What is idolatry?

What Does Idolatry Mean

We explain what idolatry is inside and outside of the religious context. Also, why is it considered a serious sin according to the Bible.

The Israelites committed idolatry when Moses was absent from Mount Sinai.

What is idolatry?

By the term idolatry (from the Greek eidolon , "image" or "figure", and latris , "devotee") is understood, in general, an excessive devotion to something or someone , which can be exaggerated.


However, this term is used mostly in a religious context , especially by the doctrines of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions : Judaism, Christianity and Islam , to refer to the sin of worshiping images in the place of God.

In other words, idolatry occurs when anything other than the one God of monotheism is worshiped . Thus, for the practitioners of this type of religion, any pagan religious cult , any form of Satanism or ancestor worship, for example, incurs this type of sin. However, what does or does not qualify as idolatry can be a source of discrepancies and even debate between one religion and another.

In fact, the interpretation of idolatry has been a reason for separation between several of the sects of Christianity, since some accuse Catholicism of incurring this sin by venerating saints through statuettes and images in churches. That is why in many Protestant churches Jesus Christ is not represented on the cross, nor are any type of saints worshiped.

Similarly, in the Old Testament and Jewish Torah, idolatry, along with murder and incest , is considered among the sins that should not be committed even to save one's life . For example, the rabbis of ancient Israel had to prohibit and persecute the worship of deities such as Baal, Moloch, and Ashtarot among their followers.

In fact, a canonical example of idolatry is referred to in the Bible, in the episode in which Moses ascends Mount Sinai (Exodus 32: 4) to receive the Ten Commandments of God. During his absence, the Israelite people melted all the gold they could get to erect the statue of a calf, which they proceeded to worship as if it were God himself.

Upon descending from Sinai, the prophet Moses enraged and proceeded to destroy the effigy to dust, and forced the Israelites to drink the calf's gold dust in water as punishment.

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