Is All Bowing Before Images “Idolatry”? (vs. T.F. Kauffman)

Is All Bowing Before Images “Idolatry”? (vs. T.F. Kauffman) July 14, 2023

Timothy F. Kauffman was raised Catholic, converted to Protestantism in 1990, and is now a Presbyterian (PCA). He has written, “I was saved out of Roman Catholicism, and into Christianity, . . . Roman Catholicism was out of accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Timothy is author of the books, Quite Contrary: Biblical Reconsiderations of the Apparitions of Mary (1994), Graven Bread: The Papacy, the Apparitions of Mary, and the Worship of the Bread of the Altar (1995), and is co-author with Robert M. Zins, of A Gospel Contrary!: A Study of Roman Catholic Abuse of History and Scripture to Propagate Error (April 24, 2023). He has been blogging about theology and Catholicism since 2014. His words will be in blue.


I will be responding to one portion of Timothy’s article, ” ‘We Don’t Worship Mary’ Part 1″ (6-8-14).

The commandment in the Scripture identifies visible exterior actions that go along with idolatrous worship—namely, making graven images, and bowing down to and serving them—and those visible external actions are just as forbidden as murder:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them… (Exodus 20:3-5)

. . . Even the Roman Catholic Catechism extolls the virtue of martyrs who would not even go through the motions of idolatry, “refusing even to simulate such worship,” irrespective of interior dispositions (paragraph 2113). 

This is a legalistic, external-only definition of idolatry, which goes against the biblical definition of it. See my article: Biblical Idolatry: Authentic & Counterfeit Conceptions (2015). But that is a deeper issue, apart from my immediate reason for this response. Timothy starts from a flawed definition of idolatry (according to the biblical standard). Therefore, the argument he builds upon it is also flawed and its substance false.

He would make out (as far as I can tell from his remarks here) that all bowing before any images whatsoever is an act of idolatry. In effect, he makes all images “graven images.” But this, too (if indeed he holds to it), is a falsehood. See:

“Graven Images”: Unbiblical Iconoclasm (vs. John Calvin) [Oct. 2012]

Was Moses’ Bronze Serpent an Idolatrous “Graven Image?” [National Catholic Register, 2-17-20]

But even John Calvin didn’t oppose all religious images whatsoever.

There are many directions to go in such discussions. Rest assured, I have written about all of the main aspects of the broader controversy about the communion of saints and images. But again, I am centering one one thing at present, as will shortly be made clear. The quickest refutation of Timothy’s contention is to cite Holy Scripture (which I always love to do, and have a reputation for doing!):

The ark of the covenant — the most sacred item to the ancient Israelites — had cherubim carved on top of it: on both sides of the “mercy seat” (Ex 25:22; Num 7:89; Heb 9:5). Additionally, when the ark was put into its permanent place in the Holy of Holies in the temple, giant carved cherubim covered it as well (1 Kgs 6:23 ff.; 8:6-7; 1 Chr 28:18; 2 Chr 3:11 ff.;  5:8). The cherubim were angels. They guarded the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve rebelled against God (Gen 3:24; cf. Ezek chapters 1 and 10).

We know that cherubim represented (and in carved images portrayed) angels. We know that they were on top of the ark of the covenant itself (Ex 25:18-22; 37:7-9; Num 7:89; 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2), and also in larger form, present in the temple, outside of the Holy of Holies (1 Kgs 6:22-35; 7:29, 36; 2 Chr 3:7-14; Ezek 41:18, 20, 25). And they were also previously present in the tabernacle, the original prototype of the temple (Ex 26:1, 31; 36:8, 35).

[see also an illustration of Solomon’s temple and what the ark of the covenant may have looked like]

This being the case, we know that wherever there is bowing, prayer, and/or worship in Scripture, as related to the ark of the covenant either outside the temple or tabernacle, or in them, that statues (of cherubim / angels) were present. And this is also true of any bowing, prayer, and/or worship in or near the temple. That’s an awful lot of statuary or other images! Yet we are to believe that these most sacred acts of the ancient Jews were fundamentally idolatrous, and that anything even approximating these actions in Christianity is also idolatrous? It strains credulity to the breaking point. Here are the actual relevant biblical passages:

Bowing and Praying Before the Ark of the Covenant (Including Cherubim)

Joshua 7:6-7 (RSV) Then Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust upon their heads. [7] And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why hast thou brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!

Worship and Praise Before the Ark of the Covenant (Including Cherubim)

1 Kings 3:15 . . . Solomon . . . came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings . . .

1 Kings 8:5 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. (cf. 2 Chr 5:6)

1 Chronicles 16:4 Moreover he appointed certain of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. (cf. Deut 10:8)

1 Chronicles 16:37 So David left Asaph and his brethren there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister continually before the ark as each day required,

2 Chronicles 5:6 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.

Bowing Towards the Temple (Which Included Carved and Painted Cherubim), and Worshiping and Giving Thanks

2 Chronicles 7:3 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 for ever.”

Psalm 138:2 I bow down toward thy holy temple and give thanks to thy name for thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness; for thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word.

Praying and Sacrificing and Worshiping in or Near the Temple (Which Included Carved and Painted Cherubim) or Tabernacle (Embroidered Cherubim)

2 Chronicles 6:20 that thou mayest hearken to the prayer which thy servant offers toward this place. [temple]

2 Chronicles 6:26-27 When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against thee, if they pray toward this place, and acknowledge thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou dost afflict them, [27] then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, thy people Israel, when thou dost teach them the good way in which they should walk; and grant rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people as an inheritance. [temple]

2 Chronicles 6:29-30 whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by any man or by all thy people Israel, each knowing his own affliction, and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house; [30] then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render to each whose heart thou knowest, according to all his ways (for thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of the children of men); [temple]

2 Chronicles 6:32-33 Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of thy people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of thy great name, and thy mighty hand, and thy outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, [33] hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, (cf. 1 Ki 29-30,35,42) [temple]

Psalm 5:7 . . . I will worship toward thy holy temple in the fear of thee.

Psalm 28:2 Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to thee for help, as I lift up my hands toward thy most holy sanctuary. [tabernacle]

Psalm 134:2 Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD! [tabernacle or temple]

Luke 2:37 . . . She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour ofprayer, the ninth hour.

Acts 22:17 . . . I had returned to Jerusalem and waspraying in the temple . . .

Hebrews 9:2-7 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. [3] Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, [4] having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; [5] above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. [6] These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; [7] but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.

Are these all “graven images” too? Are all these instances or prayer, worship, and sacrifice in conjunction with images (cherubim, palm trees, etc.) idolatrous? According to the Bible, obviously not. In the Bible, God was worshiped even in direct association with created matter: a burning bush, a cloud, and fire (as well as in conjunction with the cherubim on top of the ark, where He stated that He was especially present):

Exodus 3:2, 4-5 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. . . . [4] When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” [5] Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 33:9-10 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.

2 Chronicles 7:3-4 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 for ever.” [4] Then the king and all the people offered sacrifice before the LORD.


Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,300+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-three books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.
Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.
PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!


Photo credit: Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle, c. 1896-1902, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: I object to Presbyterian apologist Timothy F. Kauffman’s argument that all bowing to any religious objects whatsoever is rank idolatry. The Bible states otherwise.

"Jim , this is not the Pope's making ... The innumerable lies and gossip about ..."

Tragic Bp. Strickland & Reaction from ..."
"I have said about ten times recently on Facebook and have maintained for years that ..."

Tragic Bp. Strickland & Reaction from ..."
"I do not blame Pope Francis for Strickland's error. I believe he went too far ..."

Tragic Bp. Strickland & Reaction from ..."
"You blamed the Holy Father for Strickland's very serious errors. That is unacceptable, and I ..."

Tragic Bp. Strickland & Reaction from ..."

Browse Our Archives