Did Judaism and Christianity evolve into monotheism?

A view that I often hear taught or believed by some is that Monotheism was not the original viewpoint of Judaism. They contend that Judaism slowly moved away from polytheism into monotheism almost in an evolutionary movement of the religion.

Those who take this view bring up scriptures where other gods are mentioned in a way that seems to acknowledge that other gods actually do exist. One example they might use occurs in my favorite Bible story of all with Elijah.

Elijah is in a stand off with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, he tells the priests of Baal to set up a sacrifice and pray to Baal to burn it up. In this instance Elijah could be seen as acknowledging that other gods actually do exist because he tells them to ‘call out to their god’ or ‘call out to your god’. I am sure many adherents of  ‘evolutionary monotheism’ would see this as acknowledgement that multiple gods exist, but there is one huge problem to this. . . Baal never does anything.

Instead of Baal maybe burning part of the sacrifice and Yahweh burning up the whole sacrifice to show he is the supreme God, Baal does absolutely nothing. In fact Elijah the  mocks the priests saying ‘if Baal really is a god, maybe he is thinking, or busy, or traveling! Maybe he is sleeping so you will have to wake him!”. Clearly, though Elijah called Baal a ‘god’ he never really believed Baal even existed.

Furthermore, adherents to this evolutionary monotheism view have ignored passages that blatantly preach against it. For a Jew the most glaring example would be Deuteronomy 6:4 which is known as the Declaration of Judaism or the Shema says: “hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Other verses also make it abundantly clear in Isaiah 45:5 ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.’ or Isaiah 43:10 “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me”.

Clearly these verses teach that there is simply one, monotheistic God, and no others exists, nor will ever exist. Anyone who denies a strictly monotheistic view of God while accepting these verses must go through some theological gymnastics to come to such a conclusion.

Evolutionary monotheism ignores the obvious teachings of scripture as well as the clear history of Judaism as a whole. There has never been any other God and there will never be any other God but him.

5 thoughts on “Did Judaism and Christianity evolve into monotheism?

  1. Exodus 15:11; Psalm 86:8; Jeremiah 10:6… There are more.

    Jews were never polytheists, but they were certainly henotheists who eventually developed an understanding of God’s transcendence which would reduce other gods to non-gods (monotheism). And there is no reason to think that the gods of the Ancient Near East (or of other polytheistic peoples) weren’t demons… Augustine takes this position, if I remember correctly.

    • Henotheism is defined as ‘adherence to one particular God out of several, especially by a family, tribe or other group.’
      That makes henotheism a type of polytheism. So no, the Jews were not henotheists either. Under that view the Greeks and Romans were also henotheists because anyone who has studied the Romans or read the Iliad knows Romans didn’t worship all the Gods but were dedicated to one god among all of the Gods.

      • Here a 3 reasons it reconciles with scripture.

        1.. Even you agreed that the “Jews were never polytheists” so knowing that henotheism is a type of polytheism my view works with scripture. Essentially calling the Jews henotheists and not polytheists is like calling a something a square while also claiming it isn’t a rectangle.
        Augustine may have said that the idols were demons but that doesn’t mean he was calling the idols gods, that is a wholly different topic. I think the demons being the so-called gods makes sense, but the Bible acknowledging that others believed they were Gods is not the Bible saying that they were gods anymore than the Bible acknowledging that murder happened is an endorsement that murder is good.

        2. For the scriptures you listed: If you read the whole of Psalm 86 you see in verse 10 “you ALONE are God” [Emphasis added]. So clearly David didn’t mean to say other Gods existed in verse 8 he was writing poetry and it was metaphorical.
        In Exodus again you must think in context. Every plague that God made on the Egyptians was an attack on the so-called Gods of the Egyptians. Never once do we see one of those Gods fight back against Yahweh. If those other Gods existed why don’t we see them at least put up some sort of fight? Furthermore, what is Abraham saying in verse 11? He is proclaiming that there is no God like Yahweh. Saying he is then admitting the existence of other Gods in this verse is like saying I am admitting there are unicorns when I say there are no unicorns that have a pink horn, it doesn’t logically follow.
        In Jeremiah, once again in verse 10 we read “the Lord is the only true God”. Furthermore verses 12-16 emphasize the fact that mankind has made the idols and they are no gods at all, verse 14 “everyone is senseless and without knowledge every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. his images are fraud; they have no breath in them.

        3. The Bible clearly emphasizes monotheism throughout:
        “I am the first and the last apart from me there is not other God”- Isaiah 44:6
        “you are my witnesses is there any God besides me? No, There is no other rock, I know not one.” -Isaiah 44:8
        “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. – Deuteronomy 32:29
        Even in the ten commandments we see God say ‘you shall have no other Gods before me”. Which as stated above isn’t affirming the existence of other gods. Furthermore, the next command once again confirms that the ‘gods’ are not gods at all but images made by man that the Israelites are also commanded not to create.
        Reading out to the New Testament, James says “you believe that there is one God; you do well: even the demons believe and shudder!” (2:19) Here we can gleam a few things. 1) There is one God. 2) The demons are not gods since the demons believe there is one god. 3) since there is one God even if the Jews had believed back in the Old Testament in henotheism or polytheism (which they didn’t) they were wrong in that belief according to James.

        -BD

      • I think that is an oversimplification of what is occurring in the text, especially given the historical context of the ancient Near East and the development of the physical text itself (as distinct from the oral tradition which lies behind it). It seems much more parsimonious to say that there is a slow paradigm shift occurring in relation to the increase in understanding of the nature of God (YHWH) as transcendent, which also perhaps involves subtleties of language (some of which are lost in English). For instance, to treat something like a god in one sense makes it into a god – or else the Commandment does not make sense. There is more than one meaning or sense of the word, then.

        Peace…
        -CRM

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