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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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The worship of idols, or the act of ascribing to things and persons, properties which are peculiar to God alone. The principal sources of idolatry seem to be the extravagant veneration for creatures and beings from which benefits accrue to men. Dr. Jortin says, that idolatry had four privileges to boast of. The first was a venerable antiquity, more ancient than the Jewish religion; and idolaters might have said to the Israelites, Where was your religion before Moses and Abraham? Go, and enquire in Chaldes, and there you will find that your fathers served other gods.

2. It was wider spread than the Jewish religion. It was the religion of the greatest , the wisest, and the politest nations of the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Phoenicians, the parents of civil government, and of arts and sciences.

3. It was more adapted to the bent which men have towards visible and sensible objects. Men want gods who shall go before them, and be among them. God, who is every where in power, and no where in appearance, is hard to be conceived.

4. It favoured human passions: it required no morality: its religious ritual consisted of splendid ceremonies, revelling, dancing, nocturnal assemblies, impure and scandalous mysteries, debaucined priests, and gods, who were both slaves and patrons to all sorts of vices. "All the more remarkable false religions that have been or are in the world, recommend themselves by one or other of these four privileges and characters." The first objects of idolatrous worship are thought to have been the sun, moon, and stars. Others think that angels were first worshipped. Soon after the flood we find idolatry greatly prevailing in the world. Abraham's father's family served other gods beyond the river Euphrates; and Laban had idols which Rachel brought along with her. In process of time, noted patriots, or kings deceased, animals of various kinds, plants, stones, and, in fine, whatever people took a fancy to, they idolized.

The Egyptians, though high pretenders to wisdom, worshipped pied bulls, snipes, leeks, onions, &c. The Greeks had about 30, 000 gods. The Gomerians deified their ancient kings, nor were the Chaldeans, Romans, Chinese, &c. a whit less absurd. Some violated the most natural affections by murdering multitudes of their neighbours and children, under pretence of sacrificing them to their god. Some nations of Germany, Scandinavia, and Tartary, imagined that violent death in war, or by self-murder, was the proper method of access to the future enjoyment of their gods. In far later times, about 64, 080 persons were sacrificed at the dedication of one idolatrous temple in the space of four days in America. The Hebrews never had any idols of their own, but they adopted those of the nations around. The veneration which the Papists pay to the Virgin Mary, and other saints and angels, and to the bread in the sacrament, the cross, relics, and images, lays a foundation for the Protestants to charge them with idolatry, though they deny the charge.

It is evident that they worship them, and that they justify the worship, but deny the idolatry of it, by distinguishing subordinate from supreme worship: the one they call latria, the other dulia: but this distinction is thought by many of the Protestant to be vain, futile, and nugatory. Idolatry has been divided into metaphorical and proper. By metaphorical idolatry, is meant that inordinate love of riches, honours, and bodily pleasures, whereby the passions and appetites of men are made superior to the will of God; man, by so doing, making a god of himself and his sensual temper. Proper idolatry is giving the divine honour to another. The objects or idols of that honour which are given are either personal, 1:e. the idolatrous themselves, who become their own statues; or internal, as false ideas, which are set up in the fancy instead of God, such as fancying God to be a light, flame, matter, &c. only here, the scene being internal, the scandal of the sin is thereby abated; or external, as worshipping angels, the sun, stars, animals, &c. Tenison on Idolatry; A. Young on Idolatrous Corruptions; Ridgley's Body of Div. qu. 106. Fell's Idolatry of Greece and Rome; Stillingfleet's Idolatry of the Church of Rome; Jortin's Ser. vol. 6: ser. 18.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Idolatry'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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