Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Improving" the Second Commandment

Exod 20:4-5

4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me...

On the one hand:


As far as fall back arguments go, I don't have anything to go on other than what the Bible plainly says about imaging God - Thou shalt not...

That doesn't seem overly nuanced or difficult to understand from my perspective, although it may come across as pious sounding.

On the other hand:


Any effort to image Christ's "divinity" fails miserably since the ineffable deity of the One True and Living God cannot be imaged.

Any effort to image Christ's humanity fails miserably since He was a unique human being with unique features, and no one knows what He looked like during His humiliation. Furthermore any effort to image Christ's humanity apart from His divinity is to slip into functional Nestorianism since such would be to bifurcate the God-man.

Observe how CD has to make improvements on the 2nd Commandment. Having said, in his first comment, that he has nothing else to go on but the plain statement of the text, notice how, in his second comment, he interpolates various qualifications which have no trace in the actual wording of the text. So the unadorned text plainly fails to plainly teach what he needs it to teach. He has to retrofit the text with suitable modifications. Customizing his prooftext.


  1. If there was a standard picture of Jesus in front of us and I asked you if that was God, what would be your reply?

  2. "If there was a standard picture of Jesus"

    Can you expound on that?

  3. By standard, I mean ordinary.


    "If there was a standard picture of Jesus in front of us and I asked you if that was God, what would be your reply?"

    I've already addressed the ambiguities of that statement. If I see Rosabel at the costume ball, did I see Rosabel?

    Well, I saw a women who *is* Rosabel. However, I didn't see *that* she is Rosabel, because I didn't recognize her in the costume.

    If we saw Jesus in a police lineup, would his divinity stand out? Would he look godlike compared to the other guys on either side of him? No.

    We'd see a person who *is* divine (as well as human), but we wouldn't see *that* he is divine from his physical appearance–which is all we can "see."

  5. Steve,

    In contrast to offering plausible counterarguments and qualifications in defense of man's liberty to image any [or all?] of the three Persons of God contra the Bible, the Reformed confessions, and the overwhelming exegetical consensus of Reformed churchmen throughout church history perhaps you'd be interested in setting forth a positive case for God-honoring and Biblically sanctioned visual-media depictions of various members of the Godhead?

    Of course this assumes that you actually believe that such a case exists.

    In Him,

  6. The question suffers from a fatal the picture God? No, the picture is not God. But it's an (attempted) depiction of God.

  7. Mathetes,

    I'm not sure that I follow your objection.

    Is it your contention that the 2nd Commandment only forbids man-made images that are God, and that it has not reference to man-made images that attempt to depict or otherwise visually represent Him?

    In Christ,

  8. In regards to the Second Commandment, why would there be two carved cherubim on the top of the Ark of the Covenant? Perhaps this is besides the point and a stupid question, but I only wonder as it may shed light on the intended meaning of the Commandment.

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