Question:

I have a question about some Scriptures. In Exodus 20:4-5 it tells us not to make any graven image or likeness to anything that is in heaven above. I Corinthians 10:14 tells us to flee idolatry and in John 5:18 and Philippians 2:6 that Jesus is a form of God and is equal to God.  In I Corinthians 11:14 Paul tells us it is a sin to have long hair yet there are pictures of Jesus with long hair and pictures of Jesus with angels. Wouldn't angels be considered graven images from heaven above? In Acts 17:29 the Bible tells us, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device."

When we look at a wedding announcement it is considered graven, and when we look at these pictures of Jesus, wouldn't these pictures of Jesus be considered graven (by printing press aren't these considered man's device)? 


Answer:

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were told: "You shall have no other gods before Me. 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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:3-6). By focusing only on verse 4 you created a false impression. This verse states that no statue or likeness of anything in this universe can be created. The "heaven" here refers to the sky and outer space, though the spiritual realm could be included. If we focus on this verse alone then all artwork or photography of any sort would be a sin.

But that leads to a contradiction because we find:

  • Moses creating a bronze serpent (Numbers 21:8-9)
  • The laver in the temple was upheld by a dozen brass oxen (I Kings 7:25)
  • The veil in the temple had a depiction of cherubim (Exodus 26:31)
  • The cover of the ark of the covenant had two cherubim (Exodus 25:18-22).
  • The stones on the High Priest's garments were engraved (Exodus 28:9-11).
  • Panels in the Temple were engraved with lions, cherubim, and palm trees (I Kings 7:36).

The contradiction is created because you ignored the qualifier: "You shall not bow down to them or serve them." To make any depiction of something in this universe for the purpose of worshiping it or what is being depicted is forbidden. Even though Moses made the bronze serpent at God's command, it was later destroyed because the people made an idol of it. "He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan" (II Kings 18:4).

Art is not forbidden by the Bible, nor is there a universal band on making engravings of any sort. What you find condemned is idolatry. The reason for mentioning representations from nature is because people tend to make their idols resemble things found in nature. "Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man -- and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things" (Romans 1:22-23).