“For it is written, Worship Yahweh your God, and serve him only.” Quoted from Deuteronomy. 6:13. The quotation is not exact. Deuteronomy 6:13 says, “You shall fear Yahweh your God.” Jesus correctly gets the sense of “fear” in that context, and so brings it forward as “worship.” This is not a case where Jesus was quoting the Septuagint and it read “worship,” because both the Hebrew text and LXX read “fear.”
It is sometimes stated that since we are to worship only God, and, because we are also supposed to worship Jesus, therefore he must be God. That argument is not valid and is based on a false understanding of the word “worship.” While it is true that we are to worship God in a special way reserved only for Him, there is no Greek or Hebrew word that represents that fact. It is an issue of the heart and cannot be represented on the written page. The words for “worship” in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are used of both people and God. In fact the entire temptation of Christ by the Devil proves that Jesus was not God. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13). Also, if Jesus were God, the Devil would never have asked Jesus to worship him. God is worshipped, but there is no evidence He worships anything else at any time. It was for desiring to be like God (and thus be worshiped like God) that the Devil was thrown out of heaven in the first place (Isa. 14:12-15), and it is unreasonable to think that the Devil would have believed that God could now be persuaded to worship him.
In the biblical culture, the act of worship was not directed only to God. It was very common to worship (i.e., pay homage to) men of a higher status. Sadly, almost always this fact has been obscured by the translators of the Bible, and therefore is impossible to see in the English translations. The translators usually translate Hebrew or Greek words that relate to worship as “worship” when they refer to God or a pagan god, but as some other word, such as “bow before,” or “pay homage to,” when the worship involves men. This double standard of translation does not allow the English reader to see what any person reading the Hebrew or Greek text can see: that “worship” is not just reserved for God. A few examples should make our point.
The above list confirms what has already been pointed out—that the translators used the word “worship” when the worship was to God or pagan gods, but never used the word “worship” when people were “worshipping” other people, even though the Hebrew text used the same word for both types of worship. And the above list is only a tiny sampling of the examples that could be given, or of what one will see if he studies the subject for himself. “Worship,” usually expressed by bowing down before someone, was a part of the culture and a way of showing respect or reverence. However, because of the theological position that only God should be worshipped, translators have avoided the English word “worship” when people worship people, in spite of the fact that it is clearly in the original text. We assert that not translating into English what is clearly in the original text has created a false impression in the Christian community and supported the belief that “only God can be worshipped, so if Jesus is worshipped he must be God too.” It is very clear in the biblical text that people “worshipped” other people who deserved that worship, and no person deserved worship more than Jesus Christ.
There is a sense, of course, in which there is a very special worship (homage, allegiance, reverent love and devotion) to be given only to God, but there is no unique word that represents that special worship. Rather, it is a posture of the heart. Scripturally, this must be determined from context. Even words like proskuneō, which are almost always used of God, are occasionally used for showing respect to other men (Acts 10:25). And the word “serve” in Matthew 4:10 is latreuō, which is sometimes translated worship, but used of the worship of other things as well as of the true God (Acts 7:42 - KJV), “worship the host of heaven” and Romans 1:25, “served created things”). Thus, when Christ said, “You shall worship the Lord thy God and Him only shall you worship,” he was speaking of a special worship of God that comes from the heart, not using a special vocabulary word that is reserved for the worship of God only.
Once we understand that in the Bible both God and men are worshipped, we are forced to look, not at the specific word for “worship,” but rather at the heart of the one doing the worship. It explains why God rejects the worship of those whose hearts are really not with Him. It also explains why there are occasions in the Bible when men reject the worship of other men. In Acts 10:26, Peter asks Cornelius to stand up because Cornelius was paying homage to Peter in a way that made Peter uncomfortable even though Cornelius felt Peter worthy of it. In Revelation 19:10, an angel stops John from worshipping him. In these cases it is not the “worship,” per se, that was wrong, or it would have been wrong in all the other places throughout the Bible. In the aforementioned accounts, the one about to be worshipped saw that it was inappropriate or felt uncomfortable in the situation. Actually, the example of John in Revelation is another strong proof that men did worship others beside God. If it were forbidden to worship anyone beside God, the great apostle John would never have even started to worship the angel. The fact that he did so actually proves the point that others beside God were worshipped in the biblical culture.
It is clear why people fell down and worshipped Jesus while he walked the earth and performed great miracles: people loved him and respected him greatly. It is also clear why we are to worship him now—he has earned our love and our highest reverence. He died to set us free, and God has honored him by seating him at His own right hand above all other powers and authorities. Just because we worship God and worship Jesus, does that mean they are the same or receive the same worship? No, it does not. We reserve a special place in our hearts for God, for Jesus, and frankly, for those other people who deserve our “worship” in the biblical sense of the word.
[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”].
“Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is the personal name of God, and a rabbinic abbreviation for it appears in the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew as well as in the verses of the Old Testament that Matthew quoted. There is evidence that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and used the name Yahweh, so we have put it in the REV (see commentary on Matthew 3:3).
“Adversary.” The Greek word for Adversary is Satanas (#4567 Σατανᾶς), which has been transliterated into “Satan” in most versions. This causes the meaning of the word, which is important, to be lost. For more information on it, see commentary on Mark 1:13. [For information on the names of the Devil, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil”.]