the problem with pictures

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, some of the things forbidden in the second commandment include:

“the making of 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; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it…” (q109).

In his commentary on this catechism, JG Vos makes the following points (when you come to the dates, note that it was originally published as a magazine series in the 1940s – edited later by GI Williamson and published in book form in 2002) .

1. Why is it wrong to make any representation or picture of God?

    Because God is a pure Spirit, without bodily form, and any picture or representation which man can make can only give a false idea of the nature of God. This is true, as the catechism intimates, regardless of whether an outward image or likeness is made, or only an inward image in a person’s mind. In either case, the attempt to visualise God is sinful and can only falsify or distort the revelation of God presented in the Bible.

    2. Is it wrong to make paintings or pictures of our Saviour Jesus Christ?

      According to the Larger Catechism, this is certainly wrong, for the catechism interprets the second commandment as forbidding the making of any representation of any of the three persons of the Trinity, which would certainly include Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. While pictures of Jesus are extremely common in the present day, we should realise that in calvinistic circles this is a relatively modern development. Our forefathers at the time of the Reformation, and for perhaps 300 years afterward, scrupulously refrained, as a matter of principle, from sanctioning or making use of pictures of Jesus Christ. Such pictures are so common in the present day, and so few people have conscientious objections to them, that it is practically impossible to obtain any Sabbath School helps or Bible story material for children that is free of such pictures. The American Bible Society is to be commended for its decision that the figure of the Saviour may not appear in Bible motion pictures issued by the Society.

      3. What attitude should we adopt in view of the present popularity of pictures of Jesus Christ?

      The following considerations may be suggested as bearing on this question:

      (a) The Bible presents no information whatsoever about the personal appearance of Jesus Christ, but it does teach that we are not to think of him as he may have appeared ‘in the days of his flesh,’ but as he is today in heavenly glory, in his estate of exaltation (2 Cor 5:16).

      (b) Inasmuch as the Bible presents no data about the personal appearance of our Saviour, all artists’ pictures of him are wholly imaginary and constitute only the artists’ ideas of his character and appearance.

      (c) Unquestionably pictures of the Saviour have been very greatly influenced by the theological viewpoint of the artist. The typical modern picture of Jesus is the product of nineteenth-century “Liberalism” and presents a “gentle Jesus” who emphasised only the love and Fatherhood of God and said little or nothing about sin, judgment, and eternal punishment.

      (d) [People who derive their ideas about Jesus from such pictures] inevitably think of Jesus as a human person, rather than thinking of him according to the biblical teaching as a divine person with a human nature. The inevitable effect of popular acceptance of pictures of Jesus is to overemphasise his humanity and to forget or neglect his deity (which of course no picture can portray). …

      4. Are not pictures of Jesus legitimate provided they are not worshipped or used as ‘aids to worship’?

      As interpreted by the Westminster Assembly, the second commandment certainly forbids all representations of the persons of the Trinity, and this coupled with the truth … that Christ is a divine person with a human nature taken into union with himself, and not a human person, would imply that it is wrong to make pictures of Jesus Christ for any purpose whatsoever. Of course, there is a difference between using pictures of Jesus to illustrate children’s Bible story books or lessons, and using pictures of Jesus in worship … Admittedly the former is not an evil in the same class with the latter. …

      JG Vos (2002), The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (edited by GI Williamson).

      58 thoughts on “the problem with pictures

      1. On the phrase, “…either inwardly in our mind,” I always think: “Good luck trying to enforce that!” Just being human, we naturally make images in our minds of things we read. It’s just using the imagination God gave us. I’m sure that virtually every Christian who has ever lived has envisioned Jesus in his or her mind when reading the Bible. It’s just part of the way we’re built.


        • Thank you so very much Richard. I usually hate all images and representations of the Lord automatically, maybe from the days I was forced to endure going to a Roman Catholic school as a child. But I recently came into possession of one, just the one, very small lovely picture I just cannot help but like, of the Lord Jesus, which I just use as a bookmark sometimes… and have questioned myself about it. but.., being human…


      2. Pingback: Och, there’s just so much going on! « Laodicea

      3. I know Richard, it’s made me wonder too. But I like what Vos says in the point conveniently numbered 3a above. We just don’t know what a glorified human body looks like (Paul says it’s as different from what it is now as the sown seed from the grown plant) – so it must be important to curb our imaginations and train our minds to think along spiritual, scriptural lines. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed?


      4. The position you outline is a criticism of the Incarnation as such. God Himself made a created image of the Second Person of the Trinity when He became man.

        I also note that there is no objection contained in what you say to images of created persons such as the saints or the angels God commanded to be depicted in the Temple.
        Of course, God is spiritual and in His Divine Nature has no body but how do you deal with the images of God used in the Old Testament to communicate his glory to the prophets?

        How can it be wrong to depict the Holy Spirit as a dove or as fire when He has used these images Himself? Even if you exclude such images how can you exclude them mentally when people read or listen to the scripture? Is it not implausible that God would furnish us with these images and then forbid us from reproducing them or thinking about them?


      5. That’s not how I understand the incarnation – Christ’s human nature is not an image of his divine person (is that what you’re saying?) As far as I understand it, what he took into union with his divine person was an ordinary human body and soul, not an image of himself in the shape of a human. I have no problem with the fact that he had a real human body which could be seen while he was on earth, but that in itself is no license for us to create our own representations of it.

        I would hope that there’s no objection in what I say to things that God commanded for the temple. I can’t think off the top of my head where saints are commanded to be depicted in the temple, but as for cherubims, they were directly commanded to be made according to a pattern for the temple itself – which is not the same situation that we’re in now under the new testament, when we have no command/pattern for creating any images and don’t use the temple methods for worship.

        Re images which were used with the prophets, without knowing exactly what you’re referring to: it’s one thing to use metaphors like doves etc, and another thing to create visual images either based on these metaphors or out of our own imagination. The metaphors are provided to teach us about some characteristics or other of the reality, but they’re not intended to be exact models of the reality or starting points for being physically implemented in pictures. Like metaphors of a door, a rock, bread – they’re informative up to a point and we have to learn from them what they do convey, but they’re not instructions for us to create visual images from.


      6. “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

        “the image of the invisible God”

        Re temple worship: read Hebrews and Revelation:-)


      7. :) holograms might not be welcomest in present circs but if you’re working we can make allowances

        Not sure what you’re making of those quotes ? Obviously I don’t deny that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to sinners in the gospel … but that’s not the same as saying his human nature is an image of himself, or that we have a warrant for creating our own images of him

        Re the temple, you got nothing from the pentateuch where the ceremonies are instituted? Hebrews explains the OT priesthood and Revelation gives symbolic descriptions of heaven & post-resurrection history inc the future – not that it’s nec irrelevant but maybe not the most useful?


      8. “Thou shalt make also two cherubims of beaten gold, on the two sides of the oracle. Let one cherub be on the one side, and the other on the other. Let them cover both sides of the propitiatory, spreading their wings, and covering the oracle, and let them look one towards the other, their faces being turned towards the propitiatory wherewith the ark is to be covered. In which thou shalt put the testimony that I will give thee.”

        The temple contained images of creatures despite the stern prohibition of idolatry in the Old Testament (Exodus 25:18-22; 1 Kings 6:23-8). If this was some kind of concession to the Hebrews’ hardness of heart there is no mention of the fact and no recorded dominical decree of abrogation. Perhaps you are appealing to an unwritten tradition :-) if so the fathers know nothing of it so it must be a Gnostic one…

        My point about the saints is that you argument covers only images of God Himself not of creatures (particularly creatures who are in heaven worshiping God). In the OT God Himself commands the depiction of such creatures in the very epicenter of the stern monotheism of Israel flanking the receptacle of the very law it is now suggested forbids them.

        Setting aside any secret unwritten traditions that this depiction of Angels was a mere concession we have no reason to suppose that it was anything other than consistent with the Ten Commandments. If so, any interpretation of the Law which holds that it forbids all liturgical representations of living creatures must be false.

        We do however face a genuine innovation in the NT in that God has become man. He has not made use of a man to communicate revelation to us, he has become man. He has united human nature to Himself. His disciples and those he taught and cured worshiped Him in the flesh. Is the humanity of Christ a more or less perfect representation of His divinity than the Ark of the Covenant?

        Your catechism forbids physical and even mental representations of the divine persons. The position is logical. If physical representations are impermissible then mental ones must be also. In its rigour it refutes itself. If mental representations such as a dove or fire or Christ’s sacred humanity are permissible then why not physical representations? Scripture furnishes us with these mental images, scripture is the inspired word of God therefore both mental and physical representations are permissible.

        If the objection is that no finite creature can circumscriptively represent the infinite nature of God then the objection applies equally to mental and physical representations and to the sacred humanity of Christ. It is a criticism of the Incarnation as such. It is an argument for Islam. Jewish worship always contained created images and Christian (other than Calvinist) worship has always contained created images the scriptures furnish us with the images. Human nature itself is created in the image of God. Christ is the image of the invisible God.

        “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God…..above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face”.


      9. Re the cherubims, the passage from Exodus is an explicit command to make these images, and as such, you’re right, it doesn’t/can’t contradict the equally explicit provisions of the 10 commandments. There isn’t a problem with creating images as such (maybe that goes without saying) – but in terms of using images in worship, what you do need is an explicit command for it. So the fuller understanding of the Westminster theologians expressed in the Larger Catechism is that the 2nd commandment requires, “the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word,” and forbids, “all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself.” (q108-109) Anything that God commands to be used in worship must be used in worship; anything which God hasn’t instituted is forbidden; and the creation of golden cherubim for placing around the mercy seat was clearly divinely instituted. (It’s obv a slightly separate issue from what the quote from Vos was dealing with tho – ie objects which can be used in worship vs pictures of Jesus.)

        Re the incarnation… I’m not sure I understand what the question is getting at, ‘Is the humanity of Christ a more or less perfect representation of His divinity than the Ark of the Covenant?’ Is Christ’s humanity a representation of his divinity ?? – i just don’t feel too comfortable saying that – surely it’s safer to say that he took on humanity to be capable of acting in the nature of the sinners he was representing (forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same – that sort of thing, rather than to represent his own divinity?) In any case, like I say, you need something other than the fact that he had a real humanity to license or warrant us making our own representations of it. The reality of his human nature should never obscure to us the fact that he is a divine person, but because the inherent tendency of picturing him as a man is to background (at best) his divinity the least we should do is avoid it. Less effortful, surely, if nothing else, to avoid visual images altogether, than to keep having to remind yourself that he doesn’t even look like this? and is divine?

        Calling him the image of the invisible God, incidentally, I’d understand as referring more to his real likeness with God, ie having the same divine essence as the Father and the Spirit. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of his person. Or if it refers to him revealing the Father, i’d take it in the sense of revealing his mercy towards sinners, his holiness and yet his readiness to be reconciled, and so on – spiritual characteristics which we should spiritually discern, rather than images for viewing either inwardly in the mind or outwardly in any kind of likeness of any creature, and a revelation of himself by himself, rather than humanly devised representations of him.

        As you say, Scripture does furnish us with symbols and imagery of various kinds. But it doesn’t provide any suggestion that these should form the basis of any physical representations that we might create. (The OT church was given instructions for furnishing the temple, in terms of the size, shape, material, location of the objects, but in the NT we obviously aren’t meant to use the temple form of worship.)
        And as for mental images, for one thing, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that mental representations of Christ’s humanity are permissible. They’re not even possible – in the sense that we don’t know what he looked like on earth, and we don’t know what he looks like now – so that any mental representation that anyone does construct of him is at best imaginary.
        But also, I suppose that while the catechism primarily rules out man-made representations of any of the three persons, i think it’s still right to warn against misusing the signs/symbols which scripture does provide. We can’t take these symbols in isolation, as if our thoughts of the Holy Spirit were to terminate on the idea of a dove, eg. Which i’m sure you agree with, but the point is that our understanding of the Holy Spirit, or any of the three persons of the trinity, has to be informed by not only (all) the images which are used but also the non-symbolic references too. Eg if you combine all the symbols and metaphors for the Holy Spirit what you don’t get is even a coherent or comprehensible mental image – he descended like a dove, his work is like the wind blowing where it wills, seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, etc – we do have to learn from these pictures, but the pictures themselves are only indicators to parts of the whole, which is that he is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, and so on. The symbolism itself is hardly amenable to depiction, far less his own real being.

        Sorry this is a bit long :-/


      10. “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father'”

        The logic of your position remains that the Incarnation was an unfortunate necessity undertaken to allow the Word to suffer juridically on behalf of men and has no positive revelatory value at all. In fact, it is best forgotten about in case it distracts us from the Bible. It would be much better if we had been able to receive a glowing book encased in a meteorite.

        “in terms of using images in worship, what you do need is an explicit command for it” – Where is your authority for this statement?

        “Anything that God commands to be used in worship must be used in worship; anything which God hasn’t instituted is forbidden” – Where is your authority for this statement?

        This cannot be true because the Feast of the Dedication was not instituted by God but Christ Himself observed it.

        “Is Christ’s humanity a representation of his divinity ?? – i just don’t feel too comfortable saying that” – You don’t need to, the New Testament has done it already.

        Scripture tells us that eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. Either one must deny that Jesus is the only true God or one must confess that knowing Christ in His humanity forms part of the glory of the blessed.

        It is no more accurate to say that we are not provided with images of Christ’s humanity than it is true to say the Jews were not provided with images of the cherubim. Moses saw what the sanctuary was to look like on the mountain and it was created under his supervision. It was destroyed and reconstructed. None of these images can be reconstructed from Scripture they are preserved in tradition. The Temple contained further images of cherubim that had not been directly commanded by God. There is no suggestion that the creation of these images was a transgression.

        The Apostles beheld Christ they bequeathed an image of him to the Church which she has preserved and embodied in her iconography – the acheiropoietos.

        Of course I agree entirely with your closing comments that we must take all the images that God has given us of Himself, and remember their inadequacy, and while meditating on them all, never let our thoughts terminate in them.

        But this all just brings us back to the main point. If physical representations are impermissible then mental ones must be also. Mental representations of God are conveyed by Scripture which also records God’s institution of physical images of His servants and finally His assumption of human nature which He created in the beginning in His image. Scripture furnishes us with all these images or records their institution, Scripture is the inspired word of God.

        “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”


      11. In the series of religious books i read as a child jesus had an afro.. so I think he had an afro.. is that a sin?
        I remember once in my religious copy i drew teh standard red-haired-platted pastey white jesus we see all around the place in old ladies houses in ireland, I was about 7, and the other girls gave out to me saying “That’s not jesus! Jesus has an afro! Look!” They obviously had only come across him in school.. in any case we asked the teacher which one was the real jesus and she said they were both pretend.. I really think that should be explained from the word go, yanno?

        Its very intresting when you think about it, whatever about jesus, if we draw or photograph the image of another person, or animal, or anything living, arn’t we doing wrong by them? Because we can’t draw their soul or their essense or their spirit or whatever, we’re only drawing them how WE see them, it’s a shallow record


      12. Just wanted to quote:

        Lev 10:1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
        10:2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

        I Samuel 15:22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.


      13. Hello Rebecca and welcome :)

        Speaking personally I don’t worry too much about drawing other people or living things in terms of only making a superficial record – that’s part of the challenge of our art/creativity.

        I do share your concerns about pictures of Jesus though – from lack of information they always have to be imaginary, although presumably some are closer to what he would have looked like than others, and some are clearly done with more care and reverence than others.

        That’s why it’s a massive mistake for people to rely on visual images to get their idea of what Jesus is like. The only source of reliable information is the scriptures themselves – particularly the four gospels, although also the other parts of the Old and New Testaments which provide the context and interpretation for the history in the four gospels. It’s only in the scriptures that we find the truths which the Holy Spirit can bless to sinners so that we can share in the view that Christ’s believing disciples had of him – when they beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.


      14. Aelianus –

        What you call the logic of my position is a bit of a caricature, needless to say. At the incarnation the Second person of the Trinity was really present on the earth manifest in the flesh, revealing the Father’s purposes of mercy towards sinners in a way consistent with his holiness. But whether that was a “representation of his divinity” I do query. It was really himself, God manifest in the flesh, not a stand-in for himself.

        Seeing the Father by seeing him can’t refer to seeing his humanity, since the Father has no body or soul – I think you know that, and I think it’s a slightly desperate text to pick. What they could have seen of the Father by seeing him was his holiness, power, and mercy – things which, like the sight of his glory in being full of grace and truth – are ‘visible’ only in the spiritual sense to the eye of the soul by faith. As for knowing Christ in his humanity – in a sense every believer does, in that we have a Saviour who was made bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and sits on the throne of the universe in our nature working out all things for the good of his people – but as he made clear to his disciples after his resurrection, the time for knowing him ‘after the flesh’ was past (John 20 v 17 & 29) and the testimony of the apostles was, obediently, ‘though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.’ The fellowship that we join with John in is precisely not that of seeing with our eyes and handling with the hands: Christ is in heaven, accessible spiritually by faith, but not to the senses (even though it is essential to know that in his time on the earth their eyes did see him etc (the only mediator is the man Christ Jesus, God and man in two distinct natures and one person)).

        My authority for the statements you query is the second commandment, reinforced by the reminder that we have a holy God who is jealous of his own honour, the explicit institution of the temple worship, the warnings against human inventions and innovations in worship, and the requirement to hold fast and teach just what has been commanded. (Some of that is exemplified in the texts usefully provided by Ruth – thanks Ruth :) )

        I don’t think I said that the Jews were not provided with images of the cherubim – they were – Moses was given the pattern in the mount, and they implemented what was instructed, no more and no less. (At the time anyway – you mention further images – when were these made, and what sources treat them as not a transgression?) At any rate, the similarity between the case of Moses and cherubim, and the case of the apostles and likenesses of Christ, doesn’t go far enough (pictures of Jesus is a slightly different question from the objects in use in the temple). The major gift which the apostles bequeathed was not an image of what he looked like as a man, but the inspired scriptures which contain the gospel message, the source of the knowledge and understanding of him which saves the soul.


      15. Well, He is accessible to the senses as such, it’s just He’s not here.

        Your argument seems to boil down to “it’s not respectful and it can be misleading”.



      16. The point is that the sense of the commandment cannot be that no images are to be made for use in worship because God commands the use of these images. So it must mean something else i.e. that these images are not to be worshiped. That they may be created without a specific divine command is confirmed by the creation of additional images in the temple. It cannot be that the creation of these images and the placing of the Ark beneath them was a transgression because this is what happened…

        “Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; and they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.”

        ….this is hardly indicative of disapproval. What Rebecca’s citation from Leviticus shows is that it is forbidden to alter the rites prescribed by God. Christ’s observation of the Feast of the Dedication shows that they may be legitimately augmented. As the essential provisions of the rites of the New Testament are not all transmitted in scripture this is a serious problem for the doctrine of sola scriptura. Me must observe the sacraments as Christ instituted them but He did not place all these provisions in scripture. He told the Apostles to teach all the nations to observe everything that he commanded but not everything He did is in scripture (indeed the world could not contain it if it were written down).

        All creatures resemble their Creator and in some way or another communicate His invisible nature “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”. The reason Christ’s teachings particularly communicate His invisible nature is because that nature is invisible i.e. mental rather than physical. Nevertheless, everything God has made communicates His nature. It only becomes opaque when we mistake the creature for the Creator.

        Christ revealed Himself as God not only in what He said but also and supremely in what He did and suffered. Books and prophets were not enough either for atonement or for revelation. The Gospel concerns a person not a book.

        “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”

        Scripture has told us many things about Christ’s appearance. He is Jewish and about thirty years of age. He was circumcised as a child. He worked as a craftsman for several decades. He was scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified and His side was pierced with a lance. He was raised in glory but His five glorious wounds remain.

        As Bede says, He kept His scars as an everlasting trophy of His victory, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to the faith in His Resurrection, that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us, that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death and fifthly, that on the Judgment-day He may upbraid the lost with their just condemnation.

        Videbunt in quem transfixerunt.


      17. ‘Not respectful’ is probably the mildest possible way of putting it, and the point that it’s misleading is important but a secondary consideration. The quote from Vos avoids the v forceful denunciations that you get from the reformers or puritans – he seems to accept that people need not be deliberately or wilfully breaking the commandment, but in principle it’s a breach of the commandment that’s at stake, as is still clear from what he does say.

        I really don’t see that the quotation from Kings/Chronicles refers to any more cherubims than were made at the time of Moses ?? The sense of the commandment is that God is not to be worshipped in any way other than he has himself appointed.

        The feast of the dedication – the feast itself might have been newly introduced into the life of the worshipping community to commemorate an important event, but the form of the worship services wasn’t changed. Events in the history of the church and/or nation can v usefully be collectively remembered (i won’t pick any particular event, due to, ehm, potential ecclesiastical differences) but that’s not the same as inventing a new ceremony/ritual, which is what the Westminster documents are referring to.

        Of course i don’t believe that ‘the essential provisions of the rites of the NT are not all transmitted in scripture’ – all the provisions for all the sacraments and worship services in general are made in scripture, and no rite can be called essential unless it is recorded in scripture. Separate question tho, imho.

        The OT promise that they shall look on him who they pierced is, I believe, fulfilled both in the literal sense in the case of the people who repented when(/after) they were physically present at the historical event of the crucifixion, and in the spiritual sense in the case of all who were not physically present and yet who believingly contemplating him making atonement mourn for him and for their sins. If anyone’s spiritual sight of him can survive the distortions of the person and the event imposed by looking at images, that must be a good thing, but they are to one extent or another distortions, and even on that account best avoided.


      18. “The sense of the commandment is that God is not to be worshipped in any way other than he has himself appointed.”

        It clearly does not say that, it is harder still to imagine it means that. There are many sacrifices offered throughout the OT in ways not prescribed by God (Abel, Melchizedek, Job….).

        Literally the commandment says that we must not worship anyone other than God particularly any artifact. If you interpret it as a command not to fashion any image of anything then you will have to interpret the command to fashion the cherubim as an exception. You will also have to interpret into the commandment a limitation of its application to ‘liturgical contexts’ otherwise all it is an indiscriminate prohibition of all representative art.

        Even with all this interpretive heavy lifting the position still doesn’t stand up. The Feast of the Dedication involved a number of rites which were not instituted by God. The Passage from Kings shows God expressed His approval of the Temple of Solomon which contained images not commanded by God.

        As to the rites of the NT how do you know what they are? What about anointing the sick with spittle and mud? Anointing with costly nard? Washing people’s feet (‘I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’)? How do you know these are not sacraments? For the entire history of Christian worship the place of Christian worship has been adorned with images. The archeology is incontrovertible. There is no record of any protest against this until the arrival of Islam. Every Church which can trace its episcopal succession to Apostolic times has images in its liturgy and seven sacraments. If it were the case that God has commanded that He is not to be worshiped in any way other than He has Himself appointed then the communities born of the sixteenth century look to be in trouble.

        If the Incarnation is such a danger to us why did Christ not suffer anonymously and then inspire a prophet to pass on His teachings? That way there would be no danger of us venerating His five wounds or imagining His earthly life? Why did the Holy Spirit manifest Himself in the form of a dove or of fire when to think of such things leads us into sin? Why did Ezechiel fall on His face in front of, not even the Word Incarnate, but the “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD”? Did he sin?


      19. Hmmm, do you have any end in sight for this discussion? I’m going to need to plead time constraints very very soon – the fourth round of essay marking in as many weeks, presentations to prepare, a supervisor meeting looming, not to mention scrabulous commitments.

        On the things that we’ve discussed so far:

        One, it seems that you are confusing the first commandment, which says that we must not worship anyone other than God, with the second, which speaks to the manner in which he is (or not) to be worshipped.

        Two, I don’t interpret this commandment as a command not to fashion any image of anything, as I think should have been clear already. Rather, it is a prohibition of images for use in worship, and more generally a prohibition of anything for use in worship which has not been instituted.

        Three, I still fail to see how you have showed that the passage from Kings indicates approval of images that were not commanded. And for the feast of dedication I’m suffering from a similar lack of detail in your claims that rites were included that were not instituted by God (- rites meaning worship ceremonies, rather than any kind of non-religious practices).

        Four, I’ve never said that the incarnation is a danger to us, nor, I hope, spoken of it as a problem in any way. The danger of us wrongly imagining things (ie things we shouldn’t imagine, or mistaken imaginations) arises from our side, not him or his work. As I said above, the metaphors/imagery/signs are provided for us to learn from: the problem is not with thinking of doves and fire, but with failing to put that in the perspective that the person involved is divine, infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, etc. Every instance of God revealing himself should make us humbly worship and adore him, like Ezekiel did, but God’s own revelation of himself is what we must always deal with, rather than corrupting it into representations of our own.

        On the NT sacraments, this really is a separate question. I mean I see the relation but it’s going to broaden things out hugely to start dealing with it now. Can we just accept for the time being that I believe that the scriptural position is that only baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments in the NT church, and postpone discussing it till some other time?


      20. Matthew Henry, commenting on the 2nd commandment says:-
        “The second commandment concerns the ordinances of worship, or the way in which God will be worshipped… There are 3 points to note,

        (1.) The prohibition: we are here forbidden to worship even the true God by images, Exo 20:4, Exo 20:5…

        It is certain that the commandment forbids making any image of God (for to whom can we liken him? Isa 40:18, 25), or the image of any creature for a religious use. It is called the changing of the truth of God into a lie (Rom 1:25), for an image is a teacher of lies; it insinuates to us that God has a body, whereas he is an infinite spirit, Hab 2:18-20. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. We must not make such images or pictures as the heathen worshipped, lest we also should be tempted to worship them. …When we pay devotion to the true God, we must not have any image before us, for the directing, exciting, or assisting of our devotion. Though the worship is designed to terminate in God, it will not please him if it comes to him through an image.

        (2.) The punishment of idolaters.

        God looks upon them as haters of him, though they perhaps pretend love to him; he will visit their iniquity, that is, he will very severely punish it, not only as a breach of his law, but as an affront to his majesty, a violation of the covenant, and a blow at the root of all religion…..

        (3.) The favour God would show to his faithful worshippers: Showing mercy unto thousands of those that love me, and keep my commandments.

        This intimates that the second commandment, though in the letter of it, it is only a prohibition of false worships, yet includes a precept of worshipping God in all those ordinances which he has instituted. As the first commandment requires the inward worship of love, desire, joy, hope, and admiration, so the second requires the outward worship of prayer and praise, and solemn attendance on God’s word…”

        I have only very slightly paraphrased him in places and there is plenty more!

        Abel, Job and Melchisedek lived before the time of the Law given to Moses and I understand that heads of families were responsible for worship and sacrifices then. After the law was given to Moses only the priests were permitted to offer sacrifices.

        The tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem and all the sacrifices of the Old Testament were pointing towards Christ and we can learn many wonderful things from them. They were not left up to the imagination of Moses or Solomon. God gave Moses detailed instructions for the tabernacle and its contents and emphasised, “And look that thou make them after their pattern which was shewed thee in the mount.” (Exodus 25 v 40).

        As far as the temple was concerned, God told David exactly how the temple and its contents were to be constructed and how the worship was to be conducted (1 Chronicles 28 10 – 13) and David passed on the instructions to Solomon. “All this, said David, the LORD made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern” (1 Chronicles 28 v19)

        Sacrifices and the temple worship were only carried out in the temple in Jerusalem. There were no sacrifices in the synagogues.

        There are only two sacraments in the New Testament corresponding to the two sacraments of the Old Testament – lots more could be said!


      21. According to the Catholic Church the First Commandment is as follows:

        “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself
        a graven 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; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

        One consequence of splitting the first commandment into two is the merging of the last two commandments. This implies women are analogous to a man’s “house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is his”

        Even more importantly, the division of the first commandment renders it nonsensical because it would become a blanket prohibition of all representative art.

        It is quite true that prior to the Incarnation it was forbidden to employ an image of God in worship. This is because such an image would circumscribe the infinite God and falsify the act of worship.

        This is a related difficulty to idolatry strictly speaking which is the giving of the worship due to God to a finite being.

        So to worship a mental image or a bodily image is idolatry but not contemplate a mental image furnished by God and worship God in contemplating that image.

        However, the passage you quoted in your post about mental images is fatal to your whole position. If it is possible, as you suggest, to think of doves and fire, but put that in the perspective that the person involved is divine then why can one not make the same distinction with a picture of Christ in His humanity?

        As no one is arguing that images should be adored the entire argument boils down to your claim that God has forbidden in worship everything he has not commanded. But there is no evidence for that at all.

        I don’t know if you observe Christmas but I understand that many Presbyterians did not do so until recently. This is logical from the position you are taking. Even if the way one celebrates it is by celebrating the Eucharist Christmas itself is not mentioned in scripture.

        Jesus was effectively observing Christmas by participating in rites which were generically the same but which, as a result of a non-divine, ordinance were specially observed on the Feast of the Dedication. (Although I believe specific rites were observed in the Temple during the Feast of the Dedication which were not observed at any other time so Our Lord was offending against your precept even more radically).

        If one supposes that the only rites laid down by the NT are Baptism and the Eucharist (and one takes the position that anything which is not commanded in scripture is forbidden) then the only rites observable by Christians will be the Passover (with the recital of the institution narrative and the consumption of bread and wine) and the bare form of washing ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

        I suspect that you do not in fact confine your worship to these acts. I suspect you recite psalms other than those used in the Passover ritual, perhaps even make use of non-scriptural texts. In fact our knowledge of the rite Jesus observed on Holy Thursday is not principally derived from scripture.

        My point about the washing of feet is that Jesus’s words on this occasion ’I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ are as strong as ‘do this in memory of me’. It is difficult to see how anyone who refused to accept any authority other than scripture could explain why this was not a sacrament. You have not attempted to explain this. Your conception of what is and is not commanded by God is based on tradition not on scripture.

        This passage from Chronicles, “all this he made clear by the writing from the hand of the LORD concerning it, all the work to be done according to the plan” asserts that David justified his plans for the temple with reference to written revelation. Presumably this refers to the Torah because there is no evidence of an additional inspired text. If you are postulating an inspired text why is it not part of the canon? If it turned up in an urn somewhere would it have to be added to the canon?

        There is nothing in scripture to indicate that God forbad the worship of those outside the chosen people or compelled them to sacrifice in accordance with the law of Moses. “In every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Do you believe that everyone outside the chosen people prior to the Incarnation was lost?

        But these are all disparate points, let me clarify what I believe to be the heart of the question.

        Do you believe that a human being is a soul or is both his body and his soul? If I touch you do I touch you or just your body?

        Do you accept the communication of idioms? That is, may one say “God bled”, “God was flogged and crowned with thorns”? If so then you presumably accept that Christ’s body is Divine. If we beheld Him now we would not sin but do well to fall down in front of Him and worship Him.

        When Ezekiel fell on his face before “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” he was not prostrate before God Himself because, as you say in His divine nature God is not a body, He cannot be locally present in one place in such a way as not to be elsewhere. Ezekiel fell on his face in front of an image of God (created by God Himself) and he referred that worship to God.

        When someone knelt before Christ Incarnate there was no necessity to make this mental referral they properly worshipped the body in front of them. If we do not accept this we deny the Incarnation.

        The problem with the use of even an appropriate image in Jewish worship (e.g. if Ezekiel had made an image of the vision he saw) is that the mental act of referral would have to be doubled. The worshipper would refer his adoration from the physical image to the original it represented and then from that original to the infinite deity it represented. The danger of ascribing finitude to God would be very serious. This was especially the case as the ancient world was filled with pagans who believed in finite ‘gods’ who were held to be locally present in actual statues thus failing to make even the first of the two necessarily mental referrals to avoid idolatry.

        If you accept that:

        a) it is legitimate for an individual in the first century to kneel down and adore Christ and

        b) it was legitimate for Ezekiel to prostrate himself before the “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD”

        Then it must be legitimate to prostrate oneself before the appearance of the likeness of the humanity of Christ.

        To quote the liturgy of Edessa,

        “How can we with mortal eyes contemplate this image, whose celestial splendour the host of heaven presumes not to behold? He who dwells in heaven, condescends this day to visit us by his venerable image; He who is seated on the cherubim, visits us this day by a picture, which the Father has delineated with his immaculate hand, which he has formed in an ineffable manner, and which we sanctify by adoring it with fear and love.”


      22. Sooo, no end in sight.

        I’ll get back to you.

        (Thanks to the Onlooker for the Matthew Henry quote. If you or anyone else wants to fish out what Vincent says on the S.Catechism i would be v grateful :) – specifically on the topic of pictures of Jesus would be best, in the spirit of trying not to let the discussion sprawl too widely off topic)


      23. I must admit that this probably does cover the kind of discussion on the other post ( and Aelianus is making some of the points I would want to make.
        However, I was caught by the passage you wrote at comment 20 as it touched on one of my further reflections and being shorter than trying to reply just now to the other thread, I thought I’d mention it. YOu wrote: “I don’t interpret this commandment as a command not to fashion any image of anything, as I think should have been clear already. Rather, it is a prohibition of images for use in worship, and more generally a prohibition of anything for use in worship which has not been instituted.”
        I’m not sure then what the argument is about at base: since the TV prog is not producing an image for worship nor is the part played something to be used in worship, what are we discussing? I just seems, from that para, that there isn’t really a justification for disallowing or even watching a film of Jesus’s passion as a way of telling the story? Clearly I’ve missed something here.


      24. Mm, the topics under discussion are increasing exponentially at the moment. Originally it was a comment on the inappropriateness of making representations of (including acting the part of) a divine person, and that’s also the topic of the quote from Vos in this post. My position here is that it’s wrong full stop to make an image of a divine person, whether or not it’s done in the context of worship, although I see that it makes sense to discuss here the question of whether the incarnation of the Second Person of the trinity changes things in relation to this position.

        But then the broader question of images in general was introduced in comment 4, and now in comments 19 and 22 a whole raft of further questions have been thrown into the mix … how many sacraments … sola scriptura … how long is the 1st commandment … should presbyterians celebrate christmas … how people were saved prior to the incarnation … …

        Summary on images:
        * no images of God at all
        * no images of anything for worshipping

        Summary on methods of worship more generally:
        * no sacrament, ceremony, image, or anything else to be introduced into worship without scriptural warrant

        Just to be blunt about it.


      25. I’m not sure repeating conclusions counts as an argument. Your invocation of ‘Scriptural warrant’ is equally circular as the vast majority of all Christians of all times and places (and for several centuries all Christians whatsoever) do not agree that Scripture says what you say it says. Which just goes to show Scripture isn’t self interpreting.

        ‘no images of God at all’ – what about Ezechiel, the burning bush, dove, fire…. , what about the Incarnation? Do you reject the communication of idioms?

        ‘no images of anything for worshipping’ – what about the Cherubim on the Ark and in the Temple?

        ‘no sacrament, ceremony, image, or anything else to be introduced into worship without scriptural warrant’ – you don’t have ‘scriptural warrant’ for most elements of your own liturgical practices. The Jews didn’t have scriptural warrant for theirs. You can’t explain why feet washing isn’t a sacrament…. You can’t show where it says in Scripture that only forms of worship commanded by God in scripture are permitted. The vast majority of all Christians of all times and places (and for several centuries all Christians whatsoever) disagree with you as to the interpretation of scripture and as to the number and character of the sacraments.


      26. The Bible is the ultimate authority for Christians. We must not add to it or take from it, e.g. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it.” Deuteronomy 4:2.

        There are many places in the Bible where we are told that worshipping God by images is wrong, e.g. “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.” Deuteronomy 4:15, 16. and “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42:8

        The Bible does not anywhere tell us to make any image of God or Christ.

        A couple of quotes from old writers

        (1674) Thomas Vincent, A Family Instructional Guide
        QUESTION: Is it not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, he being a man as well as God?
        ANSWER: It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all; and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain; if it stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.”

        (1692) Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments
        Q. If it is not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man?

        A. No!… It is Christ’s Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ – we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ.


      27. PS – anyone who has time to comment here before close of business on Friday 14th (tomorrow) should first find the time to reply to the consultation on lowering the age of consent – info in latest post !


      28. Thanks for the clarification at comment 25. I think then, we are discussing [a] whether it might be legitimate to make an image of God (though not many parties signing up for that) and, more hotly, [b] whether a representation of Christ would fall under [a]. I think that we may also have [c] whether the point is represent AND worship or just represent.

        Have I got this right?


      29. I like the TULIP, Cath (only just got the presumed reference!).

        I too am wondering how much in the worship services you attend you consider to be explicitly warranted by Scripture.

        And I have paid heed to the age-of-consent post, honest!



      30. Hey BA you’re good :)

        it, ehm, was accidnetal. Honest.

        got to run now & prob won’t be back online till tomorrow but Andii that is perfectly right afaics


      31. 31 and 33:

        Wellllll …. as the old theologians used to say, and some of the young ones say now, always distinguish.
        If Christ is God (we’re all agreed here, I take it!) then to make an image of Him, is to make an image of God. Yes?

        But it’s not an image of His divine nature! You couldn’t make an image of that if you wanted to!


      32. Of course it was and is forbidden to make an image of the divine nature because it is

        a) impossible, and so
        b) entails asserting finitude of God, and so
        c) entails worshiping a being other than God

        However, Jesus’s human nature is

        a) imaginable, and
        b) imagining it does not entail asserting finitude of God,
        c) nor, unless we are Nestorians, does it entail worshiping a being other than God.

        Thus, to deny the acceptability of depicting the human nature of Christ is either to fall into Nestorianism or Paganism.


        1) Nestorianism because it would implicitly deny that to protray Christ is to portray God.


        2) Paganism because it would implicitly assert that to attempt to depict the human nature is to attempt to depict the divine nature.


        Yes. To make an image of Christ is to make an image of God

        No. To make an image of Christ is not to make an image of the divine nature


      33. “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.”

        Indeed, but that was then, this is now….

        “For you are not come to a mountain that might be touched, and a burning fire, and a whirlwind, and darkness, and storm … but … to Jesus the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel.”


      34. God is one one substance in three persons but one of those persons has two natures. The divine nature is uncircumscribable but human nature is not. In order to maintain the unity of the two natures in one person we must be able to apply human predicates to Christ as God. Thus ‘God bled’ or ‘God was born in a stable’. If we deny this we are asserting two persons – two supposita – in Christ. This would be to deny Christ came in the flesh.
        A created image of God is problematic even if God has furnished us with that image. Such an image could be an occasion of sin if not actually a sin (hence the necessity to destroy the bronze serpent) because of the danger that we ascribe the finitude of the image to the infinite God. God appeared to Moses through the image of (the back of) a human image on Mount Sinai as He had done to Abraham and would do to Ezekiel and Daniel. He did not do so to the multitude because of the danger this would lead them into idolatry not because it would be idolatry for such an image to exist at all. It is per se sinful to worship a finite being (i.e. anything/one other than God) and a fortiori to worship an artefact. It is not per se sinful to worship God by means of an image He has created for that purpose. God did create such images (in the form of visions or other transitory created forms) in the OT, but not for general liturgical use.
        Such images are not per se sinful but were made so by the precept already mentioned (Deuteronomy 4:15 – 16). This precept pertained to the ritual law of the Old Covenant and has lapsed with the ritual law. If images of God created by God were per se sinful then God would not use any created image of Himself. God has often used created images of himself as when He appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre or when He appeared to Ezekiel. The First Commandment proscribes for all time images of false ‘gods’ and the adoration of images. This is a precept of the moral law it did not lapse at the death of Christ. When Abraham or Ezekiel treat this image as God they are referring the adoration due to God from the circumscribable image to the uncircumscribable original. If such a mental act were impossible then we would have to hold that God frequently led the prophets and patriarchs into sin by appearing to them through sensible images (which would be blasphemous).
        By assuming human nature into personal union with Himself God has made an image of Himself which has the unique quality that it Is Him. Christ is not a non-divine instrument through which God communicates with the world, Christ is God. As Aquinas says the being of the human nature of Christ is the divine nature itself. For this reason the mental referral necessary for Ezekiel between the “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” and the LORD Himself is not necessary in the case of Christ. He is God. His hands and feet are the hands and feet of God, His wounds are the wounds of God. This is because the person Who has that vulnerable nature is a divine person not because the divine nature is vulnerable.
        When I think of the three men that visited Abraham or the figure that passed Moses by on the Mountain or the figure who appeared in the fiery chariot to Ezekiel I say to myself ‘the LORD appeared under that figure to the prophet/patriarch. This tells me something about the LORD’. When I think about Christ I think ‘He Is the LORD’.
        The image of the bronze serpent was a symbol of the LORD. The symbol was legitimate God told Moses to make it. It was placed in the Temple and God did not manifest His disapproval. However, because it was only a symbol it became an occasion of idolatry and Hezekiah had to destroy it. The object manifested a mysterious truth about God and the mysterious truth was a symbol of God Himself. There was double reference involved and herein lay the danger. Christ is not a symbol He Is God. I am no more inclined to think that a crucifix is Christ than I am inclined to think the photograph of my great grandfather on my desk is my great grandfather. I do not need to then think this is an image of something that represents God because Christ does not represent God He Is God.
        “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”


      35. Well, it’s at this point that your story seems to dissolve into incoherence, pretty much. To say that an image of Christ is simultaneously an image of God, and not an image of the divine nature, is surely inconsistent with itself unless you somehow think that being God is something other than having the divine nature. The fact that the Second Person of the Godhead now has a human nature does not change the fact that he is himself eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father and the Spirit. Whatever we should understand by ‘the divine nature,’ it belongs to Christ in just the same way as the Father and the Spirit. As I commented on the other post, it would be one thing to claim that images of Christ are only intended to represent his humanity, but to claim that they represent him as he is God is a claim that the represent the divine nature.

        There’s also a vast number of other issues that you raise. Right now I’m going to avoid everything that deals with worship more generally – if anyone’s interested in discussing it, I’ll try sometime in the next week to write a separate post about it and we can carry on discussing it later. Like I’ve said, time is in short supply right now (it might have to wait till the week after). But it’s just too much to discuss here all at once.

        As briefly as i can on the other related points.

        On the communciation of idioms. I do accept that we can talk about ‘the blood of God’ and in other similar terms. But I do not believe that this is because Christ’s body is divine (as you say in #22) or a representation of his divinity. I believe that Christ is to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, in one and the same person.

        On the revelations given to Ezekiel and Moses: these were revelations of God given by God himself. It is the opposite of sinful to worship God when he reveals himself to us. It is a different matter to take it upon ourselves to make an image of him to remember him by or to worship him by.
        The OT visions and theophanies (ie Ezekiel, Isaiah et al’s visions, Abraham, Manoah’s wife et al’s theophanies) were not given in order to form the basis of further representations of him by the people who received them, or by us; that would be to miss their point. They were not given as an end in themselves – in the context of each, the focus of the revelations as a whole was some truth about him or his purposes. Eg in the case of Moses in Ex 33-34, when God promised to show him his glory, that wasn’t fulfilled by the cloud that he descended in, but by his making known his name – verbally – Ezekiel/Daniel/Isaiah’s visions were the background to the message/prophecies they had to bring the people, the theophanies were all accompanied by some elaboration of the gospel promise or another.
        Some additional quibbles: seeing ‘the back parts of God’ is not the same as seeing an image of the back of a man, and I don’t know what figure appeared in a fiery chariot ever? (if you mean Elijah there was no figure in the chariot), and the bronze serpent was an image of a serpent, not of God (the truth it taught was about the way of salvation, not about how to visualise God).

        Imagining Christ’s human nature is possible in the sense that he had a real body while he was here on earth, but without being either a nestorian or a pagan i do deny the acceptability of it, on the grounds of accuracy (we don’t know what he looked like then, we can’t imagine what he looks like now, and an inaccurate imagination is if not harmful at least useless), and I deny the acceptability of making images of it on the grounds that it is the human nature of a divine person, so to represent the human nature alone gives an incomplete representation of his person, and making representations of a divine person is forbidden.


      36. On the Commandment:

        Do you believe the commandment forbids

        a) something wrong in itself (like murder), or
        b) something made wrong because it is forbidden (like working on Saturdays)?

        If a) then (according to your interpretation of the commandment) God led Ezekiel into sin when He appeared to him. If b) you will have to show why it did not pass like all the other ritual precepts of the old law. Especially, as all known Christians for the first five centuries behaved as if it had lapsed.

        On the Hypostatic Union:

        Your objections are objections to the Incarnation. By becoming visible Christ has necessarily brought it about that images of Him are created in the senses and the memory of those who see Him and in the imagination of those who hear of Him. Those who accept Him as God refer their worship from those images to the original. They do not refer them from the original to God for that would be to deny that Christ is God. The logic of your position is that it would be wrong even to fall on one’s knees in front of Christ physically present because His human nature alone gives an incomplete representation of His person.

        Your statement “To say that an image of Christ is simultaneously an image of God, and not an image of the divine nature, is surely inconsistent with itself” appears to be an outright denial of the Incarnation on (spurious) grounds of logical incoherence. Which I am sure is not what you intend.


      37. I believe all the 10 commandments forbid things that are wrong in themselves.
        It is wrong in itself to worship God in any way that he has not commanded.
        That is binding on all people everywhere and in all times, whether or not they treat it as such.

        It is not my interpretation of the commandment that God made Ezekiel sin when God revealed himself to him. God revealed himself: himself as he really/truly is: Ezekiel did not make it up nor did he make up an image of God afterwards, neither are we licensed to make an image of God on the basis of such revelations.

        Those who accept Christ as God worship himself, not an image of him. He reveals himself by his Word and Spirit, himself as he really is. Our imaginations/thoughts that are not licensed by scripture don’t enter into it, ie have no place in worship. It’s himself that should be worshipped, not images of him in our imagination or anywhere else. Christ physically present on earth was the real person, the God-man Redeemer: they should have worshipped him, because he was God manifest in the flesh.

        If I understand you right you’re saying that worshipping Christ means that first you need to have an imagined image of what he was like as a man and then you need to get beyond that to think that he is God and worship him as God and yet that’s not the same as worshipping God. To me, that just does not make sense. If I understand you right.


      38. You have repeatedly failed to provide any basis for the statement “It is wrong in itself to worship God in any way that he has not commanded.” Nor have you addressed the fact that this entails accusing Jesus of sin for observing the Feast of the Dedication (and Job, Abel and Melchizedek).

        It cannot be true that when God appeared to Ezekiel “God revealed himself: himself as he really/truly is” because that would mean that God is made of bronze. Therefore God appeared to Ezekiel not as He really is but by means of an image before which Ezekiel prostrated himself. Accordingly, it is not the case that to worship God by means of an image is intrinsically wrong.

        The Commandment does not forbid the fashioning of images of God and their use in worship it forbids the worship of creatures and the fashioning and worshiping of images of them. The fashioning of images of God was forbidden by a separate ritual precept (designed to remove an occasion of sin). This precept lapsed with the rest of the ritual law when Christ died on the Cross.

        If it were true as you say that we are forbidden to worship God by means of any incomplete representation of a divine person then it would be forbidden to kneel before Christ even if He stood before us.

        By becoming man God has furnished us with another image than that with which He appeared to Ezekiel. However, this time God has assumed the created nature into personal union with Himself so that, while it is not true to say ‘God is made of bronze’ (as you would have us believe ;-) ) it is true to say ‘God has hands and feet, flesh and blood’.

        God has provided us with this image of Himself, the humanity of the Eternal Word, and we are commanded to worship it, or rather Him, for it is Him.

        There is no necessity to ‘get beyond’ Christ’s humanity as you put it. Christ is God. His human nature is not a barrier to the knowledge of His Divinity but communicates it.

        I assume you accept that when someone reads the NT they imagine the events described in it? I assume you accept that when we are told that Christ is a Jewish man with holes in His hands and feet this generates an image in our minds?

        May I take it that you now accept that “an image of Christ is simultaneously an image of God, and not an image of the divine nature”?


      39. Can I just check we’re talking about the same bit of Ezekiel? I’m looking at chapter 1 v 26-28 and there’s no bronze involved. I understand the vision to be a sight of the real glory of God, although not his complete glory, which is being expressed here metaphorically.

        When you say here, ‘The fashioning of images of God was forbidden by a separate ritual precept (designed to remove an occasion of sin). This precept lapsed with the rest of the ritual law when Christ died on the Cross,’ how does that not contradict what you said in #35, ‘Of course it was and is forbidden to make an image of the divine nature because it is a) impossible, and so b) entails asserting finitude of God, and so c) entails worshiping a being other than God’?

        The humanity of Christ is not an image of God. The reason we worship Christ is because he is God, in the same sense that the Father is God – not because his humanity is an image of God (nor even an incomplete representation). If Christ stood before us, as he did stand with his disciples, we would (i hope) worship him because he is a divine person, with a human nature.

        I am still deeply perplexed by your distinction between God and the divine nature.


      40. “I understand the vision to be a sight of the real glory of God, although not his complete glory, which is being expressed here metaphorically.”

        God is identical with His own glory to see the real glory of God is to receive the beatific vision. So see an image which speaks of God by metaphor or analogy is utterly different in kind. Unless you wish to assert that God is made of bronze (or amber) you will have to concede that Ezekiel saw an image of God and that he prostrated himself before that created vision.

        Everything that God creates in some way communicates His being.

        “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”

        In man this is so pronounced that man is created in the image of God. Because the image is complete in its kind.

        “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

        Christ Himself, God and man, is the image of God both in the sense that He is of one substance with the Father and in that by His human nature He sums up all that can be communicated of God by the created order.

        “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation”

        Nevertheless, one cannot know God as He Is in Himself through any created medium. God is infinite, He can only be known mediately through analogy.

        For this reason only God has the intellectual capacity to know God as He Is in Himself. To know God in this way is to participate in the Divine Nature itself. Thus St John writes,

        “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

        To attempt to present the Divine Nature to the senses as if one were communicating the appearance of God rather than asserting something of Him by analogy is to assert the finitude of God and cause those who accept the image to worship something/one other than God.

        As every creature resembles God in some respect it is possible to use created images to communicate something of God by analogy to creatures but only someone who already knows God as He Is in Himself can do it.

        Thus, an image of God can be given to us but only by God.

        Christ’s human nature is an image such as the image seen by Ezekiel or Moses or Abraham – a created image chosen by God to represent Him by analogy. But, because of the hypostatic union it is also something infinitely more. By taking to Himself human nature God has made it possible to depict Himself by depicting that human nature. In doing so there is no suggestion that we are depicting the Divine Nature, rather we are depicting the human nature of a Divine Person. Nevertheless it must be the case that this is an image of God otherwise we would be denying that Christ is God.

        This distinction between nature and person is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation anything which implicitly denies that distinction such as the heresy of Iconoclasm ultimately strikes at the Gospel itself by denying that Christ is come in the flesh.


      41. I don’t have time to post a reply to everything written above, nor am I best qualified to do so (and I know this debate is closed, sorry!!). I have one point to make though (more a question really) to aelianus. Leaving to one side your position that the Being of God is seperable from the Divine nature of Christ (a point which I find both illogical and unscriptural), you seem to say that although it is unacceptable to make a representation of the Divine nature, it is acceptable to make a representation of the human nature of Christ. My question is this: what can a representation of the human nature of Christ possibly contribute to the worship of God? As Catherine has pointed out earlier, we have no information on the physical appearance of Christ, except that He had a true human body, and so any representation of the human nature of Christ is simply idle and irreverend conjecture. The Gospel According to John 4 states that: “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him MUST worship him in Spirit and in truth … for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” (emphasis mine). Where do representations of Christ’s human form come into this?

        Apart from this, the fact which has already been established in this thread remains; we must worship God in the way he has appointed in his word, and not add anything to it, and I believe this is the main point made by the second commandment.


      42. Neil! Where have you been for the past two weeks when we needed you? Hang about and see if you can’t find something to say if i ever get round to writing anything else on this/related topics :)


      43. I have been reading your blog for about a month. I followed your comment from the Old Life, Dr Hart’s blog.

        I have gone through Vos’s commentary and have found great profit in his commentary. I am also going through John Calvin’s institutes and I just can not express how wonderful they are. If you have not already read them, I recommend them to you.

        Even the plain reading from Scripture should be sufficient in informing the reader that we should not be making up what we think Jesus Christ looked like.

        On an interesting note. I have recently purchased the Child’s Story Bible, written by Catherine Vos, J Vos’s wife. I was shocked that right on the cover it has a scene of Jesus with the little children coming to him, and him holding them. Their daughter Marianne revised her mother’s originial three volume set, into one book, and added, after he mother’s death, all these pieces of notable art depicting bibilical scenes. I personally was sad, that Catherines’ daughter would take her mother’s lovely work and ruin it in such a way that went against both parents known theological convictions. Amazing how in honoring our parents we do exactly the opposite.

        Anyway, just a little illustration to make the point: My dad died about two years ago. My children were one and four years old. My one year old doesn’t remember him, and my four year old, has a few memories. Those memories have been kept alive by talking about them. In fact, I don’t really remember what he looks like, and have a hard time pulling his face into my mind. It’s his voice I rememember and can instantly recall his voice, and even hear him talk or say something in reaction to something I go through in the present.

        I do have pictures, however I don’t get them out as much as I would have thought I would.

        What if, for lack of pictures, I just started taking pictures of other people and saying this was “grandpa,” etc…..wouldn’t that be just incredibly absurd? Really, who would do that?

        John Calvin in Book 1.6.2

        Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has been assigned him in his most glorious theater that he may be a spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the word, that he may the better profit.”

        I am enjoying your blogs.
        Blessings to you.


      44. Dear Ginger,

        Thanks for stopping by!

        Your mention of Catherine Vos’s Child’s Story Bible rang a little bell and I’ve hunted down a discussion here where other people had the same concern – The copies we had as children definitely didn’t have pictures of Jesus – just the occasional colour plate which was, if, to put it kindly, abstract, at least not sacriligious!

        Good Calvin quote.


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