In this article, we will consider the following matters:
- Is it appropriate to venerate or worship any being, human or otherwise, in addition to God?
- Has God ever condoned the worship of an idol?
- Is worshiping on Sunday, rather than on Saturday, a violation of the Fourth of the Ten Commandments?
- How does God want people to worship Him?
Is It Appropriate to Venerate or Worship Any Being, Human or Otherwise, in Addition to God?
Before answering this question, it might be helpful to define the terms venerate and worship. According to Webster’s Dictionary, venerate means “to worship, reverence” or “revere.” A synonym for reverence is “honor.” Webster defines worship as “a reverence or devotion for a deity; religious veneration.” And, a synonym for worship is “revere.” In other words, there is very little, if any, distinction between the terms venerate and worship.
James G. McCarthy on pages 222-223 of his book entitled The Gospel According to Rome, says,
[I]n the Ten Commandments the Lord . . . commands, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3), or literally, “before My face.” God reveals Himself in the verses that follow as a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). He demands undivided loyalty and devotion. His people are to have no other gods “in addition” to Him.
There are also several scriptures in the New Testament that indicate it is wrong to show any kind of worship to anyone other than God. In this regard, James R. White, states on page 211 of his book entitled The Roman Catholic Controversy,
Certainly, there are examples of people reverencing and honoring other people in Scripture. But the biblical injunction is that in any and all religious contests [sic] this activity is strictly forbidden. When Cornelius bowed before Peter, Peter told him to stand because he was just a man (Acts 10:25-26). When John tried to bow down before the angelic messenger (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), he was rebuked and told to worship only God. . . .
Therefore, the Bible makes it sufficiently clear that it is not appropriate to venerate or worship any being, human or otherwise, in addition to God. Furthermore, to commit the sin of idolatry, it is not necessary to ceremonially worship a being other than God or an object. It can be argued that a person who refuses to obey God has, in effect, made either someone else (perhaps, themselves) or something else (perhaps, their job) their god.
Has God Ever Condoned the Worship of an Idol?
Didn’t God command Moses to make a bronze serpent as an idol for the Israelites to worship, in violation of the second of the Ten Commandments?
The Second of the Ten Commandments forbids both making and worshiping idols (Exodus 20:4-5). However, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent (Numbers 21:8-9a), which the Israelites apparently worshiped subsequently (Numbers 21:9b and 2 Kings 18:4). Thus, it seems as if, on this occasion, God condoned both the making and the worshiping of an idol.
With regard to the account presented in Numbers 21:8-9, it is inconceivable that Jesus Christ would have given credibility to behavior that violated God’s Commandment against both making and worshiping idols. If Moses’ actions with regard to the bronze serpent had violated the Second Commandment, it would be unthinkable to believe that, in alluding to His eventual crucifixion on a cross, Jesus would have said in John 3:14-15, “[A]s Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man [i.e., Jesus Christ Himself] be lifted up, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., provide a reasonable explanation to reconcile this matter. On page 107 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, they assert,
God did not command Moses to make an idol for the people to worship but a symbol to which they could look in faith and be healed. Later, the people made this symbol into an idol. But this does not make the symbol wrong. After all, people have worshiped the Bible.
Further, not all “images” are idols. Religious art contains images but is not thereby idolatrous. God also instructed Moses to make cherubim (angels) for the ark [i.e., the holy receptacle that contained the Ten Commandments and a couple of other items of special religious significance to the Israelites], but they were not idols.
What about crosses or depictions of Jesus Christ in pictures or sculptures? Should we regard them as idols?
The spring 2010 edition of the Adult Learner Guide, which is a quarterly publication that many churches use for Bible study, states on page 63, “The Second Commandment forbids idolatry in all forms. Idolatry is attributing God’s essential nature to something that isn’t God. . . . [N]o shape in the heavens or on the earth . . . can adequately represent God.”
Such a stance is supported by Exodus 20:4, which indicates that idols include “any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath.” This would include crosses and depictions of Jesus Christ in pictures or sculptures. Furthermore, Exodus 20:5 says with regard to idols, “[Y]ou shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” And, since crosses and depictions of Jesus Christ are to be regarded as idols, we should not bow down to them.
Thus, there seems to be sufficient evidence that God has never condoned the worship of any object or being other than Himself. Therefore, Christians need to be careful not to venerate depictions of Jesus Christ or the cross on which He died.
Is Worshiping on Sunday, Rather Than on Saturday, a Violation of the Fourth of the Ten Commandments?
The Fourth Commandment, which is found in Exodus 20:8-10, instructs that worship is to be on the seventh day of the week, which is Saturday. So, why do Christians worship on Sunday?
In addressing this matter, Gleason L. Archer says on page 116 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties,
[T]here is no suggestion even in the New Testament that the Ten Commandments are not binding on the conscience of Christian believers. . . . In the absence of any divine instruction to the contrary, we may assume that the fourth commandment is still binding on us. But the real question at issue is whether the sanction of the seventh day Sabbath has been by the New Testament transferred to the first day of the week, which the Christian church generally . . . honors as the Lord’s Day, otherwise known as the Christian Sabbath.
Archer goes on to declare on pages 117-118 of the same book,
As the Lord’s Supper replaced the Old Testament sacrament of the Passover, as the death of Christ replaced the sacrifice of animal offerings on the altar, as the high priesthood of Christ . . . replaced the priesthood of Aaron and constituted every born-again believer as a priest of God, so also in the case of this one commandment out of the ten, which was in part at least ceremonial, there was to be a change in the symbol appropriate to the new dispensation. . . .
Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, according to all four Evangelists (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Thus Sunday took on special importance as the weekly day of celebration for the triumph of the Resurrection.
After Pentecost it seems that the Christian community continued to celebrate the seventh-day Sabbath as before, by gathering with other Jews (both converted and unconverted) for the reading of the Torah, for preaching, and for prayer. . . . They joined in synagogue worship on Saturdays because they felt themselves to be Jews, even though they believed in Christ. . . . But they also met on Sunday mornings for worship and Holy Communion. . . .
Geisler and Howe provide further support for Sunday worship. On page 77 of their aforementioned book, they assert,
Jesus said in correcting the distorted view of the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The point which Jesus made is that the Sabbath was not instituted to enslave people, but to benefit them. The spirit of Sabbath observance is continued in the NT observance of rest and worship on the first day of the week.
[A]lthough the moral principles expressed in the commandments are reaffirmed in the NT, the command to set Saturday apart as a day of rest and worship is the only commandment not repeated. There are very good reasons for this. New Testament believers are not under the OT Law (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 3:24-25). By His resurrection on the first day of the week (Matt. 2l8:1), His continued appearances on succeeding Sundays (John 20:26), and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Sunday (Acts 2:1), the early church was given the pattern of Sunday worship. This they did regularly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Sunday worship was further hallowed by our Lord who appeared to John in that last great vision on “the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). It is for these reasons that Christians worship on Sunday, rather than on the Jewish Sabbath.
We believe that there is not conclusive biblical evidence as to whether or not Christians are unwittingly breaking the Fourth Commandment by worshipping on Sunday instead of on Saturday. However, the preceding comments and the long-term practice of Christians to worship on Sunday indicate that Sunday worship is probably condoned, rather than condemned, by God.
How Does God Want People to Worship Him?
In our society there are various styles of worship, ranging from so-called “traditional” to contemporary, and from formal to informal. This raises the question as to whether or not the Bible indicates that God prefers a particular style of worship. In attempting to answer this question, we will focus on New Testament scriptures only, because they are relevant to worship by Christians, whereas Old Testament scriptures are relevant to worship by Jews and other Israelites.
In any case, there does not seem to be even one verse of scripture that indicates a preference by either God or early Christians for a particular style of worship. There are, however, a couple of scriptures that focus on the attitude of the people who worship God.
With reference to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Jesus Christ, in Matthew 15:8-9, paraphrases Isaiah 29:13, as follows: [The Lord says,] “These people . . . honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me. . . .” [Note: Mark 7:7 provides essentially the same account.]
And, in John 4:23-24, Jesus Christ declares, “[T]he hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
With regard to John 4:23-24, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible states that true worshippers are “All who truly and sincerely worship God. They who do it with the heart, and not merely in form.”
In light of the preceding considerations, we do not think there is any scriptural basis for believing that God prefers one style of worship over any other. What He desires is the right attitude when we worship Him.
The Bible makes it sufficiently clear that it is not appropriate to venerate or worship any being, human or otherwise, in addition to God. Also, the Bible provides no indication that God has ever condoned the worship of any object or being other than Himself in the form of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [To learn why only God is worthy to be worshipped, see the Appendix that follows.]
As for what day of the week should be set aside for the worship of God, we do not think there is conclusive biblical evidence as to whether or not Christians are unwittingly breaking the Fourth Commandment by worshipping on Sunday rather than on Saturday.
In addition, we do not think there is any scriptural basis for believing that God prefers one style of worship over any other, provided that the style of worship facilitates genuine worship.
Why Only God Is Worthy to Be Worshipped
The following are among the most important and unique characteristics of God that make Him worthy of worship: (1) His omnipotence, (2) His omniscience, (3) His omnipresence, and (4) His incomparable love for us.
The first two characteristics – God’s omnipotence and His Omniscience – are discussed in our article entitled “Is God Really Omnipotent and Omniscient?” [To read that article, click on its title.]
The third characteristic – God’s omnipresence – pertains to the Bible’s teaching that God is not finite, unlike every other living thing. Therefore, God is not limited to being in only one place at a time; He is everywhere. [To read our article regarding God’s omnipresence, click on “Is God Omnipresent?”].
Characteristic number four – God’s incomparable love for every person – is made especially clear in the New Testament. [To read our article that discusses God’s love for people, click on “Is God’s Love the Same for Everyone?”]