Monotheism vs Monolatry? What?

Here is a test – does the subject line above strike you as intriguing or uninteresting?  Well, believe it or not, if you identify yourself as either Jewish or Christian, you should find it interesting.  Monotheism and monolatry both have to do with how the people of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible (and also today) viewed God.  How many gods are there?  What is his (their) nature?  How should he be worshipped?  Those are pretty big questions!

I reviewed a great book a couple of months ago called Jesus and the God of Israel, in which the author (Richard Bauckham) described the similarities, differences and relationship between monotheism (the belief in the existence of one God) and monolatry (the exclusive worship of one God).  Fascinating book.  In Bauckham’s opinion (which I agree with), the Old Testament reflects both, and somehow, the two wind their way together in both Judaism and early Christianity, and they influenced how Jesus was understood and responded to in the first century.  If you like to “think deeply” about the nature of God and Jesus, you may enjoy this book!

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2 Replies to “Monotheism vs Monolatry? What?”

  1. Genesis 1:1, which features Elohim. There is an unfamiliarity with the Hebrew word used here for God, the Hebrew word is “Elohim.” Religious scholars grapple with the plural form of Elohim, which means “gods,” and how it is to be understood here in a monotheistic context? The translators give the singular noun ‘God,’ which is given in any language translation outside of the Hebrew. Literally, Elohim is a plural noun, a word meaning “gods,” which is translated into Greek, Latin, and English languages as the singular noun, “God.” According to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), the Hebrew word ‘elohim’ is generic for gods, whether true gods or false gods, as the “im” on the end of any Hebrew word represents the plural form. At face value, Elohim [gods] in the Bible literally refers to an assembly of gods synonymous with “the sons of God”, or a “plurality of gods,” as in a heavenly assembly, or the congregation of the mighty, as YAH judges among the Elohim (Psalm 82:1). This could be used as an expression of the sons of the gods, bene ha’ elohim, or more correctly sons of the sons. In the context of the true God YAHWEH, these are the sons of God (Elohim), who are called gods (elohim), and therefore these gods are sons of the Most High (Elohim, gods, Psalm 82:6), which represents the Hebrew understanding of “the God of gods,” a very plausible working definition for the Hebrew word Elohim. “For YAHWEH your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the Great God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17). With the literal understanding of the Hebrew meaning for Elohim in the biblical point of view, for this concept of the God of gods is biblical, and yet very few understand this biblical truth. The God of gods moves as one under the command of the Most High God. To be a son of God, and a member of the assembly of Elohim (the gods) is to be a son, who is in total obedience to the Supreme Most High God, YAH’SHUA, who was given all things by His God and Father (Matthew 11:27). Those who fall out of obedience, by doing their own thing, will lose their sonship with God the Father, and eventually will lose all powers invested in them; for indeed as can be seen in the next verse a rebellion is in progress! YAH’SHUA will bring an end to the Great Rebellion. God is perfect, which makes Him totally Sovereign over all things, as any other way is chaos. YAH’SHUA will bring an end to all principalities, and the powers, and the rulers of darkness of this age, and against the demonic spiritual hosts of lawlessness, wickedness in heavenly places causing chaos in the heavens (Ephesian 6:12).

  2. The “somehow” is the Zoroastrian Influence upon Judaism during the Captivity and post-captivity eras. Pre-Captivity Judaism’s view of God was generally monolatry i.e. the worship of “our God” ( to the exclusion but not the refutation of other gods). The Zoroastrian view of God is that of pure Monotheism, of a Single Universal God.

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