A lot of the Old Testament bible verses/passages use the terms "idol(s)"/"idolatry" within the context of

-physical "carved image", (Exodus 20:3–6)

-physical materials like "silver and gold, the work of human hands" (Psalm 115:4–8) physical "metal image" (Habakkuk 2:18)

-"ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals" ( Isaiah 44:9–20 )

In the New Testament bible verses/passages, it's a bit more flexible and/or generalized to allow for a broader interpretation of terms "idol(s)"/"idolatry" :

  • flee from idolatry ( 1 Corinthians 10:14)

  • "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21)

In today's 21st century world, one will hear sermons that use the aforementioned verses to associate "idol(s)"/"idolatry" with broader meanings/interpretations that include materialism, infatuation with a member of the opposite sex, finances, etc.

However, would the aforementioned 21st century's sermons be in alignment with the biblical authors' original intention in regards to the interpretation of the meanings associated with the terms "idol(s)"/"idolatry"?

Furthermore, would the Ancient Jewish/Hebrew and/or Early Christians also agree with the aforementioned 21st century sermons?

1 Answer 1


In the Hebrew Bible (OT), idolatry refers not only to literal idols but also to praying to false gods, invoking them (Joshua 23:7), practicing customs associated with Canaanite religious culture (fertility festivals, head-shaving, tattooing) etc. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia:

Numerous commandments of the Pentateuch, even though they omit the term "abomination" as a synonym of idolatry, refer to polytheistic worship; for idolatry was deeply rooted in the national character...

The biblical writers did not present just one attitude on this subject. Among Christian writers, Paul saw eating food sacrificed to idols as being a problem only if one believed the idols were real. (1 Corinthians 8: 7-8) But Acts 5 forbids the practice and the Book of Revelation condemns it absolutely. (Revelation 2:20)

Nevertheless, it is cannot be denied that the Biblical standards of 2000-3000 years ago would not condone "pagan" customs like Christmas trees, Easter eggs, and sports festivals featuring scantily-clothed women dancing on the sidelines. However, God's providence is not static. In Judaism, once Jews starting living far from Jerusalem, new customs such as synagogue worship evolved, as frequent visits to the Temple were impossible. And once the Temple was destroyed, Jewish culture adapted further, so that personal prayers became sufficient to atone of one's sins. In Christianity, the church won over pagan cultures partly by defeating them and partly by absorbing them.

Conclusion: While we can admit that the Biblical writers of ancient times generally took a hard line on such matters, we cannot know how they would respond if they suddenly appeared today. They might condemn our compromises with idolatry, but they also might rejoice that the God of Israel is now recognized throughout much of the world, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 60:

1 Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. 2 Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples, Upon you the Lord will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen. 3 Nations shall walk by your light, kings by the radiance of your dawning.

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