Throughout the ages humanity has held, and is still holding, very different views about the nature and quantity of the Gods there are.
1. Pantheism: This is a belief that god and the material world are the same thing and that god is present in everything. Therefore, if a person looks at a tree he is actually seeing god. This is not the same as saying that every tree is a god. Rather, it says, that the whole, material universe is one god. From here, it is easy to see people taking a small step, shaping a tree into a human form, and worshipping it as god. This, than, has become idolatry.
2. Polytheism: This is a belief that there are numerous gods and that as many gods as one believes there are, that is how many gods a person should worship. The Eastern religions and the early Greeks followed this path.
3. Monotheism: This is a belief that there is only one God and that He is the one worthy of worship and praise by every person in the world. This is what the Christian Church, the Jewish religion and the Muslims believe. It is not surprising that they hold the same view concerning God because they base their theology on what they think they find in the Old Testament.
4. Monolatrism: The word Monolatrism contains two Greek words: monos, which means single and latreia, which means worship. (It simply means to worship one). This viewpoint recognizes the existence of a plurality of actual gods, but insists that there is only one God worthy of worship. Monolatry is not the same thing as henotheism.
5. Henotheism: Another viewpoint is that there are a number of Gods and that each one of them is worthy of worship. A person, or a community of people, must decide for themselves which God they will choose to worship. The Bible very clearly teaches this viewpoint. This teaching is shown in the Book of Joshua when Joshua said to the Israelites; Choose this day which God you will serve, but as for me and my family, we will serve Jehovah. Joshua 24:15
Wikipedia defines the difference between Monolatry and Henotheism like this: The primary difference between the two is that Monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are believed to exist, while Henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise.
Many Bible students believe that religion is always progressive. That is to say, that all religions at the beginning were pantheistic then they developed through the polytheistic phase, then the Henotheistic and finally into the Monotheistic, that is where the church of today is at. Should we view such progression as positive, especially since we know that it contradicts the teachings of the Old Testament?
I will have more in my next post about what the Old Testament says about the plurality of the gods.