Christian Answers Network logo trademark
Christian Answers

What is…
idolatry

Thou shalt have no other gods before me
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven imageThe 10 Commandments

The Apostle Paul describes the origin of idolatry in Romans 1:21-25, saying men forsook God, and sank into ignorance and moral corruption (Romans 1:28). People worshipped and paid divine honor to created images rather than the one true God (Yahweh), the Creator of the universe.

Forms of idolatry

  1. WORSHIP OF NATURAL THINGS AS SUPPOSED REPRESENTATIONS OF UNSEEN GOD(S) —Sun, Moon, stars, planets, trees, rivers, hills, mountains, stones, animals, fire, lightning, etc.

    FETISHISM—objects such as small stone carvings of animals, false gods, Satan, demons, or sexual images supposed to have magical power to aid or protect their reverent and devoted owners

  2. ASTROLOGY, DIVINATION, SORCERY

  3. NATURE WORSHIP—worshipping an unseen being or force as the supposed power of nature and the source of all life.

    Modern forms of this include:

    • Gaia (Mother Earth) / Gaia-Goddess worship movement / and related extreme Environmentalim and Globalism
    • Evolutionism as a force supposeduly taking humanity to ever higher god-like levels
    • The New Age Movement
    • The Force of Star Wars
  4. SELF WORSHIP —generally always starts with denying or ignoring the obvious reality of our Creator God and His sovereignty (atheism, agnosticsm) and arrogantly, pridefully elevating one’s own self to the place of most important being in life—the ultimate decider of what is true and good. One’s focus generally becomes almost totally inward, feeding personal feelings, lusts and self-interests.

    The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God;
    God is in none of his thoughts. —Psalms 10:4 NKJV

    ALSO SEE

    • How can we know there’s a God? Answer
    • What is HUMILITY? and WHY is it important to be humble? Answer
    • What is biblical WISDOM?
    • What is “THE FEAR OF THE LORD”? and Why is it important? Answer
  5. INVENTION OF A GOD OF OUR OWN LIKING—Many people create a “God” of their own liking, a false god, and acknowledge and praise him instead—telling themselves that he is the real god. This idolatrous god in their mind, is a self-delusion, and often results from false teachings, both in ancient times and today.

  6. REJECTING THE WORD OF GOD—maintaining a rebellious, insubordinate, stubborn, presumptious spirit

    “For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
    Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    He has also rejected you…” 1 Samuel 15:23 NASB excerpt

    “…And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. …you have rejected the word of the Lord…” —1 Samuel 15:23 NKJV excerpt

  7. HERO or ANCESTOR WORSHIP — the worship or extreme veneration of deceased ancestors or heros

  8. COVETOUSNESS—In the New Testament covetousness (greed) is defined as idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5; Matthew 6:24; Col. 3:5; Luke 16:13; Ephesians 5:5).

Joshua warned the Israelites to throw away their foreign gods and “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15 NKJV). Both the psalmist and the prophet Isaiah warned that those who worship inanimate idols will become like them—unseeing, unfeeling, unable to hear the truth that God would communicate to them.

Very 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 men to rebuke their sin of 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).

Practices of various idolaters in various cultures

Practices varied widely. Far too many actions of idolaters have been so perverse and awful that we dare not cover them in any detail here, or even list them all. Suffice it to say that they include such as the following:

What is the Occult? Answer

THE OCCULT—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

False gods mentioned in the Bible

Other false dieties in Biblical times

ALSO SEE

List of IDOLATERS—people, cities and nations

Hebrew and Greek names for idol worship

Greek: εἰδωλολατρεία —transliteration: eidólolatria —meaning: image worship

Hebrew: תְּרָפִים —transliteration: teraphim —meaning: some kind of idol made for worship (possibly a household idol)

Hebrew: פֶסֶל —transliteration: pesel —meaning: an idol, image

Also see

Article Version: July 13, 2021