I was reading a question about icons, and this raised some questions for me.

Catholic and Eastern Orthodox beliefs hold to there being a difference between worship and veneration. What is the Biblical support for drawing a distinction between worship and veneration?

I was not able to find an answer on SE for this that does not rely on external sources.

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    I don't think this is a useful question, because 'veneration' is not a biblical term, so the bible isn't going to define it or say anything about it. It's basically an English word, so the Bible isn't going to give it a meaning. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 22:24
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    Asking what the biblical support is for a distinction between veneration and worship is a bit like asking what the biblical support is for the distinction between friends and acquaintances. The support isn't from the Bible, it's from the language itself. To say that Catholics venerate Saints, but worship God, is simply to say that they treat Saints differently than they treat God. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 23:49
  • @MattGutting I understand. However, any ideas that cannot be supported by the Bible are not really God-ordained and are therefore man-made. The word 'Trinity' is nowhere in the Bible, however the idea of the Trinity is clearly presented and supported by numerous verses in the Bible. If veneration is God-ordained, it should be clearly presented and supported in the Bible. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 16:15
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    "However, any ideas that cannot be supported by the Bible are not really God-ordained and are therefore man-made." The problem is that not all denominations of Christianity agree with that statement; and denominations differ on what they believe is "clearly presented and supported" by the Bible. Further, your comment sounds like you're asking not "What's the Biblical basis for distinguishing between veneration and worship?" but instead "What's the Biblical basis for veneration?" Which is your ultimate question? Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 16:56
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    @jlaverde revelation 19:10 is further evidence that all acts that could be considered a form of worship are known to belong only to almighty
    – 007
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 21:45

4 Answers 4


To approach this question we must first cut through terminology.

The Catholic Dictionary defines worship as

Acknowledgment of another's worth, dignity, or superior position.

So worship is not, necessarily, religious at all.

It then goes on to define two words for worship of a particularly religious character.

In religion, worship is given either to God, and then it is adoration, or to the angels and saints, and it is called veneration.

The basic definitions from the Oxford dictionary define worship as

the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity

(which is what Catholics mean by adoration)

and venerate as

Regard with great respect; revere (i.e. feel deep respect or admiration for)

The King James Version generally regards worship as having a wide connotation, similar to the Catholic definition of worship. The NIV uses worship only for worship of a (real or supposed) deity.

I take the OP's question to be asking for the difference between worship and veneration in the Oxford terminology; which is to say the difference between adoration and veneration in the Catholic terminology.

Either way, the distinction is simply that one relates to the worship of a deity, and the other does not. That is, quite simply, the difference. In a way, to answer the question, there is nothing more to be said. However there is a lot more that can be said.

We can consider some examples. When David grovelled to Saul (1 Samuel 24 8), and when Mephibosheth grovelled to David (2 Samuel 9 8) this was veneration, acknowledging the other's superior status. In Revelations 3 9 we are told that some who had been false would worship at the feet of the Philadelphian Christians, acknowledging that they are the ones loved by God. It was surely not intended that members of the Philadelphian church should be worshiped as gods; but rather that they be venerated as loved by God. The worship of God described in Revelations 19 4 is adoration because it is to God. The worship of Diana (Acts 19 27) is adoration, not mere veneration, because Diana, whatever her true status, was being worshiped as a deity.

A much lower form of the word worship appears in the Banquet (Luke 14 10) where the guest is advised to sit at the lower end of the table so that when the host asks him up higher he will have worship (KJV). This does not, of course, mean the other guests will imagine him to be divine, or bow down to him, merely that he will go up somewhat in their estimation.

Before looking in more detail at the Bible it may be helpful to consider the concept of veneration in ordinary life.

We may attend church to worship God, by singing His praises, praying, contemplating His being and listening attentively to His word. We may be impressed with the sermon, appreciating the message as inspiring , challenging, informative and useful. We may think appreciatively of the amount of effort and study which the preacher has gone to, not just in preparing this sermon but in all the back years of study which enabled him to do this., We may be moved by the singing of the choir. In post-service fellowship we may enjoy a most delicious piece of cake, lovingly baked by a culinarily talented member of the flock. We may admire all these people, and remark favourably on them to others. We may personally speak to the preacher thanking him and praising him. We may do the same to the cakemaker We may compliment one of the choirboys on his talent, diligence at practice, commitment and skill; all the while conscious that our own abilities and efforts fall far short of his.

We would not think we were venerating the preacher, the baker or the musician, but that is what we would be doing. We would not bow down, as that is not in our culture, but we might express our admiration by physical gesture, in other contexts, by applauding with our hands. Applause is, in the wider sense, a form of worship.

We should not find that our appreciation of the cake got in the way of our worship of God, but if it did, almost certainly it is our worship of God which is too low, rather than our veneration of the cake which is too high.

Even animals, lacking words, use gestures to acknowledge status.

To turn now to worship in the New Testament; the most common word for worship is proskuneo (Strong's concordance word number 4352). This literally meant to kiss the ground in front of a person's feet as a mark of respect. This may mean anything from worshiping God to a conventional courtesy to a person of higher status. Jairus (Matthew 9 18) and Mrs Zebedee (Matthew 20 20) were not worshiping Jesus as divine. The NIV translates proskuneo in these cases simply as knelt, though the KJV uses worship, reflecting the older usage. In the parable of the debtor (Matthew 18 26) the debtor falls to his knees and begs for time to pay. Again it is the same word, and the KJV translates it as worship. In general the NIV interprets the same word differently, depending on whether the perpetrator regards the recipient as divine. That is the difference between worship (OP sense) and veneration, is neither more nor less than to whom is it directed (or rather what does the doer think of that person).

This same word is used to describe the Heavenly worship in Revelations 19 4 and the worship of the Beast (Revelations 13 8).

It is also the word used in John 4 20-24 where the Samaritan woman challenges Jesus as to why Jews worship only at the Temple. Here it seems to have a slightly higher meaning. After all, Jews worshipped in synagogues too, but the temple worship was special because it involved sacrifice. Similarly, it has been argued, true Christian worship, at its highest, requires participation in the sacrifice of the Mass.

A different Greek word latreia (Strongs 2999) means more particularly service to God, the worship of God, and is translated in Romans 12 1 as true and proper worship in the NIV. This word is also used to refer in several places to the worship of God in the temple. Philippians 3 3 has this as worship God in His Spirit in the KJV but serve God by His Spirit in the NIV.

In Acts 14 the priests of Zeus wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, which led to them tearing their clothes and protesting strongly. This incident concerned an attempt to treat them as gods.

In Acts 10 25 Cornelius worshipped Peter (KJV) or did him reverence (NIV). Peter told him to stand up. There is no compelling reason to assume Cornelius intended to adore Peter as divine, rather than make a common gesture of polite respect. Similarly Peter asking Cornelius to stand up is not, of itself, any argument that gestures of respect are wrong. It may simply be two men being mutually courteous to each other. It might be argued one way, it might be argued another.

In Revelations John twice tries to worship an angel, and is discouraged by that angel (Revelations 19 10 and Revelations 22 8).

The worship of angels, referred to in Colossians 2 18, is based on a different Greek word, threskeia (Strong's 2356) which means religion. What is being discussed here is a religion of angels, whatever that may have been.

​The Church of England Article 22 states that the Roman doctrine concerning (amongst other things) worshiping, and adoration, of images and relics is grounded upon no warranty of Scripture. This being said, it is unlikely that any clear and convincing proof could ever be found to endorse such practices as being required by the Bible alone. If there were such a clear unequivocal scriptural warrant could the C of E have failed to notice it? If one were subsequently deduced then, like the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, it would be way too complicated for most of us to comprehend. However, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do not ascribe to the Protestant "sola scriptura" (scripture alone) doctrine, but rather they teach that authoritative doctrine comes equally from the tradition of the Church. The Bible itself emerged from, and forms part of but not all of, that tradition. Nowhere in the Bible is there a list of books which constitute the Bible, for example. The Church has decided . Therefore the fact (if acknowledged) that there is no proven warrant from scripture is not, from a Catholic or Orthodox perspective, reason to doubt the validity of a practice which is hallowed by centuries of Church tradition, and is found, in practice to increase devotion to, and worship of, God Himself.

  • I really like your answer here, as it is backed by Scripture, though I certainly don't agree with some points. However, some passages, including some you quoted, seem to suggest that veneration is not something that should be done. Many kings were venerated, however God never even intended Israel to have a king other than Himself and made it known to Samuel that He was the one being rejected by the Israelites. Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 21:19
  • Acts 10:25 clearly shows that Peter does NOT want Cornelius to kneel before him, as he is only a servant, as says the angel to John in Revelation 19:10 and especially in 22:9 where the angel says "See that you do NOT do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book." The angel says don't worship those who are your brethren, (even if they might be higher, like angels)! Not the saints or the prophets that kept the words of the book. Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 21:23
  • Also, there is the question of Mordecai. If veneration is OK, why would he not bow before Haman? If he was doing it because he would only bow before God, isn't this a clear denunciation of veneration as Haman was higher? If he was doing it for his own pride, would God have honored him? Surely not. I believe it all boils down to what you said at the end. Sola Scriptura. And the problem with Church tradition is that it can be and in the past, has been wrong. It is constantly changing, but the Word of God does not change and endures forever. Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 21:33
  • @jlaverde Thanks for comments and award. I may not completely agree with myself either. Yesterday I was sitting at a desk when someone came to see me. I started to stand up to shake his hand , but he told me not to get up. 'I'm honoured to meet you" is often replied to by "not at all". Possibly the incident with Peter and Cornelius may have been just that, in a different culture. Mordecai may have refused because Haman was an Amalekite. Did Mordecai he bow to the emperor? I think you may be right. I could say I bow to your superior judgement, but metaphorically of course!
    – davidlol
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 13:30
  • Thank you for your insightful comments as well, and your great answer! Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 14:49

This obviously is a big topic, so here are just a few quick notes.

That there is a distinction between worship and veneration

Luke 1:48:

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

According to the bible, all generations (that is, including ours) should call Mary blessed.

Exodus 20:12:

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

The commandments say that we should worship our God, and honor our father and mother. The Catholic church has taken this to mean that other human relationships also are important in a manner different to our relationship with God (see eg Cathecism of the Catholic Church 2212 and it's following citations).

Why Veneration matters at all

Given that there is some amount of respect due to some that is less than God, the obvious next question is what form that might take place. Many non-Catholic/Orthodox groups, give some pride of place by naming their churches after saints, for example, but why do Catholics do something more than that (and what is that something-more)? The CCC again has many Biblical citations in the section on the Communion of Saints (946) describing all the details around that.


Catholics certainly point to the Bible, but if you really want to understand how a Catholic thinks about this issue, you're thinking about it wrong. For Catholics and Orthodox, the veneration of images is confirmed by looking not only to the Bible, but the generations of early Christians who lived before the canon of the Bible was confirmed, and all the generations of Christians since that have maintained the deposit of faith since then.

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    Thanks for your answer James, however, honoring someone is very different from veneration of Mary or the Saints. I can honor my parents, but I do not bow before them. I can honor Mary and call her blessed, nevertheless, this is not a good basis to say that God approves of me kneeling before an image of her. Many are called blessed in the Bible. Though yours is a nice answer, the question begs for deeper support than this from the Bible. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:23
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    Well, maybe the question needs to be more specific. I think I've shown the basis for some form of respect less than worship... but if your question is why some Christians think the way they do about images, saints, Mary, etc., then this is probably too broad a question. Books have been written about any one of those. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 23:36
  • I understand what you're saying however, let me see if I could be clearer. I asked for a Biblical difference between worship and veneration. According to the Bible, worship could involve kneeling and praying to God (or false gods). According to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox beliefs, among others, veneration also includes kneeling and praying to Mary and the saints. What I am asking is where is the Biblical support for this distinction, if any? As it stands, the fact that it is mentioned that Mary will be called blessed, is not enough. Further, this also doesn't explain veneration of saints. Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 0:56
  • Hm. When we "kneel and pray to" Mary or the saints, we are, or should be, simply asking them to pray to God on our behalf. That's definitely different than what we do to God, but not so different than what we do for our parents. Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 19:47
  • @MattGutting but that is not in fact what is done or taught. You can see this evidently in some of the Catholic prayers to Mary. "Hail Holy Queen", "Memorare" where it is more than intercession, but protection and an answer for prayer. None of that is Biblical. It even goes on to call her "most gracious Advocate" when the Bible says that our advocate is Jesus Christ. Why do we need another advocate? Does this not minimize and, in a great number of cases, try to substitute the work of Our Savior and ONLY mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ? Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 20:17

In an effort to answer the OP’s question as completely as possible, I address also the comments which he uses to support his objections to comments and previous answers.

“If veneration is God-ordained, it should be clearly presented and supported in the Bible”

The fundamental objection, highlighted by further comments by the OP is that Worship is to God Alone. I believe that Catholics can agree on that. I know no Catholic that Honor Mary or the Saints in the same manor that God is worshiped. However, the bible is clear about giving honor to others, honor which includes bowing before, offering gifts, and humbling ourselves before those who we honor, even when in the some cases, the person we are honoring has not received the blessing of our father in heaven or those who have even rejected their birthrights.

Isaacs Blessing to Jacob

God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, abundance of corn and wine, And let peoples serve thee, and tribes worship thee: be thou lord of thy brethren, and let thy mother’s children bow down before thee. Cursed be he that curseth thee: and let him that blesseth thee be filled with blessings.

“And Tribes Worship Thee” In what manor is Isaac suggesting that Jacob be worshiped? Do you believe that Isaac is suggesting that the Tribes Worship Jacob as GOD in the same manor that God is worshiped? It is clear, by the context of this blessing that the worship that is being suggested is not the worship of God but the Honor given to men. There is an organic understanding, lost bye especially ecclisial bodies formed from the Protestant revolt, separated from the teaching of the Church of God.

“Let thy Mother’s children bow down before thee” Again we see, an organic understanding that the bowing down before Jacob is to be part of the honor given to Jacob as the Patriarch of the Tribes separate from and different from the honor given to God Alone. All Honor and Glory goes to God, except it seems, here where Jacob is to receive Honor, Is there a contradiction, or is this an aspect of biblical teaching that has been masked form separated Brethren.

Now, you might argue that this is a special circumstance for Abraham Isaac and Jacob, our fathers in the faith and not meant for any other. Hold the phone, let us go a couple chapters ahead in Genesis to see if this is true.

Gen 32-13 Jacob before meeting with Esau prepares an offering for his brother, Gen 33-3, Having provided an offering, Jacob bows 7 times before his brother Esau.

It is my understanding that in the Reformed or OSAS Traditions, Esau is considered to be Hated by God, a fundamental notion created by separated brethren to make things work in their pre-concieved unbiblical tenants of thier newly created faith. These teaching, while ignoring scripture which clearly teaches that God did not Hate Esau at all, but made him wealthy and returned his brother to him in Love contradicts so much of the Revolters foundations and understanding of clear blblical worship practices. But what is all this gift giving and bowing before created creatures that we see here? Isn’t that something that is for God and God alone? According to the OP bowing before something is for God alone. Is this a tradition of men that should be condemned? Clearly scripture teaches that we are to honor others by laying gifts before them and by bowing to them, not as God, but as servants of God we are to honor them. This is scriptural description of veneration, which is clearly distinct from adoration.

As the Trinity is not clearly described in the Bible yet the foundation for the doctrine can be seen it it’s pages, so too can the doctrine of adoration and veneration. One need only open their eyes to the Scripture. For many seperated brethren, like the OP here, the biblical concepts of the Catholic faith are first proclaimed as false without a clear understanding. How easy it is to be a fundamentalist bible Christian yet how empty of the truth of the teaching of God through his apostolic church.

Trust in the Lord with all your Heart, and do not rely on your own Insight. Proverbs 3:5

We must rely on the teachings of God, not our own interpretations of scripture as so many evangelical and fundamentalist do missing the heart of the Gospel. The word of God is a double-edged sword, to understand it; one must have the information passed down to us from those who came before. That is what Catechesis is, “echoing the word”

King James Bible

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 2 Pet 3:16

The word here “unlearned” can be “discipled” It is clear, when people attack the Church which is the pillar and foundation of Truth, they do so blindly, not seeing that which is perfectly clear to any whose eyes are open. Rather than humbling themselves to the teaching of scripture, they blindly cling on to things that have been kept from them, in an effort to dishonor our Holy Mother, The Saints and especially the Church, which is the body of Christ.


Before going on into trying to answer this particular question we must have the ability in all Christian charity to understand the basic viewpoints of the various Churches involved. This would avoid some saying they believe this or that when it is simply not true. Thus we must all be aware of how the Catholic and Orthodox Churches view their own definitions of veneration and worship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneration https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worship

From our perspective the veneration of the saints stems from the natural organic development of honoring God's finest: the martyrs, the Prophets, the saints and so on.

How can we not honor the dead who have faithfully died in the Lord's service? After all is it not "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones" (Psalm 116:15).https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Psalms-116-15/ Now if the death of God's saints is so precious, certainly we must honor them for what they are: Saints.

We can also see in scripture how the bones (relics) of the prophets have worked wonders through God's divine mercy for his people Israel.

20 "And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.

21 And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet." (2 Kings 13:20-22) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2 Kings 13:20-22&version=KJV

Now if God worked wonders through the bones of Elisha, why is this not possible in our day! The saints are our heavenly friends and we enjoy their friendship. The miracles that God works through them is a great ecumenical sign of the communion of saints.

Closely related to the veneration of the saints is the fact that these particular Churches also pray to the Lord that He may have mercy on their souls for any and all sins that the faithful departed have committed in this life. We can see this very clearly expressed in 2 Maccabees 12:39-47. http://st-takla.org/pub_Deuterocanon/Deuterocanon-Apocrypha_El-Asfar_El-Kanoneya_El-Tanya__9-Second-of-Maccabees.html

39 "And the day following Judas cam(e) with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers.

40 And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth the Jews:

41 Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.

42 And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.

43 And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection,

44 (For if he had not hoped that the that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)

45 And because he considered that the who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.

46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

47 that all plainly saw, for this cause they were slain."

We can see the apostle St Paul in 2 Timothy 1:16-18 doing the same thing for the disciple Onesiphorus, who had just recently died. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+1%3A16-18&version=KJV

The early Church was not unaccustomed to the basic idea of the use of relics of one sort or another as in Acts 5:15-16, when "people brought the sick into the streets so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by." Again we read in Acts 19:12 that handkerchiefs and aprons that had been touched by St Paul were taken to the sick and possessed and they were healed. As successors to the deposit of faith, it is only natural that the saints help us on our journey toward God. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+5:15-16 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%2019:12

As for icons, pictures or statues, I will close by simply saying that of all the soldiers who went to war to protect our freedom, how many of them took a picture of their mothers and/or wives that they reverently kissed while one the battlefield! Can we honor our parents and loved ones in such a way, but not the saints? It could be noted here that some Protestant Churches have stained glass windows of Jesus in their places of worship and no one believes they are guilty of idolatry.

Thus I conclude that Veneration of the Saints is not the Adoration of God.

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