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Monolatrism or monolatry (Greek: μόνος (monos) = single, and λατρεία (latreia) = worship) is the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity.[1] The term was perhaps first used by Julius Wellhausen.[citation needed]

Monolatry is distinguished from monotheism, which asserts the existence of only one god, and henotheism, a religious system in which the believer worships one god alone without denying that others may worship different gods with equal validity.[2]


Main article: Atenism

The Egyptians had an aberrant period of some form of monotheism during the New Kingdom, in which the pharaoh Akhenaten abolished the official worship of other gods in favor of the sun-disk Aten. This is often seen as the first instance of true monotheism in history, although the details of Atenist theology are still unclear. The exclusion of all but one god was a radical departure from Egyptian tradition and some see Akhenaten as a practitioner of monolatry rather than monotheism, as he did not actively deny the existence of other gods; he simply refrained from worshipping any but the Aten. Under Akhenaten's successors, Egypt reverted to its traditional religion, and Akhenaten himself came to be reviled as a heretic.

In ancient Israel[edit]

Recognized scholars have formulated a substantial case for ancient Israel's practice of monolatry.[3]

Both Frank E. Eakin, Jr. and John J. Scullion believe Moses was a monolatrist rather than a monotheist,[4][5] and John Day suggests that angels are what became of the other gods once monotheism took over Israel.[6]

"In the ancient Near East the existence of divine beings was universally accepted without questions … The question was not whether there is only one elohim, but whether there is any elohim like Yahweh."[7]

This was recognised by Rashi in his commentary to Deuteronomy 6:4 that the declaration of Shema accepts belief in one god as being only a part of Jewish faith at the time of Moses, but would eventually be accepted by all humanity.[8]

Some scholars claim the Torah (Pentateuch) shows evidence of monolatrism in some passages. This argument is normally based on references to other gods, such as the "gods of the Egyptians" in the Book of Exodus (Exodus 12:12). The Egyptians are also attributed powers that suggest the existence of their gods; in Exodus 7:11-13, after Aaron transforms his staff into a snake, Pharaoh's magicians do likewise.

The Ten Commandments have been interpreted[9] as monolatry: Exodus 20:3 reads "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (emphasis added). Others[10] have noted that the addition of "before me" at the end of the commandment indicates that not only may other gods exist, but that they may be respected and worshiped so long as to a lesser extent.

In Christianity[edit]

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes that "we know that an idol is nothing" and "that there is none other God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). He argues in verse 5 that "for though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth", "but to us there is but one God". Paul carefully distinguishes between gods that have no authority or have a lesser authority, "as there be gods many, and lords many," and the one God who has universal authority, "one God, the Father, of whom are all things". Some translators of verse 5, put the words "gods" and "lords" in quotes to indicate that they are gods or lords only so-called.[11] Similarly in Deuteronomy it acknowledges the existence of many so-called "lords" and "gods", but affirms the superior authority of one God over all when it states, "for the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God" (Deuteronomy 10:17)

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), which is generally interpreted as referring to the devil or the material things put before God, such as money, rather than acknowledging any separate deity from God.[12] Furthermore, this idea of one supreme deity that reigns above all other so-called deities whether "in heaven or in earth" or in "this world" is shown in Isaiah 44:6 where God states of himself, "I am the first and the last, beside me there is no god".[13]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings belonging to one Godhead. "[A]ll three are united in their thoughts, actions, and purpose, with each having a fullness of knowledge, truth, and power."[14] Latter-day Saints further believe that prayer should be directed at God the Father only, in the name of Jesus Christ.[15]

Jeffrey R. Holland has stated: "We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance."[16]

Latter-day Saints interpret Jesus' prayer in John 17:11, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are," to refer to the characteristics, attributes and purpose that the Son shares with the Father, in hopes that people can some day share in those as well. In Mormonism, being one with God means gaining immortality, perfection, eternal life, and reaching the highest level in his kingdom. As D. Todd Christofferson states, "we may become one with God" as Jesus did.[17]

Joseph Smith taught that humans can become joint-heirs with Christ, and thereby inherit from God all that Christ inherits, if they are proven worthy by following the laws and ordinances of the gospel. This process of exaltation means that humans can literally become gods through the atonement; thus, "god" is a term for an inheritor of the highest kingdom of God.[18] This allows for the existence of many gods in the future, but only one as ruler over life in this universe.

To the extent that monolatry is considered not-monotheism, the classification of Mormonism as monolatrous is strongly disputed among Latter-day Saints. Bruce R. McConkie stated that "true saints are monotheists." [19]


  1. ^ Frank E. Eakin, Jr. The Religion and Culture of Israel (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1971), 70.
  2. ^ McConkie, Bruce R. (1979), Mormon Doctrine (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, p. 351 
  3. ^ Frank E. Eakin, Jr. The Religion and Culture of Israel (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1971), 70 and 263.
  4. ^ Frank E. Eakin, Jr. The Religion and Culture of Israel (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1971), 107 and 108.
  5. ^ John J. Scullion, "God (OT)," in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, six volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:1042.
  6. ^ John Day, "Canaan, Religion of," in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, six volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:835.
  7. ^ John L. McKenzie, "Aspects of Old Testament Thought" in Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1287, S.v. 77:17.
  8. ^ Scherman, p.443[full citation needed]
  9. ^ Raymond F. Collins, "Ten Commandments," in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, six volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:385.
  10. ^ Zvi D. Bar-Kochba, "Monolatrism or Monotheism in the Book of Exodus" (Chicago, 1996) p. 2
  11. ^ "1 Corinthians 8:5b, in the NKJV and several versions". Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Gill, John, John Gill's Exposition of the Bible, pp. 2 Corinthians 4:4 
  13. ^ Isaiah 44:6
  14. ^ Dahl, Paul E. (1992). "Godhead". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 552–553. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140. 
  15. ^ Blanch, Mae (1992). "Prayer". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 1117–1120. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140. 
  16. ^ Holland, Jeffrey R. (November 2007), "The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent", Ensign 
  17. ^ Christofferson, D. Todd (November 2002), "That They May Be One in Us", Ensign 
  18. ^ Widmer, Kurt (2000), Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1830-1915, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, p. 6, ISBN 978-0-7864-0776-7, OCLC 43615415 .
  19. ^ Bickmore, Barry R. (2003), "Of Simplicity, Oversimplification, and Monotheism", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 15 (1): 215–58 

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