To Whom Will You Liken Me? The Biblical Prohibition of Images (Part 2)

To Whom Will You Liken Me? The Biblical Prohibition of Images (Part 2)

Nothing is offered for those who seek Christ by images. Thomas Vincent summarizes the argument in this way: “Images or pictures of God are an abomination and utterly unlawful because they debase God and may be a cause of idolatrous worship” (Vincent, p. 147). Have you put away images of any or of all of the three persons of the Godhead?

Having considered the Biblical case against images of Christ in Part 1, we will continue to the modern arguments promoting images of Christ.

In 1981 the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) published a report “On Images of Christ.”[1] In 1983 the RPCES merged with the Presbyterian Church in America. The report presents three objections to the Westminster Standards’ presentation of the second commandment and images that are commonly held today.

First Objection: One Part or Two?

Make and Bow Down

“The [second] commandment does not prohibit the making of pictures… the commandment does prohibit the making of shaped objects for the purpose of worshipping them or worshipping God through them. Therefore, L.C. 109 is not justified in forbidding 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.”

RPCES, On Images of Christ

The Lord does not prohibit the making of all pictures or images. In certain contexts, God even requires making images as was the case of the cherubim facing the mercy seat in Exodus 37.

However, the premise of the RPCES statement assumes one or both of the following arguments: 1) That images of any or of all the three persons of the Godhead are the same in Scripture as images of created things. 2) That images of any or of all the three persons of the Godhead and images of the creature are only a violation of the second commandment when worshipped.

Response From Scripture

The first assumption is refuted on Scriptural grounds and the Creator-creature distinction. From Scripture it is evident that Christ the Son of God is not to be compared to the visible or invisible creature. “To which of the angels did He ever say: You are My Son, Today I have begotten You… Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Hebrews 1:5, 8, 13).

From the Creator-creature distinction we understand, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part” (WCF 7.1). Scripture teaches that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is high above the creature and cannot be compared truthfully to a creature.[2] The creature is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God is not made in the image of man which is to bring God down. Packer notes that the second commandment “compels us to take our thoughts of God from his own holy Word, and no other source whatsoever… to make an image of God is to take one’s thoughts of him from a human source, rather than from God himself; and this is precisely what is wrong with image-making” (Packer, Knowing God. pp. 48-49). Therefore, we may conclude it is idolatry to make representations of Christ in the image of a creature.[3]

The second assumption is refuted on the grounds of misunderstanding the second commandment. In his sermon on Deuteronomy 4, John Calvin said, “For God has forbidden two things. First, the making of any picture of him because it is a disguising and falsifying of his glory, and a turning of his truth into a lie. That is one point. The other is, that no image may be worshipped” (Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy. p. 298). The Scripture positively divides the second commandment into two parts, making and worshipping. In relation to God, both making and/or worshipping images is forbidden. In relation to the creature, the making is not necessarily forbidden. The making and worshipping is always forbidden.

Second Objection: The Person and Worship Dichotomy

The RPCES report laid out a second objection to the Westminster[4] view of the second commandment by creating a divide between the person of Christ and the worship of Christ. The report made the following recommendation:

That synod warn against the violation of the Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4-6 and Deut. 5:8-10) by the worship of visual depictions of Jesus Christ, while at the same time recognizing the legitimacy of usual depictions for other purposes, such as instruction or artistic expression.

RPCES, On Images of Christ. Recommendation 2

The report further stated that pictures of Christ are not just permissible but to be encouraged. [5]

Look but Not Worship

The RPCES argument is that the person of Christ can be separated from the worship of Christ. God’s people can look at manmade depictions of Christ for their help and devotion while not worshipping the image. Worship of the image breaks the second commandment; however, using the image outside of worship does not (Ibid). In this way, the argument is in line with Lutheran practice. [6] Are these things true?

Response From Scripture

The Scriptures know of no separation of the person of Christ and the worship of Christ. Assuming Joshua met the pre-incarnate Christ when he met the Commander of the army of the Lord, he fell on his face to the earth and worshiped (Joshua 5:13-15). When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on His throne and the angels worshipping, he confessed his unworthiness before the Lord (Isaiah 6:1-3). When the blind man whom Jesus healed knew that Jesus was Lord, he worshiped Him (John 9:38);  When Jesus ascended to Heaven, His disciples worshiped Him (Luke 4:52). The angels of God worship Him (Hebrews 1:6). The testimony of Scripture is that those who believe God worship God.

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