Henotheism in the Old Testament? A Red Herring

It is sometimes said that the Old Testament, at least in its earlier texts, teaches not monotheism but henotheism.

The terms:

Monotheism = belief in one Omnipotent God, Creator of all things, himself uncreated.

Henotheism = belief in one particular god, provident over one’s nation or region, while accepting the existence of other gods or rivals. the one god and the others are called gods univocally (with the same meaning). Hence, there is no one omnipotent God.

By necessity, henotheism and monotheism are contradictory. For if there is an omnipotent God, the henotheists are wrong. If the henotheists are right, there is no omnipotent God.

Now, we believe the Old Testament to be the Word of God, inspired and inerrant. We also believe that monotheism is the truth. Hence, henotheism is false. Therefore, the bible cannot teach henotheism. This one knows before even reading. (Before anyone read anything? No. But because one is raised in the True Faith and allows this proper, inspired revelation to inform one’s reading.)

So, what does the text mean when it refers to “other gods”? Very simply, it uses the term “god” analogically. There are other powerful spirits, those in rebellion against God and which answer to human incantations (not out of subservience, but out of a desire to deceive, kill and destroy).

Now, can we hold that God gradually awakens his people to the full truth? Yes; in fact, we do. But this does not mean that he reveals falsities along the way, accommodating his truth to our deceptions. When he called Abraham, did he not ask Abraham to number all the stars? Hence, did he not imply his sovereignty? Does not his whole comportment towards Israel display sovereignty? Indeed, the gods of the heathen are as naught.

Hence, the so-called “henotheism” of the Old Testament is a red herring. If the bible teaches one God, whose sovereignty cannot be rivaled, who has no defect, then it teaches monotheism and rejects henotheism.

2 thoughts on “Henotheism in the Old Testament? A Red Herring

  1. Actually, if henotheism = “no one omnipotent God”, then one can in fact know that henotheism is false without recourse to revelation. Reason alone can know this. To deny this is heresy. Otherwise a good post.

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