Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A response to TFan on the Second Commandment

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.


  1. Steve:

    You kind of present things like you "don't have a dog in that fight." However, are you defending your own prior comments or have I at least persuaded you that they should not be maintained?

    If you are defending them, I will have serious questions about how this round of response lines up with the last one.


  2. Steve,

    a.) Would it be wrong to depict the visions of God in Daniel 7 or Ezekiel 1?


    b.) Would it be wrong to own a NICOT series commentary with the image on the front cover?

  3. S&S:

    I decline the opportunity to begin trying to judge every case. If it's a serious question, just deface the image, and you're good to go.


  4. Vytautas - This is continued from a previous post.

    Steve - Do you think there was something divine about the physical appearance of Jesus? Did Jesus look like God? What does that even mean?

    Vytautas - It is not that Jesus looked like God, but that he manifested God in his flesh.

    Steve - To all appearances, he looked like a normal man. Do you deny that? Let’s avoid incipient Docetism, shall we?

    Vytautas - Jesus is both God and man.

    Steve - God is invisible, although God can (and does) reveal himself through visual media.

    Vytautas - Do we have the authority to make visual media of God is the question, but it seems that you are not committed to a position.

    Steve - Any orthodox construction of the hypostatic nature will have to distinguish between what is proper to the divine nature and what is proper to the human nature. John also says that Jesus was tired (Jn 4:6). Does this mean God was tired?

    Vytautas - No, but when Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father, it doesn't mean that Jesus is not a man either.

    Steve - When you ascribe things to Jesus, you need to distinguish between the God-man qua God, and the God-man qua man. What is true of the divine nature is not ipso facto true of the human nature, or vice versa.

    Vytautas - Can one depict the human nature of Jesus without the entire person incuding his divine nature?

  5. Vytautas - Can one depict the human nature of Jesus without the entire person incuding his divine nature?

    What does it mean to depict a *person*? Do we depict persons or properties had by persons?

  6. TFan,

    I don't know what your angling for. You wrote a response to what I wrote, so I wrote a rejoinder to what you wrote. My rejoinder is pegged to the terms of your response. My rejoinder doesn't directly refer back to what I previously said, although it's consistent with what I previously said.

  7. Paul - What does it mean to depict a *person*? Do we depict persons or properties had by persons?

    Vytautas - Exactly, you can't just depict the human nature of Jesus without his entire person including his divine nature.

  8. Who said anything about depicting a "human nature?" I don't think you can depict a "human nature," either. So I'm afraid you didn't answer my question. You can depict, say, the head of Jesus without depicting his "human nature" *or* his "entire person."

  9. Of course a picture can only depict particulars, but the particular part of Jesus' body is apart of the entire person. If there is a picture of a tree, it would not be wrong to say that the picture is showing the great outdoors.

  10. First off, the point I'm making isn't that a picture can only depict particulars. That's true but irrelevant to my point. Anyway, what do you mean by speaking of *parts* of *persons*?

    BTW, the tree could be in an atrium.

  11. Parts of persons are not the whole but limbs such as the head of a body. What does a picture depict? Parts, not wholes. But the whole is represented by the parts.

  12. I see, so your view against images of Christ presupposes at least the falsity of substance dualism, and at worst a person-body identity thesis. Well, that's not very persusive to me.

  13. Huh? I only chose the head because it is easier to work with. This is not to say that a person is their body.

  14. "This is not to say that a person is their body."

    Now you're catching on.

  15. But pictures represent as well as depict. To represent is to give parts for the whole, while to depict is to show parts of the whole.

  16. I can think of a few depictions of God written in Scripture. One, a mother hen; two, an eagle that we can gather ourselves under the pinions of her wings for protection from spiritual forces of wickedness; three, a lamb standing as if slain before the Throne of God receiving authority to build His Church, His Bride now that He has been led to the slaughter and survived our punishments.

    As I posted at TF's blog combox earlier today and before I came over here to see if any comments or threads were produced on the subject, I see that one of the verses I posted over at TF's is cited here, from Exodus 24.

    I would point out some things in those verses from Exodus 24, noting several descriptive words:

    Exo 24:9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up,
    Exo 24:10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.
    Exo 24:11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.

    We see the word "feet", "they saw" implying they were not blind and their sight was good to "see" Him and "hand". What those 74 men saw was not a chicken, an eagle or a lamb. Those words tell me they saw someone that had their very image, eyes in a head, feet on legs, arms on hands; and amazingly, I will stretch the imagination a bit now and say, there is an implication of some very fine dining with Jesus of portions of those oxen and all the fixin's with them, slaughtered, see Ex. 24:5!

    I would now add a couple more verses to the mix that comes to mind as I consider this thread:

    1Jn 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--
    1Jn 1:2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--
    1Jn 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

    I suppose we are to use our imaginations here so that from a point of imaginary contact "within" our own souls we can begin to develop the Gift of Faith that produces a "spiritual" awakening to occur within our lives now that we too have received the Gift of Faith so that we have the same Joy of fellowship with Our Heavenly Father and with his Son Jesus Christ as the Apostles?

    Now, on the other side of this natural/supernatural realm of imagination:

    Rev 1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
    Rev 1:5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood
    Rev 1:6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
    Rev 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

    Here we are suppose to let our soul be influenced by the Spirit so that our imagination thinks about "seeing" Him come back on Clouds!


  17. Vytautas said:

    But pictures represent as well as depict. To represent is to give parts for the whole, while to depict is to show parts of the whole.

    7/28/2010 4:32 PM

    I don't even know what this means. *Persons* do not have *parts*. A picture of a hand, head, or an entire body, is not a picture of the person, or even part of a person. It is a picture of properties had by the person.

  18. This is an argument over terms, but are you saying that pictures of Jesus only depict and represent the human nature of Jesus?

  19. Continuing the post:

    Now, just an aside, a digression into this whole matter, what I find particularly interesting is this from these verses:

    Mat 17:3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

    Hmmmmmm, without the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation and Knowledge operating in Peter, James and John, how can it be that these three could know those two people were who they are? How long ago was it that the body of Moses was disputed by Michael and Satan? How long ago was it Elijah went up in the whirlwind?

    So many years had passed and certainly the "clothes" they were each wearing, was it exact to their period? What kind of different clothes was Moses wearing that Elijah was not wearing, wearing those clothes of his date and time instead?

    And so, for me, as I have said, this whole thing is not an easy one to side with one way or the other, Patrick's willingness to put up a cartoon depiction that we readily agree is depicting a guru who could be Jesus with a caption capturing the current fad of twitterings and those that twitter and their followers! The cartoon carried a powerful message, one I would believe Jesus is wholeheartedly in favor of? I am certain the Apostle Paul and Peter, James and John are in agreement with it?

    I, for one, was not offended by the cartoon; and even though I have some accomplishments as an Artist, I would not draw such a cartoon, even more so now that this debate has brought out such contrary positions and opinions.

    I would though, as Patrick has hereon, take every advantage of any opportunity to bring about and draw attention to Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom for the purpose of evangelism, not, division. If in doing so it causes strife, well, then I am under New Testament rules, aren't I, about giving an offense?

    To those "Christians" offended, Patrick needs to take it to heart and as he did, he has already offered his apologies for the offense, kinda in line with the New Testament rule that we are not to give offense to the Jews, the Gentiles or the Church, 1 Cor. 10:31-33.

    To those eager to evangelize and proclaim Christ, as Patrick did in his now infamous thread a few days ago, I too would use these sorts of cartoons to do just that, proclaim the Gospel and use the message from the cartoon when advantageous to do so to explain Truth. And when someone asks, "what does this mean" along the lines of Paul's defense given at Chapter 1 of Philippians, I would preach the Gospel to them believing they are asking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    As I close this comment I am reminded of these verses and the admonition that comes within them considering this very cartoon could cause a similar sort of inquisition of responses as is being described here:

    Exo 13:13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
    Exo 13:14 And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.


    Jos 4:20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.
    Jos 4:21 And he said to the people of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in times to come, 'What do these stones mean?'
    Jos 4:22 then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.'
    Jos 4:23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over,
    Jos 4:24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."

  20. In light of current cosmetic appearances of "normal" looking people via t.v., movie and commercial advertisements, modeling is big business world wide these days, I take exception to these posted words, Steve:

    Steve - To all appearances, he looked like a normal man.....

    They don't fit this description of Christ, found here:

    Isa 53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
    Isa 53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
    Isa 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

    Take it for what it's worth, then? To be a bit forceful and vulgar with my words, based on Isaiah's seeing of the Lord Jesus, plain and simple, he described Him and considered Him an ugly boy and man! :)

  21. "I don't know what your angling for."

    I'm trying to understand whether I'm still trying to persuade you, or whether I'm merely refining my arguments with the aid of your ability to spot weaknesses.

    I do appreciate your comments, but I'm trying to figure out whether you're just trying to help me spot potential weaknesses in my argument, or whether you're defending a position that is different from mine.

  22. TFan,

    1. In principle, I think pictures of Jesus are permissible. I say "in principle" because what is permissible or impermissible can be person-variable, just as it's permissible for a healthy man to drink in moderation, but not a recovering alcoholic.

    2. However, I'm not making a case for that position since that's not a priority of mine. I didn't initiate this discussion. I'm merely responding to some objections.

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