After reading the answers to this question, I realized that many do not necessarily see it as idolatry if someone prostrates before someone else (e.g. Jesus), as long as it is done to pay obeisance rather than as an act of worship. However, from an external observer's point of view, doing obeisance and worshipping are indistinguishable acts. In both there is a person in prostration, saying nice things to someone else. This must imply that if there is any difference, it is not found in the physical act itself, but in the attitude of the heart.

Question: what is the difference between obeisance and worship? In particular, I'm interested in understanding what aspects of obeisance make it different from worship so as to not be considered idolatry when targeted to someone other than God.

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    Why does the perspective of the external viewer matter? Or matter more than the internal disposition of the person doing the act or the view of God?
    – eques
    Mar 22, 2021 at 14:35
  • @eques - read the question carefully. I said "This must imply that if there is any difference, it is not found in the physical act itself, but in the attitude of the heart". In other words, I agree.
    – user50422
    Mar 22, 2021 at 14:40
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    Context determines the meaning. Only when directed to the Almighty does proskyneo constitute highest form of reverence. This Q belongs on BHSE
    – Kris
    Mar 22, 2021 at 15:06
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator of course not but in the Bible where righteous persons “worship” and the recipient of that “worship” is not the Almighty God Yhwh it is understood that a less intense form of honor and reverence is being given. Still there are those who direct their highest form of reverence toward something or someone other than Almighty God. That constitutes idolatry.
    – Kris
    Mar 22, 2021 at 16:01
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    Idolatry is a sin committed in the heart. By context I am referring to biblical usage of the word. When you read of a bible character “worshipping” you have to examine the context to determine if they are committing idolatry ie Baal worship or making a display of respectful honoring ie bowing before a human ruler.
    – Kris
    Mar 22, 2021 at 17:07

1 Answer 1


The best way to address this question is to start with definitions.

Definition of obeisance

1 : a movement of the body made in token of respect or submission : bow //After making his obeisances he approached the altar.

2 : acknowledgment of another's superiority or importance : homage //makes obeisance to her mentors

//The players paid obeisance to their coach.


Definition of worship (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power
also : an act of expressing such reverence

2 : a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual.

I found some examples of "obeisance" at the jw.org site.


The act of bowing, kneeling, prostrating the body, or making some other gesture to betoken submission; or simply the paying of respect. It adequately translates the Hebrew hish·ta·chawahʹ and the Greek pro·sky·neʹo in many cases.

Hish·ta·chawahʹ means, basically, “bow down.” (Ge 18:2) Such bowing might be done as an act of respect or deference toward another human, as to a king (1Sa 24:8; 2Sa 24:20; Ps 45:11), the high priest (1Sa 2:36), a prophet (2Ki 2:15), or other person of authority (Ge 37:9, 10; 42:6; Ru 2:8-10), to an elder relative (Ge 33:1-6; 48:11, 12; Ex 18:7; 1Ki 2:19), or even to strangers as an expression of courteous regard (Ge 19:1, 2). Abraham bowed down to the Canaanite sons of Heth from whom he sought to buy a burial place."

In doing some research on this subject I found the following blog to be very helpful. The answer I will quote from may have been given by a Jehovah’s Witness since they direct readers to jw.org for further information..


I will only quote a few (in my view pertinent) statements.

True worship of the Creator embraces every aspect of an individual’s life. Hebrew and Greek Terms. Most Hebrew and Greek words that can denote worship can also be applied to acts other than worship. However, the context determines in what way the respective words are to be understood."

I agree, context is key and is always key in how we understand, define and interpret Scripture.

Worship That Is Acceptable to God. Jehovah God accepts only the worship of those who comport themselves in harmony with his will. (Mt 15:9; Mark 7:7) . Having become acquainted with God through the Bible and evidence of the operation of God’s spirit in his life, the person who worships with spirit and truth definitely ‘knows what he is worshiping."

Jesus says the following at Luke 4:8, "It is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only." The word for worship is "proskuneo" which refers to worship or adoration of God alone and Him only in the immediate context.

Then at Hebrews 1:6, God the Father says, "And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, "And Let all the Angels of God "proskuneo/worship" Him."

To me, one of the highest forms of worship can be found at John 20:28 when Thomas declared to Jesus Christ Himself, "My Lord and my God."

Another "highest" form of worship can be found at Acts 7:59-60 and what Stephen said in his dying breath. "And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Verse 60, And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice. Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" And having said this, he fell asleep."

It's pretty obvious to me by looking at these Scriptures one can determine the difference between paying "obeisance" like what Abraham did at Genesis 18:2, and God the Father saying His Son should be "worshipped."

After all, Jesus did say at John 5:22-23, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, verse 23, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father, He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Me."

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    @Kris Excuse me Kris, but there is no Matthew 28:16. There is however Matthew 28::9, "And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and "prosekunesan/worshipped Him. Can you please give me a reason why Jesus did not correct Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and say they are to worship and serve God alone? Or correct them at Matthew 28:17 as well? And why did Jesus not correct Thomas at John 20:28 when he declared to Jesus Christ Himself that he/Thomas was his Lord and God? Or to put it literally in the Greek, "The Lord of me and the God of me."
    – Mr. Bond
    Mar 24, 2021 at 1:03
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    @Kris I'm giving examples of the difference between "obeisance" and "worship, that was the question? I gave the dictionary difference and backed it up by Scripture and how the words are used according to the context. I agree with most of the JW points in which some of them are Biblical. For example at Genesis 18:2 it is not hard to determine that Abraham was paying "obeisance." And at Matthew 28:9 the two Mary's were actually worshipping Jesus in the same way God the Father said His Son should be worshipped at Hebrews 1:6. We are to honor the Son exactly the same way we honor the Father.
    – Mr. Bond
    Mar 24, 2021 at 1:48
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    @Kris This is a parable and at vs1 the disciples ask Jesus, "Who ten is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" At vs23 Jesus explains, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. The slave at vs26 prostrated himself before the king and ask him to have patience and he will pay him everything. Vs27, And the king had compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. It does not mean at vs26 that the slave actually worshipped the king in a religious homage, but in a humble, reverent, and earnest manner he entreated him to have patience.
    – Mr. Bond
    Mar 24, 2021 at 2:21
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    @Kris I get that Kris but the last sentence of the person who wrote the article said this? "For more information on this subject and others, please go to jw.org "Online Library." Also for free downloads, publications or read online." Like I said, I'm not interested in the JW point of view per say. I'm only dealing with their comments just like you guys quote people for their point of view on issues. Bottom line, it's pretty clear that Jesus Christ was worshipped as opposed to being given obeisance. "a movement of the body made in token of respect or submission : bowing to a king etc.
    – Mr. Bond
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:36
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    @Kris The second you said, "that only Jehovah is worthy of the highest form of adoration means you do not honor the Son in the same way God the Father is honored. I was just reading the following about John 5:22-23 that was just posted. I suggest you read it as well. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/57066/… Notice answer 1 which is spot on. Also notice John 5:23 and the phrase, "even as." The context goes back to John 5:18 where the Jews rightly understand Jesus claiming to be "equal" to His Father.
    – Mr. Bond
    Mar 24, 2021 at 21:03