How Many Gods?
“Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”
So reads a billboard along Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, erected by PhillyCOR (the Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason). The coalition defines itself as a group of free thinkers, atheists, humanists, and secularists out to improve “the image of people who do not believe in God.”1
Atheism, of course, is the belief in no god. The opposite end of religious thought is polytheism: the belief in many gods. Hinduism, for example, is polytheistic. In fact, an organization called the Association of Polytheist Traditions offers a full explanation on its Web site (www.manygods.org.uk) of what it means to be a polytheist. It candidly states, “Most of us practise [sic] Reconstructed European Pagan Religions. But we welcome all polytheists, including those who adhere to ‘world religions’ and those who simply have personal relationships with individual gods.”
Between these extremes stands monotheism: the belief in one God. According to the Bible, that one God is Jehovah (YHVH). And it is He who created the earth and He who will come to judge it (1 Chr. 16:33; Ps. 96:13; 98:9).
Islam is monotheistic. However, its god is Allah. Most of what we know about Allah is contained in the Qur’an, the highest source of information in Islam. Wrote expert Robert Morey: “The Qur’an’s concept of deity evolved out of the pre-Islamic pagan religion of Allah-worship. It is so uniquely Arab that it cannot be simply reduced to Jewish or Christian beliefs.”2 Thus the notion that the god of Islam is the same as the God of the Jews and Christians is false because Islam rejects the Bible as its sole source of information.3
Practicing Jews and biblical Christians look to the Hebrew Scriptures to support their belief in one God. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God.” He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The psalmist, desiring clarity on the topic of the existence of God, declared that the one who says there is no God is a fool (Ps. 14:1).
Nevertheless, a fork in the road emerges between Judaism and Christianity at the interpretation of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lᴏʀᴅ our God, the Lᴏʀᴅ is one!” (Dt. 6:4). The Shema is Judaism’s declaration of faith, the line in the sand concerning its view of monotheism: God is absolutely singular.
One God or Three?
Biblical Christianity is unique in its view of monotheism. It sees God as a plural unity with three distinct persons. Although a complex doctrine to understand, its origins come from the very words of the Hebrew Scriptures.
For example, the word elohim in Genesis 1:1 is plural. And when God created man, He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Even the Shema affirms this concept by using the word echad for “one.” Echad denotes a plurality within a unity.
Proverbs 30:4 refers to God’s Son: “Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”
Isaiah records God saying, “Now the Lord Gᴏᴅ and His Spirit have sent Me” (48:16). God speaks, saying both He and the Spirit were sent by God.
The Jewish writers of the New Testament, familiar with their own Hebrew Scriptures, confirmed and clarified the biblical teaching of a triune God. And in His final words before departing the earth, Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples and baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).
How many gods? There is only one God. It is He who said, “I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God….You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:2–3).
- John Anastasi, “A place where those that don’t believe in God can meet,” Bucks County Courier Times, June 19, 2008 <phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/111-06192008-1551452.html>.
- Robert Morey, The Islamic Invasion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992), 53. 3 Ibid., 57–65.