Questions From Readers
At 1 Peter 4:3, we read that some Christians had once shared in “illegal idolatries.” Are not all idolatries illegal, condemned and forbidden by God?
It seems, however, that the apostle Peter was referring to idolatry in another way. For one thing, among many ancient nations, idolatry was both common and without legal restraint from the authorities. That is, the law of the land did not prohibit such idolatry. Some idolatry was even part of the national or governmental policy. In that sense, some had shared in ‘idolatries without legal restraint’ before becoming Christians. (New World Translation, 1950 edition) It may be noted, for instance, that Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar set up an idolatrous image of gold, but Jehovah’s servants Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship it.—Daniel 3:1-12.
From another standpoint, many idolatrous rites included acts grossly contrary to any natural law or moral sense stemming from inherited conscience. (Romans 2:14, 15) The apostle Paul wrote of degraded practices that were “contrary to nature” and “obscene,” and these often found a place in religious rites. (Romans 1:26, 27) Men and women sharing in illegal idolatry were not observing the legal restraint of human nature. It certainly was appropriate that those becoming Christians left those corrupt practices.
The Greek text at 1 Peter 4:3 literally means “unlawful idolatries.” The phrase has been variously rendered in English Bibles with such designations as “illicit idolatry,” “forbidden worship of idols,” and “lawless idolatries.”