their isolation from the Temple, and that the movement of synagogical worship is from the dispersion to Palestinian Judaism, especially through the ministry of Ezra. Opposing theories espousing a Palestinian origin are (1) that the synagogue was a Mosaic institution, (2) that what was originally a civil assembly was given religious significance by the prophets when they made their speeches there, and (3) that the synagogue is a resuscitation of the ancient cultic shrines under the influences of Josiah’s reforms. Another suggestion is that the first synagogues were temples after the pattern of Elephantine but that these gradually became spiritual rather than realistic representations of the Temple at Jerusalem. In the absence of solid evidence the field is obviously wide open for speculation and it could well be that diverse forces contributed to the emergence of the organized synagogue of later times. On the whole, however, a specific origin in the dispersion along the lines already indicated, seems to be most in accord with the situation.


Aspects of synagogue worship

The theme of developed synagogical worship is complicated both by the lack of early data and also by the wealth of detail available in the later rabbinic writings. Though many of the details are of no great significance, synagogue worship as a whole is highly important because of its evident similarity of structure to early Christian services.

Since the law of central sacrifice did not permit either temple or offerings outside Jerusalem the synagogue does not provide sacrificial worship. Perhaps the chief article of furniture is the chest or ark for the scrolls of the law (and prophets). Closely associated with this is the platform or pulpit for the reading of the lessons and the recitation of the prayers. The ministers of the synagogue are not priests, nor do they discharge priestly functions, though a priest, if present, would give the benediction. The chief office bearer was the ruler of the synagogue, who presided over the assembly, chose the prophetic lesson and originally did the reading. The servant or officer of the synagogue acted as the ruler’s assistant both in the detailed arrangement of services and also in administration. A messenger of the congregation was also selected from among the people to lead in the recitation of prayer or to pray on the congregation’s behalf. Originally the messenger was chosen for each service, but his tasks later came to devolve on the servant. The herald of the shema was another minister who either promulgated the shema (originally from a written scroll) or led an antiphonal recitation of it. Incidentally, the reading of the Scriptures in Hebrew meant that a translator was needed to put them into the familiar Aramaic (also Greek), though many Palestinian Jews could still follow the original. Ten males at least had to be present for a service. Whether or not women were originally allowed to attend is debated. Early absence of the separate gallery suggests that they might have been excluded, but among Hellenistic Jews women played no inconsiderable role, so that separation might have been by movable screen. The later gallery testifies to admission on a basis of separation by sex.

The chief element in synagogue worship is undoubtedly the reading of Scripture. From the 1st century b.c. readings from the law seem to have followed a triennial cycle. The prophetic readings did not conform to a settled pattern. The ruler of the synagogue usually selected the passage. The sermon, when delivered, was closely related to Scripture, for it took the form of an exposition of the prophetic reading (cf. Luke 4:16ff.). This exposition would normally be given only if a competent person was present. Visiting strangers could be invited to deliver the address (Acts 13:14, 15).

Next to the reading (and exposition) of Scripture the recitation of the “Hear, O Israel” and common prayer were the two most important features. The shema, preceded and followed by brief prayers, consisted of three passages: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41. It served both as a confession of faith and also as a constant summons to obedience and faithfulness. In fulfillment of the injunction to instruct children in faith and practice, the synagogue also undertook an educational role, not as a primary school in the strict sense, but as a school for primary studies in the law. The common prayer of the synagogue was the prayer of eighteen (nineteen) benedictions, which every Jew was supposed to know by heart and to repeat daily. In the New Testament period the number of petitions was probably much smaller, and there was considerable variation in wording from place to place and even from synagogue to synagogue. This gave enhanced importance to the messenger who led the prayer. The benedictions include praise of God and prayer for the needy and afflicted. They receive their name from the bendiction (“Blessed be thou...”) at the close of each individual section.

Liturgical forms enjoyed a place of some importance in synagogue worship. The reading of the Old Testament and recitation of the shema provided a basis. The prayer of eighteen benedictions gradually came to have a more settled form; earlier differences were due more to local variation than to extemporaneousness, though considerable latitude was probably allowed to the leader within the general content. Extemporary prayer was by no means unknown in Israel. The rabbis often prayed freely or made free additions to given forms. In public worship, however, Israel tended to develop a rich set of liturgical forms which owed a great deal to the legacy of the past. The very centrality of Biblical reading helped to cast the prayers and petitions in a Biblical mold. Incidentally, the congregational “Amen” became an established feature in synagogical prayer.

A final aspect of synagogue worship was psalmody. There is no certainty as to the date when psalms first began to be used in the synagogue. The probability seems to be that in later centuries at least the synagogue took over the usage of the Temple. The place for the psalm was perhaps between the reading from the law and the reading from the prophets, and a cantor would sing the vv. while the congregation responded with a refrain. In Pal. at least the use of psalms in the Temple might well have been a retarding factor in the synagogical development, but once Jerusalem was destroyed the psalms could hardly be allowed to go out of public use, even if the synagogues did not have the musical resources of the national shrine.

A final point worth noting is that with the rise of the synagogue the Sabbath, as the natural day of assembly, became much more specifically a day of worship and contemplation as well as a day of rest. The sanctification of the day to God acquired a new positive content. See Synagogue.


Individual worship

Along with the development of the synagogue Judaism saw a continuation and probably an intensification of individual piety to which closer acquaintance with the Old Testament made no little contribution. Grace was said before and after meals. The prayer of eighteen benedictions was to be recited thrice daily. Prayers were also prescribed for specific events and occasions. Extemporary prayers might also be used. Recitation of the shema was also enjoined. Silent meditation is recorded of some of the earlier saints, though one can hardly know how widespread this was. Personal reading of Scripture was hardly possible for most Jews, but whole passages were committed to memory and could be recalled or recited as needed. How rich a source of piety and devotion the Old Testament could be is amply manifested in the canticles which well up from Zacharias, Mary, and Simeon at the beginning of the New Testament story (Luke 1; 2).

In both congregational and individual worship Judaism realized clearly enough that the recitation of fixed passages and prayers raised many problems of greater or lesser magnitude. Questions of audibility or fluency need not detain us, but the problem of careless or mechanical recitation is crucial. Certain rabbis were prepared to argue that minute attention to the wording is not essential. There is objective value in the act of worship quite apart from inner concentration. Others, however, insisted that fervor and involvement are at least necessary for true prayer, if not so necessary in the rehearsal of the shema. This would apply in congregational as well as individual practice, though it was more important in the latter. In general, one may say that Judaism, for all its tendency toward legalistic understanding and practice, retained a keen awareness of the danger of formalism, and made some plea for the inner devotion which is the only safeguard of individual piety, whether structured or unstructured.


Additional Material and Resources

(Anglo-Saxon: weorthscipe, wyrthscype, "honor," from weorth, wurth, "worthy," "honorable," and scipe, "ship"):

1. Terms

2. Old Testament Worship 3. New Testament Worship 4. Public Christian Worship


Honor, reverence, homage, in thought, feeling, or act, paid to men, angels, or other "spiritual" beings, and figuratively to other entities, ideas, powers or qualities, but specifically and supremely to Deity.

1. Terms:

The principal Old Testament word is shachah, "depress," "bow down," "prostrate" (Hithpael), as in Ex 4:31, "bowed their heads and worshipped"; so in 94 other places. The context determines more or less clearly whether the physical act or the volitional and emotional idea is intended. The word is applied to acts of reverence to human superiors as well as supernatural. the Revised Version (British and American) renders it according to its physical aspect, as indicated by the context, "bowed himself down" (the King James Version "worshipped," Ge 24:52; compare 23:7; 27:29, etc.).


The Old Testament idea is therefore the reverential attitude of mind or body or both, combined with the more generic notions of religions adoration, obedience, service.

The principal New Testament word (59 times) is proskuneo, "kiss (the hand or the ground) toward," hence, often in the oriental fashion bowing prostrate upon the ground; accordingly, Septuagint uses it for the Hithpael of shachah (hishtachawah), "prostrate oneself." It is to render homage to men, angels, demons, the Devil, the "beast," idols, or to God. It is rendered 16 times to Jesus as a beneficent superior; at least 24 times to God or to Jesus as God. The root idea of bodily prostration is much less prominent than in the Old Testament. It is always translated "worship."


In the Apocrypha the usage is the same as in the New Testament, the verbs used being, in the order of their frequency, proskuneo, sebomai, threskeuo, and latreuo.

The New Testament idea of worship is a combination of the reverential attitude of mind and body, the general ceremonial and religious service of God, the feeling of awe, veneration, adoration; with the outward and ceremonial aspects approaching, but not reaching, the vanishing point. The total idea of worship, however, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, must be built up, not from the words specifically so translated, but also, and chiefly, from the whole body of description of worshipful feeling and action, whether of individuals singly and privately, or of larger bodies engaged in the public services of sanctuary, tabernacle, temple, synagogue, upper room or meeting-place.

Space permits no discussion of the universality of worship in some form, ranging from superstitious fear or fetishism to the highest spiritual exercise of which man is capable; nor of the primary motive of worship, whether from a desire to placate, ingratiate, or propitiate some higher power, or to commune and share with him or it, or express instinctive or purposed devotion to him. On the face of the Bible narratives, the instinct of communion, praise, adoring gratitude would seem to be the earliest moving force (compare Ge 4:3,4, Cain, Abel; Ro 1:18-25, the primitive knowledge of God as perverted to creature-worship; Ge 8:20, Noah’s altar; and Ge 12:7, Abram’s altar). That propitiation was an early element is indicated probably by Abel’s offering from the flock, certainly by the whole system of sacrifice. Whatever its origin, worship as developed in the Old Testament is the expression of the religious instinct in penitence, prostration, adoration, and the uplift of holy joy before the Creator.

2. Old Testament Worship:

In detail, Old Testament worship was individual and private, though not necessarily secret, as with Eliezer (Ge 24:26 f), the expression of personal gratitude for the success of a mission, or with Moses (Ex 34:8), seeking God’s favor in intercessory prayer; it was sometimes, again, though private, in closest association with others, perhaps with a family significance (Ge 8:20, Noah; Ge 12:7; 22:5, Abraham: "I and the lad will go yonder; and .... worship"); it was in company with the "great congregation," perhaps partly an individual matter, but gaining blessing and force from the presence of others (Ps 42:4: "I went with the throng .... keeping holyday"); and it was, as the national spirit developed, the expression of the national devotion (1Ch 29:20: "And all the assembly .... worshipped Yahweh, and the king"). In this public national worship the truly devout Jew took his greatest delight, for in it were inextricably interwoven together, his patriotism, his sense of brotherhood, his feeling of solidarity, his personal pride and his personal piety.

The general public worship, especially as developed in the Temple services, consisted of:

(1) Sacrificial acts, either on extraordinary occasions, as at the dedication of the Temple, etc., when the blood of the offerings flowed in lavish profusion (2Ch 7:5), or in the regular morning and evening sacrifices, or on the great annual days, like the Day of Atonement.

(2) Ceremonial acts and posture of reverence or of adoration, or symbolizing the seeking and receiving of the divine favor, as when the high priest returned from presenting incense offering in the holy place, and the people received his benediction with bowed heads, reverently standing (2Ch 7:6), or the worshippers prostrated themselves as the priests sounded the silver trumpets at the conclusion of each section of the Levites’ chant.

(3) Praise by the official ministrants of the people or both together, the second probably to a very limited extent. This service of praise was either instrumental, silver "trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music," or it might be in vocal song, the chant of the Levites (very likely the congregation took part in some of the antiphonal psalms); or it might be both vocal and instrumental, as in the magnificent dedicatory service of Solomon (2Ch 5:13), when "the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking Yahweh." Or it might be simply spoken: "And all the people said, Amen, and praised Yahweh" (1Ch 16:36). How fully and splendidly this musical element of worship was developed among the Hebrews the Book of Ps gives witness, as well as the many notices in Chronicles (1Ch 15; 16; 25; 2Ch 5; 29; 30, etc.). It is a pity that our actual knowledge of Hebrew music should be so limited.

(4) Public prayer, such as is described in De 26, at the dedication of the Temple (2Ch 6, etc.), or like Psalms 60; 79; 80. Shorter forms, half praise, half prayer, formed a part of the service in Christ’s time.

(5) The annual feasts, with their characteristic ceremonies.

See Passover; Tabernacle; etc. Places of worship are discussed under ALTAR; HIGH PLACE; SANCTUARY; TABERNACLE; TEMPLE, etc.

3. New Testament Worship:

In the New Testament we find three sorts of public worship, the temple-worship upon Old Testament lines, the synagogue-worship, and the worship which grew up in the Christian church out of the characteristic life of the new faith. The synagogue-worship, developed by and after the exile, largely substituted the book for the symbol, and thought for the sensuous or object appeal; it was also essentially popular, homelike, familiar, escaping from the exclusiveness of the priestly service. It had four principal parts:

(1) the recitation of the shema`, composed of De 6:4-9; 11:13-21, and Nu 15:37-41, and beginning, "Hear (shema`), O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh";

(2) prayers, possibly following some set form, perhaps repeating some psalm;

(3) the reading by male individuals of extracts from the Law and the Prophets selected by the "ruler of the synagogue," in later years following the fixed order of a lectionary, as may have been the case when Jesus "found the place";

(4) the targum or condensed explanation in the vernacular of the Scriptures read.

It is questioned whether singing formed a part of the service, but, considering the place of music in Jewish religious life, and its subsequent large place in Christian worship, it is hard to think of it as absent from the synagogue.

4. Public Christian Worship:


There are no references to yearly Christian festivals, though the wide observance in the sub-apostolic period of the Jewish Passover, with references to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and of Pentecost to commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit, argues for their early use. The place was of course at first in private houses, and the earliest form of Christian church architecture developed from this model rather than the later one of the basilica. 1 Corinthians gives rather full data for the worship in this free and enthusiastic church. It appears that there were two meetings, a public and a private. The public worship was open, informal and missionary, as well as edificatory. The unconverted, inquirers and others, were expected to be present, and were frequently converted in the meeting (1Co 14:24). It resembled much more closely, an evangelical "prayer and conference meeting" of today than our own formal church services. There is no mention of official ministrants, though the meeting seems to have been under some loose guidance. Any male member was free to take part as the Spirit might prompt, especially in the line of his particular "spiritual gift" from God, although one individual might have several, as Paul himself. Largely developed on synagogue lines, but with a freedom and spirit the latter must have greatly lacked, it was composed of:

(1) Prayer by several, each followed by the congregational "Amen."

(2) Praise, consisting of hymns composed by one or another of the brethren, or coming down from the earlier days of Christian, perhaps Jewish, history, like the Benedictus, the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, etc. Portions of these newer hymns seem to be imbedded here and there in the New Testament, as at Re 5:9-13: "Worthy art thou," etc. (compare Re 15:3; 11:17, etc.); also: "He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory" (1Ti 3:16). Praise also might take the form of individual testimony, not in metrical form (1Co 14:16).

(3) Reading of the Scripture must have followed, according to the synagogue model. Paul presupposes an acquaintance with the Old Testament Scriptures and the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection. Instructions to read certain epistles in the churches indicate the same.

(4) Instruction, as in 1Co 2:7; 6:5, teaching for edification. (These passages, however, may not have this specific reference.) (5) Prophesying, when men, believed by themselves and by the church to be specially taught by the Holy Spirit, gave utterance to His message. At Corinth these crowded on one another, so that Paul had to command them to speak one at a time.

(6) Following this, as some believe, came the "speaking with tongues," perhaps fervent and ejaculatory prayers "so rugged and disjointed that the audience for the most part could not understand" until someone interpreted. The speaking with tongues, however, comprised praise as well as prayer (1Co 14:16), and the whole subject is enshrouded in mystery. See Gift of Tongues. (7) The meeting closed with the benediction and with the "kiss of peace."

The "private service" may have followed the other, but seems more likely to have been in the evening, the other in the morning. The disciples met in one place and ate together a meal of their own providing, the agape, or love feast, symbolizing their union and fellowship, preceded or followed by prayers (Didache x), and perhaps interspersed by hymns. Then the "Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper" itself followed, according to the directions of the apostle (1Co 11:23-28).


The classical passages for Christian worship are Joh 4:23,24, culminating in (margin): "God is spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth," and Php 3:3, "who worship by the Spirit of God." These define its inner essence, and bar out all ceremonial or deputed worship whatever, except as the former is, what the latter can never be, the genuine and vital expression of inner love and devotion. Anything that really stimulates and expresses the worshipful spirit is so far forth a legitimate aid to worship, but never a substitute for it, and is harmful if it displaces it. Much, perhaps most, stately public worship is as significant to God and man as the clack of a Thibetan prayer-mill. The texts cited also make of worship something far deeper than the human emotion or surrender of will; it is the response of God’s Spirit in us to that Spirit in Him, whereby we answer "Abba, Father," deep calling unto deep. Its object is not ingratiation, which is unnecessary, nor propitiation, which has been made "once for all," nor in any way "serving" the God who `needeth not to be worshipped with men’s hands’ (Ac 17:25), but it is the loving attempt to pay our unpayable debt of love, the expression of devoted hearts, "render(ing) as bullocks the offering of our lips" (Ho 14:2). For detail it is not a physical act or material offering, but an attitude of mind: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit"; "sacrifices of praise, with which God is well pleased"; not the service of form in an outward sanctuary, the presentation of slain animals, but the service of love in a life: "Present your bodies a living sacrifice"; not material sacrifices, but spiritual: your rational "service"; not the service about an altar of stone or wood, but about the sanctuary of human life and need; for this is true religion ("service," "worship," threskeia), "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction"; not the splendor of shining robes or the sounding music of trumpets or organs, but the worshipping glory of holy lives; in real fact, "hallowing Thy name," "and keeping oneself unspotted from the world." The public worship of God in the presence of His people is a necessity of the Christian life, but in spiritual Christianity the ceremonial and outward approaches, if it does not quite reach, the vanishing point.



  • A. B. Macdonald, Christian Worship in the Primitive Church (1934);

  • N. Micklem (ed.) Christian Worship (1936);

  • O. Cullmann, Early Christian Worship (1953);

  • H. Greeven, TWNT, VI (1959), 759ff.;

  • C. F. Pfeiffer, Art. “Synagogue” and E. F. Harrison, Art. “Worship,” BDT (1960);

  • I. Sonne, Art. “Synagogue” and G. H. Davies, C. C. Richardson, A. Cronbach, Arts. “Worship,” IDB (1962);

  • H. Schlier, TDNT, I (ET, 1964), 738ff.;

  • H. Strathmann, TDNT, IV (ET, 1967), 58ff.;

  • H. Strathmann and R. Meyer, TDNT, IV (ET, 1967), 215ff.;

  • O. Michel, TDNT, V (ET, 1968), 199ff.

  • Leoning, Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums;

  • Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Service, as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ, and Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah;

  • Hort, The Christian Ecclesia;

  • Lindsay, Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries;

  • McGiffert, A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age.

  • R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, 1961;

  • H. H. Rowley, Worship in Ancient Israel, 1967;

  • J. F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 1980;

  • Ronald Allen, Worship, 1982.——SB

  • BDB; Thayer’s New Testament Lexicon under the word; arts; on "Praise," "Worship," "Temple," "Church," "Prayer," in HDB, DB, New Sch-Herz, DCG; Commentaries on Psalms, Chronicles, Corinthians;

  • Weizsacker, The Apostolic Age of the Church, II; Pfleiderer, Das Urchristenthum (English translation);