Concerning Pictures of Jesus
There abounds in many churches and in much Christian educational material pictorial representations of Jesus. These pictures of our Lord are considered by many as helpful teaching tools for children, and as devotional aids for adults. If they do serve these purposes, could they be wrong? This is a question that has risen to some degree of prominence in our denomination in recent years. To some, the issue may seem like a tempest in a teapot, as Church elders make much over something that might seem to most to be a harmless practice at worst and a helpful didactic tool at best. Yet, we should have our understanding and practice formed by the tenets of Scripture, not by the opinions or prevailing practices of men. Therefore, since this is an issue now being debated in the courts of our particular communion at least, let us consider the matter to see if the Word of God sheds light on it.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this practice of pictorially representing Jesus is its being based entirely upon an impulse of men, rather than upon the teaching of Scripture. Where in all of the Word of the Lord do we find one iota of a hint that we should draw or paint pictures of Jesus? The Second Commandment explicitly forbids such visual representations of God (Ex. 20:4,5). Some say that this commandment forbids any and all visual art, or representations of false gods. Yet, the controlling context of the Second Commandment is the Preface of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1,2), as well as the First Commandment (Ex. 20:3). This context clearly establishes that the parameters of reference for the Second Commandment have to do with the one true and living God. The First Commandment tells us to worship Him alone; the Second tells us to do so not by our own devisings, but by His self-disclosure contained in Scripture. Accordingly, our Larger Catechism teaches that the Second Commandment forbids…the making any representation of God, of all or any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image…(L/C #’s 107-110, especially #109).
Do we find the practice of making pictures of Jesus commended or even countenanced anywhere in Scripture? Where have the prophets and apostles taught us either by precept or by their example to do such a thing? How do people account for the studious and absolute absence from Scripture of any hint as to the legitimacy of a visible representation of Jesus? The iconists cannot answer these questions, except upon the basis of purported theological inference and purported rational necessity. The theological inference is that since Jesus was a Man, the Son of God incarnate, then it is as legitimate for us to conceive of and represent Him visually as it would have been for us to behold Him with our own eyes during His earthly life. Yet, men did behold Him with their eyes, such as did the two disciples on the Emmaus road, and misconstrued who He was (Lk. 24:13ff). It is with the eyes of our hearts that we truly apprehend the Son of God (Eph. 1:18ff).
The purported rational necessity is that we cannot help but form mental images of Jesus when Scripture speaks of Him in terms such as His being asleep in a boat, or riding a donkey into
. However, in none of such accounts is anything like a physical description given of our Lord, and so, clearly, such a visual image is not the point of the passages in question. Regarding our tendency to form mental images from verbal descriptions, we are expressly forbidden mentally to form and indulge in the sinful contemplation of another woman or man. If adultery is wrong in deed, then it is wrong in depiction of any sort. Self-control, even of the mind and its contemplation of mental images, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem
There appears, then, to be a very strong case against visual representations of Jesus. But why should we concern ourselves with such an apparently harmless matter? The answer is that all of us suffer, to some degree, from our having too low and erroneous conceptions of our Savior. Not one of us thinks, feels, speaks, or acts on too high and glorious a conception of the Christ, the Son of the living God. The most clear and accurate representation of our Lord is the inspired and inerrant revelation of Him that we have in the Bible. Our faith is designed to apprehend Christ as He is presented to us in the Word of God. The works of men’s hands in their attempts so to represent Him cannot do other than fail to portray the truth. In fact, such attempts ultimately serve only to obscure the saving truth of God as it is in Jesus. Therefore, this is a serious matter. Let us, then, determine to refrain from man’s attempts to improve upon the revelation of God. Let us say with the prophet Isaiah, To the Law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light (Is. ).
Faithfully yours,William Harrell
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
In the notes, Morris calls into question statues and paintings that are meant to represent Christ. Morris writes concerning Exodus 20:4, "This commandment surely renders the common use of statues and paintings of angels, and even more so of the Lord Jesus, in churches, schools, and homes to be very questionable, if not clearly forbidden." Further, on Exodus 24:10 he writes, "No man has seen God in His triune essence at any time (John 1:18). Thus no man can–or should ever attempt–to make an image of the Godhead." Similarly, he writes on Acts 17:29, "In this verse, we are told that God can never be represented by an image or model which man can make, either with his hands or his mind." I hope you read Morris's notes, because they are insightful, and I encourage you to test and prove what he says in the light of Scripture.
Below are links to some of Morris's notes:
Monday, June 2, 2008
Read Philpot's sermon "Idolatry" here.
A selection from "Idolatry":
One mark of a person being a partaker of grace is being turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God....
The second mark which he gives as being a partaker of the grace of the gospel is, "And to wait for his Son from heaven."
Idolatry embodies a false notion of God; at the same time it deifies some lust or corruption.
From Philpot's sermon The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation in the Knowledge of
Christ (sermon found in Volume 8 of Philpots sermons, available in pdf here):
We want a Person to be the object of our faith; for faith needs an object, and especially in the matter of worship or service, a personal object. Do you not feel that you want some personal object to believe in, to hope in, to worship, to adore, to love? The feeling of this want has been the source of idolatry. When men had lost the knowledge of the only true God and could not look forward in faith to the Messiah who was to be revealed, they set up a visible idol that they might have a personal object to worship—a visible representation, as they conceived, of invisible Deity. A personal God, then, is an object with us of prime necessity, for we cannot worship what is unknown or wholly invisible. The invisible God therefore has made himself visible in the Person of his dear Son; and when he is pleased to shine into the heart, he makes himself known there in his personal glory, as the apostle beautifully speaks, "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6.) It is in the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, that God is thus seen and known; and when the Lord the Spirit takes the veil of unbelief and ignorance off our heart, then is fulfilled that inward transformation into the same glory of which the apostle testifies: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.) Now it is most necessary for our faith and hope to believe in this glorious gospel which thus makes known the glory of God in the face, or, as the word might be rendered, the Person of Jesus Christ; for we cannot worship or serve God under a sense of his burning displeasure in a broken law. We cannot draw nigh to the Majesty of heaven as a consuming fire, any more than the children of Israel could draw near to Sinai's blazing top. But he has come near to us when we could not come nigh to him. He has come near to us in the face of a Mediator; "for there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."...
We are not to look for dreams, visions, voices, supernatural appearances, sights in the sky, open and outward views of Christ in his glory, or of Christ hanging upon the cross. We are not to expect or even desire any thing that is visible, something which the eye of sense might almost apprehend or the bodily finger almost touch. I cannot, I dare not, limit the power or the wisdom of God: and I doubt not that some, if not many of the Lord's people, have been so powerfully impressed by what they have seen and heard of and from the Lord, that it was to them as if they had actually seen his bodily shape or heard his spoken voice. But we walk by faith, not by sight, and if we seem to see invisible things, we see them only by the eye of faith, or if we hear gracious words, we hear them only by the ear of faith. God in his word has given no promise to the natural eye or the natural ear; nor are we saved by what our natural eyes see or our natural ears hear. It is by grace we are saved through faith, and not by seeing supernatural sights or hearing audible words. The apostle Paul was indeed caught up to the third heaven, and there heard unspeakable words, and doubtless viewed ravishing sights; but the Holy Ghost has drawn a veil over them, for the apostle says of them, that they were "things not lawful for a man to utter."...
God does not speak with a new revelation from heaven, nor give us something with his own voice from above, as though he would furnish us with a new Bible, or reveal to us some fresh truth not contained in it. All truth is in the Scripture; but though truth is in the Scripture, there is a veil over the book of God, so that we can neither understand nor believe it until it is removed. But when the Lord the Spirit is pleased to take the veil of unbelief and ignorance from off the mind, and to remove the veil from off the word of truth, and thus gives us power to receive and believe what God has there written, this is a revelation, or an uncovering of the word without, and the heart within; and the Spirit who works this, is a Spirit of revelation; for it is the Lord the Spirit who takes the veil away, as the apostle declares: "Now the Lord is that Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:17.) It is thus that Christ is revealed in the heart, as he is revealed in the word. Do we see by faith his Deity? It is because in the word he is revealed in the Scriptures as God, and the Son of God. Do we see by faith his humanity? It is because he is spoken of in the word as the Son of man. Do we see his complex Person as the God-Man? It is because he is revealed there as Immanuel, God with us. Many of the dear saints of God, when they hear or read of a revelation of Christ, are tempted to look for some supernatural sight or mysterious manifestation which God has never promised to give. He will reveal his dear Son in them and make him known unto them; but it will be in his way, not in theirs, in harmony with his word, and not with the fancies or expectations of their own mind.Read Philpot's "The Clean Water Sprinkled and the New Heart Given" here. From the work:
But their idolatry was almost, if not altogether as great as their infidelity. Though from Sinai's blazing top God had revealed his law with thunder and lightning and earthquake; though he had spoken himself from heaven, "You shall not make to yourself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything which is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth;" yet, when Moses tarried for awhile upon the mountain in solemn communion with God, they must needs make to themselves a golden calf, and cry out with all the brutish ignorance of infidelity and idolatry– "These be your gods, O Israel, which brought you out of Egypt." What! a calf to be the representation of the great God who had done such mighty wonders! What brutish ignorance for them so quickly to depart from the worship of the living God– and as the Psalmist speaks, "to change their glory," (that is, their glorious God) "into the similitude of an ox that eats grass." (Psalm. 106:20.) Can we wonder that God was so provoked by this abominable idolatry, as to say unto Moses– "I have seen this people and behold it is a stiff-necked people? Now, therefore, let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them." (Exod. 32:9, 10.)
But this was only one instance of their stubborn and deep-rooted idolatry. When they got the promised land into possession, and that "not by their own sword, nor by their own arm, but by the right-hand and arm of the light of God's countenance because he had a favor unto them;" even then, instead of destroying the altars, breaking down the images, and cutting down the groves (or, as the word should be rendered, "the wooden images") of the heathen nations as they were expressly commanded, they bowed down to their false gods. As we read, "They provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their engraved images." (Psalm. 78:58.) In fact, what is their whole history down to the time of the Babylonish captivity, but one continued series of idolatrous worship, whenever they got the least opportunity to gratify that propensity of their besotted minds?
We see, then, from these examples of the children of Israel, who are set before us in the Scriptures as warning examples "to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted, nor be idolaters as were some of them," how deeply seated are the two sins of unbelief and idolatry. Similarly, wherever a missionary has penetrated, into whatever remote and dark corners of the earth he has carried his foot, there he has found idol worship as the only form of religion known and practiced. In Greece, in Rome, in their palmiest days, idolatry was the only religion of the people. Great as Athens was in learning, cultivated as was every are and science there, yet we read of that distinguished city, that while Paul waited for Silas and Timothy "his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry," [or, as it is in the margin, "full of idols."] There was indeed an altar "To the unknown God;" but it was because the true God was an unknown God that they put an idol in his place.