GODS (אֱלֹהִים, H466; θεός, G2536, (sing.), θεοί (pl.).
The Biblical terms are used generically to mean gods, divinities, objects of worship, sometimes meaning the true God, and sometimes meaning the false divinities of paganism. Academic treatments of cultural anthropology usually betray strong influence of the theory of human evolution, maintaining that the difference between “true” and “false” religion is one of degree rather than of kind, and that there is a basic continuity between the idolatry of primitive paganism and the ethical monotheism of the great OT prophets, the NT apostles and Christ. Over against this idea, Scripture teaches that the original religion of mankind was monotheism, and that belief in and worship of gods as distinguished from the worship of the true God is to be regarded as a corruption of the primitive monotheism which appears at the beginning of the OT. Actually, the factual data discovered by field researches in anthropology tend to confirm the Biblical view. Various “primitive” tribes recognize the reality and power of a supreme God who created the universe, but they do not worship Him. It has also been shown that the oldest known religion of China was monotheism, the worship of Shang Ti, the supreme ruler, which is much older than any of the historical religions of China. The Apostle Paul outlined the downward process by which belief in the one true God, known but not worshiped, thanked or served, deteriorated to the most debased forms of polytheism and idolatry (
Treatment in OT.
The first mention of idolatry or polytheism in the Bible occurs in connection with the history of Jacob, whom Laban accused of having stolen his “gods” (
The plural form
אֱלֹהִים, H466. used of the true God. This usage, which occurs throughout the OT, is not to be understood as implying any recognition of or concession to polytheism, or plurality of being or essence. The form is pl., but when used for the true God the meaning is sing. The pl. form accompanies the strictest monotheism of teaching. The pl. form may be explained as a pl. of majesty, as earthly rulers call themselves “we,” or it may be regarded as a veiled hint of the doctrine of the divine Trinity, later to be revealed explicitly in the NT.
The term “gods” applied to men.
The usage of
Treatment in the NT.
The later Judaism in the context of which the NT revelation was given by God was the strictest possible monotheism. Among and around the Jews, however, were Gentiles who were polytheists and often idolaters. Hence, the NT emphatically contradicts all claims for divinity of any others than the one true God. In the face of the manifold idolatry of Athens, Paul proclaimed the God “who made the world and everything in it” (
Demonic character of pagan gods.
In using the term “god” for the objects of pagan worship, Scripture does not mean to imply their objective reality, but only their subjective existence in the minds of their worshipers. Amaziah king of Judah, after decisively defeating the Edomites, brought back to Jerusalem a collection of Edomite idols, which he then set up and worshiped (
A. H. Strong,(1912), 56, 531-532; ISBE (1929), II, 1270-1272; G. Vos, . (1948), 73, 74, 255-257; O. T. Allis, The Five Books of Moses (1949), 152-155, 246, 324; M. F. Unger, Archeology and the OT (1954), 202, 278, 279, 167-178; TCERK (1955), I, 464, 465; Von Allmen, A Companion to the Bible (1958), 145, 146; M. F. Unger, Biblical Demonology (1958); Archaeology and the NT (1962), 259, 260; J. B. Noss, Man’s Religions (1963), 50-117; B. W. Anderson, Understanding the OT (1966), 412.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. Superhuman Beings (God and Angels)
2. Judges, Rulers
3. Gods of the Nations
4. Superiority of Yahweh to Other Gods
5. Regulations Regarding the Gods of the Nations
6. Israel’s Tendency to Idolatry
II. IN THE APOCRYPHA
III. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
I. In the Old Testament.
1. Superhuman Beings (God and Angels):
The following are the more important usages of the word in the Old Testament: The translation of
2. Judges, Rulers:
Judges, rulers, are regarded "either as Divine representatives at sacred places, or as reflecting Divine majesty and power" (see BDB, under the word).
3. Gods of the Nations:
(1) The ancestors of Israel "beyond the River" had their gods (
(2) The gods of Laban and his family (
(3) Gods of Egypt: For many centuries before the time of Abraham there had been numerous objects of worship in Egypt. Many of these were animals, birds and natural objects. Horus, the hawk, was one of the earliest of all. The cat, the bull, etc., were worshipped at times. The plagues of Egypt were specially directed against these wretched deities (
(4) Of the gods of the Amorites (
(5) The gods of the Canaanites were Nature-gods, and their worship was that of the productive and chiefly reproductive powers of Nature. Their service was perhaps the most immoral and degrading of all. The high places and altars of the different Baals, Ashtoreths, etc., were numerous throughout Canaan. These deities were always represented by images and Moses makes frequent reference to them with warnings against this seductive worship (
See also IDOLATRY; BAAL; ASHTORETH; ASHERAH, etc.
(6) Gods of the Philis: The champion Goliath cursed David by his gods (
See also DAGON; BAALZEBUB.
(7) The two golden calves erected by Jeroboam at Da and Bethel to keep the people from going to Jerusalem to worship are called gods (
See Golden Calf.
(8) The gods of Damascus: Ben-hadad was accustomed to worship in the house of the god Rimmon (
(9) Solomon’s many wives worshipped their own gods, and he provided the means for their worship. Chief among these were Chemosh of Moab and Molech of Ammon (
(10) The mixed peoples transplanted into Samaria by Sargon had their various gods and mingled their service with that of Yahweh, after being taught by a priest of Yahweh. The names of some of these gods were Succoth-benoth, Nergal, Ashima, Nibhaz, Tartak, Adrammelech (
(11) Of the gods of Seir, which were brought to Jerusalem by Amaziah, the names are not given (
(12) The gods of the nations conquered by Sennacherib and his fathers, namely, Hamoth, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena, Ivvah (
(13) Gods of Moab are mentioned in
(15) Nineveh’s gods are merely referred to in
(16) The coastlands or borders and peninsulas of the Aegean Sea had numerous idol gods, shrines and devotees. Isaiah challenges them to prove that they are gods (
Yahweh was "greater than all gods" (
4. Superiority of Yahweh to Other Gods:
5. Regulations Regarding the Gods of the Nations:
6. Israel’s Tendency to Idolatry:
II. In the Apocrypha.
The Apocrypha reiterates much of the Old Testament teaching: the defection of Israel (2 Esdras 1:6); the gods of the nations (Judith 3:8; 8:18); the gods which their fathers worshipped (Judith 5:7 f); the sin of Israel (14:7). The Book of refers to the "creatures which they supposed to be gods" (12:27; 13:2,3,10; 15:15). Mention is made of the gods of Babylon (Baruch 1:22; 6:6-57 passim; 1:27).
III. In the.
The expression "gods" occurs in six places in the New Testament:
(1) Jesus, in reply to the Pharisees, who questioned His right to call Himself the son of God, quoted
(2) When Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Lystra they healed a certain man who had been a cripple from birth. The Lycaonians, seeing the miracle, cried out in their own dialect, "The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercury" (
(3) As Paul preached Jesus and the resurrection at Athens the people said he seemed to be a setter forth of strange gods. The conception of only one God seemed to be wholly foreign to them (
(5) While at Ephesus, Paul was said to have "persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands" (
(6) The Galatians had been "in bondage to them that by nature are no gods" (
See also IDOLATRY; GOD, NAMES OF.