Problem: The Old Testament mentions multiple gods
There are various hints in the Old Testament that the earlier Jewish authors thought that multiple gods existed, which would be in conflict with the later view that there is no god but God. There are so many such hints that I'm tempted to call this problem Serious. But there are a number of points that could be made against this view.
The easy cases
- In the case of quoted speech, where some human mentions other gods, it doesn't necessarily follow that these gods exist, because the Bible doesn't necessarily endorse such quoted speech as correct.
- God often commands the Israelites not to worship other gods, and other verses tell us that certain people worship different gods. But again, this doesn't imply they actually exist. One can easily worship a non-existent god.
- There are cases where God seems to speak of himself in the plural (e.g. "let us go down"). But this could either refer to the Trinity, or to other heavenly beings such as angels. Or it could simply be the majestic plural.
- There are verses where we are told that God is greater than other gods (e.g. Psalm 135:5). But this is trivially true if God exists and other gods don't.
- There are verses where "the gods" could plausibly refer to human-built idols made out of wood or clay. For example, Jeremiah 10:11, when read in context, is clearly of this sort.
Judgement upon the gods
There are some verses where we are told that God passes judgement or punishment upon other gods. For example, this is Exodus 12:12:
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments
: I am the LORD. (ESV
Similar verses are at Numbers 33:4 and Jeremiah 46:25. While it's a bit of a stretch, one could see these as more cases where the "gods" are made out of clay, rather than being real.
The LORD, God of gods
There are verses where God is described as "God of gods". This is Psalm 136:2:
Give thanks to the God of gods
, for his steadfast love endures forever. (ESV
Deuteronomy 10:17 is similar. Again, perhaps this is a stretch, but I think the phrase could conceivably mean "the one true God", or something of that ilk.
The hardest case? Psalm 82
I think this may be the hardest case. This is Psalm 82:1-2:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods
he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (ESV
It's clear that God is upbraiding the "gods" for their injustice. The traditional interpretation is that these "gods" are merely the rulers and leaders of humanity. However, the Oxford Bible Commentary notes that this doesn't fit well with God's judgement upon these "gods". This is Psalm 82:6-7:
I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince." (ESV
If the "gods" are actually only men, then condemning them to be mortal and "fall like any prince" makes little sense, since that's what would happen to them anyway. Still, if read in a certain way, this verse could simply mean that the human rulers' greatness will not save them from an ordinary human fate. That's the position taken by the NIV Study Bible.
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