Was blind, but now I see.

4 : 6 June 2005




We invite you to support this ministry. Contributions in support of this Ministry can now be easily sent through PAYPAL. Please click on the PAYPAL LOGO, which will take you to PAYPAL website. Send your contributions to Also, please buy your books using the AMAZON link given in every page. Even the smallest contribution will help in running this journal.

In Association with



SEND YOUR ARTICLES FOR PUBLICATION IN Christian Literature and Living.
  • E-mail your articles and book-length reports to
  • Your articles and booklength reports should be written, preferably, following the MLA Stylesheet.
  • The Editorial Board has the right to accept, reject, or suggest modifications to the articles submitted for publication, and to make suitable stylistic adjustments. High quality, academic integrity, ethics, and morals are expected from the authors and discussants.

Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai

M. S. Thirumalai


While the Old Testament is very explicit about the futility of idol worship, the Gospels do not say anything for or against it. There are no occasions within the Gospels in which this issue is addressed because the issue was long settled in the history of the Jewish nation. What was valid and sanctioned in the Old Testament was to be retained, subject to further revelation. Jesus approvingly quoted the prophets who were unanimously against idol worship, or the worship of strange gods. The Acts of the Apostles clearly argues against these too. The Book of Revelation is also against idol worship. The Apostles did not write anything about visually representing Jesus Christ or other Christian personages.

Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament describes God as having physical or bodily features except in anthropomorphic language. God's glory cannot be seen by men. He is light which so radiates that none can see him with the physical eye. God's incarnation in Jesus Christ's ministry as the Son of God is described in great detail in the New Testament, but there is no description of his bodily features. It is true that the New Testament describes the physical responses and emotions of Jesus Christ, his tears, his agony, his suffering in the hands of the Jews and the Roman soldiers, and so on. But nowhere is there any description of his physical appearance. The narration is so well done that one unmistakably senses the authority of Jesus, his leadership and sacrifice, his anger for the persons who caused evil acts and his compassion for all.

It is amazing that the wholesome presence of Jesus is felt by all when reading the New Testament, even without a single sentence describing his physical features. This is something which has not been accomplished in any narrative fiction of human authors!

The apostles, who lived with him, followed him, talked to him and shared his ministry as his disciples, never spoke of or highlight his physical features.

The Book of Revelation which speaks of the physical return of the Lord in glory to the earth does describe his physical features. However, even here, the narration is in terms of the functional context in which the Lord is mentioned, and symbolic language is used. The Bible does not allow us to speak of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in literal physical terms. When this is combined with the prohibition of visual representation for the Deity, we have to conclude that the visual representation of God is not approved within the Christian faith.


The Old Testament uses several words to refer to idols, images and any such visual representations of gods.

  1. The word salem is used to mean a counterpart, or copy of an object or person or phenomenon. This is the word used in the verse `Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness ...(Genesis 1:26). Some other verses in which this word is used are Genesis 1:27; 5:3; 9:6; Numbers 33:52; I Samuel 6:5; 6:11; 2 Kings 11:18; Amos 5:26; and Psalm 39:6. Tumors, phantoms and idols are the objects referred to in the above verses.
  2. The word semel means a resemblance or likeness, and is rendered also as a figure. This is the word used in the verse `The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood' (Ezekiel 8:3). It is also the word used in the command of the Lord that we do not make for ourselves an idol, or image of any shape (Deuteronomy 4:16). Some of the other verses in which this word is used are 2 Chronicles 33:7; 2 Chronicles 33:15.
  3. The word temunah means a similitude, likeness or form. Consider the verse: `It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice'(Job 4:16). Some of the other verses using this word are Exodus 20:4; Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 4:12; 4:15,16; Psalm 17:15).
  4. The word maskith means a picture or representation. It also means imagination. Leviticus 26:1, Proverbs 18:11, Proverbs 25:11, and Ezekiel 8:12 use this word.
  5. massebah means a pillar, but may also mean image or standing image. Consider the following verse:
    Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God' (Leviticus 26:1).
  6. The word hammanim refers to the incense altars, and referred also to the images (Leviticus 26:30; Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9; Ezekiel 6:4; 6:6).
  7. The word teraphim refers to household gods (Judges 17:5; 18:14), and `When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods' (Genesis 31:19).
  8. `asabbim is almost always translated as idols. It is translated as images in 2 Samuel 5:21. This word is used in a disparaging sense.
  9. gillulim means idol blocks and is used as a term of disparagement or contempt. It is used in several places in the Old Testament, especially in Ezekiel. In Jeremiah, it is translated as images.
  10. 'elil means worthlessness and is often used to refer derisively to foreign gods (Jeremiah 14:14; Zechariah 11:17).
  11. pesel is used to refer to graven image and is derived from the verb which means `to carve.' Hence it is used to refer to `carved image' (Judges 18:18).
  12. massekhah means literally `pouring out.' Exodus 32:4,8 speak of a molten calf and in Deuteronomy 9:12 we read of a molten image.

Note that all these words refer to physical objects which were worshipped, and to their characteristics or the processes by which they were made. By a process of extension, the altars on which sacrifices were made and prayers offered were also denoted as an object of worship. Another important feature is that several of the words referring to gods have an inherent feature of contempt towards the objects these words referred to. Such a contemptuous tone is generally lost in the translation.

From the words listed, we see that the idols were of different sizes and materials -- some were made of wood, some of metal and some others were of stone. Some gods were large in size while others were of a size which made it possible for them to be transported or even stolen. Pictorial representations of gods were also worshipped.

These words speak of similitude -- referring perhaps to the likeness between the conceptions the people groups had about their gods and their representations as idols, images, etc. Some of the words also describe the worthlessness of these objects, which were worshipped not only by the non-Israelites but also by the people of Israel their rebellious state during the course of their history. And even after God had made his covenant with Abraham, at least some members of his tribe worshipped idols/images, according to Genesis 31:19, `when Laban, had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods.'

In fact, we should say that the prohibition of worshipping other gods and also the prohibition against the consequent practice of idolatry was explicitly instituted when God spoke to Moses at the Mount of Sinai, declaring that `you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for, I, the Lord your God, am a jealous god...'(Genesis 20:3-5).

The words show that the objects referred to were treated as gods in themselves, because there was nothing beyond them. Thus they were lifeless, and worthless.


Although Adam had fallen from the grace of God, because of disobedience, the generations immediately after him still had some direct communion with God. Cain was driven from the land and hidden form God's presence (Genesis 4:14). This was the beginning of "the loss" of the presence of God among men.

There are many instances in Genesis and Exodus in which God's voice was distinctly heard by people, and was recognized as such and was obeyed. There are also some instances in which God appeared to some.

More often than not, God's presence was felt and recognized by hearing his voice. Only on rare occasions, do we read of God's appearing. God had appeared to Abraham and spoke to him causing Abraham to fall on his face: `When Abraham was ninety nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless"' (Genesis 17:1). It was at this time God made His covenant with Abraham and asked for circumcision as a sign of obedience to it. God went up from Abraham on one occasion: "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him (Genesis 17:20-22). Again God appeared to Abraham before he ordered the destruction of Sodom: `The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground' (Genesis 18:1).

Thus there were several instances in which God appeared to men in the past. No physical description of God is given in any of these appearances. Moreover, the most frequent form of communication between men and God was through the aural medium. As we shall see later on, God forbade people seeing him face to face, as men could not contain his glory.


It was by the time Enosh was born to Seth that people began to call on the name of the Lord:

`Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him." Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord' (Genesis 4:25, 26).

With the introduction of the worship of God by calling on his name, God's presence was seen by men such as Enoch and Abraham, as recorded in Genesis. However, in due course, this communion with God through the chosen men and women was sought to be replaced by a worship of man-made objects as gods. This was not approved by God. Man's relationship with God was to be resumed directly by the worship of God only, and this was the purpose of the declaration of God in the Mount of Sinai: `You deal with me directly, and not through a mediating object, the Lord seems to be telling the people of Israel.'

God also commanded purity of the worshipper, the sanctity of the act of worship and an explicit manifestation of such devotion, when he asked Moses: `Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it' (Exodus 20:24-26).

There are three important features found in the command of God against idolatry. These may be labeled as conception of gods (the conceptual level), concretization (the representational level) and the actual process (the behavioral level) of worshipping the objects made by men. When God declared that `you shall have no other gods before me', he was referring to the possible conception of other gods in the minds of men. That this command refers mainly, if not exclusively, to the conceptual level is supported by the fact that the next verse deals explicitly with the physical manifestation of these detested gods. At the conceptual level, thus, there may be non-physical ideas or secular objects and goals which could dominate the minds of men and command their worship of them. Men may give themselves totally to the adoration of these things or ideas. Hence, God is first of all dealing with what would go wrong in the minds of men, their conceptual base.

The next command of God is that `you shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.' This command is both space and physical manifestation-oriented. We are not to seek similitude of objects/beings in the heaven, on the earth or in the waters below. In other words, we should seek similitude of God from nowhere. Secondly, this command focuses on the physical, the concrete manifestation of God in physical objects sought after by men. From the conceptual level, God directs our attention to the folly of the physical base on which men seek to find and establish God. Now that concrete demonstration of God is prohibited, man is taught to seek God in the spiritual realm.

The third command that `you shall not bow down to them or worship them' is on the process of obeying and worshipping false gods. This has a physical manifestation of bowing down as well as the mental/spiritual process of succumbing to the false gods. In any case this command neatly links itself with the conceptual and physical manifestation levels, and, in fact, functions as a link between the first two commands concerning idolatry.


God has never asked for replication of his image (person) in any visual medium. On the other hand, he had approved of constructing altars, and given sign values both to visible and aural processes. It was Noah who first built an altar to the Lord to offer sacrifices to him, when he and his relatives came out of the ark after the floods receded. There was no command from God that an altar be constructed by Noah: `So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds -- everything that moves on the earth -- came out of the ark, one kind after another. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it' (Genesis 8:18-20). It was a gesture of gratitude on the part of Noah.

Abraham also built an altar on his own in the place where God appeared to him: `Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord' (Genesis 12:6-8).

Again in Hebron, Abram built an altar on his own as a gesture of gratitude to the Lord: `The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and you offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord' (Genesis 13:14-18).

Isaac also built an altar to the Lord on his own and called upon the Lord's name in Beersheba where God appeared to him and promised that he would bless him and increase the number of his descendants (Genesis 26:23-25).

Jacob set up an altar to the Lord on his own in the city of Shechem (Genesis 33:20). Jacob set up a stone pillar where God had spoken to him and poured out a drink offering on it (Genesis 35:14).

Moses built an altar to the Lord on his own after God gave him victory over the Amalekites: `Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord. The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation"' (Exodus 17:15, 16). However, later on we find God ordering Moses to "make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you" (Exodus 20:24, 25). Note that this command followed immediately God's injunction against making "any gods alongside me: do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold" (Exodus 20:23).

Altars were thus constructed first as a gesture of gratitude for what the Lord had done; these were also constructed to preserve in memory the place wherein God appeared or spoke, guiding those who were spoken to. Altars were constructed also in obedience to the command of the Lord. These were places to offer worship and sacrifice. Likewise, even pillars were erected. Altars thus became a sign of God's dealing with men and a place to offer various sacrifices to God. God also desired the altars to be a place of purity and sanctity (Exodus 20:25, 26).


God had also caused other signs to demonstrate his covenant relationship with his creation, especially men. Rainbow (Genesis 9:8-15), circumcision (Genesis 17:3-11) and name change (Genesis 17:3-5) are the other signs which demonstrated the dealing of God with men. Note that the rainbow is a visual, transient object. It has no semblance either to the Lord or to the aural covenant entered into by the Lord. It is an arbitrary sign when it signifies the covenant relation.

Circumcision, yet another visual (physical) sign the Lord used, caused the males of the people of Israel to bear in remembrance of another covenant he entered into with the people of Israel. Here again, God caused a visual sign as a mark of his covenant relationship with man. The visual sign is a mere sign, and it represented/stood for the covenant relationship. The sign itself was not an object of worship. Note also that this sign too was arbitrary in character.

Yet another sign caused by the Lord is name change. The name change comes to signify a change of status in the relationship between God and the person whose name is now changed. Note that this is not a physical representation; names are part of the aural medium. However, name is everything.

As we pointed out earlier, the original form of worshipping God was to call on his name. The name of the Lord is beyond everything, is all powerful and has exclusive majesty far beyond everything.

Name change is one of the three signs God used to signify the changed covenant relationship between him and man: `Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:3-5). There are also other instances of using this sign to signify the altered status.

Note that God asked none of these signs to be objects of worship. They were just signs, arbitrary signs, demonstrating the covenant relationship between him and man. They are arbitrary in the sense that any other signs in their place would have performed the functions assigned to the three signs. Nowhere it is said that these outward signs either represent God or these signs are part of the worship offered to God. These stand to remind us and God the existence of the covenant relationship. They are not the covenant relationships; nor do they represent God. The altar was no different from this condition. Altar was a place where worship was to be performed; altar itself was not to be worshipped.


The New Testament uses two main words to refer to idols and images. These are the Greek words eidolon and eikon. The word eidolon refers to a phantom or likeness or appearance, an idea, or fancy. In the New Testament it is used to denote an idol, an image, to represent a false god.

Consider the following verses:

That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made (Acts 7:41).
You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols (1 Cor.12:2).
The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood -- idols that cannot see or hear or walk (Revelation 9:20).
This word referred also to false god itself which is worshipped in an idol or image. The other references to this usage of meaning include Romans 2:22; 1 Cor. 8:4, 7; 10:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Thess. 1:9; and 1 John 5: 21.

The other basic word used to refer to idol/image is eikon. This word denotes an image. Scholars suggest that this word involves the features of representation and manifestation. Perfection of what is represented or manifested is not the concern of this word, in most of its occurrences. This word is used in the following contexts:

  1. Used of an image or a coin. In this context, it is implied that there is more resemblance between the eikon and the object or being it seeks to represent. The semblance relationship between the two should be much closer and more faithful.
  2. Consider the following verses.
  3. But Jesus, knowing their intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" (Matthew 22:18-20).
    Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Romans 1:23).
    The other uses having this denotation include Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24; Revelation 13:14, 15; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; and 20:4.
  4. Inheriting the (physical) image of the ancestors. Another meaning of the word, as used in the New Testament, is that of inheriting the image of the ancestors. 1 Corinthians 15:49 refers to the derivation of a semblance from the prototype:
  5. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
  6. Spiritual likeness. The word is used also to refer to the spiritual likeness. For example, Hebrews 10:1 says that `the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming -- not the realities themselves.' A shadow is an incomplete and false representation of an object. Its resemblance to the real object or person is much less than a deliberate representation in the form of an idol and yet a shadow does indeed bear some resemblance. An eikon representing a god or gods is just a shadow; it is equally false as the object it seeks to represent.
  7. The relationship between God and man. The word eikon is used to refer to the relations between God the Father, Christ, and man. This sense has several shades to it. Firstly, it is used `of man as he was created as being a visible representation of God, 1 Cor. 11:7, a being corresponding to the original; the condition of man as a fallen creature has not entirely effaced the image; he is still suitable to bear responsibility, he still has Godlike qualities, such as love of goodness and beauty, none of which are found in a mere animal; in the Fall man ceased to be a perfect vehicle for the representation of God; God's grace in Christ will yet accomplish more than what Adam lost.' Secondly, it may refer to the `regenerate persons, in being moral representations of what God is' as in Col:10; Eph.4:24. Thirdly, it may refer to `believers, in their glorified state, not merely as resembling Christ but representing Him' as in Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15: 49. (`Here the perfection is the work of Divine grace; believers are yet to represent, not something like him, but what He is in Himself, both in His spiritual body and in His moral character.') Fourthly, this word refers also to Christ in relation, as in 2 Corinthians 4:4, `the image of God', that is, `essentially and absolutely the perfect expression and representation of the Archetype, God the Father.' In other words, the likeness here is related to the spiritual plane, and not to the material plane.

There is a contrast maintained between derived likeness which is inherent in the word eikon, and the resemblance to the archetype, which is denoted by another Greek word homoioma. There are also other likenesses referred to by other words which include a likeness based on shape or form (eidos), and a shadowed resemblance skia. The shape referred to by the word eidos may or not be found in reality. The form which is indicative of an inner being, an abstract, is indicated by morphe.

Note that the chief characteristic of an eikon is its derived nature. Nothing inheres in itself which is not derived from something or some one else. In this sense, the emphasis is on the derivation of the feature from another source, in so far as eikon is concerned. On the other hand, eidolon focuses more on the likeness of appearance.

There is yet a third word charakter which has some direct bearing on the notions of idol, image, representation and likeness. This word is used in the New Testament to refer to a tool for graving. This is derived from the verb charasso, `to cut into', `to engross'. This refers to `a stamp or impress, as on a coin or a seal, in which case the seal or die which makes an impression bears the image produced by it, and, vice versa, all the features of the image correspond respectively with those of the instrument producing it. In the New Testament it is used metaphorically in Heb. 1:3, of the Son of God as `the very image of His substance.' `The phrase expresses the fact the Son is both personally distinct from, and yet literally equal to, Him of whose essence he is the adequate imprint.' The Son of God is not merely his image (His character), He is the image or impress of His substance, or essence. This word emphasizes the complete similarity as opposed to the feature, derived likeness, given for eikon.

It is obvious from the above brief study of the Old Testament and New Testament words concerning idols and images that there are various features of the relationship between an object and its visual representation or representations. Whereas the Old Testament focused more on the irrelevance and irreverence of such representations, when such representations sought to portray God and to mislead people into worshipping false gods, the New Testament, in addition to what had been distinguished in the Old Testament, distinguished between the material (iconic) relationship between the representation and the object it sought to represent, on the one hand, and, on the other, it provided for the special relation that exists between the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit). God's Incarnation has created an opportunity and a challenge for the ordinary language to carefully to delink itself from the existing nuance by continuing to assign the features of material (concrete) nature and derivation to eikon and eidolon, and seek an extension through an emphasis not on the similitude but on identical yet distinct representations of God. In this, the words homoioma and charakter played a very crucial support role.

We shall see more of the notion of Image, in the sense of charakter, the impress, in a subsequent section.


Jews practiced idolatry in Egypt (Jos 24:14; Eze 23:3; Eze 23:19). Jews brought idols with them when they left Egypt (Eze 23:8; Act 7:39-41). Jews were forbidden to practice idolatry (Exo 20:1-3, 5; Exo 23:24). Jews mixed idol worship with the worship of God (Exo 32:1-5; 1 King 12:27; 1 King 12:28); Jews followed the Canaanites in idol worship (Jud 2:11; Jud 2:12; Jud 2:13; 1 Chr 5:25). Jews followed the Moabites in idol worship (Num 25:1-3). Jews followed the Assyrians in idol worship (Eze 16:28-30; Eze 23:5-7). Jews followed the Syrians in idol worship (Jud 10:6). Idol Worship was adopted by Solomon (1 King 11:5-8). Idol worship was adopted by the wicked kings (1 King 21:26; 2 King 21:21; 2 Chr 28:2-4; 2 Chr 33:3,7.

The kings of Israel encouraged idol worship (1 King 12:30; 2 King 21:11; 2 Chr 33:9. Idol worship widely prevalent in Israel during certain periods (Isa 2:8; Jer 2:28; Eze 8:10. Idolatry is forsaking of God (Jer 2:9-13). Good Kings of Israel tried to abolish idolatry (2 Chr 15:16; 2 Chr 34:7). Captivity of Israel is due to Idolatry (2 King 17:6-23).


The following idols are mentioned in the Bible: Adrammelech (2 King 17:31); Anammelech (2 King 17:31); Ahima (2 King 17:30); Ashtoreth (Jud 2:13; 1 King 11:33); Baal (Jud 2:11; Jud 2:12; Jud 2:13; Jud 6:25); Baal-berith (Jud 8:33; Jud 9:4; Jud 9:46); Baal-poer (Num 25:1; Num 25:3); Baal-zebub (2 King 1:2; 2 King 1:16); Baal-zephon (Exo 14:2); Bel (Jer 50:2; Jer 51:44); Chemosh (Num 21:29; 1 King 11:33); Chiun (Amos 5:26); Dagon (Jud 16:23; 1 Sam 5:1; 1 Sam 5:2,3); Diana (Acts 19:24, 27); Huzzab (Nah 2:7); Jupiter (Act 14:12); Molech or Milcom (Lev 18:21; 1 King 11:5;1 King 11:33); Merodach (Jer 50:2); Nergal (2 King 17:30); Nebo (Isa 46:1); Nibhaz and Tartak (2 King 7:31); Nisroch (2 King 19:37); Queen of Heaven (Jer 44:17; Jer 44:25); Remphan (Acts 7:43); Rimmon (2 King 5:18); Succoth-benoth (2 King 17:30) and Tammuz (Eze 8:14).

Earliest mention of idols is found in the following verses in Genesis: 31:19; 31:30; 35:1; 35:2; 35:3; 35:4; Jos 24:2.


The Bible makes several references to the process of making idols and the workmen who made the idols. First of all the gods were shaped and cast by men (Isa 44:10). The blacksmiths and the carpenters use inert materials and with their human craft and skill they make the idols. their arms might lose strength because of hunger and such other human weaknesses. they work with their tools and shape their materials into men and keep these in shrines as gods. All these are human skill, craft, and effort and endeavor. These were all nothing but men. And they and their kind would be put to shame, for they assumed that they were making God. They would be brought down to terror and infamy. the materials these god-makers use are of different sorts, nothing intended exclusively for God. They cut a tree, use some of it to warm themselves with fire and to cook their own food; but the rest he uses to fashion a god, to make an idol and to bow down to it. `It is man's fuel for burning; Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."


It is the obstinate sinners who are given to idolatry. Because they are obstinate, the LORD scattered them the Israelites among the nations. They go from place to place and worship the idols. `Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods -- gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known' (Deut 28:64).

Thus we see that the worship of idols came from two directions -- one by the sin of the Israelites themselves, who, on their own, sought after the foreign gods, second, as we saw earlier, by their intermarriage with the other nations of idolaters. In both the cases there was involvement of their hearts in the worship of the idols; there was an obstinate insistence in worshipping of the idols (Hos 4:17). Warnings had been govern to them already against idolatry, for they did not see the LORD in any shape or form when he spoke to them at Horeb (Deut 4:15-19). People are encouraged to turn away from idols (Eze 14:6; 20:7; Acts 14:15).

People give up idolatry upon conversion. Apostle Paul wrote to Thessalonians appreciating the fact that they did receive the faith and give up idolatry as a consequence of it. Thessalonians' faith was reflected in their act of turning to God `from idols to serve the living and true God' (1 Thes 1:9). Idolatry leads to abominable sins (Rom 1:26-31). The shameful lusts of homosexuality and other unnatural relations are ascribed to idolatrous behavior.`They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.' People should abstain from food polluted by idols (Acts 15:20).

That the godly people should keep away from idols has been repeatedly emphasized in the Bible (Jos 23:7; 1 Jn 5:21). Apostle John addresses us: Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. Apostle Paul asks us to flee from idols (1 Cor 10:14): `Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.' The godly people should not have anything connected with idolatry in their houses (Deut 7:26). God's Children should not partake of anything connected with Idolatry (1 Cor 10:19). We should not have religious intercourse with those who practice idolatry (Jos 23:7, 1 Cor 5:11). There should be no covenant with the idolaters (Exo 34:12). We should not intermarry with the idolaters (Exo 34:15-16; Deu 7:2-3).

God's children should testify against idolatry. When the crowds in Lystra saw that a crippled man was made whole in the name of Jesus by Paul, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God......(Acts 14:11-15).

The riot in Ephesus was caused by the instigation of a silversmith Demetrius, who, however, correctly reported what paul taught! He told the craftsmen and other workmen in related trades Men you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty (Acts 19:25-27).

The testimony of the heathen reveals that Apostle Paul had been ceaselessly preaching against the idols wherever he went.

That God's children should refuse idolatry even when threatened with death (Dan 3:18). It is also said that God saves his children from idolatry. In 1 King 19:18, God told Elijah that he was not alone in opposing the worshippers of idols and that he had reserved `seven thousand in Israel all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.' Apostle Paul quotes this episode in Romans 11 to prove that God had not rejected his people, `whom he foreknew.' there is always `a remnant chosen by grace.And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace' (Romans 11:5-6).

God's servants should refuse to receive idolatry, says the Bible. Peter in the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), Paul and Barnabas in Lystra (Acts 14) and Apostle John in Revelation 22 give support for this. God's promise for the destruction of idols is found in (Eze 36:25). He promises that he would cleanse us from all impurities and from the idols. In Zec 13:2 also he promises that he `will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more.'

The God of Israel that everything connected with idolatry should be destroyed (Exo 34:13; Deu 7:5; 2 Sam 5:21; 2 King 23:14).


The objects of heathen worship were called strange and gods (Genesis 35:2,4; Joshua 24:20), other gods (Judges 2:12, 17, 1 King 14:9), new gods (Deu 32:17, Judges 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 (Deu 27:15: Lev 19:4), molten images (Deu 27:15, Hab 2:18), graven images (Isa 45:20; Hos 11:2), senseless idols (Deu 4:28, Psa 115:5, 7), dumb idols (Hab 2:18; 1 Cor 12:2), dumb stones (Hab 2:19)s, stocks (Jer 3:9; Hos 4:12), abominations (Isa 44:19; Jer 32:34), images of abomination (Eze 7:20), idols of abominations (Eze 16:36), stumbling blocks (Eze 14:3), teachers of lies (Hab 2:18), wind and confusion (Isa 41:29), nothing (Isa 41:24; 1 Cor 8:4), helpless (Jer 10:5), vanity (Jer 18:15), and vanities of the gentiles (Jer 14:22).


The Bible has many illustration of how communities chose to worship idolatry and/or were misled into the worship of idols. When there was delay in Moses' returning from the mountain, the israelites went for idol worship (Exo 32). The rulers of Philistines offered a great sacrifice to their god Dagan, after they captured Samson (Judges 16:23). Micah's idols and the shrine for these idols got a Levite priest (Judges 17) `at a time when everyone did as he saw fit.' Power of wealth lured the Levite also to worship the idols and be a priest for the idols. The lust for idols in the hearts of men became a tool of political chicanery in the hands of Jeroboam.

Jeroboam thought to himself, "The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam." After seeking the advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, o Israel, who brought you out of Egypt." One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there (1 King 12:26-30).

Note that the Israelites had continued keep alive a belief that the calf idol had led them from out of Egypt.

There were people in high places who actively or secretly encouraged idolatry, by themselves practicing it. Maachah, the grandmother of Asa and daughter of Abhishalom, is presented as an illustration of this category of people, who were not rulers but had a lot of power to wield and influence. Asa, however, was not led by the grandmother, but by the Holy Spirit. For, `Asa did what right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done. He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his fathers had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down and burned it in the Kidron Valley (1 Kings 15:11-13).

The twenty-two years of rule of Ahab son of Omri, king of Israel who reigned in Samaria over Israel made the sins of Jeroboam look small indeed. `He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him' (1 King 16:31).

Jezebel, wife of King Ahab of Israel was a daughter of King Ethbaal of Tyre. She encouraged the worship of Baal. Jezebel led the king and the people of Israel into idol worship and other immoral activities of the religion connected with Baal. There were four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table (1 King 18:19). The LORD used Elijah to annihilate the false prophets.

Sennacherib, a powerful king of Assyrians was assassinated as he was worshipping his god. The god of the heathen could not save him:`One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king' (2 King 19:37).

Manasseh, son of Hebzibah, did evil in the eyes of the LORD. He followed the `detestable practices of the nations.....He built the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done' (2 King 21:4). He did many other idolatrous practices (2 King 21:5-7).

Amon, son of Manasseh, `walked in all the ways of his father; he worshiped the idols his father had worshiped, and bowed down to them' (2 King 21:21).

Ahaz, son of Jonathan who reigned in Jerusalem, `did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD.' He was defeated by the Arameans who took many of his people as prisoners to Damascus. He himself was handed over to the king of Israel who inflicted heavy casualties on him. All these happened because `he burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites' (2 Chr 28:3).

People of Judah and Jerusalem indulged themselves in idolatry. So the LORD spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: `You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem'(Jer 11:13).

Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and this was ninety feet high, and nine feet wide! He set it up in the plains of Dura in the province of Babylon (Dan 3:1).

Belshazzar praised the gods of bronze, silver and gold, wood and stone which could not see, hear or understand. He did not honor the one true God who held in his hand the life of Belshazzar. He set up himself against God. The goblets from God's temple were brought to hem and he, his wives and concubines drank wine from them. They defiled even as they dishonored the true God (Dan 5:23).

People of Lystra considered the human beings (Paul and barnabas) as gods (Acts 14:11-12). And in Athens, Paul `was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols' (Acts 17:16). Ephesians were infatuated with idol worship and were infuriated against the teaching of Paul under the instigation of the silversmith Demetrius (Acts 19:28).


Just as there were kings and others infatuated with idol worship, there were also people who had a zeal against idolatry. Asa, king of Judah got rid of all the idols, expelled the male shrine prostitutes, and even expelled his grandmother from the position of queen mother for her idolatrous practices (1 King 15:12).

Josiah `did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts'(2 King 23:5).

Jehoshaphat's His `heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah' (2 Chr 17:6).

Israelites in general were also zealous against idolatry on several occasions. During the rule of Hezekiah, there was great rejoicing among the people of Israel. Hezekiah invited all the people to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the Lord. After celebrating the Feast of the Unleaven Bread to the Lord for fourteen days, `the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property' (2 Chr 31:1).

Manasseh was taken prisoner by the army commanders of the king of Assyria, because Manasseh and his people did not listen to what the LORD spoke to them. However, while as a prisoner, he turned to the LORD and humbled himself before him. So the LORD brought him back to his kingdom and Jerusalem. As Manasseh knew who the true God was, `he got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city' (2 Chr 33:15).

The Law of Moses forbids all forms of Idolatry: You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me (Exo 20:4,5).

The Bible sees only a sure and certain binary opposition between those who believe in the one true God and those who do put their trust in other gods. The practice of all those who put their trust in other gods are in opposition to what the true one God had ordained. Thus, all heathen nations are given upto idolatry. They have `exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles,' Paul writes (Romans 1:23). The heathen have exchanged the truth for a lie, because they believe in idols which are not alive. The Bible considers all the gods of the nations to be idols (Psalm 96:5), for two reasons: first of all they are not true and living gods; secondly they become a stumbling block between the one true God and men who put their trust in these idols.

The Bible talks of the various beliefs the heathen had as regards their gods. The heathen think that their gods visited the earth. Because of the miracles performed by Paul and barnabas in the name of Jesus, the crowd in Lystra shouted in their Lycaonian language that the gods had come down to them in human form. Heathen also think that idols have influence over the matters concerning the heathen's lives. It is also believed by them that the people who worshipped the strange gods ought to know what these gods wanted. If they did not know that these gods required of their worshippers, the worshippers would be in trouble.

Because the people of Israel disobeyed God's commands and made two idols cast in the shape of calves and an Asherah pole, during the reign of Hoshea son of Elah (2 Kings 17:14-17), the king of Assyria invaded the entire land and took the Israelites as prisoners. the King of Assyria brought people from Babylon and other nations and had them settled in Samaria to replace the Israelites. the nations took over samaria and lived there in its towns. These people did not worship the Lord first. So the Lord sent lions among them which killed many people.

It was reported to the king of Assyria: "The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires." Then the king of Assyria gave this order: "Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires." So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD. Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places......They worshipped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshipped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought....(2 Kings 17:26-33).

The heathen worship the heavenly bodies (2 King 23:5;Act 7:42), Angels (Col 2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions), Departed Spirits (1 Sam 28:14,15), Earthly Creatures (Rom 1:23), Images (Deu 29:17; Psa 115:4; Isa 44:17); the heathen build temples for their idols (Hos 8:14); They raise altars for idols (1 King 18:26; Hos 8:11). They hold feasts for the idols (2 King 10:20; 1 Cor 10:27; 1 Cor 10:28). Idols are worshipped with sacrifices (Num 22:40; 2 King 10:24). Idols are worshipped with libations (Isa 57:6; Jer 19:13). Idols are worshipped with incense (Jer 48:35).

Idols are worshipped with prayer (1 King 18:26; Isa 44:17). Idols are worshipped with singing and dancing (Exo 32:18; Exo 32:19; 1 King 18:26; 1 Cor 10:7). Idols are worshipped with bowing down (1 King 19:18; 2 King 5:18. Idols are worshipped by kissing them (1 King 19:18; Hos 13:2). Idols are worshipped by kissing the idols' hands (Job 31:26; Job 31:27). Idols are worshipped by cutting the flesh (1 King 18:28). Idols are worshipped by burning children (Deu 12:31; 2 Chr 33:6; Jer 19:4,5; Eze 16:21). Idols are worshipped in temples (2 King 5:18). Idols are worshipped in high places (Num 22:41; Jer 2:20). Idols are worshipped in groves (Exo 34:13. Idols are worshipped under trees (Isa 57:5; Jer 2:20). Idols are worshipped in private houses (Jud 17:4; Jud 17:5). Idol Worship is done on the tops of houses (2 King 23:12; Zep 1:5). Idols are worshipped in secret places (Isa 57:8). Idols may be worshipped with obscene rites (Exo 32:25; Num 25:1-3; 2 King 17:9; Isa 57:6; Isa 57:8,9; 1 Pet 4:3). Idols are carried in procession (Isa 46:7; Amos 5:26; Act 7:43). Idol worship and divination are interconnected (2 Chr 33:6). The idol worshippers adorn the victims with garlands (Acts 14:13).


That idolatry is forbidden by God is clearly spelt out in the Bible. None has questioned this fact, although its applicability to the veneration of images of Christian personages has been questioned within the Roman Church.

In Exodus 20:3,4 God told Moses and through him all of us: You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them and worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations, of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The three level implications of this injunction (conceptual, representational, and behavioral) have already been explained by us in the section above. God gives us a reason why we should not make idols and worship them. With an intention of worshipping false gods, people groups have made idols. Thus making an idol is based on our acceptance that there are other gods who need to be worshipped. This acceptance of other gods and consequent worshipping of them is what underlies God's injunction against idols and idolatry. We cannot give to others what is due to God. God says it clearly that he is a jealous God and hence he would not tolerate us giving the worship due to him to others. And he says that he will punish us for this. This is the first and foremost reason offered against idolatry in the Bible.

God's earliest injunction against idolatry is part of the list of the ten commandments, which is repeated also in Deuteronomy 5:7-10. In this list we have injunctions against murder, adultery, stealing, misuse of God's name, false testimony against neighbor, coveting neighbor's wife, house or land, servants and all that belongs to the neighbor. The list includes also a strict instruction for the observance of the Sabbath day. In other words, resorting to idolatry is equated with committing murder and adultery, etc. Idolatry is a sinful act just as murder and adultery are.

When we look into the structure of the passage given in what is traditionally called the ten commandments, we see that the early part of the ten commandments is devoted to an assertion of who God is. In this early part God identifies himself and establishes his rightful jurisdiction. He tells us what we should do with regard to him. This is a section of identity. Followed is the section in which the behavior expected of us in this world is talked about. Thus there are two sections, each one assigned a separate function -- our duties towards the Lord and our social behavior towards fellow human beings and other creations of God. Both are important, but, if the order of presentation has any value, our right attitude to God becomes an imperative pre-condition for our social behavior.

One may argue that God had prohibited making idols of other gods but not of himself in the verses in Exodus and Deuteronomy cited above. The point is that for a visual representation to be true to what it represents we should first have a full view of the original. It is clear from various verses in the Bible that God's glory cannot be contained in any thing and is not seen by anyone in its full form or strength. We will discuss this point at length in a separate section, but it suffices here to point out that the Bible considers such visual representations of God as exchanging `the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles'(Romans 1:23).

As we pointed out earlier, after Cain was driven out of the presence of God, God's appearance was rarely mentioned and in due course God's voice became more or less an exclusive sign of his presence. The glory of God appearing in the cloud became a familiar phenomenon in the Bible from the days of Moses:`While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they (the people of Israel, amplifying phrase added) looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud' (Exodus 16:10). It was God's voice and not his physical body that was manifest to the people. Under such circumstances, claims that the idol represented God would be totally false. Since God came as Jesus Christ the Man, some would claim that God could be visually represented in Jesus Christ. We shall see the answer for it in a later chapter. However, it should be pointed out here that the apostles and the disciples of Jesus who had walked with him never taught that the portrait or the image of Jesus be made for posterity and kept for worship.


The Bible identifies a number of acts, tangible ones, as constituting idolatrous practices. These range from making idols to bowing down to the idols, to worshipping them and to eating the offerings given to the idols. The center of such practices is the idol or some such object treated as a visual representation or sign of a god. Since God has already prohibited us from making any visual representation of him and since any such visual representation could not be made of the one True God, it is clear that all visual representations would be those of other gods, false gods. And any act of worship paid to such idols, thus, would be worship of false gods, an idolatry.

  1. Bowing down before the idols
  2. To begin with, bowing down to the idols is treated as idolatry. Bowing down is a bodily posture which signifies reverence and obedience to the person or object towards which this act is committed. Some cultures may use bowing down of the head, some bowing down on the knees and some others the trunk of the body, and still others all these together or in separate and distinct acts. The basic feature of this act of bowing down is the inclining of some part of the body. It is an outward gesture of the inner attitude. Reverence and obedience flow from the recognition of the dignity and/or power of the individual/object being bowed to. Even when such a bowing down is mechanical, still the act does recognize the dignity and/or power of the person or the object being bowed to. Hence bowing down to an idol is a recognition of the dignity/power of the idol, this act of bowing down, when committed, would be paying something to the idol which is due only to God. Hence bowing down to the images is forbidden in Exodus 20:5, and Deuteronomy 5:9.

    You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God...
  3. Worshipping images
  4. Worshipping images is idolatry and hence this also is forbidden.

    Bowing down and worship are taken to be related and in almost all the cases worship is referred to by the word meaning bowing down in Hebrew in the Old Testament. The word worship had both outward gesture and inner attitudes included in it. The Hebrew word shahah meant `to wallow,' `to descend,' `to stoop,' `to weigh down,' and `to depress.' shah, a derivative of shahah, is used more frequently to refer to worship in the Old Testament. This word meant `to become low,' `be abased,' `to be brought low in the sense of be humbled,'and `to have one's arrogance knocked out.' These features clearly indicate that worship is allowing oneself to be lower in status to the person or object being worshipped. This self-abasing, when done to an idol, is to subject oneself to the authority of the idol. Hence this will be putting the worshipper of the idols under the jurisdiction of the idol and not God. God has clearly made an injunction, to begin with, that there shall be no gods before him. Worshipping an idol would only demonstrate that we put other gods before the true and only God.

    Here is a graphic picture from Isaiah (Isaiah 44:17):

    He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
    He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
    or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
    It is man's fuel for burning;
    some of it he takes and warms himself,
    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
    But he also fashions a god and worships it;
    he makes an idol and bows down to it.
    Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
    over it he prepares his meal,
    he roasts his meat and eats his fill
    He also warms himself and says,
    "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."
    From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
    he bows down to it and worships.
    He prays to it and says,
    "Save me; you are my god."

    In Daniel we find another interesting picture. The herald of King Nebuchadnezzar loudly proclaimed:

    As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up........Nebuchadnezzar said to them (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego)....if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good (Daniel 3:5-15).

    We all know what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did.

  5. Worshipping other gods
  6. Related to worshipping images is the worship of other gods. Worshipping other gods is also forbidden. Moses reminded the people of Israel how they lived in Egypt and how they passed through the countries to reach Canaan. These nations had worshipped detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. The people Israel should guard their minds from going after and worshipping these gods. This was just pure poison (Deuteronomy 29:16-20). Moses further declared if the people bowed down and worshipped these gods they would certainly be destroyed (Deuteronomy 30:17, 18).

    Psalm 81:9 instructs us that we shall have not foreign god and that we shall not bow down to the alien god.

    The Old Testament uses four words to refer to God and any deity other than God. These are (i) elohim, (ii) el, (iii) eloah and (iv) elah. The last two words are uncommonly used. Note that all these four words are also used to refer to the true God in the Old Testament.

    The root of these words is el, which bears the meanings of `God,' `god,' `mighty one' and `strength.' The predominant uses of this root and the words derived from this root are for the True God. However, there are two other meanings with which also these words are used: pagan or false god/gods, the mighty. The Old Testament distinguishes the True God from false gods by using suitable epithets to signify the status. These qualifications `both elevate the concept of El in scripture and distinguish the term as used biblically form other who might be so named,' according to Davidson.

    A survey of the various accompanying descriptions of El indicates that `from the beginning of the use of this term in Scripture, it was intended to distinguish the true El (God) from all false uses of that name found in other semitic cultures.' Thus a commonly used word was adopted, but, in order to make distinctions between the True God of Israel from the false gods, epithets are used. The false gods are also given epithets. Some of the epithets for the True God are:

    Faithful El (Deu. 7:9); Holy El (Isa 5:16); El of truth (Ps 31:5); Almighty El (Gen. 17:1); El the heroic (Isa. 9:6); El of knowledge (I Sam 2:3); Living El (Josh 3:10); I Sam 17:26, 36). In Job we find extensive use of El without epithets.

    Elohim, a plural of eloah, is used more frequently for the true God. This is a plural construction and when used to refer to True God it denotes the plural majesty of God. It is also used to convey `both the unity of the one God and yet allowing for a plurality of persons' as in Genesis 1:2, 26.

    In the New Testament also, one and the same word, in this case theos and its derivations, may be used to refer to God and the false gods. When false gods are referred to, sometimes the epithets clearly showed the specific territory in which these gods were worshipped or the people groups which worshipped them. For example, I King 20:21-28 tells us of the belief of the heathen that they considered the God of Israel as the God only of hills and not of the valleys. On the other hand, the Israelites did believe that the true God is God of all provenance.

    Some other examples of this territorial restrictions of the gods, mentioned in the Bible are: the gods of Syria (Judg 6:10), the gods of Zidon (Judg 10:6) and the gods of Moab (Judg 10:6). These gods are shown as properties of people groups and/or individuals. The gods are also treated as mere objects which could be exchanged or thrown away or destroyed at will by people. It is no wonder then that the gods, with such restricted powers, need not be offered what is due to the True God.

  7. Sacrificing to Images
  8. Just as worshipping other gods is forbidden, offering sacrifices to images is forbidden. The Psalmist complains:

    They did not destroy the peoples
    as the Lord had commanded them.
    but they mingled with the nations
    and adopted their customs.
    They worshipped their idols,
    which became a snare to them.
    They sacrificed their sons
    and their daughters to demons.
    They shed innocent blood,
    the blood of their sons and daughters,
    whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
    and the land was desecrated by their blood.
    They defiled themselves by what they did;
    by their deed they prostituted themselves (Ps.106:34-38).

    Consider also what the Acts of the Apostles has to say:

    But our fathers refused to obey him (Moses). Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, `Make us god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt --we don't know what has happened to him!' That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies (Acts 7:39-42).

    Offering sacrifices occupied a very prominent place in the worship of the Lord in Israel. Animals were brought to the altar and killed as sacrifice to God. Incense was offered to God as sacrifice. However, when such practices became mechanical and were not accompanied by the desire to follow the Lord, God told the Israelites that it was better to obey what he said to them than to offer sacrifices to him. When King Saul claimed that he did everything what the Lord ordered, Samuel replied to him:

    Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
    To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
    For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
    Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15:22, 23).

    In other places also, loyalty to the Lord, righteousness and justice are considered more important than sacrifice. Thanksgiving and broken spirit are considered better sacrifice in Psalms 50:14, 23; 51:17).

    The Old Testament records several instances which show that the people of Israel often slipped from the worship of the True God and offered sacrifices to false gods, the idols. The people of Israel adopted pagan practices of sacrificing to the idols and this had resulted in calamity. In Exodus 34:13, 14 we find God asking them to tear down the Canaanite altars, the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He declares himself to be a jealous God. So people should avoid worshipping other gods than him. However, when they were about to enter the land promised to them, the Israelites offered sacrifices to the gods of Moab because of their sexual immorality with the Moabite women (Numbers 25:1-3). Thus began the idolatrous practices among the people of Israel, for which God did punish them.

  9. Swearing by Other Gods
  10. We are warned against swearing by other gods. Among the laws God set before and for the people of Israel through his servant Moses was the one against swearing by false gods. He warned us that the names of these gods be not uttered in our lips (Exodus 23:13).

    When Joshua, by then old and well advanced in years, summoned Israel, one of the things he demanded from the people of Israel was that his people should not invoke the names of the gods of the nations around them (Joshua 23:7).

    Swearing meant binding oneself by an oath. In Genesis 26:2 and 3, we see God swearing to Isaac that for Isaac and Isaac's descendants he would give all these lands and would confirm the oath he swore to Abraham.

    The verb shaba `to swear'is also used with a causative sense. Then this word meant causing some one to swear.

    When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and had returned, the king summoned and said to him, "Did I not make you swear by the Lord and warn you, `On the day you leave to go anywhere else, you can be sure you will die'? At that time you said to me , `What you say is good, I will obey.' Why then did you not keep you oath to the Lord and obey the command I gave you? (1 Kings 2:41-43).

    Swearing is an oral or written act which has serious consequences. When we swear we give our word that we will perform what we said while swearing. Swearing is invoking someone's name for affirming oneself that he would do what he solemnly affirmed. Whosoever is invoked is considered to be a powerful person holding sway over the person who swore by that name. If you swear by the true God you acknowledge that God is superior to you and has power over you; if you swear by the gods, you demonstrate that these gods hold sway over you.

    Swearing is considered as a solemn undertaking and is an act by which one gives his unbreakable word. Once a person swears to do something he is expected to keep his word and perform that action. God himself defines swearing in the treaty in Beersheba between Abraham and Abimelech and Phicol in Genesis (21:23,24).

    Swearing an oath is treated as solemn promise between two parties. It is used to express the solemn covenant between God and his people in Deuteronomy 29:14. It is treated also as a testimony as to one's belief or act or expression of some information. Swearing is generally restricted to the act of invoking the name of the person by which the swearing is made. Oath is the verbal act of affirmation and pledge, and covenant is the substance of the oath. God has used the instrument of oath and covenant in order for people of all generations to understand the permanence of his promise. Men use the instrument of oath, which begins with swearing, to attest innocence, to attest the truthfulness of what they say and do, and as a declaration of what they would do in future. Oath is also used to solemnize treaties for various purposes. To go back upon one's own oath is to invite the status of being guilty in the minds of the others involved in the process of swearing and oath taking. And this naturally would lead to the penal action which had been contemplated as part of the agreement. Note that the entire thirtieth chapter in Numbers is devoted to the process of oath, especially between man and woman. What Moses says in the beginning of this chapter is valid for every act of oath taking:

    This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said (Numbers 30:1,2).

    Can an oath taken by swearing the name of a false god be valid and truthful? Inherently it cannot be. But the most important reason for the prohibition of swearing by the name of false gods is that it seeks to cheapen the holy act of swearing done by God himself. Secondly, this act of swearing by the name of false gods puts the person who is swearing under the jurisdiction of these false gods. This not only puts the person under dangerous circumstances but also the act assigns what is due to the true God to false gods. The false gods would then have power over the person who has invoked their names and would do their best to alienate the person from the grace of the Lord. Hence the strict instruction not to swear by the name of other gods.


Walking with God means moving with God, being led by him in all what we do. On the other hand, walking after gods is walking away from the true God. In Deuteronomy 8:16-20, Moses reminded the people of Israel that it was God who age them ability to produce wealth. If they ever forgot him and walked after other gods and worshipped them and bowed to them, they would be destroyed.

Walking with the Lord is an important concept that gets repeated both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Opposite to walking with the Lord is going after the false gods. Note the emphasis on the volitional aspect. Going after is a volitional act, just as walking with is. Who you walk with or who you go after will decide who is going to lead you. Hence going after false gods will mean that you surrender yourself to the false gods and thus will be led by the false gods.

In the Old Testament, following one's own counsel much against the commandments of the Lord is idolatry -- for idolatry is an act born of insistence on following one's own evil counsel.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward (Jeremiah 7:21-24).

In the New Testament also walking with the Lord clearly implied being led by the Lord, be in unison with the moving of the Lord. Consider the following: Believers are to walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:6). They should walk worthy of God (1 Th 2:12). They should walk worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1). We should walk as children of Light (Eph 5:8). We should avoid those who do not walk as directed in the Word (2 Th 3:6, 11). There are several other examples of the figurative uses of the term walk.

Note that the same word is used for both the walks. One may either walk with God or go after other gods, turning away from the true God.


We are forbidden to speak in the name of other gods. Speaking in the name is a phrase used by the Scripture to refer to calling upon a name (that is, the person who bears that name) as an authority.

Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, names are given importance. Name is never just a label. Name conjures up a person and speaks to us his personality. Name is an integral part of the personality of the person who bears it. As for the names of places, the Bible has many instances of how names are given to various places for various reasons. The name always reminds one of the importance and personality of the place, the reason for which the place came into being in the first instance.

Note the following significance attached to the names by the people of Israel (Bromiley 1985):

  1. Adam's dominion of whatever has been created began with the process of naming the animals -- Genesis 2:19-20.
  2. Naming a city meant establishing control over it -- 2 Samuel 12:28.
  3. Women sought the name of men for protection, in times of distress (Is. 4:1).
  4. God's name is named over Israel -- Is. 63:19; over the temple, the ark, and Jerusalem. He knows Moses by name -- Exodus 33:12, 17.
  5. Names live on in children -- Genesis 21: 12.
  6. The names of those without children are blotted. The names of the righteous are written in the book of life -- Exodus 32:32, 33; Ps. 69:28.
  7. The proper names establish identities. The case of Nabal is a good example (1 Samuel 25:25).
  8. Etymologies are given for such names as Eve (3:20), Cain (4:1), Noah (5:29), and Babel (11:9), all in the Book of Genesis.
  9. The name expresses the whole person or a single feature. Names may express a relation to God or a wish, prayer or request addressed to God. Second names are sometimes given (Genesis 41:45; 2 Kings 23:34; Daniel 1:7). These express new status. God himself may give new names (Genesis 32:29.
  10. )

We have not named the true God. He had revealed to us his name. On the other hand the false gods may be created and given names by the humans. Invocation of God's name is allowed but incantation is forbidden (Exodus 20:7). God's name is not a magical word. He reveals himself to us.

In the Name is a very powerful phrase. It was used to mean several processes. It could mean that some one was called by that name, as in Judges 18:29. Or it could mean under the name, as in 1 Kings 21:8: `So she wrote in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him.' Or it could mean on the commission of that name, as in 1 Samuel 25:9: `When David's men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David's name. Then they waited.'

"In the Name" has the significance of `calling on the name' (Genesis 4:26; 12:8), or swearing or blessing `by' or `in the name' of God (Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:8).

In the New Testament also, the name plays a very important role. In addition to its function as names of persons (proper names), name stands for the reputation of a person also:`King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, `John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him' (Mark 6:14).

In the New Testament, the name is related to the person and work of God in Christ. The name of God relates him to the revelation of the fact that he came to us as man to save us. Christ's major purpose is to glorify Father's name in his work. The Church is called upon to glorify the name of God. The name Jesus implied the meaning that God is with us. The name of Jesus is the name above all names. We are told in Rev. 19:13 and Jn. 1:1 that Jesus alone knows God's name. He alone knows the fullness of his relationship with God (Rev. 19:12). Jesus acts in God's name as the Christ (Jn. 10:24-25).

Everything revolves around God's name in the New Testament also. Justification, sanctification, salvation, baptism, forgiveness, giving of life and resurrection --everything depends and revolves around God's name. The disciples of Jesus are asked to pray in the name of Jesus (Jn.14:13-14) according to his will; they have to preach the gospel in his name; and they should believe in the power of his name. The name of Jesus, thus, becomes the basis of all proclamation. Speaking in the name of other gods, thus, would amount to lessen the importance of the process of speaking in the name of true God. It would amount to falsely imitate the functions God has assigned to this process of speaking in his name and transfer the same to false gods. And once we begin to speak in the name of false gods, we allow ourselves to be subjected to the authority of these gods. That is why God forbids us from speaking in the name of other gods. He pronounces the severest punishment for those false prophets who would speak in the name of other gods even as he demands that we listen to his words spoken in his name by his prophets (Deuteronomy 18:20).


Looking to other gods is compared to adultery. The Israelites turning to other gods is characterized by the LORD as the behavior of a person committing adultery (Hosea 3:1). However, the LORD wants us to continue to love those who turn away from the one true God. In this we find the instruction that we need to preserve in our efforts to wean away those who have swerved away from the correct path. The idolaters are not condemned forever. If they could give up idolatry and worship the one true God, there is certain hope of their salvation.


One of the ways by which people are led to serve other gods is by intermarriage with those who do not worship the one true God. Idolatry is encouraged by such marriages. From the worship of God, people would be led to worship of other things. So the Lord warns us against intermarrying with them. He warns us against giving our daughters to them or taking their sons for us. If one does not exercise caution in this, then he is bound to be destroyed (Deut 7:4). And yet the lord may not destroy us, but would use our suffering to remind us about the folly of serving other gods. He would use it to instruct us to change our ways (Jer.5:19).


God treats fearing other gods as idolatry. He has entered into a covenant with us and has promised that he would never forsake us. Then, what is the need for us to fear others, or other gods? We are prohibited from fearing other gods, from bowing down before other gods and from serving or sacrificing to these gods. The covenant includes the provision for us that we should not fear the gods and bow down and sacrifice to them. By strictly adhering to this provision, we ensure God's protective hands always upon us. God had shown his strength when he brought out the Israelites from Egypt. It was his strength that the Israelites should have worshipped. It was to him that the Israelites should have bowed down and sacrificed (2 King 17:35,36). Once again, God made a comparison of what he did with what the Israelites did in turn to him.

When God's presence and help is always there, there is no need for any one to seek the help of other gods and to serve them. Any one who forgets this and offers sacrifices to other gods is committing idolatry. His act is considered a socially irresponsible and immoral act listed along with the acts of a sorceress or the act of a person who has sexual intercourse with an animal. He will be destroyed by the weight of his action (Exo 22:20). Note that this injunction against serving and worshipping other gods is part of the social responsibility demanded by God, in his communication to the people of Israel through Moses.


God prohibits us from worshipping the images as gods. Aaron fashioned with his tool an image of calf from out of the gold earrings, and the people presented it as the gods of Israel, who brought the nation of Israel from out of Egypt. Aaron implied this object to be the God of Israel when he announced the celebration of a festival for the LORD to be observed next day. The people of Israel sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the image next day and indulged themselves in revelry (Exo 32:4-6). The molten calf and the gods were thus treated as identical to the one true God by the Israelites. When God threatened to destroy these ignorant people, Moses interceded on their behalf and thus they were not destroyed. When Moses returned from God, he saw the golden calf and the dancing of the people before it. He burnt the calf in the fire, ground the remains into powder, scattered in water and made the Israelites to drink it! Such was his anger! The Psalmist says that this act of the Israelites was exchanging their God for the likeness of an ox which eats grass (Psalm 106:20)!


Worshipping angels is also treated as idolatry in the Bible. In Colossians 2, Apostle Paul writes that reality is to be found in Christ, not in the rites and festivals. False humility and the worship of angels disqualify us from getting our reward from the Lord (Col 2:18). The person who delights in false humility and angel worship `goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.' Worshipping angels is losing connection with the Head from whom we receive our growth. Worshipping angels is idolatry because it stands between the worshipper and God. It makes one to lose the connection with God. Apostle John fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had showed the things which would follow. But the angel told him, `Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!' The angel not only forbid Apostle John to worship him but exhorted the apostle to worship God. The angels are the supernatural messengers of God, whose presence presents some aspect of God's glory. But in themselves they do not receive any worship. All the worship is due to God only, as this episode illustrates.

When centurion Cornelius fell at Peter's feet in reverence, when Peter entered the house of Cornelius, Peter admonished him by saying `Stand up, I am only a man myself (Acts 10:26).' Thus neither the angels nor the men need to be given worship or worship-like reverence.


The Bible prohibits us from worshipping the elements and the objects of the sky. The sun, the moon, the stars and all the host of heaven are all objects created by God. As these are created objects, these are not to be worshipped. These are marvelous objects which also look very mysterious to men. Men are delighted in seeing the stars, the moon and the sun. They see them everlasting and have a beauty of their own in their routine. So, Moses warned people against getting attracted towards these marvelous objects, worshipping them and serving them. He warned against getting `enticed into bowing down to them.' Moses warned his people against worshipping these which had been apportioned to all the nations under heaven. The Israelites are God's inheritance and hence they ought not worship what had been apportioned to the nations. They ought to worship only the one true God, Moses implied. Moreover, when God spoke to the people of Israel, from out of fire, they did see no form of any kind. They were thus cautioned against corrupting themselves by making for themselves `an idol, an image of any shape,whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below' (Deut 4:15-18). The prohibition thus covered the representations in any and every form and shape, and every creature living or imaginary. And none of these could be treated as gods or a substitute for God.

Despite such explicit instruction, the Israelites did make idols and worship them. And this became eligible for death penalty in Mosaic Law. Chapters 13 and 17 in Deuteronomy prescribe death penalty for the idolaters among the Israelites. These call for an investigation into the allegation of idolatry against individuals and groups of people and if the allegation was found true, death penalty was to be awarded to the individuals: `Take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death' (Deut 17:5); the prophet or dreamer who turned people to other gods and the worship of these gods `must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God' (Deut 13:5); death penalty was to be given even to our brother, son or daughter or the wife even, if any of them enticed us to worship other gods (Deut 13:8). If a whole town turned idolatrous and began to entice other towns, this town of idolaters in its entirety ought to be destroyed and all the people in it put to death (Deut 13:15). Indeed, idolatry was considered one of the most heinous crimes, because it was a total affront to God the Creator of heaven and earth.


The word devil occurs twice only in the Old Testament, where it may mean also demon. In Deuteronomy 32, Moses sings that the people of Israel abandoned the God who made them and, in this way, they made him jealous by worshipping the foreign gods. He declared further that the people of Israel `sacrificed to demons, which are not God--gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear' (Deut 32:17). Speaking of the people of Israel who disobeyed the LORD by worshipping the idols of the nations, the Psalmist declared that `they sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons' (Psalm 106:37).

Thus there are only a few references in the Old Testament about the devil/demon. However, these references make it clear that worship of the demons and offering services to them was not acceptable to God. However, the belief in the spirits and demons is referred to in the Old Testament. The woman (the witch) of Endor told King Saul that she saw a spirit coming up out of the ground. A man wearing a robe was coming out, she said. Saul recognized him to be Samuel (I Samuel 27:13, 14). The LORD complains to Isaiah that the people readily consulted the spirits: `When men tell you to consult mediums and spirits, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?' (Isaiah 8:19).

In Deuteronomy 18:10, the LORD commands `Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.' Sin of divination is described rebellion and the evil of idolatry is described arrogance in I Samuel 15:23.

Numbers 23:23 also refers to sorcery and divination, while declaring their powerlessness in the life of God's children, here referring specifically to Jacob. Thus while the spirits and divination, and conjuring up the dead were all referred to, the gods of the nations were treated as no gods at all in the Old Testament. The existence of spirits was recognized, but the idol gods, perhaps like the spirits before the children of God, were seen to be powerless.

Deuteronomy 32:17 relates in some manner the demon to the idols of the nations. Likewise the phrase `the pestilence that stalks in the darkness' found Psalm 91:6 is apparently a reference to the demon. However, it is in the New Testament that the whole range of the work of the enemy is highlighted in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The demonic world is more thoroughly revealed and victory over this realm becomes a more crucial issue.

The New Testament tries to avoid the use of the word demon because it suggests a divine intermediary (Bromiley 1985:139). The relationship between the angels and the demons is basically antithetical; they are in opposition to one another. Demon worship and demonic activity are referred to (Revelation 9:20; 1 Cor 12:2). Demonic activity increases in the end-time. What is most important for our purpose of discussion here is the fact that the offerings given to idols are treated as offerings to demons. Paul says in 1 Cor 10:20-21 that `the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God.'

Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink ;the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons (1 Cor 10:19-21).

Satan was originally an angel who rebelled against God. He is the accuser and is in conflict with God. He oppresses the righteous and he is master of deceit and deception. He will, however, be finally expelled by God. This is the basic position found in the Bible about Satan. The coming of Jesus began the fall of Satan. In Matthew 4:9, the Devil promises Jesus that he would all the kingdoms of the earth to him, if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. `Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" In Rev 9:20, it is said that `the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 'We are thus prohibited from bowing down to the Devil and worshipping him, whether in the form of idols or in other forms.


The Bible tells us not to worship dead men for whatever reason. We have already pointed out that the Bible says that we should not conjure up the dead person. The `deadness' is in opposition to the `living.' The word nekros used in the New Testament refers to both the process of death in the animate and the inanimate condition itself. Since the idols are inanimate objects they are dead. Since the idols are no gods, they are dead. In Acts 5:10, and Revelation 1:18, this word refers to dead persons, whereas in James 2:26, this word refers to inanimate objects. We are dead to sin in Christ and we are born again in Christ. Eating the sacrifices offered to lifeless gods is worship of the dead, yoking oneself to the Baal of Peor, a god of iniquity (Psalm 106:28).


The Bible tells us that if we set up idols in our hearts, God would not reveal him to us. The LORD asked Ezekiel to tell the elders who came to him that since these men had set up idols in their hearts, he would not let them inquire of him (Ezekiel 14:1-3). The idols were wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Then, with these stumbling blocks before their faces, how could these men really seek God? The LORD asked Ezekiel to tell them `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the LORD will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols' (Ezekiel 14:4-5).

Setting up meant, among other things, laying before, placing and erecting. It also meant putting on, bringing gifts and setting snares, representing as, or making. The Hebrew root which meant the above things was mainly used for the offerings, in particular, the burnt offerings. Similar meanings are carried by the New Testament also for the phrase `set up.' The concept of setting up has a wide range of meanings both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It emphasized, in a way, the acceptance of what is set up. If we set up idols in our hearts, it would mean that we have give place to the idols in our hearts. This would amount to deny what is exclusively due to God.


That covetousness is idolatry is especially emphasized in the Pauline epistles in the New Testament. The Greek word pleonektes meant a covetous person. Its related form pleonexia meant covetousness. These words had the meanings such as having more, receiving more and wanting more with reference to power as well as property. There was also an extension which meant outdoing others, being superior, taking precedence, forging ahead at the expense of others, etc. (Bromiley 1985:864-865). As if the one true God is not enough, one goes for multiple gods. Also the idols are given precedence over the one true God in idolatry.

Covetousness is a two-pronged posture -- it not only affects the person who is covetous but also those who are not covetous, because it tends to snatch what is due to others, what rightfully belongs to others. Idolatry is covetousness because it snatches from God what is rightfully his. It is giving an unlawful gain to the gods. In Eph 5:5, Paul characterizes an idolater as an immoral, impure and a greedy person. Such a person has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. In Col 3:5, Paul asks us to put to death all that belongs to our earthly nature --sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Paul asks us to shun especially of those within the church who call themselves brothers but indulge themselves in immoral acts including idolatry. he asks us not to eat even with such men (1 Cor 5:11). As Jesus said, no one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24).


Paul considers sensuality, rather allowing sensuality to have dominion over us, as idolatry. In Philippians 3, Paul points out that those who do not live according to the pattern set by Christ and communicated to the body of believers by the apostles, which emphasized faith in Jesus and a life with no covetousness and other immorality, are doomed for destruction. These worship their stomach as their god, that is, they give themselves to sensual living, not spiritual living. Since this sets up a barricade between them and God, and since this blinds them as to the one true God, they become idolaters. Note that an idolater is no more just the person who worships dead objects, material or living creatures. Idolatry consists in everything that comes between God and man. The idolater sets his mind on earthly things.


Kabod in the Old Testament and doxo in the New testament are the words that carry the meaning of glory. By glory, God's honorable status, impressive nature, splendor, divine radiance, reputation, his status of being worthy of respect are meant. Glory signifies the great importance of God. The splendor and radiance which accompany him when he manifests himself are his glory. God reveals his glory in his creation. His worthiness, reputation, honor, splendor and brilliance are all his own. Nothing of it is given to another.

God's glory may be revealed in what he has created. In Psalm 99, we find that god's glory is revealed in the natural phenomena:

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.

It is because of his glory, `all those who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols.' The Psalmist commands all these gods to worship the one true God! As the Psalmist says, we have to ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, and not to any one else. We have to ascribe glory to his name and worship him in the splendor of his holiness (Psalm 29:1,2).

Ezekiel had visions of the glory of God (Ezekiel 1:1). In Exodus we are told that the glory of God (the radiance) filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). `To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on tope of the mountain' (Exodus 24:17). `When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them (Moses and Aaron) at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly' (Numbers 16:19).

Thus the brilliance and splendor marked his immediate presence. This splendor and brilliance, however, could not be contained in anything.

As King Solomon confessed, even the highest heaven could not contain him (1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2;5,6; 2 Chronicles 6:18). Thus the attempt of the nations to make images of God is a futile attempt to contain the glory of God in materials. Trying to change the glory of God into images is nothing but vanity, an act of idolatry. Paul recognized it when he emphasized that men `exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles' (Romans 1:23). He asked us not to think `that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone an image made by man's design and skill' (Acts 17:29).


The Greek word pseudos meant to deceive, and to lie. It meant falsehood, deceit and something that is untrue. The word in Hebrew, kazab, which meant `lie' generally referred to speaking what was untrue. It ranged from the meaning of false to unreality. It was often used with another word shaw, which meant vanity, emptiness.

God detests lying and he himself does not lie. In Numbers 23:19 we are told that `God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?'

Idols are considered lies because they pretend to be representing God. Idols are vain and empty because they have no substance in them. They deceive and fail everyone who worships them. The boast of the idolaters is the boast of those who have made a covenant with death, of those who have made a lie their refuge and falsehood their hiding place (Isaiah 28:15). They think that even an overwhelming scourge would not touch them. The LORD, however, declares that the lie and falsehood would not save them (Isaiah 28:18). In Amos 2:4 also, the idols are treated/described as lies and falsehoods. The Israelites , the LORD said, did not keep his decrees, and allowed themselves to be led astray by `false gods, the gods their ancestors followed.'

In Romans 1:25, Paul declares that the idolaters `exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator who is forever praised. Amen.'


The Bible distinguishes between the spirit and the flesh. We have to worship in spirit and truth. The flesh is carnal, external and earthly, whereas God is Spirit. Human frailty makes it not possible to know God through its flesh. When Peter answered that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus replied that this was revealed to Peter not by man, but by the Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17). Weak in perception, the flesh is of the earthly sphere (Romans 6:19, 1:3-4).

Paul includes idol worship as part of the work of the flesh, and not of the spirit. The idol is concrete and external. Perception of an idol as god is perception of the weak flesh. Paul includes idolatry as an obvious act of sinful nature, just as sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery and witchcraft. Idolatry belongs to the carnal realm of hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, and faction (Galatians 5:19-20).

Note that the carnal activities listed by Paul are exhibited by the idol gods in their respective mythologies. There is no community of idolaters in which the idol gods would not have indulged themselves in such carnal matters at one time or the other. The iconography of these communities does celebrate these activities in its works.


Service of God is in opposition to the service of idols. We already found that the one true God wants us not to worship any one or any thing other than him. This was well recognized and obeyed by all God-fearing people. Jacob asked the members of his household and all those who were with him to throw away the foreign gods they had with them and to purify themselves. This was a pre-condition of the people to go up to Bethel where he would build an altar to God. This was the one true God who answered him in his distress and who had been with him wherever he went (Genesis 35:2-3).

Note that the true God was with him, and not that he had to carry the gods with him. Jacob assuaged the likely fear of the idolater-relatives of his that they would lose the presence of their gods if they threw them out by saying that the true God was always with him, answered him in his distress. It was not the physical presence of the idols that was important; it was the spiritual presence of the true God that was to be desired. And this spiritual of the true God could be ensured by the personal purity and worship only of the one true God.

Joshua also demanded that his people throw away the idol gods, the foreign gods, and yield themselves to the LORD, the God of Israel. The Israelites were chosen people, chosen by God and the one true God was their own. Leaving aside the worship of this one true God, the Israelites went behind the gods of other nations; they, thus, went for the foreign gods (Joshua 24:23).

Samuel asked the whole house of Israel that if they wanted to return to the LORD with all their hearts, then, they should demonstrate it by throwing away their foreign gods and the tree or pole used as the symbol for the pagan goddess. they should commit themselves only to the LORD and serve him only. Only then, Samuel told them, God would deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines (1 Sam 7:3).

Elijah cautioned people against wavering between two opinions of serving the LORD or of serving the gods. If they thought that the LORD was God, they should follow him, serve him and worship him only. If they thought that Baal was God, then they should follow him. However, they people, pricked in their conscience, could not say anything in answer to this forceful challenge to choose between the two (1 King 18:21).

Apostle Paul asked the people of Corinth to tell him of any harmony that they might find between Christ and Belial. The question was not any more a choice between the one true God and the foreign gods. The question was about the relationship between the believer and the unbeliever. Could the oxen yoked unevenly work together?

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. ... (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).


Idols are treated as abominable objects. These are to be abhorred, not worshipped. God finds the idols abominable. In Ezekiel 5:9, God called the idols detestable, abominable objects. Because the Israelites worshipped these abominable objects, God was angry and said that he would inflict punishment on the Israelites before the eyes of the other nations. In Ezekiel 5:11, the images are called vile and the practice of worshipping them detestable. The woman sitting on a scarlet beast is seen to have here hands filled with abominable things and she herself is called the mother of the abominations of the earth (Revelation 17:4-5). Those who worship and practice abominable things would be consumed in the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Romans 21:8).

Since the idols are abominations, detestable objects, God asked the Israelites to burn the images of the gods of nations in the fire. The gold and silver on these abominable objects should not be desired, should not be taken for their use. It would be a snare to covet the gold and silver on them. People were warned (Deut 7:25). Note that the idols were treated so abominable that even the metal on them would be considered a defiled one. Peter also treats the idols abominable, detestable objects. He exhorts the faithful not to live `the earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 1 Pet 4:3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry' (1 Peter 4:2-3).


The Bible clearly states that the LORD hates the images or any such works and their worship. In Deut 16:22, the LORD asks the Israelites not to erect sacred stones, `for these the LORD your God hates.' In Jer 44:4, God told the Israelites that he sent the prophets again and again to warn them against idolatry, and to tell them `Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!'


Idolatry is vain and foolish because the idol worship is worship of objects which have no sense, which have no life in them. Because the idols have no life of their own, they cannot protect their worshippers from any harm. But the idolater thinks that these senseless objects are living gods and that they would come to his aid in his distress. Idolatry is vain and foolish, and the idolaters also become like idols -- they demonstrate that they have no sense just as the idols they worship. Or else how could they believe that these lifeless objects should be worshipped as God? However, the idolaters are happy and proud that their gods are with them. They point out that the worshippers of the one true God are Godless, because they do not have any visible objects as their gods. For the idolater physical visibility determines the existence of God. For the worshippers of the one true God, it is the spiritual presence that explains God. The Psalmist says that the idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.

They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them (Psalm 115:4-8).

Isaiah also makes the same point that the idolater, by his failure to discern between lifeless idol and the living one true God, becomes like the lifeless idol. The idolater does not stop to think what he does.

No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood? (Isaiah 44:19).

Jeremiah was asked by the LORD to tell the Israelites that they should not learn the ways of the nations, because `the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk...' (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

The emphasis is thus on the contrast between the lifeless idols and the living God and on what these lifeless idols do to their worshippers.


Idol worship encourages bloody sacrifices of human beings. Ezekiel was asked by the LORD about Oholah and Oholibah, two women of evil repute, who `sacrificed their children to their idols' (Ezekiel 23:39). These two women stood allegorically for Samaria and Jerusalem who had accepted the foreign gods of Assyria and Babylon. The LORD complained that these (the Israelites in Samaria and Jerusalem) `committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them' (Ezekiel 23:37).


The Bible is very explicit and insistent that idolatry is unprofitable. After Jair died, the people of Israel turned away from God and started worshipping the foreign gods. `They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines' (Judges 10:6). When the Ammonites attacked them, they cried out to the LORD, "We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals." The LORD replied " have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!"' (Judges 10:10, 13). The unprofitability of worshipping the lifeless idols dawned on the Israelites and they once again returned to worship only the true God.

Isaiah finds it very amusing that the idolaters 46:7 `lift it (the idol) to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles' (Isaiah 46:7). The idols cannot help the idolater in any manner because they themselves need help for their mobility.


That idolatry is not based on reason is already demonstrated when the idolaters are shown to worship the lifeless materials or animals or human beings or imaginary beings as gods. The idolaters set up some images as representative of gods and soon come to consider the very same images as gods. Apostle Paul, standing up in the meeting of the Areopagus, said that since we are God's children `we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill'(Acts 17:29). If one thinks like that then it is sheer irrational thought. `In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent'(Acts 17:30). God overlooked such ignorance until his incarnation as Jesus Christ. He has now given proof of his determination, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, to judge such idolaters, Paul declared (Acts 17:31). If people still worshipped idols, even after this proof, would that act be rational?

Apostle Paul finds that

although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Romans: 1:21-23).


God spoke through the prophets of Israel repeatedly emphasizing that worship of idols amounted to defiling him. He gave word to Ezekiel to tell the elders of Israel to get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on. He asked them not to defile themselves with the idols of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:7). On another occasion the LORD asked Ezekiel to tell them that they had been defiling the land of Israel `by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight...they had shed blood in the land and ... had defiled it with their idols' (Ezekiel 36:18)


The Bible identifies many characteristics of the idolaters. The idolaters forget God. This has been repeatedly shown in the history of Israel. The LORD repeatedly reminded them of their error and folly in forgetting their one true God. Forgetting the true God would lead to all kinds of misery. The LORD warned them in Deut 8:19:`If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.' In Jeremiah 18:15, the LORD complained that his people had forgotten him: `they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths. They made them walk in bypaths and on roads not built up.'

The idolaters go astray from God. In Ezekiel 44:10 we find that the Levites went far from the LORD when Israel went astray. They wandered from him after their idols. And naturally these Levites ought to bear the consequences of their sin, so the Lord declared. These Levites would not come near the LORD to serve him as priests; they would be within the temple in charge of duties, bearing the shame of their detestable practices (Ezekiel 44:13).

Idolaters pollute the Name of God. In Eze 20:39 the LORD declares that when the Israelites return from their folly of idol worship they would stop profaning his holy name with gifts and idols. Idolaters are estranged from God and so the LORD declares in Ezekiel 14:5 that he would punish them by way of instruction so that he could `recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.'

Idolaters forsake him, God declares in 2 King 22:17. In Jeremiah 16:11 this point is repeatedly made. The fathers of Israelites forsook the LORD and followed other gods and served and worshiped them.

That the idolaters hate God is implied in 2 Chr 19:2. Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet Jehoshaphat king of Judah returned safely from the war. Jehu accused him of helping the wicked and loving the people who hated the LORD. And yet he declared that there was some good in him, for he had gotten rid of the Asherah poles from the land (2 Chr 19:3). Helping those who worshipped idols was seen to be helping idolatry itself.


In Isaiah 65:3, the Lord called the Israelites `a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick.' The Israelites were given the name of the LORD, but they chose to follow foreign gods and to provoke him:

I revealed to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, `here am I, here am I.' All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations-- a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil....(Isaiah 65:1-4).

In Jeremiah 25:6, the LORD commands: `Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.'

God knew it very well that the Israelites would provoke him. In Deuteronomy 31:20, we find him saying that although he gave them the Promised Land, they would `turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant.'

Idolaters are vain in their imaginations and they are ignorant and foolish. Romans 1:21 says that the idolaters knew God, but did not glorify him as God or gave thanks to him. They became futile and foolish in their thinking. The general revelation of God was there for everyone to see in the wonders of creation all around, but the idolaters seek to glorify their own handiworks and call them gods. Idolaters hold fast their deceit. In Jeremiah 8:5 we are told that these people, the idolaters, always `cling to deceit; they refuse to return.'

Idolaters inflame themselves so much so they `burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags' (Isaiah 57:5). They are carried away by their idolatry. Even Apostle Paul could not understand this repetitive phenomenon. Somehow or other these people influenced and led astray to mute idols (1 Cor 12:2). The phenomenon was and is self-persistent. The solution to this is to become the worshippers of the one true God, for such persistence of idolatry becomes possible so long as pagan practices are accepted.

Idolaters among the Israelites went after idolatry in their hearts, because they rejected the laws prescribed for them by God (Eze 20:16). The waters of the pagan nations would dry up because theirs are the lands of idols. These idols would go mad with terror, the Lord declared (Jeremiah 50:38).The Psalmist recognizes that the idolaters always boast about their idolatry, even though they all would be put to shame (Psalm 97:7).

The idolaters have fellowship with devils. The sacrifices of pagans are offered only to the devil (Cor 10:20). They have thus fellowship with the devils. Idolaters ask for advice from their idols. Thus the L0RD spoke though Hosea that the Israelites `consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood.' This, the LORD, described `a spirit of prostitution'(Hosea 4:12).

It is a spirit of prostitution because this way they had become unfaithful to their God. The idolaters look to their idols for deliverance (Isaiah 44:17). Thus the LORD asks the people of Israel, `the fugitives from the nations,' to come together and worship him. Only those who are ignorant would carry about idols of wood and pray to them who could not save any (Isaiah 45:20).

Idolaters swear by their idols. As we saw earlier, swearing by some one's name is to put trust in that name and the person who bears that name. The idolaters trust the idols and since these are false gods, how would they be saved? The LORD spoke through the prophet Amos that those who swear by the shame of Samaria would fall, `never to rise again' (Amos 8:14). These swore that their gods were living gods, but, alas, they were not and hence their swearing was of no avail for them. Note that the Bible does recognize that the pagans believed that their gods were alive. However, the God's Word would not accept this position and would treat the idols, the inert objects, as totally non-living. The gods of the heathen are equated with these idols and thus are non-living objects. As Apostle Paul says that even if there are gods and so-called gods, many gods and many lords, whether in heaven or on earth (1 Cor 8:5), idols are no gods because they are just inert material.


The idol worshippers receive nothing but woe (Hab 2:19). Idolatry heaps on us nothing but curse (Deu 27:15). Judicial death was imposed on those who practiced idolatry (Deu 17:2-5).

Dreadful Judgment of Death awaited those who worshipped idols (Jer 8:2; 16:1-3). `They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like refuse lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth' (Jer 16:4). Nothing but suffering awaited them who forsook the one true god and worshipped the idols (Jer 16:6-11).

Because of idolatry, `Israel is swallowed up; now she is among the nations like a worthless thing' (Hos 8:8). Idolatry resulted in the banishment of the Israelites (Amos 5:27). The idolaters would be excluded from the heaven, the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9; Eph 5:5; Rev 22:15). They will be subjected to eternal torments (Rev 14:9-11):

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice:

"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the fore head or on the hand he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."



M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA.

Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist, a book on evangelism by M. S. Thirumalai

Short Term Missions, a book by Roger Peterson, et al.

Solitary Poet, Poems of Reflection by Stan Schmidt.

Sharing Your Faith with Hindus by M. S. Thirumalai.

Send your articles
as an attachment
to your e-mail to