The way idols work...

It seems to have occurred to no one else so I'll stick my head out and say it....

The Da Vinci Code has provided many with support for their rejection of Scriptural and ecclesiastical authority. And what is the most viscerally powerful argument in The Da Vinci Code's arsenal?

Not the apocryphal gospels of Thomas and Mary (otherwise the book's title would have reflected them), but the idol piece by Leonardo Da Vinci known as "The Last Supper."

Had the church of Jesus Christ not embraced that idol for centuries, had we not reproduced it time and again, implicitly stamping it with Christianity's imprimatur, the presence of that girly disciple to Christ's right would never have amounted to a hill of beans.

Dan Brown was able to make a viscerally (if not logically) powerful argument for Mary Magdalene as Christ's premier disciple not simply because Da Vinci painted an idol, but because the church has embraced Da Vinci's idol for centuries.

The attempt to distinguish between liturgical and non-liturgical use of icons is a distinction without a difference. Sooner or later icons will enter worship. But the commandment is not simply not to worship icons. The commandment is not to make them.



I'd be interested to know your thoughts on what EXACTLY constitutes idolatrous artwork. Which is to ask, where did Da Vinci go wrong, and more broadly, what is acceptable subject matter for the Christian artist who seeks to use their skills for the edification of the church and to draw all men to her in Christ?

David and others,

A better film to press this idea is the recently released The Devil Wears Prada. I heartily recommend it on a couple of levels.

It has no sex scenes, the language is -- by contemporary film standards -- very mild. The jaded will think there's none at all. The protagonist is quite a sympathetic character, and even the antagonist is one you can find yourself pitying while feeling truly grateful you're Not Like Her.

But, the most fascinating angle on the film is the way it tells the truth about image, identity, and the relationship between the two. If one wanted to "expound" an apologetic for the pernicious effects of idolatry, particularly as idolatry works through images, this is the film which says it all.

Fr. B

You've got to be kidding. The commandment cannot possibly be read as a prohibition of all images. If that is so, then all images of anything whatsoever in heaven, earth, or under the earth are prohibited.

Of course, you use the word "icons," but that simply prejudices the case. Technically, Da Vinci's painting was not created as an "icon." It was not made to be kissed or knelt before or used by the devout to pray to Jesus through. To my knowledge, it has never been used for that. It's a painting. A work of art.

Are you calling it an "icon" simply because it has Jesus in it? That would be an odd, idiosyncratic definition of an icon. Will you also label Rembrandt's paintings "icons" because they have Jesus in them?

After all, the second commandment does not say, "Thou shalt not make pictures of Jesus." Note well, please, that it doesn't even say, "Thou shalt not make pictures of God." What it says is, "You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them." It forbids all pictures or images of ANYTHING WHATSOEVER.

But not just in the abstract and in general; rather, for a specific purpose.

The phrase "you shall not bow down to them nor serve them" clearly qualifies the first part of the commandment which forbids the fashioning of images. Images may not be fashioned and utilized for a specific purpose. Yahweh may not be served or worshipped by means of "bowing down to" graven images.

After all, it is clear that the Israelites did, in fact, fashion carved and molten images in the likeness of things in heaven. To name just two examples: Cherubim were carved on the golden interior walls of the Holy Place in the Temple (1 Kings 6:29 ), and the faces of the cherubim decorated the "water chariots" outside in the courtyard (1 Kings 7:28ff.).

They also made images of things on earth. Consider these obvious examples: pomegranate trees on the walls of the tabernacle and temple (1 Kings 6:29), twelve oxen holding up the brazen sea (1 Kings 7:23-25), a lampstand with bowls carved to look like almond blossoms (Ex. 25:33, 34; 37:19, 20), and lily blossoms crowning the two capitals at the entrance of the Temple (1 Kings 7:22).

If that were not enough, all of these carved images (1 Kings 6:29) decorated the environment of worship! If the presence of these carved images in the environment of the tabernacle and temple was not a violation of the second commandment ("you shall not make for yourself any carved image") then this first part of the commandment cannot be made into an absolute prohibition of all images without reference to their use!

The commandment, then, very clearly mandates that God ought not to be served by bowing down to any image--any humanly fashioned, artistic medium. Liturgical acts of reverence performed before or two human artifacts is prohibited.

Consequently, if the Da Vinci's Last Supper were being in this way (people bowing down to it, talking to Jesus by means of it, etc.) then a simple appeal to the second commandment would suffice. The second commandment forbids "bowing down to" and "serving" humanly crafted images. The commandment, therefore, clearly forbids "bowing down to" and "serving" artistic representations of Jesus.

But it says nothing about creating artistic representations for other uses. Da Vinci did not paint "an idol." He painted a picture. And if this is the way Christians are going to respond to the DV Code, then we will deserve the ridicule of the world.

Preach it, David! You're right as rain, so you are.


The problem with your argument (and I don't have the solution) is that you're not making a distinction between the first and second commandment.

On the one hand, we're not to have any gods before God (like money or comfort or Baal - 1st commandment) and on the other and, we're not to make any idols (like Baal - 2nd commandment).

What does the Bible mean when it says make an idol. I make money an idol, but I don't make money.

If it just means we're not to fashion with our hands, objects for worship then you are being as prejudiced as David when he says icon. What is an object fashioned for use in worship? And can YOU make it and not worship it (so it's okay) but I do (so it's not)?

We have to separate the first and second commandments.

Unless, there are actually only nine.

I'm not trying to pick a fight, Jeff. We're all in this together.


I don't understand your point. I DO think there are TWO commandments. And the second forbids in the strongest language possible acts of liturgical reverence toward any human artifacts. That is why I believe that bowing to crosses, communion wafers, pictures, icons, statues, or any other image or symbol is liturgical idolatry and a violation of the second commandment.

I don't believe for one moment, however, that making a cross is idolatry. A cross is a symbol. A painting of Jesus reclining at table with his 12 disciples is a work of art. A painting is art. it may be bad art. It may be misused in an iconic fashion. But the painting itself is not automatically idolatrous. The second commandment forbids reverential acts toward these human artifacts.

You write:

>If it just means we're not to fashion with our hands,
>objects for worship then you are being as prejudiced
>as David when he says icon.

Huh? What I am saying is that the commandment explicitly condemns "bowing down to them" or "serving" these images. It does not prohibit making paintings or pictures or other forms or art.

Again, I will call your attention to the fact that the commandment does NOT say anything about pictures of God.

If anyone wants to insist that the second commandment clearly forbids every kind of image of God or Jesus whatsoever, no matter how it may be used, then one must logically deduce from the precise language of the second commandment that all pictures of anything whatsoever "in heaven, on earth, or under the earth" are prohibited, regardless of their intended use.

In other words, if one does not restrict the meaning of the second commandment with regard to the intended use of the range of images mentioned, then all pictures of anything whatsoever will be idolatrous, including blueprints of houses, all photographs, and your child's stick-figure doodles as well. There's no getting around it.

The commandment does not restrict the prohibition against images to representations of God! The commandment prohibits all representations of anything whatsoever. But once you understand that the second commandment intends to debar anyone from worshipping God by means of any image created by man, then the question of the legitimacy of other uses for representations must be determined from other Scriptural passages and principles.

I'm not sure how I can be any clearer.

The Bible contains examples of where God commands the use of images. Someone on my church's Yahoo Group made the point that, in Numbers 21:8-9, God commands Moses to make a brass serpent which the Isrealites would look upon and be healed. However, when the Israelites sinned before God by burning incense to the serpent, King Hezekiah destroyed it in II Kings 18:1-4.

For David's previously articulated response to Scott's argument see "Imagery and Worship, A Simple Request" from September 23, 2005.


Of course the Fifth Commandment doesn't prohibit all killing. What it prohibits is murder. Killing is permitted in self defense, in war, and is commanded when it comes to executing criminals.

I think that, and the follow-up comment, is a straw man argument. As Jeff Meyers said, you will eliminate ALL art and images if you take a hard-line position on this. Even the picture of Tim & David on this blog's front page could be considered a violation of the Second Commandment - it is a "likeness of anything... that is in the earth beneath", after all.

Brothers and Sisters,

The alien quality of a command or the hardship it entails do not invalidate it. The logic which says, "If we read this Scriptural command at face value we can't do XY and Z, yet everyone does XY and Z, therefore we must read the command through the lens of XYZ," is the logic of, among others, evangelical feminists and pro-sodomites in mainline denominations.

"Be ye holy as I am holy," is an overwhelming challenge. If we respond by making reasonableness and grace our hermeneutic, we are no longer living as children of God. Grace comes at the point of failure, not at the point of reception.

Jeff, I'm surprised that one who finds so much that is normative for worship today in the worship of the children of Israel can't discern a pattern of rejection of the creation of images of God in the practice of OT believers.

We can move beyond images of God into all images--and I've done so in previous posts--but at the core level of embracing images of the Divine, you're defying not only the Westminster Standards but the uniform teaching and practice of Scripture.

Personally, I would rather be thought a fool than promote images of Christ or the Father. I've been thought a fool for worse. If I wished to avoid "the ridicule of the world," I should never have entered the ministry of the Word.

Simply reading the text is so important in issues like this.

Jeff, I believe you've subsumed the imperative not to make icons, graven images, with the imperative not to have any other gods before Him. These are separate imperatives. Yet you make them indistinguishable. Even if you view them as part of the same second commandment--as I join the historic Jewish interpretation in doing--they require very different things. In the same way, not bowing down to graven images is a distinct imperative from the preceding two. Yet I fear you conflate all three into one.

In Christ,

David Bayly

It doesn't make any sense to hold up Leo's "girly disciple" as an example of why one shouldn't depict Christ. It's an example of why one shouldn't paint girly disciples.


I don't entirely disagree;)


Eric, I'm laughting heartily.

David: so let me get this straight. You believe that the second commandment forbids the making of all images of anything whatsoever?

You violate the commandment with that picture of you and your brother on this blog.

You write:

>Jeff, I believe you've subsumed the imperative
>not to make icons, graven images, with the
>imperative not to have any other gods before Him.
>These are separate imperatives. Yet you make them >indistinguishable.

What in the world? I just made I clear that I do separate them. Are you so intent on making me a Romanist that you just won't accept what I say at face value? There are two commandments, not one.

The second commandment has to do with bowing to and serving images. It is not a prohibition against art and symbolism. The first commandment is about idolatry proper. The second about liturgical idolatry.

For the sake of the discussion, let's say the picture on our blog is my own responsibility--not David's. And since I'm not willing to budge, the debate can continue without that particular complication.

And by the way, Jeff, I changed your comment from being addressed to me, to the proper author, David.

David: Sorry about the misattribution. It's hard for me to keep you two straight. ;-)

My question still stands: Does the second commandment forbid all artistic representations no matter what the purpose or use might be? If you separate the "you shall not bow down to them or serve them" from the first part, then I don't see any other option.

If that is your position, then come out and say it. If it's not, then please clarify what you mean by your assertions. They are apt to confuse the faithful.

By the way, just to make myself clear, I am not a crypto-Romanist or a closet high church (Anglo-Catholic) Episcopalian. Nor am I nursing some secret love for the Greek or Russian Orthodox church. I emphatically affirm that bowing down to crosses, genuflecting to wafers or bread or goblets of wine, praying to or kissing icons is flagrant idolatry, a violation of the second commandment.

That is not a very popular position. I've been raked over the coals for this on numerous occasions. But I believe the warning appended to the second commandment refers to just these practices. People that engage in these acts of liturgical idolatry, as the commandment says, are expressing their hatred for the true God and He will visit this iniquity upon them to the third and fourth generation.

The same judgment ought not to be leveled against artists, Sunday school curricula illustrators, and the like. And it goes without saying, then, that taking pictures of family and friends, painting landscapes that include things in the sky, the earth, and under the earth, and all other forms are artistic representation are not idolatrous.

It is striking to me that people so easily believe Dan Brown's deceptions. How can someone believe him, he wasn't there. Leonardo Da Vinchi wasn't there. He painted what he thought the last supper would have looked like. The Bible says that at the last supper, Jesus gathered in the upper room with the twelve. It gives no mention of Mary being present. Also, if Da Vinchi painted Mary and not John next to Jesus then where was John. If John was missing when Jesus prophesied that he would be betrayed then it would have definitely been mentioned that John was not there. But the one person that was not there was Dan Brown. The writers of the Gospel on the other hand were there and they gave an accurate account of what happened.


The only difference between your position and David's is that he's refusing to allow the second half of the second commandment to be explained by the first half of it just as strenuously as you are refusing to allow the second commandment in its entirety to be explained by the first. Your distinction between "idolatry proper" and "liturgical idolatry" is exactly parallel to the one David suggests between purposeful idolatry and the incidental idolatry he suspects may attend all use of images. Except that he isn't nearly as willing to conclude that you hate God as you are to conclude the same thing about me.

Let's try that first part again, with the logic in the right order:

The only difference between your position and David's is that he's refusing to allow the FIRST half of the second commandment to be explained by the SECOND half of it just as strenuously as you are refusing to allow the second commandment in its entirety to be explained by the first.

The girly disciple and potentially iconic painting has nothing to do with the success of the DaVinci Code. It is an entertaining book and movie. That's all. As a person who grew up in a household with the ubiquitous "Last Supper" reproduction on the wall (a metallic relief version if I remember correctly) in an independent Baptist household, I can assure you that under no circumstances was it anything more than a representation of a sacred event. There was no iconic significance to it whatsoever, and all the non-Catholic households into which I've been treated it the same way. It's just an entertaining movie! Have you heard a SINGLE theological argument which utilizes The DaVinci Code? I think not. If a person is truly swayed by that film/book then their faith is built on sand and there was likely no chance they'd buy into a fundamentalist agenda anyway. You people need to learn how to choose battles. And enjoy a fun story.

Eric: That's the "only difference"? Hardly. David has condemned the painting by Da Vinci as idolatrous. I think it is a work of art.

I believe the second commandment does not condemn artistic and symbolic representation. He seems to think it does. But he's not being very forthcoming and plain about his position.

And, Eric, if David is consistent about his interpretation of the commandment, he will have to say that the awful warning appended to the second commandment applies to all those who make artistic representations of anything whatsoever. That would include you, me, Da Vinci, and Rembrandt.

I'm not the one who linked bowing down to and serving images with hating God. Yahweh did. Otherwise, why was the warning put with THIS commandment? It could very easily have been added at the end of the list as a whole.

I didn't conclude that YOU hated God. I don't know you. What I said was liturgical acts of reverence before images, statues, an icons are expressions of hatred toward God. Those who love God and learn that this is the case ought to be horrified and desist from these devotional and liturgical acts.


My point is that the difference you just reiterated is a symptom of the difference I just noted. That's your real disagreement with David: is 2a supposed to be understood solely in light of 2b, or is it a separate stipulation? And your real disagreement with me is: is 2 supposed to be understood in light of 1, or is it a separate stipulation?

I'm a Lutheran. Each Divine Service begins with the procession of a crucifix, and I bow as it passes. I bow when approaching the altar. I witness the consecration of the bread and wine on my knees, and receive the holy body and blood of Christ in the same position. You don't know me, but you did say I hate God. I don't think I need to lay the syllogism out for you.

Well Eric, with reference to your 3:56 PM post today--up there a ways--you've had me chuckling twice in the same day, a new record for me when reading comments.


Eric: I don't know you, but I can sympathize. I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church (LCMS). I attended Lutheran grade school and high school. Some time after my M.Div at Covenant I spent 9 years in graduate school at LCMS Mecca (Concordia, STL). When I'm on vacation I mostly visit the local LCMS church and worship there. All this is to say that I know, respect, and love many Lutheran men and women.

I do not say that you or my local Lutheran pastor hates God. I will say again that I believe that the liturgical acts of bowing before human artifacts (crosses, etc.) is an expression of hatred toward God. That's what the second commandment says, not me. I believe that many men who do these things love God but either don't know or are not convinced that the Bible teaches these things.

After all, I too repeatedly engage in many sins that are objectively expressions of hatred toward God. I must confess and be forgiven every Lord's Day. So PERFORMING these acts is, I believe, inconsistent with one's loving commitment to God.

Then, too, there are degrees of failure on this score. The Greek and Roman churches practices are much more egregiously idolatrous than the Lutherans. I grant that.

That is my conviction. I mean no personal animosity toward you.


Actually, I cast my lot with the Jewish interpretation of the Decalogue which views the Roman Catholic and Protestant prologue to the Decalogue ("I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery") as the first commandment. The Jewish second commandment is Protestantism's first and second commandments.

You can't understand the prohibition of graven images without understanding the prior prohibition of false gods. But gods are distinct from graven images. Graven images are gateways to gods. They are images, not gods.

Of course these imperatives are linked. You'd be a fool to deny it. But Jeff tends to see gods as graven images and graven images as metaphors--reversing the obvious roles of gods and graven images--while Eric thinks there's no graven image when it's to the One True God.

What I don't understand is whether Eric thinks any graven image is ever sinful and whether Jeff thinks any image of the One True God is inherently sinful, or if sinful only in use, what causes an image to rise to the level of idolatry.

In Christ,


P.S. I went to a LCMS funeral last week. Does that make me nice? I even attended an LCMS school and went through their confirmation classes in 7th and 8th grade.... But I don't visit LCMS churches while on vacation.

This whole conversation is bizarre. I ask questions and challenge statements made in the blog entry and don't get any clear answers, only tangential pontifications. Apparently, you guys think that if you ignore my objections and arguments and respond with cleverly worded and sarcastic comments that people will forget the real issues. It seems you respond immediately to any comments that make you all chuckle. The whole thing is just weird.

David: The Jews have a divided tradition how to number the commandments. It's not as simple as you make it sound. Post-NT Rabbinic tradition favors treating v. 2 ("I am Yahweh your God. . .") as independent declaration on par with the rest of the 9 "words." But older sources (Philo and Josephus, for example) make v. 3 the first word and vss. 4-6 the second (the Protestant way of numbering). Indeed, most commentators believe that pre-AD 70 Judaism numbered the commandments like Protestants do.

>Jeff tends to see gods as graven images and graven images
>as metaphors--reversing the obvious roles of gods and graven >images--while Eric thinks there's no graven image when
> it's to the One True God.

What? I understand what a false god is. And I also understand that anything in creation can substitute for the true God (Rom. 1:25). Exod. 20:3 forbids "having" (marriage language) any other god. It's about switching out the true God for a false one, and idol. And, yes, anything can become an idol. One can love and trust all sorts of non-Divine created objects and ideas. That's idolatry proper.

Then there's Exod. 20:4-6, which has to do with the manner in which we worship. Even the true God, Yahweh, may not be worshipped by means of bowing down to or serving images.

In the record of the history of Israel we learn that sometimes they worshiped Baal (violating both the first and second word) or other foreign gods, but they often worshipped Yahweh by means of images and so violated the prohibition of vss. 4-6.

Does that clarify things?

Okay. Now. You began your original post with the claim that Da Vinci's Last Supper was a violating of the commandment (whichever way you want to divide em up). That is still the issue. And you have not yet even come close to answering the question I've asked over and over again.

Do you believe that all human artifacts and images are idolatrous? If you say that it is only images of God, then I will again remind you that the language of the decalogue does not say anything like this. It says you cannot make images of anything. And if you separate the "bowing to" and "serving" from this, then you are left with an radical Islamic interpretation that forbids all human representational art, including photographs.

The commandment does not restrict the prohibition against images to representations of God! The commandment prohibits all representations of anything whatsoever. But once you understand that the second commandment intends to debar anyone from worshipping God by means of any image created by man, then the question of the legitimacy of other uses for representations must be determined from other Scriptural passages and principles.

That's about it for me.

David writes, "Eric thinks there's no graven image when it's to the One True God."

That's not quite right. The golden calf was devoted to the God who rescued the people from Egypt, and it was indisputably an idol. Also, I consider any graphic representation of the Father or the Spirit (not counting the dove, though the dove needs to be understood symbolically and not as the Spirit's true form) to violate the 2nd commandment. But since the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we may confess this holy and blessed mystery by picturing the man who is God.


Don't worry, I'm not suspecting personal animus from you, I'm just trying to understand you. If I don't hate God, as you now say, then what hatred of God am I expressing when I bow to the crucifix? How can I express a hatred I do not possess?

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