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Images of God (1)

Images as aids to worship: a disputable matter? Growing up as an evangelical (in the historic sense) Lutheran, this was never a question. We were not Catholics, were we? In this increasingly ecumenical age, however, things are not so black-and-white. As Scripture is seen as less and less of a divine document, it is also considered less authoritative, if it holds any authority at all. But let’s pretend, shall we, that we actually consider the Bible to be the very words of God, and are thus the infallible rule of faith and practice. What would we conclude about the use of religious images?


What does the word idolatry suggest to your mind? Savages groveling before a totem pole? Cruel faced statues in Hindu temples? The dervish dance of the priests of Baal around Elijah’s altar? These things are certainly idolatrous, in a very obvious way; but we need to realize that there are more subtle forms of idolatry as well.

Look at the second commandment. It runs as follows, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex 20:4–5). What is this commandment talking about?

If it stood alone, it would be natural to suppose that it refers to the worship of images of gods other than Jehovah—the Babylonian idol worship, for instance, which Isaiah derided (Is 44:9–20; 46:6–7), or the paganism of the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day, of which he wrote in Romans 1:23, 25 that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” But in this context the second commandment can hardly be referring to this sort of idolatry, for if it were it would simply be repeating the thought of the second commandment without adding anything to it.

Accordingly, we take the second commandment—as in fact it has always been taken—as pointing us to the principle that (to quote Charles Hodge) “idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also by the worship of the true God by images.” In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of pictorial or visual representations of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship. The commandment thus deals not with the object of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid to worshiping him.

—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 43–44.

Posted 2008·10·21 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Idolatry · J I Packer · Knowing God · Regulative Principle
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#1 || 08·10·21··17:59 || Michael Yates

Good. God has chosen not to reveal himself in a particular image, so how could we be so presumptive as to reduce him to a man made image?

#2 || 08·10·21··21:16 || David

Michael — exactly.

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