Does the New Testament teach us to worship Jesus? Absolutely. We can find multiple instances throughout the New Testament of various people worshipping Jesus. So, how is it that Jehovah’s Witnesses can claim that Jesus was never worshipped?
To enter into this debate, you must understand the Greek term for worship: proskuneo. Groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses are quick to point out that proskuneo can refer to the act of bowing low to the ground before someone. This act was used to express respect or reverence towards a superior (e.g. a king). In these situations, proskuneo is better translated or bow down, not worship. However, when proskuneo is used in a religious context, it is an act of acknowledging deity. Therefore, context is key in determining whether or not Jesus was actually worshipped.
Let’s look at an example from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew reports what happened when the women disciples meet the risen Jesus. He writes,
And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped [proskuneo] him (Matt. 28:9).
This is an important text for at least two reasons. First, the context is religiously significant because Jesus has just raised Himself from the dead. This supernatural event vindicated His claims to be the Son of God. Anything less than full-on worship at this point would be a deficient response. Second, Matthew gives us a significant, yet seemingly trivial detail. He says that they “took hold of his feet.” This means the women were already bowed down on the ground when they worshipped. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses must understand Matthew to be saying, “They took hold of his feet and bowed down.” This is redundant, and clearly not what Matthew was communicating.
Another important passage that teaches the worship of Jesus is found in Hebrews 1. The author of Hebrews is making a case that the Son is greater than the angels. He writes:
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Heb. 1:6).
The New World Translation mistranslates this, “And let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.” However, given the context of Hebrews 1 this translation is untenable. The One who receives worship from the angels is also the One who created and upholds the entire universe (1:2, 3), who is the radiance of the glory of God (1:3), who is the exact imprint of God’s nature (1:3), who is referred to as God by the Father (1:8); and who is the eternal, immutable Creator described by David as Jehovah (1:10-12). It is in this context that we must properly translate Hebrews 1:6.
Furthermore, verse 6 is a quote from the Old Testament (Ps. 97:7; cf. Deut. 32:43). In the original context, it is Jehovah who receives worship, not merely obeisance, from the angels. Therefore, there is no basis for changing the meaning of proskuneo in this verse. It is a unitarian bias that awkwardly forces Jehovah’s Witnesses to mistranslate this straightforward text.
Finally, John tells us in the Book of Revelation that all will worship Jesus.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped (Rev. 5:12-14).
Every created thing worships Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. If the Lamb, Jesus Christ, were a creature, He would be one of the creatures joining in this worship chorus. Instead, this passage clearly teaches Jesus is the object of the worship chorus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are quick to counter all this evidence with Matthew 4:10. It says,
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ’You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matt. 4:8-10).
Here Jesus is restating an Old Testament command to worship God alone. Jehovah’s Witnesses think this ends the debate. On their view, Jesus could not accept worship because He said that we must only worship God. But this assumes that Jesus is not God. If Jesus is God, then Jehovah’s Witnesses are commanded to join Christians in worshiping Him.
Not only does the New Testament teach us to acknowledge Jesus as God, but it also teaches us to respond to Him as God. This is accomplished through worship. Theologian John Stott said, “Nobody can call himself a Christian who does not worship Jesus. To worship him, if he is not God, is idolatry; to withhold worship from him, if he is, is apostasy.”