Monotheism (from Greek μόνος, monos, "single", and θεός, theos, "god") is the belief in the existence of one and only one god.[1] Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism[2], Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.

While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still include plural concepts of the divine. For example, the Christian Trinity, in which God is a triune spirit of three eternal persons - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit - united in one substance). Additionally, most Christian denominations accept the duophysite doctrine, called the hypostatic union, that Christ has two natures, being simultaneously divine and human. However, some Protestant denominations are Unitarian (that is, they do not profess the Trinity), while some embrace the monophysite (also miaphysite) doctrine instead of the duophysite (notably the Oriental Orthodox Churches) and are often called non-Chalcedonian, after that ecumenical council which defined the orthodox duophysite Christology.

Catholics[3] and Eastern Orthodox[4] venerate the saints, (among them Mary), as human beings who had remarkable qualities, lived their faith in God to the extreme and are believed to be capable of interceding in the process of salvation for others; however, Catholics do not worship (latria, properly translated as adoration, reserved for the Holy Trinity alone) them as gods, but instead offer dulia or hyperdulia (Latin: veneratio) to the saints and Mary respectively, properly translated as veneration or to give homage.[4]

The concept of monotheism in Islam and Judaism rejects this distinction. Other forms of monotheism includes unitarianism and deism.[5]

It is difficult to delineate monotheism from beliefs such as pantheism and monism as in the Advaita traditions of Hinduism. Some scholars such as Wilhelm Schmidt argued for primeval monotheism: a monotheistic Urreligion, from which polytheistic religions developed.


Definition and varieties

Monotheism is the belief in a Singular God, in contrast to polytheism, the belief in several deities. Polytheism is, however, reconcilable with inclusive monotheism or other forms of monism and the distinction between monotheism and polytheism isn't clear-cut or objective.

Henotheism involves devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of other gods. Though similar, it contrasts drastically with monotheism, the worship of a single deity independent of the ontological claims regarding that deity.

Monotheism is often contrasted with theistic dualism (ditheism). However, in dualistic theologies such as that of Gnosticism, the two deities are not of equal rank, and the role of the Gnostic demiurge is closer to that of Satan in Christian theology than a diarch on equal terms with God (who is represented in pantheistic fashion, as Pleroma).

Monotheism can involve a variety of Conceptions of God:

  • Deism posits the existence of a single god, the Designer of the designs in Nature. Some Deists believe in an impersonal god that does not intervene in the world, while other Deists believe in intervention through Providence.
  • Monism is the type of monotheism found in Hinduism, encompassing pantheism and panentheism, and at the same time the concept of a personal god.
  • Pantheism holds that the universe itself is God. The existence of a transcendent being extraneous to nature is denied.
  • Panentheism is a form of monistic monotheism which holds that God is all of existence, containing, but not identical to, the Universe. The one God is omnipotent and all-pervading, the universe is part of God, and God is both immanent and transcendent.
  • Substance monotheism, found in some indigenous African religions, holds that the many gods are different forms of a single underlying substance.
  • Trinitarian monotheism is the Christian doctrine of belief in one God who is three distinct persons; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Origin and development

The word monotheism is derived from the Greek μόνος (monos)[6] meaning "single" and θεός (theos)[7] meaning "god".[8] The English term was first used by Henry More (1614–1687).[citation needed]

Some writers such as Karen Armstrong believe that the concept of monotheism sees a gradual development out of notions of henotheism (worshiping a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities) and monolatrism (the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity). However, the historical incidences of monotheism are so rare, that it's difficult to support any theory of the natural progression of religions from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism.[citation needed]

Two examples of monolatrism developing from polytheism are the Aten cult in the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, as well as the rise of Marduk from the tutelary of Babylon to the claim of universal supremacy.

In Iran, Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda appears as a supreme and transcendental deity. Depending on the date of Zoroaster (usually placed in the early Iron Age), this may be one of the earliest documented instances of the emergence of monism in an Indo-European religion.

In the ancient Near East, each city had a local patron deity, such as Shamash at Larsa or Sin at Ur. The first claims of global supremacy of a specific god date to the Late Bronze Age, with Akhenaten's Great Hymn to the Aten (speculatively connected to Judaism by Sigmund Freud in his Moses and Monotheism). However the date of the Exodus is disputed, and its not definitive whether the setting of the biblical Exodus event is prior to or following Akhenaten's reign. Furthermore it is not clear to what extent Akhenaten's Atenism was monotheistic rather than henotheistic with Akhenaten himself identified with the god Aten.

Currents of monism or monotheism emerge in Vedic India earlier, with e.g. the Nasadiya Sukta. In the Indo-Iranian tradition, the Rigveda exhibits notions of monism, in particular in the comparatively late tenth book, also dated to the early Iron Age, e.g. in the Nasadiya sukta.

Ethical monotheism and the associated concept of absolute good and evil emerge in Zoroastrianism and Judaism, later culminating in the doctrines of Christology in early Christianity and later (by the 7th century) in the tawhid in Islam. In Islamic theology, a person who spontaneously "discovers" monotheism is called a ḥanīf, the original ḥanīf being Abraham.

Austrian anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt in the 1910s postulated an Urmonotheismus, "original" or "primitive monotheism."

Indo-European religions

Proto-Indo-European religions

In the Proto-Indo-European religions, the supreme god is Dyeus, as the word "Dyeus" is literally used in many Indo-European language cognates to denote a supreme god.

In western Eurasia, the ancient traditions of the Slavic religion had elements of monotheism, of a supreme deity known by many names worshiped by some tribes. The most common name of the supreme deity is Perun and was identified with the Christian God after Christianization.

In speaking of Henotheism, Indo-European religions have had shifting tendencies regarding their supreme god. Consider the ruler of lightning: the supreme god Zeus, Perun, Jupiter controlled lightning himself; while in Norse mythology Odin delegated the power of lighting to his son Thor. In this vein, phenomena controlled by any single henotheistic god differ widely among various Indo-European religions.

Indo-Iranian religions

Indian religions


In Hinduism, views are broad and range from monism, through pantheism and panentheism (alternatively called monistic theism by some scholars) to monotheism. Hinduism cannot be said to be polytheistic, as all great Hindu religious leaders have repeatedly stressed that God is one and his forms are many, the ways to communicate with him are many and focusing or concentrating on the icon is one of those ways.

The puja of the murti is a way to communicate with the abstract one God (Brahman in Hinduism) which creates, sustains and dissolves creation.[9]

Rig Veda 1.164.46,

Indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamaghnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo gharutmān,
ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ
"They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garuda.
To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan."(trans. Griffith)

Traditions of Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Nimbarka Sampradaya and followers of Swaminarayan and Vallabha consider Krishna to be the source of all avatars,[10] and the source of Vishnu himself, or to be the same as Narayana. As such, he is therefore regarded as Svayam Bhagavan.[11][12][13]

When Krishna is recognized to be Svayam Bhagavan, it can be understood that this is the belief of Gaudiya Vaishnavism,[14] the Vallabha Sampradaya,[15] and the Nimbarka Sampradaya, where Krishna is accepted to be the source of all other avatars, and the source of Vishnu himself. This belief is drawn primarily "from the famous statement of the Bhagavatam"[16](1.3.28).[17] A different viewpoint differing from this theological concept is the concept of Krishna as an avatar of Narayana or Vishnu. It should be however noted that although it is usual to speak of Vishnu as the source of the avataras, this is only one of the names of the God of Vaishnavism, who is also known as Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna and behind each of those names there is a divine figure with attributed supremacy in Vaishnavism.[18]

The Rig Veda discusses monotheistic thought, as do the Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda:

"Devas are always looking to the supreme abode of Vishnu" (tad viṣṇoḥ paramaṁ padaṁ sadā paśyanti sṻrayaḥ Rig Veda 1.22.20)

"The One Truth, sages know by many names" (Rig Veda 1.164.46)[19]

"When at first the unborn sprung into being, He won His own dominion beyond which nothing higher has been in existence" (Atharva Veda 10.7.31)[20]

"There is none to compare with Him. There is no parallel to Him, whose glory, verily, is great." (Yajur Veda 32.3)[21]

The number of auspicious qualities of God are countless, with the following six qualities (bhaga) being the most important:

  • Jñāna (omniscience), defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously
  • Aishvarya (sovereignty, derived from the word Ishvara), which consists in unchallenged rule over all
  • Shakti (energy), or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible
  • Bala (strength), which is the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue
  • Vīrya (vigor), which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the supreme being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations
  • Tejas (splendor), which expresses His self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by His spiritual effulgence[22]

In the Shaivite tradition, the Shri Rudram (Sanskrit श्रि रुद्रम्), to which the Chamakam (चमकम्) is added by scriptural tradition, is a Hindu stotra dedicated to Rudra (an epithet of Shiva), taken from the Yajurveda (TS 4.5, 4.7).[23][24] Shri Rudram is also known as Sri Rudraprasna, Śatarudrīya, and Rudradhyaya. The text is important in Vedanta where Shiva is equated to the Universal supreme God. The hymn is an early example of enumerating the names of a deity,[25] a tradition developed extensively in the sahasranama literature of Hinduism.

The Nyaya school of Hinduism has made several arguments regarding a monotheistic view. The Naiyanikas have given an argument that such a god can only be one. In the Nyaya Kusumanjali, this is discussed against the proposition of the Mimamsa school that let us assume there were many demigods (devas) and sages (rishis) in the beginning, who wrote the Vedas and created the world. Nyaya says that:

[If they assume such] omniscient beings, those endowed with the various superhuman faculties of assuming infinitesimal size, and so on, and capable of creating everything, then we reply that the law of parsimony bids us assume only one such, namely Him, the adorable Lord. There can be no confidence in a non-eternal and non-omniscient being, and hence it follows that according to the system which rejects God, the tradition of the Veda is simultaneously overthrown; there is no other way open.[citation needed]

In other words, Nyaya says that the polytheist would have to give elaborate proofs for the existence and origin of his several celestial spirits, none of which would be logical, and that it is more logical to assume one eternal, omniscient god.[citation needed]


Sikhism is a monotheistic faith[26][27] that arose in northern India during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sikhs believe in one, timeless, omnipresent, supreme creator. The opening verse of the Guru Granth Sahib, known as the Mul Mantra, signifies this:

Punjabi: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
Transliteration: Ik ōaṅkār (or ikoo) sat nām karatā purakh nirabha'u niravair akāl mūrat ajūnī saibhaṁ gur prasād.
English: There is only One God. The Name Is Truth. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image Of The Timeless One, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent. By Guru's Grace ~

The word "ੴ" ("Ik ōaṅkār") has two components. The first is ੧, the digit "1" in Gurmukhi signifying the singularity of the creator. Together the word means: "There is only one god".

It is often said that the 1430 pages of the Guru Granth Sahib are all expansions on the Mul Mantra. Although the Sikhs have many names for God, some derived from Islam and Hinduism, they all refer to the same Supreme Being.

The Sikh holy scriptures refer to the One God who pervades the whole of space and is the creator of all beings in the universe. The following quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib highlights this point:

"Chant, and meditate on the One God, who permeates and pervades the many beings of the whole Universe. God created it, and God spreads through it everywhere. Everywhere I look, I see God. The Perfect Lord is perfectly pervading and permeating the water, the land and the sky; there is no place without Him."
—Guru Granth Sahib, Page 782

However there is a strong case for arguing that the Guru Granth Sahib teaches monism due to its non-dualistic tendencies:

Punjabi: "ਸਹਸ ਪਦ ਬਿਮਲ ਨਨ ਏਕ ਪਦ ਗੰਧ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਹਸ ਤਵ ਗੰਧ ਇਵ ਚਲਤ ਮੋਹੀ ॥੨॥"

English: "You have thousands of Lotus Feet, and yet You do not have even one foot. You have no nose, but you have thousands of noses. This Play of Yours entrances me."

Sikhs believe that God has been given many names, but they all refer to the One God, VāhiGurū. Sikhs believe that members of other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity all worship the same God, and the names Allah, Rahim, Karim, Hari, Raam and Paarbrahm are frequently mentioned in the Sikh holy scriptures. Although there is no set reference to God in Sikhism, the most commonly used Sikh reference to God is Akal Purakh (which means "the true immortal") or Waheguru, the Primal Being.

Iranian religions


Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion[28] which was once one of the largest religions on Earth, though the early Zoroastrianism is often regarded as Dualist. Zoroastrianism is generally believed to have been founded around the 2nd Millenium BCE. The religion is based on the teachings and philosophies of Zoroaster. By some scholars, the Zoroastrians ("Parsis" or "Zartoshtis") are credited with being the first monotheists and having had significant influence in the formation of current, larger world religions. Today, some figures put the number of adherents to Zoroastrianism at up to 3.5 million,[29] ranging from regions in South Asia and spread across the globe.

Position of the Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith originated in Iran. However, due to its religious backgrounds and roots it can be classified as part of Abrahamic religions.

European religions

Hellenistic religion

"The One" (Τὸ Ἕν) is a concept that arises in Platonism, although the writings of Plato himself are still cast in polytheistic terminology. The Euthyphro dilemma, for example, is formulated as "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" But Plato prefigures monotheism by looking for the absolute Truth, as in the allegory of the cave, and the absolute Good, as in the Form of the Good. Later, Hellenistic religion, including Hellenistic Judaism, and especially Neoplatonism, formulate monotheism explicitly.

The development of pure (philosophical) monotheism is a product of the Late Antiquity. During the 2nd to 3rd centuries, early Christianity was just one of several competing religious movements advocating monotheism.

A number of oracles of Apollo from Didyma and Clarus, the so-called "theological oracles", dated to the 2nd and 3rd century AD, proclaim that there is only one highest god, of whom the gods of polytheistic religions are mere manifestations or servants.[30] Similarly, the cult of Dionysus as practiced in Cyprus seems to have developed into strict monotheism by the 4th century; together with Mithraism and other sects the cult formed an instance of "pagan monotheism" in direct competition with Early Christianity during Late Antiquity.[31]

Aristotle's concept of the "Uncaused Cause" - never incorporated into the polytheistic ancient Greek religion - has been used by many exponents of Abrahamic religions to justify their arguments for the existence of the Judeo-Christian God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Hypsistarians were a religious group who believed in a most high god, according to Greek documents. Later revisions of this Hellenic religion were adjusted towards Monotheism as it gained consideration among a wider populace. The worship of Zeus as the head-god signaled a trend in the direction of monotheism, with less honour paid to the fragmented powers of the lesser gods.

Abrahamic religions

The major source of monotheism in the modern Western World is the narrative of the Hebrew Bible, the scripture of Judaism. The text of the Bible states that Judaism began with divine revelations from "God most high" to Abraham [Gen. 14-15] and to the people of Israel through Moses [Exodus 20]. The understanding of the transmitters of the biblical text was that the Bible uniformly presents one God as creator of the world and the only power controlling history. In their understanding, references to other "gods" are to non-existent entities or angelic servants of God, to whom humans mistakenly ascribe reality and power. eg Babylonian Talmud, Megilla 7b-17a.

The documentary hypothesis asserts that the actual origins of Judaism lie in the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, c.1,000-586 BCE. Both kingdoms had Yahweh as their state god (i.e., the god of the royal court and of the kingdom), while worshiping many other gods.[citation needed] In the 8th century the Assyrian royal propaganda claimed universal dominion (meaning dominion over all other gods) for the Assyrian state god Ashur. In reaction to this, certain circles in Israel stressed the unique power of Yahweh as a sign of national independence. When Israel was destroyed by Assyria (c.721 BCE) refugees brought this form of theism to Judah, where it was upheld during the reigns of at least two kings.[who?] At this stage (late 7th century), Judaism was not strictly monotheistic, but Yahweh was recognised as without peer and supreme over all other gods.[citation needed][dubious ]

The hypothesis posits a next stage, beginning with the fall of Judah to Babylon, when a small circle of priests and scribes gathered around the exiled royal court developed the first idea of Yahweh as the sole God of the world. The tendency to monotheism was accelerated by the fall of Babylon to the Persians in 538, which allowed the exiles to seize control of the new Persian province of Judah.[citation needed] Christianity, originally a sect within Judaism, emerged as a distinctive religious tradition during the first centuries of the modern era. Its version of monotheism was distinctive from that of Judaism in that it developed the concept that God had three "persons" - the doctrine of Trinity. Islam emerged in the 7th century CE as a reaction to both Christianity and Judaism, drawing on both, but with a version of monotheism based on that of Judaism.[citation needed]

Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible commands the Israelites not to worship other gods, but only the God who brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 20:1-4; Deut. 5:6-7).

While the creation story in Genesis Ch. 01, which is similar to Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation story by the god Marduk after his defeat of Tiamat, offers a monotheistic alternative to the Mesopotamian myth, Second Isaiah makes this explicit.[citation needed][original research?] It was Yahweh, not Marduk, who defeated primeval chaos, the "great deep" (Isa 51:10), Second Isaiah repeatedly says, it was Yahweh, not Marduk, who created the world; Isaiah 40:12 "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?" It was Yahweh, not Marduk, who formed light and created darkness; Isaiah 45:7 "I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things. " Moreover, unlike Marduk, God did it alone without any assistance; Isaiah 44:24 "I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth", Isaiah 43:10 "Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me."[original research?]

The concept of Yahweh enlarged through the exile of Babylon and Yahweh was responsible for what happened to Israel. All the events and enemies around Israel were instruments in the divine hand because Yahweh is the only God and no other gods existed.[32]

Rabbinical Judaism

One of the best-known statements of Rabbinical Judaism on monotheism occurs in Maimonides' 13 Principles of faith, Second Principle:

God, the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity. This is referred to in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4): "Hear Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one."

There has historically been disagreement between the Hasidic Jews and the Mitnagdim Jews on various Jewish philosophical issues surrounding certain concepts of monotheism. A similar situation of differing views is seen in modern times among Dor Daim, students of the Rambam, segments of Lithuanian Jewry, and portions of the Modern Orthodox world toward Jewish communities that are more thoroughly influenced by Lurianic Kabbalistic teachings such as Hasidism and large segments of the Sepharadi and Mizrahi communities. This dispute is likely rooted in the differences between what are popularly referred to as the "philosophically inclined" sources and the "kabbalistic sources;" the "philosophic sources" include such Rabbis as Saadia Gaon, Rabenu Bahya ibn Paquda, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Maimonides. The "kabbalistic sources" include Rabbis such as Nahmanides, Bahya ben Asher, Rabbi Yitzhak Saggi Nehor, and Azriel. The Vilna Gaon is usually granted great respect in modern times by those who side with both views; by the more kabbalistic segments of Judaism he is regarded as a great kabbalist; those who take the other side of the issue regard him as a strict advocate of the people of Israel's historical monotheism.

The Shema

Judaism's earliest history, beliefs, laws, and practices are preserved and taught in the Torah (the first part of the Hebrew Bible), dating from around 600 BCE. It provides a clear textual source for the rise and development of what is named Judaism's ethical monotheism which means that:

(1) There is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity. (2) God's primary demand of people is that they act decently toward one another...The God of ethical monotheism is the God first revealed to the world in the Hebrew Bible. Through it, we can establish God's four primary characteristics:
  1. God is supernatural.
  2. God is personal.
  3. God is good.
  4. God is holy. the study of Hebrew history: Israel's monotheism was an ethical monotheism. Dennis Prager

When Moses returned with the Ten Commandments, the second of those stated that "you shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3), right after the first, which affirmed the existence of God. Furthermore, Israelites recite the Shema Yisrael ("Hear, O Israel") which partly says, "Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one," meaning that Israel was to worship none of the gods of other peoples. Monotheism was and is the central tenet of the Israelite and the Jewish religion.

The Shema
Hebrew שמע ישראל יי אלהנו יי אחד
Common transliteration Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
English Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!

The literal word meanings are roughly as follows:

  • Shema — 'listen' or 'hear.' The word also implies comprehension.
  • Yisrael — 'Israel', in the sense of the people or congregation of Israel
  • Adonai — often translated as 'Lord', it is used in place of the Tetragrammaton
  • Eloheinu — 'our God', a plural noun (said to imply majesty rather than plural number) with a pronominal suffix ('our')
  • Echad — 'one'

In this case, Elohim is used in the plural as a form of respect and not polytheism.

Gen.1:26 And Elohim said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Elohim is morphologically plural in form in Hebrew, but generally takes singular agreement when it refers to the God of Israel (so the verb meaning "said" in this verse is vayyomer ויאמר with singular inflection, and not vayyomru ויאמרו with plural inflection), and yet in this case the "our" and "us" seems to create a presumption of plurality, though it may just be God talking to angels and not another god.

Judaism, however, insists that the "Lord is One," as in the Shema, and at least two interpretations exist to explain the Torah's use of the plural form. The first is that the plural form "Elohim" is analogous to the royal plural as used in English. The second is that, in order to set an example for human kings, Elohim consulted with his court (the angels, just created) before making a major decision (creating man).