Kneeling or bowing before images


In the first part of the post, we dealt with images and gave the right interpretation of Exodus 20:4. The post generated so many questions, and all the questions where basically centered on Exodus 20:5 and NOT Verse 4. So, I take it that the first part which is centered on Verse 4 is well understood. Now, let us take time to look at Verse 5.

Someone asked: Fr in Exodus 20:5 the bible said “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, I am a jealous God. . .” the bible said YOU SHALL NOT BOW DOWN. The key word is BOW. You claim you don’t worship images, yet you still BOW DOWN to them, is that not worship?

If you are ready, let us see if we can give answer to the question above.


We all know that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The most common Hebrew word translated as worship is “SHACHAH”, the Phonetic Spelling: (shaw-khaw’).

“Shachah” in Hebrew means “to bow down.” What is interesting about this word is that it may be translated as either “to bow” or as “worship” depending on the context.

For example, if we read Genesis 23:7, we will see where Abraham “bowed” before the Hittites. In this case the context lets us know that Abraham was physically bowing as a respectful greeting. Now, just one chapter before, in Genesis 22:5, Abraham informs his servant that he and Isaac will go up on the mountain and “shachah.” In this case the context makes it clear that Abraham intends to worship on the mountain.

This is why, if you read different translations of Exodus 20:5, you will see how different versions of the bible kept interchanging it.

“You shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” NKJ. Here they used “BOW DOWN”.

“Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them.” CSB. Here they used “BOW IN WORSHIP”.

“You shall not worship them or serve them.” NAS. Here they used “WORSHIP”.

“Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them.” Douay-Rheims Bible. Here they used “ADORE”.

What is the point in the whole gist? Simple: It is not worship because the person bowed down. One can bow and not worship. The Bible is clear about this.

I will give you more examples:

If you read Genesis 33:3, Jacob bowed to the ground on his knees seven times to his elder brother Esau. Does it mean he was worshipping Esau???

In Genesis 1 Kings 1:16, Bathsheba bowed to her husband David.

In 1 Kings 2:19, Solomon bowed to his mother Bathsheba.

In Revelation 3:9, John was told of how those the bible regarded as belonging to the synagogue of Satan will be made to bow before him.

In all these cases, it is never the same as the worship giving to God. This is why we can also not called the prostrating of the Yoruba people before their elders as worship. When someone bow before an object, you don’t by that fact conclude he or she is worshipping that object.

When Yorubas prostrate before their elders, it does not mean they are worshipping them.

So when Exodus 20:5 talk about bow, it does not mean bowing the head literally. It means giving worship as you would God. That should be simple enough na?

Question for my next post: “Fr, While Catholics may say they do not adore statues, their actions prove otherwise… Catholics kiss statues, bow down before them, and pray in front of them, is that not worship?”

I shall answer this question in the next post. Stay with me!

Meanwhile, if you must ask question in the comment section that will demand my response, restrict it to what I just dealt with. Don’t rush me!

Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr Kelvin Ugwu MSP is an influential Nigerian Catholic priest on a mission in The Gambia.

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