Praise or Worship?

Is there a difference between praise and worship?

Much has been taught over the years about the supposed difference between praise and worship. Praise is generally referred to as preparatory, more jubilant and even light-natured. It is usually seen as more exuberant and loud, a preliminary. Worship, on the other hand, is said to be the goal. It is supposedly more somber and reverent and of higher purpose. It should, by its very nature, be more intimate and quiet. Many passages of Scripture support these ideas. However, there are also many that do not.

Psalm 66:1 speaks of much expressive praise, loud and glorious. Then verse 4 says: “All the earth will worship Thee, and will sing praises to Thy name.” Here praise is occurring after or perhaps during worship.

In 2 Chronicles 20:18-19, the king (Jehoshaphat) and the whole assembly fell down and worshiped, but then the Levites stood up to praise loudly! That doesn’t quite fit the concept either.

In 2 Chronicles 29:28-30, the folks are apparently really confused. They start out worshiping in verses 27 and 28, but the description with all the singing and trumpets sounds more like praise. Then they bow in worship in verse 29. Then in verse 30 they go back to singing praise and then back again to worship!

In Revelation 19:4, the four creatures and the 24 elders fall down and worship God. Then in verse 5, a voice says, “Give praise to our God…” and a huge multitude responds in verses 6-8 by shouting and rejoicing, “Hallelujah.” Why praise when they’ve already entered into worship? Is heaven confused? Apparently in Scripture the order is not always necessarily the same as what many here on earth have taught.

Many years ago when I was in seminary, one of the professors gave us an assignment. We were to do word studies on the words “praise” and “worship.” The plan was to look up all of the times either of those words is used in our English Bibles and see what the original Greek or Hebrew words literally meant. The goal was to see if there was a consistency to the original understanding of those two words.

A week later everyone had completed the assignment and we shared our results. I was amazed that nearly everyone in the class had arrived at the same conclusions. Praise, according to the original understanding, is predominantly something we say or sing; it is vocal in expression. Worship, overall is something we do; it is physical in expression. The original Greek and Hebrew words that we translate as “praise” have definitions like “declare” and “bless.” The original words for “worship” literally mean things like “bow down” or “kiss the hand toward.”

Please realize that even these definitions are not always true. There are a couple of scriptural references that violate even this concept. However, from a biblical perspective, a much stronger case can be made for these definitions than for the ideas I shared at the beginning of this section.

To me the bottom line is this: We spend far too much time analyzing what we’re doing and not enough time actually doing it. Let’s just honor, adore, glorify, exalt—praise and worship—our ever-worthy God and not be so concerned about labeling exactly what we are doing.