Pictures of Jesus

In a recent post, the issue of pictures of Christ came up in the comment thread. So I’ll throw this out for everybody to chew on:

I was just listening this morning to a recent (Dec 9) White Horse Inn, titled “Worship in Spirit and in Truth.” For one thing, they confirmed (in an “everybody knows” kind of way) Sheet Music’s suggestion that the Israelites were using the golden calf as an idol to the one true God, Yaweh, who brought them out of Egypt (which would tend to reinforce the prohibitions of images of Jesus). However, there was also a throw-away comment, something to the effect of “The Reformers knew what to do with all those religious images — take them out of the sanctuary, and move them into museums.” They might have also said “where they belong,” but I’d have to listen again to be sure.So I’m curious what you think should be the Christian response to “Christian” art (paintings, sculptures) in museums, which depicts Christ. (Zrim: are we allowed to call any art “Christian”?) Should we say “Pretty, but sad”? Look away? Boycott? Burn down the museum? What is the legacy of Reformed artists? (Rembrandt? Other Dutch masters?) Should we not have nativities?

Also, Echo founded his argument on Deut 4:15-18: “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire…” But that’s in the lesser, Obsolete Covenant; since then people have seen a form when the LORD spoke to them: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (in a more direct way than God dwelt among Israel) “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father”. Jesus displayed publicly the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. Of course, Christ is not with us now, but that does not revert us back to the Old Covenant, does it? As Christians who embrace the incarnation, must we keep the Word locked up in only words? Is the Lord’s Supper the only permissible flesh which the Word may become until he comes again?

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60 Responses

  1. You probably aren’t going to find many here rallying for Jesus paintings being placed on their sanctuary walls but let me throw another faggot into the fire by wondering out loud about the acceptability of the cross symbol.

    Not the crucifix with a beaten Jesus on it (again none here will rally for that) but simply the cross.

    I may be misinformed but it’s my understanding that the cross isn’t just acceptable but is expected to be prominently displayed in reformed sanctuaries.

    I’d like to see the defense for the cross image accompany the arguments against the cheesy Jesus pic’s.

    And while we are at it. I’m sure there is no shortage of Mel Gibsons “Passion of the Christ” Haters in this circle, but did anyone catch this on a recent blockbuster night?

    http://imdb.com/title/tt0760160/
    Color of the Cross
    “A retelling of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, based on the idea that he was a black man whose death was a racially motivated hate crime.”

  2. Well, I’ve sure a lot to answer for all of a sudden.

    First, to take us back to a comment on the previous thread, the illiteracy of “natives” or whatever is not a sufficient reason to make use of images of Jesus. Do you have to wait until you’ve mastered the language? Yeah, pretty much.

    See, here’s the thing. We have a certain impatience with the ways of the Lord, don’t we? Consider the Incas, or the Aztecs. When did they hear the gospel for the first time, or rather, when they heard something about Christianity, when was it? It was well over 1000 years after Christ had walked the earth.

    I have known people with Wycliffe who go into tribal areas and spend 20 years to learn the language and translate the Bible into that language. They first have to learn to speak it, and then they have to find a way to write it, and teach that to the people, and then they have to translate the Bible into that language and publish it. It’s brutally difficult work. But they are doing it, and I for one think it’s great.

    So God makes these “natives” wait for 2000 years to hear his Word, and we think it’s so urgent that we can’t wait to learn their language, so we draw pictures for them instead, because if they aren’t converted RIGHT NOW, something horrible may happen. They may die tomorrow, and in that case, putting their hope in a picture of God is better than having no hope in God at all.

    I can see where this kind of argument might be very compelling. But it’s not a valid argument. First, the picture of God is not God. If you draw a picture of God you have not communicated God to these people, you have only drawn them a picture of something other than God. Any picture is necessarily not God.

    How could you really convey the story of the gospel in pictures anyway? Would you draw a picture of Jesus on the cross? What would that mean to a native? They’ve never seen the cross before. They don’t know what it is or that a person was nailed to it. Would you draw a series of pictures, with lots of details, trying to show step by step how Jesus was crucified? If you’ve done that, very well, you’ve told them a tragic story of a man who was put to death. They might weep.

    But what picture can you draw them that says that this man who was crucified was crucified that they might live? Words are required to explain the significance of the events. That’s just how it is. Rom 10:17 teaches that faith comes through HEARING the Word of Christ. It does not offer us another method for those who cannot understand words yet.

    The same goes for 2 year olds. If they are tragically killed in a car accident, don’t fear for their eternal souls just because they can’t understand who Jesus is. They are children of the covenant, and as such belong to the Lord. That’s why we baptize infants, because Paul says that the children of believers are holy. Holy here does not mean sinless, but separated to the Lord. That means they belong to the Lord.

    They belong to the Lord in virtue of them being YOUR children, not in virtue of understanding Jesus before they can talk.

    Does this mean you don’t talk to them about Jesus and begin to teach them, even if they couldn’t possibly understand? No. You talk to them, and you bring them to church, and you trust that the Lord will use it and begin to work faith in their little hearts that will one day blossom to maturity. There is nothing wrong with the Lord’s prescribed method.

    The prohibition against images is not merely a thing of the OT, of the Tired Old Covenant that no long has anything to say to us.

    I said that tongue in cheek. The Mosaic covenant has lots to say to us. We don’t say that the OT is not the Word of God TO US, but it was only the Word of God to them at THAT time.

    “That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
    (Romans 4:22-25 ESV)

    Paul here affirms that the NT church is part of the intended audience of the OT Scriptures. So don’t be too quick to simply dismiss the prohibition against images in the OT as being part of a covenant that no longer has any validity or value. It is part of the law of God, which does not change. That law is also stated in the 2nd commandment.

    It is not just to Israel that God said “no images”, but also to us. It is the same God. WE cannot make images of God. Period.

    But that doesn’t mean God cannot make images of God. Go look in the mirror and you can see his handiwork. You are made in the image of God. But you are an image that GOD has made. Jesus as well is a God crafted revelation in the flesh of himself. He is the perfect image of God because he is a sinless MAN.

    But we aren’t allowed to make images of men and call it God.

    “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
    (Romans 1:22-25 ESV)

    Making images to understand God is necessarily to exchange the truth for the lie and to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. This prohibition against images is not merely a thing of the OT.

    “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
    (1John 5:21 ESV)

    This is the very last verse of John’s epistle. He is affirming the continuing validity of the 2nd commandment.

    “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
    (Romans 10:17 ESV)

    Faith is the result of hearing, NOT seeing.

    “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
    (2Corinthians 5:7 ESV)

    The APOSTLES sure DID see Jesus, as 1 John affirms. But that’s what makes them special. When it says “we” testify to what “we” have seen and heard, the “we” does not include US. It is the apostles that he is speaking of. They have seen Jesus, and therefore they have a certain right to testify to those things they have seen.

    “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.You are witnesses of these things.”
    (Luke 24:45-48 ESV)

    “You are witnesses of these things.” They had a special office, a special calling, a special function in redemptive history. They SAW Jesus and witnessed his ministry. But if seeing Jesus was important to be conveyed to others, why isn’t there even so much as a physical description of Jesus anywhere in the NT?

    If everyone needs to see Jesus, to make pictures of him to hang on their walls, to form in their minds, why is there no description of his hair, of his eyes, of his girth of how tall he was, etc? How come there’s none of that in Scripture? Since these details aren’t important, what can we conclude?

    We don’t say, well, the apostles saw him, and that gave them special authority to testify, etc, and therefore, we should endeavor to see him too. We don’t say that. The apostles were given a special privilege that they cannot pass on to us. They have seen him, but they can’t show him to us. They can only TELL us what they have SEEN. That’s all they can do. And rightfully so, because that’s how God has ordained it, so that it must be by faith, which comes ONLY by hearing the Word preached and the sacraments administered.

    The Roman Catholics argued for the use of images in the church because people were largely illiterate, and because the mass was in Latin, which no one spoke anymore. So they began painting pictures. And look where it got them.

    No images. Period.

    But what about crosses in the front of the sanctuary? No again. Not in worship. Reformed churches do NOT normally have a cross at the front. In fact, when I visit a church that has one it’s a bit shocking and unnerving.

    Now that’s not to say that a little cross necklace – as a SYMBOL – is wrong. But in worship, this kind of thing is not to be used. It is not prescribed by God. Period. End of story. You don’t need it and God hasn’t commanded it, and that settles it.

    My grandmother used to love having a cross in the church, and really put up a stink about our church not having one. She said the cross helped her focus, it drew her into worship. That’s exactly why we DON’T have them in our churches.

    So what DO you do with all the old idolatrous art from previous eras, if they don’t belong in the church? Well, what should society, not the church, but society, do with some old statue of Zeus that Greeks used to worship? Shouldn’t that go in a museum as a piece of history, so that future generations can understand what kind of world ancient Greece was? Even as a Christian I wouldn’t be in favor of merely destroying this as an idol, but of preserving it as history. It helps you understand other cultures.

    So I’d say the same for the pictures of Jesus from previous eras. I myself am not too keen to gaze upon such works of art, since I consider it blasphemous, but that’s not to say that I think it should be outlawed by society or gathered up and burned. It doesn’t belong in the church, but you can’t get rid of it from society. Let people worship Buddha if they want, or the 300 million gods of Hinduism. Let them do it. But keep it out of the church.

  3. http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=438

    Here’s a helpful article on the topic, by someone far more articulate than me.

  4. I guess we’ll end up disagreeing (and hopefully agreeing to) on the “illiterate natives” issue.

    I view a stick figure (scratched in dirt, or printed on Sunday School curricula or children’s storybooks) as a symbol in a rudimentary written language — it is obviously not intended to represent what somebody/something actually looks like. Characteristics like color, texture, shape, size are to a large degree abstracted out.

    As an extension, I’d say the same would hold for simplistic cartoons. If a cartoon character does a particular shape/size/color/dress, it is typically constant — more as a means of distinguishing it from other cartoon characters than to make any assertions about the actual characteristics of the actually represented person/thing.

    As visual depiction moves along this continuum (slides down this slippery slope) towards representational art, you move away from Word, and towards Image (see here). But I think it is pretty easy to find room this side of orthodoxy for some visual depictions. (And granted, with this setup, most Sunday School materials I have seen would probably be on the wrong side of that blurry line.)

    The caveats that should be understood: the depictions should be icons (meant in the computer/GUI sense, not the Catholic/idolatrous sense), not images (i.e. .gif, not .jpg, or Google Maps with “Map” view on, not “Satellite”). The depictions should be used for teaching, not worship (so it’s not OK to decorate your sanctuary with stick-figure representations of the “stations of the cross”, and have the congregation worship by walking around and meditating/praying at each one)

  5. I may be misinformed but it’s my understanding that the cross isn’t just acceptable but is expected to be prominently displayed in reformed sanctuaries.

    Dbalc, I think you might be misinformed. The one cross in our sanctuary is, as I said, rather “hidden”. Our sanctuary’s walls are composed largely of 4-foot squares of light wood, with a grid of dark channels between. At the back wall, we have a choir shell made out of these light-wood squares, and a very skinny stainless-steel cross appears in the channels. You wouldn’t notice it unless you specifically looked for it. And the fact that it is “hidden” speaks I guess that we are kind of apologetic for having it there at all. I don’t know the whole history, but I bet there was a faction that wanted a cross, and a faction that didn’t and what we have was the resulting compromise.

    She said the cross helped her focus, it drew her into worship. That’s exactly why we DON’T have them in our churches.

    In our sanctuary (and I understand this is a common element of Reformed architecture), we purposefully have a huge pulpit, with a less-massive sacramental table below, so that focus is drawn to the central elements of Word and Sacrament.

  6. “No images. Period.

    But what about crosses in the front of the sanctuary? No again. Not in worship. Reformed churches do NOT normally have a cross at the front. In fact, when I visit a church that has one it’s a bit shocking and unnerving.”

    So I was mistaken. Thanks for clearing that up.

  7. The Roman Catholics argued for the use of images in the church because people were largely illiterate, and because the mass was in Latin, which no one spoke anymore. So they began painting pictures. And look where it got them.

    (a) The Reformation took care of both of those issues with virtually universal literacy, and vernacular preaching. Except for 2-3-year-olds.

    Besides, is Sunday School “church”? I say no (and that’s also why I have no problem with women teaching Sunday School classes (even including adult men — a woman Sunday School teacher is just as subject to correction by elders as an unordained male teacher))

  8. FWIW our church does have a religious painting in the hall way. It’s a print of the Gutenberg Bible on loan to us from a gallery in La Jolla. It’s pretty and tasteful but isn’t really intended to be meditated on.

    We also have a large frosted window behind the pulpit with certain panes darker in the image of the cross. But this is more for the sake of those outside the church driving by to see that this is clearly a Christian church.

    the pulpit doesn’t have a cross on it though I’ve often thought it would be a worth while accent.

  9. what about the Jesus fish?
    <

    Are these also symbols which should be avoided?

    If it weren’t for the Jesus fish Elaine never would’ve discovered Putty’s religion. Surely you can’t have a problem with the Jesus fish?

  10. I’m not sure what you’re trying to do, but if you want to render an ASCII fish, and it involves a less-than sign, it is probably getting confused with HTML.

    But no, I’ve got no particular problem with the Jesus fish. Keep it out of the sanctuary, but I think the IXOYE (or whatever the right letters are) is an effective teaching tool for Jesus Christ, …Son of God, Savior? (I guess not that effective, since I can’t remember) — just like TULIP.

  11. yeah the html hates the idea. It won’t work.

  12. RubeRad:
    Don’t forget the “hidden” cross on the rug that covers our sanctuary’s center aisle! It’s a bit abstract, in its patterns of colored squares, but it’s there.

    danielbalc:
    Yes, the HTML swallows the open and close angle brackets because it interprets them as a tag. However, you can explicitly tell it to display a less-than sign with ampersand lt semicolon (no spaces, and “gt” for greater-than):
    <><

  13. Then he said to Thomas, “‘Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side.'” (John 20)

    With Jesus, God gave us more than even a visual accessibility. A wholesale ban on images of the God-graven Image approaches docetism.

  14. With Jesus, God gave us more than even a visual accessibility. A wholesale ban on images of the God-graven Image approaches docetism.

    How?

  15. forester:

    I don’t see it. Sure, Jesus was more than visually accessible to the Disciples, but that’s part of what made them so special.

    There’s no denial of Jesus’s humanity in a refusal to create images; it’s just that creating images presents a physical object to the modern believer that may distract from devotion to the real Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) is past tense. He no longer lives in his Earthly body, so why would anybody depict Him that way?

  16. Rube,

    Re: stick figures. I don’t think you have any warrant to distinguish between abstract pictorial depictions and representational art. Both are pictures that represent the thing. This is what the Lord forbids. It seems to me like you in principle believe in the usefulness of images to teach about God or about Christ, and this is the very thing that I am saying that Scripture forbids explicitly and clearly in many places.

    Re: teaching versus worship. You cannot draw a picture of Jesus and say that you are only teaching about Jesus, not worshiping the image. You cannot separate the two. The depiction is of Jesus, whom we worship. It is an image of the GOD we worship. It necessarily involves worshiping an image. There is no such thing as the casual Jesus. Jesus is never someone we learn about to the exclusion of worshiping him. When we learn about HIM, we are learning about the God whom we worship.

    Furthermore, consider Billy Graham’s comments about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” movie. He said that whenever he reads the gospels from now on, he will be thinking of Gibson’s movie. Don’t you also know it to be true from your own experience that the images of Jesus that you saw when you were a kid are conjured in your mind during worship? If you use images to teach children about Jesus, what is going to arise in their mind in the worship service when the pastor is preaching about Jesus, or when they are singing about Jesus? Do you think that the human mind is capable of learning about Jesus through an image and then not bringing that image with them mentally to worship?

    No. No images. No stick figures, no images period. Not for illiterate people, not for children, no. It’s prohibited by Scripture in no uncertain terms, and without the qualifications you are adding to it. Sure, make pictures of Abraham and what not, but images of Jesus, images of God – these are expressly and clearly forbidden by Scripture. Do not add to the law of God by saying that images of God are forbidden…except in these cases and if the image is sufficiently abstract. You are adding your own exceptions to the rule.

    Do you suppose we are more sophisticated than Moses? If God had meant to say that images were ok for children, wouldn’t he have added that exception to the second commandment? If there was an exception to the second commandment for Jesus, wouldn’t the apostles have told us? But no, they don’t tell us that, they continue to speak of images as if everyone knows that they are plum forbidden, no exceptions. Images are NOT to be worshiped, and that means you cannot make any image of the God whom we worship.

    That means if you make a picture of Abraham it’s fine, but you had better not make an image of the three men who visited him, because one of them was Christ. And you had better be careful with the Angel of the Lord, specifically Judges 2, etc, because that was Christ too.

    Rather than trying to see how close you can come to disobeying the law, and trying to figure out where and under what circumstances images are allowed, you would do much better to avoid images, for fear of breaking a law. Err on the side of caution. Don’t be like the Pharisees who add to the law. Again, you can make use of picture of Abraham or whatever. But this stick figure business, or your exceptions for 3 year olds – this is wrong. This is replacing the law of God with the law of Rube.

    Sorry to be harsh sounding, but I can’t compromise this, and I would not see you compromise it either.

    If this means you have done wrong with your own kids, you know what to do. You know that God forgives any and all sins, missteps, or whatever. If you thought images of Jesus were ok, then don’t think you’ve condemned your children to a life of idolatry. Repent of it, get rid of the images from your house, and move on with your life. The grace of Christ extends to all things.

    Don’t be afraid to admit that you have compromised the law of God. I find ways to justify all sorts of sins by compromising the law of God. I do it all the time. Our churches do it.

    We do the same thing with the Sabbath. We are always trying to figure out what activities we can get away with without violating the Sabbath. That’s almost always our focus. Instead, God wants us to focus on how best to separate the day to him.

    Get rid of the images and move on. Your children will be just fine. Your number 1 is certainly a huge, glaring representation of the grace of Christ to you. You should be very proud and grateful to God.

  17. It seems to me like you in principle believe in the usefulness of images to teach about God or about Christ, and this is the very thing that I am saying that Scripture forbids explicitly and clearly in many places.

    All I’m saying is that some pictures are so simple as to serve a linguistic purpose. Would you consider a written language which was pictographic, rather than phonetic/alphabetic to be idolatrous, and unsuitable for translating the Bible into?

    Err on the side of caution. Don’t be like the Pharisees who add to the law.

    To add rules that protect us by forcing us to err on the side of caution is the same thing as adding to the law, just what the Pharisees had done. Why do you think kosher Jews can’t eat a pizza with meat on it? Because the Bible says not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. “Best to err on the side of caution,” the teachers of the law agreed, and so now all Jews must always separate all meat from all dairy, to the extent that they basically need two different kitchens! Or recall how Peter, when he was rebuked, overcompensated by erring on the side of caution, and was rebuked again!

  18. There should be a “but” between those two sentences.

    “Err on the side of caution, but don’t be like the Pharisees who add to the law.” The second phrase was meant to balance the first.

    Look, there is some ambiguity as far as what exactly this law means in your eyes. And what you are doing is trying to figure out what you can get away with doing. I’m telling you that your perspective is wrong. Just like on the Sabbath.

    Most people seek to try to see what they can get away with doing on the Sabbath. Can I go to the movies? Can I let my kids play park district soccer between services? Do I have to go on Sunday nights to worship? Can I ditch Sunday night worship in order to go to Grandma’s house? Can I go to an apostate church where my friends go because they want me to see their kids in their Christmas program? What can I get away with and not be profaning the Sabbath?

    This mindset is completely wrong. The mindset that ought to be ours is, more like, why would I not WANT to go to Sunday evening worship? Why would I even WANT to compromise my worship of God by visiting some apostate church to watch a Christmas music program instead of going to my church to worship God? Why would I even want to do that? Why would I want to voluntarily exclude myself from being able to accept Sunday afternoon dinner invitations by committing my kid to afternoon sports in the community? Why would I even WANT to do that?

    The fact that people WANT to do these things only shows that they really don’t WANT to worship God, but they only do so out of duty. We don’t have a DUTY to worship God. We have been given freedom in Christ. We ought to have a DESIRE to worship God. That’s what God wants from us. If we simply go out of duty, but we secretly resent giving that time to worship, do you think God is pleased? He is not.

    In the same way, don’t see how close you can come to the line. Don’t argue that some languages that were in use before the Bible was written were really pictures, and that the language of revelation had to be either oral only or pictorial at that time, and therefore there is room for pictures today. Don’t make such arguments. Why not fall in love with the God who has chosen to specifically wait until written languages were fully developed before he gave the law? Why not love the fact that we cannot see God but can only hear his voice? Why not take comfort in the fact that while we cannot see Jesus hanging on our walls, we will one day see him face to face and be with him forever? Why not recognize how powerful and effective the Word of God is, and fall in love with it, and use it exclusively to train your children and others about Jesus, since it is so powerful and effective for their good?

  19. I’m not sure what you think my Sundays are like, but (not to toot my own horn) I am in church possibly more than my pastor is, my kids will never play in a sunday sports league, I would never skip church to go see a movie, and the only reason I can think of that I would go to another church would be to witness the “dry baptism” of a niece or nephew, or if I were out of town on vacation or something. (Actually, I have entertained the thought recently of going to Disneyland over a weekend, so I would have the excuse to attend a Friday night Academy and Sunday morning worship at Riddlebarger’s church, which is a few blocks away from Disney)

    And yet there are 5 hours between Sunday School and Evening Service. Among the many activities I may be found engaging in include (in no particular order) napping, playing games or riding bikes or going to a playground with the family, having lunch with (or going out to lunch with) the family (and sometimes another family), reading the Bible, reading a book, reading/writing blogs, woodworking, hacking Perl, disc golfing, or listening to theologically-based podcasts. As you can see, some of those things are spiritually nourishing, but most of my out-of-church Sunday activities are just physically or mentally nourishing.

    But this thread is not about Sabbatarianism, but rather about images of Jesus. You have failed to convince me (convict my conscience) that there is no distinction between teaching and worshipping, or that cartoons of Jesus in children’s story bibles are sinful. Sorry.

  20. Err on the side of caution. Don’t be like the Pharisees who add to the law.

    Glaring contradiction?

  21. Rube,

    The Sabbath stuff was an analogy ONLY to illustrate how we ought to view the law in general.

    E

  22. Anonymous,

    How I intended that was with a “but” in between the two sentences.

    “Err on the side of caution BUT don’t be like the Pharisees who add to the law.”

    Remember, it’s just as evil to ADD to the law as it is to SUBTRACT from it. Neither one is a “better” error.

    So does that contradict what I meant? No. We shouldn’t be seeking to get away with as much as possible, but rather we should be seeking to go out of our way to please God. It’s all about the condition of the heart.

    E

  23. Sorry, that anonymous response was mine (no surprise there) — I clicked submit without realizing I wasn’t logged into WordPress. And then I read further down the thread to realize RubeRad already responded to that point — so there’s a second sorry from me.

    I have many thoughts on this topic that I hope to draft in the next few days. They will include a defense of my mention of docetism.

    Before any of that, however — and backing up what Echo recently said about being a condition of the heart — I humbly suggest that for this question, the Romans chapter 14 principle is in full effect, making both sides right. Particularly this:

    As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

    More from me later …

  24. [[[Echo_ohcE Wrote: Consider the Incas, or the Aztecs. When did they hear the gospel for the first time, or rather, when they heard something about Christianity, when was it? It was well over 1000 years after Christ had walked the earth.

    I have known people with Wycliffe who go into tribal areas and spend 20 years to learn the language and translate the Bible into that language. They first have to learn to speak it, and then they have to find a way to write it, and teach that to the people, and then they have to translate the Bible into that language and publish it. It’s brutally difficult work. But they are doing it, and I for one think it’s great.

    So God makes these “natives” wait for 2000 years to hear his Word, and we think it’s so urgent that we can’t wait to learn their language, so we draw pictures for them instead, because if they aren’t converted RIGHT NOW, something horrible may happen. They may die tomorrow, and in that case, putting their hope in a picture of God is better than having no hope in God at all.]]]

    Are all who are naïve of Jesus’ existence doomed to burn in eternal hellfire? If yes, then God is a demon and unworthy of worship by anyone who would call themselves good. HOWEVER, if God is indeed a merciful God, then those that are naïve of Jesus’ existence will not be punished for their innocent ignorance and will be granted entrance into heaven. If the later is the case, however, then wouldn’t the people of the world be better served by missionaries not coming to their lands? One minute the tribesman has a free pass to heaven from a good and merciful God, the next a missionary arrives and tells him to stop worshiping his god and worship Christ. The tribesman, not understanding, or not trusting this pale faced foreigner decides to continue worshiping as he and his people have for countless generations. The next day a jaguar attacks the tribesman and kills him. Fastpass to HELL for the tribesman. The very introduction of the missionary into their tribe dooms them. Thanks God! Thanks do-gooder Christians!

    Why are their Christian missionaries at all? The bible is very clear that a Christian should not associate with a non believer. II John 1:10 – “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.” Similar in I Tim. 6:5

    And consider all those tribes-people who died while your friend was learning their language and translating the bible. Consider all those ancient Incas and Aztecs or Greeks, or Romans, or Native Americans, etc. who died worshiping their various gods before knowledge of Christianity reached them. According to your bible, they are all burning in eternal hellfire for their ignorance. And you want me to worship this god of yours? Really? I think I’ll pass.

  25. Hi doubtingthomas426,

    From your last thought it seems your main criticism deals with God’s justice and mercy. Funny enough, earlier yesterday RubeRad happened to post a cogent response on another blog.

    My own response boils down to this line from Exodus chapter 33: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” God’s prerogative is His own. I don’t pretend to understand it; sometimes, like you, I am frustrated by it. But I still respect it. He is God and I am not.

    When the creator of the universe frustrates me, it’s wise to ask whether I’m the one who’s misaligned.

    By the way, I’m intrigued that you would reach into Scriptures you don’t trust in order to forge a (ridiculously easily answered) argument against missionaries. I suspect you do take issue with missionaries, but not for the Scriptural reasons above. Perhaps, in this, you are on the wrong side of globalization and the marketplace of ideas. The world contains no naive peoples in need of protection from foreign ways. Adults are adults, fully capable of parsing among worldviews to choose those that ring most true. And you can bet that every society, no matter how small or sheltered, contains disenfranchised individuals who would be liberated by alternative belief systems. Pluralism conveys numerous benefits to society that you, as an internet user, can appreciate.

    Imagine if we argued that you should be sheltered from unfamiliar ideas! (It only takes a little legislation to censor your internet access.)

    I trust you won’t argue that your cyberspace-savvy mind is more sophisticated than that of a “tribesman” (your term). In this Christians may take the higher road of recognizing and treating all others as equals.

  26. if God is indeed a merciful God, then those that are naïve of Jesus’ existence will not be punished for their innocent ignorance

    There is no such thing as innocent ignorance. Which is not to say that everybody is guilty of being ignorant of Jesus’ existence — they are guilty of plain old sin! Everybody has sinned, everybody knows it, everybody knows better, and so everybody deserves to go to hell. God is not a demon unworthy of worship, but a sovereign creator, who is completely Just to condemn all, but in his mercy, also a Justifier of some. (And yes, everybody who does not take advantage of Jesus, the one and only means of being justified, will go to hell) Who are you to judge your creator? What right does the created have to define the standard of what is “good” and what is “worthy”? (“If yes, then God is a demon and unworthy of worship by anyone who would call themselves good“)

    Why are their Christian missionaries at all? The bible is very clear…

    …that Christians are commanded to evangelize the whole world. It’s called the Great Commission.

    …that a Christian should not associate with a non believer.

    The Bible stops short of that position. And your handling of II Jn 1:10 is mindboggling! The passage is simply a warning for Christians to watch out for heretics; those that twist and distort the message of the bible. So if you want to press on II Jn 1:10, then I should not make you welcome around here.

  27. Forester,

    I would like to anticipate your “all foods are clean” argument a little bit by saying that while I whole heartedly affirm Christian liberty on the one hand, on the other I whole heartedly affirm the regulative principle. And I think the regulative principle applies to images of Jesus, even outside of the context of worship services, because Jesus is an object of our worship.

    So there’s a little preview of my response to what I suppose to be your argument. Of course this is all probably a bit overly anticipatory, and I await your further comments.

    E

  28. Just one more thing. The Westminster Larger Catechism takes up this issue in no uncertain terms when discussing the second commandment. Now if you disagree with the WLC, that’s your prerogative, but you’ll note that no ministers, at least in the OPC, ever take a scruple about this. So there is quite a bit of ecclesiastical weight behind this.

    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.

  29. The key part of that being that one of the sins forbidden by the 2nd commandment is “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”.

    You’ll notice that this is not qualified by worshiping said image. That is also forbidden, but they purposely say that the mere making of such an image is a sin forbidden by the 2nd commandment.

  30. … either inwardly in our mind …

    Now that’s just silly. Who can read the gospels without visualizing Jesus?

    As you say, the WLC has enough ecclesiastical weight that it should not be dismissed lightly. I certainly don’t dismiss the full answer to 109. Just that one phrase in reference to the Son of God who walked among us.

  31. Well, maybe I do scruple Q109. I’m not totally convinced that 109 (or the Bible) applies the same rules to non-worship as to worship, but in any case, Forester seems correct. I have a vague memory of somebody else mentioning the “inwardly in our mind” bit and saying “that’s a bit over-the-top”. Maybe the key word is “making”, such that “natural” visualization of a physical scene when you read the gospels is OK, but sitting around dwelling on the question “I wonder what Jesus looked like? Did he have long brown hippie-hair? Did he have a long thin nose? Did he wear a white robe with a sky-blue sash? Did he look more like Willem Dafoe or James Caviezel? Or, being Jewish, did he look more like Woody Allen? If only I could picture him better, I could know him better; I could worship him better.”

  32. Who can read the gospels without visualizing Jesus?

    Anybody can. It’s my view that without being fueled by numerous bogus pictures and statues of the Lord visualization has only this to go on:

    he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

    which at best clearly says “you are wasting your time if you go there, so don’t go there”.

    So, no it’s not silly. I suggest that your difficulty with WLC Q109 is fostered because the 2nd commandment has been violated in your sight thus planting images in your mind. Taking a scruple here is just more rationalism at work. You must submit your rational mind to scripture.

  33. Et tu, Bruce?

    Consider other books; can you read any novel (that you haven’t seen a movie for) without getting an impression of what the characters look like? I can’t.

    I don’t know how often your work projects team you with other, remote companies, but if you have ever developed a phone or internet relationship with somebody, and then finally seen them in person? I have many times, and every time I’m jarred by how the person I meet is so different than the mental image I had unconsciously formed. And it’s not like I spend time daydreaming about what my co-workers in Denver look like — it’s an involuntary mental response to communication with a Person.

    I have a mental image of what the Apostle Paul looked like (and I’m pretty sure it is not influenced by any classical artistic traditions). My “mental image” of Calvin is nothing like his pictures (when I read Calvin, I don’t see a pointy beard). I even have a mental image of what Echo looks like! I can’t help it, and I don’t think anyone else can either!

    BTW, I’m curious; does there exist any children’s story Bible which Echo would read to his kids? Or are they going to have to content themselves with secular picture books and an oral religious tradition until they can read for themselves?

  34. Consider other books; can you read any novel (that you haven’t seen a movie for) without getting an impression of what the characters look like? I can’t.

    Novels take great pains to describe their characters so that we can imagine them. The Bible deflects us away from doing this in the case of Jesus. (but not in every case without exception e.g. Absalom who we are told had red hair). Anyways, whether or not one does form images in one’s mind is not the issue. It is whether one should form them and also whether one should assist impressionable minds to form them. That’s the issue.

    Therefore I don’t see what

    I can’t help it, and I don’t think anyone else can either!

    has to do with it if the project here is to submit our rational minds to scripture and to not submit scripture to our rational minds.

  35. Forester,

    I’m sorry you find the official confession of the Presbyterian church for the last 350 years that every minister, elder and deacon has pledged their allegiance to and submission to – to be “silly”.

    You’ll pardon me if I find your assertion that it is “silly” to be just a little bit arrogant, and just a little bit too casual with a document that ought to at least command your respect, rather than a dismissive, pick and choose line item veto with the wave of your hand and a charge of silliness.

    Their point is that the law of God requires submission even in the heart. The mere desire to make an image of God is enough to be considered the same as the sin of making such an image. Jesus taught this about the law in the sermon on the mount when he says that looking at the picture of the girl on the magazine cover is the same as adultery. And similarly he said that hating someone was the same as murder. So taking their cue from this, the Westminster assembly simply said that forming an image in your mind is the same as forming an image with your hands.

    But feel free to take it to be “silly” if you want. I am certainly not your judge.

    E

  36. Rube,

    You seem to think that you can make an image of God without worshiping it.

    Please justify this, since it has been argued to no response that this is impossible. There is no casual Jesus.

    E

  37. a dismissive, pick and choose line item veto with the wave of your hand and a charge of silliness

    Without the derogatory tone, isn’t a confessional scruple just such a line-item veto?

    You seem to think that you can make an image of God without worshiping it. Please justify this, since it has been argued to no response that this is impossible.

    I don’t see that it has been argued, but only asserted, and I didn’t buy it. Since it is not true universally that “making an image of X entails worshipping X”, how have you shown that this is true for God? If I draw a Buddha, am I worshipping Buddha? If a buddhist paints a picture of the Last Supper, is he worshipping Jesus?

    Hold that thought, I’ve got a new post coming…

  38. […] Comments Bruce S. on I Surrender AllRubeRad on Pictures of JesusEcho_ohcE on Pictures of JesusEcho_ohcE on Pictures of JesusEcho_ohcE on Where I StandSteve on I Surrender AllBruce […]

  39. This …

    I’m sorry you find the official confession of the Presbyterian church for the last 350 years that every minister, elder and deacon has pledged their allegiance to and submission to – to be “silly”.

    You’ll pardon me if I find your assertion that it is “silly” to be just a little bit arrogant, and just a little bit too casual with a document that ought to at least command your respect, rather than a dismissive, pick and choose line item veto with the wave of your hand and a charge of silliness.

    in response to this …

    As you say, the WLC has enough ecclesiastical weight that it should not be dismissed lightly. I certainly don’t dismiss the full answer to 109. Just that one phrase in reference to the Son of God who walked among us.

    … really amazes me.

    I will still draft and post my intended response. I’ve already outlined it, as well as drafted the first two paragraphs.

    But already I’m regretting touching the Echo tar baby.

  40. Forester said:

    “… either inwardly in our mind …”

    “Now that’s just silly. Who can read the gospels without visualizing Jesus?”

    Echo: My “derogatory tone” is due to the tone of the word “silly”. Disagree with the Westminster standards if you like, but to just call it silly is unacceptable to me.

    Rube, can you tell me what the difference is between these two statements?

    1. I disagree with the WCF’s stance on the Sabbath. For example, I believe children ought to be allowed to play on Sunday afternoons, but I maintain that attending worship services is not optional but mandatory.

    2. The WCF’s stance on the Sabbath is silly.

    This is not an “Echo tar baby”. This is me standing up for the respect due a document that carries the ecclesiastical weight that the WCF has among US who claim to be in (at least basic) agreement with it.

    Forester, I recognize that you didn’t just dismiss the whole document or even the whole question, but “just that one phrase”. Had you said that you disagree with that phrase because you don’t understand how it could be reasonable, or had you said that their interpretation of the commandment was a bit over zealous in your estimation, and perhaps given some reason for thinking so – I would not have objected. I might have engaged your objection more reasonably, giving it due consideration, but it would not have provoked the reaction that what you said did.

    I specifically objected to you saying that the phrase is “silly”. I’m not sure how you can justify such language in a way that will convince me to repent of my taking offense at it. You’re welcome to try if you like.

    Look, the Westminster standards are by no means perfect. There are parts of it that I disagree with. There are even a few parts, such as that chapter on the civil magistrate or the phrase about the Pope being the antichrist, that have been changed over the years. But the phrase you call “silly” has withstood 350 years of Reformed contemplation, and remains unchanged. EVERY Presbyterian minister, elder and deacon for 350 years has been in submission to the Westminster standards by means of a solemn oath before God. And you say that this is “silly”?

    Is my objection quite clear now? Please feel free to disagree with me and call me silly and say that I hold my confession in too high an esteem, and that I should feel more free to criticize it in the most colorful and whimsical ways I can imagine as if it means nothing at all. Feel free.

    But I for one respect the WCF and catechisms a great deal, and I am very grateful for them. Out of respect for the God who has given us these documents through his servants whom he called to be his messengers, I will not be calling the WCF and catechisms silly for anything they say, not ever. Nor will I ever say that something my pastor said from the pulpit is silly, even if I disagree with it because I don’t think it’s in keeping with Scripture.

    Would you do that? Would you walk away from church on Sunday afternoon and dismiss something your pastor said from the pulpit that morning as “silly”? Would you say that? Or would that occur to you as disrespectful? That would seem to me to be disrespectful to his authority as your pastor. But maybe you would say that, I don’t know. Understand though, that when you say that this phrase is “silly”, I take it as if you are saying that all those ministers for 3 and a half centuries are silly. If you called your pastor silly for something he said from the pulpit, you are disrespecting one man’s God given authority. But to call the confession silly, you are compounding that disrespect thousands of times over. And ultimately, it is not men you are being disrespectful of, by disrespecting their authority, but God.

    Well, you can all call me melodramatic, and say that I’m reading too much into things and over-analyzing. I fully expect you to do so. I suppose that’s why you think that the notion that forming an image of God in your mind would be sinful is “silly”. You probably suppose that the WLC is over-analyzing, reading too much into things. That’s fine. You have a right to your opinion, just as I have a right to mine.

  41. Actually, I regret that last line even more. I’m sorry. That was completely uncalled for, and I sincerely apologize.

    (RubeRad, maybe you should restore my editing rights. I would’ve deleted that right after hitting the submit button.) (Better yet, I could develop some patience and not vent hastily.)

  42. Forester,

    Allow me, now, to move beyond the tone question, and engage your objection to the phrase. You wanted to know who could possibly read the gospels without picturing Jesus in their minds.

    If I understand you correctly, you seem to be arguing that since we all picture Jesus in our minds when we read the gospel narratives, therefore if God actually did forbid this, it would be unfair and unjust, because of course no one can do this. God would be requiring something of us that we are unable to fulfill.

    If that’s your argument, then all I can say is that ALL of the law of God works in the same way. Just because we all picture Jesus in our minds does not mean it’s right. God demands that we love our neighbor as ourselves. CAN we do that? No. No, who can encounter their neighbor without hating him just a little? But this is not argument against what the law of God CAN be. It’s only proof that we can’t live up to the law, and thus need Jesus’ active obedience on our behalf. He is our only hope.

    It is POSSIBLE, is it not, that if we all try to picture Jesus in our minds when we read the narratives, that it might be that we are simply all sinful. We all have something in common, a sinful nature. We have something else in common, namely how our brains work. If we all think in a certain way, it can either be a natural result of how our brains work, or it can be the result of sin. Simply that we all do it is not a sufficient argument to say that it’s just how our brains work.

    The WLC sees forming an image of Jesus in your mind as sinful for good reason. If you picture a skinny Jesus, then does that mean it’s wrong to be overweight a few pounds? Well, I’ve made that argument already. How you physically imagine Jesus can have a profound, albeit subtle, affect on your thinking. Or maybe your thinking has a profound affect on how you picture him?

    E

  43. Forester,

    It is but a trifle. No worries. Forgive me if my rebuke was unnecessarily harsh.

    E

  44. Echo, re: your objections to my use of the word “silly” —

    Fair enough. I should’ve phrased that better. I do feel that particular phrase (“either inwardly in our mind”) is an overcorrection for historical abuses of images in worship. My opinion is that the WCL tacks this pin on one far end of the spectrum when a vector would have sufficed.

    It would have been wise for me to take the time to put it that way. Again, I apologize for my haste.

    Despite BruceS’s objections, as a former writing major and English teacher I insist it’s impossible to read the Scriptures (and all texts) without visualizing the characters in them, even if only human form in action. As for lack of physical details — we’re given at least one whopper of a description in Revelation chapter 1. Does the Bible not invite us to visualize Christ here?

    To me, that one WCL phrase (“either inwardly in our mind”), taken literally, contradicts the processes that comprehending God’s Word requires.

    (By the way, how do you write so fast? The interval between my “tar baby” line and subsequent apology wasn’t that long — yet you squeezed out eight paragraphs. Does your brain have an export jack? Can you tell me where I can get one?)

  45. We seem to be posting simultaneously, making this hard to follow. So I will now step away from the computer! :-)

  46. I must have come to the site at the very next moment after you posted.

    However, I’d forward you on to the Golden Calf thread. I’d be interested in your responses to that.

    For my part, I think there’s a big difference between what goes on in your mind when you read and what goes on when you see an image.

    We’ve all had the experience of seeing a movie after reading a book. The actor cast is not like we imagined him when reading the book. But confound it all, when you go back to read the Lord of the Rings books, for example, you can’t get Elijah Wood out of your mind when Frodo is in view. Prior to the movies, I had imagined Frodo in a way that was shaped entirely by Tolkien’s text. I didn’t imagine a great deal of detail. Just whatever the text described. That which formed in my mind as a I read was vague and murky, not fully formed. But now I can never go back to that. Elijah Wood has concretized what was once shaped only a little bit by the text.

    If it is true that it is impossible to ever read the Gospels narratives without somehow picturing Christ, then I would wonder just what that picture would look like, since no physical description of him exists in the Gospels (Rev 1 discussion below). How would you imagine him if you had never seen any picture of him? I confess I have no idea what that experience would be like, since I grew up seeing pictures that were supposed to represent Jesus. In a permanent way, those pictures have affected what is conjured in my mind when I read the text. Now it is no longer only the text shaping what is conjured in my mind, but those images from childhood are added to it.

    It’s important to have only the text drive what we are thinking about the text and about God, about Christ. Sola Scriptura, right?

    About Rev 1. Surely that is not how Jesus appeared during his earthly ministry. So it would be incorrect to picture him as that way when healing a leper. But just because God forbids us from making pictures of Christ doesn’t mean he can’t make images of himself. See my argument on this point in the Golden Calf thread. Here:

    https://ruberad.wordpress.com/2008/01/09/golden-calf/#comment-19849

  47. I think there’s a big difference between what goes on in your mind when you read and what goes on when you see an image.

    WCF doesn’t seem to imply such a distinction when they prohibit any mental image.

    How would you imagine him if you had never seen any picture of him?

    I can tell you from experience that, for people I have known only by voice from months of teleconferences, I develop rather elaborate mental pictures. One guy was (in my mind) tall, blond, balding, bookish, clean-shaven, glasses, late 20’s-early 30’s. Turned out he was well over 40, rather short, goatee, not particularly balding or bookish, no glasses. He was blond though (call Pat Robertson — I think I’ve got a prophetic gift that he can employ!)

  48. Perhaps I’d ask you this: why do you feel the need to imagine someone you know only by voice a certain way? What drives you to do that? What drives you to want to know how tall he is, how much hair he has and what color it is? Don’t just say that’s how it is; give me a psychological analysis, to the best of your ability, as to why you think that might be. Please.

  49. I’m telling you I don’t feel a need — it just happens involuntarily. What do I care what Dave Z. from Denver looks like? In this particular situation (and others), my implicit mental image became more explicit when he was about to travel to San Diego for a meeting, and so the prospect of meeting him in person made me wonder what he looked like.

    So now we wonder about the relevance to someday meeting Jesus. I’ll just tell you right now; when anticipating meeting Jesus “face to face”, seeing him clearly in the (glorified) flesh, instead of through a glass darkly, I think it would be seriously missing the point to speculate about his physical appearance.

  50. when anticipating meeting Jesus “face to face”, seeing him clearly in the (glorified) flesh, instead of through a glass darkly, I think it would be seriously missing the point to speculate about his physical appearance.

    It certainly wasn’t on my mind when I wrote this.

  51. Rube,

    Oh well, I guess I’ll make my point. I would humbly suggest that you aren’t doing it involuntarily. You may not be consciously deciding to do it, but that doesn’t constitute involuntary action. It just means it comes natural to you. And coming natural to you doesn’t necessarily mean voluntarily.

    For example, it may come naturally to a man to yell at his wife and be mean to her. But that doesn’t mean it’s involuntary. It may be almost a reflex, it may come as naturally to him as breathing. But that doesn’t mean it’s involuntary.

    Sinful tendencies come as natural to us as breathing. That certainly doesn’t absolve us of responsibility.

    But back on point. I would suggest that when we conjure images of Jesus in our mind, there is a certain desire there that is being acted upon.

    The Gospels themselves give no physical description of Jesus. So any physical description our mind conjures up of him doesn’t come from the words of Scripture.

    I would suggest that the guy you knew only by voice became a person of a certain physical description in your mind for a reason. (By the way, I’m not suggesting that that’s sin at work here.) The question is what is that reason? I think, and I could be wrong, but I think, if you’re like me, that there’s a certain desire to think you understand the guy. You want to conceive of him in a certain way so that he’s not an unknown. You want to have him figured out.

    You, like most people, are uncomfortable with mystery in this instance. You are uncomfortable talking to a person you don’t understand. One of the ways you understand someone is by sizing them up physically. There is a certain comfort for you in thinking that you can imagine how they look like, because it helps you interpret what they say.

    Before I proceed to talk about the implications of this for forming images of Christ in our minds, I’ll wait for interaction on these points.

  52. So any physical description our mind conjures up of him doesn’t come from the words of Scripture.

    Certainly the bible describes numerous physical activities; Jesus sat down to deliver the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus reached down, picked up dirt, spat in it, and rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes. And of course there’s the whole Passion. Surely the intent of the Bible is that we should read those accounts and get no mental image whatsoever!

  53. You’re jumping ahead, skipping steps. Engage with the rest of what I wrote.

  54. Well, I’m having a good laugh at myself. It’s not easy for me to find the time to write full, well-developed arguments. In the last week I’ve outlined ideas, begun one draft, scrapped it to begin another … all while following the current discussion. And after everything I find I don’t have a persuasive argument to make.

    Nolo contendere. I find second commandment + divinity of Jesus just too tight to refute. The safest route is also the simplest: total abstention.

    I do suspect that’s not the whole story. Rather than pitch a persuasive argument, I’d still like to share some dissenting thoughts.

    First, baseline acknowledgments so no one takes me wrong. 1) Using images of Christ in worship (corporate/family/private) is wrong. 2) The second commandment applies in all cases whatsoever to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, who never took on flesh. 3) Visualizing Jesus is not necessary for conversion or instruction of anyone, including children, illiterates, unreached people groups; God’s Word is sufficient. 4) Even if permissible, images of Christ may yet be fabricated sinfully (submerging a crucifix in a jar of urine) and/or appreciated sinfully (kneeling before a statue in a garden).

    Despite all that, I can’t help considering the following.

    First, in Exodus chapter 33 God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Yet people saw Jesus’ face and lived. A tight equation would suggest Jesus must not be God, yet Scripture indicates He is. So we see something different going on with Jesus, something that transcends the earlier statement.

    Second, it’s possible, in a step-by-step tracing of Biblical law, to miss the bigger picture. The Pharisees certainly did — they didn’t even recognize their Lord. When I read the many no’s and do not’s in this comment I’m reminded of their perfectionistic devotion, so focused on principle that it lost sight of personhood. The personhood I see in Scripture is one that leapt over fences to save people. Curtain of the temple torn in two; Spirit poured out on all flesh; invisible God taking on visible flesh — all for the sake of redeeming His own. God didn’t play it safe with us; by playing it safe with Him we may actually insult His character. Turning around and erecting a fence of invisibility around the very God who made Himself visible seems incongruent with God’s intentions, inviting the warning in Mark chapter 4 (and, similarly, in the parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 25) against wrongly estimating God’s character as harsh, lest we be judged harshly: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you — and even more.”

    Third, some people aren’t “tempted” to construct images of Jesus — they’re motivated by the honorable desire to celebrate His visual presence on earth. I acknowledged that images of Jesus aren’t necessary for salvation, but I do think they can edify. Off the bat I can think of two images that have encouraged me in my faith. One is Mel Gibson’s The Passion; the other is some artist’s painting of a man in blue jeans and a t-shirt about to collapse to the ground, face etched in distress, a hammer and nails in his hands — with Jesus behind him, embracing him with nail-scarred hands. Particular exceptions may be made about both, yet each has illustrated Biblical truths for me and encouraged me in my faith. Yet I know these are only images, not actualities, and they don’t disturb my worship. In fact, as an auditory, non-visual person they don’t even come to my mind unless I deliberately recall them. Some people choose to refrain from images, hoping not to sully their understanding of Jesus, and that is well and good. My experience is that that these two images have driven home Scriptural truths for me with little distraction.

    I mentioned docetism earlier, selecting the verb “approaches” purposefully. These paragraphs come from an earlier draft. They’re neither charge nor accusation, only observation, and I quote them only to suggest that the God’s stepping into the empirical problematizes even the simple solution (total abstention):

    Stepping into the empirical presents problems for second commandment adherence. A painting of the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany (a worthy subject, considering that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” [Matthew chapter 26]) — would seem incomplete without the focus of attention: Jesus’ wept-on, hair-rubbed feet (John chapter 12). The question, then, is empirical — how much foot to show? Whole, including ankles? Forego ankles and heels, stick with toes? A representative toenail tip? No feet at all, just Jesus’ form in candlelight shadow on the wall? Oh, hang it all … no Jesus, period.

    So our painting depicts the incomplete scene of a prostitute weeping over nothing, prompting us to walk away with one of two impressions. Either Jesus was too holy to view in physical form (contrary to Isaiah chapter 53, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him,” and contrary as well to the fact that three apostles beheld Him in glorified, Revelationish form). Or He had no visible form at all (docetism).

    To avoid such false impressions we go further: no paintings of any scene involving Jesus. Da Vinci’s Last Supper no longer has an empty seat at table center, nor does the Pietà‘s Mary contemplate naught but her own lap; such works simply don’t exist. The zero point of human history contains precisely that — zero — in artwork. Again we’re left with the impression that Jesus was too holy for sight.

    After all that, please run back and reread paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 above. This isn’t a persuasive argument, and I look forward to reading other’s thoughts on these ideas.

    I’ll wrap up with the opening I drafted a week ago:

    Things got a little weird when we unpacked our nativity scene.

    Two and a half years old, my older son showed little response as we unwrapped Mary and Joseph. But when baby Jesus emerged his whole face brightened: “Baby Jesus. Baby Jesus!” He snatched the figurine and cradled it in both palms, scrutinizing. So THIS was the Jesus person he’d heard so much about. I wondered what he was thinking, wondered how the image of an infant Christ was reshaping his earlier impressions.

    Soon he stood by the couch, raising and lowering the figurine in quick jerks. “Baby Jesus jumping. Baby Jesus jumping on the couch!” Our nativity had become an action figure playset.

    It was a bit concerning. When Passion of the Christ came out, many Christians ignored it, hoping not to become stuck with Mel Gibson’s version of Jesus in their minds. Here was my son, stuck with a puny piece of resin for a Savior. He pointed at Jesus’ swaddling cloth and said, “Jesus has a poopy diaper.” Was this healthy?

    A few days later, reading a nativity book after dinner, the baby Jesus was depicted in a manger. My son grew frantic in his highchair, demanding to be let down. He ran off, returned from the living room with the nativity figurine in his hand. “Jesus the same?” he asked, holding his open palm next to the page.

    Of course they weren’t the same. Complexion, eye color, hair color, facial features, even the swaddling appeared different. But it took awhile for my wife and I to comment on these differences — we were too busy staring at each other in awe.

    At two and a half years old, he already got it. Art is interpretation, and no two interpretations are the same.

    His understanding of Jesus would be just fine.

  55. Forester,

    Great post. It has inspired me to make further argumentation, and I hope that this form of argumentation will be more persuasive, more clear, and more helpful.

    The first thing I would ask is, what is Jesus, in a fundamental sense? Yes, he is God, the Second Person of the Trinity. What else? How do we understand what this means? John gives us a clue.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV)

    According to this, what Jesus is, is the spoken Word of God. Jesus is the self revelation of God incarnate. The spoken self revelation of God become an image.

    “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)

    But who does Jesus reveal? If Jesus is the Word of God become flesh, in Jesus, who is God speaking about? John tells us that too.

    “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known.” (John 1:18 ESV)

    Jesus reveals the Father. This is true to such an extent that Jesus says in John 14:9 that whoever has seen him has seen the Father.

    So we may conclude that what Jesus is, is God’s Words about himself clothed in flesh. He is, in his very being, God speaking to us about himself. Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God about himself, so perfectly reveals God that John could say that “the Word was God”. God’s Word about himself is not something other than himself. He is who he reveals himself to be.

    For a time, God himself walked the earth in flesh and blood, and the deeds that he did spoke to us about God, who he is, what he is like. In a real sense, those who had the privilege of looking upon Jesus had an opportunity to see with their eyes the fullness of God’s self revelation.

    We do not have the same privilege today, because Jesus is no longer physically present with us. But wait a minute! Didn’t Jesus promise to be with us always?

    “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV)

    So it cannot be the case that Jesus was once upon a time present with his people, but now is not. If that were true, then Jesus’ promise here to be with us to the end of the age would be a lie, and God cannot lie. Jesus cannot lie because he is God. His words are truth itself. He is in fact truth incarnate, because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) and he is the Word become flesh.

    So since Jesus’ words must be true, we have to ask how they can be true. Jesus is present with us today by his Spirit.

    But are we missing out on something? Have we been short changed somehow? It seems that we have been. After all, the Jews had a nation, they had a temple which was a wonder of the world clothed in gold. They had incense and sacrifices and lots of sights and sounds. The disciples had this and more – they had God himself in the flesh.

    Surely we have been short changed. What do we have today? We have the preaching of the Word. Half the time we can’t stay awake through the whole sermon. We have tap water baptism. Quite ordinary. We have bread and wine. Big deal. Where are the cries of the dying lambs, the flow of blood, the gold and the glitter, the smell of the burning flesh on the altar, the smell of the incense, the fear aroused by the sights of the temple? Where are these outwardly glorious things? They are gone, and we are left with a few simple trinkets, seemingly nothing more. Surely we’ve gotten the short end of the stick.

    “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7 ESV)

    Jesus disagrees with this assessment. He says that we’re actually better off with the Holy Spirit present with us, rather than with God in the flesh being present with us. It is to our advantage this way.

    No longer do we have God in the flesh, but we have God in OUR flesh, for he dwells not WITH us, but IN us.

    We don’t have to go to Jerusalem to slaughter a lamb to meet with God. We have God in us wherever we go. We no longer have to go to meet God in Jerusalem, he has come to permanently dwell in our hearts. We have no further need of a temple, for our bodies are his temple.

    Just as the temple was a temporary teaching tool of God’s, so too Jesus’ physical presence with us in un-glorified flesh was a temporary tool in God’s hands as well. Jesus the preacher was the foundation, now we have Jesus present in the preached Word all over the world. And what we have is better according to Jesus’ own words.

    To be sure, the Apostles who saw the risen Christ had a special privilege. That’s what made them Apostles; that and Christ’s call to that office. We are not afforded that privilege. They were called to testify to what they had seen. We cannot see what they saw. We cannot ascend to the mount of transfiguration. But we have their testimony to what they saw, and we are content with that, because that is the Lord’s provision for us.

    And not only so, but we have been promised that in glory, in the eschaton, in the New Heavens and New Earth, God will once again dwell with us visibly in the presence of his Son Jesus Christ, who will dwell among us visibly and physically in his glorified state, and we too will be glorified. But this state will not be absent of the Holy Spirit whose presence we now enjoy. In fact, the Spirit who is present with us now will be given to us in full measure, as our union with Christ is consummated. What we have now is but a foretaste of that age to come, even as what the Apostles had was a foretaste of that age to come, that they might tell us about it, that we might believe in it.

    One of the many problems that Protestants have with the Roman church is their use of the crucifix image. In this image, they portray an ascetic Jesus on the cross. Most times he’s so skinny, you can see his ribs. (If Jesus was so skinny, how come the Jews accused him of gluttony? Matt 11:19.) Nonetheless, the problem Protestants have with this is that he is in the image still on the cross. But we insist that he is no longer on the cross, but has risen.

    But nativity scenes aren’t immune to similar criticism. Jesus is no longer a cute cuddly little baby with a poopy diaper. He has ascended to the throne of God the Father Almighty, where he reigns as king of the universe. If we were to try to make an accurate image today of Jesus, it would have to be of this, of him sitting at the right hand of the Father, reigning, because that’s where he is, what he is doing NOW. We would have to make an image of Stephen’s vision as he was being stoned.

    But we dare not. Such a thing would be an obvious violation of the Second Commandment. So instead, many are content to make images of Jesus at a certain point in time: on the cross, preaching a sermon, pooping in his diaper in the manger, whatever. But none of these images properly capture who Jesus is.

    All of it is borne from a desire to have Jesus somehow physically present with us. We want to see Jesus. We are secretly jealous of the disciples. We don’t really believe what Jesus said, that it is to our advantage that he go away physically to be present with us by his Spirit.

    We really think Christmas is better than Pentecost.

    But why long for God in the flesh when we have God in our hearts? Our Lord declared that it is to our advantage that he depart from us physically in order to be with us by his Spirit. In the same way, it is to our advantage that the temple has passed away and has been destroyed. The doing away with the outward glory of past dispensations (using that word does not make me a dispensationalist; the WCF in 7.6 uses it in this same way, referring to a point in redemptive history) is to our benefit. Our use of images of Jesus signifies that we don’t really believe that. We want a return to those previous, inferior dispensations, which were nevertheless more outwardly glorious.

    Oh, but you say, we WILL see Jesus face to face in glory, so our use of images signifies our desire to see him face to face, a desire which is inherently good, since that is what he has promised us.

    But this is like saying that an engaged couple should move in together. Sure, they long to be together and have promised themselves to each other, but they must wait for the appointed time. They must wait until the marriage is finalized by an unbreakable oarth, and only then it may be consummated. A marriage cannot be consummated before the oath is taken, before the marriage has taken place.

    However images of Christ are to be understood, whatever desire they reflect, it is a failure to live in the here and now, to be content with God’s provision that he has given us here and now. It either looks backward to God’s provision for a different place in redemptive history (underrealized eschatology), or it looks forward to the future provision of a different place in redemptive history (overrealized eschatology).

    The desire to use an image of Jesus, for whatever purpose, says to God that his provision is insufficient. “I am not content, Lord, to satisfy my desire with my wife after we are married, I want to partake of the provisions that you have promised me for the future right now.” This is like the prodigal son who wanted his inheritance before his father was dead. Not content with what he had, not content to wait to come into his inheritance, he sought to have his inheritance now, and proceeded to squander it on prostitutes and other pursuits, during which time his father considered him dead (because when he returns, his father says of him that he was dead but is alive again. He was dead as a son because he wasn’t content with his status as a son.)

    God has promised us that we will see Jesus face to face, and has meanwhile given us his Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our future inheritance. We must be content with that, and we must be patient. The Lord will return when he returns, not a moment before.

    In the interest of patient obedience, patient submission to the Lord who ordains what our present provision shall be, let us put images of Jesus, all images of Jesus aside.

    What of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears? Can we not paint a painting of that scene? No. We cannot. Not if we wish to be in patient submission to our Father who knows what is best for us. Jesus said her story would be told, not that her picture would be painted. The Lord commanded the Apostles to testify to what they had seen, and he commands us to listen.

    “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
    (1John 1:1-3 ESV)

    Notice they saw it, but they proclaim (verbal) it to us. We should imagine in this passage a courtroom. The apostles have been called as witnesses, and we are in the jury. They are bearing witness to us of past events, and describing them to us verbally. We are listening, and we must weigh their testimony, and judge it to be either valid or invalid. The Judge has reminded us that we should not be watching anything on TV or reading in the newspaper about this case, that we should allow ourselves to be impartial jurors, being swayed only by the testimony of the witnesses.

    This is not Pharisaism, that says that there is some law you must follow in order to earn salvation. Defining something as sin is not Pharisaism. Saying that we have to earn our salvation by works is Pharisaism. Saying that we should obey the law is not Pharisaism. Saying that the law can bring us life is Pharisaism. It is not Pharisaism to strictly understand the law, or to demand strict adherence to the law. It is Pharisaism to say that we CAN perfectly obey the law, and that doing so will earn us life. It is Pharisaism to hope in ourselves, rather than to hope in Christ. Being exacting and precise about the law is not Pharisaism. It is taking delight in the law. Upholding the law is not Pharisaism, for the only way to actually uphold the law is to look to Christ to do it for you. But in looking to Christ by faith alone, in walking by faith in Christ, not by sight, the inevitable fruit that follows is the desire to strive to be conformed to the law, to be conformed to his image.

    If you want to see an image of Christ, then I can show you one. Look in the mirror, O Christian, you who have hope in Christ. If you want to improve upon that image, then strive to be obedient to our Father in heaven, not to earn salvation, but because Christ earned it for us and dwells in us by his Spirit. Look in the mirror, for you yourself are being conformed to his image, and you are revealing the righteousness of God to the world, to whom you have been called to bear witness.

  56. Nolo contendere. I find second commandment + divinity of Jesus just too tight to refute. The safest route is also the simplest: total abstention.

    So are you chucking all of your bible storybooks and nativity sets? Or are you saying you’re giving up arguing about it?

  57. So are you chucking all of your bible storybooks and nativity sets? Or are you saying you’re giving up arguing about it?

    I admit I can’t persuade, but I still have reservations — so no change of action (yet?) from me, aside from heightened awareness and continued thought. I need to chew through Echo’s latest. I appreciate the “put on the new” approach as opposed to the earlier “put off the old.”

  58. The burden or proof falls to this. Can you indeed prove the possibility to read the gospel narratives without the mental images of the Christ figure coming to mind?

    Rube thought it impossible.
    Forrester called it “silly”.
    Bruce said it’s only impossible because of our sin nature.

    I’m far from convinced. In high school I remember a writing teacher turning around the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words” into “A word is worth a thousand pictures”.

    Every noun instantly is visualized.

    If I say “Baseball” you envision a baseball.

    If I say “Jesus” you envision a man. And rightly so, because Jesus is a man. Recognizing Jesus as human is implicit to saving faith.

    I agree with the assessment that “a wholesale ban on images of the God-graven image APPROACHES docetism.”

  59. Daniel,

    It is impossible for me to love my neighbor as myself.

    God would never command me to do something impossible for me to do.

    Therefore, God doesn’t mean that I have to love my neighbor as myself, only that that’s what I’m supposed to try to do.

    E

  60. A relevant read …

    New York Times: The Bible as graphic novel, with a Samurai stranger called Christ

    Ajinbayo Akinsiku wants the world to know Jesus Christ, just not the gentle, blue-eyed Christ of old Hollywood movies and illustrated Bibles.

    Mr. Akinsiku says his Son of God is “a samurai stranger who’s come to town, in silhouette,” here to shake things up in a new, much-abridged version of the Bible rooted in manga, the Japanese form of graphic novels.

    “We present things in a very brazen way,” said Mr. Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who is the author of “The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation.” “Christ is a hard guy, seeking revolution and revolt, a tough guy.”

    Publishers with an eye for evangelism and for markets have long profited by directing Bibles at niche markets: just-married couples, teenage boys, teenage girls, recovering addicts. Often the lure is cosmetic, like a jazzy new cover.

    Sales of graphic novels, too, have grown by double digits in recent years. So it makes sense that a convergence is under way, as graphic novels take up stories from the Bible, often in startling ways. In the last year, several major religious and secular publishing houses have announced or released manga religious stories.

    The medium shapes the message. Manga often focuses on action and epic. Much of the Bible, as a result, ends up on the cutting room floor, and what remains is darker.

    “It is the end of the Word as we know it, and the end of a certain cultural idea of the Scriptures as a book, as the Book,” Timothy Beal, professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University, said of the reworking of the Bible in new forms, including manga. “It opens up new ways of understanding Scripture and ends up breaking the idols a bit.”

    While known for characters with big eyes and catwalk poses, manga is also defined by a laconic, cinematic style, with characters often doing more than talking.

    In a blurb for the Manga Bible, which is published by Doubleday, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, is quoted as saying, “It will convey the shock and freshness of the Bible in a unique way.”

    No doubt. In the Manga Bible, whose heroes look and sound like skateboarders in Bedouin gear, Noah gets tripped up counting the animals in the Ark: “That’s 11,344 animals? Arggh! I’ve lost count again. I’m going to have to start from scratch!”

    Abraham rides a horse out of an explosion to save Lot. Og, king of Bashan, looms like an early Darth Vader. The Sermon on the Mount did not make the book, though, because there was not enough action to it.

    The Manga Bible sold 30,000 copies in Great Britain, according to Doubleday. The print run in this country is 15,000, and it sells for $12.95.

    Mr. Akinsiku, 42, who uses the pen name Siku, grew up in England and Nigeria in an Anglican family of Nigerian descent. He recently graduated from theology school in London. For years, he has worked as an artist, and a rendering of the Bible was the best way of glorifying God, he said in a telephone interview from London.

    While younger adults and teenagers are the most avid consumers of manga, Mr. Akinsiku said he had heard from grandmothers who picked up the book as a gift for their grandchildren. The book is meant to be a first taste of the Bible, which many feel too intimidated to read, Mr. Akinsiku said. Every few pages, a small tab refers to the biblical verses the action covers.

    “For the unchurched, the book is to show that this thing, the Bible, is still relevant,” he said, “because it talks about what human beings do when they encounter God.”

    Christian thinkers have tried to make the Bible accessible for centuries, scholars said. Stained glass windows related Bible stories when Europe was largely illiterate. New printing technology in the 19th century made it possible to mass-produce Bibles, including illustrated versions, said Peter J. Thuesen, acting chairman of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

    As literacy rose (and marketing flowered), individual families bought Bibles. In the 1960s and 1970s, books like the Living Bible and the Way came out, written in vernacular English, although scholars criticize their accuracy.

    In the past decade, as consumer products have been directed at niche markets and religious services tailored to different groups, publishers have made more money by creating Bibles to serve certain groups, said Lynn Schofield Clark, director of the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Colorado.

    A few years ago, for example, the religious publisher Thomas Nelson issued a Bible for teenage girls called Revolve, which looked like a glossy magazine. It sold 40,000 copies in a month, Ms. Clark said, a staggering number for a Bible.

    The goal of the Bibles is not just to win people to Christ, but to particular ways of thinking, said Jason BeDuhn, associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University. Mr. Akinsiku said the biblical message he wanted to underscore was justice, especially for the poor.

    His book has been criticized by some manga bloggers as too wordy. Mr. Akinsiku said the exposition gave readers a quick understanding of the Bible. His next project is a manga life of Christ. He has 300 pages to lay it out, which means there will be a lot more action, a lot less talking, something like Clint Eastwood in the Galilee.

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