ChristianAnswers.Net WebBible Encyclopedia

What is…

image-worship or divine honor paid to any created object

The Apostle Paul describes the origin of idolatry in Romans 1:21-25, saying men forsook God, and sank into ignorance and moral corruption (Rom. 1:28).


Forms of idolatry mentioned in the Bible include:

  1. hero worship, the worship of deceased ancestors

  2. fetishism, or the worship of trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc.

  3. nature worship, the worship of the Sun, Moon, and stars, as the supposed powers of nature. Also see: astronomy and astrologer

Serious heathen depravity and its punishment

In Scripture, idolatry is regarded as of heathen origin, and as being imported among the Hebrews through contact with heathen nations. The first allusion to idolatry is in the account of Rachel stealing her father’s teraphim (Genesis 31:19), which were the relics of the worship of other gods by Laban’s progenitors “on the other side of the river in old time” (Joshua 24:2).

During their long residence in Egypt the Hebrews fell into idolatry, and it was long before they were delivered from it (Joshua 24:14; Ezek. 20:7). Many a token of God’s displeasure fell upon them because of this sin.

The idolatry learned in Egypt was probably rooted out from among the people during the 40 years’ wanderings, but when the Jews entered Canaan, they came into contact with the monuments and associations of the idolatry of the old Canaanitish races, and showed a constant tendency to depart from the living God and follow the idolatrous practices of those heathen nations. It was their great national sin, which was only effectually rebuked by the Babylonian exile. That exile finally purified the Jews of all idolatrous tendencies.

The first and second commandments are directed against idolatry of every form. Individuals and communities were equally amenable to the rigorous code. The individual offender was devoted to destruction (Exodus 22:20). His nearest relatives were not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to punishment (Deuteronomy 13:6-18), but their hands were to strike the first blow when, on the evidence of two witnesses, at least, he was stoned (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).

To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity (13:6-10). An idolatrous nation shared the same fate. No facts are more strongly declared in the Old Testament than that the extermination of the Canaanites was the punishment of their idolatry (Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7; 12:29-31; 20:17), and that the calamities of the Israelites were due to the same cause (Jeremiah 2:17).

“A city guilty of idolatry was looked upon as a cancer in the state; it was considered to be in rebellion, and treated according to the laws of war. Its inhabitants and all their cattle were put to death.”

Jehovah was the theocratic King of Israel, the civil Head of the commonwealth, and, therefore, to an Israelite, idolatry was a state offense (1 Samuel 15:23), high treason. On taking possession of the land, the Jews were commanded to destroy all traces of every kind of the existing idolatry of the Canaanites (Exodus 23:24, 32; 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5, 25; 12:1-3).

ANGELS appeared to rebuke idolatry (Judges 2:1-4).

References of interest

MOSES’ BODY HIDDEN—In Jude 1:9 mention is made of a contention between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses. This dispute is supposed to have had reference to the concealment of the body of Moses so as to prevent idolatry.

TO FEED ON ASHES (Isaiah 44:20), means to seek that which will prove to be vain and unsatisfactory, and hence it denotes the unsatisfactory nature of idol worship. (Compare Hos. 12:1).

COVETOUSNESS—In the New Testament, the term idolatry is used to designate covetousness (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13; Col. 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).

List of IDOLATERS—people, cities and nations

Also see

Article Version: May 10, 2019