Friday, July 06, 2012

Images and Pictures of Jesus Christ Forbidden by Scripture

Historically, Baptists have rejected the use of all images in worship, including images of Jesus Christ.  The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states:

The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. (Chapter 22:1)

In this prohibition of images of all kinds, including those of Jesus Christ, historic Protestant documents agree. For example, the Westminster Larger Catechism states:

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

As noted by the Catechism, the second commandment is central to the question:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

Here God forbids any to worship Him with “pictures . . . [or] images” (Num 33:52).  This prohibition forbids the making of any picures of God Himself, as well as practices such as bowing down before statues or pictures (Ezekiel 8:10), even with the intent to worship God, not them.  John 4:24 says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”  All physical images of God necessarily misrepresent Him—as an invisible Spirit, He is immaterial and cannot be pictured.  The Lord commands mankind to offer Him spiritual worship as commanded in His Word, not worship with images. Since Jesus Christ is God, no images of Him should be made.  The Trinity is undivided, and prohibitions of images of God include not God the Father and God the Holy Ghost only, but also God the Son.  Furthermore, no image could be made to represent Jesus Christ’s Divine nature, since that is invisible and spiritual.  Nor can any image correctly represents the awe-inspiring glorified body He received after His resurrection.  One who saw His glorified humanity fell at his feet as dead (Revelation 1:10-18);  no image can make this happen.  No image correctly represents His human nature during His earthly ministry, for the Bible records nothing of His appearance at that time (compare 1 Peter 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:16).  Besides, Christ’s human nature is not divided from His Divine nature;  He is one Person with two natures, and no image can, therefore, correctly represent Him as the Person He is.  The common pictures of Christ with long hair are even worse—indeed, they are a Satanic attempt to imply that He was sinful, since “if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him” (1 Corinthians 11:14).  If you have attempted to worship God using images, including images of Christ, you have broken the second commandment—and worship with an “image . . . the LORD thy God hateth” (Deuteronomy 16:22).  Rather than making pictures of Christ, view Jesus Christ in His ineffable glory by faith through the Word—for then the Holy Spirit will progressively change you into His moral likeness (2 Cor 3:18).  Do not degrade Christ by making or using images of Him.  Do not have such images in your house. Do not use images of the Son in children’s ministries.  You can either cover up pictures of Him if you use children’s curricula that have such images, or use a curriculum—such as this one—that does not contain them.  Do not use such images for any other purpose in God's church.  If you have done so in the past, not having thought about whether what you were doing was right, now is the time to confess your sin (1 John 1:9) and stop.  From this point forward, do not make, use, condone, promote, or contribute in any way to the use of images of the Son of God.

For more information, note the resources here.



d4v34x said...

Point well taken about images of God and, specifically, Jesus, in worship or otherwise, but does merely covering or omitting pictures of Jesus from Children's cirricula really comply with this principle if used in a Sunday School or Children's Church setting? Don't those images pose problems as well?

Thomas Ross said...

Dear D4,

I agree that it would be better to not have the images in the curriculum at all, but if a church comes to a conviction against images of Christ and has a curriculum already that has such images, I think if they cover/black out/cover with paper, etc. the images of Christ, but keep using the rest of a storybook that has stories about Daniel and the lion’s den, the apostles, etc. I think that is not sinning.
I think that the difference between making a picture of Christ versus, say, Jonah and the whale is very significant. First, Jonah does not have a Divine nature that cannot be pictured, nor is he one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Second, a picture of Jonah preaching in Nineveh is not designed to cause reverence. If a page with a picture of Jonah fell out of a storybook and someone accidentally stepped on the picture, it would not be a big deal—nobody would care, except for the fact that a page in the storybook was damaged. On the other hand, if someone accidentally stepped on a picture of Christ, it would cause those who were not opposed to such images to think that taking such a step was a dangerous sin. The image of Christ is supposed to engender love and other holy affections—which is idolatry when caused by the image, rather than by a true view of the Son of God by faith—while the image of Jonah is not. There are other differences. If one doesn’t want to use any pictures of any Bible character at all in any church setting, that is certainly just fine, but a picture of Enoch and of the Son of God are not the same.
By the way, reverence can be stirred up by images of Christ—or images of pagan gods—for one can enflame himself with idols, Isaiah 57:5. The Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox individual who is filled up with all sorts of affections by worshipping in front of his image of Jesus Christ, or Mary, or in front of eucharistic bread, etc. is having a real religious experience, although not a Christian one, just as is the Hindu who is stirred into a frenzy in front of his image of the blue elephant god or a snake.

d4v34x said...

Ah, I see the distinction you are making re: the inspiration of reverence notion and and unimaginable Divine essence.

In your opinion, would the RPW apply for cirriculum imagages?

Thomas Ross said...

Dear D4,

I think the regulative principle would apply in anything that is worship, and an image of Christ, if it is not designed to excite reverence for and love for Christ, is (at best) useless and a misrepresentation of Christ, while if it is designed to excite such love and reverence, it is sinful. If one covers up/blots out/erases an image from a curriculum, it is not really in the curriculum anymore, and the kids don't see any image of Christ. At my mother's house, when we dug up the garden, we found an idol of a Roman Catholic "saint" buried in the ground to help the grass grow. We threw the idol away, and the garden was just fine. We were not promoting idolatry by having a garden that used to have an idol in it. If one gets rid of images from an otherwise good curriculum, I don't think it is sinful to use such a curriculum, although those who publish it and produce the images have a different matter on their hands.

Matthew said...

Thanks for this post!

Anonymous said...

I am shocked by this discovery. Images of Jesus are not allowed. I have adored Jesus' picture for years. I do have them in my home. Now, I am learning, it is forbidden in the Bible to have them. I was just at my stepdadms church and not only were their pictures of Jesus but also of his mother Mary and a wooden statue of the cruxified Jesus. I have a mini Nativity scene with a baby Jesus and Joseph and Mary in it. I am sad to learn that those things I had such high regard for, are not to be kept in my home or condoned at all in my life. All my life, I have revered them and now, I have to turn my back on what I thought was right. For God, I will do this and pray that HE forgive me and help me to leave those former beliefs in my past. I feel so shaken by this revelation, because everything I must get rid of, gave me such joy in the past. Does anyone understand how I feel?

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your honest confession. While I know practically nothing about you and this may already be taken care of in your life, I would encourage you to check out the resources that show you that you can be 100% for sure that you have eternal life at:

Thanks for commenting.

KJB1611 said...

By the way, I thought this was interesting concerning pictures of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John:

"From a comparison with Hellenistic representations of ancient Greek poets and philsophers, it appears that Christian artists, who had no knowledge of the likenesses of the Evangelists, adopted and adapted familiar portraints of pagan authors in contemporary art. According to the investigations of A. M. Friend, Jr., all the early Chrsitian portraits of the Evangelists go back to two main sets of four portraits each: one set was of the four philosophers Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, and Epicurus and the other set was of the four playwrights Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophenes, and Menander" (pgs. 43-44, The Text of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger & Bart Ehrman, 4th ed.)

Also, the evangelistic site mentioned is now at, which is vastly improved over:

Unknown said...

How did you miss the point. No one is to use images of any kind.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Mr. Leach,

If you think the 2nd commandment forbids using maps, pictures of Jerusalem, etc. when teaching the Bible, don’t violate your conscience. However, that simply is not what is being forbidden. Thanks.

KJB1611 said...

The link above to:

is now: