|Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 17, April 22 to April 28, 2007|
Part 2 of 5
"The Truth About Images of Jesus and the Second Commandment" by Justin Griffin BSW, MAgth
Copyright © 2006 by Justin Griffin. All rights reserved.
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When studying any subject, there has to be a method by which that study is carried out. When studying a mathematical problem, studying a medical problem, or when studying a crime scene, there has to be a method for carrying that study out. Studying God's Word should be no different. Therefore, when studying whether or not images of Jesus Christ violate the Second Commandment, there needs to be a method by which that study can be carried out.
Apologetics is the intellectual defense of the truth of Christianity that relies heavily on logic and analytical deduction. This mode of study does not just freely accept the Scriptures as being the Holy inspired Word of God without reasonable evidence; rather, apologetics sets out logically to deduce it. Thus, it offers a set of provable reasons and testable evidences in support of the only true religion. Much like apologetics, then, this study will sincerely seek for Biblical clarity, scriptural evidence, and the correction of misunderstandings that surround images of Jesus Christ and the Second Commandment.
For example, one misunderstanding that deals with images of Jesus Christ is: who approved those images? What Biblical authority do God's children rely on for having images of Jesus? Are God's children appealing to God or to another authority for approval? In clarifying this misunderstanding, it is helpful to reason backwards. To reason backwards means to take the end result and determine what the steps were that led up to that ending. In other words, instead of following a path of events from beginning to ending, one starts at the ending and works backwards to the beginning.
The end result is that some of God's children have images of Jesus. The question is "Who approved those images? i " In reasoning backwards, it is evident that there are only two primary possibilities—God or people. If God's children believe that God is the ultimate authority and the Scriptures' interpretation of Scripture establishes His unquestionable authoritative conclusion about this subject, then there should be evidence in the Bible that identifies God as the one who approved the images. However, thorough searches of the entire Bible reveal the fact that nowhere in Scripture does God command, sanction or approve images of Jesus. Then the fact that nowhere in Scripture does God command, sanction, or approve the images of Christ rules out God as a possible source of approval.
If God did not approve the images, then who approved the images? In continuing to reason backwards, when one has eliminated one possible alternative (God), then the other possible alternative (people) must be considered. In considering how people may have approved images of Jesus Christ, one must ascertain what would be a primary step that guided them to approve images of Jesus.
It appears that a principal step that many of God's children may have taken is that of yielding to popular consensus. Some believers may think that because many professing Christians have pictures of Christ in one form or another that God approved the pictures. Their authority base does not seem to be God's Commandment (Exodus 20:4-5), but rather people's consent. A secular writer puts it more simply, "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." ii Many professing Christians and churches have images of Christ in one form or another. Obviously, since so many have images of Christ, these images have God's approval, right? No. Apply this same thinking to another example—many professing Christians view pornography; therefore God approves these images, right? This example is obviously an illogical extreme. However, it does help to make the point that just because many people who profess to be Christians do or believe something doesn't necessarily make it God-ordained.
A more realistic example would be that for many years, the majority of so-called Christians believed that a pope was the Vicar of Christ, and one had to work or buy their way out of purgatory. A human consensus based on a relative understanding by the masses does not automatically represent God's authoritative verdict. Nowhere does the Bible proclaim that a pope is the Vicar of Christ. Nor do the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament teach that there is a purgatory.
Therefore, the misunderstanding is clarified. God did not approve the images of Jesus; people did. However, this raises another question, "If God does not command, sanction, or approve the images of Jesus Christ, then does not the silence of Scripture perhaps give license for images of Jesus?"
A thorough searching of Scripture reveals that God did not approve, command or sanction images of Christ. It also reveals that the Scripture is not silent about images of Jesus. The Second Commandment is full of information about what God feels about images and what God's chosen should believe about images. Therefore, this study seeks to investigate whether or not images of Jesus Christ violate the Second Commandment.
This study will obtain Biblical clarity, scriptural support, and the correction of misunderstandings by a systematic compiling of facts and evidences surrounding images of Jesus and the Second Commandment. To begin with, this study opens with a sincere review of Biblical facts that explain why this issue is important. In light of this scriptural evidence, the study examines the Second Commandment in relation to images. After establishing the Second Commandment's position on images, the study will address a fuller scope of the Second Commandment throughout Scripture. A brief survey of church history follows to explore how the church has previously addressed this subject. Then, based upon the evidences of Scripture and historical context, it will put forth the facts surrounding images of Jesus and the Second Commandment. Based upon the facts gathered by this study, we will employ the investigative method of reasoning backwards to determine how Protestant Evangelical Christians today came to have images of Jesus Christ. The study concludes with a question and answer section that deals with the most commonly asked questions about this issue. In essence, this study seeks to remove that which is confusing and get to the Biblical facts that hold the truth about images of Jesus Christ and the Second Commandment.
1. How will this study be carried out?
2. Where in Scripture does God command, sanction, or approve of images of Jesus?
3. Does the fact that many professing Christians have pictures of Christ in one form or another give these images God's approval?
4. Who approved of the images of Jesus? Why?
5. What does this statement mean: A human consensus based on a relative understanding by the masses does not automatically represent God's authoritative verdict?
6. If God's Word is supposed to direct His church, then how do ungodly fads become common church practice?
7. How could compromise play a part in establishing ungodly fads as common church practice?
In any good study, understanding why something is important is central for getting at what is true. The importance of the Second Commandment can be perceived in the introduction to the Ten Commandments, and that importance is reinforced in the last part of the Second Commandment.
God's introduction to the Ten Commandments plainly identifies their value and importance to Him. His Word declares, "And God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage …" (Exodus 20:1-2).
God declares, "I am the Lord thy God." He makes this declaration for a specific purpose: it provides a strong foundation to insist on the obedience of His chosen people. Before proclaiming a Law for His chosen people, the Great and Almighty God tells them who is giving the law, saying, "I am the Lord thy God." So, by God's proclamation, the authority behind these Commandments is absolutely holy, just, and perfect. Thus obedience to His Law is required by the fact that God is God, and God has decreed it. His absolute authority over all of His creation gives Him this all-powerful right. More simply put, God is God, and what He has commanded is fixed, important truth. His commands are not subject to a committee's redefining or alteration by trendy consensus. Ultimately, God's law is God's truth, and it is to be obeyed because God said so!
Consequently, because God gives these Commandments, they are undeniably important to God. God is not in the habit of giving Commandments that are unimportant to Him. Nowhere in the Bible will someone find God saying, "Oops, I did not mean to command that," or "Wow, that law sure doesn't work. Let Me try something else." When God gave the Ten Commandments, He did so because they are important to Him. More specifically, because God was giving these laws to His chosen, they should therefore be of equal importance to all who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. What God believes about all things is the end for what His children should receive as the most important, unchangeable, absolute truth.
A particular section annexed to the Second Commandment continues to identify its importance to God and those who violate this commandment: "… for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…" (Exodus 20:5).
God here qualifies this importance with the concept, "for I am a jealous God." This kind of jealousy is a desire for worship—that is, honor, reverence, and ultimately service, iii which His children are not to ascribe to anything other than Himself. iv This jealousy is fierce, wrathful, and justified; for God expresses it against the offense of spiritual adultery. v Furthermore, the observant reader will notice that the transgressors of the Second Commandment are called the haters of God. It is surely inconceivable and almost preposterous to think that believers would declare with their words that they hate God. However, as unwise as this utterance would be, how much more profoundly brash it would be for professed believers to engage in acts of adultery against God.
Consequently, professing believers can make their public statement of hatred and spiritual adultery known, not with their words, but with their actions. Therefore, with just cause and blameless wrath, God pronounces a harsh verdict. For since God will not be separated from His justice, vi those who violate the Second Commandment are judged as the adulterous haters of God.
One particular doctrine that reflects this teaching is the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 110, which states:
The reasons annexed to the Second Commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God's sovereignty over us vii and propriety in us, viii his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.
This doctrinal statement is an accurate reflection of Scripture. It indicates that God is our Lord and commands how to worship Him. The reasons added to the Second Commandment are to strengthen its declaration. One comprehends obedience by one's acts of compliance or defiance to God's law, not by verbal affirmation. Finally, the consequences of violating this law are passed on from generation to generation. In other words, what the parents' model, the children will come to believe as true. When the children do like their parents, God will hold them accountable.
This commandment's importance becomes clear in both the prefix to the Ten Commandments and the last part of the Second Commandment. The prefix to the Ten Commandments clearly identifies the Second Commandment's value to God. It is important because God has decreed it. The Second Commandment is important because God said so, and God strengthens its significance by adding a consequence to those who violate His Commandment. Therefore, because God deems this subject to be of such importance, those who profess to believe in God should likewise show their love by keeping His Commandment.
If, however, one takes the position that the Second Commandment is not important enough to follow nor significant to a believer's daily life, then, to be consistent, that position should also be maintained for the other nine commandments. Why? The connection between the Commandments is of a singular strength because God gave them. In addition to inspiring them, the LORD God took the time to write them out Himself. Therefore, because God wrote them as a unity, either all of the commandments are important and need to be kept, or it doesn't really matter what God commands. Following this flawed thinking, any of the commandments can be adhered to or not; it's up to the individual to decide which is the most important.
In continuing to hold to this flawed thinking, one could approach God's Ten Commandments as though they were a theological pick and choose: "Today I like the first and third, yesterday it was the eighth and ninth, and tomorrow it will be part of the fifth and part of the second." However, God's commandments are not the Ten Suggestions, the nine laws, the five proposals, or the seven and a half good ideas. God's commandments are just that, "God's Ten Commandments." He who is all-wise (omniscient), He who is all-powerful (omnipotent), and He who is everywhere (omnipresent) has given the Ten Commandments, and because God has given them as a unity, they are to be kept as a unity.
In addition, the commandments have not been changed anywhere in Scripture. The Ten Commandments that God gave in the Old Testament are the same Ten Commandments in the New Testament. As corroborated in the New Testament, the Ten Commandments are as important to God the Son as they are to God the Father. When Jesus Christ was asked which was the greatest Commandment, His answer in Matthew 22:36-39, demonstrated that all of the commandments were important. If any one Commandment was more or less important than any of the other of the Ten, or was to be done away with, this was a good opportunity for Jesus to say so and explain why. Consequently, the fact that His answer encompassed the Ten Commandments demonstrates that all the Commandments are important.
Finally, in determining why the Second Commandment is important for God's children, one would have to deduce that it is important because the LORD God Almighty gave the Commandment. He reinforced its importance by ascribing a consequence to those who violate His commandment. Thus the Commandment should be especially important to God's children whose minds and hearts have been opened to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. For unlike those who are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) and incapable of knowing the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), God's children are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are alive in Christ, and therefore do know what is important to God. Therefore, all those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior should know that God's Commandments are important to God and to them.
1. Who gave the Second Commandment, and what is His authority to give such a law?
2. Where in Scripture is the Second Commandment? Without looking at the Bible, what does it say?
3. How can believers make their public statement of hatred and spiritual adultery known?
4. What is the connection between the Ten Commandments, and what implications does that connection have if someone does not want to keep one of God's Commandments?
5. Why is the Second Commandment important to God, and why should this Commandment be important to His children?
6. When Jesus Christ was asked which was the greatest Commandment, how did His answer in Matthew. 22:36-39 demonstrate that all of the commandment were important?
i. This question does not presuppose whether or not images of Jesus are right or wrong. This question merely seeks to ascertain who approved the images. For example, asking, "Who brought the car home?" does not mean bringing the car home was wrong; the question merely seeks to identify who brought the car home.
ii. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, n.p. [Accessed 7 May 2003]. Online: http://www.221bakerstreet.org.
iii. Worship is comprehended in Exodus 20:5 as the physical and spiritual act of giving honour, reverence, and ultimately service to God, in the forms that only God alone has prescribed. Thereby, every time this study used the word ‘worship,' it did so using this understanding.
iv. Isaiah 42:8, 48:11
v. Spiritual adultery can mean disloyalty or betrayal against God. For more reading about Spiritual Adultery : 2 Chronicles 21:11-14; Psalms 73:27; Jeremiah 3:6-9; Jeremiah 9:1-5; Jeremiah 13:25-27; Ezekiel 16:1-51; Ezekiel 20:29-31; Ezekiel 23:2-7; Hosea 1:1-2, 5:3-5; James 4:3-4; 1 John 2:15-16.
vi. Exodus 34:7; Ezekiel 18:4
vii. Psalms 95:2-3, 6-7, 96:9-10
Exodus 19:5; Psalms. 45:11; Isaiah 54:5.
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