Daniel I. Block is a renowned Old Testament professor at Wheaton College, arguably the foremost evangelical college in the U.S. Dr. Block has written many books and journal articles and received numerous awards. This month’s Christianity Today has an article by him entitled “Worship God At All Times. If Necessary, Use Music.” It is one of the best articles on worship and ecclesiology that I have ever read. It is based on his book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Baker, 2014).
The main thrust of this article is that the larger American churches refer to the several minutes of music in their Sunday services as “worship,” whereas the Bible has quite a different viewpoint about what “worship” is. He says we should rethink our language such as “praise and worship,” “worship time,” and “worship leaders,” all referring only to music. Block calls it “a restricted notion of worship.”
Block then examines the mention of “worship” in our English Bible. He says in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), kara means “to bow low,” and barak means to “to kneel,” all before the Lord God. He says these are the main words in the Hebrew Bible which are translated “worship” in the Old Testament of most English Bibles. Dr. Block then says there is no difference between the two testaments, that worship in both involves a physical act. He says of the Greek New Testament that proskuneo, the main word translated “worship” in the New Testament of English Bibles, means “to lie prostrate” and that pipto is sometimes associated with it, which means “to fall down.” Also, proskuneo can mean “to bow the knee,” usually understood as touching one or two knees to the ground.
Thus, Dr. Block’s main point is that the words translated “worship” in English Bibles refer to a physical act, which is not what most people think when they read the Bible. (I have to say at this point that Muslims do this, actually five times per day at the five scheduled times for prayer, whereas Christians pretty much never do it.) Thus Block says, “We cannot speak of biblical worship without starting with this physical gesture of submission and homage to God the Father and Jesus the Son.” A main biblical text he cites is Psalm 95.6, “Come, let us bow down in worship.”
However, church buildings and their seating are not constructed in such a way as to permit lying prostrate or even bowing the knee. But the Jews’ temple at Jerusalem was did enable people to do these physical acts. In fact, scholars and historians tell us about ancient Israel that at the several annual festivals at Jerusalem’s temple, whenever priests conducted some ritual and uttered God’s name, YaHWeH, Jews had to immediately bow down or lie prostrate to signify both their submission to God and reverence for his name. This concept is drastically missing in Christian worship. However, some of us elderly folks may find it difficult to bow an arthritic knee or one with a knee replacement!
Thus, Block concludes that we should reorient our thinking about worship being mostly the music at church by realizing that worship involves much more. He says of acts of worship, “In the New Testament, these would have included meeting for instruction by the apostles, fellowship, ‘breaking bread,’ and prayer (Acts 2:42), as well as the ordinances of baptism (Matt. 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–30). Remarkably, although we know these were sometimes accompanied with song (e.g., Matt. 26:30), this is never formally prescribed. Paul’s instructions concerning ‘speaking to/admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs’ (Eph. 5:15–21, Col 3:12–17) occur in the context of appeals to let all of life—rather than just worship services—be the context of worshipful living.”
I only disagree with one point in Dr. Block’s article, but I don’t want to harp on it here. He says, “While biblical worship is Trinitarian, strikingly, the New Testament never speaks of anyone addressing or praying to or praising the Holy Spirit. Nor does it ever portray people worshiping the Spirit with this physical gesture.” That is correct, and I believe it is because the Bible does not teach the post-apostolic doctrine of the Trinity. (For more information about this subject, click “Christology” in the menu on my blog.)
I highly recommend this article by Dr. Block. And I’d like to read his book.
(In my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ [available at kermitzarley.com], I address “worship” in multiple sections and mention these Greek words translated “worship.”)