What are “teraphim?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

The Authorized Version features the word on six occasions:

  • Judges 17:5: “And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.”
  • Judges 18:14: “Then answered the five men that went to spy out the country of Laish, and said unto their brethren, Do ye know that there is in these houses an ephod, and teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image? now therefore consider what ye have to do.”
  • Judges 18:17: “And the five men that went to spy out the land went up, and came in thither, and took the graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image: and the priest stood in the entering of the gate with the six hundred men that were appointed with weapons of war.”
  • Judges 18:18: “And these went into Micah’s house, and fetched the carved image, the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image. Then said the priest unto them, What do ye?”
  • Judges 18:20: “And the priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod, and the teraphim, and the graven image, and went in the midst of the people.”
  • Hosea 3:4: “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:….”

As a cursory examination of the above verses reveals, “teraphim” are heathen or pagan aids to worship. They were statues that resembled people, connected to “magical rites.” Often translated in the King James Bible as “image/s” (Genesis 31:19,34-35; 1 Samuel 19:13,16; 2 Kings 23:24; Ezekiel 21:21), it is also once rendered “idols” (Zechariah 10:2). In the verses with which we began, the Hebrew word (“teraphim”) was simply transliterated. The teraphim Rachel stole from her father in Genesis were small and portable, whereas the image Michal placed in the bed was the size of a man (a dummy to fool David’s assassins)! As in the case of the Zechariah quote, such “household gods” or “family idols” were thought to speak and reveal “divine oracles.” Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar appealed to teraphim for guidance (see the Ezekiel quote above, and our “consulted with images” study linked below).

Also see:
» “Made his arrows bright…consulted with images…looked in the liver?”
» “Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?”
» What is “peeping” and “muttering?”

» What are “groves?”