Golden Calf

OK, so the challenge from Echo is:

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.

So here’s the argument. Let’s assume that the Israelites were attempting to worship the true God who brought them out of Egypt, via the golden calf they made (the concept is new to me, but I assume Echo agrees with White Horse Inn on this one).

So the Israelites make this golden calf, and (attempt to) use it for worship of the one true God, which is obviously a sin; they violated the 2nd commandment in an attempt to obey the 1st. (The fact that they had not yet received the 1st or 2nd commandment etched in stone by God’s finger, is irrelevant — the moral law “continued as a perfect rule of righteousness” from Adam through Moses.)

However, let’s say some Israelite sculptor one day makes a golden calf, because he seeks to reflect God’s good creation with beautiful art — but he does not worship the golden calf, or attempt to worship God through the golden calf — in this case, the golden calf is suddenly a laudable work of common grace. And then this sculptor displays the golden calf on his mantelpiece, and tells all his houseguests, “Look at this lovely golden calf I made — isn’t it beautiful, like the living calves that our true God has created?” Consider four possible responses by various guests:

  1. “Yes, our God is a wonderful creator, and he has gifted you with great artistic skill!”
  2. “Yes, that golden calf is so beautiful that I will bow down to it, in order to worship the God that made all calves and your skill.”
  3. “Yes, that golden calf is simply divine! I will bow down and worship it and/or the bovine god it represents.”
  4. “No, your golden calf is tacky and ugly.”

Maybe Echo will disagree, but it seems to me that only 2. and 3. are idolatrous. So it would seem that God holds people accountable for the way they use images; people know (better yet, God knows) when they are worshipping to/through an image, and when they are using an image for legitimate purposes.

And here’s another argument (which the Roman Catholics must have made, so probably there is a traditional Reformed answer, but here goes anyways): God dictated quite a variety of images of created elements to be present in Israelite worship (the tabernacle and later the temple): angels, bulls, lions, leaves, flowers, pomegranates, palm trees, etc. And quite obviously, the tabernacle is used in worship. And yet we have the 2nd commandment prohibiting idolatry. So there is a line between images associated with worship, and worship of/through images.

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38 Responses

  1. Sounds good to me.

    (Did ‘I’ just say that?)

    Kazooless

  2. Rube,

    Thanks for the opportunity.

    There is a profound difference between a golden calf, which may or may not be an object of worship, and an image of Jesus, whom we confess is the object of our worship.

    Jesus is our GOD. Therefore, Jesus is INHERENTLY an object of our worship, whereas a calf maybe worshiped but doesn’t have to be. Any image of which we say, “This is a picture of Jesus,” is inherently an image of an object of worship, an image of God, the only object of our worship. Whether we fall down and worship the image is irrelevant. It is still an image of God, an image of the object of our worship.

    Perhaps more than that, the other factor to consider is that using images outside the worship service influences and shapes how we conceive of Jesus, both outside AND inside the worship service. For example, Billy Graham said that after seeing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” he would never again be able to read the gospel narratives without thinking of that movie. Images are profoundly influential over us, and they leave a lasting impression with us for a long time, if not our entire lives. That means they are dangerous.

    You are quite right about the calf. 2 & 3 are the only idolatrous responses.

    Now while WE are forbidden from making images for use in worship, and especially from making images of God, God is not so limited. God can make all the images of himself he wants. And he can command us to use whatever images he wants. God doesn’t have to obey ANY law. All men are made by him in his image.

    God commands us not to kill. But God has taken lots of lives. Is that self contradictory? No, because when he commands us not to kill, he is telling us that we don’t have the right to take life, but only HE has that right because he is God. And furthermore, he had the right to command the Israelites to kill lots of people. They even crucified the 5 kings in Joshua 10. Brutal stuff. None of it contradicts what’s going on in the 6th commandment though. It remains true that, as Jesus said, if we hate our neighbor in our heart we are guilty of murder, of violating the 6th commandment.

    It is the same with the 2nd commandment. We cannot make images, but God can. And clearly he does. You and I are examples.

  3. There is a profound difference between a golden calf, which may or may not be an object of worship, and an image of Jesus, whom we confess is the object of our worship.

    This remains your fundamental assertion, and I remain unconvinced that the existence of an image of the object of worship, constitutes worship of that object.

    My wife is the object of my love. I confess that she is. Yet nobody would question the distinction between loving my wife, and things like loving a picture of her, trying to love her better “via” the picture, showing the picture off for the sole purpose of letting people know what she looks like. And yet a picture might be useful to tell a story; “this picture shows how we rode bikes on the volcanic mountain of Haleakalaa in Maui.” But such a use of a picture is completely separate from my loving her.

    Now I’m with you when it comes to (attempted) images of God the Father, who is a spirit, who is invisible. But you’re wrong that the Bible gives us absolutely no description of him; we know that he was a man of unexceptional appearance — but that alone confirms to us that the incarnated Word was a man like any other; with a torso, arms, legs, face, hair; he walked around clothed according to the customary dress of the day, he wore sandals. And when he was on earth, he walked and talked with people and did things that have been recorded for us.

    And so when a children’s story bible depicts the life and works of Jesus with generic, cartoonish figures, I don’t object, but I use it to teach children redemptive history, which is distinct from big-W-Worship.

  4. Images aside — I suspect those who physically crucified Jesus got a uniquely close and intimate look at Him, yet refrained from worshiping Him. If it’s possible to look at God Himself, in the flesh, without worshiping, how much easier to do so looking at an image!

    A counterargument would suggest that nonbelievers can look upon Christ (in person or in image) without worshiping, but believers can’t …

    … to which I suggest this gives my (redeemed yet) sinful heart far more credit than is due. It would be strange that (sadly) I can attend worship with a less-than-worshipful attitude — yet browsing the internet I can stumble across an irreverent image of my Savior and immediately (and inadvertently) engage in worship devoted enough to be decried as false.

  5. You guys are laboring under the mistaken impression that making images is OK, provided that those images are not worshiped.

    ““You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4 ESV)

    The worshiping of said images is not forbidden until the next verse. Here, it is first the making of images that is prohibited.

    Now, does this outlaw all art? No. Why not? But you are hard pressed to reconcile these words to your apparent position that there are very few limitations at all about what you can and cannot make an image of. Where in Scripture do you see the second commandment ever qualified by the invisible God? Where do you see in Scripture that you can make all the images you want, but of the INVISIBLE GOD you shall not make an image? Where is that said? In fact, in the second commandment, it is not only images representing the invisible God (things in heaven) that is forbidden in v.4, but images representing anything in the creation (things on earth or under the earth)!

    So where, pray tell, is the justification for saying that you can’t make images of heavenly realities, but you CAN make images of earthly realities? Where is your support from Scripture? It looks to me like what you are saying directly contradicts the commandment, and I see no warrant in the Scriptures for what you have said.

    What is it about images of Jesus that makes people not want to give them up? Are you just so convinced of their usefulness for children that you are simply unwilling to give them up?

    Why are you convinced that these pictures are an effective training tool that leads to faith in children at all, since Rom 10:17 does NOT say faith comes by seeing pictures?

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

    In fact, I’d ask you to justify your implied claim as to the usefulness of images to give rise to true faith.

    Here’s my claim: no one has ever come to true faith EVER in ANY WAY through an image. Not once, not ever.

    Here’s my support: faith comes through HEARING.

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

    There’s my claim, there’s my Scriptural support. Not only are images forbidden, but they are of no use in yielding faith. None.

    You have argued that they are not forbidden. Clearly they are. You have argued that they are useful, clearly they are not.

    So then, where is your justification for them? There is none.

  6. Now, does this outlaw all art? No. Why not?

    Good question. My answer is that art is OK, because it consists of images that are not worshipped, the distinction made by this post in the first place. But what’s your answer? What allows you to accept response #1 up there as non-idolatrous, since the prohibition of making images of animals is not qualified by whether they are used for worship or not?

  7. usefulness of images to give rise to true faith

    I never claimed images stimulate faith. I’m talking about using images to tell stories. In particular to tell bible stories to children.

  8. What is the purpose of telling Bible stories to children if not to plant seeds of faith? Surely the point of the Bible stories themselves is to plant seeds of faith. So why tell them?

    Why doesn’t the commandment outlaw all art? Your answer is that we can make images, provided we don’t worship them. By that same logic, we would be free to make images of God, provided we don’t worship said image. But we aren’t free to do that. So your answer does not work.

    The commandment forbids making images of things in heaven. That includes not only God, but also whatever else we might conceive of as being a heavenly thing, such as angels, or imagined gods of ancient times.

    The commandment forbids making images of things under the earth. In those days, they imagined that there was water under all the land. In the ancient world view, all land floated on water. So what was in the waters under the earth? That was the underworld, where the dead go, where demons live and other evil powers. Making images of this too is forbidden. So now we see that making images of imagined heavenly realities, as well as hellish realities are both equally forbidden.

    The commandment also forbids making images of things on earth.

    Personally, I don’t think there is any distinction being made between images for the purpose of worship and images made for some other use. Images are simply outlawed, hook, line and sinker. I really don’t know how you can come to any other conclusion from this text.

    So now the question becomes, is this wholesale outlaw of images ceremonial for Israel, or does it remain absolutely in force for us today?

    It’s pretty much undeniable from archaeological evidence and other things that the ancient Jews did interpret the law this way. No images, period. They made none, other than the images that God commanded for the temple. Now of course, they did make images and worship them, but they all knew this was sin.

    So we know, at least, for OT Israel, there were no exceptions to this. So the question is, once again, can we make images today? Can we make art on this side of the cross? Can art be made to the glory of God? Or is all art, all images anyway, rebellion against the 2nd commandment?

    I see nothing anywhere in Scripture that even hints that this might have changed for us today. Nothing.

    The 2nd commandment forbids the making of images, and then goes further to demand that we not worship images.

    So is all representational art outlawed?

    If we say yes, then we’ve got huge problems. We begin to think about throwing out our TV’s and computers and most children’s books.

    So I’ll throw the ball back in your court. Where do you see support for the use, the non-worshipful use of images anywhere in Scripture?

    If you say that we have been given freedom, and therefore images are ok, then I’ll say that by the same logic we have the freedom to commit adultery and murder as well. Having freedom does not mean we don’t have to obey the law. It just means that if we obey the law, we do so not because we have to, in order to earn God’s approval, but because we want to. And actually, that’s the only kind of law-keeping that is in any way valid. Obedience that is not from the heart is not obedience, but is like the Pharisees, who were whitewashed tombs.

    Rube, I’m glad you picked up the challenge.

  9. I see nothing anywhere in Scripture that even hints that this might have changed for us today. Nothing.

    Then why would you say…

    You are quite right about the calf. 2 & 3 are the only idolatrous responses.

    ancient Jews did interpret the law this way. No images, period.

    As I understand it, this is like Muslims today as well. But is this an example of faithfulness, or misguided legalism? The Jews also prohibited oral representation of the name of God Yaweh (YWH) (or is that just because the name is “I AM”, so that to say it is blasphemous), and to this day always write G_d instead of God.

  10. I’m trying to push you to defend it from Scripture. What I think doesn’t matter. What does Scripture say? I say I see nothing in Scripture that makes this seem overturned, so why not try to find something, or make some argument? I’m trying to shape the discussion and push it in a particular direction, but I’m asking you to make a biblical argument for your distinction between images for worship and images for other use. So far all you’ve got is your opinion which is based on something like, “Of course art isn’t outlawed by Scripture.” Ok, prove it. I sought to show that it is outlawed by Scripture, now prove my argument wrong from Scripture, so that the discussion rises above us merely letting loose our opinions, rising to a discussion about what Scripture actually says.

  11. I mean, perhaps an argument can be made. I’m asking you to make it.

    Perhaps you might try 1 Cor 8:4, 10:19. Just a suggestion.

  12. By the way, no one in the NT uses the name “Yahweh” to refer to Jesus. They always say “the Lord”. Meanwhile, Jesus has lots of “I am” sayings (ego eimi in Greek, where the ego is unnecessary) in the Gospels. No one ever refers to him in this way. The same goes for the title “Son of Man”, with a very few notable exceptions. We are taught in our Hebrew classes to say “adonai” instead of Yahweh, though they don’t enforce this.

  13. ego eimi means I am in the same order. But eimi alone means I am, while ego means I. So the I is unnecessary, and therefore emphatic.

  14. I’m trying to shape the discussion and push it in a particular direction…

    OK, well it seems a little patronizing. If you were to at least announce you’re playing devil’s advocate, I wouldn’t feel so much led around by the nose

    We are taught in our Hebrew classes to say “adonai” instead of Yahweh

    Yes, and I heard from a certain reputable source just yesterday that the reason the Hebrews did this was out of fear of blasphemy, were they to say Yaweh (tying the Hebrew adonai through the septuagint to Greek for Lord, showing that in Acts 2:36, Peter claims that Jesus is not just “Lord”, but “God”).

    More specifically, didn’t the Jews want to stone Jesus because he said “Before Abraham was, YAWEH”, which they considered a blasphemous pun?

  15. OK, NT reasons I think the 2nd commandment might have been softened. Compare God’s own exegesis of the 2nd commandment in Deut 4:15–, to Heb 1:3, or John 14:9. Seems like something has changed. Instead of “God has no form”, now God does have a form.

    And as for your hints, 1 cor 8:4,10:19 must also be bounced against 10:14, 10:28. But 10:31 reinforces what I said before on one of these threads; “Regulative Principle for Life, No(r?)mative Principle for Life”

  16. Also, if nothing has changed since the OT, then we better get some images of angels, lions, bulls, pomegranates, etc. into our sanctuaries…

  17. Maybe more clearly; when you take the 2nd commandment together with God’s instructions to construct imagery into the tabernacle/temple, THAT’s how we know that “thou shalt make no graven image” is qualified by “and worship it”. So that distinction is present in the old testament, and continues into the new.

  18. Well, I didn’t intend to be patronizing. So forgive the appearance of such.

    I’m not trying to lead you around by the nose. Your argument is based on your opinion. Your argument in favor of using images of Jesus as teaching tools to the exclusion of worship is an argument without Scriptural support.

    You think that a distinction can be made between images that are worshiped and images that are not. I agree with that. But I don’t think the distinction applies to images of God, whether God in heaven or God in flesh. God is inherently an object of worship. There can be no representation of him that we are not worshiping, because he is whom we worship. Even when you’re teaching children about Jesus, you’re teaching them about the object of our worship. You are setting up an image of what we worship. That’s a violation of the second commandment, and the OPC and PCA, by adopting the Westminster standards, stand behind this interpretation of Scripture.

    In response to this, you have so far only asserted that there is such a thing as a teaching picture of Jesus, which can be divorced from the worship of said image. You have asserted it, comparing it with any other image, such as the golden calf.

    For my part, I have pointed out that that which is being represented in the golden calf (if it’s just a calf) and the picture of Jesus are two very different things.

    Yet you don’t seem at all concerned about or interested in this difference. Your assertion about how you use the images remains.

    So I took another approach. I sought to prove from Scripture that your distinction is invalid – for all images. This was not my opinion, but I said it and then backed it up with Scripture.

    The response I was hoping for was one of disagreement with my position, and an argument for a different interpretation of Scripture that supported your disagreement with the Westminster Confession.

    But the response I got was only more reassertion, that God became flesh, taking on a visible form.

    In all of this, you still have not argued against the difference between an image of Jesus and the golden calf on the mantle. One is of a calf, not a god, not an object of worship, while the other is an image of God.

    GOD made an image of himself when he made man. GOD himself became one of them, and so was the perfect image of God.

    He was the PERFECT image of God. How he looked, how he appeared, who he was, how he revealed himself, what he said, the whole package perfectly revealed God.

    But we don’t know what he looked like. So necessarily, any picture we make of him is LESS than that perfect revelation of God. And by the way, it is GOD making the image, not man. God can make all the images of himself that he wants. That doesn’t mean we can make images of the image.

    When we make an image of Jesus, we put ourselves in control of the revelation. An image of Jesus is a man made revelation about Jesus that is not authorized by Scripture. In fact, it is explicitly prohibited in Scripture, so says 350 years of Presbyterian ministers, as well as your own denomination and mine.

    The burden of proof is on you. 350 years of Presbyterian consensus can surely be wrong, but it’ll take more than asserting that they’re wrong in order to prove the point. They clearly understand that God became flesh (8.2).

    So if you want to assert that images of Jesus are ok if you just use them to teach children, fine, make your argument.

    But our church says that Scripture says you’re wrong. It’s not Echo’s opinion, nor the opinion of one rogue minister who failed Hebrew 6 times. It is our church’s opinion for the last 350 years.

    Can they be wrong? Sure. But you know what? If you teach children about Jesus using pictures, the only thing you’re going to teach them is to conceive of Jesus by conceiving of that picture. That picture becomes Jesus. So when you’re praying and teaching them and they’re singing songs and the Pastor is preaching, any time Jesus is mentioned, the children will think of that image. So there goes your distinction between teaching tool and object of worship.

    Now I am sure that you don’t like what I’m saying, because what it amounts to is a claim that you have trained your children in a sinful way. I’m sure, absolutely sure, that that becomes an obstacle in this conversation. I’m sure of it. To concede my point is a confession of sin. I understand that.

    But me being right on this isn’t the end of the world. If I’m correct, no, if the Westminster Confession is correct, if 350 years of Presbyterian consensus is correct, then just stop it and move on. You don’t have to sit your kids down and tell them all about how you’ve messed up and how they need to banish these images from their minds, etc. There’s no need to confuse them. Just stop using images to teach them. The rest is between you and God. When your kids are older you can teach them that images of Jesus are wrong. For now just stop using them.

  19. You said: “Maybe more clearly; when you take the 2nd commandment together with God’s instructions to construct imagery into the tabernacle/temple, THAT’s how we know that “thou shalt make no graven image” is qualified by “and worship it”. So that distinction is present in the old testament, and continues into the new.”

    Echo: So God commanded in the 6th commandment not to kill. And then he commanded the Israelites to murder an entire country. That’s how we know we obey whatever God commands, even if it’s something other than what he told us to do yesterday.

    In other words, because the Israelites were commanded to make some images for the temple doesn’t mean that they were allowed to make images for other uses outside the temple, provided they didn’t worship them. God can command them to kill, he can also command them to make an image.

    The point of the command is that we are not to imagine God by making an image of him. That necessarily adds to his revelation. If we likewise make an image of Christ, it is OUR IMAGINATION at work informing us about Jesus, about God. That adds to his self revelation. He and he alone has the right to reveal himself. We don’t have the right to add to his revelation by imagining things about him.

    My point about the 1 Cor passages was that the gods that idols represent do not exist. So that they represent an imagined deity at all is in the eye of the beholder. So the golden calf on the mantle is fine, provided you don’t think it’s a god.

    This is a problem, however, for your argument, because Jesus IS God, apart from the disposition of the eye of the beholder. The gods represented by images exist only in the mind of the beholder or of the artist who carved them, and the poet who named them.

    In other words, the idol is not an image of a god if you are a Christian, because there’s no god but God. But an image of Jesus cannot fail to be an image of God. It cannot fail to be depicting the God whom we worship. It cannot fail, therefore, to represent God (at least that is its claim) and that is specifically and clearly a violation of the commandment, adding to God’s SELF-revelation. He alone has the right to reveal himself to us. We cannot imagine him and claim that we have found him out.

  20. So I took another approach. I sought to prove from Scripture that your distinction is invalid – for all images. This was not my opinion, but I said it and then backed it up with Scripture.

    The response I was hoping for was one of disagreement with my position, and an argument for a different interpretation of Scripture that supported your disagreement with the Westminster Confession.

    Sorry I disappointed; but I still don’t understand why this devil’s advocate position allows you to own a camera.

  21. It doesn’t. That’s the point. Ugh.

    Just prove it WRONG, will ya? You’re capable of proving it wrong, and proving it wrong will help us all think through the issue more clearly.

  22. That an argument, if correct, would outlaw owning cameras is not a sufficient objection. Maybe Scripture outlaws cameras. We do not judge what the Bible says by our own common sense. We let Scripture judge what seems to us to be common sense.

    So if you want to prove what I have said to be wrong, then prove it from Scripture. I know you can.

  23. You’re capable of proving it wrong

    Sorry, “2nd commandment” + “commands to build images into the tabernacle/temple” = “unworshipped images are OK” is the best I got. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but I cry “Uncle”, so go ahead and tell me what the right answer.

  24. Well, I’ve already put out my best answer on the other thread.

  25. Ah, then I know what you are talking about, and what you wanted me to say, and why you wanted me to say it, and why I disagree, but I don’t have time at this moment…

  26. Well, what I wanted you to do is to critique what I said from Scripture. I thought that going through that process would help you look at what Scripture says, and would force you to disagree with what I said in such a way as to bring you to the conclusion that images of Jesus are wrong.

    I have found that arguing against the most horrible Davinci Code type critics of the Bible, who yet interact closely with the text, helps me immensely to understand Scripture.

    My point is that bad arguments from Scripture, or rather arguments that are wrong which nevertheless seem to find support from Scripture, are of value to us, because when we search the Scriptures to formulate a successful rebuttal, then we learn a great deal.

    For example, God promises us in Scripture that we may ask whatever we wish of him in the name of Jesus, and it will be given to us.

    Joh 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

    Ok, so if I were to say that I prayed that my Grandma would be healed of her cancer, and she wasn’t, but died, then is God a liar?

    Obviously God is not a liar, but to prove that he is not, your understanding of this verse has to graduate above the level of casual familiarity. More importantly, it has to be informed as well by the rest of Scripture.

    So for example, we might say that God will one day give us all things.

    Rom 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

    Now if that’s true, then what does a new house mean? If we are going to inherit God himself, why do I really care about a new car, a better job, new clothes, or an HD TV? What do those things matter? I’ll bet Bill Gates doesn’t play the lottery, because he probably wouldn’t care if he won or lost. Think about that. Furthermore:

    Rom 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

    Maybe it wasn’t in Grandma’s best interests to be healed of her cancer. Maybe it was better for her that she die. Maybe it was even better for me. In fact, this is what Scripture promises here, that all things work together for good for the elect.

    Anyway, in the age to come, we’ll FORGET what it means to want. Everything we could ever wish for or long for will be completely fulfilled. Our sinful nature will be gone, and all that will be left will be our desire for closeness with our God. But we will be perfectly united to him, so we will have no unfulfilled desire. So it is really true that whatever we wish, it will be given to us.

    This is the kind of thing I was trying to do.

  27. So if you want to prove what I have said to be wrong, then prove it from Scripture. I know you can.

    Hebrews 12:2?

    Just kidding.

    But here’s a bit of fun contemplation: it’s no accident that Jesus walked the earth when He did; God has His purposes.

    Interesting that Jesus appeared before photography. Suppose photography had already existed. Suppose we had now as many photos of Jesus as we do of a public figure like Martin Luther King, Jr — some good, some out of focus, some with awkwardly frozen facial expressions …

    Stepping into the empirical is sticky. Archaeological breadcrumbs can either corroborate or falsify — yet that didn’t prompt God to duck taking on flesh.

    Did He deliberately duck photography by getting the deed done early?

    If not, how would photographs of Jesus play into this discussion?

  28. Aren’t we confident what Aristotle, Plato, etc. looked like, from Greek busts? Are those later renditions of traditional appearances, or are they B.C. works that act like photographs? Don’t we similarly have busts of the Roman Emperors? As a matter of fact, we know that in Jesus’ time, they had the technology to mass-produce recognizable likenesses

  29. Aren’t we confident what Aristotle, Plato, etc. looked like, from Greek busts? Are those later renditions of traditional appearances, or are they B.C. works that act like photographs?

    A bust clearly falls under the category of a man-made, graven image. Photography is trickier — what’s graven on film is just about exactly what falls on the human eye.

    The obvious counter is that you’d still be looking at an image of the Image, not at God Himself. If God’s providence for you doesn’t include, at any particular moment, appearing before you in the flesh, why fill that moment with a fabricated (photographed) image of Him?

    It was just a fun angle to consider.

  30. My point about the 1 Cor passages was that the gods that idols represent do not exist. So that they represent an imagined deity at all is in the eye of the beholder. So the golden calf on the mantle is fine, provided you don’t think it’s a god.

    This is a problem, however, for your argument, because Jesus IS God, apart from the disposition of the eye of the beholder. The gods represented by images exist only in the mind of the beholder or of the artist who carved them, and the poet who named them.

    In other words, the idol is not an image of a god if you are a Christian, because there’s no god but God. But an image of Jesus cannot fail to be an image of God. It cannot fail to be depicting the God whom we worship. It cannot fail, therefore, to represent God (at least that is its claim)…

    I’m assuming the above is the core essence of your “best answer” to the question of why any images are allowed at all, given the unqualified language of the 2nd commandment.

    So are you saying that this is an exclusively new covenant principle? In order for an O.T. sculptor to be OK with making non-idolatrous golden calves, wouldn’t this concept also have to be clear from O.T. revelation? (Which my 2nd commandment + images in the temple/tabernacle argument does make fairly clear, I think).

    But again, I dispute your assertion that “image of object of worship=worship of object of worship”, which appears here in the form “an image of Jesus…cannot fail to represent God (at least that is its claim)”. But there’s represent, and there’s represent. (depends on what the meaning of “is” is). Context helps to determine what an image is intending to represent. A cartoon in a storybook (by virtue of being a simplistic drawing) makes no claim to be presenting an accurate visual depiction. It’s representational purpose is not visual, but historical. It’s purpose is narrative. It is in the mode of Word, not Image.

    Portraiture, on the other hand, exists for the sole purpose of providing an accurate visual representation.

    BTW, you mention “a golden calf on the mantle is fine.” That may be, but I would not say that your average statue of Jesus on the mantle is fine. Such an object serves no narrative purpose, but exists solely for the purpose of being looked at, and thus makes a stronger claim to visual representation. A nativity, however, is nearer the line, since it tells a story. Actually, I’d say the more childish (and less “representational”) the better; a nativity that can be played with, and used to narrate the Christmas story, is much better than one which can only be admired and revered.

  31. A bust clearly falls under the category of a man-made, graven image. Photography is trickier

    I’d say that a bust and photography both fall under my category of “portraiture”, serving the purpose of providing visual representation. Photography is just a higher-tech way of accurately and efficiently graving an image. It’s not that much different than photolithography, which is literally, using light to engrave.

  32. Rube,

    In the OT, an image of any kind was forbidden. In the NT, I sought to show how things have changed, given how Paul says that an idol isn’t anything. This is akin to Paul saying that all foods are clean, whereas in the OT, all foods were not allowed. Pork, for example was forbidden.

    But why were images commanded to be made for the temple? You’re right, the images were not made to be worshiped. However, again I’d assert that God can command things for a special purpose that are contrary to the 10 Commandments, such as God commanding the Israelites not to kill, but to kill certain people. In fact, Saul was rejected because of who he FAILED to kill, even though the commandment says not to kill.

    So then, even though images were forbidden, God could still command images to be made. That doesn’t mean there is some images that can be made at MAN’S discretion, it means that God commanded an exception to the rule. Man cannot do whatever he wants. He cannot decide to make an image. But God CAN command man to do whatever God commands man to do.

    In the same way, Rahab was commended for telling a lie. Why? Because it was to protect the Israelite spies.

    So it’s not ok for you or me to make an image of, say, Zeus and call it Zeus. However, if we see an image of Zeus, we don’t acknowledge that this is actually an image that depicts a heavenly reality. So to us, it is not an image of a god. It doesn’t mean we can make it and call it Zeus, it means that if we go to a museum and see it, we aren’t guilty of sin.

    In the same way, eating food that was sacrificed to a god is still just food and therefore clean. The fact that someone sacrificed it to a god means nothing to us, because that god doesn’t exist, and so the act of sacrifice is meaningless, and fails to change it from food to something idolatrous.

    But let’s consider an uncomfortable subject: porn. Can you or I gaze upon a picture of a naked woman and not be tempted to idolatry? No, because that picture cannot fail to be an object of lust. There is something inherently idolatrous involved in the picture of the naked woman, something inherently sinful involved in looking at it. This is because of who we are.

    In the same way, any picture, no matter how abstract or inaccurate, that depicts Jesus, cannot fail to be representing the God whom we worship. Just as there is no such thing as a picture of a naked woman that is not our wife cannot fail to be an object of lust, there is no such thing as a picture of Jesus that fails to be a picture of the object of our worship.

  33. not be tempted to idolatry?

    I assume you mean “adultery”?

  34. So if you don’t think that Israel’s (archaelogically-evidenced) complete non-image making was overzealous, but rather you think it was plain obedience, what’s your take on avoiding the proper name of God (YHWH), even verbally (favoring adonai), or writing “G_d” — are these not all examples of pharasaically overcompensating in a laudable attempt to jealously guard God from idolatrous earthly representation?

  35. Rube,

    No, I mean idolatry, but not, of course, to the exclusion of adultery. Gazing at porn is actually a worshipful, idolatrous act.

    Here’s why. Adam and Eve were ashamed when they sinned and sought to cover their nakedness. Sinful flesh should be covered, not exposed. To be exposed like that and unashamed is like saying that sin is ok, that sin is good. The naked woman is like a middle finger to God. It is brazen and blasphemous, because it opposes God to his face, boasting of sin.

    This is actually a big part of the appeal for men. There is something comforting about it. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a time in your life when you struggled with porn, but I have. (That’s behind me now, so don’t get all concerned and stuff.) It is comforting, because it opposes God to his face. Not only so, but it sends you the message that your sin is ok, particularly your lustful, adulterous desires.

    And so, when a man gazes at porn, it is comforting, because it assures him that his sin is ok. It’s like a comforting declaration of pardon, but extremely perverse. It doesn’t say your sins are forgiven in Christ, it says your sin is good. The man who gazes upon it actually engages in active listening, if you will, to that message and heeding it, believing it. In so doing, he elevates the naked woman in the picture to the place of judge, allowing her to issue her blasphemous declaration of pardon, and taking comfort in it.

    This turns the woman in the picture into more than a mere object of perverse lust, but into a goddess, who speaks on behalf of Satan, saying, “You will not surely die! God is lying to you!”

    So yeah, I meant idolatry, though not to the exclusion of adultery.

    E

  36. Well the G_d thing is stupid.

    But not uttering “Yahweh” isn’t entirely stupid, and may even be supported by the NT’s use of the word “kurios”, while Jesus DOES use “ego eimi” (I am). No one refers to Jesus as Yahweh or “ego eimi”. Jesus calls himself that. No one refers to him as the Son of Man either in the NT, except Stephen, who says that he sees the Son of Man in his exalted state, and John in Revelation, who is picking up the apocalyptic language. So when this phrase is used, it’s hugely significant.

    But no one calls Jesus “the I AM”. No one ever says, “I AM” is the true God or something like that.

    So it actually might be legitimate to avoid the use of Yahweh, because Scripture itself (the NT anyway) may support it. Kurios being, of course, the equivalent of adonai.

    But let me ask you another question. If you’re in a convenience store, and there are porn magazines on display, and you walk by them, and unknowingly, your eye falls upon one of them, have you sinned? No, you haven’t, because you didn’t look at it intentionally. You didn’t gaze at it.

    But you look away immediately, don’t you? You might say that it’s POSSIBLE to look at it and avoid idolatry, to simply look at it indifferently. For instance, if it was your sister or something, who had run away from home and you hadn’t seen her in years, and your eye falls to the cover of the magazine, and there she is. You pick it up, and you look at it, and you mourn what your sister has done. There is no idolatry taking place there, for example. So it is possible to simply look at something like that without sinning.

    However, I’d say that if you’re a man, and you look at a picture of an unclad woman, you’re undoubtedly lusting, and you’d best look away immediately, out of the fear of the weakness of your flesh, out of fear of God. What’s wrong with being so zealous?

    I’ll give you another example. Let’s say someone is an actor, and becomes a Christian. Maybe he becomes convinced that acting is lying, and so he leaves that career behind.

    Now, you and I would probably say that he’s being a bit silly, since acting is not lying. But maybe he feels like it is, and is so zealous for the truth, that he doesn’t want to be involved in acting anymore.

    Has he done something evil by adding to the law? No. He’s obeying the law as he understands it.

    Now, a minister that says to the Christian actor in his congregation that he can’t be saved unless he changes careers, well that’s quite a different story, isn’t it? That’s adding to the law. That’s Pharasaical.

    What about someone who refuses to ever exceed the speed limit, no matter how fast traffic is moving? Is he being legalistic? No. He’s obeying the law. The law says 65, and God says that we are to obey the magistrate, so the man goes 65. He refuses to go 70. Is he adding to the law? No.

    Now, you and I know that when lawmakers make the speed limit 65, they allow for a margin of error, up to probably 75. Much more than that and you’re likely to get a ticket. So to us, 65 means 75, and so if we go 75, we aren’t sinning, because we’re being obedient to the intent of the lawmakers. But maybe this guy refuses to acknowledge this, and insists that if they had meant 75, they would have said 75. He has a point. The lawmakers have been unclear in the laws, and police have added to the confusion by allowing a margin of error. So he doesn’t add to the law by going 65, and I don’t take away from it by going 75. But we understand it differently.

    But it’s different when a pastor says that going 75 is a sin, and that if they had meant 75, they would have said 75 – from the pulpit. To say this is to be legalistic, because it’s common sense that the intent of speed limits is to allow for a margin of error. Everyone knows it.

    Occasionally someone gets a ticket for going 7 over or something, but there are probably reasons for that, such as getting pulled over for being suspicious, and getting the ticket for being smart with the cop. But again, this is the fault of ambiguous laws.

    Now, if the Bible does NOT actually intend for it to be clearly a sin for there to be images of Jesus, then for the WCF to have this is legalistically adding to the law, and Pharisaism.

    But if the Bible DOES intend for this to be understood as a sin, then it is not. And furthermore, if you are convinced it is a good thing to have images of Jesus, because you aren’t convinced that the Bible teaches that it’s sin, then you DON’T sin by making use of them, because your conscience excuses you. You cannot be held accountable to laws you don’t understand. Paul says that our consciences will bear witness, and will sometimes accuse, and sometimes excuse us on the Day of Judgment.

    But this is why I’m trying to convince you of what the Bible says, because it seems really clear to me.

  37. PS They did make some images, but of course they got kicked out of the land for it.

    But I was watching a show on TV about Rabbi’s houses, and they demonstrated that even having a pattern in the tiles would have been very unusual. It was fascinating.

    The Israelites are not known for their visual art, but for their writings. That was the great contribution of their society. It was the Greeks and the Egyptians, etc, who were the great painters and sculptors.

  38. Crickets, crickets…

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