On the cusp of Canaan, Moses reminds the Israelites that they “know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other” (Deut 4:35). Yet just a few verses beforehand, Moses asks, “Which other nation is so great as to have its gods (אלהים; elohim) so close to it, as the Lord our God is whenever we call upon him?” (4:7). This question not only seems to affirm the existence of other national deities besides Israel’s God, but it also aligns with many other biblical texts that reflect a multiplicity of gods [for specific verses, click on each of the blue links]. But if these other gods exist, how can it also be true that besides the Lord “there is no other”? The answer lies in the precise meaning of the Hebrew phrase אין עוד (ein ‘od): “There is no other.” Rather than meaning “there is no other in existence,” the Hebrew means that “there is no other as great.”

Isaiah reuses Deuteronomy’s dictum several times. For instance, God declares through the prophet, “I am the Lord, and there is no other (אין עוד; ein ‘od)…. There is none besides me (אפס בלעדי; ephes biladi). I am (אני; ani) the Lord, and there is no other (אין עוד)” (Isa 45:5-6; cf. 45:14, 21; cf. Mk 12:32). At first glance, such declarations appear to assert that no other gods exist except for the one God of Israel. However, Isaiah’s language does not preclude others’ existence; rather, it highlights one’s superiority over other contenders. Speaking of Babylon, Isaiah states, “You said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and knowledge led you astray; you said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no other (אני ואפסי עוד; ani v’aphsi ‘od)” (47:10). Isaiah is not suggesting that Babylon was the only nation in existence, but rather that Babylon thought of itself as superior to the other nations. Similarly, when Isaiah uses the same terminology of God, the text exalts the Lord above all other gods.

Zephaniah echoes Isaiah with reference to Nineveh: “This is the exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no other’ (אני ואפסי עוד; ani v’aphsi ‘od)” (Zeph 2:15a). The prophet does not mean that no other cities exist apart from Nineveh, but rather that the Ninevites saw themselves as superior to all others. Indeed, the latter half of this same verse confirms that other people exist apart from the Ninevites: “What a desolation [Nineveh] has become, a den for wild beasts. Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes their fists” (2:15b). Zephaniah explicates that other cities exist apart from Nineveh, and that the inhabitants of those cities will mock the Assyrian capital after its demise.

Therefore, in the original Hebrew context, “there is no other” does not mean that nothing else exists; instead, the phrase denotes the superiority of one entity over the others. More simply, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity. When Moses or Isaiah or Zephaniah assert of their God that “there is no other,” they underscore the fact that the God of Israel is the best of all gods and the only one worthy of worship.

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86 COMMENTS

  1. Gal 4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. Prior to conversion the Galatians, in their ignorance of the one true God, were in bondage to false gods/devils (not deities) such as Zeus and Hermes (cf. Acts 14:11-13).
    • Perhaps, but Galatians is not the topic of the above article. I can write a future post on Gal 4:8. In the meantime, attending to Isa 47:10 and Zeph 2:15 could be theologically constructive.

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    • I think Gal 4:8 may be referring to imaginary gods. I do not know. But Paul admitted that there are other spiritual beings that exist (1 Cor 8:5-6). When Paul talked about demons, he was not referring to them as "devils" but as spiritual beings according to Deut 32:17.
    • When God assigned other spiritual beings (sons of God) to other nations, He assigned them to be caretakers, but not to be worshiped as "creators", and to lead people to the one true God. But these beings became corrupt and were condemned by God (Psalm 82).
    • If this is the first time you have encountered many contradicting verses of the Bible, you can look into the video called "the gods of the Bible" by the Naked Bible Podcast. Once you have seen this, please be free to share the video and others with everyone.
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  2. As for "“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD?” (NASB, Ex. 15:11)", a Hebrew just leaving the land in which polytheism attained its highest development, the 'gods' of the Egyptians are evil angels represented by gigantic statues + temples of incomparable grandeur = objects of the Egyptians' idolatry.
    • Could be the case for Exod 15:11, though the above article doesn't mention the verse. Please try to limit comments to text(s) addressed in the articles. More, these discussion boards are not forums for readers to write lengthy treatises -- hence the purposeful word limits. If you wish to have a fuller dialogue, please feel free to email me (contact info is on the IBC website). However, please discontinue appending "cont..." to several successive comments; our tech team will delete them so that our site does not get slowed down.

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    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
    • See my comment above. If all commenters posted 20 successive comments each time they posted, our site would cease to run with any level of rapidity. Thanks for your understanding.

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  3. I am wondering if the whole statement really means: "There are no other gods except those that are created by man?" That really seems more logical and in context with the Bible has been telling us all along.
    • Thanks for your comment, Steve. Isaiah certainly has negative things to say about idols of other gods being created by people, and the prophet mocks idol makers in light of God's transcendence. At the same time, the "lesser gods" in the divine entourage exist before humanity is created (cf. Gen 1:26; Job 38:7); according to biblical theology, a multiplicity of deities exists apart from the human proclivity to create objects of worship.
  4. Thank you so much for posting this. This question is something I have been grappling with. Whether the gods were demonic manifestations or not it seems to me that the Hebrews had the mindset of the ANE that other gods existed but Yahweh was greater.
    • I'm glad you found the article helpful, Andre. I affirm your assessment of Hebrew theology in the context of other ANE theology. It's something called "henotheism" -- the belief that many gods exist, but that (in the case of the Israelites) the God of Israel is greater than all others.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  5. Most Americans would not agree with you as they do not comprehend/recognize a spiritual dimension and that is why the churches are as defeated as they are because they do not know how to use the weapons of spiritual warfare that God has given them. Ephesians 6:12 should be memorized by all believers so they comprehend where everyday struggles originate. Good teaching my brother
    • Thanks for reading, Jay. Certainly, the notions of spiritual warfare and a diversity of actors in the heavenly realm are prominent throughout Ephesians. I also agree that, for a variety of reasons, modern western teaching has downplayed these dynamics.
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  6. The Apostle Paul uses the same approach when dealing with Athenians who had many Gods including one unknown one to them.
  7. Lazzaro. Perhaps you should reconsider your thinking on these issues, not just go with the standard fundamentalist position re demons and angels. Look up the idea of the Divine Council, Michael S. Heiser is a good starting point.
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