Bible Basics about Praise and Worship

This post is a basic Bible study of key words in the Old and New Testaments, all spelled out in English. Worship leaders need to have a biblical foundation. Practical application is offered below each term.

Let’s begin without a long introduction.

Old Testament

It was written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and here are seven key words.

1.. The verb hawa (173 times) means essentially to “bow down,” either before a human, like a king or an important figure or visitors or within the family (Gen. 18:2; 33:3; 48:12; 50:18-20; 1 Sam. 24:18; 2 Sam. 1:2; 2:36). Or it can mean to worship or bow down before a divine figure, like an angel or God or even heathen idols (2 Chron. 25:14; 33:3; Is. 44:15; Jer. 16:11), and it used in this way 110 times. Of course, God’s people are commanded not to bow down before idols (Exod. 20:5; 34:14). Sometimes it is translated as “worship”: “Come let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD our God” (Ps. 95:6); “worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness” (Ps. 29:2; 96:9).

Practical application:

Worship elicits a physical response, like bowing. Back in the day, in some churches it was a BIG, BIG deal to see people raise their hands. Many pastors would not allow it. Now it is commonplace. Don’t discount or look down on physical responses in people. Let them respond (biblically) to God in their own way. If someone bows down while the singing is going on, let him or her.

2.. The verb yare’ (pronounced yah-reh and used 312 times), and it can mean either a sense of terror or a sense of awe and worship. It is commonly translated as “fear, revere, worship.” It is clear why the awesomeness and even fearfulness of God evokes worship in puny humans. Remember God thundering and lightning on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19)? When we see God (only in part!) in his majesty and glory, we will fall to our faces in trembling. In Jonah 1:5, the terror of the sailors turns to worship after the storm was calmed (v. 16). Reverence in worship is expected as the right covenantal response to the LORD (Deut. 5:29; 10:12-13). It is the best way to walk and obey—in the fear of the LORD (Deut. 6:2, 24; 8:6). It is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7; Job 28:28).

Practical application:

Please don’t think “fear” is just Old Testament “stuff.” The verb is transferred to the New Testament 95 times (e.g. Matt. 14:27; 27:54; 28:5; Luke 2:9-10). If you scoff or treat lightly your fearing the Lord, you need a revelation of who God really is.

Start with this post in my series

Do I Really Know God? He Is Infinite and Personal

3.. The verb ‘abad (pronounced a-bahd and is used 290 times) means either “serve” or “worship.” In a religious context, i.e. at the temple of God, service is worship. A Levite could no longer perform religious service at the temple when he reached 50 years (Num. 8:25). Isaiah says that sacrificial worship to God is ‘abad (19:21). Israelites are commanded not to serve / worship other gods (Deut. 4:19; 5:9). So serving in a religious context and worshipping overlap (Exod. 3:12; Mal. 3:18).

Practical application:

When an usher or volunteer collects the offering or sets up the chairs, he is serving / worshipping the Lord, just as much as a guitar-playing singer is. God sees the volunteer’s practical work unto him.

4.. The verb barak (used 327 times, and, yes, a certain political figure shares this name) is best translated as “to bless.” It is used in the psalms 76 times. It pronounces good things on its recipient. Soeak out loud when you bless. When God blesses, it is not a vague wish, but an empowering and transforming word. Blessing comes from God; he blessed Adam (Gen. 1:27-28), Noah (Gen. 9:7-17), Abram (Gen. 12:2-3), Sarah (Gen. 17:16), Ishmael (Gen. 17:20), Isaac Gen. 25:11), Laban (Gen. 30:27), Jacob (Gen. 32:29), the people of Israel (Deut. 2:7); Samson (Jdg. 13:24), Job (42:12), the righteous (Ps. 5:13), and those who fear God (Ps. 115:13).

Humans can bless: Isaac (Gen. 27:27), Jacob (49:28), Moses (Exod. 39:43), Aaron (Lev. 9:22), Joshua (Jos. 14:13), Eli (1 Sam. 2:20), kings (2 Sam. 13:25; Ezra (Neh. 8:6)—all those people blessrf others.

The most important element of blessing is God presence. The deepest verses on blessing are Num. 6:24-26, where God promises to bless and be with his people with his glory and presence. God’s presence is upon his covenant people when they obey (Deut. 7:12-15; 28:1-14).

Practical application:

Use words to speak life or blessing over people, particularly worship leaders should bless the people. Trust God that the words of the songs uplift and bless his people—that they bring God’s people into his presence and speak good things over his New Covenant people.

5.. The verb halal (used 146 times) means to “praise, boast, exult.” People can receive this verb, like Pharaoh’s servants praising Sarah (Gen. 12:15), or the wife of noble character is praised (Prov. 31:28, 30-31). However, the majority of appearances of this verb goes towards God. He is worthy to be praised (Ps. 18:3; 48:1) because of his marvelous deeds (Ps. 78:4), particularly the deeds of salvation (Ps. 148:14). God people praise him in songs (Ps. 149:1), with a range of instruments (Ps. 150).

Practical application:

In Hebrew, the word hallelujah comes from this verb (e.g. Pss. 115-117). It means “praise the Lord.” Lead people in praising the Lord. Be vocal about it.

6.. The verb yada (used 111 times) means “praise, (give) thanks, confess”; it expresses acknowledgement. The verb appears 60% of the time in psalms. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (Ps. 106:1; 107:1, 136:1-3, 26). We must praise the LORD not only with voices (Ps. 67:3, 5) but also with instruments (Ps. 33:2; 71:22; 92:1). Leah, under-loved wife of Jacob, praised the LORD, when she birthed her fourth son (Gen. 29:35; cf. 49:8). Jesus was born from this fourth son. God never disappoints capriciously or in the final analysis.

7.. The noun tehillah (pronounced teh-hil-lah and used 58 times) means “praise.” Isaiah says that he will not give praise to idols (Is. 42:8). God will make Jerusalem the praise of the earth (Is. 62:7; Zeph. 3:20. In fact the plural of this noun is tehillim (pronounced teh-hil-leem) is the Hebrew word for “praises” or “hymns.” “Enter his gates with thanksgiving his courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4).

Practical application:

It is a good thing to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Worship leaders must lead the people to do this. Point out to them that he is worthy to be thanked even when they don’t feel like it or their circumstances say no. He is great, no matter what the earth and world tell them. Praise and thank him.

The New Testament

1.. The verb latreuō (pronounced lah-true-oh and used 21 times) can either mean “serve” or “worship.” It is related to the root lat- or laity (people). In the Greek world, either the rich serve the people by paying for a public building or aqueduct, for example, or it can mean the people serve the rich or a deity. In the New Covenant, it means “service to God” or “worship given to God” (Luke 1:74; Acts 7:7, 42). Paul worships God of his ancestors as a follower of the Way (Acts 24:14). God alone is to be worshiped (Mark 4:10; Luke 4:8). Paul’s missionary service is worship (Rom. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:3). The true circumcision are those who worship by the Spirit and don’t have faith in the human ritual (Phil. 3:3). We have been set free from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). We worship with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).

Practical application:

Worship and service are closely linked. When we serve people, we worship God. When the volunteers stack the chairs and take the offerings, they worship God.

2.. The verb proskuneō (pronounced pros-ku-neh-oh and used 60 times) means to “fall down” or “worship.” The verb without the prefix is kuneō means “to kiss.” So some say proskuneō means “kiss towards” (the pros– prefix basically means “towards”). This speaks of intimacy with the Lord. But apart from this clever reasoning, the verb proskuneō can mean, depending on the context, “(fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully” (Shorter Lexicon). The Bible shows that people do those things to humans (Matt. 18:26; Acts 10:25; Rev. 3:9); to God (Matt. 4:10; John 4:20, 23; 12:20; Acts 24:11; 1 Cor. 14:25; Heb. 11:21; Rev. 4:10; 14:7; 19:4); to idols (Acts. 7:43); even (deceived people) to the devil and Satanic beings (Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:7; Rev. 9:20; 13:4; 14:9, 11); to Christ (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18: 14:33; 20:20; 15:25; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6; 15:19; Luke 24:52). Welcoming people respectfully is appropriate. However, the only appropriate beings to whom one worships is God and Christ, not humans or devils or idols. A little more detail:

“Worship the Lord your God (Mark 4:10). The wise came to worship the baby (Matt. 2:2, 11). The sick kneel before Jesus (Matt. 8:2; 9:18). The man born blind said he believed and he worshipped Jesus (John 9:38).

Practical application:

Kneeling down or bowing down or prostration to God is a legitimate response to God. Never deter or discourage people who express themselves in a biblical fashion, like bowing, kneeling or raising hands and sometimes dancing (Exod. 15:20; 2 Sam. 6:14; Pss. 30:11; 149:3; 150:4).

3.. The verb sebō (pronounced seh-boh and is used 10 times, and we get the name Sebastian from it) means “to worship.” Matt. 15:9 and Mark 7:7 says God alone is to be worshiped. The other references are in Acts and often refer to the “God worshippers” or “God fearers” or those who honor the God of Israel but are not Jews by birth and did not wish to undergo circumcision. They were attached to Judaism.

Practical application:

Worshipping leads you to become attached to God. Worship leaders lead people in song, so they can get people attached to God.

4.. The verb doxazō (pronounced dohx-ah-zoh and used 61 times) means “to glorify, give honor or praise.” God is so far above us that only he can get the glory and he alone deserves it. It is proper for humans to proclaim his glory, because we conform our minds to him. (See my post Do I Really Know God? He Is Glorious) John proclaims that Jesus glorified God by his life and resurrection and ascension (John 12:16, 23; 17:4). We glorify God by obeying God. Even our bodies can glorify God (1 Cor. 6:20). When we do good works, people glorify God because of us and possibly receive salvation (Matt. 5:16-18; 9:8; 2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:12). When God or Jesus worked miracles, people glorified God (Luke 2:20; 5:25-26; 7:16; 18:43; 23:47; Acts 11:18).

Practical application:

We glorify God while we sing during worship time at church. We block out time to sing the lyrics that lead people to glorify God. But we also glorify God when we please him with our obedience inside and outside of church.

5.. The verb eulogeō (pronounced eu-loh-geh-oh [the “g” is hard, as in “get”], and the word is used 41 times). It means “to bless, thank, or praise.” The verb is built on the prefix eu-, which means “well” or “good,” and log- which in this context means “to speak.” It is important to speak blessings out loud. Now for a little theology. Blessing proceeds from God in the heavenly places, but we can have these spiritual blessing here and now as we prepare to be with him in eternity, where the spiritual blessings get deeper and larger and fuller (Eph. 1:3). We can also bless God. Zechariah blesses or praises God when his mouth is opened (Luke 1:64). Simeon blesses or praises God when he sees the baby Jesus. Paul called God blessed for the blessings he has given the church (Eph. 1:3).

Personal Application:

Worship leaders must be aware that people need to bless God, whether they realize it or not. God has showered us with heavenly blessings, and we are then enabled and gifted to bless God in return. All blessings flow from God, and we return our gratitude by calling God who he is—blessed.

See my post Do I Really Know God? He Is Blessed

6.. The noun epainos (pronounced eh-py-nohss and used 11 times) means “praise” or “commendation.” A man’s praise or commendation can come from men (Rom. 2:29). Government authorities can commend you for doing right (Rom. 13:3). Even God will give commendation or praise at judgment (1 Cor. 4:8; 1 Pet. 2:14). Mainly, however, people acknowledge God deserves praise by the works he has done and who he really is (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Phil. 1:11, 4:8).

Practical Application:

Praise flows from the heart that is filled with God. It is an acknowledgement of who God is and what he has done for us. Then we return praise to him.

7.. The verb epaineō (pronounced eh-py-neh-oh and is used 6 times). In an odd twist of New Testament Scriptures, it refers in five cases only to people praising or not praising other people (Luke 16:8; 1 Cor. 11, 2, 17, 22 [twice]). In Rom. 15:11 Paul quotes Ps. 117:1, which says Gentiles will praise God.

8.. The other verb is aineō (pronounced eye-neh-oh and used 8 times). Many  consider BDAG to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it defines it simply as “praise” (Luke 2:13, 20; 19:37; 24:53; Acts 2:47; 3:8; Rom. 15:11; Rev. 19:5). It looks like Luke likes the verb.

See the next point for a practical application.

9.. The noun is ainos (pronounced eye-noss and used twice), and yes, it is related to the verb (no. 8). And BDAG defines it simply as “praise” (Luke 18:43 and Matt. 21:36).

Practical application:

Praise is a big deal in the Renewalist church, so it is odd that the New Testament does not make as big a deal of it as the contemporary church does. It is more focused on God and human behavior and church life. Singing in worship is not the primary focus in the New Testament. Worship leaders will have to get this facet of their theology from the Old Testament. However, we are supposed to speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs from the Spirit. “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 4:18-19). So keep singing in your private devotions and in the local assembly!

How does this post help me know God better?

For a fuller perspective, let’s leave Hebrew and Greek behind and define some words in English.

In English, the word worship comes the Old English weorthscipe: “worthiness, repute, respect,” from weorth: “worthy”; worth + scipe: ship. Bottom line: worship comes from “worthship.”

God is worthy to be worshipped. Worship pays him great honor and respect and devotion; it can also mean to perform a task that is part of a worship service or do an act of worship.

Praise in English comes from Middle French “to prize” or “put a high “price” on. When you lead people to praise God, they prize him as the only worthy one in the universe to receive ultimate worship.

Is there a difference between worship and praise?

It feels like there should be because we have been taught that worship flows from a devoted heart, and there may or may not be grand gestures, like raising hands of falling down. Praise, on the other hand, seems to be noisy. “Praise the Lord!” (Pss. 115-117). It seems difficult to praise the Lord in silence, but one may worship the Lord in silence. So maybe there is a fine distinction. But in my opinion, such fineline distinctions are useless. Just worship and praise the Lord from your heart and with your body—or in silence.

One last point. 1 Kings 8:11 says that at the dedication of the temple, the priests were unable to perform their duties. Why not? Here’s why: “And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple.” Ezekiel fell facedown when the glory of the Lord filled the new temple (Ezek. 44:4).

We can experience that today—or let’s pray we can.


What Is Prayer?

What Is Petitionary Prayer?

What Is Biblical Intercession?

What Is Biblical Praise?

Bible Basics about Praise and Worship

Word Study on Praise and Worship

What Is Biblical Thanksgiving?

Balanced Worship in the Psalms


Works Cited

At that link look for the NIV Study Bible, especially for Mounce.

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