Monday, February 25

No Graven Image: Icons and Their Proper Use...

An anonymous commentator on my blog, recently wrote the following in response to my post on the icons added to our church this past week:

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 Exodus 20:4

My response comes from an article on this very topic:

"The first time I invited a particular Protestant friend to step inside an Orthodox Church, he looked around very slowly, carefully, cau­tiously. “It’s pretty,” he said, “but doesn’t the Bible warn against graven images?”

His reference, of course, was to the icons, painted images of Jesus Christ and His follow­ers who, through the centuries of our history as the Church, have been portrayed for all to see. Was he right in his concern?

That particular Church, like most Ortho­dox Churches, was very beautiful. And the Bible, specifically the Old Testament law, does say, “Thou shalt have no graven images” (Exodus 20:4, KJV). So, the question is, do those icons, those paintings portraying Christ, His Mother, the saints, and special biblical events, come under the category of graven images?

The history of icons and of their use in the Orthodox Church is not only fascinating but instructive. They are no new thing. Nor were they invented by an apostate medieval Church. The use of representations for instruction and as aids to piety goes back to the earliest centu­ries of the Church, and likely they were there in some form from the very beginning. Cer­tainly we know that even in legal-minded Israel, paintings and other artistic representa­tions used to help the people remember spiri­tual truth were not at all unknown.

In both the tabernacle and the later temples there were images used, especially of the cherubim. And a recently unearthed syna­gogue of the last few centuries before Christ has paintings of biblical scenes on its walls."

To read the article in it's entirety please go HERE.


Courtney said...

It might be helpful to your commenter to remember that in other parts of the Old Testament God commands and allows images to be made to assist in worship (Exodus 25:18-22; 26:1,31, Num. 21:8-9, I Kings 6:23-36; 7:27-39; 8:6-67). It is only when people began to worship the statues/images that there was a problem. God's commandment "thou shall not make a graven image" is entirely connected to the worship of false gods. God does not prohibit images to be used in worship, but He prohibits the images themselves to be worshiped.

In fact, if your commenter is taking Exodus 20:4 literally (and out of context), then I can only assume s/he also condemns the taking of photographs, drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. I don't know of any Christian denomination/sect/cult that prohibits all of these, although we know many Anabaptist groups refuse photographs.

Courtney said...

Read the article after I posted. I really like this:

"How one worships, you see, is a crucial concern for a Christian. And icons are central to Orthodox Christian worship. Not only do they help us to see the glory of God, but some icons, such as those of the saints, give us holy models to follow as patterns for our lives."


"Icons false images? Oh, no! For we do not picture the invisible, and we do not worship the icon. They are true images indeed, safely within the boundaries of the biblical tradition surrounding true worship. They engage the human eye in the worship and adoration of God. Saint John of Damascus summarizes the balance:

'I do not adore the creation rather than the Creator, but I adore the one who became a creature, who was formed as I was, who clothed Himself in creation without weaken­ing or departing from His divinity, that He might raise our nature in glory and make us partakers of His divine nature. . . .

'Therefore I boldly draw an image of the invisible God, not as invisible, but as having become visible for our sakes by partaking of flesh and blood. I do not draw an image of the immortal Godhead, but I paint the image of God who became visible in the flesh, for if it is impossible to make a representation of a spirit, how much more impossible is it to depict the God who gives life to the spirit?' (On the Divine Images, pages 15, 16)."

Everly Pleasant said...

I believe that another reason many Protestants chide the Orthodox churches for their so-called "graven images" is because they not only depict Christ but Mary and the apostles etc. This not only brings to mind the worship of images/idols but also the worship of other biblical characters other than God. Prayers to Mary or other saints are considered worshiping someone other than God to a Protestant and seems to contradict Luke 4:8 which says:
Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say'‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’
And that is my 2 cents

Alana said...

Ever ask a friend to pray for you?

That is all we are doing. Orthodox Christians worship God alone: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not worship Mary, nor do we worship the holy saints. We ask their intercessions, just like you might ask your friend at Bible Study to pray for you. We, too, ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us, and we remember our loved ones in prayer as well. It's the same thing.

According to the logic that Jesus is the only mediator (which he is in a salvific sense), taken the way protestants use it to discredit praying with the saints, one should never publish or make known prayer needs, or ask others to pray for one, nor should one pray for others.

The theological question at the root of this debate is: What do we believe the effect of the resurrection of Christ is on the state of those who have died? Are we all alive in Christ, or not?

If so, then we can gather together before the throne of God in prayer, as ONE Church encompassing those who have run the race and fought the good fight who are gathered as "a great cloud of witnesses" AND those of us still in the arena of this earthly life.

If not...well then, what's the point of all of this thing called Christianity?

Camelon said...

Interesting, but to take it a step back - the commandment does say 'Though shall not 'make for yourself' a graven image - not that thou shall not 'worship' a graven image. The prohibition against the worship of other gods is commandment one. If the commandment was merely against worship, then keeping idols around no matter their subject matter or usage would be fine. Is a statue of Mary or Peter, for instance, perfectly acceptable until someone starts offering her reverance and worship due only to God?

One can make the case that some pieces may be art. But what about the crowning of statues? The kneeling before crosses? The fact many people wear small 'graven images' around their necks.

Certainly, no one worships hopes. Only God is to be given reverence and glory, not metal or wood. But again, the command is that one should not 'make' such graven images - bowing to them is a different topic.

So the man who entered that church had a very good point.

Camelon said...

One of those verses (Num 21:4-9) is God commanding Moses to create a serpant on a pole - it was those who looked who were saved by faith (not, of course, the pole.) However, the brass piece was later worshipped by Israel as an idol.

"He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." 2 Kings 18:

Eventually things gifted by God can be turned into idols.

Most the other verses seemed to be dealing with the decoration of the temple, or objects in the temple with specific usages prescribed and detailed by God.

It would seem that what God prohobits is for man to take matters into His own hands and craft idols for Himself - or start worshipping anything God already made.

Although if one is looking for loopholes, the verse only specifically mentions graven images or carved images, and things fashioned after or made to look like things in the air, on the earth, or in the water.

'Art' is a different topic. Craftsmanship has been around since the old testament.

Perhaps the test for whether something is 'an artistic aid, perhaps helpful in teaching or inspirational' and 'a symbol, object, image or creation bordering on idolatry' is this:

When I interact with this (if it is a teaching aid), does it point to Christ? Does it point to God? Or does it point to itself, or a heavy mixture of itself and God?

Do I spend more time contemplating the truths about the gospel, redemption, and how to share the gospel or grow in Christ - or do I spend more time thinking about _________

If I cannot willingly give this up, (assuming it is not something commanded by God, like virtue, or a sensible nescessity like easting properly) am I holding on to tightly?

Is this thing I have made for the purpose of worshiping 'God' a likeness of something in the air(astrological sense, primarily, sky too), earth, or water? Why did I make it? Can I Biblically support my reason?

Some cases: Can I worship God *using* an idol?

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