Can you help me with Exodus 20 ?

Exodus 20 states "2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

The line I put in bold is one of the arguments others use saying that Catholics break the second commandment by having statues and pictures of Jesus, Mary, etc. If you were to take that sentence by itself I would think that means that you may not take any picture or make any representation of anything/person/item. Including pictures of your house, children, etc. because it states “on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” The second sentence is separated completely. It doesn’t say you may not make an image with the intentions of worship. Can you explain why the Church takes that meaning although it is not said?


The real problem comes from taking sentences by themselves. They were written in a context and can only be understood in that context. The gist of Chapter 20 is that the people were to worship God alone. They were to have no other gods before Him. They were to have no graven images to worship. It wasn’t the graven images that God was forbidding; it was the worship of them. This becomes quite clear in Exodus 25 where God commands Moses to make the arc of the covenant. In verse 18 we read: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold…” That’s right; God is commanding that they make two gold statues of angels which are to be placed in the holiest part of the arc. So God Himself is commanding that they have statues. It’s all there in Chapter 25. Context is everything!

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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