Heavens no, there's no idolatry here.

It's a given of idolatry and idolaters that the minute you suggest that their pretty images and pictures and statues are actual graven images forbidden by Scripture and they are therefore idolaters, they react with outrage. What do you mean this is an idol? I don't worship this. It's just an innocent symbol. It's just a picture I enjoy. Are you some kind of Puritanical nut?

So, no, I won't speak of images we bow before or adore or tip our hats to or put our hands over our hearts and bow our heads to. Because I guarantee that none of us could possibly be idolatrous in the literal sense of the word, could we? I mean, the posters of rock stars or sport stars or actors and actresses that our children put on their walls and admire are JUST PICTURES, right? And we never intend anything beyond simple respect when we take off our hats and bow our heads at the start of a baseball game because though it's exactly the same thing we do in church when the pastor prays to God, it's JUST A FLAG AT A BASEBALL GAME, part of the national pastime, not something we reverence, right? And that picture of Jesus in our living room, why at most that's just an educational tool. We never think of Jesus as looking like that or reverence it in the slightest. It's mere decoration. Why, if George Bush were as good looking as Jesus, we'd have put his picture up there. And that statue of Mary, it's in our neighbor's garden, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, and who would ever put an idol in the midst of potted plants? I mean there are people in this part of the world who put old toilets outside as planters. Are you going to call that an idol too because it's also a garden decoration? And that box that pushes images into our home day and night that we leave on hours each day, that we think about and talk about at work and school, that great portions of our papers and magazines are devoted to, that we pay large amounts of money each month to receive and that guides our purchases, our dress, our thinking about philosophy and science and ethics, its ENTERTAINMENT, boy, don't you get it? Not an idol!


Thank you, Pastors Dave and Tim, for spending so much time on the theme of idolatry. Only the Reformed seem willing to address an issue that consumes so much of the Lord's attention in the Old Testament. Why is that? Has idolatry suddenly disappeared in the modern world? Or has it simply been transformed into the seductive images that bombard us day in and day out? I don't have a complete "theology" of idolatry yet, but I must say that the willingness of (some of) the Reformed to point to the continued validity of the Second Commandment is a powerful testimony to the truth of the Reformed understanding of the faith.

Bill: You are right about the importance of the second commandment. It is absolutely crucial for the church, especially, as I have called attention to in these comments, because of the frightening warning attached to it ("visiting the iniquity, etc. of those that hate me").

Nevertheless, the question of what exactly the second commandment forbids is a matter of grave concern as well.

Perhaps David's post here is simply an example of homiletical exaggeration. That could be. I happen to think that there's far too much exaggerated rhetoric in the pulpits these days and that it doesn't serve Christ's people very well. Consider this post, for example. David writes:

>. . . the minute you suggest that their pretty images and
>pictures and statues are actual graven images forbidden by
>Scripture and they are therefore idolaters, they react with >outrage

Okay. So the issue is what "petty images and pictures are actual graven images"? Which "petty images and pictures" are "forbidden by Scripture"?

The language of this paragraph makes it clear that it is not just worshipping these images but possessing and enjoying these images that is a violation of Scripture and makes one an "idolator." Their existence alone is a violation of Scripture. David writes:

>What do you mean this is an idol? I don't worship this.
>It's just an innocent symbol. It's just a picture I enjoy.

The first line of the next paragraph again stresses that he is not talking about images we "bow before or tip our hats to or put our hands over our hearts and bow our heads to." So he makes it abundantly clear that just the possession of these objects and images constitutes one an idolator.

So what images are forbidden by Scripture, the possession of which constitutes one an idolator? David lists them:

1. Posters of rock stars or actors or actresses. These are "not just PICTURES." It doesn't matter how our children USE them or what they mean to them. They are simply idols and graven images.

2. The American flag. Here, however, David does talk about the ritual acts we perform before this symbol. I do think this is problematic. But here he deviates from his initial promise to not talk about what we DO with these images.

3. A picture of Jesus.

4. A statue of Mary in the garden.

5. Images on a TV set.

6. Images in magazines and marketing literature.

Now, I grant that any of these objects may BECOME idols or they might even represent people and objects that we reverence and worship in our hearts over and above the true God. The depraved human heart will always be led to substitute something in creation for the Creator.

But that's not what this post explicitly says. They are all "actual graven images" and "forbidden by Scripture."

Moreover, each of these objects listed may be USED in ways clearly forbidden by the second commandment. Of course that's true. I've seen people use pictures of Jesus to pray to him or to try to discern from the image of Jesus' face some smile or frown in order to get some help for a difficult decision. That's close to witchcraft and surely condemned by the second commandment. And many Roman Catholics use statutes of Mary as lucky charms, etc. Or they pray to her through the image. Again, that's liturgical idolatry.

Even so, the explicit rhetoric of this post denies that any of these objects can be legitimately used as "symbols," "just pictures," "decoration," or "entertainment."

Really? My child has a couple movie posters on the wall of his bedroom. Those CANNOT be for decoration? They must be "graven images"? That's what David has argued here. Sure, I admit that such posters and images COULD be misused and might indeed function as "graven images" for someone who's heart and mind have been drawn away from the Living God to worship another human being.

But David's post does not leave room for any other use for images. Indeed, he belittles and scorns other uses. All of these images, regardless of their use, are "graven images" and "forbidden by Scripture."

But, of course, I'm just an idolator reacting with outrage.


The reason people react with such perplexity when you talk like that, is that an idol is by definition something that people _worship_, and people don't _worship_ something accidentally, without realizing it, just because it happens to be on their wall. Worship is focused and deliberate, and must either be religious in nature, or characterized by devotion extreme enough to compete with religious devotion or to take its place. You're probably right that there is much less difference between religious idolatry and hero worship than we usually think there is, but your suggestion that all images are idols sounds jaw-droppingly absurd, given the meaning of the words involved. You have to re-define "worship" and "idol" to make your case sound even remotely plausible, and everyone else is speaking English.

Thanks, Jeff and Eric, for your comments. As I mentioned, I'm still working my way through this issue. But what I've noted in the OT is the pervasiveness of idolatry. The Lord says much about it because of this fact. Indeed idolatry seems to be fundamentally engraved on our sinful natures. But if so, where is its expression today? And are Christians somehow exempt from the temptation to idolatry? Were the People of Israel?

Bill: Of course, Christians are susceptible to the temptation of idolatry, both idolatry proper and liturgical idolatry. Sadly, I must heartly affirm that that is the case.

Look at Luther's Larger Catechism on the first commandment for a good exposition of the dangers of idolatry. Luther rightly notes that the first commandment calls for faith and trust, so that when we put our faith in anything other than the true God that which we trust becomes another god.

It was John Calvin who with tremendous clarity of thought identified the human heart as a perpetual idol-making factory, a gushing fountain of superstition and idolatry. "Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols," warns Calvin. Or this: "Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind. . ."

Even so, that does not mean that the painted portrain of Calvin on the wall of my office is an idol. That's the precise question in this particular discussion.

All I am saying is that the second commandment does not forbid us from making artisic representations of things in heaven and earth. It prohibits acts of liturgical devotion before such artistic representations, either to the true God or to false gods.

The first word/commandment is pretty broad. It deals with idolatry proper. It warns against having/trusting anything but the true God. As Paul warns us in Col. 3:5, even covetousness is idolatry.

The second word is more specific. It concerns liturgical idolatry. Not the idolatry of liturgy per se, but the idolatry of false ways to worship and serve God. The particular concern is that human artifacts not be used as media through which to express liturgical reverence and/or communicate with the true God.

The second word does not condemn a proper use of artistic representation.

"people don't _worship_ something accidentally, without realizing it"

Eric, so a man looks longingly at a woman in a skimpy bikini for 5 minutes. He isn't self-consciously worshipping her (and deep thoughts like that are the furthest thing from his mind at that point). But is it idolatry? I'm hardly an expert in this field, but it seems like it is to me.

"All I am saying is that the second commandment does not forbid us from making artistic representations of things in heaven and earth. It prohibits acts of liturgical devotion before such artistic representations, either to the true God or to false gods."

I agree--didn't the Lord command that the Temple itself contain representations of things on the earth? But what exactly is "liturgical devotion"? I assume this is a synonym for worship. If so, then most icons, or at least those that purport to portray the Lord, would seem to be prohibited. But would all attempts to portray the Lord be prohibited where the immediate object is not worship or devotion? Yet if the Lord were to manifest himself to me, my immediate reaction would be that of worship and self-abasement: why would I not do that to his image, if it is truly meant to portray him? In other words, to the extent we do NOT fall down and worship the image of the Lord, the image is a false portrayal. Therefore, because we cannot make an image of the true God, we may not make any image that purports to be that of the Lord, even if we contend we do not worship that image. Does that follow?

Well said. I am consistently troubled by the fact that most churches fly the U.S. flag despite the law that the flag fly higher than any other symbol.

Including the cross. I love my country and its history, but spare me the flagolatry, please.

What concerns me is that there is so much focus on obeying Old Testament commandments.

If we put so much of our attention on commandments that we can't perfectly obey, how do we live a joyful christian life without constant guilt?

If any of us could obey these commandments then we would have no need for Christ and His death on the cross.

By constantly focusing on trying to live by the law (which we no longer have to do) we end up losing out on whats supposed to be joy in knowing that Christ paid for these sins and we don't have to live with guilt and shame.

I mean, why stop at this commandment? We all have broken many if not all of the commandments by God's standards.

If Christ paid for ALL of our sins and cleared us of guilt, then who is anyone to make us feel like we have to live life in a constant cloud of guilt because we have a picture hanging on the wall or the American Flag flying in our yards.

If we still need to live by the law, then Christ's death was insufficient.

Yeah, who was He, anyways, to say, "If you love me, you'll obey my cmmandments"?


I believe those commandments were to love God with all your heart and soul. And, to love your neighbor.

If He was referring to the Ten Commandments then His crucifixcion was unnecessary. If we can actually obey the Ten Commandments without ever breaking them in our lifetime, then His death on the cross was one big mistake.

BIll: You seem to be confused about the place of the law in the Christian life. You can't pit love against law.

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

Seeking to discover what God has commanded is not legalism. For example, David and I may disagree on what the first/second commandment means or how it is to be applied. But I don't doubt for a minute his love for Jesus and his desire to be obedient to his Word. Seeking the meaning of God's Word for the details of our lives, as we have been trying to do here, does not imply a denial of the cross of Christ.

Jeff, there are two Bills here, so you might want to use the surname initials to keep us straight! I agree entirely with your point to Bill K.

You may not be denying the cross. But, to the casual reader here, you certainly sound like you're denying your sin. At least that's the way it sounds to me and my three co-workers sitting here reading it.

If your intent is not to make us think you perfectly obey the Ten Commandments, then please enlighten us on what your actually saying.

"You have been enstranged from Christ, you who ATTEMPT to be justified by the Law; you have fallen from grace."
Galatians 5:4

Bill K: Denying my sin? No. I'm a sinner. I confess it every day and every Lord's Day in church? I trust Jesus and his righteousness alone for justification.

By seeking to understand how to please the Lord, I am not ATTEMPTING to be justified by the law. I am rather attempting to understand what the law says, so that I might obey it and please my heavenly Father. So are David and Tim and everyone else involved in this debate, I trust. Nobody has said anything about perfect obedience. We all here confess that even the best good works of Christians are tainted with sinful motives, etc. The blood of Jesus covers those sins, too.

I can't figure out where you would get this idea from what I've written.

The law of God has been given as our standard for living. Justified Christians have always rightfully striven to understand and obey it by God's grace.

Dear Brothers,

I decided long ago that objectively determining what constitutes worship is as difficult as objectively determining what constitutes ugly.

We sit and listen to speakers in church. Is that liturgical devotion? We listen to women sing. Is that liturgical devotion? We read aloud.

In most churches, there is little bowing and no kissing. So why must we bow to or kiss a graven image to worship it?

In the end, the objections raised here to my posts on idolatry are totally at odds with each other and only united in declaring me wrong. But you also think each other largely wrong as well.

I'm quite confident that in the end these subjective definitions of idolatry all unite in absolving the one doing the defining of this most grave sin. And I would bet that Solomon used the same logic to absolve himself of the sins of his wives. It's a very short step from saying "I don't use this image sinfully. Others may. I don't," to saying "Well, how can I determine what my wife's view of that statue is? And do I answer for her anyway?"

David Bayly

Pastor David, please read the first post here: I'm looking for help, not offering any profound or less-than-profound excuses for my acts, and I'm certainly not declaring that you are wrong! But I'd like a little more guidance as to when an image becomes an idol. Take for instance all those nice images on this web site--my enjoyment of them doesn't rise to the level of idolatry, does it?

Jack's Pipe,

Why stop at the woman in the bikini? Do you worship a porterhouse steak when you're really hungry, a nap when you're really tired, a drink of water when you're parched with thirst? Is every bodily desire really idolatry at the root? If you think so, you'd best find the strictest monastery you can and go shut yourself in it.

Bill K.,

Striving to be justified by the Law is not the same thing as trying to obey the Law.

We are creatures created to worship. If we are not worshipping the true God in spirit and in truth, we will worship just about anything as a stand in. Due to sin, we are adulterous in whom and what we worship. Of course, when we're hungry, we want to eat. No, that is not worship, it is survival. However, we do worship what is not God many times.

Yes, sometimes we can worship food. We can develop very worshipful descriptions of food and drink and unhealthy devotion to it. Hey, we have a whole networks devoted to food! There are stages set up where the congregation enters and awaits the modern clergy of our culture to offer us the next holy nugget. I used to get a kick out of CS Lewis's example of how our appetites and desires are corrupted by sin. He used the example of scantily clad female dancers and how men will shout, whistle, lust and get whipped into a frenzy over them on stage. He then made the analogy of replacing the female with a pork chop. Would we act the same way? Well, enter the age of the Food Network. Bam! We do and then some.

I think david makes a good point on how we may have too stringent a definition of what worship is. We act sometimes as if it is not in a building of worship, or we are not prostrate to the ground in front of it and praying to it, we cannot worship something. Believe me, I had a girlfriend 20 years ago that I worshipped with all in my being, yet I did none of those things. You tell me we do not have "hero worship" of our sports figures in this country? How about even our favorite theologians? There is no end to what good things God made for us we twist into worship.

Jeff & David: There is no doubt that many have a much too narrow view of "worship" and thereby excuse themselves from being idolators simply because they don't bow down to or kiss their idols or images. Fine. I have absolutely no problem with that. I affirm it. The first commandment covers this. All sorts of otherwise good people and things can be become idols, false gods, because of misplaced adoration and worship. Fine. Preach it.

But the issue here is whether images, artistic representations per se are violations of the first/second commandment. Yes, people can worship human heroes and gourmet food, for that matter, without bowing down to or kissing them.

Nevertheless, there plenty of people who do claim to worship the true God as Christians by bowing down to and kissing statues and icons. The second commandment does not merely restate the first, it limits how we may worship the true God (at least). It also, of course, condemns worship to Ashtoreh, etc. But remember Israel often succumbed to worshipping Yahweh by means of images (the golden calf, for example.).

Once again, the question is: does the second commandment forbid making artistic representations per se. I say no. It forbids acts of veneration before them. That does NOT mean that this is the only way that one can be an idolator. I never said this and I don't know why the discussion keeps coming around to this misunderstanding. Just because I say the second commandment forbids bowing down to or serving images and allows for other uses of artistic representation, does NOT mean that idolatry must be limited to bowing down to or kissing images.

The question that has NOT been answered is: are we violating the second commandment by having a TV set in our living room? By hanging pictures of Winston Churchill in our den? When we craft an angel statue to adorn the fountain in our yard? With stain glass representations of biblical events in our churches? My answer: no, we are not. They are lawful uses of artistic representation for purposes other than worship.


If you really find the food network to be as titillating as a striptease, you might want to find a support group for that.

And who denied hero worship?


I admit, I got a chuckle out of that. That was funny. At least, I hope you were being funny and not just a smart aleck.

J. Meyers;
I do not necessarily disagree with you on the 2nd commandment. David's argument hinges on ordinary objects or images being idols in and of themselves. This is the realm of the tree falling in the forest and if nobody is around to hear it fall, did it make a sound?
I was just commenting on believing he made a valid point about our worship.

All -

As the young man (musician/artist) who originally posed to David the question Jeff is so desirous to see answered (see my comment under David's Da Vinci post and virtually any of Jeff Meyers') I'm forced to concur that David has yet to thuroughly explain himself.

David, if indeed we should take the pictures off our walls, throw bricks through our church's stained glass windows, stop watching movies, and those of us who are Christian artists immediately cease our work, then please take the time to explain how you get there. I for one am willing to go there with you if you can show clearly that this is God's will.

It's just that currently there seem to be big gaps in your line of reasoning and therefore this all just sounds pretty loony.

Can it be that a painting is inherently an idol just by existing? Or is it just wrong to have Jesus and God depicted therein? Can a Christian be an artist/artisan without defying God's law? What about dance? Theatre? Carpentry?

Cease entirely? Cease only when it comes to depictions of the Godhead?

Again, we're not against you per se, it's just that we don't really know what it is you're asking of us...or why.



Let's say I was being a funny aleck. That is, going for humor, but trying to make a point too. I think you really overstated your case re: the Food Network.

There are two Jeff's in this discussion. Jeff Meyers (me) and someone who signed on simply as "Jeff." I have no clue which Jeff Eric is talking to or about.


It is possible I did. It actually is kind of funny. However,I have seen what I referred to; Lewis's example, that is. I've seen a chef hold up some piece of meat on a stage like some rock concert and people went nuts. That is what made me laugh about it to begin with. I immediately thought of Lewis's example and cracked up.

Ah, but people go nuts because it's a food show, and that's what they're there to do. Like sporting events and rock concerts, a big part of the charm is just being in a fun setting where you can get excited (with a bunch of other likeminded folks) about things that aren't really all that important. Sure, there's a core of serious appreciation underneath it, but they're yukking it up. It's just carnival. Strip shows are a different animal. Lewis's point in that passage, remember, was that sex was by far the most disordered appetite in our culture, and that remains true. In fact, I think the reasons for it are universal, not cultural.

I am the poor layman who has not received a degree from any seminary, so bear with me. In addition to my lack of education, my poor laptop has been down for a week and I returned home and have now had a chance to catch up on the blog here. Interesting topic as I have been pondering all of this since hearing one of Tim's sermons where he mentioned the movie "The Passion of the Christ" as violating the second commandment. It was a very compelling argument.

My initial knee-jerk reaction was to think of all of the images, from the icthus on the cars to the dove license plates that I fortunately don't sport, may be considered wrong by the standard of the commandments. I, like many others on this Blog, wanted to make a list of all of the "okay" images on one side and the "banned" ones on the other. I cannot escape what keeps coming to the forefront of the issue.

After a long bit of reflection, I have come to one conclusion; ANYTHING that takes our focus away from God is an idol.

Jesus said this in Matthew 22:37-40:

37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

I may be way off base here, but this verse in Matthew, along with so many others, where I am reminded of our one true calling...to love and serve God with all of your soul (Deut 11:13, etc.)

Can things like television, pictures of your kids, your car, your boat, your computer [except when reading this blog ;) ] keep your MIND off of God? Maybe even your HEART and SOUL? Does praying to Mary and other religious forms and the American Flag do the same thing? God is a jealous God, not because he worries that other things will become more powerful than him based on popularity (like the golden calf), but that we are not focused on Him. A man's focus on God is the only thing of importance. Where is the line? Is there a line? Tough questions.


There are cetain misunderstandings in your comments that have discouraged me from providing the answers you desire.

First, an idol is a (graven) image, plain and simple. It is a visual representation. It is not a book. It is not a dance. It is not a song. Calvin writes well about viewing the commandments through the lens of synecdoche. So perhaps at the end of the day we may need to think about other forms of imagery. But right now we're focused on visual images. Dance might enter into this--if you read Tertullian's De Spectaculis (http://www.tertullian.org/lfc/LFC10-13_de_spectaculis.htm) you will see that theatre has a long history of being viewed as idolatrous by church fathers. Perhaps this would lead to questions about dance as well.

But for the sake of this discussion that's an argument for another day.

Second, you speak about me urging the breaking of windows and such. Where have I written this? In fact, where have I stated that all images are sinful? I know you're a friend, but you have to do your homework if you want me to take your questions seriously.

Third, if the commandment does not forbid the making of graven images, but only the making of graven images that will be worshipped--and despite yours and others' assumptions, this is not clear from the text, conservative Judaism has long rejected representational art on the basis of this commandment--then isn't the onus on you to demonstrate that the object is innocent rather than me to demonstrate that it is sinful? I suggest that in the case of such a vicious sin (one even my opponents suggest can be fallen into with any graven image) the burden of proof lies on the one making and advocating the image rather than the one urging caution.

Fourth, I don't have to answer every question to raise a valid argument. I do not have to know everything there is to know on a topic to ask faithful and true questions and make true observations along the way.

You demand answers from me. But I've been writing on this for years here and preaching at my own church on this theme. If you want further answers, read the posts, listen to the sermons. I've asked answers from those who deprecate the existence of objective idolatry here without receiving them. I'm not complaining. I've also read some of their writings from outside this forum to understand their position better. Do the same, OK?

Fifth, my point about worship stands. If we accept for the sake of argument the assertion that idols come into existence only by how we treat them (a deeply wrong assertion, by the way) then what level of respect makes a picture, a movie, a poster idolatrous? The person who won't hazard an objective definition of idolatry is in no position to enter this argument. And if you aren't willing to define idols objectively then you really must objectively define the worship that makes an image idolatrous.

Personally, I think it's safer, more logical and more Scriptural to define images as the crux of the issue rather than leaving it to each man to determine in his own heart where his idols lie. Subjectively defining sin leads to the kind of things that happened in hospitals in New Orleans during Katrina. We must do better.

Sixth, and finally, I've consistently said that it's a fundamental mistake of those who oppose me on this issue to conflate graven images with gods. They are prohibited separately for a reason, just as the making of graven images is prohibited separately from the bowing down to and serving of them. I actually view all three imperatives as one commandment. But idols are not gods. They are sign posts to gods. They are maps, not destinations.

In Christ,


David writes,

"if you read Tertullian's De Spectaculis you will see that theatre has a long history of being viewed as idolatrous by church fathers."

That's because much of the popular Greco-Roman theater WAS idolatrous, depicting the pagan gods and their various sordid acts. The critique doesn't translate well to _Charlie's Aunt._


And our forms of theatre portraying our pagan acts in even more graphic detail is just entertainment, right?

Oh the joys of living in the Age of Enlightenment: the atheist cannot have idols.

David Bayly


Obviously there are moral problems with a lot of modern plays and movies, but most of them are innocent of idolatry. And yes, atheism does pretty much preclude idolatry, except for the metaphorical variety. It still violates the first commandment, but it doesn't do so by using actual idols.

And even if I shared your peculiar views on this subject, I would still have to point out that your reference to the Church Fathers is irrelevant. The things they said specifically about god-plays cannot be applied indiscriminately to all forms of drama. It's dishonest to pretend otherwise.


You're wrong to characterize Tertullian's writings this way.

Tertullian is working to convince "certain people, of a faith somewhat simple or somewhat precise, who when faced with this renunciation of public shows, ask for the authority of Scripture and take their ground in uncertainty, because abstinence in this matter is not specifically and in so many words enjoined upon the servants of God. No, we certainly nowhere find it enjoined with the same clearness as; "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not worship an idol," "Thou shalt not commit adultery" or "fraud"; we nowhere find it expressly laid down, "Thou shalt not go to the circus, thou shalt not go to the theatre, thou shalt not look on the contest or spectacle."

Tertullian is writing to convince simple people who do not see the sinfulness of these things that they find their root in idolatry. It should be obvious from this statement that their connection to the gods is not not clearly seen by the simple. You suggest they are explicitly idolatrous. Tertullian, however, assumes their connection to the gods is not clear to the simple, and so he works to explain why he indicts these spectacles as idolatry.

The reasons he gives for calling these things "idolatry" range across the board. In the matter of the theatre, he argues that public theatre was begun by Pompey the Great in a theatre built to his honor but dedicated as a chapel to Venus.

This is the origin of theatre. And as such his argument is as valid today as it was in his own day hundreds of years after Pompey.

Moreover, it is not simply the connection to Roman and Greek gods that renders spectacles idolatrous in Tertullian's sight, but the feignedness and the masks. He writes, "I ask if God can be pleased with it, who forbids the likeness of anything to be made, how much more his own image?"

Eric, we can disagree with Tertullian but it's dishonest to mischaracterize what he actually says to evade its weight. I'm afraid you twist all that would condemn your idolatry to absolve yourself of this sin. You do the same with Tertullian that you do with Scripture. May God grant you a clear vision of His truth.


David Bayly


In this piece, Tertullian does not mention god-plays, but other Fathers did. For instance, St. Augustine objected to plays in _City of God_ beccause men got to see Zeus cheat on his wife, and would then justify their own infidelities by saying, "Who am I not to, if the king of the gods does?" Even in that complaint of Augustine's, though, you can see that the main concern is the immorality of the theater, and that is far and away Tertullian's main concern too.

Although Tertullian begins _De Spectaculis_ by saying he is going to focus on idolatry, he only does that in the section dealing with the Roman games, since they included sacrifices to idols, and since colisseums were decorated with motifs invoking the gods. The only thing he says about theater that links it in any way to idolatry proper is that Pompey once declared a theater of his to be a temple to Venus. He does _not_ say Pompey invented theater (he knew better than to say something so ridiculous, considering how much Greek theater had preceded Pompey). The Pompey story is just an anecdote he throws in to make his presentation more damning. The reason he calls theaters the temple of Venus is that Venus is the goddess of love, and theaters are places of moral dissolution. (Note, right after that he calls theaters temples of Bacchus--the wine god--too).

Even the bit you've quoted about actors' masks violating the 2nd commandment doesn't have any connection in Tertullian's argument with idolatry proper. He does not call the masks idols at all. The problem he identifies is that they are fake:

"But again I ask, whether the very use of masks can be pleasing to God, Who, forbiddeth the likeness of any thing, how much more of His own image, to be made? The Author of Truth loveth not that which is false. Every thing which is feigned is adultery in His sight."

Tertullian's problem with actors' masks is that they are deceptive. He doesn't say that people are worshiping them. In the same paragraph he also complains of actors "changing their features" by shaving their beards, changing their height by wearing elevator shoes, and taking on imaginary personae.

You probably want to mention, at this point, that near the beginning of the treatise, Tertullian claims that _all_ his criticisms are going to pertain to idolatry. You might want to argue, based on this, that Tertullian intended to _imply_ a critique like your own, although he didn't actually state it. That's not the case, though. He was using the word "idolatry" in a hyper-expanded rhetorical fashion. In his mind, all sin counted as idolatry. He argues in the first section of another treatise, _De Idolatria_, that "in idolatry all crimes are detected, and in all crimes idolatry."

He objected to the theater not because it involved idolatry, but because it involved licentiousness and dishonesty.

David says,

"I'm afraid you twist all that would condemn your idolatry to absolve yourself of this sin."

Well, I'm afraid right back at you. Afraid that _you_ twist all that would temper your extreme iconoclasm, so you won't have to admit that you're wrong.

"you speak about me urging the breaking of windows and such. Where have I written this? In fact, where have I stated that all images are sinful? I know you're a friend, but you have to do your homework if you want me to take your questions seriously."

Alright, one last try...

David, does the above statement mean you do NOT consider all images to be idolatrous and that your advice to the artist would NOT be to immediately quit their work?

For the record, I'm well aware of who has said what in this discussion. It's what you HAVEN'T said (the questions you won't answer) that leaves us to draw conclusions for you. We look at the trajectory of your position, and wonder how the 2nd Commandment doesn't eventually apply to everything man-made on some level.

You mentioned in your reply to me that you're not talking about books, but I'm not convinced that alphabetic characters don't - to some degree- image the created realm (eastern alphabets most overtly). As I recall, the Mandarin character for "rice field" is a pretty good (albeit crude) artistic representation of the same. Granted, the characters we're using to construct these sentences are far less overtly representational than Chinese characters or pre-alphabetic Hieroglyphs, but is it possible that you would try to argue that there's nothing graven at work here? I mean like absolutely, 100%, totally image free? Perhaps in most cases it's not direct, intentional representation, but surely there's representation of a kind even if only incidental. And then there's sign language...

A "graven" image is not a song, sure, but what about musical notations? These are nothing but graphic symbols which we understand, not because they're abstract and wholly "other" than nature, but precisely because they reference her. The modern composers John Cage, Earl Brown, Shostakovich, Pierre Boulez, and Maxwell Davies, among many others, all have musical scores that merit visual aesthetic critique separate from the sounds they imply. Indeed, some of these composers have had their work exhibited in art galleries. And just so we can't dismiss these for their modernity, in the original manuscript of the St. Mathew Passion, just at the moment when the centurion exclaims "surely this is the Son of God!" (The first Gentile conversion), Bach depicts a cross right in the middle of the page...not sonically, but visually...formed out of the notational material you're probably going to claim somehow isn't idolatrous. What is more, some of Bach's motivic trademarks have an intended spiritual significance derived primarily from the fact that a constellation of notes visually form a cross in a "connect the dots" sort of way. What about the instruments themselves? I mean, come on, the cello...

It would be very easy to implicate dance, with or without Tertullian. I'm surprised you didn't beat me to that one.

What I've been driving at all along is that if you continue the train of thought, it seems to me (and to others obviously) that there's virtually no foreseeable end to what man-made thing the 2nd commandment might implicate as an idol. Granted my questions have been simple, but were intentionally designed to allow you an opportunity to explain how you keep from getting from A to Z.

Forgive me if I'm still not explaining myself, but can't you understand there's a legitimate question here and by not answering it I'm left to assume you have no answer?

I love watching movies (not so much TV anymore), I love to draw, and I very much enjoy walking through an art museum and admiring the works of the masters. Is this all wrong? My initial reaction is "Heck no!" But recently I have taken pause to consider what the commandment actually says and what it actually condemns. Like Jody I am willing to toss out idols that I didn't know I had if I realize that is what they are.

The first thing we should do is look at the commandment:

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath or in the water under the earthS"

If you simply take this excerpt of the commandment, it seems as if the creation of these "likenesses" and "graven images" is what God forbids. However, the text continues:

"Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous GodS"

The text continues to explain the jealous nature of God. As others have mentioned, God Himself instructed the creation of "graven [carved/sculpted] images" for decoration in the temple and on the Arc of the Covenant. Obviously God can make exceptions to rules He has imposed on mankind, but to understand the law we must look at how the example has been set.

The point that "Jeff" made is a good one, but I think many become confused when the topic of "idolatry" is brought up. Idolatry (in the general sense in which we are discussing it) was addressed in the first commandment:

"SThou shalt have no other gods before me."

Idol worship is addressed in the second commandment. We can all agree that Rock stars and Sport cars (and the food network) can be objects of idolatry. These, however, would be outlawed by the first, not the second, commandment.

God, being a jealous God, will also not tolerate our worship of Him by any means other than how He has ordered, thus, the second commandment.

For the sake of not going on any longer (and losing people) I will stop here, but I will continue on my blog. I think this is what Jodi is looking for, a break-down of the commandment explaining the logic behind statements that are being made. If we should not have pictures of our loved ones in our wallet, we just want to know why. Where in Scripture does that come from? Is God jealous of the picture? EtcS?

I hope I have not appeared to oppose one person and support another. I am not trying to take sides or pick a fight (though I like to fight). I am simply trying to get us to take an honest look at the commandments of God and identify what He has truly commanded.

Just to throw a bit of a wrench in the gears, take a gander at this:

Is it Scripture or Graven Image?


It's both a floor cleaner AND a dessert topping!

Eric, I'm pretty sure that's from a SNL sketch, but I can't recall the name of the product. :)

I just wanted to tell you David that I really appreciated this message(as well as most if not all of what you've written on images). God opened my eyes to this same passage quite a while back. I sit in church and I am grieved at all the images splashed around on the walls. During worship time the power point now puts religious types of pictures on the overhead. And I ask why. Does this enrich our worship experience? If not, then why are we doing it? But if so, then isn't this blatant idolatry? And wouldn't it be better to use this money that we use to decorate the inside of our church rather on helping to feed the poor? Of course, the church is not the building but the people. But the building is a physical symbol of what occurs within the hearts of the people. In our hearts we are more interested in making ourselves feel better, and in pursuing pleasures than we are to help those who are in need. We plaster images up on the walls of our hearts. Our distorted images of who we think God is rather than who He truly is. We think God is pleased with our "happy Joy in the Lord". Not realizing that His heart is actually grieving for the lost of the world and the sad state of the church. We exalt many "image"inations on the walls of our hearts that are opposed to the knowledge of God. We need to be sprinkled with Gods word so that we can cast these down and be conformed to the image of Christ.

Over a year ago God led me to destroy all of the physical images in my house. This had nothing to do with your website(I didn't even have the internet). This is something that God called me to do. Is this something that everyone needs to do? Will I be found to be preaching a religion that is full of saying, "do not taste, do not touch, do not look.."?

Something I have learned from being obedient in this area is how the spiritual reality is the heart of the issue. It is not about the images themselves, it is about the heart. But our images expose the conditions of our hearts.

Images to sinful man are like a loaded gun in the hands of a small child. Images are not sinful in and of themselves. They are nothing. They are powerless. They are wood and ink etc. The raw power of images therefore does not lie within the image itself but rather within the heart of the sinful man. So when I refer to the raw power of imagery, I am not referring to a power that is innate within the image itself, but rather the power that is bred within the heart of the beholder.

Idolatry can be committed without images. (For example, historically the stars have been worshiped. In modern times some worship their Harley's). But the raw power of images always has and always will, lead men into idolatry. This is why the making of images, and the setting up of them before you is prohibited. All of Gods laws were not given to inhibit men but rather to protect them from harming themselves and others.

We are not bound to a set of rules and laws in the new covenant. But Gods laws can be our schoolmaster. They expose to us what sin is. They expose to us the heart of God.

God may have a different calling for our lives. God has called me to abstain from physical images to a very great degree(to do so completely would be virtually impossible in our culture). But who am I to tell you that you must do what I am doing? Am I your judge?

John the baptist was called to wear camel skins. He was to abstain from fermented things. He ate wild locusts and money. Does that mean that we all have to do these things? No. Jesus, unlike John, came eating and drinking. God has a different calling for each of us.

However, just because we may not be called to wear camel skins, does not mean that we cant learn something from that practice. This garb would have been very itchy and uncomfortable. Probably to John it was used as a constant reminder to himself of his sins. Can we not learn something from that?

In the same way, I do not know what God is calling you to do with images, but you can at least learn something from what God has taught others about them. It seems that everybody wants a clear cut line and a steadfast rule. From the alphabet, to photocopies of witting, to voice recordings, to clothing patterns, to stick men. All these things can be labeled as images. Where does one draw the line? David cannot answer that Question for you, because David doesn't know where it is. But what David can tell you is that images have a very strong tendency to lead the heart of man astray into idolatry. And that our culture is absolutely obsessed with images which is a dead giveaway to the idolatry which is in its heart.

When I first got rid of my images I didn't know where the line was. What I did know is that God was calling me to destroy my images. Some of these things at the time, were quite obviously Idols to me in my heart. But others weren't so obvious. Must we insist on knowing where the line lies before stepping out in obedience? How about just starting to obey where God is convicting you?

To me, T.V, was an obvious god. It was a thing that I devoted much of my time to. Time better spent with my family or building Gods kingdom. It was a place where I would, in direct violation to Gods commands and the Spirits convictions, day in and day out put before my eyes wickedness in its many forms.

Something so innocent as a shampoo commercial. Look at the facial expressions that she makes. Now imagine that that woman was actually in your living room looking at you like that. How would that make you feel? How would that make your wife feel? Does it make it more acceptable that its an image? Sure, you may not be committing any physical adultery, but your heart is affected by these things. Without a doubt. Unfortunately most will not admit to such a thing, even to themselves, because they don't want to give it up. Because its more important to them to watch their favorite shows. Because, well,... because its their god. I challenge you to allow the Holy Spirit to have free reign in convicting you in this area. I hear Christians say that they would love to be able to hear the voice of God clearly. But they betray themselves. On the most basic level of their everyday lives they are clearly ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps if you started listening to His voice then your heart would become softer and you would start hearing Him more often and more clearly.

But of course most wont do this. Their movies and shows bring them too much pleasure. "...in the last days... men shall be... lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God"(2 Ti 3:1-2, 4)

Then of course I had my photo albums. Webster defines idolatry as "excessive reverence for or devotion to a person or thing". Did I excessively revere my photos? Let me ask you something, why do you sit there and stare and gaze at your photos? Why can we sit there for hours going through our photos smiling and giggling and laughing and crying along the way? Did you know that its just a piece of wood or plastic and ink? You do not think that we excessively revere that wood? That we are treating it as something more than a piece of wood? Why is it that if my house were to burn down, that one of my greatest losses would by my photographs? Why do we spend hours organizing them into photo albums? Why do we hang them on our walls? Why do we spend our time and money in scrap booking parties? Why is it so important to us to get professional photographers for our weddings? Why do we get our family pictures taken every year? Wouldn't that money be better spent feeding the needy? Jesus said that, "where you treasure is, there your will your heart be also". Where is our treasure? How much time and money do we spend on keeping our memories? From our cameras and developing(or photo paper), to our photo albums and picture frames, to our scrap booking parties, etc. Are our memories more important than the starving children of the world? What we're doing with our money gives our hearts away. Keeping our memories has become to us our god.

Where does Gods word ever tell us to keep our memories? Lots wife looked back and was destroyed. Paul says that we have to press on and run the race that is set before us. Jesus says that, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God". Besides sins, there are also "weights"(Heb 12:1) that weigh us down on our race. Weights that cause us to look behind instead of looking forward.

Why is it that whenever we look at old pictures that we always try to find ourselves in our pictures? Self worship. Why is it that we love to share our pictures at get togethers? Why is it that we love to talk about our favorite shows and movies? Because we love to share our idols with one another. What is that exhilarating feeling of unity that exists between those at a sporting event? It is a unity that exists between people when they share a god. Why is it that it is more fun to watch a T.V. show with someone rather than alone? Because of the fellowship that occurs when people get together to worship a common god.

Yes we do excessively revere these things. Do you think that one has to know that they are committing idolatry in order to do it? The New Testament says that covetousness(or, Greed) is idolatry. When one is living in covetousness, does he have to, by necessity,be willfully and knowingly worshiping a false god? No. Rather, the very fact that he is living in covetousness gives away what is in his heart. And that, we are told is idolatry. It is in the same way that murder is in the heart of a hater, or adultery in the heart of a luster.

What is North America coveting? Where is it spending its money? On the poor and needy? Where is the church spending its money? Where we spend our money, exposes what is in our hearts. North America is spending its money on its gods. Bigger and better. Cars, houses, boats, trips. Making our yards look better to please our neighbors(its all going to burn you know). Better silverware for our guests. People are dying out there! What business do we have spending Gods money on these petty things. They are our idols. We exalt them above Gods desires. They are plastered on the walls of our hearts.

And then theres the images. In the Old Testament they were warned not only to not worship idols, but also not to serve them. There is no doubt that the movie stars are an object of worship in our nation. Why are we serving these idols with our money? We are the ones supporting all these immoral activities. The film company's of which many in turn, go and support highly unbiblical causes using the money that we have given them. The actors of which for the most part are living very immoral lives. The television stations, including the lewd music videos and "soft" porn late at night, are all supported by our money, simply by paying our cable bill. The movie theaters continue to be in business because we give them our money(even though we may just watch the "innocent" shows). But because we give them our money, they are able to broadcast other much more ungodly shows. The "video rental stores" which have stacks and stacks of movies that blaspheme the name of Christ. We buy movies from Columbia House and support them with our money, probably not even realizing that by doing so we are supporting a company which also sells blatant pornography through its subsidiary company called "Hush". Why???? Why are we supporting all of these things with our money that God Himself has given to us as a resource for advancing the kingdom of light? Why? One reason, and one reason only. For our pleasures. The true follower of Christ should have nothing to do with these things.

Do you doubt the raw power of imagery? Why do you suppose that many companies invest millions of dollars into commercial advertising? Because it doesn't work? No. Because it does work. They know that it will cause you to covet(idolize) their product. They wouldn't spend their money this way if it didn't work. What about sign advertisements? What about the images that are plastered all over the products at the grocery store? Why will they have a see threw bag of chips and then splash an image of the chips onto the front of that bag? Because images have the power to throw our hearts into covetousness which... is idolatry.

We need our bigger, better T.Vs. We need a nice big entertainment unit. We need nice picture frames to surround our pictures. We need to place our photos neatly in our albums. This is nothing more or less than what the heathen have always done to their idols. They have always built shrines to encase their idols in. All throughout history, every nation has had its idols. Do we really think that here in our "enlightened" culture that we are exempt from this sin? No. Rather, we are so immersed in idolatry that we don't even see it! May God open all of our eyes!

I have briefly explained how our idolizing of images has led us into obsessive greed. Need I explain how they have -and do- lead us into lust? Homosexuality? Fornication? Murder? Deceit? Disobedience to parents? Is it not obvious that these wicked things have vastly increased with the advent of television? Romans 1:23 says that the heathens "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things". Our culture has clearly replaced its reverence of God with its reverence for corruptible things and its images of those things. It goes on to say "Wherefore", and "For this cause"(Rom 1:24,26) and then goes and lists all kinds of unclean wickedness. In other words, because they chose to worship that which was not God, they fell into idolatry, which led into all forms of wickedness. This is exactly what has occurred with the television. Romans 1 finishes off in verse 32, "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them". So I ask, What are you taking pleasure in? The things of God, or the things of this world?

The word "photography" comes from the Greek words phos (strongs #5457) and graphe (strongs #1124). Phos means "light" and graphe means "a writing, thing written"(Thayers). So "photograph" means a "light writing". Thats what a picture is, a writing(etching) made with light. But that isn't the only meaning of graphe. It also means a "..holy, authoritative collection of writings"(strongs). It is the word that is translated over 50 times in the New Testament as "scripture". In other words, it means "holy writings". "Holy" means "set apart". Something that is holy is elevated above other things. Which is really what photographs are. People cling so hard to their photographs. That is, they set them apart and elevate them above other things. If their house burned down would they be more sad about the loss of their bibles or their pictures. That is, what is really holy to them? For most, it is by far their "holy light writings".

It seems that when you start talking about images that everyone wants to know "what about the Christians who are involved with the arts"? Well I would ask, are you? Stop worrying about other people. They will stand or fall to God. So will you. Hows your conscience? Do you take pictures? If so, then you are sculpting images. What does God want you to do about that. Its between you and God.

When God opened my eyes to the idolizing nature of images, I was, at that time busy sculpting my idol. I didn't see it that way at the time, but now I see it so clearly. I had great aspirations and dreams to become a video game designer. Video games were a great love to me throughout my whole life and I had be designing my own for years. There were a lot of "evil" games out there, but there were also a lot of seemingly "neutral" games. I felt the war within me. Do I follow Christ, or do I follow this dream. So I came to the conclusion that I would follow Christ through my dream. I would become a video game designer and would then make "Christian" games that would share truth and spread the gospel through entertainment. I finally decided to do something about it. So I began to make my resume to a well known video game company. It was a written comprehensive book that detailed everything in the game. From the graphics, to the levels, to the play control, etc. Everything. And I had great fun doing it. I was very carefully sculpting every detail of my idol and I loved doing it. My dream would come true.

I was probably about 95% done this book. Then guess what happened. It was at this time that God intervened and began teaching me about images. God wanted me to deny myself. My dreams. My idols. He wanted me to follow Him. Only Him. He did not want me to compromise with the world in order to spread the gospel. Jesus says that if we don't love him more than our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, children, lands, houses,... EVERYTHING, then were not worthy to be his disciple.

So can a sculptor stop sculpting if God asks him to do it? Can a photographer? Can an artist? Can a stuffed animal maker? Can a movie director? Of course he can. Not only can he. If God calls him to forsake these things then he must. We must all deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow him. Whatever God requires of us, we must follow.

So maybe you don't feel the call to get rid of your images. I don't know. Thats between you and God. But please, I ask of you, if you don't, then please at least try to learn something from those of us who do have that call. If God convicts you on a certain point, then don't deny him. If you don't get rid of all of your images, then perhaps you want to consider at least not using them for pleasures. Perhaps you should at least stop contributing to the kingdom of darkness with your money. Perhaps you should take a crow bar to that wretched whore that you commit adultery with every day that sits in your living room surrounded by its shrine.

Or perhaps you should join us and become an iconoclast and tear down all your idols. Perhaps in destroying images that your unsure about, your eyes will be opened and you'll learn there dangers. Perhaps you'll see how Satan has especially tried to bombard our children with images. Their picture books, toys, stuffed animals and (i)dolls. How doing this to our children actually dumbs them down and robs them of a better way of learning. How it causes them to love things rather than people(my daughters (i)doll was named Tessie). How it leads into the vain hobby's of collecting things that we revere. How it perpetuates them into escaping from reality to live in a fantasy world. In other words, how it leads them straight into the idolatry of loving the things of this world.

Folks, we have a race to run. We have a war to wage. If Satan can distract you through your pleasures from that race, and from that war, then ... well then he has the victory in your soul and expands the kingdom of darkness. Lets stop arguing with one another and start learning from one another's callings and strengths. In order to let the enemy win, all we have to do is nothing. People, we need to pick up the sword which we've forgotten that we even have. If all we do is defend against the forces of darkness then we will only stay still or be pushed backward. We will never advance the kingdom of light. We have to stop compromising with the world.
What we need... is to be sprinkled with the blood of Christ and be convicted of our sins!

"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." (Eph 5:14)

I can be reached at sqr77@mts.net

God bless.

My comment was originally supposed to be posted to the February 15, 2006
Rude, Rustic and Unadorned... blog but it didn't work. That is the passage I am referring to though.

oops!... John the baptist ate locusts and HONEY, not locusts and MONEY! Lest anyone be confused by my error. I also noticed that it doesn't seem very clear when I am talking to David, or to others. To clarify, it is mostly in the beginning that I'm talking to David, and in the last half that I'm talking to other readers.

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