Biblical Principle #92: Idols Sometimes Called Gods

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Idols are sometimes referred to as gods.


By the time Jacob was returning to Canaan on his way to meet Esau, the Bible records its first reference to idols.

22 Then Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. 23 So he took all his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey; and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead. 24 But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak evil things to Jacob at any time.” 25 So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and robbed me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? 27 Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? 28 And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing. 29 It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you do not speak evil things to Jacob at any time.’ 30 Now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”

31 Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters and all my possessions from me by force.’ 32 With whomever you find your gods, let him not live in the presence of our brethren. Identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know Rachel had stolen them. 33 Thus Laban went in and searched Leah’s tent, but found nothing. Then he searched Jacob’s and those of the handmaidens, but found nothing. Then he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. 35 Then she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” So he searched the entire tent but did not find the idols.

Genesis 31:22-35 OSB

In verse 30 of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the Greek word θεός is used, which means “god, gods.”

But in verse 34, the word translated “idols” is εἴδωλον, which means “an image (for worship), by implication a false god.”

Both verse 30 and 34 refer to the same thing. Thus, we can clearly see that, from the first mention of “idols” in Scripture, they are representations or images of the gods. Therefore, when we read references to idols, sometimes the word “gods” may be used. However, as we have seen, not all references to “gods” mean idols (i.e., non-living mere representations), but there were living beings called gods.

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