Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No Graven Images?

We have spoken before on this subject but a somewhat joking discussion about an "Action Figure Jesus" on the way to a field trip for class yesterday on how the figure was not breaking the second commandment because it was made by "injection-molding and therefore was not graven" and the discussion over at the Heidelblog prompted me to look at some of the Reformed confessions condemnation and explanations for why it is improper for Christians to make any physical representation of Jesus. (In the next post I will argue why it is also not kosher to create images that "sit-in" for the other persons of the Trinity, i.e. -Doves that shadow the Holy Spirit, burning bushes, etc...)
The Second Helvetic Confession, Article 4, says:

IMAGES OF CHRIST. Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters. He denied that he had come “to abolish the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17). But images are forbidden by the law and the prophets” (Deut. 4:15; Isa. 44:9). He denied that his bodily presence would be profitable for the Church, and promised that he would be near us by his Spirit forever (John 16:7). Who, therefore, would believe that a shadow or likeness of his body would contribute any benefit to the pious? (2 Cor. 5:5). Since he abides in us by his Spirit, we are therefore the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16). But “what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (II Cor. 6:16)
The Heidelberg Catechism, says:

96. What does God require in the Second Commandment?

That we in no wise make any image of God,1 nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.2

1 Deut 4:15-19. Isa 40:18, 25. Rom 1:22-24. Acts 17:29. 2 1 Sam 15:23. Deut 12:30-32. Matt 15:9. * Deut 4:23, 24.

97. May we not make any image at all?

God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping any likeness of them, either to worship them, or to serve God by them.

1Exod 23:24, 25. Exod 34:13,14. Deut 7:5. Deut 12:3. Deut 16:22. 2 Kgs 18:4. John 1:18.

98. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?

No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols,1 but by the lively preaching of His word.2

1Jer 10:8. Hab 2:18,19. 2 2 Pet 1:19. 2 Tim 3:16,17. * Rom 10:17.
Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 says:

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.


J.R. Polk said...

Great topic. I look forward to your next post.

Bill Crawford said...

you my friend are dangerous! I'm always torn on this topic. I use power point in worship, love our stain glass but I often wonder are we truly being faithful on the topic.

Red_Cleric said...

How can you go wrong with "Buddy Christ"?


Josh Gelatt said...

Thanks for the link. As to the post, the biggest culprit in Christianity is by far children's Sunday School curriculum.

FYI - For a few years I was collecting Jesus "action-figure" type toys. My intent was to eventually use them in a sermon illustration AGAINST such blasphemy. Until one day I walked into my office and saw that my 6 year old found the box and was playing with a dozen Jesus toys on the floor. Far from being funny, I sat at the desk and sobbed. Needless to say, it was difficult to explain to my boy why he couldn't 'play with Jesus'.

Timothy said...

Yes, Sunday school curriculum is the biggest culprit. What I find quite odd is that the guys at Veggie Tales have set out never to use God's image in their videos. The closest they came was using a burning tumbleweed in Moe and the Big Exit. Why is it that these producers of children's videos can get it right, but not those who produce Sunday school curriculum?

BTW, I stand strongly opposed to power point in worship. We are to be people of the preached word of God. Not other means, just because we have become a visual society.

Josh Gelatt said...


I am partially with you on the powerpoint, but not fully. We are also people of the "written word" (Scripture) and the "visible word" (the Lord's Supper).

Jesus painted word pictures, and used living children and coins as illustrations. Having an illustration, song lyrics, or scripture flashed on a screen is allowable.

However, I have stopped putting scripture on the screen. I want my people to have their bibles open and their eyes upon it. I want reinforce in them a passion for the book in their hand.

Tim said...

I've always been a fan of Great Commission Publications, and both churches I've pastored have used their bulletins. A couple of years ago, I noticed that one of the bulletin covers (they always use nice nature scenes and so forth) had an image of "Jesus" (in silhouette) buried in the actual font of the text on the front of the bulletin! It was an obvious oversight; I called the company and registered a complaint. Someone called back on Monday begging apologies and promised to get to the bottom of it, and sent a follow-up email confirming the matter had been investigated. As I said, it was just an oversight and it has never happened since.

That being said, GCP is a wonderful company and can be counted on to publish SS material w/o images of Christ.

FWIW, it's always bothered me that the supposed image of Jesus we're always exposed to is made to look like some hippy, even though we're told in Scripture that this sort of effeminate representation is contrary to the nature of things (1 Corinthians 11:14 ) and first century evidence (etchings and so forth of Palestinian Jews) seems to mitigate against long hair.

will said...

You mention images for the Holy Spirit (stand-ins like the dove, for instance). I've always wondered why people give that a pass who seem otherwise to avoid visual depictions of God the Father or Jesus.

Also - do you limit this to worship? I didn't really think overly much about this until the movie the Passion - which 'evangelical' leaders overwhelmingly endorsed. That puzzled me because it was decidedly not a Protestant representation, but also because it was intended - at least in some fashion - to be a worship experience.