“Your Word Is Truth”
No Images for Worship
THE worship of images was prevalent in ancient Babylonia, where the faithful patriarch Abraham grew up. Images were also widely used in ancient Egypt, where his descendants lived for over two hundred years. But when Jehovah God gave his law to the sons of Israel he explicitly forbade the worship of images, in the Second of the Ten Commandments, which are also known as the Decalogue.
Thus we read: “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh [Jehovah] your God, am a jealous God and I punish the father’s fault in the sons, the grandsons and the great-grandsons of those that hate me; but I show kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”—Ex. 20:4-6, The Jerusalem Bible.
Repeatedly the nation of Israel violated the Second Commandment, to their own great harm, thus proving God’s warning words true. Time and again Jehovah’s prophets warned against the worship of images. (Isa. 42:17) The copper snake that Moses made at God’s command later became an object of worship, for which reason King Hezekiah had it destroyed.—Num. 21:7-9; 2 Ki. 18:4.
Though Christians are not under the Mosaic law, the principle of the Second Commandment nevertheless applies to them. What does the apostle John say? “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” That applies both to idols claimed to represent God and to any other images that become objects of worship. Did you know that the apostle Paul listed worship of idols with such “works of the flesh” as fornication and spiritism? And those practicing such things, he warned, “will not inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 John 5:21; Gal. 5:19-21.
Because of this the apostle Paul could write to early Christians at Thessalonica, “You turned to God from your idols to slave for a living and true God.” He counseled the Christians at Corinth to “flee from idolatry.” To flee from something means to get away from it as quickly as possible and as far as possible.—1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Cor. 10:14.
Often the claim is made that the religious images used in Christendom are not worshiped. It is said that images are merely given relative honor as an aid to the worship of God. That may be the theory, but what are the facts? Have not countless numbers of devout people carried an image of a “saint” in their autos, hoping thereby to get some protection from it and minimize the likelihood of having an accident? The fact is that devout Italian Catholics have looked to their statues of “saints” to stop the flow of lava, in one instance carrying a statue right to the edge of the advancing avalanche of lava with the hope of halting its flow. And to this very day in certain Latin American lands Catholics daily place food and drink offerings before the images of their “saints.”
Is not considering pictures and statues as sacred in themselves rendering them “sacred service”? However, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, said: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.”—Matt. 4:10.
Those who make use of images in worship might well ask themselves: Can these images communicate with me? Are they able to help me when I am in trouble? Note how the inspired psalmist answers these questions: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of the hands of earthling man. A mouth they have, but they cannot speak; eyes they have, but they cannot see; ears they have, but they cannot hear. . . . Feet are theirs, but they cannot walk; they utter no sound with their throat. Those making them will become just like them, all those who are trusting in them.”—Ps. 115:4-8.
Even if such images were not worshiped, depending upon them in worship goes contrary to God’s Word. How so? In that Christian worship is based on faith, not on images that can be seen. Speaking for Christians, the apostle Paul says: “We are walking by faith, not by sight.” “We keep our eyes, not on the things seen”—such as images—“but on the things unseen.” That is why Jesus stressed the fact that “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” A spirit is invisible. To worship the invisible God properly one cannot depend on images.—2 Cor. 5:7; 4:18; John 4:24.
The early Christians did not use any visual aids in the way of holy images, statues or pictures in their worship. True, there are symbols of a dove, a shepherd, and so forth, in the catacombs. But none of these are of a ‘holy’ nature, such as the cross, until the latter years of the fourth century. And when these appeared, there also appeared mythological figures, indicating that apostasy had crept into the ranks of professed Christians.
Religious authorities grant that ‘very little if anything was written about the veneration of images during the early period of Christianity.’ Even when images appeared, for many years no doctrinal justification for them was given. The fact is that because early Christians had no images in their places of worship the pagan, idolatrous Romans accused the early Christians of being atheists. They could not conceive of a god without images. Images were gradually introduced into the worship of professed Christians by those who mixed Christian teachings with pagan philosophy.
Today, as a result of the Roman Catholic Vatican II Council, some priests have ordered the removal of all images from their church buildings. Thus in Dominica a priest ordered this to be done, and the workmen simply lassoed the images and brought them crashing to the floor in a cloud of dust. But, by and large, images remain in the churches. Even where such images are removed from one’s church the question each one who professes to be a Christian and desires to be pleasing to God must ask himself is, Do I have any objects in my home to which I give veneration?
When it comes to the worship of images, it is indeed of interest to note that The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that “images can include not only pictures, icons, statues and symbols, . . . but also . . . symbolic acts of worship such as the Sign of the Cross.” Do you attach a worshipful religious sentiment to any of such things? In view of all the foregoing, would not doing so be engaging in religious acts that are displeasing to God? Since all such things really have their origin in paganism, regarding them the words of the apostle Paul apply: “Quit touching the unclean thing.”—2 Cor. 6:17.
Clearly the underlying principle of the Second Commandment must be obeyed by all who would be pleasing to Jehovah God.