Second Commandment and the Development of Christian Art

Status
Not open for further replies.

Archlute

Puritan Board Senior
In light of recent discussions regarding the second commandment and art, I thought that I would toss this question out for you all:

The second commandment is a commandment that pertains specifically to the issue of false worship. This really is incontestable. Traditionally in Reformed literature the application of the second commandment has focused on he issue of what is acceptable in the sphere of the service of worship in the Church. Scripturally, the condemnations of idolatry, where actual images are involved, all have to do with the practice of direct worship rather than art.

So, understanding all of that, how do some of you come to your position that "religious images" outside of worship (i.e. religious art not intended for use in the worship service) constitute a breach of the second commandment?

I would like to see exegetical and theological interactions here, and not just someone cutting and pasting large portions of the Westminster Standards. I have them, I read them, I understand them. Nor do I want the simplistic answer of "people will tend to use them in an idolatrous manner, because we all have sinful hearts". I don't buy it as being a necessity, and we on this board certainly would not accept the sister argument that allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol should be prohibited, because someone who is weak might be tempted to drink it unto drunkenness. Just so you are aware, I have taken an allowed exception to some of the explication of the second commandment in Q109 of the WLC.





I look forward to reading your well reasoned responses after my family and I return this afternoon from watching "Kung Fu Panda" :lol:
 

Archlute

Puritan Board Senior
I look forward to reading your well reasoned responses after my family and I return this afternoon from watching "Kung Fu Panda" :lol:

I look forward to watching Kung Fu Panda; looks like it would beat PB discussions hands-down. :popcorn:

Just got back. It was a pretty hilarious! It was also quite clean in its humor, and didn't resort to the standard noises and potty humor found in more recent animated-talking animal flicks.

Though I see that here the responses have been somewhat slim :)
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Sorry, Adam, way too busy to go over this well-trod ground. But I have made exegetical, historical and theological arguments in the following threads you may want to peruse:

http://www.puritanboard.com/f54/pictures-Jesus-9922/

http://www.puritanboard.com/f54/images-2nd-commandment-3707/

There are likely more, but these are pretty broad. For the most part, I was interacting with Paul Manata, who as I remember wound up changing his view on the 2nd commandment to the Confessional position (not necessarily because of my arguments).
 

Archlute

Puritan Board Senior
Sorry, Adam, way too busy to go over this well-trod ground. But I have made exegetical, historical and theological arguments in the following threads you may want to peruse:

http://www.puritanboard.com/f54/pictures-Jesus-9922/

http://www.puritanboard.com/f54/images-2nd-commandment-3707/

There are likely more, but these are pretty broad. For the most part, I was interacting with Paul Manata, who as I remember wound up changing his view on the 2nd commandment to the Confessional position (not necessarily because of my arguments).

Thanks, Fred. I appreciate that, and will read over them.
 

ahavah7

Puritan Board Freshman
Nor do I want the simplistic answer of "people will tend to use them in an idolatrous manner, because we all have sinful hearts". I don't buy it as being a necessity, and we on this board certainly would not accept the sister argument that allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol should be prohibited, because someone who is weak might be tempted to drink it unto drunkenness.

I think you steal a base here. God has called wine good and images of Him bad. That's the difference. Let's apply the same reasoning to another sin. If I were to say that you can't forbid p0rnography just because it might make someone sin, you would say that is ridiculous. A person is spiritually harmed merely by looking at p0rnography. Likewise, a person is spiritually harmed by looking at images of God and for much the same reason. Our minds are always on record and we often have little control over when certain scenes are replayed. They are often replayed out of the clear blue. Who has not had the experience of seeing a picture of Jesus (outside the context of Sunday Worship) and then picturing that image during personal devotions or Sunday Worship? I have.

The second commandment is a commandment that pertains specifically to the issue of false worship. This really is incontestable. Traditionally in Reformed literature the application of the second commandment has focused on he issue of what is acceptable in the sphere of the service of worship in the Church. Scripturally, the condemnations of idolatry, where actual images are involved, all have to do with the practice of direct worship rather than art.

Yes, but if images of God outside of worship cause us to inwardly remember images of God inside of worship (whether Sabbath day, family, or personal), then the Westminster Divines were right to acknowledge that all making of images of God are prohibited by the second commandment.

I would like to see exegetical and theological interactions here, and not just someone cutting and pasting large portions of the Westminster Standards. I have them, I read them, I understand them. Nor do I want the simplistic answer of "people will tend to use them in an idolatrous manner, because we all have sinful hearts". I don't buy it as being a necessity, and we on this board certainly would not accept the sister argument that allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol should be prohibited, because someone who is weak might be tempted to drink it unto drunkenness. Just so you are aware, I have taken an allowed exception to some of the explication of the second commandment in Q109 of the WLC.

Let me guess. The making of images inwardly in our mind?
 
Last edited:

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
(Exo 20:4) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

One thing that has always bothered me is that we all have pics of things from the earth in our homes. We have images of things above the earth, in the earth and in the water in our walls. We all have some little porcelain statues or wooden crosses on our shelves and walls. To what extent does this passage go? It says "of anything." The only thing I have read in scripture that we are to write on our walls are the scriptures. I have pics of birds and wood carvings of birds that my grandfather made. My Grandparents had a eastern religous idol in there house that someone gave them as a gift years ago. I stole it and threw it away years ago.

I have been confused about this passage for years. I have avoided pics of Christ for the benefit of not offending anyone and just to be on the safe side so to speak. Especially after I read J. I. Packers comments on this subject in Knowing God. I would like to know if anyone thinks all pics and porcelain thngs are wrong as the text seems to indicate.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I do appreciate Andrew Meyers comments on one of the other threads.

Historically, Muslims have interpreted the Second Commandment to forbid all images of any kind whatsoever, but Jews and Christians have not. It is clear from the context that the Second Commandment has to do specifically with worship. It prohibits any representation of the Godhead or any worship of graven images. God himself expounded the Second Commandment thusly: "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, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven." Deut. 4.15-19 That is what historic Reformed Confessions and Catechisms teach in their exposition of this Commandment. God himself required the making of certain images in the temple/tabernacle, such as cherubim. The Lord Jesus himself had occasion to observe the image of Caesar on a coin and did not condemn the use of money thereby. Pictures and photographs are lawful as long as they don't violate the Second or the Seventh Commandments. The whole focus of the Second Commandment is worship and any representation of God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit must inherently violate that commandment because if it does not engender worship it is vain and if it does engender worship it is vain. "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." Acts 17.29

Andrew,
Thanks, you have helped me even more.
 

Archlute

Puritan Board Senior
Nor do I want the simplistic answer of "people will tend to use them in an idolatrous manner, because we all have sinful hearts". I don't buy it as being a necessity, and we on this board certainly would not accept the sister argument that allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol should be prohibited, because someone who is weak might be tempted to drink it unto drunkenness.

I think you steal a base here. God has called wine good and images of Him bad. That's the difference. Let's apply the same reasoning to another sin. If I were to say that you can't forbid p0rnography just because it might make someone sin, you would say that is ridiculous. A person is spiritually harmed merely by looking at p0rnography. Likewise, a person is spiritually harmed by looking at images of God and for much the same reason. Our minds are always on record and we often have little control over when certain scenes are replayed. They are often replayed out of the clear blue. Who has not had the experience of seeing a picture of Jesus (outside the context of Sunday Worship) and then picturing that image during personal devotions or Sunday Worship? I have.

The second commandment is a commandment that pertains specifically to the issue of false worship. This really is incontestable. Traditionally in Reformed literature the application of the second commandment has focused on he issue of what is acceptable in the sphere of the service of worship in the Church. Scripturally, the condemnations of idolatry, where actual images are involved, all have to do with the practice of direct worship rather than art.

Yes, but if images of God outside of worship cause us to inwardly remember images of God inside of worship (whether Sabbath day, family, or personal), then the Westminster Divines were right to acknowledge that all making of images of God are prohibited by the second commandment.

I would like to see exegetical and theological interactions here, and not just someone cutting and pasting large portions of the Westminster Standards. I have them, I read them, I understand them. Nor do I want the simplistic answer of "people will tend to use them in an idolatrous manner, because we all have sinful hearts". I don't buy it as being a necessity, and we on this board certainly would not accept the sister argument that allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol should be prohibited, because someone who is weak might be tempted to drink it unto drunkenness. Just so you are aware, I have taken an allowed exception to some of the explication of the second commandment in Q109 of the WLC.

Let me guess. The making of images inwardly in our mind?


Hello Jamie,

It looks like you have some definite opinions, and yet I think that you did not interact with the substance of what I was saying. It is possible that I did not make myself as clear as I should have so I will make a few comments here.

First, it should be understood that in the opening post I was speaking of religious images more broadly than explicitly Theo-centric art. Included in my question was the thought of depicting angels, well-known saints, crosses, Gospel scenes and the like, whether in the media of painting, sculpture, engravings, etc. I realize that, strictly speaking, the second commandment is a commandment directed between God and images in worship, and yet so often the creation of religiously themed art outside of the worship service has been condemned by invoking the second commandment. That is why I linked the two together. I think that an understanding of this will help overcome some of your rather direct connections between religious art, and say, p0rnography. I meant this to be a discussion of a wider category than just images of Christ.

Second, I do not accept the argument that images must be banned even outside of worship upon the mere possibility that one could have a “relapse”, so to speak, during worship. That is again invoking a “weaker brother bars all” kind of argumentation. If it is problem for you, but not for the town mayor, should that forbid him from having a painting of the last supper in his home? Even more so, I think that one must make a distinction between a temptation that enters the mind and is rejected (and therefore was merely a temptation), and a temptation that enters into the mind and which is entertained and meditated upon (in which case it becomes a sin).

Third, although I usually try not to reply to questions made in insincerity, I think that more theologians really should readdress the issue of mental images and the second commandment. I think that the way the second commandment is expounded in WLC 109 really is without ground on that particular point. If we were to follow their understanding that even mental imagery was to be considered sin, then God himself would be guilty of tempting us to sin as he has provided plenteous example in Scripture whereby we may be tripped up. God gives us mental pictures of himself as a faithful husband, a good shepherd, a mighty warrior, a strong arm, a mothering eagle, and many more. These are concrete mental images invoked by God himself for the sake of his people’s understanding. If it is a sin to attempt to picture him in anyway in our mind, then that would rule out even these images so abundantly found in Scripture. Obviously that becomes a problem.

As I was doing some reading on the issue this evening, I found that my position regarding religious themes in art is not too far off the mark by the standard of past Reformed theologians. In particular, Francis Turretin, whom I am sure you would not consider to have been a softy on things theological, upheld the position that religious images are indeed permitted outside the service of public worship. He recognized that the position of the Jews and some Christians was a total rejection of these things, yet he did not see their position as being theologically supportable (particularly, as Andrew has noted, in light of the structure of the temple and tabernacle). He agrees with the Romanist theologians that the essence of God of course cannot be represented (it is impossible), but that the issue really comes down to whether or not holy art should be found in the sacred places (places of corporate worship) or not. The Lutherans held the former, while he believed that the Reformed should reject it.

So he did not reject religious art in the home, nor the civic arena, but only in the church. He did see the sculpting of even Scripturally based metaphors of God himself to be forbidden outside of worship, but he was certain in defending the propriety of the mental image as a necessity (which would transgress the position of WLC 109 as I understand it).

If you would further like to study his thoughts on this issue, you can find them in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol.2, the 11th topic, 12th question (pp.62-65 in the P&R edition).

And for anyone who may have the recently issued fourth volume of Bavink – does he have a discussion of this integrated into the topic of the Church? I couldn’t actually find any detailed discussion of the Decalogue in his first three volumes.
 

AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
So, understanding all of that, how do some of you come to your position that "religious images" outside of worship (i.e. religious art not intended for use in the worship service) constitute a breach of the second commandment?

I would look first at what it is you wish to portray. I love religious art, I love visiting cathedrals and castles. The only thing I would say is wrong is to have pictures of God. Anything we could draw or paint to portray God is finite whereas God is infinite hence what we draw limits God and is therefore wrong.

Every Lord's day I walk under stained glass of Josiah and Hezekiah but then have to kneel at the altar behind which is a statue of Christ at the last supper....not what I would have there.
 

JBaldwin

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I've always thought that the 2nd commandment had to do with worship, because after the command, it says not to bow down and worship these things. The Israelites had just come from a culture where images of animals and people were made and then worshiped, and they were getting ready to go into a culture which worshiped images.
 

ahavah7

Puritan Board Freshman
First, it should be understood that in the opening post I was speaking of religious images more broadly than explicitly Theo-centric art. Included in my question was the thought of depicting angels, well-known saints, crosses, Gospel scenes and the like, whether in the media of painting, sculpture, engravings, etc

Yeah, I see this as rather non-controversial. I don't see anything wrong with religous art in general, and I don't know of anyone who does.

Second, I do not accept the argument that images must be banned even outside of worship upon the mere possibility that one could have a “relapse”, so to speak, during worship. That is again invoking a “weaker brother bars all” kind of argumentation. If it is problem for you, but not for the town mayor, should that forbid him from having a painting of the last supper in his home?

The substance of my point here was that alcohol and images of God are as morally different as cotton candy and p0rnography. I don't see the substance of that point addressed in your post.

God gives us mental pictures of himself as a faithful husband, a good shepherd, a mighty warrior, a strong arm, a mothering eagle, and many more. These are concrete mental images invoked by God himself for the sake of his people’s understanding. If it is a sin to attempt to picture him in anyway in our mind, then that would rule out even these images so abundantly found in Scripture. Obviously that becomes a problem.

These are not mental pictures of himself. These are analogies or metaphors that teach us about various of God's attributes. You can certainly picture these mentally, but you would only be guilty of meditating on one of God's attributes not a mental image of God.

As I was doing some reading on the issue this evening, I found that my position regarding religious themes in art is not too far off the mark by the standard of past Reformed theologians.

I'm curious if you found any reformed theologians who disagreed with your position.

He did see the sculpting of even Scripturally based metaphors of God himself to be forbidden outside of worship, but he was certain in defending the propriety of the mental image as a necessity (which would transgress the position of WLC 109 as I understand it).

Seems inconsistent on his part.

He did see the sculpting of even Scripturally based metaphors of God himself to be forbidden outside of worship, but he was certain in defending the propriety of the mental image as a necessity (which would transgress the position of WLC 109 as I understand it).

I looked through Johannes G. Vos's commentary on the WLC. He doesn't mention scripturally based metaphors in reference to sins forbidden by the 2nd commandmet.
 

larryjf

Puritan Board Senior
I've always thought that the 2nd commandment had to do with worship, because after the command, it says not to bow down and worship these things. The Israelites had just come from a culture where images of animals and people were made and then worshiped, and they were getting ready to go into a culture which worshiped images.

There are many who think that as well.
I believe that the 2nd commandment is in 2 parts - not making the images, and not bowing down to them. In the one command i see both things forbidden.

If images of God were allowed, so long as they weren't bowed down to, i would think that the Jewish people would have had more images of God outside of their worship practice.

Keep in mind that another reason for not making images of God is because we haven't seen Him. So with that requirement the only ones able to make images of Christ would be those who have seen Him. Since they didn't, we have no right to.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top