A key text for understanding idolatry in the New Testament is a passage in the book of Romans.

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.

Romans 1:25, NIV

Here we should notice that idolatry does not merely refer to the worship of idols and images in the sense of the giant bull statue in ‘Molech’ worship.

Idolatry takes something within God’s good creation and then elevates it above the boundary separating the Creator from creation. It promotes created things to the status of divinity. Jesus helped us to understand this when he made these comments about money:

No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 6:24, NIV

The New Testament presents a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of idolatry than the Old Testament. When we focus exclusively on the acquisition of money and take no notice of God and His kingdom we are guilty of idolatry. We replace God with something created. We would suggest that infamous celebrity Katie Price epitomises this kind of idolatry when she stated this in an interview:

No one can live without money. Money and religion are the big things, and that’s it, and I stay away from religion. We love to earn money, who doesn’t? It gets you things and it’s security.

In this confession of faith Katie is boldly declaring what she places her trust in!

Paul also attacks this specific idolatry in his letter to the Colossians.

Put to death the sinful earthly things… Don’t be greedy… for that is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5

It is also fascinating that Paul shows us how both pleasure (1 Timothy 5:6) and the stomach (Philippians 3:19) can also become idolatrous objects of worship.

Furthermore, as Paul Marshall has observed, idolatry is not simply one more sin, of which pride, envy, lust and so forth are other examples; in fact, “all sin is an expression of the basic sin of idolatry, of putting something else in the place of God”.

In the next posting I will connect idolatry to the contemporary world of ideologies. This will help us to understand idolatry in secularist, Christian and and Islamic mindsets.

Mark Roques
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Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.