Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seeing Jesus

1. One of the things I find ironic about the debate over artistic depictions of Jesus is that some Calvinists are using the same type of argument to oppose depictions of Jesus that Catholics use to support a Marian title.

Some Calvinists are arguing that since Jesus was the God-man, any depiction of Jesus is a depiction of God. This argument is structurally similar to the argument of Catholics who contend that since Jesus was the God-man, this makes Mary the Mother of God.

2. The normal Reformed objection to the Catholic argument is that it suffers from an obvious equivocation. But when it comes to depictions of Jesus, I find some Calvinists trading on the same equivocation.

Suppose you ask me if I saw Timmy at the Halloween party. But this question is ambiguous. It could be asking, did I recognize Timmy at the Halloween party? Or it could be asking, did I see the individual who is Timmy?

It’s quite possible for me to see Timmy without seeing that it is Timmy. If Timmy is got up as a tricker-treater, I may fail to recognize Timmy underneath the costume and the makeup. I could still see the individual who is Timmy without seeing who he is (i.e. recognition).

3. On a related note, some Calvinists are quoting Jn 14:9. But one problem is that I find them quoting that verse without bothering to exegete the verse in context. That’s unfortunate, because it reflects the type of perfunctory prooftexting which I ordinarily encounter among Arminians and Roman Catholics. Calvinists need to do better.

Is Jn 14:9 telling us that the physical appearance of Jesus reveals the Father? No. Jesus didn’t have a divine appearance (whatever that means). He looked like a normal man. You couldn’t tell, just by looking at him, that he was God Incarnate.

The way in which he reveals the Father in Jn 14:9 is through his words and his works. What he says and does. Not his physical appearance.

4.In addition, it’s clearly out of place to transfer this verse to artistic depictions of Jesus. For if we see an artistic depiction of Jesus, we’re not seeing what the disciples saw, are we? No. The disciples saw the actual appearance of Jesus. The artist did not. So even at the phenomenal level, quite apart from the communication of attributes, you can’t reapply Jn 14:9 to some artistic depiction of Jesus as if 14:9 is referring to some artistic depiction of Jesus. That commits yet another equivocation.

There may be better arguments. But this isn’t one of them.

BTW, in my home I don’t have any pictures of Jesus hanging on the wall. So it’s not as if I had a personal stake in this issue. I can take it or leave it.

10 comments:

  1. Yeah, I'm getting hammered over at TurretinFan's based on their argument that there is no distinction whatsoever between depicting Jesus (in story or film) and depicting the Father.

    Repeating some pertinent thoughts from the combox there:

    In every case, though, we are not to make any image of any kind in order to worship it or to aid us in worshiping what we believe to be the true God, since any image is bound to be dishonouring to Him in some or multiple fashions.

    But I do not believe Jesus intended us to understand that when the disciples looked at His face that God the Father has a face exactly like Jesus'. God is a Spirit and does not have a "face" as such, even though there are anthropomorphisms in Scripture that talk about seeing Him "face to face." (1 Cor. 13:12)

    What you are saying, Craig, is that whenever the disciples thought about Jesus they were sinning if they at all thought about the way he looked physically. I don't believe that. Even if their memories faded and they couldn't completely bring his face to mind properly, let's remember that there is a measure of subjectivity in all human cognition of appearances that should not be thought of as sin.

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  2. Pilgrim,
    I made a new comment over at TF's blog. You have fundamentally misunderstood what has been said and you're a bit tripped-up on your Christology...which is correctable if you really want to learn.

    I was in the same boat as you about 6 years ago.

    Steve,
    I will try make a blog post in response (though TF is a more formidable man)...I realize you could "take or leave" the subject, but the issue of idolatry is pertinent today more than ever.

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  3. "there is no distinction whatsoever between depicting Jesus (in story or film) and depicting the Father"

    I don't think that was my argument. There is no difference as to both being divine persons, and both being the one God.

    As God, they are not to be imaged per commandment 2.

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  4. "Some Calvinists are arguing that since Jesus was the God-man, any depiction of Jesus is a depiction of God."

    I try to distinguish here. There are conceivable cases where someone might portray Jesus without trying to create an image of God, because the person is not aware that Jesus is God, for example.

    However, for Christians, the reasons to make a cartoon of Jesus is because of who Jesus is.

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  5. I don't see how TF's or CF's position is consistent given the commands not to make any images (Exodus 20:4; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:16-25; 5:8; 27:15) include a bunch of other things that I think TF and CF are fine with.

    For instance, Exodus 20:4 mentions "any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth"; Deuteronomy 4:16-18 mentions "the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth" and verse 25 states "if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything."

    I just don't see how TF and CF can remain consistent without objecting to all images, from the garden gnome to the picture on your driver's license.

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  6. Peter,

    I'm fundamentally in agreement with you. As I said over at TF's blog, I say in an expanded way here, as it relates to the WLC:

    Q109 forbids us from

    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...

    I read that to mean that we are forbidden from making a fish, a goat, a cow, a lamb (even), a tree, a rock, a snake, a bird, a calf, etc. to represent God the Father, Jesus His Son, or the Holy Spirit.

    But Jesus, though He was a man, is not a creature, is He? TF and CF would never argue that, would they? Using a creature to depict Jesus is wrong because He was never any of those things. He was, however, a human being. This is a fact that cannot be denied. So how is it wrong to depict Him as a human being when He was exactly such? I suppose one could argue that since a human being is a creature, he cannot be used to represent Jesus. But doesn't that sound absurd? Since Jesus was fully human, you would have to admit that Jesus is a creature, wouldn't you?

    But moving on. God the Father is a Spirit, so we cannot and must not depict Him.

    The Holy Spirit "appeared as a dove," which doesn't mean He was or is a dove, only that He appeared as one, just as later He appeared as tongues of fire. So we shouldn't depict Him either, in my view.

    Jesus was and is a human being, a Divine Person as well as a human person. Unless one wants to argue that Jesus only appeared to be human (Gnosticism), we should be willing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was physically a human being and the image of Him, how He actually looked, stayed in the minds of those followers who saw and knew Him all the days of their lives.

    Now the problem is this, and I asked this question before (here reposted with some modification) but got no response:

    What you are saying, Craig, is that whenever the disciples thought about Jesus they were breaking the second commandment as expressed in the WLC Q109 if they at all thought about the way He looked physically?

    I don't believe that.

    Even if their memories had faded and they couldn't completely bring His face to mind properly, let's remember that there is a measure of subjectivity in all human cognition of appearances that should not be thought of as sin.

    In other words, I just don't buy it that the disciples and those to whom Jesus appeared were sinning when they remembered Him fondly, conjuring up their image of Him in their mind the rest of their lives.

    Having said that, we today do not have access to how He actually looked. This does not mean, in my view, that He can't be depicted in storybooks and movies for teaching purposes, as long as qualifications are made and the viewer or reader (especially a child) understands that he is looking at an actor or a picture portrayal of a human being who actually lived.

    Furthermore, I think we should not overlook context. What is crucial is that we are not to make any image of any kind in order to worship it or to aid us in worshiping what we believe to be the true God, since any image is bound to be dishonouring to Him in some or multiple fashions. To me the issue is primarily the forbidding of the use of images in worship.

    Having said all that, I, like Steve, do not have pictures of Jesus around the house. I suppose TF and CF have no books or movies with depictions of Jesus in them? Ben Hur, The Gospel of John, etc.? Just curious.

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  7. Craig,

    Now that you seem to have backed off a bit from your accusation that I believe Jesus is "two persons," can I assume that my Christology meets with your approval afterall?

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  8. Steve,

    I too saw a connection to Romanism, albeit from a different perspective.

    The general reaction to "Seeing Jesus" that I've been observing in the blogosphere over the past few days bears a striking resemblance to Rome's e-pologists coming out in force whenever a dogma peculiar to the Mother Church is prodded by a Reformed blogger, even as they sit by blithely ignoring [or promoting!] the grossest of blasphemies, impieties, and indignities being heaped upon the Triune One True and Living God.

    In Him,
    CD

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  9. Which is unresponsive to the analogy in the post.

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  10. A compilation of most if not all our posts on the topic of graven images and the second commandment can be found here.

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