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Exodus 20:3 (NIV) reads, "You shall have no other gods before Me."

According to the Tanakh (Old Testament), YHWH / Yahweh / (God) is an individual divine being, and the only God.

Some sections of the Scriptures seem to state that He is the universe’s only (truly existing) God; however, others portray him as a supreme god among other gods (that actually exist).

Deuteronomy 4:35, “YHWH is God; there is none else beside him.”

Isaiah 44:6–8, it says, “Thus says YHWH…: I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God… Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

Thus, Yahweh is the only God that exists.


But in Exodus 15:11, after the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt, they sing, “Who is like you, O YHWH, among the gods [Elohim]?”

Deuteronomy 6:14: "Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you"

In Deuteronomy 10:17, it says, “For YHWH your God is the God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and terrible, who does not regard people or take bribes.”

In Psalm 95:3, it says, “YHWH is a great God, and a great king above all gods.”

And in Exodus 12:12, it says, “On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and smite every firstborn, both man and beast, and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. I am YHWH.”


What are we to make of this, then? Are there lesser/other gods? Do the words used for god, perhaps, have other implied contextual meanings in some passages?

  • If you haven’t read this answer summarizing formulations of monotheism in the OT, you may find it helpful. Some would see this as a uniformly exilic/post-exilic phenomenon (with so-called “second” Isaiah usually being the linchpin). – Susan Nov 20 '15 at 6:02
  • This subject came up in Sunday school and I can recall asking as a child about other gods, since there are numerous mentions of other gods in the Bible. To the best of my recollection, I was told that there are, but God is the creator and the only one we worship (henotheism). I was somewhat rebuked for my question in Sunday school with this belief and have been searching for others interpretations since. I know some of the times that other gods are mentioned, they are false gods, but there are a lot of times plurality is used in Gods words as well. – Wade Lyons Aug 7 '17 at 12:13
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I'm sure much could be written about the specific meaning of the Hebrew word for gods, but let me focus on one important interpreter's take: Paul the apostle. In 1 Corinthians 8:4–6, he quotes Isaiah and Deuteronomy to make his case that eating food sacrificed to idols is not inherently wrong:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. [ESV]

Isaiah 41:24, the Lord speaks to the gods, saying:

Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. [ESV]

And Deuteronomy 4:39:

the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. [ESV]

Paul interprets these passages to teach that these "so-called gods" have "no real existence." But then, do they have an "unreal" existence, as a reading of verse 5 might suggest? Idols do exist, he says, in the sinful hearts of men:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [Colossians 3:5, ESV]

  • I don't interpret Paul saying that at all. as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God: to me this does not say there are no other powers, but for us there is only one. – swade Mar 12 '18 at 15:02
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The Bible as a whole is clear that there is only one God (YHWH) who created all things, and the "other gods" He warns about are things or spirits that people treat as if it were a god. There are certainly other spirits that communicate with people (which is why God said Not to seek them or listen to them nor let them speak) but only God (YHWH) is good (Jesus Christ said that). According to His word, He will definitely punish "the powers in the heavens" for allowing and encouraging people to believe they are God. (Isaiah 24:21; Mark 1:25; Leviticus 20:6)

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. This could potentially be a good answer. However, for it to actually be a good answer you would need to provide Bible references to support the statements you make in the first two sentences. See: What makes a good supported answer? I have added a link for your the three Bible references you do provide, but they don't provide much support for your statements in the first two sentences. – Lee Woofenden Aug 8 '17 at 19:36
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I have been reading the bible over again, from start to finish. What I have concluded is that men make of themselves gods, images to worship. The bible states in any translation that I have read this far, that Yahweh is the only power in the universe and that even when he made himself known to the holy men of old, they never saw his form or his face. Mankind is a seeing is believing sort of race and they created for themselves a god and new gods because they did not see Yahweh Deuteronomy 11:16-17, Deuteronomy 27:15 deuteronomy28:14 Judges 2:11, Ruth 1:15, I Samuel7:3, the list goes on and on. In doing this, they have given themselves up to the curses talked about by moses and they came to worship the creations rather than the creator. So far, I am in I Chronicles 5, and even there it talks about how the tribe of Reuben was given up Into captivity for the worshiped gods and of images I Chronicles 5:25. This is no different than the Jewish star, the cross, the golden calf, or a picture of jesus or a virgin Mary. These are all images made to be worshipped, rather than the true maker of the universe and all things in it, Yahweh.

  • Hi and welcome to the site. Here we try to focus on answering the question directly using sourced material from experts within Christian Doctrine, unfortunately this question (in my opinion as a moderator on the site) invites answers that are either opinion or self-constructed interpretations of the Bible. I'm not opposed to people voicing their opinions of what you read, but for the purpose of this site, answers should include references to what other experts think; not just what you think or have discovered. – Peter Turner Jun 10 '18 at 16:39
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    It is poor form to write an answer in a wall of text. Ana, would you please edit your answer so that it is better organized? It is worth noting that in the markup language, it requires two spaces before a carriage return to get the result of a paragraph break that we would find in a word processing program like MsWord or WordPerfect – KorvinStarmast Jun 10 '18 at 19:00
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The other gods ("elohim") are us according to Psalm 82:6.

"I said, “You are gods ("elohim"), sons of the Most High ("El"), all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:6).

It should be noted that the tanakh distinguishes between Elohim and El, whom the earliest Christians called, Christ and True God, respectively. YHWH was one among the elohim ('gods'), for example, "For who in the skies compares to YHWH, who can be likened to Yahweh among the sons of God ("Elim") (Psalm 89:6).

Paul reveals elohim to be Christ (1), among other places. Jesus, Paul, and the first Christians (gnostics) knew the "true God and Father", that is, a supreme God over the Elohim, to include over YHWH, Jesus, and us, the "gods" or "elohim". Paul even teaches in multiple places that we are members of Christ's one body or, in other words, members of Elohim ("gods").

The first Christians from the first through third centuries were mostly gnostics who believed that the true God and Father (John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6) is unknown to the many and whom the prophets, Jesus, and Paul taught to be the true God of gods (El of elohim) To the gnostics Elohim was a so-called God mistaken by both Jews and the protoorthodox (later called Catholicism and subsequently Protestants) to be “God” whereas, elohim was actually the only begotten Son, through whom our world exists. Paul writes about this in his letters but people ignore what he writes because it does not fit with their doctrines (e.g. Trinity).

You don’t hear much about this because by the fourth century Catholicism led by a Roman Emperor, persecuted gnostics and destroyed their writings and confiscated their churches. Catholic fathers (Iranaeus, Hyppolytus, etc.) who came earlier twisted the teachings of the gnostics and labeled them as false teachers thereby indoctrinating future generations against their beliefs. Fortunately, the gnostic writings were discovered and scholars are beginning to understand their beliefs (2.,3.), to include the belief in a supreme God (true God and Father) above YHWH Elohim/Christ.

References.

  1. 2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God [Elohim], who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” (Genesis 1:3) has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge (gnosis) of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Simply, Elohim is revealed to be Christ.

2.“Iranaeus’ contradictory presentation of the Valentianians as having both a common (false) doctrine and as constantly disagreeing among themselves is not due to the nature of Iranaeus’ evidence, but to this polemical construction of his enemies….Thus, the whole idea of Valentinian regular is a construction made by Iranaeus to serve his own polemical purpose.” (The Spiritual Seed, The Church of the Valentinians, Einar Thomassen, pp. 16)

3.“It will thus be seen that the study of Gnosticism from direct sources is quite recent, and that all but the most recent research is out of date. This new view is all the more forced upon us by the latest discovery which in the Akhmim MS. Places in our hands the means of testing the accuracy of Irenaus, the sheet-anchor of heresiologists. The Gospel of Mary is one of the the original sources that Iranaeus used. We are now enabled in one case to control the Church Fathers point by point—and find that he has so condensed and paraphrased his original that the consistent system of the school of Gnosticism which he is endeavoring to refute, appears as an incomprehensible jumble.” (Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, George Robert Stow Mead)

  • Irenaeus was writing two centuries before the fourth century. The NT meanwhile was written two centuries before than and knows nothing of the 30 aeons of gnosticism. – curiousdannii Oct 15 '18 at 1:15
  • The gnostics existed in the first and second century before protoorthodox began disputing them in the latter half of the second century. Paul was among the first gnostics after Jesus, and his letters in the New Testament touch on many mysteries and allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament sceiptures, to wit, secret gnosis or spiritual interpretation or spiritual wisdom of Old Testament scripture. The thirty aeons is a minor point of gnostic beliefs so it has little relevance to to early gnostic interpretations of scripture. – Thomas Oct 15 '18 at 1:44
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    I think I get your point, but could you make it more clear how this deals with the question of whether the "other gods" of the Pentateuch literally exist? – Nathaniel Oct 15 '18 at 2:28
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    I think you're going to need to support your answer with some sort of extra-biblical references since it makes a lot of claims that are pretty contrary to what one would expect. – Peter Turner Oct 15 '18 at 17:51
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    Thanks for your patience. I did not know I could edit (clarify) my original answer. This is my first answer on this site. – Thomas Oct 17 '18 at 0:38

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