"There are many Gods"
"There is one God"
1 Corinthians 8:5,6

by A.E. Knoch

ISN'T IT ASTONISHING how the Scriptures contradict themselves! Here, in the course of only two verses we have a flat contradiction, and this, as to one of the simplest, yet most vital of truths! It was pointed out that we also have been guilty of this same "boggling." In fact, on a page almost wholly devoted to the great truth that God alone is God and there is no other beside Him, we speak of "the god of this eon!" We are politely requested to make up our mind whether there is one God or more. But how can we when the Bible itself is on both sides of this question?

Luckily, however, we are just reading the proofs of the German keyword concordance, and, though we really cannot spare the time to write an article just now, it has the matter all worked out for us. Let us see what it gives as a definition of God. We quote "God (PLACER) corresponds to the Hebrew Elohim, literally the `Disposer,' God in reference to space and power, while Jehovah is God with reference to time. The One out of Whom, through Whom, and for Whom all is. His visible Image, Christ, is His revelation to the creation, through Whom He creates and carries out all. Figuratively, one who stands in God's stead or performs some of His functions, such as the judges in Israel, Satan as the object of worship in this eon, or Christ as His Image."

Figuratively--there's the rub! But the concordance goes further than this. It groups together all the occurrences in which another than the real God is mentioned. A translation follows: "God as the designation for those who stand in place of God: CHRIST: My Lord and My God (John 20: 28), blessed for the eons (Rom.9:5), Thy throne (Heb.1:8), this is the true (1 John 5:20). OTHERS: you are gods (John 10:34,35), make us (Acts 7:40), star of your god Raiphan (Acts 7:43), Herod's voice of a (Acts 12:22), (Lycaonian) descended to us (Acts 14:11), the unknown (Acts 17:23), made with hands (Acts 19:26), Paul is (Acts 28:6), those being termed gods . . . many gods and many lords (1 Cor.8:5,5), of this eon (2 Cor.4:4), by nature no (Gal.4:8), their bowels (Phil.3:19), man of lawlessness elevates self over (2 Thess.2:4)."

What a lot of gods there are! Let us make a list of the individuals who are thus designated. First, Christ, with every right to be so called, to the glory of the God Whom He represents. Then there is Paul, who would not allow it, at either the beginning or the end of his ministry. Herod is thus acclaimed. The man of lawlessness, at the end time, will take a place above the other gods. Perhaps the strangest is that of the believers over whom Paul lamented that they made a god out of their bowels. Besides these there are the judges in Israel, the unknown god at Athens, and the many gods of our text.

Is there any term too humiliating for the logic that tries to prove that every one of these must mean the Deity? For centuries theology has quoted a few passages from this list to prove that Christ was "very" God. But it is left to modern ratiocination to insist that, since there is only one God, therefore Paul and the god of this eon must be the Deity. Indeed, they do not say that Paul was. But some do say that God must be the god of this eon or else there would be more than one God!

Outside the Bible we are more sane. Whatever is worshiped by a people is its god, whether it be Thor or Zeus, or even the many millions of gods of India. Yet who would contradict any statement to this effect on the ground that there is only one God? The Scriptures as well as the common language of many peoples apply the term to one God in fact and to many gods in figure. But nowhere is this so clearly done as in the Word of God. Like most figures, it has led to untold misunderstanding, and still does. That is why we wish to clarify this, one of the simplest, yet one of the most notable figures in the whole range of revelation.

It is quite probable that the doctrine of the trinity is due to a misunderstanding of this everyday figure. An image is regularly called by the name of that which it represents. In Rome, standing before a large statue, a tourist asked the guide, "Who is that?" The reply was "That is Jupiter." Of course it wasn't, for it was made of marble, but no one was bright enough to object. Even a photograph is referred to in this way. "Who is that picture on the wall." "Why, that is David, my grandson." And yet he is many thousands of miles away. "Who is that on the postage stamp?" "That's Washington. "So, in our everyday speech we constantly speak of an image as if it were the person himself.

Like Thomas of old, we exclaim in adoration, when we think of Him Who was wounded for our sakes, "my Lord and my God!" We worship Him, just as if He were the Deity. His is the throne of God for the eons. We bless Him as God for the eons. But we do not deduce from this that He is the One Only Disposer, for He always insisted that That One was His God as well as ours. Nor do we seek to violate our sane sense by trying to make three one. Here Christianity has descended into the realms of insanity and has produced a monstrosity which has neither revelation nor reason to support it.

Ultimately all things are of God. Yet proximately many good things are through Christ, and many evil things are by way of the Adversary. When we insist that Christ is our Saviour we do not deny that salvation is sourced in God alone. When we declare that the Adversary (Hebrew, "Satan") will deceive the nations at the close of the thousand years, we do not doubt that he is simply a tool of the Deity. He is not allowed to deceive them during the thousand years, but he "does" deceive them now, throughout this eon. And he succeeds in getting the worship of this eon, as is clear at its close. Hence he may well be called the god of this eon. Through him God blinds the minds of unbelievers, lest the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ, Who is the Image of God, should irradiate them (2 Cor.4:4). Should not this short study in figures of speech unfold to us the vast value of such an investigation? Everywhere are inconsistencies, contradictions, contentions, and even the otherwise intelligent are snared by them. How easy is it for an unsympathetic critic to cast contempt and contumely on the head of one who uses figures of speech! He only needs to be in darkness himself and the words of the Bible will not escape the sting of his tongue. But we are not of this spirit. We are sure that the Scriptures are true, and no less certain that we are in error when we imagine that we see an inconsistency in the Sacred Text. Let God be true, and every man a liar!

To clear up the whole subject there is nothing we could write equal to Psalm 82. In it we have all the gods there are put into their proper places. The Deity is there, over all. Christ is there, subject to Him. The other gods are there and their place in this eon is made very clear. The main point we wish to press is this: God Himself calls them "gods." He Himself addresses our Lord as "God." The people of Lycaonia and of Melita called Paul a god, but we simply think they were mistaken, and there is nothing to it, however significant it may be. But not so here. God judges those who represent Him, Who take His place in relation to His creatures, and He calls them "gods." Therefore there are many gods. As this psalm throws so much light upon this theme, we give a tentative concordant rendering here:

A Psalm. Asaphic.

     God is stationed in the congregation of Deity.
     Among the gods is He judging.
     "Till when are you judging with iniquity,
     And lifting up the faces of the wicked?
          Judge the poor and the orphan!
          The humble and the destitute justify!
               Escape let the poor and needy!
               From the hand of the wicked rescue them!"
               (They know not
               And they are not understanding.
          In darkness are they walking.
          Slipping are all the foundations of the earth).
     "I say, `Gods are you, and sons of the Supreme are you all.
     Surely as Adam shall you die, and as one of the chiefs shall
               you fall.'"
"Rise, O God! Judge the earth,
For Thou shalt be allotted [i] all nations!"

Here we have the One God, His Image, and the many gods, all assembled together. First we have the Deity. He takes the gods to task for their misjudgment of the earth in this eon, and then passes His judgment upon them. Notwithstanding our firm belief in monotheism, this passage compels us to believe in a kind of polytheism as well in this eon. Now the faces of the wicked are lifted up. The poor and the humble are not "judged." It is clear that these gods do not understand, and are walking in darkness. These are the world mights of this darkness (Eph.6:12) with whom we come into conflict. But in the next eon they will be gone. Another God, our Lord Jesus Christ, will rise and judge the earth, and be allotted all the nations.

From all these facts it should be clear to us that both monotheism and polytheism are true, one as to fact, the other as to figure. There is only one God, the Supreme Deity, yet He Himself has installed others to exercise some of His functions in regard to His creatures. And He it is who calls these Gods, because of their playing that part in the drama of humanity. They exercise the power and receive the worship which is His due. All but One are failures. One is a success. The Adversary's messengers are in power now. Christ will be the God of the coming eons.

In His judgment of the gods the Deity charges them with sin, and judges them accordingly. It is our privilege to do the same. We charge the god of this eon with blinding the minds of unbelievers. In doing this we are merely following God's example and the plain sense of Paul's epistles. We are not unaware of the fact that the One Supreme God does this through these gods. We may be sure that God does not forget this when He judges them. We do not even forget this when we speak of the rule of Christ in the last eons. All is of God, yet He does it through His creatures, and He speaks of it as if they did it, and so must we, if we are to receive and believe His revelation, and be understood by His saints.

The figure lies in the use of the term "God." Like so many other figures, it may be classified as an omission. Instead of saying "Image of God," representatives of God," or something similar, the explanatory words are left out, just as we do so often when speaking of pictures or statues. The offices and functions of these "gods" is not "figurative" in the sense of unreal or fabulous. Their name is a figure, and it applies to them only when and inasmuch as they are found in the place of Deity. They are His tools, the hands, as it were, by means of which He works, or His perceptible expression, by which our senses can perceive what He is.

If we wish to be absolutely "logical," after we learn that all is of God, we should no longer speak of anyone doing anything. I am not writing this, is the only deduction possible in the sphere of "pure reason." Every statement in the Scriptures which attributes any action to a creature must be false according to such unreasonable reasoning. We wish once more to warn against reasoning. It is most illogical and inconsistent when used by mortals. And it is exceedingly mischievous when introduced into revelation. The basic fact that all is of God does not deny the further facts that He works through His creatures and that He attributes these acts to them and makes them answerable for them. Such a great revelation can be made the basis of insane reasoning as well as sound, and no one knows the boundary between these. The only safety is to abide by the words of God and believe, not reason. We plead with all who have learned the great truth of God's deity, not to segregate it and allow it to unbalance their minds, but to hold it in harmony with all of God's revelation.

Again, figures are not logical premises for reasoning. All we need to do is to treat the statement that Christ is God as a fact, and reason loses its balance. Either there must be more than one God or something no one can understand, like a "trinity." Monotheism is not possible. Reasoning has tried its best to deal with this problem and has utterly failed. But the moment we treat the matter sensibly, and refuse to reason from a premise which in reality does not exist (for these "gods" are not the Deity, but only like Him) the confusion created by illogical ratiocination vanishes.

We fear that the extreme deductions made by the friends of this great truth may do more harm than the opposition of its enemies. It will lead to the absurdity which may be expressed in the high-pointed language of the street: "Nobody don't do nothing," which, though it contains one vital truth, denies another. It is through His creatures that God is working and will work until they come to the realization of their own creature-hood and His supremacy. They must be made to fail so that they consciously repudiate themselves and realize that God is All.

I plead with my brethren, who have a glimpse of the deity of God, not to make deductions from it contrary to revelation. God, Who made all, also made the Scriptures, and He understands the subject well enough not to be mistaken about who the actor in any given situation is. Occasionally He tells us of His part. Now we know that these were not exceptions but examples. But He did not revise the record to conform. Joseph's brethren sold him. That is God's revelation to us, so that we may learn to love Him. That He did it Himself is another revelation which does not conflict with the former, but amplifies it. The whole story is an enigma, but becomes clear, not contradicted, when we know the real power behind it all. So with this figure. Christ is God in order to show us His beneficence. The other gods reveal to us His wisdom and power. They do not "prove" polytheism but the opposite. Christ is God. Another is the god of this eon. But they both do, or will, recognize the One and Only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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