Matthew 4:10
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (NIV)

Some Trinitarians interpret this verse to mean that we are to worship only God, and since we are also supposed to worship Jesus, that therefore, Jesus must be God.

There are a few reasons why we should not think that this verse turns Jesus into God. First, the entire temptation of Christ by the Devil, of which Matthew 4:10 is a part, proves that Jesus was not God. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13). Yet, Jesus was tempted. Secondly, in this very verse, Jesus considers God to be someone different than himself. Jesus desires to worship and serve God, this could hardly be taken to mean that he desires to worship and serve himself. Also, if Jesus were God, the Devil would never have asked Jesus to worship him. 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. Lastly, the logic of the Trinitarian argument simply does not work, because Matthew 4:10 does not teach that we are only supposed to worship (proskuneo) God and because other humans are rightly given worship (proskuneo). Thus, receiving “worship” (proskuneo) does not make someone into God.

The first thing that needs to be made clear is that there is a difference in how the Bible speaks of worship and how we use “worship” in the modern day. In our western society, we only use the word worship in terms of God, in other words, whatever you worship is your ‘God.’ Yet, in the biblical culture, the act of worship (proskuneo) was not directed only to God. The word proskuneo means, “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure” (BDAG). It was very common to worship (i.e., pay homage to, or honor) men of a higher status. This is hard to see in the English translations of the Bible. The translators usually translate the same Hebrew or Greek word as “worship” when it involves God, but as some other word, such as “bow before,” or “pay homage to,” when it involves men. Nevertheless, worship is clearly there in the Hebrew and Greek texts. For example:

  • Lot “worshipped” the two strangers that came to Sodom (Gen. 19:1).
  • Abraham “worshipped” the pagan leaders of the land in which he lived (Gen. 23:7).
  • Jacob “worshipped” his older brother when they met after being apart for years (Gen. 33:3).
  • Joseph had a dream that his parents and brothers “worshipped” him (Gen. 37:10).
  • Joseph’s brothers “worshipped” him (Gen. 43:26).
  • Joshua fell down and “worshipped” an angel (Joshua 5:14).
  • Ruth “worshipped” Boaz (Ruth 2:10).
  • David “worshipped” Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:41).
  • Abigail “worshipped” David (1 Sam. 25:41).
  • The servant in the parable “worshipped” (fell on his knees) his master (Matt. 18:26).

The above list is just a small sampling of all the examples that could be drawn from Scripture. Checking the references in most Bibles will confirm what has already been pointed out—that the translators avoided the word “worship” when men are worshipping men, but used it in reference to worshipping God. These scriptures are more than enough proof that “worship” was a part of the culture, and a way of showing respect or reverence. Because of the theological stance that only God should be worshipped, translators have avoided the English word “worship,” in spite of the fact that it is clearly in the original text. We assert that not translating what is clearly in the text has created a false impression in the Christian community. It is very clear in the biblical text that men “worshipped” men.

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, however, “proskuneo” does not communicate that inherently. Many people in high positions are worshipped (1 Sam. 25:24; 2 Kings 4:37; Esther 8:3; Matt. 18:26) that are not God.

There is an important distinction that needs to be made in Matthew 4:10 that can only be seen in the Greek. Let us highlight two important words, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God, and serve (latreuo) Him only.’” (NIV) Notice how there are two different words being used here. The text does not say to worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God only, but rather, it says to serve (latreuo) him only.

So, the idea that you are only supposed to worship (proskuneo) God, which Trinitarians base their argument upon, simply is not in the text, and as we see from many scriptures, other masters and kings are worshipped (proskuneo). Thus, in no way does the Bible communicate that worshipping someone makes them into God, or that you are only supposed to worship God.

The word “serve” in “serve him only,” in Matthew 4:10 is latreuo, which typically means to offer religious service to God or a god, but can sometimes just mean “to serve” in a generic sense (Heb. 8:5). Latreuo is used when people sinfully serve other gods or things (Rom. 1:25) and when people rightly serve God (Rom. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:3), but it is not used of Jesus. There are no examples of people rightly receiving latreuo in the New Testament, nor are there any examples of Jesus receiving latreuo, because faithful latreuo is reserved for God only.

The Trinitarian argument typically taken from Matthew 4:10 is that we are supposed to worship God only and since Jesus is worshipped, then, he must be God. However, that is a dangerous mixing of terms. Matthew 4:10 actually says that we are supposed to serve (latreuo) God only, it does not say that we are supposed to worship (proskuneo) him only, and since biblically, Jesus never receives latreuo, there is no argument to be made.

Therefore, this whole argument based on Matthew 4:10 is simply a confusion of terms and does not recognize that biblically, many humans, including Jesus, rightly receive worship (proskuneo).

In Acts 10:26, Peter asks Cornelius to stand up after Cornelius begins to worship or bow before him. 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. For example, in Revelation 19:10, the angel’s reasoning for stopping John from worshipping him is because he is a fellow servant, not someone in a position above John. So, taking this principle and applying it to our relationship to Jesus, Jesus is our King, he is in a position or rank above us, so it is not wrong for us to worship him as King.

This brings us to our last point. Since worship (proskuneo) can rightly be used of people in high positions and of God, let us see how people worship Jesus in the New Testament. Do they worship him as God, or as the Messiah?

In every single instance in the New Testament that gives context to why Jesus is being worshipped, it is because of his role as Messiah and King, not because he is God.

  • In Philippians 2:10 Jesus is worshipped because he died, was raised, and is “Lord.” Yet, God cannot die.
  • In Matthew 14:33 he is worshipped as the “Son of God.”
  • In Revelation 5:12-13 he is worshipped because he was slain (Rev. 5:9), yet God cannot die, and because he purchased people for God from every nation.
  • In Matthew 2:11 he is worshipped because the Magi believed that he was the King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).

So, in all of the cases, Jesus is worshipped as the Messiah, not as God.

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, our highest reverence, and is our King. 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.

Therefore, worshipping (proskuneo) Jesus as the Messiah in no way interferes with Matthew 4:10, nor does it make Jesus into God, instead, it glorifies God (Phil. 2:11).

Broughton and Southgate, pp. 194 and 195

Dana, p. 21

Morgridge, pp. 46-52

Norton, pp. 447 and 448

Snedeker, pp. 389 and 390

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