Pretty pictures? Or lies. . .


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Deuteronomy 4:9-12

NASB

“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice.


[Updated post]

Are images that attempt to portray Jesus idolatrous? I have been thinking about this for a long time. Today, in Evangelical and Fundamental churches, much of the teaching on idolatry centers on Paul’s statement that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), or condemns the exaltation of anything in our lives that takes the place of God. But what about the literal making and using of images of Jesus?

Jesus Christ

isn’t an illustration in a Children’s Bible,

a doll in a manger,

a flannelgraph, stained glass,

statue in a cemetery,

actor,

or appealing sketch of a laughing man.

He isn’t even the central figure

in an amazing mural

in our nation’s Capitol.

All of these things are lies that diminish

our understanding of the Lord and of walking by faith.

Bible-believing Christians are using so-called pictures of Jesus on blogs, in videos, movies, emails, and even on T-shirts. Please study this issue prayerfully. It isn’t a trivial thing. The question is: If we use them, can we call ourselves Bible-believers? May the Lord never say this about us: 

Hosea 4:17

17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
Let him alone.


Being Biblical

What does God’s Word teach about this? Here are some important passages:

We are not to make images and likenesses. Exodus 20:4-6

Whoever keeps the whole law, yet offends in one point, is guilty of breaking the entire law. James 2:9-11

Obedience to God is love for Him. John 14:21

True worshipers worship the Father in spirit and in truth. John 4:22-24

We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8


A side note – An accusation, and a little about old arguments

Awhile back, in preparing this I came across a blog that leveled a very old charge against Christians who object to images of Jesus. This is the charge: That because of the Incarnation, if we say that He should not be depicted, we are denying His humanity. But I confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – that He is God in the flesh – but also affirm that because images of God are forbidden, and since Jesus Christ is God, that therefore images of Him should not be made.

Another old argument strikes a blow at making these images. It argues that because God the Son is both God and Man it is impossible to portray Him, for His Deity can never be portrayed.  


Romans 8:24

24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?


Being reasonable

1)     We can’t know how Jesus looked during His earthly ministry – no artist is capable of doing this. The prophet Isaiah, and John in Revelation, described some of Jesus’ characteristics. Here is Isaiah’s description, which reveals a negative, that the Lord wasn’t handsome as so many images picture Him:

Isaiah 53:1-3

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

In Revelation, John described what He saw, the Lord Jesus Christ as He is now, having risen from the dead and ascended to the Father; not as He looked when He fed the 5,000, or walked on the waves of the sea. (Seeing the Lord as He is now would make us fall at His feet as if dead, just as John did.)

Revelation 1:13-15

13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.

2)     Particular depictions of Jesus may appeal to us but repel others. 


Having concern for the lost

You probably don’t worship images, kiss them, or bow before them in prayer – but some people do and think that this is right worship. Do you want to stand with them in darkness, or be a light to them? Do you want to preach Christ crucified to them, or offer them a lie?  

1 Peter 1:8-9

and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.


Being honest

I’ve tried not to be discouraged by the seeming blindness of Christians to the obligations of the second commandment, but it is difficult when even mature Christians dismiss them. After studying and praying, I can see that there is no ultimate argument that will convince others, who in many ways are better Christians than I – only the Lord can convince and convict. May He pity us! May He help us to get ready for His return! And may we find comfort in the knowledge that someday He Himself will destroy these things.

Isaiah 2:17-21

17 The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
18 But the idols will completely vanish.
19 Men will go into caves of the rocks
And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the Lord
And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
20 In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats
Their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
Which they made for themselves to worship,
21 In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs
Before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.

Isaiah 33:22

22 For the Lord is our judge,
The Lord is our lawgiver,
The Lord is our king;
He will save us—


For further study

Idolatry Condemned“J. Vernon McGee on Pictures of Jesus and Idolatry”

IdolatryCondemned YouTube channel  – “On God’s Covenant to Save His People From Idolatry”


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74 thoughts on “Pretty pictures? Or lies. . .

  1. Hi Maria, I hope you are well.:0) As a painter, this is a subject I have considered, as well. As an artist who enjoys using both words and pictures to communicate with others, I tend to view both words and pictures as tools. The Bible is always correct and we should not make images, or idols, and bow down to worship them. It’s also, true that none of us know what Jesus looked like and also, true that most of us recognize Him as He is represented in art. Just like we recognize the word ‘Jesus’ as representing He who is both God and man. It is also, wrong to worship the Bible, the written representation of God the Father and Jesus. I came to the conclusion that it is how pictures are used that is important. In a world of increasing illiteracy, a piece of good Christian art can go a long way in depicting what it means to have a relationship with Christ as well as, teach Biblical, historic facts. Having said all this, I think those Christian artists must think of themselves as teachers, as well as artists, and approach the work of creating any work representing the life of Jesus Christ with fear and trembling. We should do the same when viewing their work.
    Pam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Pam! It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken with you. Hope you’re well!

      Obedience is love for the Lord. To honor His Word is right. You are accusing faithfulness to His Word as being worship of it. Orthodox Christians say this, that Bible Christians are worshipping the written Word – logolatria, they accuse us of.

      Someone is more likely to cause a person to stumble with an image of the Lord than to edify or convince them.

      You wrote, “It’s also, true that none of us know what Jesus looked like and also, true that most of us recognize Him as He is represented in art. Just like we recognize the word ‘Jesus’ as representing He who is both God and man.” But these images are manmade – they come from our imaginations. Our culture has ended up manufacturing a universally recognized image for Him but that image has nothing to do with Him. It is in no way like His Name representing both His Deity and humanity.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I do believe that Christian artwork–including depictions of Jesus–can be helpful to believers who approach them properly. After all, God designed the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant and included cherubim among the items depicted. Clearly we are forbidden to worship images or to think that in any way they can be used to control God. That is the idolatry forbidden by Moses, the prophets, and the apostles. To condemn every visual depiction of Jesus in drawing, painting, mosaic, statues, and cinema would be, in my opinion, pushing God’s commandment beyond his intention. J.

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    • Hi, J.! I’m grateful that you took the time to read this. Usually Lutherans and Reformed Baptists disagree on this subject. I believe that we must see not only the words of God’s commandment but the implications of His words. I cannot agree that declining to visualize Jesus goes beyond the intention of the commandment. Israel was told that they heard a voice but saw now similitude. This is important. We are to walk by faith not by sight.

      As a former Roman Catholic I have been dismayed that Bible Christians see no problem with making images of Jesus Whom they cannot see. Doesn’t it make sense to you that we can never really depict Him because we can never portray His Deity? (See my post under the subheading “A side note – An accusation, and a little about old arguments.”)

      Liked by 1 person

    • God gave permission to have these dipctions made. You cannot find God giving permission for an image of His Son. How many worship the false man-made image of Jesus in their prayers to Him? If God wanted us to make such an image He would have given a depiction of Him as God-Man on the earth. Then He would have said, go make this as a picture of my Son.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Personally, I think this is something an individual Christian will have to pray over and think about. I think what lies at the core is the purpose of a picture. I will say when I read your post talking about this last year it made me think. I think pictures of Christ are an issue when people are turning to the picture for comfort. Yes, I get people use a picture to be reminded of Him, I get that. But I think we need to be strong enough in our walk with Him to not feel the need to have a picture nearby for strength. I think we need to look out how we are looking at the picture, what kind of priority are these images in our life? If they are a big deal, then that may easily be a problem. And you’re right, it’s possible it may stumble new believers or non-believers up.

    We’ve talked in the past about that you were against my book series having a character that represented Christ, which I admit too confused me because if you’re into Christian Fantasy then…wouldn’t God and Christ be part of the story anyway, and that story would be fiction even if the story had God and Jesus in it? Though, I totally see your concern too. What I do for my stories is look at scripture so that I’m not speaking out of line. But I also hope that people have the understanding it is a fiction work, this is not truth. What I hope for is that people who maybe are intrigued by the characters that represent God and Jesus are drawn to the qualities, and those qualities can only truly be met completely when one goes to Jesus Christ and then through Him meets the Father. It’s an urge to encourage people to strengthen their walks with Christ, like the characters are challenged to do. It’s just a story, but people can have a REAL walk and relationship with Him, and I want people to see that. I want to weave in the lessons in life He’s taught me. The places where the God or Jesus characters speak are reflected in how He spoke in scripture and where He’s led me in my life. But I think in story writing it can be easy for the writer to put a twist on how they see God and Christ, and yes, that also can be misleading, and maybe that’s where your concern was coming from. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, T.R.! Your comments on the topics of images of Jesus and Christian fantasy fiction are thoughtful but I’m going to respond only to those about images. Sometime we could talk about Christian fantasy fiction if you’d like, and I have no intention of putting the kabosh on CFF and your labor of love.

      Here are your words and a response:

      “I think what lies at the core is the purpose of a picture.”

      It’s true that the intention of our hearts is always aimportant. But what if something we do and believe is right worship or devotion or a blessing of some kind is wrong in itself?

      “I think pictures of Christ are an issue when people are turning to the picture for comfort. Yes, I get people use a picture to be reminded of Him, I get that. But I think we need to be strong enough in our walk with Him to not feel the need to have a picture nearby for strength. I think we need to look out how we are looking at the picture, what kind of priority are these images in our life? If they are a big deal, then that may easily be a problem.”

      Yes, it is wrong to go to images for comfort and strength. How can we ever grow up doing what a child does, finding comfort in inanimate objects when the Lord’s plan is that we walk by faith not by sight?

      “And you’re right, it’s possible it may stumble new believers or non-believers up.”

      These often beautiful images are a stumbling block to many.

      Liked by 2 people

              • ❤ I totally understand that! I feel like the closer we draw to Him, the more we desire to be and connect with Him, the more we will willingly choose to let go of things that previously we held onto. I'm very cautious and aware now of things I used to look at for a sense of assurance and hope, and redirect this connection with Him instead, or put the focus on Him instead of what something was prior. I feel in the same way Paul preached that people who were hypocritical preached the truth, and this still gave God glory, if something like a picture could initially led a non-believer to want to know the real man behind the picture, Jesus Christ, I think that would be okay. Jesus can use amazing moments or things in our life as a reminder or a way to draw us to Him. We still need to go to the real source, Him, but maybe for some people these things could be a stepping stone. If at the end of the day, He receives glory from this, just like the hypocritical believers preaching the truth, then I don't want to stand in His way with technicality. That's how He has led my heart thus far 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

              • T.R., you’ve thought carefully about these things, and your desire to please the Lord is obvious. I wouldn’t call this issue a technicality, but also know that the Lord bows down, condescending to our weakness. We should desire to please Him, have faith, and have salt among ourselves. 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you. Maria. Since the Good Lord brought me out of the practice of Catholicism I have noticed that there are so many different pictures of Jesus-which one is correct? There are even different-many different- pictures of Jesus within the Roman Catholic Church…which one is “he”?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree Maria, It makes me feel uneasy when someone points to a picture, painting, statue or whatever and they call it “Jesus”, how can mere sinful hands presume that they can capture the essence of the “God-Man” in a work of art?.
    Christians don’t need an image of Christ to be reminded of Him. Our very existence is in Him. He has redeemed us, made us righteous by His blood shed on the cross, we should have Jesus always before us.
    PS: currently looking for a children’s Bible for my oldest grandaughter. So far I have not been able to find one without picures.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks, Maria. We disagree on this issue but not disagreeably.
    “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” – Exodus 20:4
    There have been believers in the past and currently who interpret this verse to mean ALL artwork is forbidden. But the following verse gives us the context:
    “You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” – Exodus 20:5
    As an ex-Catholic, I’m definitely not a fan of having Jesus statues or images hanging around, but I can see how representations of Jesus in films and children’s books can be useful without being idolatrous.
    Here’s another issue to think about: crosses. Many/most evangelical churches have crosses, sometimes very large ones, in their sanctuaries, but this is a violation of Exodus 20:4 in a literalist sense. I believe many Christians come close to elevating the representation of the cross to the point of idolatry and some even cross over that line. Millions of women wear a cross as jewelry and it becomes a fetish object for many of them, a good luck charm. Why would we honor such a thing? If Jesus had been executed (of course I know Jesus offered up His life willingly) in an electric chair, would we wear tiny electric chairs around our necks? There are many Christians who are passionately opposed to displaying or wearing crosses for the above reasons. Are they right?
    I appreciate the charitable discussion, sister. We needn’t close the door on fellow believers who do not align precisely with our own views on these secondary issues.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have also gotten rid of any crosses because there were crosses before Christianity that had nothing to do with our Saviour…know what I mean? Biblically we will read in some versus that Jesus was hung on a cross-some a tree ❤ That being said we know what ever mechanism was used He washed us with His blood ❤ We don't need to hang crosses-we need to live out our faith and profess Him in every circumstance we are allowed. Great conversation and I am not judging anyone 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Tom! yes, we disagree but not disagreeably. To me it seems that the last people you would want exposed to images of the Lord is children for they would learn that this is okay by reasoning that it must be okay to do this if pictures of Jesus are in my Sunday School papers.

      About the cross, yes, the crosses are a violation in a literal understanding of the second commandment. We love the Cross of Christ because He died for us there, but not the physical object itself but what took place there. As you know, the cross must have been huge since if you put all of the pieces – relics of the cross – together, it would be humungous. Yes, it would be more than odd – really weird – to wear a necklace with an electric chair on it. When John Calvin taught in a refurnished Catholic Cathedral – Saint Peter’s in Geneva – they took all the images out but left the cross on the steeple. Not that long afterwards the cross on the steeple was struck by lightning.

      I think we’d be better off without any of these things, being plain so to speak. But we cannot slash and smash. Among iconoclasts there’s a long history of tearing down and destroying other people’s property, which is another sin.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Images of an artist’s conception of Jesus help us try to picture in our own minds that Jesus is real, but there are too many instances (I am reading Judges) where the item to remember the unseen God becomes the god of worship. When I first started reading this, I remembered taking my paternal grandfather to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis for cancer surgery. I had driven on my learner’s permit with my mother with me. St. Joseph’s is the adult wing (and money making wing) of St. Jude, or was at the time. My grandfather, a devout Southern Baptist, yelled at the nun to take the abomination of the crucifix out of his hospital room. His Savior was a risen Lord. My mother apologized, but the nun laughed. “No bother. It happens all the time.” My memory is fuzzy, but I think she returned with an empty cross, but asked permission first before she hung it on the wall. I picture Jesus on the cross when I take communion. I know He rose from the dead, but I want to remind myself that salvation was at a great cost.

    Liked by 1 person

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