Polytheism by definition is the belief in and worship of many gods. The word “poly” means many, and “theism” means the belief in the existence of a divine god. Though more than half of the world’s population practices monotheism, most religions are actually polytheistic.
Polytheistic religions have different approaches to the structure. Hinduism, for example, has more than 300 million gods within its religion, and above them is a supreme creator. They believe there are many paths reaching their god.
In Greek religion, which is now widely considered mythology, the various Greek gods have reign over specific areas. One god, Zeus, proves to be more dominant while not having overall control.
There are many other types of polytheism that exist around the world, such as Greco-Roman, various European mythologies, the Egyptian Pantheon, and early Indo-Iranian religions. Typically the gods in polytheistic religions will take on particular functions, which is how they are distinguished. This was especially true for ancient Greece and Rome. In ancient Egypt, it was common for gods to take the form or characteristics of objects found in nature. This included trees, sacred herbs, and animals.
Polytheism in the ancient world was widespread. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans had highly developed belief systems that were dependent on multiple gods, and the gods in these religions were the cornerstones of their cultures. There are multiple instances in the Bible where polytheism is mentioned. In Genesis 31, it is described that Laban, Rachel and Leah’s father, was polytheistic and worshipped other gods. The Egyptians were known to worship thousands of gods, however only about 1,500 of them are named. Exodus talks about the gods the Egyptians chose to worship over the one, true God and the impending judgement on all gods.
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.” -Exodus 12:12
Polytheistic thinking is vastly different from other belief systems in the world. There is a high value placed on morality, and it varies for each individual and culture what those morals are. There is no absolute truth associated with polytheistic religions, and believers are able to worship the god of their choice, often in the way that choose. Since people in polytheistic faiths often have the freedom to behave however they want, there is generally a lack of purpose that follows these religions. This leaves them with no sense of eternal hope and no ultimate purpose on Earth. This is where the gospel and hope found in Jesus Christ comes in.
There is a lack of clarity in many polytheistic religions on how the believers can attain eternal life; many will work their entire lives without knowing whether they are saved. It is important to share with them that there is salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgement, but has passed out of death into life.” -John 5:24, NASB
God is the one true God and He says there are no gods formed before or after Him. In Exodus, the 10 commandments were given to Moses and the Israelites. An important commandment God included for the Israelites was not to worship other gods before Him in light of other religions worshipping false gods.
It is imperative that they understand the gospel and the gift of eternal life, that we do not have to do anything to earn salvation. Secondly, it is important to understand the ultimate purpose and calling we have from God.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
“‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.’” -Acts 26:16
The Lord has made our purpose as Christians very clear. He has a purpose and plan for each and every person on this Earth. This brings much hope to those that believe in polytheistic religions who believe that they have no purpose in this life. The truth of the gospel is life-changing and powerful. It has the power to change the hearts of all who believe in many gods that are not the one, true God. Let us share this news with great joy with friends who do not yet believe!