gods, other gods, false gods, polytheism

False gods

Polytheism is belief in, or worship of, multiple gods or divinities. The word comes from the Greek words poly and theoi, literally "many gods." Most ancient religions were polytheistic, holding to pantheons of traditional deities, often accumulated over centuries of cultural interchange and experience. Present-day polytheistic religions include Hinduism, Mahayana, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism in the East, and also contemporary African tribal religions.
Polytheism is belief in, or worship of, multiple gods or divinities. The word comes from the Greek words poly and theoi, literally "many gods." Most ancient religions were polytheistic, holding to pantheons of traditional deities, often accumulated over centuries of cultural interchange and experience. Present-day polytheistic religions include Hinduism, Mahayana, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism in the East, and also contemporary African tribal religions. Note that according to some Hindu literature, there are 330 million (including local and regional) deities or gods worshiped in Hinduism. Some Jewish and Islamic scholars regard the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as bordering on polytheism, a view that Christians strongly reject. In the ancient world Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians worshiped a plurality of deities, as did the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse. However, the best-known example of polytheism in ancient times, is arguably Greek/Roman mythology (Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Poseidon, etc.). It is interesting to note that even in polytheistic religions, one god usually reigns supreme over the other gods, e.g., Zeus in Greek/Roman mythology and Brahman in Hinduism.

For the polytheists, deities or gods are formed around a number of aspects of life. These include natural forces and objects such as fertility and atmospheric forces; vegetation such as trees, herbs, and vineyards; animal and human forms such as serpents, cattle, and animal - human hybrids; and assorted functions such as love, agriculture, healing, and war, etc. In short, polytheists adore and worship the created world as divine rather then the creator God himself.

However, there are some serious philosophical problems when thinking about the definition of God in relation to polytheistic beliefs. By the broadest definition in most dictionaries, God refers to the supreme being that is above everything else. By very definition, this requires that it be only One being. The reasoning is that if this being was just another one of many gods, He would not necessarily be the highest or supreme. A polytheist might reply that there is one highest God with multiple lesser gods (i.e. Henotheism). However, this is still in contrast to the definition because those lesser beings cannot be referred to as "God", simply because they are not the supreme being. The definition of a supreme God demands that He is One.

Some argue that the Bible teaches polytheism in the Old Testament. Admittedly, several passages refer to “gods” in the plural (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 10:17; 13:2; Psalm 82:6; Daniel 2:47). Ancient Israel fully understood that there was only one true God, but they often did not live as if they believed that to be true, continually falling into idolatry and the worship of foreign gods. So what are we to make of these and other passages that speak of multiple gods? It is important to note that the Hebrew word Elohim was used to refer to the one true God and to false gods/idols. It functioned almost identically to the English word “God.”

Describing something as a “god” does not mean you believe it to be a divine being. The vast majority of Old Testament Scriptures which speak of gods are speaking of false gods, those who claim to be gods but are not. This concept is summarized in 2 Kings 19:18: “They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands.” Notice Psalm 82:6, “I said, 'You are “gods” you are all sons of the Most High.' But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”

The Bible clearly teaches against polytheism. Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Psalm 96:5 declares, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and tremble.” There is only one God. There are false gods and those who pretend to be gods, but there is only one true God.

Although the Bible does not use the term, it is clear that God is a triune God, or three in one. These are referred to as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The first hint of the Trinity is in Genesis 1:26 which relates God saying, "Let us make man in our image", indicating that God is a plurality. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." The three persons of God are treated as equivalents in these words of Jesus shortly after His resurrection:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 28:19
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