In our Greek Speak Devotional series we will discuss some of our favorite passages in the Bible, focusing on the specific use of certain Greek words. Today, we are going to look at 1 John 5:21, and its usage of the word eidōlon, or idol.
“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
The following is an excerpt from the CSB Study Bible:
Greek pronunciation: AY doh lahn
CSB translation: idol
Uses in 1 John: 1
Uses in the NT: 11
Focus passage: 1 John 5:21
In the Greek OT, eidōlon (idol) refers to the physical representation of a god (Ex 20:4; Dt 5:8). By extension, it points not only to that physical representation, but to the supposed existing god behind that form. The worship of these idols was evidence of that fact (Ex 20:5; Nm 25:2; Dt 5:9) and some were even understood to have demonic powers (Dt 32:17). This usage provides the background for the NT use of eidōlon. Paul regards idols as false gods, powerless compared to the true God (1Th 1:9). He acknowledges the existence of demonic powers behind idols but understands them to have no real power over the Christian, who knows that idols are but false gods (1Co 8:4-7; 10:19-21). Christians are exhorted to abstain from association with idols and the false gods they represent (Ac 15:20; 1Jn 5:21), for there is only one God (1Co 8:4).
For modern day believers, I think this passage can read as sort of a given. We don’t have golden calves, or little statuettes, or giant statues, or whatever else you may envision when you think of an idol. And besides, we’ve all heard the sermons warning us to not make idols out of the things in our lives that don’t look like traditional idols—don’t make an idol out of your money, your job, television, sports, etc. But when reading this, it got me thinking about the idols that are potentially right in front of us that we don’t realize are our idols.
Here are a few things that Christians might treat as idols: their church building; their Bible; their politics; their theology, even. There are other examples, I’m sure. All of these things are good, and should mean a lot to us as followers of Jesus. But perhaps we have made them idols.
Do we care more for the church building than the church and the congregation? Do we care more about how our Bible looks than what it actually has to say? Do we care more about political ideas than the people they impact? Do we care more for our theology checking certain boxes than practicing that theology?
Is it possible that we have begun to worship these symbols of love more than the love they are symbolic of?
These are hard questions to ask oneself, but it’s possible that the things we hold up as good—as representative of being a good Christian—are actually idols in our lives that prevent us and others from experiencing the Lord.