The most common word for worship in the Hebrew Scriptures is hishtahavah, meaning “to bow down.” The Greek equivalent is the word proskuneo, also meaning “to bow down” or “to prostrate one’s self.” Whatever nuances of meaning there may be, both the Hebrew and Greek words for worship are synonymous, carrying the idea of “bowing down.”
The Bible indicates that folks bowed their heads and worshiped (Gen. 24:26; Exodus 4:31 etc.), or they bowed down (fell) and worshiped (Josh. 5:14; 2 Chron. 20:18, 29:29, Job 1:20; Psa. 22:29, etc.). Therefore, a distinction is made between “bowing down” (the lexical meaning) and the word worship itself. In some passages it could literally be translated as bowing down and bowing down (worship), but it is translated as bowing down and worshiping (bowing down).
Throughout Scripture, the grammatical construction of parallelism is often employed whereby different words, with different lexical meanings, are used synonymously or co-equally. That is, within the context they refer to the same thing. For instance, in Psalm 19 (which is a miniature of Psalm 119), David speaks of the law of the Lord, the testimony of the Lord, the statutes of the Lord, the commandment of the Lord, the fear of the Lord, the judgments of the Lord. In context, each word is synonymous with each other, all referring to the same thing, the law of the Lord, which is the word of God (See also 1 Pet. 1:22-25).
Moreover, the words, serve and worship, are routinely used together. They are two different words, with differing lexical meanings, yet are sometimes used in parallel fashion. Context will certainly determine the meaning. However, when used alone, the lexical meaning of each word becomes the focus.
The words praise and worship are also often used together. Two distinct words yet both are sometimes used synonymously. Note what David wrote:
I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (Psa. 138:1-2).
Here we see praise being used with worship. The act of praise is that singing (cf. Heb. 13:15). Essentially, what is done in praising God is also David’s bowing down or worship of God—with his whole heart (cf. John 4:23-24; Josh. 24:15). Coincidentally, David, in part, is going to praise or worship God for His Truth, which is then referred to as His Word (John 17:17). David uses these two words synonymously or in parallel fashion. Please note, God magnified His Word above His Name. However, I’m pretty sure liberals would not accuse God of “Bibliolatry.” Since God has placed such a premium on His Word, so must we.
After David recaptured the ark, he wrote a song of thanksgiving, which is recorded in 1 Chronicles 16:7-36. In verse 23 David said to sing and then says the Lord is worthy to be praised (v. 25). Here, again, singing is synonymous with praise. A little later David says, “Bring an offering and come before Him; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (v. 29). Grammatically, the thought of worshiping God in the beauty of holiness refers back to the offering and/or the giving, which in this case refer to the same thing. The giving is that of the offering. and each are parallel or synonymous with each other. Moreover, worshiping God also refers back to praising God and singing. Therefore, the worship, here, includes the giving of the offering and the singing of praises. These are the acts of worship David said to provide.
As we consider singing in the New Testament, the Hebrews writer expressly says: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15). As noted previously, praise can refer to worship, but it is always connected to worship, since the giving of praise must be a sacrifice of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). While each are different, psalms and hymns are spiritual songs, yet they are distinct from all other kinds. They are sacred or spiritual.
When we consider the use of the word worship, alone, we see its lexical meaning (bowing down) cannot be taken literally within certain contexts. For instance, Abraham said, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship” (Gen. 22:5). Abraham did not mean he and Isaac would go over yonder and literally bow down, but that he would take the boy to be sacrificed. This was the worship contemplated.
The New Testament or “law of Christ,” tells us we must worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We are under law (God’s authority) to do so (Isa. 2:2). In spirit means with the whole heart; in genuineness and sincerity of heart (cf. Josh. 24:15). Of course, whenever we are to submit to God’s commands and keep them, it must be with the heart (Rom. 6:17). God has specified the acts of worship in the New Testament. Therefore, we must worship according to His word, the truth (cf. John 17:17). Otherwise, we become guilty of “will-worship” or self-imposed worship (Col. 2:23).