The debate between the iconoclasts and those who still use art and images to point to Jesus Christ still rages on today. The passage in question comes from Exodus 20.4-6 of the Bible (ESV):
“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. 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, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments."
The argument is important because the iconoclasts consider those who have a carved image of Christ to be sinning. That is quite a charge. Take, for instance, a crucifix or a Nativity scene put out during Christmas time: both have images of the Son of God which, to the iconoclast, would be sin. "The Westminster Larger Catechism" says:
"Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; 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:.."
According to the Calvinist who holds to this catechism, a Christian is sinning against God if that person wears a crucifix necklace, uses a Nativity scene, has an image of Jesus Christ on the cross in church, or even makes a likeness of any creature.
But what does God's Word say? It states: "You shall not bow down to them or serve them." The sin is not having a carved image of the Son of God. The sin is bowing down to it. That is idolatry and is the thing about which God is concerned. If having a carved image were the sin, then God would be contradicting Himself when He commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent for the people to look at to be saved in Exodus and the cherubim of gold in Numbers (see citations below):
"And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live."
“And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat."
Those who are against carved images are not fully understanding God's Word as seen in the two passages above. As one man who went from wearing a cross necklace to a crucifix said about his mother who uses Nativity scenes in their home:
"I came home for Christmas break and my mother, a devout Southern Baptist lady, noticed disapprovingly the crucifix I've begun to wear around my neck. I was informed Jesus wasn't on the cross anymore, upon which I looked around at the eighteen (18) Nativity scenes on display in our house during this season, and pointed out that Jesus was no longer in the manger either. That concluded our discussion." - Timothy Sheridan
If a person who is against carved images is consistent, then we should never have a dove as the symbol of the Holy Spirit who came down at the baptism of Christ, a dolphin trinket sitting at the bedside, nor an angel for all these are forbidden according to the iconoclast.
Note, also, that the command says nothing about making an image of God or the Trinity. It only mentions anything that is in heaven above, but we need to keep in mind that the problem is the bowing down, not the making of or possession of the carved image. "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." Doves, dolphins, and angels would be within the scope of this command.
According to God's Word, carved images are not forbidden. This is adiaphora for the Christian. It is not forbidden nor commanded, therefore the disciple of Christ is free to have images so long as they do not worship them.
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Ex. 20.4-6. English Standard Version. Saint Louis; Concordia Publishing House. 2009.
CRTA. (n.d.). Westminster Larger Catechism. Retrieved December 17, 2013, from http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reform...
Nm. 21.8,9. English Standard Version. Saint Louis; Concordia Publishing House. 2009.
Ex. 25.18. English Standard Version. Saint Louis; Concordia Publishing House. 2009.
Sheridan, Timothy. (2013). Salutary Authentic Lutheran Theology. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/timothy.sheridan?fref=ts