The Gods of The Gentiles

John David Clark, Sr. - February, 1997

"The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice unto devils, and not to God." 1 Corinthians 10:20

Classical history plays a major part in our homeschooling efforts. The geography of Europe north of the Mediterranean Sea is becoming familiar to the kids I teach. The Iliad, Odyssey, and Aenead have been their literature, the Greeks' Persian and Peloponnesian wars and Rome's war with Carthage have been a major part of their history lessons. They are becoming familiar with Latin, the Roman emperors, and classical art. Three cities represent virtually everything that has shaped Western Civilization (Christendom): Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. Greeks, Romans, and the faith of the Jews. To be able to comprehend our society and the times into which God has caused us to be born, an awareness of this society's origins is important.

Modern man has become so proud of his scientific and technological advancements that he often treats the myths of the classical world as mere rubbish, as no more than a cartoon in the Sunday paper; but this generation's arrogant contempt of previous ones may be based on more fiction than are the myths from the ancient past. This generation's proud attitude toward those who lived in the past is encouraged by the theory of evolution: the longer men live the wiser they become. The truth may be far different. What construction crew could today build the pyramids? Who in our time could match Julius Caesar's feat of building in ten days a forty-foot wide bridge across the Rhine River, one-quarter mile long, strong enough for an entire army to cross? There is an ancient citadel on a mountain in South America made of rock molten together after its construction - a feat which scientists have tried to repeat but to this point have been unable. With cleverly fashioned tools, the ancient Romans and Greeks, and others, performed delicate eye surgery, brain surgery, and even what is known now as plastic surgery, building new ears and noses from body parts taken from other places. The ancient people were not the monkeys that some men try to make them out to have been.

The inevitable impression left upon the person who studies the classical world with an open mind is one of respect and pity. Respect for the amazing accomplishments they managed to achieve in virtually every field of endeavor, and pity that so much of their efforts were wasted on superstition because of a lack of knowledge of God. The costs of idolatry were very high, in terms of both money and human life, and probably prevented even more advances in the sciences and arts than the ancients achieved.

Consider this one example from ancient times in our hemisphere: It is estimated by some scholars that the Aztec Indians sacrificed an average of 54 human beings a day to their blood-thirsty sun god (Eerdman's Handbook to the World's Religions, p.54. 1994 ed.). They believed that only by human blood could their sun god continue to travel across the sky; so, to save mankind, it was essential that there be a constant supply of sacrificial victims. Of course, in order to maintain a continual supply of victims, wars had to be waged and prisoners taken, so a peace treaty with neighbors was not likely. The Mayan ritual of human sacrifice required the victim's heart to be cut out while he was still living. Try to imagine the centuries of useless agony, terror, and expense which that one superstition about the sun caused so many innocent people! Now multiply that horror by ten thousand times, and spread the pain and loss over the face of the whole earth, and the enormous cost of ignorance of God begins to be revealed.

For another brief example, try to imagine how many heartaches could have been avoided, and how much suffering among the poor could have been alleviated with the fortunes which were buried with the Pharaohs! Immense wealth was sealed in tombs of stone, to be taken by the dead king to the next world, while the miseries of the poor in this world were ignored.

O how precious is the truth about God! There is nothing which has caused more bloodshed and misery in man's history on earth than wrong ideas about God; and if you are now entertaining a wrong idea about God, pray to be delivered from it. It will cost you.

So, in the ancient world we had a mixed bag. There was high intelligence and there was superstition which perverted the good life which that intelligence could have produced for all men. Has anything changed?

Ancient man's superstitions notwithstanding, I tend to lend more credence to the mythological stories of the classical world than some might be inclined to do. It was scarcely a century ago that a German named Schliemann dared to think the same thing. He endured the ridicule of "experts" who scoffed at his belief that the ancient city of Troy was a real place (remember the Trojan Horse?). At his own expense, and with tremendous determination, he ventured out on his own to search for the ruins of Troy. Using the geographic information in Homer's Iliad as his guide, he astonished the world by discovering the city, exactly where Homer said it was, its ruins testifying to its former greatness.

So, in spite of all that I have said about the religions of the ancient world, I do not feel that those people were quite as easily made fools of as modern men, especially evolutionists, would have us to think. In the Bible there are a number of examples of soothsayers and witches who had real spiritual power. The most stunning example is the Egyptian magicians of Moses's time, who performed miraculous deeds, which for a time even matched the miracles which Moses performed! There was also the famous witch of En-dor in 1 Samuel, who had power to contact the dead, and the demon-possessed young girl in Acts who brought her owners much money with her supernatural knowledge. In spite of what many "enlightened" folk now believe, such people in the ancient world were real, and ancient men were deceived by them, not because their spiritual power was phony, but because it was real.

The devil is a real creature, as are the fallen angels. They are not theological inventions of man. They once stood before God in heaven but were cast out when they rebelled against God. They know God better than man knows God. They have supernatural powers. They can at times reveal things unknowable to humans through a person whom they possess, as in the case of the young girl in Acts 16. They can perform feats of superhuman strength, as did the demon-possessed man whom Jesus healed at Gadara.

It is obvious that much of ancient myth is completely fabricated. We know, for instance, that Atlas is not holding the world on his shoulders (and neither did Hercules). And we know that Poseidon does not drive his chariot across the seas. Moreover, there are no half-divine people born of intercourse between one of the "gods" and a mortal. But ancient man's imagination does not mean that there were not men of old, possessed of demons, with super-human strength, who could, for example, lift and throw stones much larger than men normally can, as Homer describes Hector doing during the battle for the Greek ships at Troy. The man in the region of Gadara out of whom Jesus cast a "legion" of demons certainly exhibited supernatural strength. There were, before the flood, men of giant stature, "mighty men which were of old, men of renown" (Gen.6:4). Because of the depths of evil to which mankind had fallen in those times, it is easy to imagine such demon-possessed men with superhuman strength, performing feats which were told and retold for generations, and as it was retold becoming more and more fictional until the mythological stories of ancient Greek and Roman heroes were formed. Are we not able to see through the layers of myth and to acknowledge that there may have been a germ of truth upon which those myths were based? According to the truth revealed in the Bible, there is no reason not to do so, for there certainly were men and women possessed with demonic power which was misinterpreted by the ignorant as a divine touch from one of their "gods".

In the book of Acts, a young demon-possessed slave girl was empowered by that demon to reveal secrets, possibly predicting the future, and she brought her masters quite a bit of money with her soothsaying. The apostle Paul cast out that demon, leaving the poor child helpless to predict anything, and both Paul and Silas were beaten and cast into prison afterwards (Acts 16:16f). When the ancients went to the famous oracle at Delphi, or to Zeus's oracle at Dodona, or Apollo's oracle at Didyma, it is altogether probable that when they went to the oracle, something supernatural sometimes happened. We know that when the backslidden King Saul went to a witch for help, he received more help than he bargained for. It is inconceivable that the ancients would have continued going to an oracle if nothing supernatural ever happened, and there is ample evidence that supernatural, or at the least very unusual, events often occurred in the "holy" places of the gods.

Repeatedly, the Bible states that when the Gentiles worshipped, and when Israel worshipped as the Gentiles did, they were actually worshipping demons (Lev.17:5-7; Dt.32:12-18; 2Chron.11:13-16; Ps.106:34-38; 1Cor.10:18-22). But neither the Gentiles nor the idolatrous Israelites thought so, and they would very likely have put to death anyone, such as the prophets of Israel, who dared to make such a statement. Men called their demons by lovely names, Saturn, Artemis, Aphrodite, Apollo, Minerva, etc., and invented elaborate ceremonies for them and mythic stories about them. They were dedicated to the service of the "gods", and prayed fervently to them in expectation of supernatural help. Is there any doubt that sometimes those demons fulfilled their expectations and gave those worshippers a prophecy, or revealed a secret, or made a promise, or gave them supernatural power? The price for that spiritual "help" was only to do as Satan told Jesus he must do in the wilderness, "bow down and worship me".

When Jesus neared a demon-possessed person, quite often the demon would scream out some element of truth about Jesus. "We know who thou art, O holy one of Israel!", or "Have mercy on us, thou Son of God!". And sometimes they would prophesy of the coming judgment, asking Jesus, "Have you come to torment us before the time?" The little demon-possessed girl that Paul delivered had followed Paul and Silas through the streets of Philippi screaming out the news, "These men are servants of the most high God, who show unto us the way of salvation!" These demonic voices, crying out bits of truth through possessed people, were the voices of the "gods" of the ancient world, which the Bible tells us were not gods at all, but demons. Now, the awful question remains for us to ponder is this: if demons inspired men in those times to proclaim the holiness of Jesus and the certainty of judgment to come, why should anyone consider it a strange thing if it happens in our time?

Didn't Paul say that in this New Testament time Satan had transformed himself into an angel of light, and that his ministers had transformed themselves into minsters of righteousness (2Cor.11:14-15)? Did he not say that those ministers of Satan had made themselves out to be "apostles of Christ" (2Cor.11:13)? Who were Satan's ministers? Were they not the priests of the Gentiles' holy sites? Was not the priest of Jupiter Satan's minister? Were not the oracles of Apollo, or Athena, or Juno, or Poseidon, or the others, ministers of Satan, being possessed by demons? The official title for the chief priest of all the gods of the Roman Empire was Pontifex Maximus. It was a position to which a man was elected by the senate of Rome, a political prize, first held by men such as Julius Caesar, and, later, by the emperors of Rome. If there ever was such a thing as a minister of Satan, then Pontifex Maximus was one, being the chief of all the idolaters on earth. Where is Pontifex Maximus now? Where has that minister of Satan gone? Find him, and you'll find a man claiming to be the vicar of Christ on earth, God's anointed shepherd for the sheep. Find Pontifex Maximus now, and you'll hear someone again moved by demons to speak well of Jesus, and to speak of the judgment to come; and as always, the world will see multitudes in ignorance worshipping devils in beautiful, if not magnificent settings, with a grand "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof". Find Pontifex and his followers and you'll hear the eloquent "doctrines of devils" prophesied to come by the apostle Paul. Where is he? Where are the ministers of Satan now, whose angels have wings and whose church you can join? Where are they, and by what name now do they disguise themselves? You tell me.

One of the strongest condemnations of idolatry which Paul wrote is found in 1Corinthians 10. After making the dangerous remark that the "gods" of Greece and of Rome, and of all the Gentiles, were demons, he boldly went on to say that to partake of the kinds of worship which the Gentiles practiced was to hold communion with Satan. And let me be perfectly clear: Paul was discussing communion when he wrote those words. My dear friend, the communion in the holy Ghost that Jesus died for is the only communion you can have with God. There is no other. The dead ceremonial forms of communion which are practiced in Christianity can provide you communion with nothing but the gods of the ancient world. It is no coincidence that Paul introduced these hard sayings with the stern warning to the church: "Beloved, flee from idolatry!" It is timeless advice.

The loveliness of false religion has always belied its danger. The simple rites which God gave to Moses could not compete with the grandeur of the Greeks' Parthenon or many of the other spectacular rituals and temples of the ancient world; but then, God wasn't trying to compete. He was providing a way for us to be forgiven - and it worked. His way still works, but only those who are more impressed with reality than with appearance will ever find that out. The "gods" of the ancient world are still crying out for recognition, and from those who are ignorant of the truth they are still receiving the honor which belongs to no one but God and His Son. Are you among them, still justifying your rebellion by pointing to the many others who are doing the same things? Or have you obeyed the voice of your Father, who so gently and earnestly is calling His children out of Christianity into the light of Christ Jesus, His Son?


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