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Dictionaries :: Idolatry

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Easton's Bible Dictionary


image-worship or divine honour paid to any created object. Paul describes the origin of idolatry in Rom 1:21-25: men forsook God, and sank into ignorance and moral corruption (Rom 1:28).

The forms of idolatry are, (1.) Fetishism, or the worship of trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc.

(2.) Nature worship, the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, as the supposed powers of nature.

(3.) Hero worship, the worship of deceased ancestors, or of heroes.

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 (Gen 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" (Jos 24:2). During their long residence in Egypt the Hebrews fell into idolatry, and it was long before they were delivered from it (Jos 24:14; Eze 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 forty years' wanderings; but when the Jews entered Palestine, 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 (Exd 22:20). His nearest relatives were not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to punishment (Deu 13:2-10), but their hands were to strike the first blow when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he was stoned (Deu 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 (Exd 34:15,16; Deu 7; 12:29-31; 20:17), and that the calamities of the Israelites were due to the same cause (Jer 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 offence (1Sa 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 (Exd 23:24,32; 34:13; Deu 7:5,25; 12:1-3).

In the New Testament the term idolatry is used to designate covetousness (Mat 6:24; Luk 16:13; Col 3:5; Eph 5:5).

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


i-dol'-a-tri (teraphim, "household idols," "idolatry"; eidololatreia): There is ever in the human mind a craving for visible forms to express religious conceptions, and this tendency does not disappear with the acceptance, or even with the constant recognition, of pure spiritual truths (see IMAGES). Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols, but came to mean among the Old Testament Hebrews any worship of false gods, whether by images or otherwise, and finally the worship of Yahweh through visible symbols (Ho 8:5,6; 10:5); and ultimately in the New Testament idolatry came to mean, not only the giving to any creature or human creation the honor or devotion which belonged to God alone, but the giving to any human desire a precedence over God's will (1Co 10:14; Ga 5:20; Col 3:5; 1Pe 4:3). The neighboring gods of Phoenicia, Canaan, Moab-Baal, Melkart, Astarte, Chemosh, Moloch, etc.-were particularly attractive to Jerusalem, while the old Semitic calf-worship seriously affected the state religion of the Northern Kingdom (see GOLDEN CALF). As early as the Assyrian and Babylonian periods (8th and 7th centuries BC), various deities from the Tigris and Euphrates had intruded themselves-the worship of Tammuz becoming a little later the most popular and seductive of all (Eze 8:14)-while the worship of the sun, moon, stars and signs of the Zodiac became so intensely fascinating that these were introduced even into the temple itself (2Ki 17:16; 21:3-7; 23:4,12; Jer 19:13; Eze 8:16; Am 5:26).

The special enticements to idolatry as offered by these various cults were found in their deification of natural forces and their appeal to primitive human desires, especially the sexual; also through associations produced by intermarriage and through the appeal to patriotism, when the help of some cruel deity was sought in time of war. Baal and Astarte worship, which was especially attractive, was closely associated with fornication and drunkenness (Am 2:7,8; compare 1Ki 14:23 f), and also appealed greatly to magic and soothsaying (e.g. Isa 2:6; 3:2; 8:19).

Sacrifices to the idols were offered by fire (Ho 4:13); libations were poured out (Isa 57:6; Jer 7:18); the first-fruits of the earth and tithes were presented (Ho 2:8); tables of food were set before them (Isa 65:11); the worshippers kissed the idols or threw them kisses (1Ki 19:18; Ho 13:2; Job 31:27); stretched out their hands in adoration (Isa 44:20); knelt or prostrated themselves before them and sometimes danced about the altar, gashing themselves with knives (1Ki 18:26,28; for a fuller summary see EB).

Even earlier than the Babylonian exile the Hebrew prophets taught that Yahweh was not only superior to all other gods, but reigned alone as God, other deities being nonentities (Le 19:4; Isa 2:8,18,20; 19:1,3; 31:7; 44:9-20). The severe satire of this period proves that the former fear of living demons supposed to inhabit the idols had disappeared. These prophets also taught that the temple, ark and sacrifices were not essential to true spiritual worship (e.g. Jer 3:16; Am 5:21-25). These prophecies produced a strong reaction against the previously popular idol-worship, though later indications of this worship are not infrequent (Eze 14:1-8; Isa 42:17). The Maccabean epoch placed national heroism plainly on the side of the one God, Yahweh; and although Greek and Egyptian idols were worshipped in Gaza and Ascalon and other half-heathen communities clear down to the 5th or 6th century of the Christian era, yet in orthodox centers like Jerusalem these were despised and repudiated utterly from the 2nd century BC onward.


Wm. Wake, A Discourse concerning the Nature of Idolatry, 1688; W.R. Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites; E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture; J.G. Frazer, Golden Bough (3 vols); L.R. Farnell, Evolution of Religion, 1905; Baudissin, Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte; Beathgen, Der Gott Israels u. die Gotter der Heiden, 1888.

Written by Camden M. Cobern





Torrey's New Topical Textbook

Idolatry: Forbidden

Exd 20:2,3; Deu 5:7

Idolatry: Consists In

Bowing down to images

Exd 20:5; Deu 5:9

Worshipping images

Isa 44:17; Dan 3:5,10,15

Sacrificing to images

Psa 106:38; Act 7:41

Worshipping other gods

Deu 30:17; Psa 81:9

Swearing by other gods

Exd 23:13; Jos 23:7

Walking after other gods

Deu 8:19

Speaking in the name of other gods

Deu 18:20

Looking to other gods

Hsa 3:1

Serving other gods

Deu 7:4; Jer 5:19

Fearing other gods

2Ki 17:35

Sacrificing to other gods

Exd 22:20

Worshipping the true God by an image, &c

Exd 32:4-6; Psa 106:19,20

Worshipping angels

Col 2:18

Worshipping the host of heaven

Deu 4:19; 17:3

Worshipping demons

Mat 4:9-10; Rev 9:20

Worshipping dead men

Psa 106:28

Setting up idols in the heart

Eze 14:3,4


Eph 5:5; Col 3:5


Phl 3:19

Idolatry: Is Changing the Glory of God into an Image

Rom 1:23; Act 17:29

Idolatry: Is Changing the Truth of God into a Lie

Rom 1:25; Isa 44:20

Idolatry: Is a Work of the Flesh

Gal 5:19,20

Idolatry: Incompatible with the Service of God

Gen 35:2,3; Jos 24:23; 1Sa 7:3; 1Ki 18:21; 2Cr 6:15,16

Idolatry: Described As

An abomination to God

Deu 7:25

Hateful to God

Deu 16:22; Jer 44:4

Vain and foolish

Psa 115:4-8; Isa 44:19; Jer 10:3


Eze 23:39


1Pe 4:3


Jdg 10:14; Isa 46:7


Act 17:29; Rom 1:21-23


Eze 20:7; 36:18

Idolatry: They Who Practise

Forget God

Deu 8:19; Jer 18:15

Go astray from God

Eze 44:10

Pollute the name of God

Eze 20:39

Defile the sanctuary of God

Eze 5:11

Are estranged from God

Eze 14:5

Forsake God

2Ki 22:17; Jer 16:11

Hate God

2Ch 19:2,3

Provoke God

Deu 31:20; Isa 65:3; Jer 25:6

Are vain in their imaginations

Rom 1:21

Are ignorant and foolish

Rom 1:21,22

Inflame themselves

Isa 57:5

Hold fast their deceit

Jer 8:5

Carried away by it

1Cr 12:2

Go after it in heart

Eze 20:16

Are mad upon it

Jer 50:38

Boast of it

Psa 97:7

Have fellowship with devils

Hsa 4:12

Ask counsel of their idols

Hsa 4:12

Look to idols for deliverance

Isa 44:17; 45:20

Swear by their idols

Amo 8:14

Idolatry: Objects Of, Numerous

1Cr 8:5

Idolatry: Objects of Described As

Strange gods

Gen 35:2,4; Jos 24:20

Other gods

Jdg 2:12,17; 1Ki 14:9

New gods

Deu 32:17; Jdg 5:8

Gods that cannot save

Isa 45:20

Gods that have not made the heavens

Jer 10:11

No gods

Jer 5:7; Gal 4:8

Molten gods

Exd 34:17; Lev 19:4

Molten images

Deu 27:15; Hab 2:18

Graven images

Isa 45:20; Hsa 11:2

Senseless idols

Deu 4:28; Psa 115:5,7

Dumb idols

Hab 2:18

Dumb Stones

Hab 2:19


Jer 3:9; Hsa 4:12


Isa 44:19; Jer 32:34

Images of abomination

Eze 7:20

Idols of abomination

Eze 16:36

Stumbling blocks

Eze 14:3

Teachers of lies

Hab 2:18

Wind and confusion

Isa 41:29


Isa 41:24; 1Cr 8:4


Jer 10:5


Jer 18:15

Vanities of the Gentiles

Jer 14:22

Idolatry: Making idols for the purpose of, described and ridiculed

Isa 44:10-20

Idolatry: Obstinate Sinners Judicially Given up To

Deu 4:28; 28:64; Hsa 4:17

Idolatry: Warnings Against

Deu 4:15-19

Idolatry: Exhortations to Turn From

Eze 14:6; 20:7; Act 14:15

Idolatry: Renounced on Conversion

1Th 1:9

Idolatry: Led to Abominable Sins

Rom 1:26-32; Act 15:20

Idolatry: Saints Should

Keep from

Jos 23:7; 1Jo 5:21

Flee from

1Cr 10:14

Not have anything connected with in their houses

Deu 7:26

Not partake of any thing connected with

1Cr 10:19,20

Not have religious intercourse with those who practise

Jos 23:7; 1Cr 5:11

Not covenant with those who practise

Exd 34:12,15; Deu 7:2

Not intermarry with those who practise

Exd 34:16; Deu 7:3

Testify against

Act 14:15; 19:26

Refuse to engage in, though threatened with death

Dan 3:18

Idolatry: Saints Preserved by God From

1Ki 19:18; Rom 11:4

Idolatry: Saints Refuse to Receive the Worship Of

Act 10:25,26; 14:11-15

Idolatry: Angels Refuse to Receive the Worship Of

Rev 22:8,9

Idolatry: Destruction Of, Promised

Eze 36:25; Zec 13:2

Idolatry: Everything Connected With, Should Be Destroyed

Exd 34:13; Deu 7:5; 2Sa 5:21; 2Ki 23:14

Idolatry: Woe Denounced Against

Hab 2:19

Idolatry: Curse Denounced Against

Deu 27:15

Idolatry: Punishment Of

Judicial death

Deu 17:2-5

Dreadful judgments which end in death

Jer 8:2; 16:1-11


Jer 8:3; Hsa 8:5-8; Amo 5:26,27

Exclusion from heaven

1Cr 6:9,10; Eph 5:5; Rev 22:15

Eternal torments

Rev 14:9-11; 21:8

Idolatry: Exemplified


Exd 32:1; 2Ki 17:12


Jdg 16:23


Jdg 17:4,5


1Ki 12:28


1Ki 15:13


1Ki 16:31


1Ki 18:19


2Ki 19:37


2Ki 21:4-7


2Ki 21:21


2Ch 28:3


Jer 11:13


Dan 3:1


Dan 5:23

People of Lystra

Act 14:11,12


Act 17:16


Act 19:28

Idolatry: Zeal Against-Exemplified


1Ki 15:12


2Ki 23:5


2Ch 17:6


2Ch 31:1


2Ch 33:15

Idolatry: All Forms Of, Forbidden by the Law of Moses

Exd 20:4,5

Idolatry: All Heathen Nations Given up To

Psa 96:5; Rom 1:23,25; 1Cr 12:2

Idolatry: Led the heathen to think that their gods visited the earth in

Act 14:11

Idolatry: Led the heathen to consider their gods to have but a local

1Ki 20:23; 2Ki 17:26

Idolatry: Objects Of

The heavenly bodies

2Ki 23:5; Act 7:42


Col 2:18

Departed spirits

1Sa 28:14,15

Earthly creatures

Rom 1:23


Deu 29:17; Psa 115:4; Isa 44:17

Idolatry: Temples Built For

Hsa 8:14

Idolatry: Altars Raised For

1Ki 18:26; Hsa 8:11

Idolatry: Accompanied by Feasts

2Ki 10:20; 1Cr 10:27,28

Idolatry: Objects Of, Worshipped

With sacrifices

Num 22:40; 2Ki 10:24

With libations

Isa 57:6; Jer 19:13

With incense

Jer 48:35

With prayer

1Ki 18:26; Isa 44:17

With singing and dancing

Exd 32:18,19; 1Ki 18:26; 1Cr 10:7

By bowing to them

1Ki 19:18; 2Ki 5:18

By kissing them

1Ki 19:18; Hsa 13:2

By kissing the hand to them

Job 31:26,27

By cutting the flesh

1Ki 18:28

By burning children

Deu 12:31; 2Ch 33:6; Jer 19:4,5; Eze 16:21

In temples

2Ki 5:18

On high places

Num 22:41; Jer 2:20

In groves

Exd 34:13

Under trees

Isa 57:5; Jer 2:20

In private houses

Jdg 17:4,5

On the tops of houses

2Ki 23:12; Zep 1:5

In secret places

Isa 57:8

Idolatry: Rites Of, Obscene and Impure

Exd 32:25; Num 25:1-3; 2Ki 17:9; Isa 57:6,8,9; 1Pe 4:3

Idolatry: Divination Connected With

2Ch 33:6

Idolatry: Victims sacrificed in, often adorned with garlands

Act 14:13

Idolatry: Idols, &c Mentioned in Scripture


2Ki 17:31


2Ki 17:31


2Ki 17:30


Jdg 2:13; 1Ki 11:33


Jdg 2:11-13; 6:25


Jdg 8:33; 9:4,46


Num 25:1-3


2Ki 1:2,16


Exd 14:2


Jer 50:2; 51:44


Num 21:29; 1Ki 11:33


Amo 5:26


Jdg 16:23; 1Sa 5:1-3


Act 19:24,27


Nah 2:7


Act 14:12


Act 14:12

Molech or Milcom

Lev 18:21; 1Ki 11:5,33


Jer 50:2


2Ki 17:30


Isa 46:1

Nibhaz and Tartak

2Ki 17:31


2Ki 19:37

Queen of heaven

Jer 44:17,25


Act 7:43


2Ki 5:18


2Ki 17:30


Eze 8:14

Idolatry: Objects Of, Carried in Procession

Isa 46:7; Amo 5:26; Act 7:43

Idolatry: Early Notice Of, Amongst God's Professing People

Gen 31:19,30; 35:1-4; Jos 24:2

Idolatry: The Jews

Practised, in Egypt

Jos 24:14; Eze 23:3,19

Brought, out of Egypt with them

Eze 23:8; Act 7:39-41

Forbidden to practise

Exd 20:1-5; 23:24

Often mixed up, with God's worship

Exd 32:1-5; 1Ki 12:27,28

Followed the Canaanites in

Jdg 2:11-13; 1Ch 5:25

Followed the Moabites in

Num 25:1-3

Followed the Assyrians in

Eze 16:28-30; 23:5-7

Followed the Syrians in

Jdg 10:6

Idolatry: Adopted by Solomon

1Ki 11:5-8

Idolatry: Adopted by the Wicked Kings

1Ki 21:26; 2Ki 21:21; 2Ch 28:2-4; 33:3,7

Idolatry: Example of the Kings Encouraged Israel In

1Ki 12:30; 2Ki 21:11; 2Ch 33:9

Idolatry: Great Prevalence Of, in Israel

Isa 2:8; Jer 2:28; Eze 8:10

Idolatry: A Virtual Forsaking of God

Jer 2:9-13

Idolatry: The Good Kings of Judah Endeavoured to Destroy

2Ch 15:16; 34:7

Idolatry: Captivity of Israel on Account Of

2Ki 17:6-18

Idolatry: Captivity of Judah on Account Of

2Ki 17:19-23

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1 Strong's Number: g1495 Greek: eidololatria


whence Eng., "idolatry," (from eidolon, and latreia, "service"), is found in 1Cr 10:14; Gal 5:20; Col 3:5; and, in the plural, in 1Pe 4:3.

Heathen sacrifices were sacrificed to demons, 1Cr 10:19; there was a dire reality in the cup and table of demons and in the involved communion with demons. In Rom 1:22-25, "idolatry," the sin of the mind against God (Eph 2:3), and immorality, sins of the flesh, are associated, and are traced to lack of the acknowledgment of God and of gratitude to Him. An "idolater" is a slave to the depraved ideas his idols represent, Gal 4:8, 9; and thereby, to divers lusts, Tts 3:3 (see Notes on Thess. by Hogg and Vine, p. 44).

Smith's Bible Dictionary


strictly speaking denotes the worship of deity in a visible form, whether the images to which homage is paid are symbolical representations of the true God or of the false divinities which have been made the objects of worship in his stead.

I. History of idolatry among the Jews.-The first undoubted allusion to idolatry or idolatrous customs in the Bible is in the account of Rachel's stealing her father's teraphim (Genesis 31:19). During their long residence in Egypt the Israelites defiled themselves with the idols of the land, and it was long before the taint was removed (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7). In the wilderness they clamored for some visible shape in which they might worship the God who had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 32:1). … until Aaron made the calf, the embodiment of Apis and emblem of the productive power of nature. During the lives of Joshua and the elders who outlived him they kept true to their allegiance; but the generation following who knew not Jehovah nor the works he had done for Israel, swerved from the plain path of their fathers and were caught in the toils of the foreigner (Judges 2:1). … From this time forth their history becomes little more than a chronicle of the inevitable sequence of offence and punishment (Judges 2:12; 2:14). By turns each conquering nation strove to establish the worship of its national God. In later times the practice of secret idolatry was carried to greater lengths. Images were set up on the corn‐floors, in the wine‐vats, and behind the doors of private houses (Isaiah 57:8; Hosea 9:1-2) and to check this tendency the statute in Deuteronomy 27:15 was originally promulgated. Under Samuel's administration idolatry was publicly renounced (1 Samuel 7:3-6) but in the reign of Solomon all this was forgotten, even Solomon's own heart being turned after other gods (1 Kings 11:14). Rehoboam perpetuated the worst features of Solomon's idolatry (1 Kings 14:22-24) erected golden calves at Beth‐el and at Dan, and by this crafty state' policy severed forever the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (1 Kings 12:26-33). The successors of Jeroboam followed in his steps, till Ahab. The conquest of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser was for them the last scene of the drama of abominations which had been enacted uninterruptedly for upwards of 250 years. Under Hezekiah a great reform was inaugurated, that was not confined to Judah and Benjamin, but spread throughout Ephraim and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 31:1) and to all external appearances idolatry was extirpated. But the reform extended little below the surface (Isaiah 29:13). With the death of Josiah ended the last effort to revive among the people a purer ritual. If not a purer faith. The lamp of David, which had long shed but a struggling ray, flickered for a while and then went out in the darkness of Babylonian Captivity. Though the conquests of Alexander caused Greek influence to be felt, yet after the captivity better condition of things prevailed, and the Jews never again fell into idolatry. The erection of synagogues had been assigned as a reason for the comparative purity of the Jewish worship after the captivity, while another cause has been discovered in the hatred for images acquired by the Jews in their intercourse with the Persians.

II. Objects of idolatry.- The sun and moon were early selected as outward symbols of all‐pervading power, and the worship of the heavenly bodies was not only the most ancient but the most prevalent system of idolatry. Taking its rise in the plains of Chaldea, it spread through Egypt, Greece, Scythia, and even Mexico and Ceylon. (compare Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3; Job 31:20-28). In the later times of the monarchy, the planets or the zodiacal signs received, next to the sun and moon, their share of popular adoration (2 Kings 23:5). Beast‐worship, as exemplified in the calves of Jeroboam, has already been alluded to of pure hero‐worship among the Semitic races we find no trace. The singular reverence with which trees have been honored is not without example in the history of the Hebrew. The terebinth (oak) at Mamre, beneath which Abraham built an altar (Genesis 12:7; 13:18) and the memorial grove planted by him at Beersheba (Genesis 21:33) were intimately connected with patriarchal worship. Mountains and high places were chosen spots for offering sacrifice and incense to idols (1 Kings 11:7; 14:23) and the retirement of gardens and the thick shade of woods offered great attractions to their worshippers (2 Kings 16:4; Isaiah 1:29; Hosea 4:13). The host of heaven was worshipped on the house‐top (2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:3; 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). (The modern objects of idolatry are less gross than the ancient, but are none the less idols. Whatever of wealth or honor or pleasure is loved and sought before God and righteousness becomes an object of idolatry.-ED.)

III. Punishment of idolatry.-Idolatry to an Israelite was a state offense (1 Samuel 15:23) a political crime of the greatest character, high treason against the majesty of his king. 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 13:2-10) but their hands were to strike the first blow, when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he was stoned (Deuteronomy 17:2-5). To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity (13:6-10).

IV. Attractions of idolatry.-Many have wondered why the Israelites were so easily led away from the true God, into the worship of idols.

(1). Visible, outward signs, with shows, pageants, parades, have an attraction to the natural heart, which often fail to perceive the unseen spiritual realities.

(2). But the greatest attraction seems to have been in licentious revelries and obscene orgies with which the worship of the Oriental idols was observed. This worship, appealing to every sensual passion, joined with the attractions of wealth and fashion and luxury, naturally was a great temptation to a simple, restrained, agricultural people, whose worship and law demands the greatest purity of heart and of life.- ED.)


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