Is there one God or many gods?

Question
Is there one God or many gods? 1 Cor. 8:5
Answer

1 Corinthians 8:5-6: For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" — yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

This answer will first emphasize the truth that there is one true God (1 Cor. 8:6) and then reveal that there are many other so-called other gods (1 Cor. 8:5).

One God — 1 Cor. 8:6

The Bible informs us that there is only one true living sovereign God in all existence (cf. Isa. 43:10; 44:6, 8; 1 Tim. 1:17). Christianity doesn’t teach polytheism (poly = many), but monotheism (mono = single or one). Deuteronomy 6:4 informs us that there is only one God — "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Moreover, James, the Lord's brother, says, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder." (Jas. 2:19). There is only one true and living God (cf. Deut. 4:35; Jer. 10:10; Isa. 45:5; Mal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

However, the Bible also embraces the doctrine we call the Trinity: one essence in three persons. Deuteronomy 6:4, in speaking about God, uses the word "one." The Hebrew word echad refers to “one,” not in the absolute sense but one in the collective sense, like one bunch of grapes. We see this plurality of persons in the Godhead as early as Genesis 1 when God said let us make man in our own image (Gen. 1:26; cf. Gen. 3:22; 11;7; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 1:20-21). Indeed, the Hebrew word used for God in Genesis 1:1 is Elohim. This is a form of the word El, and the im ending indicates a plurality, therefore Elohim is the plural form of El. So, from the very first verse of the Bible forward, we observe the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

In the ontological Trinity there is one God in three persons — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Son and the Spirit are equal to the Father in power, glory, and being (John 1:1; 1 Cor. 6:19, etc.). All three persons within the Godhead are equal in nature, essence, and their attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, holiness, etc.). Please see " What is the Trinity?" below.

So, there is one and only one God. However, while the one God is one essence, he is also three persons.

Many gods – 1 Cor. 8:5

There is but one true God; however, there are also other so-called gods. These other gods are all false. They are deceptive (cf. John 8:44). They embrace false teachings. They represent the antichrist — Satan himself (cf. 1 John 2:18-19; 4:3; 2 John1:7, etc.). As Paul writes, "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods" (Gal. 4:8; cf. Isa. 37:19; Jer. 2:11).

While there are numerous false gods listed in Scripture, there are also many pagan gods and idols which aren’t named (cf. Acts 17:18). In all, no list could ever be complete. Some, not desiring to miss any gods, even make idols to the “unknown god” (Acts 17:23).

Some theologians write that the ten Egyptian plagues were meant to demonstrate the one true God’s complete superiority (i.e. the number 10 represents completeness) over the Egyptian gods (cf. Jer. 46:25). The ten plagues are listed here in order along with those gods:

Egyptian god
Egyptian god’s Description
Plague
Biblical God’s Judgment
Text
Hapi god of the Nile, depicted as a water bearer
1
God turned the Nile into blood Exod. 7:14-24
Heket goddess of fertility, depicted with frog’s head
2
God sent a judgment of frogs Exod. 7:25-8:15
Geb god of the earth and over the dust of the earth
3
God smite the dust and it turned into lice Exod. 8:16-19
Khepri god of creation and had a head of a fly
4
God sent fly infestation Exod. 8:20-32
Hathor goddess of protection, depicted by cow’s head
5
God’s plague fell upon livestock Exod. 9:1-7
Isis goddess of medicine
6
God sent a plague of boils and sores Exod. 9:8-12
Nut goddess of the sky
7
God sent a plague of hail and fire from the sky Exod. 9:13-35
Seth god of darkness
8
God’s judgment that turned the earth black with locusts Exod. 10:1-20
Ra sun god
9
God sent three days of darkness upon Egypt Exod. 10:21-29
Pharaoh the greatest god, the "son" of Ra in the flesh
10
God judged the first born “sons” in Egypt Exod. 11:1-12:36

Because of their overthrow in Exodus 7:14-12:36, we can see that such worship of pagan gods is a suppression of the truth and is false and futile (Rom. 1:18-32). Of course, there are other false gods such as family idols (Teraphim), various sun and moon images, and some worship the stars, planets, trees, various animals. Certainly not to be forgotten are Satan, the Beasts, and the Antichrist as well.

Below is a partial list of other so-called false gods in the Bible. The object here is for a partial biblical list and some of the cultures that worshipped them. Note that Israel worshipped many of them. It’s important to understand that the spelling of some gods can vary so they may be listed more than once.

False gods
Text
Worshippers
Adrammelech 2 Kings 17:31 Sepharvites
Amon Jer. 46:25 Thebes in Egypt
Anammelech 2 Kings 17:31 Sepharvites
Asherah or Asherim Judg. 6:25-30 Canaanites
Ashima 2 Kings 17:30 Hamath in Syria
Ashtoreth or Ashtaroth 1 Kings 11:5, 33 Canaanites, Phoenicians, Syrians
Baal 2 Kings 10:18-28 Canaanites, Phoenicians, Syrians
Baal-berith Judg. 8:33; 9:4 Canaanites
Baal-Peor Num. 25:3, 5 Moabites
Baal-Zebub 2 Kings 1:2-6 god of Ekron, Philistines
Bel Isa. 46:1; Jer. 50:2 Assyrians, Babylonians
Castor and Pollux Acts 28:11 Greeks
Chemosh 1 Kings 11:7, 33 Moabites
Dagon 1 Sam. 5:2-7 Philistines
Diana or Artemis Acts 19:24-35 Greeks
Gad or Fortune Isa. 65:11 Babylonians
Golden Calf Exod. 32 Egyptians, Israel
Jupiter or Zeus Acts 14:12 Greeks
Kalwan or Kiyyun Amos 5:26 Babylonians
Meni or Destiny Isa. 65:11 Babylonians
Mercury or Hermes Acts 14:12 Greeks
Merodach or Marduk Jer. 50:2 Babylonians
Milcom 1 Kings 11:5, 33 Ammonites
Nebo Isa. 46:1 Babylonians
Nehushtan 2 Kings 18:4 Israel
Nergal 2 Kings 17:30 Babylonians
Nibhaz 2 Kings 17:31 Philistine Avvites
Nisroch 2 Kings 19:37; Isa. 37:38 Assyrians
Queen of Heaven or Ishtar Jer. 7:18; 44:17-25 Assyrians, Babylonians
Rimmon 2 Kings 5:18 Syrian
Sikkuth Amos 5:26 Babylonians
Succoth Benoth 2 Kings 17:30 Babylonians
Tammuz Ezek. 8:14 Babylonians
Tartuk 2 Kings 17:31 Philistine Avvites

Moreover, numerous false religions today use some of the remnants of these ancient false religions in their practices. For example, the Temple of Set, a form of Satanism, worships the false Egyptian god Set or Seth; Scientology is based in part upon Gnosticism. Even Hollywood films include pagan gods. The false god Ra is in the movies Stargate and the Children of Gods, and Baal appears in Stargate Continuum. The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well.

This said, anything may become an idol or false god, even another person, a career, home, car, boat, money, jewelry, clothing, politics, alcohol, drugs, sex, music, and television. So, false gods have an endless supply of names compared to the ONE true living God of the Bible, the great "I AM" (Exod. 3:14; cf. John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8). Why is this so? It’s because, as in the past, mankind fills its God-shaped void in countless ways, not understanding that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; cf. John 14:6). His name is Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).