Saturday, January 19, 2013


Deuteronomy 4: 15-19 - You saw no form at all on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire.  Be strictly on your guard, therefore, not to degrade yourselves by fashioning an idol to represent any figure, whether it be the form of a man or a woman, of any animal on the earth or of any bird that flies in the sky, of anything that crawls on the ground or of any fish in the waters under the earth. And when you look up to the heavens and behold the sun or the moon or any star among the heavenly hosts, do not be led astray into adoring them and serving them.  These the Lord, your God, has let fall to the lot of all other nations under the heavens.

Why were the Jews forbidden in Deuteronomy to make images?

Because being corrupt and stiff-necked, they had a strong tendency to worship the idol rather than God.  Looking up at the sky, they were easily enticed to worship the stars.  God's prohibition is like forbidding an alcoholic to touch wine because of his evil tendency of getting drunk.  But for the sober there is no such prohibition.

What happened at Sinai?

At Horeb, Moses saw no form.  God had no form, so God told the Jews not to represent him in any image, because having no form, any representation would be erroneous.  But the Jews disobeyed and attempted to represent God ... of all things as a calf!  This was their first mistake.  But their second mistake was worst.  They worshiped the calf, not God.  The stiff-necked people rose up and asked Aaron: "Come make us a god."  Having made the calf, they ate and drank saying in their folly.  "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt."  They worshiped the calf as their God; it was not at all a mere image of God.

The prohibition, since God had no form, does not apply in the New Testament because God had taken the visible form of man; so now we can depict Him as he conversed with man.

God forbade the making of images for the weak but not for the strong.  In fact, God made an image of Himself - man.

Genesis 1: 27 - God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

He ordered the making of images as the brazen serpect.

Numbers 21: 8 - The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."

Statue of Saint John Bosco
"Honor given to images is honor given not to them but to the prototype which they represent so that by honoring the image we really adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likeness the image represents."

Statue of Martin Luther 

What if someone behead and destroy Martin Luther's statue. And the one who destroys it will just say "It's only a statue (or a stone or a wood or cement), there's nothing wrong if it is destroyed. Martin Luther has long been gone, there is no need for a statue, just use your imagination."

What if someone spit on my picture, trample it, and then explain, "Hey, I'm only spitting on your picture, nothing personal.  I'm only spitting on a photographic paper, not you." That someone may not be spitting on my actual face but he is spitting on a photographic paper with my image on it. That picture which bears my image represents me, it is STILL me.
Coin bearing Leo's image
During the 8th century (717-741), Leo III The Isaurian, decreed that the making of religious images was against the orthodox religion.  He had all the images confiscated, burned the wooden ones and melted the metal ones into coins with his image.  Then one day, a monk named Stephen went to Leo and presented a coin bearing Leo's image.  He asked him, "Sire, whose image is this?" Leo answered, "It is mine."  Then Stephen threw the coin down and trampled it.  Leo had him seized and condemned to a painful death.  Stephen's last words were: "If I am punished for dishonoring the image of the emperor, what punishment is in store for those who dishonor the image of Christ and His saints."

The image of Christ is meant to remind us of His love, life and sufferings and our obligation to love Him in return by obeying His commands.  The images of Mary and the saints are meant to remind us of how they loved God and obeyed the commands of Christ.

The confusion and misinterpretation of God's Old Testament command was partly caused by the word used:  Proskinesis, which described everything from adoration to veneration, to mere friendship.  Even in English, the words adoration, worship and veneration mean the same thing.

So St. John of Damascus used Latreia for absolute worship of God and Proskinesis for the veneration given to saints, relics and images.

Photo attribution: 

Statue of Martin Luther
cc photo by Robert Scarth on flickr

Coin bearing Emperor Leo's image
cc photo from Wikimedia Commons
____________________________________________ Sources:

The sources are from Winnowing Fan which is owned and copyrighted by S of G Foundation.  The publishing of the above article in part is permitted without written authorization.

Bible verses are supplied by the author.

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