AskDefine | Define monolatry

Dictionary Definition

monolatry n : the worship of a single god but without claiming that it is the only god

Extensive Definition

Monolatrism or monolatry (Greek: μόνος (monos) = single, and λατρεία (latreia) = worship) is the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity. Monolatry is not the same thing as Henotheism, which is the belief in and worship of one God without at the same time denying that others can with equal truth worship different gods. The primary difference between the two is that monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist, while henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise. The term was perhaps first used by Julius Wellhausen.

In ancient Israel

Recognized scholars have formulated a substantial case for ancient Israel's practice of monolatry.
"The highest claim to be made for Moses is that he was, rather than a monotheist, a monolatrist. … The attribution of fully developed monotheism to Moses is certainly going beyond the evidence."
"As absolute monotheism took over from monolatry in Israel, those who had originally been in the pantheon of the gods were demoted to the status of angels."
"The exclusivity of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel is an important element in Israel’s oldest religious tradition. However, it is not necessary to ascribe the present formulation of the commandment ["you shall have no other gods before me"] to a very early stage of the tradition, nor is it advantageous to interpret the commandment as if it inculcated monotheism. The commandment technically enjoins monolatry, but it can be understood within a henotheistic religious system."
"The Deuteronomic Code imposes at the least a strict monolatry."
"In the ancient Near East the existence of divine beings was universally accepted without questions. As for unicity, in Israel there is no clear and unambiguous denial of the existence of gods other than Yahweh before Deutero-Isaiah in the 6th century B.C. … The question was not whether there is only one elohim, but whether there is any elohim like Yahweh."
This was recognised by Rashi in his commentary to Deuteronomy 6:4 that the declaration of Shema accepts belief in one God as being only a part of Jewish faith at the time of Moses, but would eventually be accepted by all humanity.
Some scholars claim the Torah (Pentateuch) shows evidence of monolatrism in some passages. This argument is normally based on references to other gods, such as the "gods of the Egyptians" in the Book of Exodus. The Egyptians are also attributed powers that suggest the existence of their gods; in Chapter 7 of Exodus, after Aaron transforms his staff into a snake, Pharaoh's magicians do likewise.
The Ten Commandments has been interpreted as monolatry: Exodus 20:3 reads "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (emphasis added).
There is even a passage in the Book of Psalms, verse 86:8 that reads "Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works."
However, most passages of monolatrism in Hebrew scripture could also be interpreted as rhetorical devices, not an assumption of the existence of other gods. In an ancient world full of faiths and gods, the need to differentiate Hebraic monotheism from the background may explain some passages suggestive of monolatrism. Others, such as Exodus 7:11-13, seem to demand a non-monotheistic explanation.

In Mormonism

"The Apostle Paul indicated that although there are gods many and lords many, to Christians there is but one god (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6). This appears to be a proclamation of monolatry rather than monotheism."
"Jews at the time of Jesus were not monotheists, that is, only believed in the existence of one god, but were instead involved in monolatry, that is, the worship of one god. The distinction is important. In many places, the Bible tacitly acknowledges the existence of more than one deity, but does not sanction the worship of more than one god."

In Christianity

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians writes that "an idol has no real existence" and "there is no God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4). He argues "For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth" (1 Corinthians 8:5) "yet for us there is one God" (1 Corinthians 8:6). In his second letter to the Corinthians when he refers to "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), he is most likely referring to the devil, which as there is connection between the entity mentioned here and the "the mystery of iniquity" in 2 Thessalonians 2:7; and "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" in Ephesians 2:2, which are descriptions used for the devil, rather than acknowledging any separate deity apart from God. In addition, in Isaiah 44:6, God states "I am the first and the last, beside me there is no god".
As such, Christianity is normally classified as monotheism and mainstream Christian churches and denominations adhere to monotheistic doctrine as laid forth in numerous scriptural verses.


11. Mike Schroeder, author of 85 Pages In The Bible; Llumina Press 2005

Further reading

  • Robert Needham Cust (1895). Essay on the Common Features which Appear in All Forms of Religious Belief. Luzac & Co.

External links

monolatry in Danish: Monolatri
monolatry in German: Monolatrie
monolatry in Esperanto: Monolatrio
monolatry in French: Monolâtrie
monolatry in Dutch: Monolatrisme
monolatry in Japanese: 拝一神教
monolatry in Polish: Monolatria
monolatry in Portuguese: Monolatria
monolatry in Swedish: Monolatri
monolatry in Turkish: Monolatrizm
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