Sunday Terminology: Polytheism


Polytheism: The English equivalent of the Greek word meaning πολυς and θεος is, many god(s).  This is the belief system that teaches there are more than one God. A plurality of distinct and separate deities or a pantheon of gods and goddesses exists. However, polytheists do not necessarily worship all deities equally, but they tend to particularize one god as a main god over many other gods and goddesses. In this sense, they can be more Henotheists, differentiating one deity as the main one for worshiping. “Polytheism is distinguished from theism, also called monotheism, on the basis of polytheism’s claim that divinity, while personal and distinguished from the universe, is many rather than one.”[1] It is also contrasted with pantheism, though these two doctrines are embraced side by side in the same religious traditions in the East. All other religious beliefs in the world are overwhelmingly polytheistic with the exception of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism in the East are characterized as polytheism.

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Footnotes:

[1] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical dictionary of theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984), 861. Print.

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2 thoughts on “Sunday Terminology: Polytheism”

  1. Your definition has some problems. Buddhism is atheistic. Not quite in the modern sense – it is agnostic to the existence of God but believes that if there is a God he is irrelevant to salvation.

    Hinduism covers a large spectrum of beliefs but neither of the two major groups Saivism (worship of God as Shiva) and Vaishavism (worship of God as Vishnu or an avatar of Vishnu) are polytheistic. Together these account for 95% of Hindus. Both of these branches are technically henotheistic, believing in one God and multiple divine beings.

    The confusion comes because many Western sources translate both Ishvara (God) and Deva (divine being) as “god”. Our belief is similar to the concept of one God, many angels, arch-angels, etc. They key difference is that we are commanded by God to worship the devas also. whereas in the Judao-Christian-Islamic tradition this is forbidden.

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  2. As per the definition of henotheism and its practice in the East, it is still polytheistic in nature since you’ll be worshiping not exclusively one god but one over many gods and goddesses besides devas.

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