Polytheism – What is it?

Polytheism is the belief in two or more gods or goddesses. Many religious belief systems could be defined historically and today as polytheistic, ranging from Hinduism (with more than 300 million gods; though it is often considered pantheistic, believing that all is God) to African tribal religions to Native American spiritualties. In many polytheistic religions, there is also a supreme God or being above the others (also called henotheism).

The Bible clearly teaches against the idea of polytheism or worshiping more than one God. The Shema, a central Old Testament prayer, begins with the statement, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the New Testament, James 2:19 clearly teaches there is only one God. Starting with the first verse of Scripture and continuing all the way through, God is consistently referred to as one Supreme Being.

However, sometimes people suggest that the Bible teaches, or at least permits, polytheism. For example, some passages mention "gods" as more than one (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 10:17). In Psalm 82:6-7 we even find, "I said, 'You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men, you shall die, and fall like any prince.'" The Old Testament Jews understood there was only one God, yet often did not follow this teaching. Scripture even speaks at times as if these gods were real for the sake of arguing God's greatness in comparison with the lack of power found in idols made of wood or stone.

In contrast with the gods worshiped by the nations surrounding Israel, the Jews were taught in the Ten Commandments, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God" (Exodus 20:4-5 NIV). God acknowledged that humans might make things that are revered as gods, but that these creations were not truly divine.

Related Truth:

What is atheism?

What is Naturalism?

What is agnosticism?

Pantheism – What is it?

Henotheism – What is it?

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