Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Language: Worship

Why do we use the words we use? For instance, when did the word “worship” become the catchall word in English to describe what in other languages is several ideas and concepts involving several words. Maybe it is the nature of English to boil things down to a simple, all-encompassing idea. Like “snow” instead of the dozens of words Eskimos use to describe frozen precipitation.

If you study a Biblical teaching of worship in any other language—Hebrew, Greek, Lain, Spanish, German etc. you will discover that they use a whole slew of words. Thanksgiving, sacrifice, offering, bow down, praise, and service, but hardly ever a single concept like worship. The closest thing in these languages is something akin to “Adoration.” Of course, in English adoration has lost some of its impact and means something else. Truth be told, “worship” only occurs just over 100 times in the English Bible. Even English uses a lot of words to describe this thing—whatever it is.

Adoration stems from Latin roots and means loosely “to pray to.” Even in the German, where we get most of our words that don’t stem from Latin, the word is “anbeten” or "Anbetung,” meaning the same thing. Worship is a Saxon word that seemingly has nothing to do with adoration, but rather simply means: to ascribe worth to something. In that sense, worship is more like “praise” or “laud.” Laud arising from Lied, the German word for song, or maybe from “Laudabilis” which gives the Spanish language its “alabanzas” and “alabar.”

Maybe worship itself is just a bad word to use. It is too imprecise and vague. Take a closer look at your Bible the next time you see this word come up. If you have one of those good Bibles that clarifies the translation in the margin, in just about every case where “worship” is used you can bet that there is another—better and more precise—word in the original text.

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