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Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Not Use Images in Their Worship?
Around the globe, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, and members of the Orthodox Church view the use of idols, images, or icons as a vital part of their worship. In parts of Africa, people venerate carvings of wood or stone in which a god or the spirit of a god is thought to dwell.
In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use any form of idol or icon in their worship. If you visit the places where they meet, known as Kingdom Halls, you will find neither icons of “saints” nor statues of Jesus or Mary.* Why not? Note what the Bible says on this subject.
What Did God Require of the Israelites?
After liberating the Israelites from Egypt, Jehovah God gave them clear direction regarding how he wanted to be worshipped. The second of the so-called Ten Commandments says: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.”
At the very time that God was giving these commandments to Moses, the Israelites were making a golden calf, likely in imitation of Egyptian animal worship. They did not call the image by the name of an Egyptian god. Instead, they associated it with the worship of Jehovah. (Exodus 32:5, 6) How did God react? His anger blazed against those who venerated the idol, and Moses destroyed it.
Later, Jehovah God elaborated on the second commandment. Through Moses, he reminded the Israelites that they must not make for themselves “a carved image, the form of any symbol, the representation of male or female, the representation of any beast that is in the earth, the representation of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, the representation of anything moving on the ground, the representation of any fish that is in the waters under the earth.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-18) Clearly, the Israelites were not to use idols of any shape or form in the worship of God.
Nevertheless, Israel later fell into idolatry. To correct them, Jehovah dispatched prophets who warned of impending punishment because of their idolatrous worship. (Jeremiah 19:3-5; Amos 2:8) As a nation, Israel ignored God’s warnings. Therefore, in 607 B.C.E., Jehovah allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and take the nation into captivity.
What Did the First-Century Christians Believe?
When non-Jews converted to Christianity in the first century, they did not continue to use idols in their worship of God. Note what Demetrius, a silversmith who made idols in Ephesus, said about the apostle Paul’s preaching: “Men, you well know that from this business we have our prosperity. Also, you behold and hear how not only in Ephesus but in nearly all the district of Asia this Paul has persuaded a considerable crowd and turned them to another opinion, saying that the ones that are made by hands are not gods.”
Paul’s own words confirm the accusation made by Demetrius. When speaking to the Greeks in Athens, Paul said: “We ought not to imagine that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone, like something sculptured by the art and contrivance of man. True, God has overlooked the times of such ignorance, yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.” (Acts 17:29, 30) On the same subject, Paul wrote to those in Thessalonica and commended them with the words: “You turned to God from your idols.”
Not only Paul but also the apostle John warned Christians against using images in their worship. At the end of the first century, John firmly told them: “Guard yourselves from idols.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses obey God’s clear direction not to use images of any sort when they worship him. They take Jehovah God at his word when he says: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.”
Some Kingdom Halls display paintings of Bible characters. However, these pictures are used for decoration and are not venerated as religious icons. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not pray to these pictures, nor do they bow down to them.
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“I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.”