What Does Idolatry Mean? A Biblical Definition of Idolatry

What Does Idolatry Mean? A Biblical Definition of Idolatry August 17, 2015

Have you read in the Bible about idolatry? What does idolatry mean and what is the biblical definition of idolatry?

Idolatry is…

I love one definition of idolatry as that which occurs when you look down at the fruit of your own labor, the statue that you carved yourself, and you worship it. It can also be described as a blind or excessive devotion to something that is not really god or a god but is something created by their own hands, as in a carved or chiseled image or one created in their own minds and a god of their own imagination. Idolatry is anything that is placed before or above the One, True God. Martin Luther is right; our hearts are idol factories, mine included.

Idolatry in the Old Testament

Isaiah wrote of the worthlessness of idols, writing “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame” (Isaiah 44:9) and God spoke through Ezekiel too that idolaters “shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry, and you shall know that I am the Lord God” (Ezk 23:49). God warned Israel just before they were to cross over into the Promised Land; “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female” (Duet 4:15-16) because this would take their eyes off of the One, True God for “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same’” (Duet 12:29-30).


The Mighty Have Fallen

King Saul was dedicated to the Lord God for much of his early reign of Israel but later he began to make unwise decisions and turned his heart away from God and by doing so, he was rejected as king as Samuel tells Saul, “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1st Sam 15:23). This also was the cause of the fall of Israel “because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced” (2nd Kings 17:7-8) since “They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city” (2nd Kings 17:9b). The “high places” were used to worship false gods or idols. God does not take this lightly at all, as you can tell from the history of Israel.

Idolatry in the New Testament

Idolatry is not just an Old Testament issue. It was alive and well during the early church in the first century but it is still alive today. Then, as now, we put things ahead of God Who deserves first place in our lives. Paul warned the church at Corinth, a city full of idols, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1st Cor 10:14). Some of the sins of the flesh include idolatry as well as “sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (Gal 5:22) so we must “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Here Paul defines what idolatry is; it is sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, passion, and evil desires. These are idols because they are deemed more important than God in a person’s life and self-gratification is the god of their lives (which is idolatry). Believers used to bear fruits of the flesh but Peter admonishes us that “in the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1st Pet 4:3).

Warning of Idolatry

Paul was faced with idolatry in almost every city he entered but warned them “that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph 5:5). Here again Paul reveals what idolatry is; sexually immorality and covetousness seem to be the main symptoms of an idolatrous heart and those who do such things clearly have no inheritance in the kingdom of God and so he tells the church at Corinth “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” (1st Cor 6:9). Before the Corinthians were saved Paul wrote that “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols” (1st Cor 12:2) but believers now are to put God above all things and people.


Today I still battle the idols created in my own heart; that of satisfying the self, of feeding my fleshly cravings, and putting my own interests and will above that of God. That is truly idolatry of the heart. Many create a god of their own minds and say “God will never condemn anyone because God is a God of love.” I tell them that they’re right…that their God wouldn’t ever condemn anyone over sin because that God doesn’t exist. Jesus says that we all must repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15) and that no one can enter the kingdom unless he has the imputed righteousness of Christ. I pray you already have that righteousness but how is this possible? It was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2nd Cor 5:21).

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.

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  • pud

    “gods” do not have a “will” “gods” do not need, want, crave, desire or suffer the failings of human emotion. You could not be omnipotent if you were lacking could you? This is further evidence that all “gods” are made in the image of man. Personification of invisible forces so that the universe becomes intelligible to simple minded people.

    I have to correct you once again…”jesus” never “said” anything…other men lost to history “said” he “said” this or that. Hearsay…made up lines…tall tales. The “church” spent several centuries concocting the narrative of your current day cult. They fought over the divinity, the trinity and everything else related to your superstition. They made the doctrine up! They wrote the script. There were no reporters in those days and not a single historian of the time supports the existence of your supernatural deity/human sacrifice.

    • Jack Wellman

      How do you know that gods do or don’t do or want or craze or don’t want or crave. I thought you didn’t “believe” in anything? Your argument is impotent. How am I to believe you? Do you even exist or are you a figment of my imagination? Maybe you’re “made up.”

      • pud

        If you “want” or “crave” then you are without something..you are missing something, lacking something….omnipotent beings by definition cannot be wanting or needing of anything. This should be self evident

        You can test to see if I exist. You can ask me a direct question and I’ll reply unlike your “jesus” who speaks in dreams and visions and voices inside your head

        • Facebook User

          All you have done in any of your posts is to post YOUR opinion while berating others for having opinions of their own. I reject your opinion and think you waste your time and a lot of other people’s time (who, like me, get sucked into responding to your gibberish). You offer no proof of anything while demanding proof from everyone. You’ve chosen your path, you seem resolute to stick to it. It seems like you spend an awful lot of time arguing against, what you claim, a non-argument. I’m praying you’ll wise up.

          • pud

            No I have not. I back up everything that I say…show otherwise. Prayer does nothing..sorry to burst that delusion for you. I can demonstrate reasons for everything I ever “claim” show otherwise.

          • Facebook User

            You just made my case: you claim to KNOW that prayer does nothing, when in fact you KNOW no such thing. Have a wonderful life…talking to you at this point is a waste of my time. The truth has been presented to you repeatedly and you repeatedly ignore and reject it. That’s your choice…you must live with. Still praying for you, though.

          • pud

            LOL Not one of you on this site has ever presented a single thing that could be considered evidence..not one, not once, not ever.

            I know prayer is meaningless babble inside your head because it has been studied many times. The largest study conducted by Harvard showed that not only does prayer not produce a thing but that people prayed over after cardiac surgery took LONGER to recover!

            You haven’t the foggiest clue what it means for something to be considered “true” The only thing you people do is regurgitate the same nonsensical babble and cult speak that only the most credulous of people could believe

            PS..snakes don’t talk

          • Facebook User


            Let’s see…a study on prayer. Hmmm…a study that attempts to force God to jump through hoops. Prayer is not a magic incantation that anyone, void of a relationship with Jesus, can say and expect God to act like a genie and grant whatever wish might be requested. He is not at our beck and call, He is God. WE answer to Him, HE doesn’t answer to us. Therefore; how would one expect that study of ‘prayer’ to turn out?

            As for the evidence you are constantly requesting. It is all around us: revealed in order, in morality, in the complexity of nature. Those who wish to disbelieve say that all that can be attributed to mindless, unintelligent sources. Okay, if that makes sense to you, then we have nothing else to discuss. We have no common ground on which to base a conversation. If that is so, I wish you the best and pray that one day you will drop the wall you’ve constructed in you life to keep God out (although He is sustaining your very life as I type this) and you will embrace the life for which you were created.

            Once again, the choice is yours.

          • pud

            You and other cult members make the “claim” that prayer works…Empirical tests have consistently shown that it does not.

            If you answer to him then why do you bother begging for stuff in prayer at all?

            Nature is not evidence for any god and certainly not for any specific god. Morality is subjective and decided upon by cultures.

            Which gods am I keeping out again? Wotan? Vishnu? Thor? Yahweh?

          • Facebook User

            Like I said, pud, the choice is yours. Remember that.

          • pud

            Thanks. I’ll keep reason,rationality and sanity…you can stay with willful ignorance, delusion and mental slavery. cheers!

          • SJ

            God Bless you, pud….are you having a hard day?

            Cast all your cares on Jesus!

            Through All Of It

            Psalm 41

          • pud

            Having a wonderful day thanks! Don’t think I’ll be begging invisible beings for favors today though. Might ask Poseidon to kick up a sea breeze seeing as it’s so hot out.

          • SJ

            Yeah, this world likes to tear us down….that is why we all need God so desperately to build us up and encourage us.

            Fortunately for us God loves everybody all the time.

            Have a good day….Going to an appointment now.

          • pud

            Which god? You’ve still failed miserably in providing evidence for any “god” let alone yours. Why are you still engaging me?

          • SJ

            I’m just saying have a happy day and God Bless! I’ll say a prayer for you..gotta go now…Have a blessed day!

            God’s Great Dance Floor

          • Jack Wellman

            You have failed totally to disprove by evidence that there is not God. Why do you still engage about something you don’t believe in?

          • Facebook User

            Cheers to you too, pud.

          • Don Herbert

            I will go ahead and believe in God and take my chances if I am wrong… you go a head and do the same. If I am wrong when I die, nothing will happen, but if I am right then I will live in paradise with Him for eternity… now for you, if you are right, nothing will happen when you die, but if you are wrong…

          • pud

            Wow..you people really are stupid!

            What if you “believe” in the wrong “god”? If Allah is the true “god” then you’ll have your skin burned off every day only to have it regrow the next to be burned off again.

            Is your “god” so stupid as to not see through your little ploy?

            Tell me stupid…what are you going to do in paradise for the 1st trillion years?

          • Jack Wellman

            Yes, Mr. Herbert, Pud will know Jesus does exist but after it’s too late. Praying she repents. He/she (who knows?) is afraid to show her real identity, so that’s why she remains anonymous. Sad for her/him.

          • PineCone

            Prayer has been helpful to me. And I used to be a man that held an opinion similar to pud. But I at least knew it was an opinion. It would be arrogant of me to say prayer does nothing for other people. But it did nothing for me. I think he should say “Prayer does nothing for me.”, but not try and tell others what he speculates happens for them.

  • Power On High

    Thank you Jack Wellman for pointing to Jesus.
    The perfect Lamb of God gets the last laugh.
    Stay strong in your place.
    I plead the precious blood of Jesus on you.