By Olen Holderby
Some twenty-five years ago I made a few notes from a book, Heroes And Hero Worship. I do not recall the author’s name; and, I have had no luck in locating the book. Perhaps the notes can still serve a good purpose.
First, the author argued that all idols of heathen worship were once living men or women. Then, he points out that these men or women made their mark in society; they had made some notable achievement and were admired by many. They became heroes to some; and, following their death memorials were erected to them.
After a time people were inclined to forget their vices and remember their virtues. Then, after the passing of several generations they came to be honored religiously.
I do not argue for the accuracy of this theory; but, after observing some present-day hero worshipers, I am inclined to accept the theory as fact. The Bible, itself, has given us a few examples of hero worship; let us notice a couple of those.
Matthew 17:1-9, the record of the transfiguration, offers our first example. Peter had a taste of hero worship; he would include Jesus, but equally so with Moses and Elijah.
Moses had no equal in his accomplishments for God’s people of old. He gave us the first reliable account of the creation and history of the world. He led over a million Israelites to their freedom from slavery, and angels were his pallbearers when he died. Why not erect a memorial to him? And, this is what Peter wanted to do.
Elijah was the one who defeated the prophets of Baal, and called God’s people back to the true God. He escaped death by riding a fiery chariot to heaven, the only man to so do. He had not been gone as long as Moses; but now, with Moses he makes a brief visit to earth. Why not recognize his achievements with a memorial? This is Peter’s suggestion.
The circumstances, here on the mount, may well suggest that they were horrified; sometimes we say or do things under pressure that we might not otherwise say or do. Moses and Elijah had been talking with Jesus concerning his impending death at Jerusalem. Now they both disappear, obviously wanting no part in Peter’s suggestion. They were not equal with the Son of God and would not accept any preeminence that belonged to him. The record reveals nothing of what Jesus thought of Peter’s idea.
God raises his objection to the idea by saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” When they raised their heads, they saw “Jesus only”; God, calling their attention to the only one worthy of such honor.
Some of them held to Paul, others to Apollos, Peter, or even Christ. This strife soon turned a happy congregation of God’s people into enemies of Christ. Paul was deeply grieved and wrote one of the most devastating epistles ever written to them. He pictures himself as going among them with tear-filled eyes; their gross carnality having now established that they were hero worshipers.
According to verse 10, Paul demands that they all speak the same thing, be of the same mind, and have no divisions among them. No “unity-in-diversity” can be found here. When Paul finished preaching Christ to them, they knew exactly what to do to rid themselves of sin, and they did it. Further, their continuing respect for the gospel was expected. John puts it like this, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Their respect for the Word is what made them Christians to begin with; and, their continuing respect for that Word would keep them in God’s favor.
Having looked at two Bible examples of hero worship, let us make a few observations. Many have their own little “mount of transfiguration.” Some great preacher, some great educator, some great student of Scripture, some deeply respected friend, or even our own feelings are exalted to being equal with Christ. We have forgotten their past vices, and remembering their virtues, they have become our heroes. We listen to them, even above what the Son of God has to say; we take their word on a subject and pervert God’s Word in our efforts to uphold them. Do you know anyone who does this? When the writings of our heroes are brought forth, we reverence them as if it was God’s Word. My brethren, these things ought not so to be!
Truth is truth, a perversion of truth is no longer truth; the gospel is still the gospel, and a perversion of it results in it being no gospel at all, as preached by Paul (Gal. 1:6-7). I am making no effort to discredit any of our fellows who happen to have outstanding abilities, or have done an out-standing work. I have nothing but admiration and appreciation for such. I am, however, trying to discredit the thinking of many toward such men. When we become modern hero worshipers, we are no better off than the ancient pagans who did the same. May God help us all to distinguish between his Word and the words of men; and, to recognize that only his Son is the real hero, and worthy of such honor. “Hear ye him.”
Guardian of Truth XLI: 7 p. 1
April 3, 1997
First off, a lot has changed in one’s ability to locate lost texts since 1997. I believe with a fair amount of certainty that the book in question is On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & The Heroic In History by Thomas Carlyle. Mankind loves to explain the past through stories which are often embellished from story-teller to story-teller. A modern example of this would be the tales of Beowulf, Brutus of Troy, or even George Washington. Take the painting of Washington in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, sitting as a god in the seat of power, surrounded by mythic characters:
I agree with Bro. Holderby’s statements on hero worship, but I would like to add another dynamic for your consideration: heroes of old could have been based on the veneration of fallen angels and their offspring.
My addition is hinged on one’s interpretation of Genesis 6. Take a look at the word meanings as provided by Strong’s Concordance. This is easy to do when reading the scripture online via eBible.com. Here is the breakdown of key words by verse:
- 1 And it came to pass, when men (‘adam) began to multiply on the face of the ground (adamah), and daughters (bath) were born unto them,
- that the sons (ben) of God (‘elohiym) saw (ra’ah) the daughters (bath) of men (‘adam) that they were fair (towb); and they took (laqach) them wives (‘ishshah) of all that they chose (bachar).
- And Jehovah (Yhovah, YHWH) said, My spirit (ruwach) shall not strive with man (‘adam) for ever (`owlam), for that he also is flesh (shagag) * (basar): yet shall his days (yowm) be a hundred and twenty years.
- The Nephilim (nphiyl) were in the earth (‘erets) in those days, and also after that, when the sons (ben) of God (‘elohiym) came unto the daughters (bath) of men (‘adam) and they bare (yalad) children to them: the same (hem) were the mighty men (gibbowr) that were of old (`owlam), the men (‘enowsh) of renown (Shem). (ASV)
I humbly submit to you that I am writing as an amateur and not a scholar, and the message of the Gospel of Christ does not stand nor fall on whether the ben’elohiym are decendents of the line of Seth as some interpret this passage, or sons of God, fallen angels, as the translation seems to imply. However, we are told in Jude verse 6 that:
And angels (aggelos) that kept not their own principality (arche), but left (apoleipo) their proper (idios) habitation (oiketerion), he hath kept (tereo) in everlasting (aidios) bonds (desmon) under darkness (zophos) unto the judgment (Krisis) of the great (megas) day (hemera).
Are these the sons of God from Genesis 6? I don’t know, but whatever they did was go grievous that they are have been imprisoned since their fall until the day of Judgement.
So for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that ben’elohiym is referring to fallen angels. We do not know when these unholy marriages began occurring, but we know that at some point God allowed the earth 120 years until it would meet its destruction. In mythological terms, the offspring of angels and humans would be demigods, which is a concept that fits with various mythologies. Consider how these “men” were described, using Strong as a reference:
- Nephilim (nphiyl): feller, bully, tyrant, giant
- Mighty Men (gibbowr): warriors, tyrants, champions, chiefs, giants, or valliant men),
- Men (‘enowsh): men referred to in a less dignified sense than (adam)
- of renown (shem): having made a name for themselves, remembered
I think that if we look back at that point in time at some of the gods of ancient cultures, we start to see similarities. Compare Adonis, Osiris, Attis, Hadad (Ba’al), Tammuz (Dumuzid), Zeus, and Jupiter. Also consider the female Ishtar, Isis, Astarte, and Aphrodite. There are some interesting theories on the Internet that these two represent the Biblical Nimrod and his wife Semiramis (I don’t want to endorse any of them with a link at this time, though).
As thought provoking as this might be, we mustn’t allow this talk of false gods and hero worship distract us from the truth. Jehovah, though His prophet Jeremiah said:
11 Hath a nation changed [its] gods, which yet are no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. 12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith Jehovah. 13 For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 6: 11-13, ASV)
To the point of Bro. Holderby’s original article, we must not be like Israel was and forsake the one true God, Jehovah. We too must forsake our idols, be they Ba’als, Mammon, or George Washington.