Worshipping Jesus and
the Trinitarian Argument

Trinitarians believe, among many things, that Jesus has always been God Almighty, while at the same time believing that Jesus was and/or is fully a man. They reject the possibility that Jesus could simply be a second Adam, a unique creation of God, by using the argument that "creature worship" is forbidden by the Bible and then noting that Jesus is worshipped in the Bible. Romans 1:25, they say, describes those who worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, and that such unlearned ones walk in darkness, and that "creature worship" will result in God's wrath.

In countering this argument let's start by looking at the "creature worship" that Paul was referring to in Romans 1:25 in its context:

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. (Romans 1:20-23, RSV)

The creature worship that is described as being foolish is the worship of "images resembling mortal man or birds or animals of reptiles." Paul is essentially summarizing what the Mosaic Law says about graven images:

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:3-4, RSV)

Beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, he likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. (Deuteronomy 4:16-18, RSV)

The purpose of these prohibitions was so that the children of Israel would not forsake the God that delivered them out of the land of Egypt. The land that they left, and the land that was promised to them, was full of idolatry, and the warning to the Israelites was to not follow the examples of the Egyptians or Caananites. The prohibition was against making or fashioning images that would replace the worship of the God who delivered them from bondage. Their focus and sole allegiance was to be to the God who called them to be a holy nation, and a kingdom of priests.

In any discussion or debate over Biblical doctrines it is critical that one defines the terms being used, look at the context in which proof verses are found, and examine all instances in the Scriptures where key words are used. In this discussion we need to start with our English word "worship." It will quickly be seen that "worship" is used in the Scriptures in more than one way.

The Greek word proskuneo is used both of worship to God and paying homage to human persons. "Worship" is not only offered to God but also to human persons who hold positions of dignity. For example:

1) The king of Israel is worshipped in association with God in 1 Chronicles 29:20 (KJV): "And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king." The word "worshipped" in the English text is the word proskuneo in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament).

2) Daniel was worshipped in Daniel 2:46 (KJV): "Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him." Again, in the Septuagint the word proskuneo is translated with the English word "worshipped."

3) The saints are worshipped in Revelation 3:9 (KJV): "Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship (proskuneo) before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee."

Jesus is likewise worthy of this worship since he is God's Anointed, and has been made the head of the Church and given a name that is above every other name, both in heaven and upon earth. In Matthew 2:8 Herod desired to worship the newborn Messiah-not as God-but as the promised Ruler and Shepherd of Israel: "And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found [him], bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also." However, only One is worthy of worship as God, and that is our heavenly Father.

Readers of the King James Version who are not careful might obtain the false impression that Jesus is God simply because he is "worshipped." This would be an unsafe conclusion, because clearly the same logic can be used to prove that David, Daniel and the saints are also God! Unfortunately those who use the "worship" argument use the word only in its modern usage, and consequently make the mistake of inferring that Jesus is God because he (Jesus) receives worship.

Modern versions have helped clarify the issue of "worshipping Jesus," for instance in Matthew 8:2:

New International Version: "A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.'"

New American Standard: "And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, 'Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.'"

Revised Standard Version: "and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.'"

Where these translations have "knelt before," and "bowed down," the King James has "worshipped."

In countering the Trinitarian argument and in attempt to bolster the view that Jesus is not God, it is commonly noted that another Greek word, latreuo, which denotes religious service, is never used in relationship to Jesus. However, this is not exactly correct. In 20 out of the 21 times it appears in the New Testament this word undoubtedly is not associated with Jesus. The last occurrence, however, might be the only possible exception, and is found in Revelation 22:3 where the Lamb of God is mentioned:

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve [latreusousin] him. (Revelation 22:1,3)

Here the Trinitarian may be quick to point out that both God and the Lamb are described with a singular pronoun, "him," and that the pronoun must be associated with the closest noun that precedes it. In this case, "the Lamb" is the nearest preceding noun (or "antecedent"), and thus the Lamb would seem to receive "sacred service." From this the Trinitarian concludes that Jesus is God, since logically: 

1. God alone receives sacred service or latreuo. 

2. Jesus receives sacred service or latreuo. 

3. Therefore Jesus is God!

But is it this simple? If the sacred service alone belongs to the Lamb on account of the singular Greek pronoun him (Greek: autos), then where does that leave God? Surely even our opponents recognize that it is inconceivable that the Lamb would be offered this divine service while his Father (or God) is not. So what is the solution? Does the Lamb alone receive worship at the exclusion of God, or vice versa? Does "him" refer to God, or to the Lamb? Could it be possible that it refers to both in some combined sense? Richard Bauckham introduces the solution: 

It is not clear whether the singular in these cases refers to God alone or to God and Christ together as a unity. John, who is very sensitive to the theological implications of language and even prepared to defy grammar for the sake of theology (cf. 1:4), may well intend the latter. But in either case, he is evidently reluctant to speak of God and Christ together as a plurality. He never makes them the subjects of a plural verb or uses a plural pronoun to refer to them both.1

Surely, John wanted to avoid speaking in terms that sounded polytheistic. Using a singular pronoun in reference to both God and the Lamb would therefore be one way to accomplish this. In John's eyes, God and the Lamb were united in purpose. John therefore uses an ungrammatical singular reference (either pronoun or verb form) for both God and Christ, to signify the unity of the Two. When we see the many other ways the Two are unified (in their reign, in the praise they receive, and in the future devotion of the saints, for whom they will be Temple and Light), this grammatical oddity seems very reasonable.

Acknowledging that Jesus and God are united ("one") is not the same thing as accepting the Trinitarian formula of three persons in one God. Let's remember it was John who gives us the misapplied Trinitarian rallying call, "I and [my] Father are one" (John 10:30) while at the same time reminding us that Jesus' prayer was "that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:22) in reference to his disciples. Jesus' prayer for his disciples (including you and I) was that they would become "one" with the Father in exactly the same way that Jesus was "one" with the Father. Clearly, therefore, being "one" with God does not make a person God, otherwise the addition of the twelve disciples would have created a pentadecanity (a fifteen person deity) out of a trinity.

Being "one" with God, however, does indeed bring with it a special privileged relationship. As mentioned earlier, the Jews would one day come and bow at the feet of the Christians at Philadelphia:

Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet. (Rev. 3:9 KJV)

"Worship" is not paid to them on account of any intrinsic worthiness of the Philadelphian believers, but rather because these saints at the church of Philadelphia were spotless representatives of Christ. As Jesus said, "You have kept my word and have not denied my name…You have kept my command to endure patiently." On account of this, they would be made pillars in the temple of God, and "I will write on him the name of my God" (Rev. 3:12 RSV). First, notice in this passage that even Jesus in his glorified state still refers to himself as having a God-three times in fact: "the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God." If Jesus is God, then why does he continuously refer to himself as having a God? Can God have a God? Do you ever find the Father speaking in such a manner, that is, that the Father describes Himself as having a God? No, you don't! But getting back to the point, the believers, on account of being spotless representatives of Christ, are deemed worthy to receive "worship." The key word is "representatives." That is, on account of their relationship they are treated as if they were the one whom they were representing. You might say they were ambassadors of Christ, and on account of their special, elevated and well-known relationship they could receive tribute while at the same time it is clear that they were acting as representatives, flow-through vessels as it were, that had been allowed to act and serve in their role by the one whom they were representing. This simple concept of representation is missed by Trinitarians, who confuse the close and sometime interchangeable relationship between the representative and the one being represented.

There are numerous examples in the Pentateuch which demonstrate this concept of "God representation." A classic example comes from Exodus chapter 3, in which Moses appears before the burning bush and hears God speaking to him:

And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here [am] I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest [is] holy ground. Moreover he said, I [am] the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. (Exodus 3:4-6 KJV)

Most readers would get the first impression that God Himself was speaking to Moses directly. And yet when we compare this encounter with the account given by Stephen in Acts 7 we discover that what Moses saw and heard was in fact an angel:

And after forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. And when Moses saw it, he [began] to marvel at the sight; and as he approached to look [more] closely, there came the voice of the Lord. . (Acts 7:30-31 NAS)

But just in case one might argue that the angel was simply the one who got Moses' attention, and then quickly stepped aside and left the scene, let us hear Stephen clarify the matter in Acts 7:35:

This Moses whom they disowned, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' is the one whom God sent [to be] both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. (NAS)

Stephen not only says that an angel appeared to Moses, but adds that it was the angel with whom Moses was conversing in that bush.

Likewise, Stephen tells us that it was an angel that Moses spoke to on Mount Sinai when he received the "lively oracles" (Acts 7:38).

So here we have an example of how God can use His angels as representatives-ambassadors-that speak, act and receive honor on behalf or in place of God, as if they were God Himself. They can do so because they were sent by God, and came in His Name to perform His service and do His will. If this concept is applicable to the believers at the church of Philadelphia, and to the angels of God, then why is it not true with regard to the one whom God sent into the world, and who came in the name of the LORD to do his Father's will? Why do Trinitarians refuse to apply the same principle of God representation-or God manifestation-when it comes to Jesus, the Son of God?

What Trinitarians also fail to recognize is that if God is a triune being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then it logically follows that this triad should be interchangeable with the word "God." Returning to an earlier verse, let us not forget that the passage does not say, "the throne of the Father and of the Lamb," or "the throne of the Father, Lamb and Spirit," but rather "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev. 22:3). Clearly God is mentioned separately and apart from the Lamb-the Lamb of course a reference to Christ. And if we were to replace the word "God" with "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (which I recommend Trinitarians try every time they read the Scriptures), we would see how these types of verses clearly do not support a triune God, for in this case there would be no need to make mention of the Lamb if the Son was already assumed and recognized as part of the God being referred to. In other words, reference to the Lamb would be redundant.

So, in conclusion, out of 21 occurrences of latreuo in the New Testament, Revelation 22:3 is the only place where Jesus appears to receive latreuo-religious service-the worship that belongs solely to God. And even in this sole instance the target of this worship is not clear. Either the Lamb receives worship and God does not, or else God and the Lamb are seen as united in purpose, and by extension any worship paid to the Lamb is seen as redounding unto God. Neither choice proves that Jesus is God the Son, or that God consists of three persons. The Trinitarian should be sensitive to the fact that one does not build a doctrine based solely upon one verse. The Trinitarian argument that Jesus is God because he receives latreuo worship is the classic example of building a case upon one verse. And in this case, even the one verse is questionable as to the target of the worship.

The argument that Jesus is God because Jesus receives worship simply does not stand up to examination.

Author and copyright by:iiPhilip P. Kapustaii

[1] Bauckham, Richard.  1993. The Theology of the Book of Revelation.  New Testament Theology Series, JDG Dunn, general ed.  Cambridge: England: University Press. (Bauckham, Revelation). Pp. 60-61.


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