Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

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Question: What are graven images when it pertains to pictures or statues of Christ? Is it wrong to hang them in our homes or have them in our churches? Is it wrong for us to paint them or sculpt them? I had a friend share an awesome video that prompted someone to attack them and tell them how sinful they were for worshiping a graven image, even if that image was of Christ. He said we are not to try and capture the image of Jesus.

Answer: I do not believe that this is what the commandment refers to. The commandment in Exodus 20:4,5 reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” The problem was trying to represent the invisible God with some image that enabled the worshiper to capture the essence of who God was and so manipulate Him into giving the worshiper what the worshiper wanted. Many times the image of a bull (representing strength and virility) or a cat (representing wisdom) or some other animal was represented. This is the sin of idolatry.

Jesus came as a human being and we do not know what he looked like, but we know he looked like a man. There is no “graven image” we could make of him to represent him in a way that “captures” his essence in a way that we can use to manipulate Him. If we resort to worshiping such a representation then we have crossed over into idolatry. We are investing the image with some spiritual power to get God to act on our behalf.

Interestingly, this issue was one of the sources of conflict and separation between the western church (represented by Rome) and the eastern church (represented by Constantinople). They are known today as the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox congregations made a lot of use of “icons” or paintings of Jesus and Biblical scenes. The Roman church accused them of idolatry. This was also an issue of whose authority the churches would obey. The western church insisted that the Pope was the leader of all the churches, but the Orthodox churches obviously disagreed. It led to the great schism between the two around 1,000 A.D. and the solidification of variant views of what constituted Christian orthodoxy. Protestants have historically shied away from any use of images or statues, though they have utilized stained-glass images quite frequently. Most Protestants have no problem with a picture of Jesus in their homes or churches. I would suggest that your friend’s attacker is a bit on the fringe of things with his belief.

Randall Johnson


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