Let Us Kneel Before The Lord: The Biblical Basis for Kneeling in Worship

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Anglicans kneel a lot: in prayer, in confession, and at communion. We often surprise visitors from other traditions with our frequent kneeling.

Why do we kneel so often? In short, kneeling is Biblical WorshipBodily Worship, and Beautiful Worship.

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Kneeling as Biblical Worship

The Bible associates kneeling with worship, especially prayers of confession, thanksgiving, and petition.

Kneeling in the Old Testament

Consider a few examples of familiar Old Testament figures:

Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven (1 Kings 8:54).

[Daniel] got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously (Daniel 6:10).

And at the evening sacrifice I [Ezra] rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God (Ezra 9:5).

It is not only such leaders that kneel; the scriptures instruct all who worship to kneel before the Lord, as we see in the Psalms:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6)

Kneeling in the New Testament

There is complete continuity of this principle in the New Testament. There we see multiple figures kneeling before Jesus, pointing forward to our prayers for healing and our reception of communion.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean’ (Mark 1:40).

A ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live’ (Matthew 9:18).

But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table’ (Matthew 15:25-27).

These examples illustrate the complete helplessness of those who kneel; they realize that they are powerless except for the radical grace of God, which they humbly petition on their knees. We even see Jesus himself kneeling in his most intense hour of prayer:

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done’ (Luke 22:41-42).

Kneeling as Bodily Worship

These examples demonstrate how kneeling expresses worship through the body.

To the Biblical mind, there is hardly any other way to worship. The Hebrew word for worship, shaha, has the physical meaning of bowing down. And so, when we see worship in the Bible, it is frequently associated with a physical act of humility and reverence. Alongside kneeling, there are the frequent actions of bowing down from the waist or lying prostrate on the ground.

Modern anthropology is often dualistic, separating mind from body, the “ghost” from the “machine.” Under modern anthropology, it becomes possible to imagine worship as a mere orientation of the mind that is not reflected in the body’s posture. But this is entirely alien to the Biblical mindset. The body reflects the bearing of the mind and, in fact, both witness to the orientation of the soul. To the Biblical mind, a person who will not “bow down and kneel before the Lord” is a person who will not worship. Conversely, even when not feeling worshipful, the Bible suggests we can still worship by consciously deciding to get on our knees.

Again, there is continuity here between the Old and New Testaments. We find not only Moses and the people of Israel bowing in worship in Exodus 4 and Exodus 34. We also find the Magi falling down to worship baby Jesus in Matthew 2. And don’t forget the 24 elders in heaven who “fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever” (Revelation 4:10).

Kneeling as Beautiful Worship

Finally, kneeling is beautiful worship. This requires some explanation. I do not mean that kneeling must be done beautifully as if there were one proper or most elegant way to kneel. Nor do I mean that kneeling can somehow cover the ugliness of sin. Like any form of worship, pious kneeling can be hypocritical and ugly without repentance and faith.

These qualifications aside, kneeling before the Lord is fundamentally beautiful because it represents the church’s participation in the character of Christ. For the Son of God was preeminently humble. He did not hold onto equality with God, but he rather:

Emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8).

Therefore, our kneeling reflects our participation in the same Spirit of Christ, humbly pointing to God and his sovereign grace. Kneeling is a beautiful glorification of God. It is an obedience that glorifies the Lord, praise that glorifies the Savior, and an inheritance that glorifies the Father.

In the end, this glory of God will fill all, for

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).

Photo by FangXiaNuo for Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

August 1, 2023

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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