What Is the Bible’s View?
What to Do with Idols?
GOLD—shimmering and valuable. What would you do if you inherited a small fortune in gold? ‘That would be no problem,’ you may feel. But it was for a woman in Spain not long ago.
Her father had died, leaving her some gold religious objects, including a large gold cross with a gem on it. Also, there were a number of gold statuettes, small images of the type venerated by many churchgoers in her area. And she inherited a number of gold medallions of “saints” such as many Spanish Catholics wear on a chain around their neck.
She wondered what to do with these objects for worship. You may have faced a similar question in the past, or may yet in the future. Or you may be asked for advice on the matter by someone who wants to do the Scripturally right thing.
‘But why would that be any problem?’ some may think. Could she not just keep the gold objects if she wanted them, or sell them if she preferred to have the money they were worth?
She was perplexed about what to do because she was conscious of the nature of the gold items, their shape as well as how they had been and might be used. As with many persons who have carefully studied God’s Word, she realized that the true God condemns the making and using of images for worship. God told the Israelites in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Ex. 20:4, 5, Catholic Jerusalem Bible) Christians who want to have His approval are likewise obliged to shun the use of idols or images in worship. The apostle Paul wrote: “This is the reason, my dear brothers, why you must keep clear of idolatry. . . . You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons.”—1 Cor. 10:14, 19-21, Je; Acts 17:29.
Many persons, after learning what the Bible says, have seen the need to dispose of images, icons, medallions and crosses that they formerly prayed to or through, or that they used to venerate. But the question arises as to what to do with such idols. What would you do—destroy them? Sell them? Give them away?
The woman in Spain was aware of the Bible counsel and precedent for utterly destroying idols. For example, prior to their moving into the Promised Land and overthrowing its pagan inhabitants, God commanded the Israelites: “You must set fire to all the carved images of their gods, not coveting the gold and silver that covers them; take it and you will be caught in a snare: it is detestable to Yahweh your God. You must not bring any detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will come under the ban too [becoming devoted to destruction].”—Deut. 7:25, 26, Je; compare Exodus 32:1-10, 20.
Also bearing on what to do with objects used in false worship is what persons becoming Christians in ancient Ephesus did with books of magic they owned. We read: “A number of them who had practised magic collected their books and made a bonfire of them in public. The value of these was calculated to be fifty thousand silver pieces.”—Acts 19:18, 19, Je.
Those Ephesians knew that selling or giving away the books would result in other people practicing magic, perhaps using the books in connection with false worship. That was so because those books had no value or use other than for that purpose. In like manner, many persons who in modern times have turned from idolatry have completely destroyed their idols. Rather than passing them on to someone else, they have burned or ripped up paper and cloth pictures to which they formerly bowed or prayed. They have thrown away or smashed plaster or wooden images and crosses. They did not sell or give away these “saints” and religious articles because other persons, if they obtained them, would use them in worship.
But what if an idol or a religious object is made of silver or gold?
Some persons still have destroyed such idols, feeling, as did those Ephesians, that the financial loss was nothing compared with the treasure of becoming true worshipers of Jehovah.—Acts 19:24-27.
‘But,’ you might wonder, ‘could the precious metal be put to some other use, such as being made into a ring?’ That is possible, for in doing so the idol would be destroyed. The fact is that much of the gold now in jewelry, dental pieces and electronic components may contain gold molecules that in past centuries were in coins, statues, crowns and such things.* What is of primary concern is not how some gold was used in the past, but how it is being used now.
There is one aspect in this connection, though, that can be given consideration. If a person had the gold from an idol melted down and made into a ring, for example, would he thereafter associate that ring with the idol? Would he, each time he wore the ring, be a bit disquieted by thoughts of what it used to be? Someone might even be inclined to feel that the ring had greater value or importance because the gold in it had been part of an idol. You can see that God’s law at Deuteronomy 7:25, 26, which instructed the Israelites not to keep and reuse the gold from idols, was a safeguard against such possibilities. It is true that Christians are not under the Mosaic law. (Rom. 6:14) But the good effect of completely destroying even valuable idols can be considered. It would be one of the factors to weigh when deciding what to do with gold or silver religious items.
Some persons have chosen to demolish an idol and then sell the gold or silver simply as raw materials, such as to a jeweler or dealer in used precious metals. If the idol were demolished before it was sold, the buyer or anyone obtaining it from him would not associate it with, or use it in worship, as might occur if the idol were sold intact. You would simply be selling gold or silver.
Of course, each person who turns away from idols in order to serve the Creator can decide for himself how to dispose of the idols he used to use in worship. He certainly should dispose of them in a way that will not aid or encourage other persons in idolatry. (1 John 5:21) And, even as this Spanish woman who had inquired was counseled to do, he ought to choose a course that will leave him with a clear conscience.—1 Tim. 1:5, 19.
In that way he will fit the description Paul gave of the ancient Thessalonian Christians: “You turned to God from your idols to slave for a living and true God, and [thus] to wait for his Son from the heavens . . . who delivers us from the wrath which is coming.”—1 Thess. 1:9, 10.
It is estimated that all the gold ever mined would make a cube only 53 feet (16.2 meters) on each side. Since under normal conditions gold does not deteriorate, gold used by man thousands of years ago may still be around. And it may have been reused many times over the centuries.