Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 16, April 15 to April 21, 2007

The Truth About Images of Jesus
and the Second Commandment

A Study
for the Everyday Christian

Part 1 of 5

By Justin Griffin BSW, MAgth

"The Truth About Images of Jesus and the Second Commandment" by Justin Griffin BSW, MAgth

Copyright © 2006 by Justin Griffin. All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America
by Tate Publishing, LLC
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Mustang, OK 73064
(888) 361-9473

Book design copyright © 2006 by Tate Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any way by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author except as provided by USA copyright law.

Scripture quotations marked "KJV" are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version, Cambridge, 1769.

Scripture quotations marked "NASB" are taken from the New American Standard Bible ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from: the King James Version.

This book is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information with regard to the subject matter covered. This information is given with the understanding that neither the author nor Tate Publishing, LLC is engaged in rendering legal, professional advice. Since the details of your situation are fact dependent, you should additionally seek the services of a competent professional.

ISBN: 1-5988655-4-4

Published by Permission at IIIM.
(HTML version has different foot/end noting than original)


This book is dedicated to YHWH.


I want to recognize my brilliant, breathtaking and wonderful wife Joanna for her compassion and care for me as I diligently undertook the writing of this book. Her love for Jesus Christ and her devotion as my helpmate bring me to my knees in prayer, thanking God for granting me the favor of such an excellent gift. The Bible says, "Who can find a virtuous woman…" (Proverbs 31:10). I can answer, "I have found such a woman."

I also want to recognize my friend Andrew Morrison, who has a greater gift for writing the written word than I do at speaking it. He was there, as my scribe, at the very beginning when this book was just a paper for class, and he stuck it through to the very end. The Bible says, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17). Andrew, you keep me sharp.

Table of Contents

Prolegomena (Essential Matters)
How this Study Will Be Carried Out
The Importance of This Subject
The Examination of the Second Commandment
The Second Commandment Throughout Scripture
Church History and Images of Christ
Conclusion: The Truth about Images of Jesus
Postlude (Questions and Answers)
Appendices and Bibliography
Ending Remarks


I asked a friend of mine to review this book and give me his reaction. After a few days, he and I got together to discuss the book. He told me, "I think having a picture of Jesus is fine. I don't worship the image, I don't bow down to the image, and I don't serve the image."

To which I responded, "I addressed that very issue in the question and answer section of the book. As a matter of fact that was the very first issue I addressed. So what did you think of my response?"

My friend paused silently for a few seconds and said, "What's wrong with having images of Jesus to show you are a Christian?"

Again, I answered my friend by saying, "I answered that in the book as well." My friend declared, "I am Baptist and you are Reformed; why should I care about a Reformed understanding of the Second Commandment and images of Jesus?"

I politely smiled at my friend and said, "I addressed that in the book as well."

We sat there silently for a few more seconds, and I said to my friend, "You didn't really read the book, did you?"

To which he confessed, "I read part of it, but I skimmed the rest."

After a few more days, my friend and I were discussing the book again. This time he triumphantly declared, "I read your book; as a matter of fact, I read it through twice. I have discovered an error, a flaw in one of your analyses."

Eager to hear what my friend had found I said, "What did you find?"

He said, "If you look at thus and such page, paragraph two, in the second part of the last sentence, part of your argument says …"

I stopped my friend and asked him, "Wait! What was the whole argument, the context surrounding the argument and the general background?"

He paused for a few seconds and said, "What? What do you mean, what was the whole argument, the background and context?"

I responded by saying, "If you are going to deal with half an idea, if you are going to try and address half an argument, if you are going to take an argument out of its context and background, you will ultimately not be addressing the actual argument." i

This book covers a very controversial issue. To handle such an important topic so cavalierly as not to fully read the book or only skim it will do more to impair the reader than prepare the reader to fully comprehend whether or not images of Jesus violate the Second Commandment. Furthermore, to take issue with part of an argument or idea or to take arguments or ideas out of their context will prevent the reader from fully understanding the material.

The author strongly recommends you read this book through twice with pen in hand. Read the book completely the first time to ensure that you fully grasp the main idea, and then read the study a second time to grasp the finer points. As you read, mark areas of interest. Underline those sentences or paragraphs that you want to explore further. Circle the page number of a particular page that you may want to return to later. Write your thoughts and feelings in the margins as you read.

Finally, knowing your opinion on this subject before you start reading this book will help you get the most out of the book. Take a few seconds to answer this question:

Do you believe that images of Jesus violate the Second Commandment?

_______: Yes, I believe that images of Jesus violate the Second Commandment.

_______: No, I do not believe that images of Jesus violate the Second Commandment.

_______: I do not know if images of Jesus violate the Second Commandment.

Once you have established your opinion about images of Jesus and the Second Commandment, I encourage you to set that opinion aside for a moment while you read this book. Favoritism, for or against, can cloud one's judgment to the facts and cause one to form conclusions upon insufficient information. I encourage all readers to approach this book with a mind open enough to follow the facts, but not so open-minded that one is reading without discernment. Once you have read this study fully, return to this page, take up your opinion about images of Jesus again, and evaluate your opinion in light of the facts.

(Essential Matters)

An important Scriptural doctrine guided this book's preparation and should guide those who seek to comprehend it. That doctrine concerns the Trinity. An explanation of the Trinity is aptly presented in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ii which states in chapter 2, section 3, "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit …" The doctrine of the Trinity is described using the expression, "three persons one substance, power, and eternity." The language structure of this doctrine is meant to convey the following truths:

  • 1. There is only one God.
  • 2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
  • 3. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all distinct from one another.

God has always been a Trinity from all eternity: "From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God"(Psalm 90:2). If you take away any one—Father, Son, or Holy Spirit—there is no God. The Bible teaches there is only one God. It says Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14), it says the Father is God (Philippians 1:2), and it says the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). There is in the Trinity but one indivisible essence. In this essence there are not three gods alongside of and separate from one another, but only personal self-distinctions. Therefore, the whole, undivided essence belongs equally to each of the three persons. The divine essence is not divided among the three persons like a split personality but exists altogether with all its excellence in each one of the persons so that they have the numerical unity of One.

While this study may in some sections appear to be singularly referring to the individual person—that of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), or the Holy Spirit—the reader should remember that their essence is One. Thus, where the text mentions a singular person in the Godhead, it refers to the Trinity. As a result, a reference to God (the Father), the Holy Spirit, or (the Son) Jesus Christ is a reference to the Triune God.


This study will examine the issue of whether or not images of Jesus Christ violate the Second Commandment. iii The following narrative is included to illustrate the many ways God's children show off their images of Jesus. The narrative was inspired by John Stott's fictional account of a man encountering the symbol of the cross in his book, The Cross of Christ. iv This narrative has been modified to illustrate how some Protestant Evangelical churches show off their images. It is not written to establish a straw man argument, which is an argument that distorts the facts so that they can be proved wrong. Rather, this narrative is designed to help bring into focus the various ways that Protestant Evangelical churches show off their images of Christ, not to suggest that any one church actually shows off their images of Christ in all these ways.

Imagine a stranger visiting any number of nondescript Protestant Evangelical churches. These may include Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, nondenominational, or independent churches. This stranger was brought up in a non-Christian culture and knows nothing about Christianity. Yet he is more than a tourist; he is personally interested and keen to learn. Walking along an ordinary street that could be found in many small American towns, he is impressed to find churches on almost every corner. As his eyes attempt to take them all in, he cannot help but notice the steeples and an image of a long-haired bearded man visible on some church signs. He enters one of these churches and stands in its foyer under the steeple. Trying to grasp the size and shape of the church, he becomes aware of a large, painted mural of this same long-haired, bearded man. He walks around and observes that each side wing of the church contains offices and Sunday school rooms, and the hallway has a large bulletin board with pictures of this same long-haired, bearded man. He goes outside into the graveyard to see how they treat the deceased of the church. He finds engravings of this same bearded man on a few of the gravestones, and in one shaded corner of the cemetery, he finds a statue of this long-haired, bearded man. Returning to the church, he decides to remain for the service that is about to begin. His eyes now rest on the colorful stained-glass windows. Though he cannot make out the details from where he is sitting, he cannot fail to notice that each contains a depiction of this long-haired bearded man. The visitor looks down at the church bulletin and sees that the opening page has a colorful image of this same long-haired bearded man. The pastor begins to speak to the people.

Because he doesn't understand most of the terms, the stranger's eyes begin to wander, and he examines the enormous picture of that same long-haired, bearded man stretched across the back wall of the church just above where the robed singing people sit. The stranger leaves the church puzzled with a single question in his mind: Why do these people adore unbarbered men?

This narrative was designed to help bring into focus how some Protestant Evangelical churches show off images of Christ. Images such as stained-glass depictions, murals, felt board pictures, oil paintings, engravings, drawings, statues, crucifixes and all seem to be accepted without question. The chance of this narrative coming true in a technologically advanced, industrialized nation of the 21st century seems improbable. However, the focus should not necessarily be the situation itself—that of an unchurched person wandering in upon a Sunday morning church service—but rather the church's potential presentation of images of Christ and whether or not such uses are a violation of the Second Commandment.

For many, the thought of breaking the Second Commandment brings to mind some third world natives deep in the jungles groveling before, dancing around, praising, or making sacrifices to stone pillars, a golden statue of a bull, or human remains that hang upon poles. These things unquestionably violate God's Commandment in an exaggerated and over-obvious way. However, God's children need to realize that there may be more subtle forms of violation as well that, while less conspicuous, are still wrong.

What would a subtle form of violation be? Does the Bible present degrees of violating the Second Commandment? Is the Second Commandment just an Old Testament doctrine? Does the Second Commandment present different understandings of violation? What exactly does the Second Commandment say?

The primary question of this study is this: Do images of Christ violate the Second Commandment? By answering this question, this study will come to a more precise understanding of what the Bible says about the Second Commandment and images of Jesus, why this issue is important to God, why it should be important to God's children, and how violating the Second Commandment will affect a believer's day-to-day life and perhaps his or her eternal life.

Review Questions

1. What is the important truth that guided this book's preparation and should guide those who seek to comprehend it?

2. How many places can you think of where images of Jesus are displayed in the world around you?

3. Without looking at the Bible, what does the Second Commandment say?

4. Think of your home and church. Can you count how many images of Jesus you find there?

5. Why do you have these images of Jesus in your church and home?

6. Why do you think this issue may be important to God and those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Foot Notes:

i. The conversation underwent alterations to adapt it to a reading format and to insure the privacy of the author's friend.

ii. The Westminster Confession of Faith, completed in 1646, is a Reformed affirmation of beliefs. Its purpose was to reconstruct the Church of England along Puritan beliefs. Theologically, the confession strongly rejects the errors of Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, and those desiring to start sects based on heresies.

iii. Disclaimer: this book contains Protestant Evangelical views, not the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or any independent denomination, sect, or person that holds the views that were set forth in the Second Council of Nicea, 787 AD.

iv. John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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