Worship of God Via Natural Images (vs. Jim Drickamer)

Worship of God Via Natural Images (vs. Jim Drickamer) January 16, 2017


Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant (1800), by Benjamin West (1738-1820) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


[The words of Reformed Baptist elder Jim Drickamer will be in blue. Words of mine cited from my older paper by Jim will be in green]


You wrote that you were glad to discuss things with me if I take one of your papers and respond point-by-point, showing you where you are wrong in each particular.


I found this article on “Biblical Evidence for Worship of God Via an Image” which you posted on 10/22/15. It was a short article and appears easy for me to understand. So I thought I would give it a try. Here is my point-by-point response:

Sometimes we miss things in the Bible, though they are right in front of us.


Some of our Protestant brethren (mainly Calvinists but some other denominations as well) have an almost obsessive fear of any image associated with worship at all, thinking that all such manifestations are examples of idolatry and undue exaltation of a “graven image”.

True. But wouldn’t a reasonable, not obsessive, fear of any image being worshipped be prudent?

Fear of true idolatry potentially being present is absolutely prudent, as that is a serious sin. An irrational, almost obsessive fear (often exhibited by those of the Reformed persuasion) of every image necessarily being 1) a graven image, and 2) idolatrous in terms of how it is being viewed and used by Catholics, is unreasonable. Usually critiques of same result from incorrect premises and an inadequate understanding of the Catholic rationale for such things. This particular article was not about man-made images, but about images in nature that represented God, by God’s own statements and revelations of Himself.

Exodus 20: 4-5, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them.”

Okay, what do those verses prohibit? They prohibit the making of an idol, regardless of what that idol might be a likeness – what is in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. They also prohibit worshipping or serving those idols.

Correct. One must not make a mere man-made item a replacement for God (idolatry).

Dave wrote, “This has led some fanatical elements to oppose even crucifixes and statues of Christ as idols. In other words, all images whatsoever are collapsed in this wrongheaded mentality into the category of the “graven image” in the Ten Commandments.”

True. There is some fanaticism here.

And I have directly interacted with it: almost always from Reformed people; e.g., with one guy who goes by the nickname “Turretinfan.”

But it is also true that the commandment prohibited the making of an idol. If a crucifix or statue of Christ is an idol, then it would be prohibited. Is it an idol? That is the question. The commandment also forbids the worshipping or serving of idols. If people are worshipping a crucifix or a statue of Christ, as opposed to worshipping Christ, they are doing what the commandment forbids.

That’s correct, but I would contend that very few people are so stupid as to think that a wooden crucifix or plaster statue of Christ is Christ Himself, and to be worshiped. They are simply devotional aids, just as virtually all Christians would accept painted portraits of Jesus as pious items that help us reflect on our wonderful Lord and Savior and what He has done for us, making it possible to be saved from our sins and go to heaven one day. So this criticism would apply to so few people as to be miniscule and virtually an irrelevant concern: one in a thousand profoundly ignorant and nominal Catholics, if even that many.

“But the Bible doesn’t take this view at all. Here is one striking example: Exodus 33:8-10 (RSV) Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up, and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he had gone into the tent. [9] When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. [10] And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent door. Note that the pillar of cloud is:
1) a creation (water, if a literal cloud); 2) visual, hence an image; and 3) thought to directly represent God Himself.

This is a very poor example. For one thing, the commandment prohibited the making of an idol. No man made the cloud.

This paper, as I noted above, is about the prohibition of any images associated with God and worship: not just man-made ones. It’s a larger, more all-encompassing subject matter, directed to those opposed to any and all religious images in worship, whether man-made or natural. The biblical texts provided decisively refute this silly view, in my opinion. This passage is not only not a “very poor example”; it is precisely and perfectly relevant to my subject matter. I deal with man-made religious objects in these two papers:

This verse also says that when the people saw the cloud, they would rise up and worship. It does not, however, say they would worship the cloud, the image. So the cloud is not a forbidden image.

They were worshiping God, with the cloud as a direct visual image of Him or “representative” of Him being right there in the location where the cloud was. Of course it’s not forbidden. It’s in the Bible. So it wipes out the most extreme iconoclastic position: extending to all images whatever: even natural ones.

It’s also a supernatural manifestation, which is a major difference compared to any true idol made by the hands of men; but that would make no difference for those who mistakenly hold that any image whatsoever associated with God is impermissible. The problem comes when God Himself expressly sanctions such images, and worship in conjunction with them, as here.

True. But the issue is not whether an image is associated with God. It depends on how the image is associated with God. In the image of the cloud, it is associated with God, because He is the Creator of the image. No man made it. This is permissible according to the commandment. On the other hand, if an image is associated with God, because a man made it in a likeness which reminds him of God, then it would be forbidden. A man made it.

So you contend that there can be no such thing as a legitimate statue of Christ or a crucifix? They must necessarily be idols? If so, I think it’s beyond silly, as is the whole iconoclastic heresy that the Church condemned many centuries ago. Those are the direct images of God in play. They’re not idols, nor are they themselves worshiped; they are devotional aids to help concentrate one’s mind on God.

The same iconoclasts (opposers of images) have to explain away things like the burning bush (Ex 3:2-6), which is not only fire, but also called an “angel of the Lord” (Ex 3:2), yet also “God” (3:4, 6, 11, 13-16, 18; 4:5, 7-8) and “the LORD” (3:7, 16, 18; 4:2, 4-6, 10-11, 14) interchangeably. An angel is a creation (as is fire and cloud); yet God chose to use a created being and inanimate objects to visibly represent Him. Several similar instances occur in the Old Testament.

These are more, very poor examples. The burning bush was not man made nor was it worshipped. It is not prohibited. An angel is not man made, but at times when men did worship angels, as in Revelation 22: 8-9, they were told to stop and only worship God. Thus, Dave, you have not yet provided an example of a man made image that God permitted men to worship.

Of course I haven’t, because it wasn’t the purpose of my paper, which you seem unable to grasp. I dealt with the man-made images in the two papers I cited above. So perhaps if you wander over to those, your reply will actually be relevant and on-topic. One can only hope!

Moreover, the Jews “worshiped” fire as representative of God in the following passage:

2 Chronicles 7:1-4 When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. [2] And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. [3] When all the children of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” [4] Then the king and all the people offered sacrifice before the LORD.

This is another very poor example. The fire came from God. It was not man made.

See my previous response. You keep making “replies” to imaginary arguments that I never made. This is not impressive. You would have gotten a D- in debating class, if that. You’d be lucky not to fail such a class.

In addition, the text as you quoted it here makes it clear that the Israelites were worshipping God. It does not say they worshipped fire as a representative of God.

They bowed down to the fire, precisely because it represented God. If it didn’t represent Him, then they would be committing idolatry (worshiping fire as God). But the text makes clear that their actions were good and permissible.

In summary, the title of this article is, “Biblical Evidence for Worship of God Via an Image.” The article does not speak to that issue. Every example Dave has provided contained an image, cloud, fire, and so on, that was made by God and was not worshipped. They do not apply to situations in which men make the image and do worship it.

Yep; explained now three or four times. So your entire reply so far is either 1) freely conceding my actual argument, which was that opposition to all religious images whatsoever, through which people worship God, including those not made by man, is wrong, and 2) arguing against caricatures of my argument and straw men, which proves nothing except that you didn’t comprehend what my argument was.

I think the bottom line deals with worship. The worship of an image is sinful. It should not be done. This would include images of Christ. An image of Christ should not be worshipped. Instead, Christ should be worshipped.

That’s exactly what we Catholics do: we worship Christ: through images at times.

What about merely having but not worshipping an image?

The commandment from Exodus 20 prohibits making an image. I worry about splitting hairs. If I have an image I did not make, is that permissible?
I would be concerned with images particularly in the sanctuary of a church. It seems to me that having images in a place of worship might lead people inadvertently to think they should worship them. At the very least, I think the church leaders should make it clear to everyone that worshipping the idols is forbidden.

. . . which the Catholic Church has always done. Everyone understands that these are visual aids to devotion to God. In the case of statues of saints, they help us honor or venerate them, which is a separate discussion.

"Well written! I was not too invested in the discussion of the immortal soul before ..."

Lucas Banzoli is a Non-Trinitarian and ..."
"Anthony, Banzoli's argument is simply wrong. If souls do not exist after we die, how ..."

Lucas Banzoli is a Non-Trinitarian and ..."
"God cannot go out of existence and then come back. That's impossible. That ain't God, ..."

Lucas Banzoli is a Non-Trinitarian and ..."
"From Banzoli's book: "In all these texts, life (here portrayed as soul-nephesh) is taken because ..."

Lucas Banzoli is a Non-Trinitarian and ..."

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad