Are Images of Jesus Idolatry?
Jesus Is God, Stop Braking the Second Commandment
This post comes from the collaboration post between the Stoic Christian and “
For God With Us” on Instagram. I cannot take credit for this work, I simply made the designs for Instagram. In order to get the fullness of his message across we agreed to post the full text here; much of which was unable to fit into the Instagram slides.
Theologians often grapple with the question of visual representations of God and the incarnation of Christ. This document explores the four main objections raised by the Orthodox and Reformed traditions regarding visual representations of God and provides insights into the theological discourse surrounding this topic.
1. Violation of the second commandment
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: [Exodus 20:4 KJV]
The objection stems from the belief that creating pictures of Jesus or God goes against the second commandment, which prohibits making idols. Critics argue that visual depictions of God, made by human hands, can lead to idolatry. They refer to Old Testament descriptions of pagan idols made of earthly materials, incapable of hearing, seeing, or acting.
The question arises: Do visual representations of Jesus, whether in Sunday School books, galleries, or places of worship, amount to idolatry? Furthermore, how should we understand the relationship between the unique revelation of God in the incarnation and visual depictions of that Word?
2. All attempts are false representations
This objection suggests that since no human can produce an accurate representation of Christ, all attempts are false and potentially promote idolatry. Critics argue that any portrayal would fall short of capturing the true nature of Christ.
3. We don't know what Jesus looks like
Despite biblical passages like Isaiah 53:2 and Revelation 1:13–16, the Bible does not provide sufficient information to create a faithful representation of Christ's physical appearance. Hence, it is argued that God does not sanction portraits of His Son.
4. All representations promote Nestorianism
This objection raises concerns that any attempt to pictorially represent Jesus implicitly promotes the ancient heresy of Nestorianism. According to this view, even if a realistic image of Jesus existed, human artistry cannot capture His divine nature.
All such attempts are seen as misrepresentations that diminish or distort Christ's true nature. The Council of Constantinople in 754 expressed this argument, condemning the public and private worship of sacred images.
Prominent theologians like Karl Barth and John Calvin have expressed skepticism toward visual representations of Jesus. They argue that preaching and sacraments should be central to the Christian community, and static artworks can be distractions.
Barth and Calvin caution against fixed conceptions of Jesus and the limitations of visual art to represent His divine-human unity accurately. They contend that theological truths cannot be adequately captured in visual images and that art should not be used for teaching purposes.
While, the arts, including visual representations, possess the power to broaden our horizons, deepen our perception, and evoke transformative experiences. Good art can open up possibilities for re-imagining reality and communicating the gospel effectively, engaging people's imaginations and inviting them to encounter God in new ways.
In light of the second commandment regarding the prohibition of graven images, we should think carefully about the use of images in all of life. Images can be powerful conveyors of truth or error, so let us consider and be discerning about what we set before our eyes and the eyes of our families at all times.