I continue my series on establishing a basis for original monotheism now by expanding on why it is important to study and examine what original monotheism means for a believer.
I’ve written already on the remnantal revelation present in Incan theology, and I’ve written on how we’ve lost sight of the original monotheism of humanity (despite the best evidence), but I haven’t yet explained why it would be important for us to acknowledge what original monotheism means for the believer.
First of all, original monotheism is a part of the biblical narrative. Beginning with Adam, Yahweh revealed himself especially as Creator of everything that existed (the three-tiered universe, all types of Eucharistic and regular plants, land, sea, air creatures, etc.). This special revelation prompted humanity’s progenitor to worship Yahweh alone (despite knowing about the council of angels who sat around him). When Yahweh created Eve out of the side of Adam, the couple together participated in the first Liturgy praising Yahweh Elohim. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he teased them the possibility that them eating the fruit would make them like those who sat upon the council. He didn’t tempt them to polytheism, yet.
Seth’s line called upon the name of Yahweh, but eventually they intermingled with the Cainites (with the help of demonic forces) and turned against God. Though Enoch stood against them as a prophet, he could not stop them. God had to cut off humanity from the face of the earth in order to stop this union. After Noah’s family began to grow, they formed another false union to try and achieve the status of the divine council in the Tower of Babel. At the Tower, God confused the “lip” of the peoples and separated them into the seventy nations of Genesis 10. James B. Jordan points out that “lip” refers to a religious oath or covenant, so God created multiple forms of religious beliefs. These beliefs were probably the source of the remnantal revelation still present in many “primitive religions”. These religions might have worshiped one of the angelic council appointed over their nation.
As Israel began to mix with Canaan, they became either henotheistic or straight out polytheistic. Henotheism is the worship of many gods, but with a theology that allows for the worship of one god as supreme. Some forms of Hinduism might be henotheistic (strands that either worship Vashti as Supreme), while the Greek Pantheon could have also been henotheistic for some (the ultimate exaltation of Zeus). Polytheism is the worship of many gods, mostly as equals. Some Israelite people might have become henotheistic by worshiping some Canaanite gods along with Yahweh (eg, Hosea) while some could have been polytheistic by adding Ashenath as Yahweh’s consort.
I’m not sure when pantheism entered the religious world. I would imagine that unitarian gods, or specific gods such as storm gods, might have been early inventions that turned into something close to what we would describe as pantheism.
Regardless, biblical history traces the evolution of religion from monotheism to polytheism and henotheism to, ultimately, monotheism again (and not secularism).
Secondly, original monotheism helps us correctly understand passages of the Scriptures. We might say that some Psalms were influenced by Baal worship (Psalm 29). Scholars think that the overlap between Psalm 29 and imagery related to Baal as a storm god are too closely linked to be coincidental. I agree. But not for the reasons that they postulate. Rather, I think that the imagery for Baal was drawn from imagery used to describe Yahweh. Psalm 29 could have been the product of Israelite worship when they first encountered Baal worship: “Do not worship Baal as storm god: worship the one who controls and created the storms!” the psalm seems to declare.
Original monotheism gives us the correct perspective on the order of religious descriptions. If Yahweh was first, and there was a time that all of humanity knew Yahweh, then we can easily say that other gods were described in ways that only truly befitted Yahweh.
Thirdly, and lastly for this post, it creates a drive for mission. You might say that original monotheism is a religious studies concept, but it is foundationally a missiological movement. Like the Incan people I’ve described, and many other people groups that I will describe, many people know of the High God. Many know that they are separated from the High God and are desperate to find out how they might return to the High God. Christian missionaries can learn from these stories and reach out to the people groups in such a way that they could find thousands of people with hungry hearts for the gospel!
For example, the Burmese people knew of the High God and they knew that their ancestors had left him for demon worship. They didn’t know how they could return. Thankfully, the High God spoke and said: “I am sending a messenger to you with a book. Listen to him!” The people desperately waited for the day a prophet would come. When he did, he found a rapt audience. More than that, by listening to their stories, he heard how they related to God and found that it was not too dissimilar to parts of the biblical narrative.
By studying how remnantal revelation works, by studying biblical theology, and by understanding anthropology, we might find new avenues by which we can spread God’s kingdom and make his glory known to the world.