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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is Polytheism?

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Don Stewart

Polytheism is the worship of many gods. It comes from the word poly meaning, "many," and theism where we get the word "God." In the world in which the Bible was written, polytheism was the rule. Ancient religions are characterized by the worship of a number of gods.

There Is More Than One Force

Polytheism is based upon the idea that the universe is governed by more than one force. Therefore there may be a water god, a mountain god, a desert god, etc. Each of these gods must be appeased. Therefore these different forces receive some type of worship.

The Consequence Of Paganism Is Creature Worship

When the true God was rejected, people invented their own things to worship. Rather than worshipping the one, true God who is over all, they divided up the power and worshipped a number of forces.

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25).

The Bible Is Monotheistic - There Is Only One God Who Exists

Scripture, from beginning to end is monotheistic. A monotheist believes only one God exists - no other so-called gods have any real substance. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:5,6).

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

For they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

The Polytheistic Background Of The Biblical World

The world in which the Bible was written was a world that worshipped many different gods. The founder of the Hebrew race, Abraham, was called out from a polytheistic culture by God to be a witness to the one, true God. Worship of one God is called monotheism. The mission of the nation Israel was to witness to the world about the only God who existed and who can save.

"You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no Savior (Isaiah 43:10,11).

Polytheism Is Still Active Today

We should not assume that polytheism was only prevalent in biblical times. Today we find polytheism in cultures that worship the spirits of their dead ancestors.

Polytheism Undermines God's Character

The idea many gods existing undermines the character of the God of the Bible. Instead of being the only God as the Bible says, He is now one of many.

Polytheism Destroys The Exclusive Claim Of The God Of The Bible

Polytheism destroys the exclusive claims of the God of the Bible as the only God who exists.

This is what the LORD says-Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God (Isaiah 44:6).

When a person says they believe in God of the Bible, they are also saying something about themselves. They are admitting that there is something greater than them in the universe. God has their continuance and destiny in His power. This cannot be true if many gods exist.

There Is A Lack Of Power Among The gods

The gods in any polytheistic system lack the power to do everything. By definition, in a world that believes that many gods exist, the power among them is shared. Not one of the gods is able to do everything. Therefore each one of them is subject to limitations of power. In the system of polytheism, there is no god who can ultimately save.

Worship Has To Be Spread Out

Because more than one god supposedly exists, worship must be spread around to all the different deities. This does not allow any one God to receive the worship of everyone.

They Cannot Be Certain About The Power Of The gods They Are Worshipping

The problem with many gods is that one cannot be certain that the gods they are worshipping will be powerful enough to grant their desires. If a god is not all-powerful, there is always the chance of another god conquering them.


In the ancient world there were no atheists. Ancient religions worshipped many gods instead of the one, true God. The worship of many gods is called polytheism while the worship of one God is called monotheism.

Polytheism distorts the true picture of God - it undermines his character. Polytheism creates many gods but misses the one true God. In addition, it also destroys his exclusive claim. Gods in the polytheistic system lack absolute power - no single god has the ability to save. Furthermore worship must be spread among them. In a polytheistic system no one can be certain if the god they worship is powerful enough to grant their desires. Consequently those who are polytheists can have no real security in their beliefs.

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