Definition: Usually, visible representations of persons or things. An image that is an object of worship is an idol. Those who perform acts of worship before images often say that their worship actually is directed to the spirit being represented by the image. Such use of images is customary in many non-Christian religions. Regarding Roman Catholic practice, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967, Vol. VII, p. 372) says: “Since the worship given to an image reaches and terminates in the person represented, the same type of worship due the person can be rendered to the image as representing the person.” Not a Bible teaching.
What does God’s Word say about the making of images used as objects of worship?
Ex. 20:4, 5, JB: “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 [“bow down before them or worship them,” NAB]. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God.” (Italics added.) (Notice that the prohibition was against making images and bowing down before them.)
Lev. 26:1, JB: “You must make no idols; you must set up neither carved image nor standing-stone [“sacred pillar,” NW], set up no sculptured stone in your land, to prostrate yourselves in front of it; for it is I, Yahweh, who am your God.” (No image before which people might bow in worship was ever to be set up.)
2 Cor. 6:16, JB: “The temple of God has no common ground with idols, and that is what we are—the temple of the living God.”
1 John 5:21, NAB: “My little children, be on your guard against idols [“idols,” Dy, CC; “false gods,” JB].”
May images be used simply as aids in worship of the true God?
John 4:23, 24, JB: “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.” (Those who rely on images as aids to devotion are not worshiping God “in spirit” but they depend on what they can see with their physical eyes.)
2 Cor. 5:7, NAB: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Isa. 40:18, JB: “To whom could you liken God? What image could you contrive of him?”
Acts 17:29, JB: “Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.”
Isa. 42:8, JB: “My name is Yahweh, I will not yield my glory to another, nor my honour to idols [“graven things,” Dy].”
Should we venerate “saints” as intercessors with God, perhaps using images of them as aids in our worship?
Acts 10:25, 26, JB: “As Peter reached the house Cornelius went out to meet him, knelt at his feet and prostrated himself. But Peter helped him up. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘I am only a man after all!’” (Since Peter did not approve of such adoration when he was personally present, would he encourage us to kneel before an image of him? See also Revelation 19:10.)
John 14:6, 14, JB: “Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it.’” (Jesus here clearly states that our approach to the Father can be only through him and that our requests are to be made in Jesus’ name.)
1 Tim. 2:5, JB: “There is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus.” (There is no allowance here for others to serve in the role of mediator for the members of Christ’s congregation.)
Do worshipers have in mind primarily the person represented by an image, or are some images viewed as being superior to others?
The attitude of worshipers is an important factor to consider. Why? Because a key difference between an “image” and an “idol” is the use to which an image is put.
In the mind of the worshiper, does one image of a person have greater value or importance than another image of the same person? If so, it is the image, not the person, that the worshiper has primarily in mind. Why do people make long pilgrimages to worship at certain shrines? Is it not the image itself that is viewed as having “miraculous” powers? For example, in the book Les Trois Notre-Dame de la Cathédrale de Chartres, by the canon Yves Delaporte, we are told regarding images of Mary in the cathedral in Chartres, France: “These images, sculptured, painted or appearing on the stained glass windows, are not equally famous. . . . Only three are the object of a real worship: Our Lady of the Crypt, Our Lady of the Pillar, and Our Lady of the ‘Belle Verriere.’” But if worshipers had primarily in mind the person, not the image, one image would be considered to be just as good as another, would it not?
How does God view images that are objects of worship?
Jer. 10:14, 15, JB: “Every goldsmith blushes for the idol he has made, since his images are nothing but delusion, with no breath in them. They are a Nothing, a laughable production.”
Isa. 44:13-19, JB: “The wood carver takes his measurements, outlines the image with chalk, carves it with chisels, following the outline with dividers. He shapes it to human proportions, and gives it a human face, for it to live in a temple. He cut down a cedar, or else took a cypress or an oak which he selected from the trees in the forest, or maybe he planted a cedar and the rain made it grow. For the common man it is so much fuel; he uses it to warm himself, he also burns it to bake his bread. But this fellow makes a god of it and worships it; he makes an idol of it and bows down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire, on the live embers he roasts meat, eats it and is replete. He warms himself too. ‘Ah!’ says he ‘I am warm; I have a fire here!’ With the rest he makes his god, his idol; he bows down before it and worships it and prays to it. ‘Save me,’ he says ‘because you are my god.’ They know nothing, understand nothing. Their eyes are shut to all seeing, their heart to all reason. They never think, they lack the knowledge and wit to say, ‘I burned half of it on the fire, I baked bread on the live embers, I roasted meat and ate it, and am I to make some abomination of what remains? Am I to bow down before a block of wood?’”
Ezek. 14:6, JB: “The Lord Yahweh says this: Come back, renounce your idols [“dungy idols,” NW] and give up all your filthy practices.”
Ezek. 7:20, JB: “They used to pride themselves on the beauty of their jewellery, out of which they made their loathsome images and idols. That is why I mean to make it an object of horror [“uncleanness,” Dy; “refuse,” NAB] to them.”
How should we feel about any images that we may formerly have venerated?
Deut. 7:25, 26, JB: “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. You must regard them as unclean and loathsome [“thoroughly loathe it and absolutely detest it,” NW].” (While Jehovah’s people today are not authorized to destroy images that belong to other people, this command to Israel provides a pattern as to how they should view any images in their possession that they may have venerated. Compare Acts 19:19.)
1 John 5:21, Dy: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols [“false gods,” JB].”
Ezek. 37:23, JB: “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols . . . They shall be my people and I will be their God.”
What effect could use of images in worship have on our own future?
Deut. 4:25, 26, JB: “If you act perversely, making a carved image in one shape or another [“some idol,” Kx; “any similitude,” Dy], doing what displeases Yahweh and angers him, on that day I will call heaven and earth to witness against you; . . . you shall be utterly destroyed.” (God’s viewpoint has not changed. See Malachi 3:5, 6.)
1 Cor. 10:14, 20, JB: “This is the reason, my dear brothers, why you must keep clear of idolatry. . . . The sacrifices that they offer they sacrifice to demons who are not God. I have no desire to see you in communion with demons.”
Rev. 21:8, JB: “The legacy for cowards, for those who break their word, or worship obscenities, for murderers and fornicators, and for fortune-tellers, idolaters or any other sort of liars, is the second death [ftn., “eternal death”] in the burning lake of sulphur.”
Ps. 115:4-8, JB (113:4-8, second set of numbers, Dy): “Their idols, in silver and gold, products of human skill, have mouths, but never speak, eyes, but never see, ears, but never hear, noses, but never smell, hands, but never touch, feet, but never walk, and not a sound from their throats. Their makers will end up like them, and so will anyone who relies on them.”