In Romans 12:1 Paul tells us to be a living sacrifice and that doing so is our “spiritual act of worship.” I was discussing that verse with someone and they believed it should be translated “spiritual act of service.” The word latreia can be translated as “worship” or “service” in Koine Greek just as we talk about having a worship service. The problem we have is that words express concepts and not always a one-for-one equivalent in the receptor language. So we try to get a one word equivalent that is as close to what we can tell the passage is expressing but it may not end up precise. This word is talking about something done (service) for God as worship to Him.
Let’s look at its other uses in the New Testament.
In Romans 9:4 Paul refers to “the temple worship.” Would that be translated “the temple service”? Or wouldn’t it make more sense that Paul is referring to the temple worship that is carried out through serving God through the singing, sacrificing, etc of the temple? This is in the same letter/same author as 3 chapters later where the same word is used in Rom 12:1.
Latreia is used in Hebrews 9:1 (notice it in context describing worship) – “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship [latreo] and also an earthly sanctuary. 2A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.[a] But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.”
That sounds like worship to me.
John 16:2 – “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” There is an example where the latreia concept is better captured by the word service rather than worship. The idea is still something done to show favor to God. The idea of worship is still there but in this case it makes more sense in English to translate it “service” if you are looking for a one-for-one word equivalent.
Now the verse in questions (Rom 12:1) – worship in the temple involved sacrifice. Paul is paralleling the Christian life as an act of worship. Sacrifice was worship. If I saw sacrifice as an OT concept of service moreso than worship I would have to agree with translating Romans 12:1 as “service”. But I don’t see that and I also look at Paul’s other use of this word and again it is more in line with worship rather than strictly service. I also want to point out that service and worship are not mutually exclusive. They actually go hand in hand. The trick is figuring out if you are doing a one word for one word translation, which word fits better. In Rom 12:1 it is worship as best I can tell.
Those are the only 4 uses of this word in the New Testament. That makes it pretty clear to me that Paul is saying that our lives are lived on the altar to God as an act of worship. It tells me that worship is not confined to one hour a week on one day a week. God is pleased or displeased the other 6 days of the week by how my life worships or fails to worship him and the aroma that my life is producing.