Trinitarians typically claim that NT (New Testament) references to people “worshiping” Jesus or “giving Jesus worship” prove that the NT thinks that Jesus is God.
However, it appears doubtful that the NT actually depicts people as worshiping Jesus in the Trinitarian/”God” sense.
The Bible uses “worship” not only to designate creatures’ subordination to God, but also uses the term to indicate reverence to kings, officials, prophets and other kinds of holy people. Thus in the Gospels, where it says ” ‘X’ persons worshiped Jesus”, it likely means only that they gave him high reverence, but the Gospels never imply that such people worshiped Jesus as God. Not only did Jesus explicitly exclude himself from the Godhead in John 17:3 (“You, Father, are the only true God“), he also said that he HAD a God, worshiped a God, and ascended to God. But of course God does not have a god, does not worship a god, and cannot ascend to himself.
Not even John’s “DoubtingThomas’s” expression to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” necessitates the notion that Thomas was worshiping Jesus as God.
The story is not about some issue concerning Jesus’s supposed deity. It’s about Thomas not having witnessed the risen Jesus, and his telling the disciples that he won’t believe until he sees with his own eyes. The context, therefore, is not Jesus’s purported deity, but rather about Thomas’s unbelief.
The risen Jesus then appears and grants Thomas permission to probe his execution wounds, after which Thomas declares his faith, not in Jesus as God, but in GOD as Lord. That is, Thomas is rendering worship to the Father by whose will Jesus has been raised up. So the Thomas story is often misunderstood by Trinitarians to be about Jesus’s supposed divinity, whereas it is really about Thomas’s lack of resurrection-faith.
Had Jesus wanted to be worshiped, surely he would have openly encouraged the practice. Yet, in the Gospels, he never does.
And had early Christians worshiped Jesus as God, NT prayer would typically, frequently, be expected to address Jesus as God. But it never does.
NT prayer is only addressed to the Father, “through” or “in” Jesus, or “in Jesus’ name” – but never to Jesus as God. The Maranatha prayer – “Come, Lord” – is addressed to Jesus not as God, but rather as Messianic Lord, and is a hopeful request that he return soon. In Luke-Acts, Stephen’s outcry to Jesus that Jesus accept Stephen into heaven is not a prayer to Jesus as God, but again, simply to Jesus as Messianic Lord. In John’s Gospel Jesus says that the disciples can ask anything in his name and he/and/or the Father will grant it: again, this is a form of petition to God – in Jesus’s name, as the Messianic Son – not to Jesus as as some kind of an ontological “God”. Hence, according to the NT texts, Jesus was never given divine worship, for the simple reason that the first Christians did not regard him as ontological God.
So, to reiterate, it seems that that no one in the NT ever “worshiped” Jesus in a Trinitarian sense. The Bible uses “worship” in describing adulation directed to God, but it also uses the term in describing veneration of heroes, judges, prophets, kings and holy people. Nowhere in the NT is worship directed to Jesus as God, but only to the Father.
And the same principle applies to NT prayer – in the NT, no one prays to Jesus as God . On the contrary, they pray only to the Father, “through Jesus”, “in Jesus”, or “in Jesus’s name”. The “Maranatha prayer” is the disciples’ simple request to Jesus Messiah to return “soon”. In Luke-Acts, Stephen’s prayer that Jesus receive him into heaven is, again, a prayer to the Son of Man standing next to the Father. Etc.
The NT contains no worship of Jesus as God and directs no prayer to Jesus as God. That’s because the NT does not consider Jesus to be God, but rather to be the pre-existent celestial archangel who by his incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection was elevated above all other angels.
If at first it seems strange to view Jesus as an archangel, the NT itself seems to confirm the notion, especially in its portrayal of Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin, where he promises his judges that they will see the heavenly “Son of Man”, coming with the clouds in great glory, accompanied by “Power” (the living Presence of God). This pre-existent heavenly figure appears in the book of Daniel, in a heavenly “presentation ceremony”, where the Son of Man approaches the throne of “the Ancient of Days” (God). It is no surprise, therefore, that Caiaphas the Jewish high priest was said to have torn his robe and charged Jesus with blasphemy for claiming to be the cloud-dwelling celestial Son of Man.
Once Jesus’s own pre-existent, celestial Son of Man christology is delineated and clearly viewed, it becomes clear that Christianity had no need of a Trinitarian “Son” – for the simple reason that Jesus, as an “incarnation” of the heavenly Son of Man, already functioned as a divine Son on earth as well as in heaven.
Moreover, the NT also says that Jesus was given the divine Name and was charged with divine judgment. Which conception also happens to dovetail with the Jewish Bible’s depiction of the pre-existent-heavenly “Great Angel of Israel”, who bore the divine Name and executed divine judgment on the ancient Israelites.
The NT Jesus therefore represents a kind of conflation between the Great Angel and the Son of Man. So, to put the case flippantly, “Who needs a Trinitarian Son when in Jesus we already have God’s chief assisting Angel and the celestial Son of Man?” In these circumstances, a Trinitarian Son seems only to be an arbitrary, unnecessary, redundant and distortive addendum to an original Jewish, monotheistic christology.
Finally, to recap:
In the NT, Jesus was never worshiped or prayed to as God or as the Trinitarian Son. Moreover, in the NT, Jesus claims to be the heavenly Son of Man – the archangelic pre-existent figure who lived in the clouds of heaven, and who also shared certain exalted traits with Israel’s Great Angel.
Therefore, pragmatically speaking, no ontologically divine Trinitarian Son need (or should!) be superimposed on Jesus’s original Jewish-monotheistic claim to be the Son of Man both in heaven and on earth (“So that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” – Mark 2:10).
“Jesus-as-God” christology is most accurately viewed as a foreign, “paganized” Gentile, Greco-Roman category which the “post-Apostolic” Church Councils imposed upon an original Jewish-monotheistic christological assertion.