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Bible Q

Is it proper to worship in front of images?

Well, I assume that images means images of false gods, since there is no image of God. And I assume that the context is worshiping the real God in front of a false image (kind of like the Jacobite toast).

Well, a few passages spring to mind. Let’s start with Exodus 20:4:

“You shall not make for yourself a 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.”

This was part of the law of Moses. Does it apply to Christians today? How about Acts 15:28-29:

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

There is not a lot of point abstaining from food sacrificed to idols if you’re going to actually worship in front of them — though there are several reasons why this command to us might be narrower than that (briefly: perhaps this was really about blood, perhaps it’s about false worship, etc).

So I guess we shouldn’t do that. But hang on. How about this, from Naaman (2 Kings 5:18-19):

In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

I’ve never been sure how much we can conclude from this. Elisha said it was ok for him, but would it be ok for us? Perhaps in special circumstances? (such as the death of a family relative who worships false gods). Actually, Paul has quite a lot to say on this subject, with regard to eating food sacrificed to idols. If this is the same thing, then what Paul says is useful (Romans 14:13–15):

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

The original question said: “Please give the verse to support. Yes or no please give me the verse # and chapter.” Well, I don’t think the Bible says Yes or No. Instead, these verses give advice on how to decide whether appearing to worship false gods — gods that are not real — is a good idea or not. Personally, the concern that I not distress any of my brothers or sisters means that I greatly prefer not to appear to worship in front of images — it’s not like it does anything for me when I do.

5 Replies to “Is it proper to worship in front of images?”

  1. It could also be worth considering a couple of extra examples from the Old Testament. These are cases where people tried to use images of animals to represent God, which seems closest to the idea of worshipping the real God in front of an image. These examples both involve using golden calves.

    Exodus 32:1-10 gives the details of how the Israelites convinced Aaron to make a golden calf. Exodus 32:5-6 shows that Aaron intended the golden calf to be an image in front of which people could worship God, but God did not accept it that way. He said they were worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:8).

    The second is less simple and clear-cut, but still contains the same message. Jeroboam built two golden calves in 1 Kings 12:26-33. Jehu, a later king of the northern kingdom of Israel, worshipped God (2 Kings 10:16) and destroyed the worship of Baal in Israel (2 Kings 10:28), but he did not worship God very well. Instead, it is said of him that he was “not careful to walk in the law of the LORD the God of Israel with all his heart” (2 Kings 10:31). His failure? – he did not turn away from Jeroboam’s golden calves (2 Kings 10:30). It appears that he was trying to worship God through the golden calves in the same way as Aaron had suggested in the wilderness, but it was still no good. God did not accept that as proper worship of him.

    In the New Testament, at the Areopagus in Athens, Paul referred to an altar to an unknown God (Acts 17:23) and said he was proclaiming this God to them, but he never encouraged them to worship God through the other objects of worship that they had. Rather he emphasised that God is not like gold or silver – an image to be worshipped (Acts 17:29); images related to a time of ignorance, but that now God commanded people everywhere to repent of this (Acts 17:30).

    These passages suggest that trying to worship the true God through an image of something else is not acceptable as worship to God.

  2. Hi Mark

    This is a different sense – to me, that would be the question, “is it all right to worship an image?” As you say, there is much commentary in the Bible on that, and the answer is a flat no. I’d particularly add the bronze serpent to your list too.

    I interpreted this question differently – not, is it ok to worship images, but is it ok to worship God despite the presence of an image

  3. The question is veneration vs. substitution. Is the image (be it Christ, a biblical story, or saint) used for venerating, or bringing to mind a great respect for, the person or instance that it intends to? Bible believing Christians have taken stances on both sides of the issues.

    St. John of Damascus (c. 676 AD) clearly laid out the Eastern Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) stance regarding images (icons) as merely venerable objects to be worshiped. “The image is devised to guide us to knowledge” (St. John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Image, Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003, pg. 96). His also defends the use of the image of Christ by stating “Therefore I am emboldened to depict the invisible God, not as invisible, but as he became visible for our sake, by participation in flesh and blood” (p. 86). The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 affirmed this position within the church. The other side of the argument is best presented, in my opinion, by J.I. Packer in his seminal work, Knowing God. In answering the question of images in church, Packer says, “The problem is as soon as the images are treated as representational rather than symbolic, they begin to corrupt the devotion they trigger. Since it is hard for us humans to avoid this pitfall, wisdom counsels once more that the better, safer way is to learn to do without the, Some risks are not worth taking” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993, pg. 51). His point is, in light of God’s command against idolatry in Exodus 20, it’s safer to do without icons less we cross the line from mere veneration to idol-worship. Personally, I agree with Packer and we should take a “better safe than sorry” approach when considering images in churches today. That’s not to say they should be bland, white-walled prisons, but delicately and thoughtfully put together in such a way to ensure that temptation to worship anything else rather than the Most High God doesn’t take place. However, there are some beautiful Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches in the immediate area and for all intents and purposes, they are quite stunning in their artistic representations of the faith.

    While the use of icons is affirmed in classical Christianity, it is not specifically upheld or denied by Scripture and well meaning and faithful Christian brothers and sisters see the issue both ways. Less modern-day protestant believers start becoming puffed up about their lack of iconography in their churches, idolatry can happen in any evangelical church just as much as anywhere else. Just ask a handful of church-goers what their favorite things are about their church. You might be surprised to find the real reasons they choose to go (i.e. the pastor is a good speaker, the children programs are good, the worship style is more preferable, etc).

  4. Hi Cole

    Well, you bring out yet another perspective on what the question could be, and perhaps you are right – it’s certainly a different take on the question than my original take. I assumed that the question was about false Gods, not necessarily about icons/iconography.

    You say that the use of icons is not specifically denied by Scripture. But there is some comment about it. There are many verses that condemn the worship of images – any kind of images. Even images that were supposed to represent the one true God (per the golden calf, but the reasoning to support the idea that the golden calf was intended to represent God is too long and involved to go into here).

    On the other hand, there’s the intriguing story of the bronze serpent (Num 21:7 – 9) which is obviously an icon, and did lead to the trouble that your JJ Packer feared (2 Kings 18 : 4). But it points forward to Jesus, who is the image of God for us (lots of NT verses), with a pointed contrast to the beast and his image.

    I don’t really see how you can see the issue in both ways, therefore. On the other hand you’re quite correct that there’s lots of other ways to be idolatrous, and, of course, being puffed up is wrong, however one gets to that state.

    Though I wonder whether the reasons you nominate are actually bad reasons for the selection of a church. I chose my current one because the kid’s programs are good 😉

  5. Jesus is the image of God in spirit to us but the bible never even describe his eye color, color of his hair and not even if he was told, so what I mean all these artist who try to describe him in pictures are totally wrong, actually growing the hair is not recommended, there nothing overruling about it is just that Jesus even could get away easily in between all the people around when he had to escape, that tells you that he was not any different in looks besides other people and the only difference in him was his knowledge and authority and of course his power over everything and last but not least his hope in his messages and promises in his words and acts to us.