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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The season of images – representations of Jesus


Exodus 20:4-6

“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.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.


Setting aside the issue of celebrating Christmas for now, I want to look at the evidence against images of the Lord, whether they’re representations of Him as an adult, child, or infant, because it is really all the same thing. The article from Pulpit & Pen motivated me to post about this once again. During this season this issue is especially important. 

Philippians 2:1-2

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  


Should You Display a Nativity Set this Christmas?

“The Commandment seems clear, but could use some exposition. You shall not make a carved image (or any likeness) of anything in heaven above, the earth beneath, or in the water. Does this then prohibit artistic representation of birds, flowers, fish, trees or stars? Well, the second clause clarifies it for us. ‘You shall not bow down to them or serve them.’ Simply put, you shall not make an image of anything that is considered God or god. Whether an idol of a false god or an image of the true God, these things ought not to be done. The second stipulation is that they are not to be worshipped, but the first stipulation is that they should not be made.”


Geerhardus Vos: On Idolatry

the old guys blog

“Beauty, irreligiously esteemed, infringes upon the glory of Jehovah.”


The Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.


Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 96-98

Lord’s Day 35
Topics: Second Commandment, Image of God, Word, Preaching

96. Q. What does God require in the second commandment?

A. We are not to make an image of God in any way, 1.
nor to worship him in any other manner
than he has commanded in his Word. 2.

1. Deut. 4:15-19; Is. 40:18-25; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:23.
2. Lev. 10:1-7; Deut. 12:30; 1 Sam. 15:22, 23; Mt. 15:9; Jn. 4:23, 24.

97. Q. May we then not make any image at all?

A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them. 1.

1. Ex. 34:13, 14, 17; Num. 33:52; 2 Kings 18:4, 5; Is 40:25.

98. Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as “books for the laity”?

A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants his people to be taught not by means of dumb images 1.
but by the living preaching of his Word. 2.

1. Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-20.
2. Rom. 10:14, 15, 17; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:19.


Seeing Jesus: The Case Against Pictures of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Peter Barnes, Banner of Truth pamplet.

from

Summary, WorldCat

“All pictures of Christ are necessarily inaccurate and dependent upon imagination —

“Pictures of Christ are not only inaccurate but they are a means of introducing much error concerning Him . . .”


John Calvin, Calvin Against Images Of Christ – The Heidelblog

“The Papists . . . paint and portray ‘Jesus Christ’ – Who (as we know) is not only man but also God manifested in the flesh. He is God’s eternal Son, in Whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells – yes, even substantially . . . Should we have portraitures and images, whereby only the flesh may be represented? Is it not a wiping away of that which is chiefest in our Lord Jesus Christ – that is, to wit, of His Divine Majesty? Yes!”


playlist
Series of short videos
On God’s Covenant to Save His People From Idolatry

J. Virgil Dunbar

IDOLATRY CONDEMNED blogspot


 

An on-going debate: Is it wrong to make films about “Jesus” ?

This summer I wrote an article called “Pretty pictures? Or lies,” about images of Jesus and movies about Him. Today I’m returning to this topic, because a friend reopened the discussion with me, and I’m answering her main argument in favor of them. 

She argued that “Biblically faithful” films of Jesus’ life have led many people to Christ all across the world, and referred to the success of the 1979 Film “Jesus”, produced by The Jesus Film Project. (To see the statistics to-date gathered by the Project on things like languages into which the film has been translated, take this link. The statistics seem impressive, but that shouldn’t be of utmost importance.)

The Jesus Film Project slogan

Help Give “JESUS” to Everyone, Everywhere…

This is an invitation that’s hard to resist. But you can’t “help give ‘Jesus’ to everyone, everywhere,” unless you labor and pray that God’s Word is glorified throughout the world. And how can His Word be glorified by disobeying it?

Exodus 20

1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

An endorsement of the Project, and what it reveals

Rick Warren has put in a “good word” for the Project. At its website, he is quoted as saying, 

“The ‘JESUS’ film is the most effective evangelistic tool ever invented.”

“Invented”, or rather “inventors”, is a term used negatively in a key passage of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:30). When it comes to God’s Word and works, human “inventions” are nothing to boast about but rather to be ashamed of.

Who could possibly assume this role?

There is absolutely no man who qualifies to play the part of “Jesus”. Additionally, absolutely no one should ever put on a mask of “the Saviour”, for in doing so, he becomes a kind of antichrist who participates with the man of sin in deceiving the world.

What kind of fruit is this film bearing?

Since it is disobedience and rebellion toward God to make images of Him, including films, it cannot, despite the evidence of statistics, bear good fruit – this is impossible because Jesus has told us that, 

Matthew 7

18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

So therefore, though the Project’s statistics are amazing, they cannot represent good fruit, and the real fruit of the Project must still be ripening on the bad tree.

Cumulative Exposures/Decisions Since 1979
 
Audience2:
billions
 
Indicated decisions for Christ following a film showing:   
more than 200 million

Source

The issue of whether the film “works” as an evangelistic tool

Whether something seems to “work” (pragmatism) should hold no weight with Christians who believe the Word of God and desire to obey it. There are many genuine Christians who have a hard time seeing that anything can be of equal or greater importance than winning people to Christ. But obedience and truth and preaching the Gospel to the lost go hand in hand. You can’t divide them. God will not be mocked by our unbelief and disobedience.  

Romans 3

4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Walking by faith, not by sight

The rest of the slogan of the Jesus Film Project is

Because seeing is believing…

However, this is the testimony of God:

1 Peter 1:7-9

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

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John 20:24-29

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

May the Lord open the eyes of those dear Christians who are serving in a ministry, or supporting a ministry, that cannot be pleasing to Him no matter how zealous it is. It is a zeal, but not according to knowledge. We are called to do the Lord’s work in His way.

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Pretty pictures? Or lies.

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Deuteronomy 4 

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;

10 Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.

11 And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.

12 And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.

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Are images of Jesus idolatrous? I have been thinking about this for a long time. Today, most 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.

.

Many Bible-believing Christians are using so-called pictures of Jesus everywhere – on blogs, in videos, movies, emails, and even T-shirts. Please study the issue and pray. It’s not a trivial matter. My question is: Are we truly Bible-believing? May the Lord never say this about us: 

Hosea 4:17

Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.

.

Being Biblical

So then, what does God’s Word teach? Here are truths revealed in a few important passages:

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

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

Obedience to God is love for Him. John 14:20-22

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

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

(In preparing this, I came across a blog that leveled a very old charge against anyone who opposes images of Jesus. The charge is this, that if we say that He should not be depicted, we are denying His humanity. But we affirm that Jesus Christ came in the flesh – that He is God in the flesh – and affirm that since images of God are forbidden, and since Jesus Christ is God, that therefore images of Him are forbidden. )

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Being reasonable

1)     We can’t know how Jesus looked during His earthly ministry. Isaiah, and John in the Book of Revelation, described some of Jesus’ characteristics. Here is Isaiah’s description. It reveals only that the Lord wasn’t handsome, as so many images depict Him:

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Isaiah 53:1-3

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

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John described Jesus as He is now, after rising from the dead and ascending 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.)

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Revelation 1:13-15

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

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2)    Particular depictions of Jesus may appeal to us, but not to others. Do we want to repel people for whom He died?

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Having concern for the lost

You probably don’t worship images, kiss them, or bow before them in prayer – but some people do and they 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?  

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1 Peter 1:8-9

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

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Being honest

I have tried not to be discouraged by the blindness of Christians to the demands of the second commandment. But it is difficult when even mature Christians disobey. After studying and praying, I believe that there is no ultimate argument that will convince them – only the Lord can do this. 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.

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Isaiah 2

17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

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Isaiah 33:22

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.

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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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