TFan has posted a reply to my post on the 2nd commandment. Before proceeding, I wish to clarify the scope of my arguments. I’m not making a case for pictures of Jesus. I’m not defending (or opposing) pictures of Jesus. I’m not even defending (or opposing) the permissibility of such pictures.
Rather, I’m simply assessing the quality of certain objections against pictures of Jesus. And I’m only discussing this because some people found a post at Tblog objectionable on that score. That’s where my interest in this topic begins and ends.
Since I’m not Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox, the presence or absence of such depictions is entirely detachable from my day-to-day piety.
Steve makes an argument that is similar to the argument that John of Damascus used to justify the making of images of Jesus. The argument boiled down is that the absolute prohibition on making representations of God was limited to the time before the incarnation.
There is one critical flaw in this argumentation: Theophanies. Whether or not Moses saw something capable of depiction, other men did. Those men lived before Moses, such as Abraham, and after Moses, such as Joshua saw the Lord in human form.
Rather than treating the comment "for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire" as being the reason why the commandment was imposed, may I suggest to Steve that a better way to understand it is in reverse. To avoid fanning the idolatrous temptations of the Israelites, God did not reveal Himself to them in any form. The formless revelation of God, therefore, is an object lesson to how He wishes to be honored: without images made by man.
i) I’m afraid I don’t see how this argument hangs together. It’s true that at Sinai, God didn’t appear in human form to the Israelites. However, Exodus is studded with visual theophanies, some of which are directed at large groups as well as individuals, viz. the burning bush, pillar of smoke/fire, Shekinah, theophanic angelophanies, thunder and lightening, and visions (Exod 24:9-11).
So if the rationale for the 2nd commandment is simply to “avoid fanning the idolatrous temptations to the Israelites,” then why did Yahweh so often manifest himself to the Israelites in such “iconic” terms?
ii) Moreover, there’s a self-refuting quality to this type of argument. Most folks have seen pictures of Jesus, including those who oppose pictures of Jesus. When TFan sees a picture of Jesus (even if he tries to avoid that), does he commit idolatry? Does he idolize the picture? Does he worship the picture? Does he worship Jesus via the picture?
When I see a picture of Jesus, I see it for what it is: a merely imaginative depiction of Jesus. I don’t impute to the picture any greater significance than that. Same thing when I see artistic depictions of Moses or St. Augustine. I don’t confuse that with the reality. That’s not even what they looked like.
Finally, let me provide the second counter-example. For whatever reason, Christ when resurrected concealed himself from being recognized by his appearance. Thus, Mary Magdalene does not immediately recognize him, nor do the disciples on the road to Emmaus, though evidently Jesus did look the same - even down to the scars whose inspection by Thomas Christ welcomed.
I don’t know what that counterexample is supposed to prove. It’s true that you have cases of delayed recognition. Nevertheless, the Risen Lord did appear to them, physically. And while, for whatever reason, recognition was delayed, they did eventually recognize him. Moreover, Jesus also appears to Paul on the Damascus Road, as well as John on Patmos.
God has nowhere indicated any desire to be honored through man-made images of Him. I realize that many "Protestants" as well as some others who profess to follow Christ make or use purported[Fn1] images of Him without intending to use them as part of "worship." Nevertheless, the only obvious reason for depicting Jesus Christ is because he is God. It's not for a group photo of Nazareth high school, nor is it a booking photo at the Sanhedrin detention center. The point for Christians that makes Jesus Christ of any interest is the fact that He is the Son of God.
I don’t follow the argument. Christians also depict the Apostles. Christians depict various figures in church history. That’s not because they ascribe divinity to these individuals. TFan has a portrait of Francis Turretin. That doesn’t mean TFan deifies Francis Turretin, does it?
Perhaps TFan means that if we didn’t believe Jesus is who he said he was (i.e. God Incarnate), then we wouldn’t bother to depict him. He would cease to be important to us.
I’m sure that’s often the case, but that’s true for many other individuals we depict. Take pictures of Calvin. Or John Owen. Or your wife. Or your kids. Or your mom and dad.
But if you wish to see an image of God, do not give up hope. Men (humans) are made in the image of God, and particularly husbands are in God's image.
But doesn’t that appeal undercut his argument? If men visually represent God, then why not depict God as a man? Keep in mind that I’m not arguing for that proposition. I’m just drawing a conclusion from TFan’s argument.
For those who wish to see Christ imaged - there is one divinely sanctioned representation. So, let's view Christ that way - through the non-likeness of the bread and wine, worshiping and reverencing God in the way in which He wishes to be worshiped, not with our own imagination, but according to His Word.
Christ took on a human nature. As such in one person is he is both human and divine. He is both fully God and fully man, in one person. It's equally proper to call that one person "human" with reference to the human nature and "divine" with reference to the divine nature.
In any event, imagined depictions of Christ's human nature are inadequate to represent his person, since his person is both human and divine.
I think your point, CF, is essentially on the mark: to try to depict the "human person" (as though it can be separated from the "divine person") is virtually Nestorian.
There are several problems with this combination of arguments:
i) Lutheran and Orthodox apologists constantly accuse Reformed Christology of being Nestorian. So TFan is playing with fire. Better have asbestos gloves when handling that argument!
ii) The Lord’s Supper is not an antidote to idolatry, since idolaters simply idolize the Lord’s Supper. Literally. They genuflect before the Host.
iii) The communion elements are also “inadequate” to represent the person of Christ. Can you infer the hypostatic union from bread and wine?
iv) TFan’s objection unwittingly makes Jesus a Nestorian. For his body was “inadequate” to represent the totality of his person. When people saw him, they were unable to discern the hypostatic union in his physical self-depiction.
v) Why would anyone expect a picture of Jesus to depict his divinity? Why suppose a picture of Jesus ought to be able to do that?
God depicts himself in various human roles. When God depicts himself as a potter, is that an adequate depiction? Well, adequate for what? It’s hardly adequate to depict the Trinity. But it’s adequate to illustrate the particular aspect of God which that was intended to illustrate.