Does God being the "Most High God" mean that less high gods exist?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: What is meant by calling God most high God? Is that saying there are other gods?

Answer: I appreciate this question because I can see where a contemporary English reader could understand that phrase as opening the door to there being many gods — and that the Jews and Christians just happen to have the top god in the panoply. Now, that has a true element… but it is not a true statement. We do have the top God — no matter what! But the philosophical truth is: of all possible gods, we have the top God — and I will explain that before we are through. But let’s be clear: the Bible explicitly states that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 4:35; Isaiah 45:14) — and not only is this a foundational statement concerning God, but it is also an important platform for understanding all other statements about him.

For instance, a statement like “the Most High God” allows for the concept of lesser gods — but only in the sense that it does not explicitly disallow it. However, asserting that any phraseology that does not explicitly disallow other gods implies their existence is an imposition on the normal use of language. But even if someone succeeded in forcing the language into this use, the best they could say is that other gods exist implicitly… and this does not have enough logical force to overturn the explicit statements that counter it, like Deuteronomy 4:35.

As a general rule of interpretation, anything questionable or implicit cannot overturn the unquestionable or explicit — and there is your main answer. The phrase in question does not have the juice to overturn the many explicit phrases that coalesce into a foundational understanding about God and creation that there is only one real God… with mere ideas pretending to that post. (Isaiah 43:10; John 5:44; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Timothy 2:5; Jude 25)

But as usual, the truth is at variance with what people understand to be the truth — and this has been the condition of humankind all throughout history. But the language we use today has changed to serve an increasingly technical and litigious society — one that did not exist when Scripture was written — and we will do well to dial back our literalistic tendencies when reading the Bible. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul dealt with this very issue in the Corinthian church.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. (1 Corinthians 8:4–7, NIV, emphases mine)

Some of these Christians were knowledgeable and spiritually mature while others are “babes” in Christ. Mature believers understand that there is only one God — and they were confident enough to eat the food that was sacrificed to idols… I mean… why let nonexistent beings restrict their food choices? But there were other believers who were not that secure in their knowledge of God… or not that secure in their emotional and spiritual responses to truths that they might know only academically. As such, they responded to that same food as if it were sacrificed to some real gods… and in doing so they gave power to those idols. You see, even though those gods did not exist, their “emotional mass” still weighed in the believers’ consciences.

This demonstrates that, even within the Body of Christ, we need to reinforce the most basic fact: our God is the Most High God. Now, he is also the only God… but we also know that many of God’s people did not live as if this were true (2 Kings 17:12). As such, it’s good reinforcement to use his exalted title. But only a contemporary reader would understand the term “most high” to mean that there also exists a less high god… or maybe a medium god… or perhaps a third-from-the-top god… which is a good thing. Because God is not in the top tier of conception! He is beyond the top tier of conception… and we don’t really have the language to cover that.

That being said, the Old Testament narratives are filled with language that seems to say that these gods did indeed exist… and that there were a lot of them! But please note that the historical narratives do not editorialize… and I would hate it if Scripture included the same types of disclaimers that show up in medical advertising.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery... and you shall have no other gods before me.” (Please note, however, that the other gods do not actually exist… but you people think that they exist… and you act as if they exist… so they show up a lot in the narrative. And since the narrative must include the actors’ points of view, the language often sounds as if the Scripture were saying that other gods do exist… but of course, they don’t… which is my point. Why worship them?)”

I think that Moses would have needed a few more tablets.

The thing to remember is that faith, by its very nature, sees through falsehood — and right to God himself. This is why he allows creation to be so thick with deceit… it’s good for faith! But remember too that God plays the long game. Gregory Elder has thoughts on this.

It must have been a terrifying and tempting thing to the peoples of antiquity when they saw the impressive temples of the pagan gods, the loud music, the professional priesthoods and their claims that such blood sacrifices and exotic fertility rites could make people's lives better. The Hebrew God by comparison spent a lot of his career with a solitary ark drawn around in a cart. Later, He had but few holy places for sacrifice and in the days of Solomon these were concentrated into only one temple in Jerusalem. But the humble worship of the Hebrew God, who had no images, ritual tattoos and who rejected child sacrifice, survived. The images of Baal, Ashtaroth and Molech are today viewed primarily by bored schoolchildren in museums.

About 1000 years ago, Anselm wrestled with this idea as he formulated the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. To make such an argument he had to “define” the indefinable… because God, as an infinite being, can never be defined per se; he can only be described. So Anselm described God as “… a being than which none greater can be imagined” — and you can see the problem for those of us who try to give God a title: we can only approach his glory.

Anselm stated that God was “the most high” of all imaginable beings, but he did this without inferring that other gods also existed… but who were less high. Creating “other gods” like that — through an ostensive fissure in the language — violates linguistic and epistemological warrant. But people more often err in the other direction; they take information away.

You see, any God worthy of the name will be greater than our any of our mortal postulations. God, rightly “defined,” is infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely beneficent… yet people continually create a too-small-God and insert him into the argument… and that would be fine. But then they complain when this straw-god… whom they created to failfails. What does this have to do with your question?

God exists in a certain way… and that way is amply revealed in Philosophy, Natural Theology, Biblical Theology, Scripture and in creation — and the way God exists is in antithesis to other gods also existing. That’s why idol worship is such a “high crime” with God. It opposes his revealed nature directly… more so than stealing a car (which still offends him).

If Scripture allowed other gods to exist even as a possibility, that would be a biblical contradiction — so there’s a lot at stake here. But when we test everything by the Bible and by logic, we find that too-small-gods fail… and that other gods do not exist. The Most High God is higher than anything we can think of… but just because we can think of something does not mean that it exists in any real form.

We routinely postulate nonexistent entities as tools to help us in our thinking, and we create them as literary elements to help us communicate. But just because holy writ tells of a people who lived their whole lives as if these gods existed… this does not make it true that they did exist. The people were deceived about their existence, they acted accordingly and the Bible reported on the action.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20161121 Do other gods exist?).

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