Monotheism is defined by the Encyclopædia Britannica as belief in the existence of one god or in the oneness of God.[1] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church gives a more restricted definition: "belief in one personal and transcendent God", as opposed to polytheism and pantheism.[2] A distinction may be made between exclusive monotheism, and both inclusive monotheism and pluriform monotheism which, while recognising many distinct gods, postulate some underlying unity.[3] Monotheism characterizes the traditions of Atenism, the Bahá'í Faith, Cao Dai (Caodaiism), Cheondoism (Cheondogyo), Christianity, Deism, Eckankar, Islam, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo (Tenriism) and Zoroastrianism and elements of the belief are discernible in numerous other religions.[4]

Origin and development

The word monotheism is derived from the Greek μόνος (monos)[5] meaning "single" and θεός (theos)[6] meaning "god".[7] The English term was first used by Henry More (1614–1687).[8]

According to Christian tradition, monotheism was the original religion of humanity but was generally lost after the fall of man. This theory was largely abandoned in the 19th century in favour of an evolutionary progression from animism via polytheism to monotheism, but by 1974 this theory was less widely held.[2] Austrian anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt had postulated an Urmonotheismus, "original" or "primitive monotheism." in the 1910s.[9] It was objected that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam had grown up in opposition to polytheism as had Greek philosophical monotheism.[2] Furthermore, while belief in a "high god" is not universal, it is found in many parts of Africa and numerous other areas of the world.[10]

Two examples of monolatrism developing from polytheism are the Aten cult in the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, as well as the rise of Marduk from the tutelary of Babylon to the claim of universal supremacy.

In Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda appears as a supreme and transcendental deity. Depending on the date of Zoroaster (usually placed in the early Iron Age), this may be one of the earliest documented instances of the emergence of monism in an Indo-European religion.

In the cities of the Ancient Near East, each city had a local patron deity, such as Shamash at Larsa or Sin at Ur. The first claims of global supremacy of a specific god date to the Late Bronze Age, with Akhenaten's Great Hymn to the Aten (speculatively connected to Judaism by Sigmund Freud in his Moses and Monotheism). However the historicity of the Exodus is disputed. Furthermore it is not clear to what extent Akhenaten's Atenism was monotheistic rather than henotheistic with Akhenaten himself identified with the god Aten.

Currents of monism or monotheism emerge in Vedic India earlier, with e.g. the Nasadiya Sukta. In the Indo-Iranian tradition, the Rigveda exhibits notions of monism, in particular in the comparatively late tenth book, also dated to the early Iron Age, e.g. in the Nasadiya sukta.

Ethical monotheism and the associated concept of absolute good and evil emerge in Zoroastrianism and Judaism, later culminating in the doctrines of Christology in early Christianity and later (by the 7th century) in the tawhid in Islam. In Islamic theology, a person who spontaneously "discovers" monotheism is called a ḥanīf, the original ḥanīf being Abraham.

More detailed definitions

  • Deism posits the existence of a single creator god, who has little or no continued involvement with the world.[11] Samuel Clarke distinguished four types of deist: those who believed in a creator with no further interest in the world; those who also saw a certain providential ordering of the material universe but not in the moral and spiritual spheres; those who in addition, believed God had some moral attributes but did not believe in a future life; and those who, while rejecting revelation, accepted all the truths of Natural religion.[12]
  • The term Henotheism has two distinct uses. In the context of biblical studies it normally means the exclusive worship of a tribal-national deity which does not deny the reality of patron deities of other peoples, while elsewhere it often becomes a synonym for monolatry, that is belief in or the worship of one god without denying the existence of others.[13] Hinduism is sometimes overgeneralized to as henotheistic.[14]
  • Monism is the philosophical opinion that explains all that is in terms of a single reality and thus conflicts with any belief which distinguishes radically between different grades of being (e.g. Christianity).[15] The type of monotheism found in Hinduism, encompassing pantheism and panentheism is monistic.
  • Panentheism is a form of monistic monotheism which holds that the being of God includes and penetrates all the Universe but unlike pantheism (see below) the universe is not identical with God.[16]
  • Pantheism holds that the universe and God are identical.[17] Philosophically, it maintains that there is only one substance which is absolute, eternal and infinite so all things, including human beings, are not independent substances but only modes or manifestations of the Absolute.[18] The existence of a transcendent being extraneous to nature is denied.
  • Substance monotheism, found in some indigenous African religions, holds that the many gods are different forms of a single underlying substance.
  • Trinitarian monotheism is the Christian doctrine of belief in one God who is three distinct "persons": God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. When used in this context, the word "person" is a technical term and means "something very different from what it does in common speech".[19] In particular, the idea of self-consciousness found in contemporary usage was not at all prominent.[20]


Main article: Atenism

Amenhotep IV initially introduced Atenism in Year 5 of his reign (1348/1346 BCE), raising Aten to the status of Supreme God, after initially permitting the continued worship of the traditional gods.[21] To emphasise the change, Aten's name was written in the cartouche form normally reserved for Pharaohs, an innovation of Atenism. This religious reformation appears to coincide with the proclamation of a Sed festival, a sort of royal jubilee intended to reinforce the Pharaoh's divine powers of kingship. Traditionally held in the thirtieth year of the Pharaoh's reign, this possibly was a festival in honour of Amenhotep III, whom some Egyptologists think had a coregency with his son Amenhotep IV of two to twelve years.

Year 5 is believed to mark the beginning of Amenhotep IV's construction of a new capital, Akhetaten (Horizon of the Aten), at the site known today as Amarna. Evidence of this appears on three of the boundary stelae used to mark the boundaries of this new capital. At this time, Amenhotep IV officially changed his name to Akhenaten (Agreeable to Aten) as evidence of his new worship. The date given for the event has been estimated to fall around January 2 of that year. In Year 7 of his reign (1346/1344 BCE) the capital was moved from Thebes to Akhetaten (near modern Amarna), though construction of the city seems to have continued for two more years. In shifting his court from the traditional ceremonial centres Akhenaten was signalling a dramatic transformation in the focus of religious and political power.

The move separated the Pharaoh and his court from the influence of the priesthood and from the traditional centres of worship, but his decree had deeper religious significance too—taken in conjunction with his name change, it is possible that the move to Amarna was also meant as a signal of Akhenaten's symbolic death and rebirth. It may also have coincided with the death of his father and the end of the coregency. In addition to constructing a new capital in honor of Aten, Akhenaten also oversaw the construction of some of the most massive temple complexes in ancient Egypt, including one at Karnak and one at Thebes, close to the old temple of Amun.

In Year 9 (1344/1342 BCE), Akhenaten strengthened the Atenist regime, declaring the Aten to be not merely the supreme god, but the only god, a universal deity, and forbidding worship of all others, including the veneration of idols, even privately in people's homes—an arena the Egyptian state had previously not touched in religious terms. Aten was addressed by Akhenaten in prayers, such as the Great Hymn to the Aten: "O Sole God beside whom there is none". The Egyptian people were to worship Akhenaten; only Akhenaten and Nefertiti could worship Aten.[22]

Indigenous African religion

The Himba people of Namibia are monotheistic and worship the god Mukuru.[23]

The Igbo people are monotheistic[24] and worship the god Chukwu.

Indo-European religions

Proto-Indo-European religion

In the Proto-Indo-European religion, the supreme god is Dyeus, as the word "Dyeus" is literally used in many Indo-European language cognates to denote a supreme god.

In western Eurasia, the ancient traditions of the Slavic religion had elements of monotheism, of a supreme deity known by many names worshiped by some tribes. The most common name of the supreme deity is Perun and was identified with the Christian God after Christianization.

In speaking of Henotheism, Indo-European religions have had shifting tendencies regarding their supreme god. Consider the ruler of lightning: the supreme god Zeus, Perun, Jupiter controlled lightning himself; while in Norse mythology Odin delegated the power of lightning to his son Thor. In this vein, phenomena controlled by any single henotheistic god differ widely among various Indo-European religions.

Indo-Iranian religions


As an old religion, Hinduism inherits religious concepts spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism among others;[25][26][27][28] and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed.

Hindu views are broad and range from monism, through pantheism and panentheism (alternatively called monistic theism by some scholars) to monotheism and even atheism. Hinduism cannot be said to be purely polytheistic. Hindu religious leaders have repeatedly stressed that while God's forms are many and the ways to communicate with him are many, God is one. The puja of the murti is a way to communicate with the abstract one god (Brahman) which creates, sustains and dissolves creation.[29]

Rig Veda 1.164.46,

Indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamaghnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo gharutmān,
ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ
"They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garuda.
To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan."(trans. Griffith)

Traditions of Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Nimbarka Sampradaya and followers of Swaminarayan and Vallabha consider Krishna to be the source of all avatars,[30] and the source of Vishnu himself, or to be the same as Narayana. As such, he is therefore regarded as Svayam Bhagavan.[31][32][33]

When Krishna is recognized to be Svayam Bhagavan, it can be understood that this is the belief of Gaudiya Vaishnavism,[34] the Vallabha Sampradaya,[35] and the Nimbarka Sampradaya, where Krishna is accepted to be the source of all other avatars, and the source of Vishnu himself. This belief is drawn primarily "from the famous statement of the Bhagavatam"[36] (1.3.28).[37] A different viewpoint differing from this theological concept is the concept of Krishna as an avatar of Narayana or Vishnu. It should be however noted that although it is usual to speak of Vishnu as the source of the avataras, this is only one of the names of the God of Vaishnavism, who is also known as Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna and behind each of those names there is a divine figure with attributed supremacy in Vaishnavism.[38]

The Rig Veda discusses monotheistic thought, as do the Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda: "Devas are always looking to the supreme abode of Vishnu" (tad viṣṇoḥ paramaṁ padaṁ sadā paśyanti sṻrayaḥ Rig Veda 1.22.20)

"The One Truth, sages know by many names" (Rig Veda 1.164.46)[39]

"When at first the unborn sprung into being, He won His own dominion beyond which nothing higher has been in existence" (Atharva Veda 10.7.31)[40]

"There is none to compare with Him. There is no parallel to Him, whose glory, verily, is great." (Yajur Veda 32.3)[41]

The number of auspicious qualities of God are countless, with the following six qualities (bhaga) being the most important:

  • Jñāna (omniscience), defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously
  • Aishvarya (sovereignty, derived from the word Ishvara), which consists in unchallenged rule over all
  • Shakti (energy), or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible
  • Bala (strength), which is the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue
  • Vīrya (vigor), which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the supreme being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations
  • Tejas (splendor), which expresses His self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by His spiritual effulgence[42]

In the Shaivite tradition, the Shri Rudram (Sanskrit श्रि रुद्रम्), to which the Chamakam (चमकम्) is added by scriptural tradition, is a Hindu stotra dedicated to Rudra (an epithet of Shiva), taken from the Yajurveda (TS 4.5, 4.7).[43][44] Shri Rudram is also known as Sri Rudraprasna, Śatarudrīya, and Rudradhyaya. The text is important in Vedanta where Shiva is equated to the Universal supreme God. The hymn is an early example of enumerating the names of a deity,[45] a tradition developed extensively in the sahasranama literature of Hinduism.

The Nyaya school of Hinduism has made several arguments regarding a monotheistic view. The Naiyanikas have given an argument that such a god can only be one. In the Nyaya Kusumanjali, this is discussed against the proposition of the Mimamsa school that let us assume there were many demigods (devas) and sages (rishis) in the beginning, who wrote the Vedas and created the world. Nyaya says that:

[If they assume such] omniscient beings, those endowed with the various superhuman faculties of assuming infinitesimal size, and so on, and capable of creating everything, then we reply that the law of parsimony bids us assume only one such, namely Him, the adorable Lord. There can be no confidence in a non-eternal and non-omniscient being, and hence it follows that according to the system which rejects God, the tradition of the Veda is simultaneously overthrown; there is no other way open.

In other words, Nyaya says that the polytheist would have to give elaborate proofs for the existence and origin of his several celestial spirits, none of which would be logical, and that it is more logical to assume one eternal, omniscient god.


Main article: Sikhism

Sikhi is a monotheistic[46][47] and a revealed religion.[48] God in Sikhi is called Vāhigurū, and is shapeless, timeless, and sightless: niraṅkār, akaal, and alakh. God is present (sarav viāpak) in all of creation. God must be seen from "the inward eye", or the "heart". Sikhi devotees must meditate to progress towards enlightenment, as its rigorous application permits the existence of communication between God and human beings.[49]

Sikhism is a monotheistic faith[50][51] that arose in northern India during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sikhs believe in one, timeless, omnipresent, supreme creator. The opening verse of the Guru Granth Sahib, known as the Mul Mantra, signifies this:

Punjabi: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
Transliteration: ikk ōankār sat(i)-nām(u) karatā purakh(u) nirabha'u niravair(u) akāla mūrat(i) ajūnī saibhan(g) gur(a) prasād(i).
One Universal creator God, The supreme Unchangeable Truth, The Creator of the Universe, Beyond Fear, Beyond Hatred, Beyond Death, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent, by Guru's Grace.

The word "ੴ" ("Ik ōaṅkār") has two components. The first is ੧, the digit "1" in Gurmukhi signifying the singularity of the creator. Together the word means: "One Universal creator God".

It is often said that the 1430 pages of the Guru Granth Sahib are all expansions on the Mul Mantra. Although the Sikhs have many names for God, some derived from Islam and Hinduism, they all refer to the same Supreme Being.

The Sikh holy scriptures refer to the One God who pervades the whole of space and is the creator of all beings in the universe. The following quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib highlights this point:

"Chant, and meditate on the One God, who permeates and pervades the many beings of the whole Universe. God created it, and God spreads through it everywhere. Everywhere I look, I see God. The Perfect Lord is perfectly pervading and permeating the water, the land and the sky; there is no place without Him."
—Guru Granth Sahib, Page 782

However there is a strong case for arguing that the Guru Granth Sahib teaches monism due to its non-dualistic tendencies:

Punjabi: ਸਹਸ ਪਦ ਬਿਮਲ ਨਨ ਏਕ ਪਦ ਗੰਧ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਹਸ ਤਵ ਗੰਧ ਇਵ ਚਲਤ ਮੋਹੀ ॥੨॥

"You have thousands of Lotus Feet, and yet You do not have even one foot. You have no nose, but you have thousands of noses. This Play of Yours entrances me."
Guru Granth Sahib, Page 13

Sikhs believe that God has been given many names, but they all refer to the One God, VāhiGurū. Sikhs believe that members of other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity all worship the same God, and the names Allah, Rahim, Karim, Hari, Raam and Paarbrahm are frequently mentioned in the Sikh holy scriptures. Although there is no set reference to God in Sikhism, the most commonly used Sikh reference to God is Akal Purakh (which means "the true immortal") or Waheguru, the Primal Being.


Main article: Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism combines cosmogonic dualism and escathological monotheism which makes it unique among the religions of the world. Zoroastrianism proclaims an evolution through time from dualism to monotheism.[52]

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion[53] (although early Zoroastrianism is often regarded as dualistic, duotheistic, bitheistic) which was once one of the largest religions on Earth. Zoroastrianism is generally believed to have been founded around the 1st millennium BCE.[54] By some scholars, the Zoroastrians ("Parsis" or "Zartoshtis") are credited with being the first monotheists and having had significant influence in the formation of currently larger world religions. Figures put the number of adherents at up to 3.5 million,[55] ranging from regions in South Asia and spread across the globe.

European religions

Hellenistic religion

Main article: Hellenistic religion

"The One" (Τὸ Ἕν) is a concept that arises in Platonism, although the writings of Plato himself are polytheistic. The Euthyphro dilemma, for example, is formulated as "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"

The development of pure (philosophical) monotheism is a product of the Late Antiquity. During the 2nd to 3rd centuries, early Christianity was just one of several competing religious movements advocating monotheism.

A number of oracles of Apollo from Didyma and Clarus, the so-called "theological oracles", dated to the 2nd and 3rd century CE, proclaim that there is only one highest god, of whom the gods of polytheistic religions are mere manifestations or servants.[56] Similarly, the cult of Dionysus as practiced in Cyprus seems to have developed into strict monotheism by the 4th century; together with Mithraism and other sects the cult formed an instance of "pagan monotheism" in direct competition with Early Christianity during Late Antiquity.[57]

Aristotle's concept of the "Uncaused Cause"—never incorporated into the polytheistic ancient Greek religion—has been used by many exponents of Abrahamic religions to justify their arguments for the existence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God of the Abrahamic religions.

The Hypsistarians were a religious group who believed in a most high god, according to Greek documents. Later revisions of this Hellenic religion were adjusted towards Monotheism as it gained consideration among a wider populace. The worship of Zeus as the head-god signaled a trend in the direction of monotheism, with less honour paid to the fragmented powers of the lesser gods.

Abrahamic religions

Further information: Abrahamic religions

Abrahamic religions are Monotheistic faiths of Middle Eastern origin, emphasizing and tracing their origins to Abraham[58] or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with him.[59][60][61] As of the early twentieth century, the majority of the World's population (54% or 3.8 billion people) consider themself as monotheists and adherents of the Abrahamic religions.[62][63]

The major scriptures of monotheism in the World are the narratives of the New Testament, the Quran, and the Torah. These are the religious scriptures of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism respectively - the three largest Abrahamic religions. While adherents of Abrahamic religions consider themselves to be Monotheists, Judaism and Islam only recognize each other as being monotheistic. Since they share a common theology, their differences are in that Judaism sees Islam as a closely related Gentile monotheistic faith, and Islam sees Judaism as closely related, but incomplete religion due to the lack of recognition of Jesus as the messiah and the prophethood of Muhammad.[64]


The text of the Bible states that Judaism began with divine revelations from "God most high" to Abraham [Gen. 14-15] and to the Israelites at biblical Mount Sinai [Exodus 20]. The understanding of the transmitters of the biblical text was that the Bible uniformly presents one God as creator of the world and the only power controlling history. In their understanding, references to other "gods" are to non-existent entities or angelic servants of God, to whom humans mistakenly ascribe reality and power. e.g. Babylonian Talmud, Megilla 7b-17a.

God in religious Judaism today is strictly monotheistic.[65] This God of Israel is regarded as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is believed to be the ultimate cause of all existence. YHWH (Hebrew: יהוה‎) is the proper Name of God in Judaism. Another name of God is Elohim. God is an indivisible one God; as the Shema Yisrael states, its first, pivotal, words are:

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד - Sh'ma Yisra'el YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Eḥad - "Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone".

The Hebrew Bible commands the Israelites not to worship other gods, but only the God of Israel who brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 20:1-4; Deut. 5:6-7).

The concept of Yahweh enlarged through the exile of Babylon and Yahweh was responsible for what happened to Israel. All the events and enemies around Israel were instruments in the divine hand because Yahweh is the only God and no other gods existed.

One of the best-known statements of Rabbinical Judaism on monotheism occurs in Maimonides' 13 Principles of faith, Second Principle:

God, the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity. This is referred to in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4): "Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one."

The ancient roots of monotheistic Judaism lie in the Bronze Age polytheistic Ancient Semitic religions, specifically Canaanite religion, a syncretization with elements of Zoroastrianism and of the worship of Yahweh reflected in the early prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. Both archaeological evidence and the Biblical texts document tensions between groups comfortable with the worship of Yahweh alongside local deities such as Asherah and Baal and those insistent on the worship of Yahweh alone during the monarchal period.[66][67]

According to the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem was a Jebusite fortress, conquered by the Israelites and made into their capital around 1000 BCE (Edwin R. Thiele dates David's conquest of Jerusalem to 1003 BCE). As a result, the Jebusite cult exerted considerable influence on Israelite religion. The Jebusites observed an astral cult involving Shalem, an astral deity identified with the Evening star in Ugaritic mythology, besides Tzedek "righteousness" and El Elyon, the "most high God".

During the 8th century BCE, worship of Yahweh in Israel was in competition with many other cults, described by the Yahwist faction collectively as Baals. The oldest books of the Hebrew Bible, written in the 8th century BCE reflect this competition, as in the books of Hosea and Nahum, whose authors lament the "apostasy" of the people of Israel, threatening them with the wrath of God if they do not give up their polytheistic cults. Worship of a pantheon or a form of duality may have lasted up until the Babylonian captivity.[68]

The oldest writings of Judaism that survive directly date from the Hellenistic period. This includes Hebrew and Aramaic papyri with biblical fragments such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Greek documents such as the Septuagint. Scholars contend that the development of a strict monotheism was the result of cultural diffusion between Persians and Hebrews, or as a result of the contact of Israelite and Greek cultures.

As they traditionally profess a concept of monotheism with a singular person as God, Judaism[69] and Islam reject the Christian idea of monotheism. Judaism uses the term Shituf to refer to ways of worshiping God not believed to be monotheistic. Muslims deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus, considering it to be polytheism.[70]

The Shema

Main article: Shema

Judaism's earliest history, beliefs, laws, and practices are preserved and taught in the Torah (the first part of the Hebrew Bible), dating from around 600 BCE. It provides a clear textual source for the rise and development of what is named Judaism's ethical monotheism which means that:

(1) There is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity. (2) God's primary demand of people is that they act decently toward one another...The God of ethical monotheism is the God first revealed to the world according to the Jewish Bible. Through it, we can establish God's four primary characteristics:
  1. God is supernatural.
  2. God is personal.
  3. God is good.
  4. God is holy. the study of Hebrew history: Israel's monotheism was an ethical monotheism. Dennis Prager

When Moses returned with the Ten Commandments, the second of those stated that "you shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3), right after the first, which affirmed the existence of God. Furthermore, Israelites recite the Shema Yisrael ("Hear, O Israel") which partly says, "Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is one," meaning that Israel was to worship none of the gods of other peoples. Monotheism was and is the central tenet of the Israelite and the Jewish religion.

The Shema
Hebrew שמע ישראל יי אלהנו יי אחד
Common transliteration Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
English Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!

The literal word meanings are roughly as follows:

  • Shema — 'listen' or 'hear.' The word also implies comprehension.
  • Yisrael — 'Israel', in the sense of the people or congregation of Israel
  • Adonai — often translated as 'Lord', it is used in place of the Tetragrammaton
  • Eloheinu — 'our God', a plural noun (said to imply majesty rather than plural number) with a pronominal suffix ('our')
  • Echad — 'one'

In this case, Elohim is used in the plural as a form of respect and not polytheism.

Gen.1:26 And Elohim said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Elohim is morphologically plural in form in Hebrew, but generally takes singular agreement when it refers to the God of Israel (so the verb meaning "said" in this verse is vayyomer ויאמר with singular inflection, and not vayyomru ויאמרו with plural inflection), and yet in this case the "our" and "us" seems to create a presumption of plurality, though it may just be God talking to angels and not another god.

Judaism, however, insists that the "Lord is One," as in the Shema, and at least two interpretations exist to explain the Torah's use of the plural form. The first is that the plural form "Elohim" is analogous to the royal plural as used in English. The second is that, in order to set an example for human kings, Elohim consulted with his court (the angels, just created) before making a major decision (creating man). An alternative explanation by Mark S. Smith is that the notion of divinity underwent radical changes throughout the period of early Israelite identity. Smith has said that the ambiguity of the term Elohim is the result of such changes, cast in terms of "vertical translatability" by Smith (2008); i.e. the re-interpretation of the gods of the earliest recalled period as the national god of the monolatrism as it emerged in the 7th to 6th century BCE in the Kingdom of Judah and during the Babylonian captivity, and further in terms of monotheism by the emergence of Rabbinical Judaism in the 2nd century CE.[71]


Main article: God in Christianity

Early Christianity, originally one of many sects within Judaism, emerged as a distinctive faith around the beginning of the second century when some believe followers of Christ refused to join the Bar Kokhba revolt. Christianity's form of monotheism was distinctive from that of Judaism in that there was a concept that the Godhead was revealed to be three "persons" known today as the Holy Trinity.

From earlier than the times of the New Testament, such as 1 Corinthians 8:4 "... and that [there is] none other God but one.", and the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 45:5 "I [am] the LORD, and [there is] none else, [there is] no God beside me", reveal God as being 'one'.[73] A 2012 article in Free Inquiry magazine revealed how ancient Hebrews attempted to remove polytheistic notions from the original Hebrew scriptures, yet many remain in the Christian Bible.[74]

The Christian notion of a triune Godhead and the doctrine of a man-god Christ Jesus as God incarnate is rejected by adherents of Judaism and Islam. Modern Christians, though, believe their God is triune meaning that the three persons of the Trinity are in one union in which each person is also wholly God. Christians also do not believe that one of the three divine figures is God alone and the other two are not but that all three are mysteriously God and one. Thus all three are in union as one God of one essence, and different from many gods just as God may materialized himself in water, 'one in element' but may be ice, water, or gas without changing its element. This analogy itself however is not descriptive of the Holy Trinity but of Sabellianism which is one God with different modes or "masks." Other sects like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism do not share those views on the Trinity.

Historically, most Christian churches have taught that the nature of God is a mystery, in the original, technical meaning; something that must be revealed by special revelation rather than deduced through general revelation. Among early Christians there was considerable debate over the nature of Godhead, with some denying the incarnation but not the deity of Jesus (Docetism) and others later calling for an Arian conception of God. Despite at least one earlier local synod rejecting the claim of Arius, this Christological issue was to be one of the items addressed at the First Council of Nicaea.

However, some Christian faiths such as Mormonism argue that the Godhead is in fact three separate individuals which include; God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Ghost. Each individual having a distinct purpose in the grand existence of human kind. Furthermore, Mormons believe that before the "Council of Nicaea," the predominant belief among many early Christians was that the Godhead was three separate individuals. Mormons look to the New Testament for proof of this doctrinal belief such as in John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Later on Christ prays in John 17:21, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." Clarifying that Jesus Christ is not in God physically but that they are one in purpose; which purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Finally, in the last moments of Jesus Christ's mortal existence, Jesus prays to the Father, "Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?" This statement reflecting the supposed reality that Christ is a distinct separate individual who sought for help from His Father in Heaven in Christ greatest hour of need.

The First Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea (in present-day Turkey), convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325, was the first ecumenical[75] council of bishops of the Roman Empire, and most significantly resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent 'general (ecumenical) councils of bishops' (synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy— the intent being to define a common creed for the Church and address heretical ideas.

One purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements in Alexandria over the nature of Jesus in relationship to the Father; in particular, whether Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father or merely of similar substance. All but two bishops took the first position; while Arius' argument failed.

Christian orthodox traditions (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestants) follow this decision, which was reaffirmed in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople and reached its full development through the work of the Cappadocian Fathers. They consider God to be a triune entity, called the Trinity, comprising the three "persons" God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the three of this unity are described as being "of the same substance" (ὁμοούσιος). Christians overwhelmingly assert that monotheism is central to the Christian faith, as the Nicene Creed (and others), which gives the orthodox Christian definition of the Trinity, begins: "I believe in one God".

Deism is a philosophy of religion which arises in the Christian tradition during the Early Modern period. It postulates that there is a God who however does not intervene in human affairs.

Unitarianism is a Christological doctrine in contrast with Trinitarian Christianity, postulating that Jesus was completely human messiah.[76]


Main articles: God in Islam, Tawhid and Hanif

Islam emerged in the 7th century CE as a reaction to both Christianity and Judaism, with thematic elements similar to Gnosticism.[77][78][79][80][81][82][83][84] Islamic belief states that Muhammad did not bring a new religion from God, but is rather the same religion as practiced by Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and all the other prophets of God.[85] The assertion of Islam is that the message of God had been corrupted, distorted or lost over time and the Quran was sent to Muhammad in order to correct the lost message of the Torah, New Testament and prior scriptures from God.[86]

In Islam,

The Qur'an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being who is independent of the creation.[93] The Qur'an rejects binary modes of thinking such as the idea of a duality of God by arguing that both good and evil generate from God's creative act. God is a universal god rather than a local, tribal or parochial one; an absolute who integrates all affirmative values and brooks no evil.[94]

Tawhid constitutes the foremost article of the Muslim profession of faith, "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.[95] To attribute divinity to a created entity is the only unpardonable sin mentioned in the Qur'an.[94] The entirety of the Islamic teaching rests on the principle of tawhid.[96]

As they traditionally profess a concept of monotheism with a singular 5:77).


Main article: Sabians

According to the Qur'an, the Sabians were an Abrahamic religious group.[97] The Hadith accounts them as converts to Islam,[98] while their identity in later Islamic literature became a matter of discussion and investigation.

Bahá'í Faith

God in the Bahá'í Faith is too great for humans to fully comprehend and human primitive understanding of God is achieved through his revelations via his divine intermediary Manifestations.[99][100] In the Bahá'í faith, such Christian doctrines as the Trinity are seen as compromising the Bahá'í view that God is single and has no equal.[101] And the very existence of the Bahá'í Faith is a challenge to the Islamic doctrine of the finality of Muhammad's revelation.[102] God in the Bahá'í Faith communicates to humanity through divine intermediaries, known as Manifestations of God.[103] These Manifestations establish religion in the world.[100] It is through these divine intermediaries that humans can approach God, and through them God brings divine revelation and law.[104]

The Bahá'í view of God is monotheistic. God is the imperishable, uncreated being who is the source of all existence.[105] He is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty".[106][107] Although transcendent and inaccessible directly, his image is reflected in his creation. The purpose of creation is for the created to have the capacity to know and love its creator.[108] God communicates his will and purpose to humanity through intermediaries, known as Manifestations of God, who are the prophets and messengers that have founded religions from prehistoric times up to the present day.[103]

The Oneness of God is one of the core teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'ís believe that there is one supernatural being, God, who has created all existence. God is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty."[109]

God is taught to be a personal god, too great for humans to fully understand him. The obligatory prayers in the Bahá'í Faith involve explicit monotheistic testimony.[110][111]

Chinese view

Main articles: Shangdi, Tian and Mohism

The orthodox faith system held by most dynasties of China since at least the Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE) until the modern period centered on the worship of Shangdi (literally "Above Sovereign", generally translated as "God") or Heaven as an omnipotent force.[112] This faith system pre-dated the development of Confucianism and Taoism and the introduction of Buddhism and Christianity. It has features of monotheism in that Heaven is seen as an omnipotent entity, endowed with personality but no corporeal form. From the writings of Confucius in the Analects, we find that Confucius himself believed that Heaven cannot be deceived, Heaven guides people's lives and maintains a personal relationship with them, and that Heaven gives tasks for people to fulfill in order to teach them of virtues and morality.[112] However, this faith system was not truly monotheistic since other lesser gods and spirits, which varied with locality, were also worshiped along with Shangdi. Still, variants such as Mohism approached high monotheism, teaching that the function of lesser gods and ancestral spirits is merely to carry out the will of Shangdi, akin to angels in Western civilization. In Mozi's Will of Heaven (天志), he writes:

"I know Heaven loves men dearly not without reason. Heaven ordered the sun, the moon, and the stars to enlighten and guide them. Heaven ordained the four seasons, Spring, Autumn, Winter, and Summer, to regulate them. Heaven sent down snow, frost, rain, and dew to grow the five grains and flax and silk that so the people could use and enjoy them. Heaven established the hills and rivers, ravines and valleys, and arranged many things to minister to man's good or bring him evil. He appointed the dukes and lords to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked, and to gather metal and wood, birds and beasts, and to engage in cultivating the five grains and flax and silk to provide for the people's food and clothing. This has been so from antiquity to the present."


Will of Heaven, Chapter 27, Paragraph 6, ca. 5th Century BCE

Worship of Shangdi and Heaven in ancient China includes the erection of shrines, the last and greatest being the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the offering of prayers. The ruler of China in every Chinese dynasty would perform annual sacrificial rituals to Shangdi, usually by slaughtering a completely healthy bull as sacrifice. Although its popularity gradually diminished after the advent of Taoism and Buddhism, among other religions, its concepts remained in use throughout the pre-modern period and have been incorporated in later religions in China, including terminology used by early Christians in China. Despite the rising of non-theistic and pantheistic spirituality contributed by Taoism and Buddhism, Shangdi was still praised up until the end of the Qing Dynasty, surprisingly as the last ruler of Qing declared himself son of heaven, literally son of God.

Islam and Christianity became the forerunners of Monotheism in China there on. The 100-word eulogy written by the founder of the Ming dynasty states his comment on Islam.


Originally shamanistic practices that have over time may once have been monotheistic later once since deification of an Earth Mother to the Sky father as a Duality, also including ancestor worship and an addition for a "sun deity", polytheizing the religion and more deities were incorporated after-wards. Tengri may have been synonymous with Tian in Chinese traditions as well as a possible fore-runner to pre-Buddhist Tibetan Bön, also having their tradition root from Siberia, once sect ranging from monotheism, again branches off into animism, causing an ill-defined complex systematized religion. At its monotheistic state, it was the major religion among the Nomadic Empires of Eurasia. Until the rise of Christianity, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism, the religion largely ceased, especially Buddhism which the rejection of a creator god, Tengri has been heavily diminished or clove in such communities. It is relatively unsure what sect of Tengriism was practiced by the Nomadic Empires as some would worship a single sky god while others would worship partners with the god such as the additional deities. It has been noted that Atilla the Hun of the Hunnic Empire was a pagan according to Roman records, however it is also thought that monotheistic Tengriism was practiced by the Mongolian Empire before the advent of Buddhism which explicitly rejected a creator god.

In Sino-Tibetan and Turco-Mongol traditions, the Supreme God is commonly referred to as the ruler of Heaven, or the Sky Lord granted with omnipotent powers, but it has largely diminished in those regions due to ancestor worship, Taoism's pantheistic views and Buddhism's rejection of a creator God, although Mahayana Buddhism does seem to keep a sense of divinity. On some occasions in the mythology, the Sky Lord as identified as a male has been associated to mate with an Earth Mother, while some traditions kept the omnipotence of the Sky Lord unshared.

New religious movements

Various New religious movements, such as Cao Đài, Tenrikyo, Seicho no Ie, and Cheondoism, are monotheistic.

See also


  1. Ethnic Groups of South Asia and the Pacific: An Encyclopedia – Page 348, James B. Minahan – 2012
  2. Introduction To Sikhism – Page 15, Gobind Singh Mansukhani – 1993
  3. The Popular Encyclopedia of World Religions – Page 95, Richard Wolff – 2007
  4. Focus: Arrogance and Greed, America's Cancer – Page 102, Jim Gray – 2012
  5. monotheism 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 12 January 2012, from

Further reading

  • Dever, William G.; (2003). Who Were the Early Israelites?, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Google Print)
  • Kirsch, Jonathan. God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism. Penguin Books. 2005.
  • Leibowitz, Ilya. Eretz Acheret Magazine
  • Silberman, Neil A.; and colleagues, Simon and Schuster; (2001) The Bible Unearthed New York.
  • Whitelam, Keith; (1997). The Invention of Ancient Israel, Routledge, New York.

External links

  • "What is Monolatry?" (Contains useful comparisons with henoteism etc.)
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Christian Monotheism (biblical unitarians)
  • Deism
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.