Defend against graven images

In the old testament it says we are not to make graven images, or bow down to them. How do catholics justify making there images of Jesus? I also see some protestants with images of jesus

The Bible doesn’t say not to make the images…it says not to make them for the purpose of worshiping them. If the OT commanded they not be made at all, you would necessarily have to agree that we should have no pictures of kinfolk, no piano busts, etc…ad nauseum…AND you’d have to agree that God broke His own Law whenhe commanded graven images be made and even had Solomon adorn the temple with them.

Why do you make a distinction between ANY graven image and a graven image of Jesus?

The center of Jewish worship, the temple/tabernacle, was carved images on a box and everyone bowed down to it.

Tell that to the Jews in the Old Testament when God gave them instructions to build the tabernacle. oooooh so graven.

Protestant iconoclasm is almost as bad, and in fact is derived from Islamic influences in the 9th century. See my blog article. Iconoclasm: Or: Catholics Worship Graven Images NOT

Lets play spot the graven image and the bowing as it was done in the Bible.


If Israel and God understood the passage the same way protestants insist then the temple worship commanded by God would have violated the commandment.

Lets not forget …

The Israelites, like the Church after them, understood it quite differently than protestants.

Catholicism is a continuation (and possibly a further expansion) of the orthodox Jewish belief in the importance of the senses. God commanded the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to be made as such-and-such, and images were included in this.

Strictly speaking, it is within the power of the Church to have sanctuaries completely barren of all images, whether as statues or as pictures. You do not “need” any of it. But it’s never going to happen, for the same reason the Church is never going to tell people not to bless themselves or not to read daily devotionals. For one, the art and craftsmanship of mankind is one of many ways in which the human person celebrates their love for their Creator. Secondly, it could be a passive admission that iconoclasm is right, which the Church has already condemned.

Over the altar of our church is a large crucifix. When I go up to receive the sacrament I bow down ( kneeling is difficult for me). I am not kneeling to that crucifix, but to that which it represents and portrays; the very Christ, His body and blood, I receive under the forms of bread and wine.
In no way does this violate the 1st commandment.

Some good answers already.

I have also heard it explained (probably on here somewhere) that God himself abrogated the prohibition against images, graven or otherwise) by the incarnation of Christ.
Before Christ there was no “image” of God to be had…so none should be attempted. Since God came in the flesh, He has made himself an “image”.
Now that I think of it this may have been in a discussion about “Icons” in the Eastern Church.

Of course as others have pointed out the prohibition against images is not so “airtight” as the wording of the commandment might suppose.

I think that more problematic to the non-Catholic is the issue of “Bowing down”, for we do reverence out statues and images. This can become a more subtle difference.

The key though lies in reading and understanding of Exodus 32. Note that in verse 1 it says"
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, “Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” - (Exodus 32:1)
And then in verse 4 we see this:
And (Aaron) received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. **And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” **
I can pretty much guarantee that you will never find a Catholic referring to a statue as their god.
Yes - if you point to a statue and as who is that - they might say, that’s Jesus, or Mary or Joseph or whoever…but that it no different than looking at a family photo and saying “That’s aunt Molly”. One doesn’t mean it’s actually Molly - and we don’t mean that the statue of Mary is actually Mary.

Yes we bow to the statue and we kneel before the statue to pray…but we never would say, like the Israelites did, that the statue IS our god.

Anyway - hope this helps a little.


The Ark of the Covenant had two golden Cherubim on it. Would that be graven?


Playing devil’s advocate a little here…Concerning the supposed contradiction between the prohibition on graven images…and God’s inclusion of them in various places…

One could make the argument that the commandment as given is…“You shall not make for yourself…”. In the cases where it is commanded, it is not “making for yourself”, but simply following the command of the Lord.
Thus the prohibition on US choosing to make something is different than GOD choosing to have something made…

Understand that I am not disputing the Church here…but I do think this would be a fair argument.



In older times this was easier for the lower church crowd. Anglicans/Lutherans and the like always having crucifix’s. But the more spartan non decorated churches could quibble with the catholic use of images with some degree of legitimacy.

Today though in most any baptist and non denom I’ve been in, from small to mega, use images in their worship services too. They just require them to be projected onto screens instead of painted as an icon on wood.

i have actually thought of this before. but then God didn’t command Solomon to make the temple to his specifics, he just said build me a house. but i honestly odn’t know. not that it really matters anymore, Jesus gave the church power to b[BIBLEDRB]ind and loose, If peter could pronounce in things such as circumcision which was a covenant given to Abraham[BIBLEDRB], or undo the food laws, i really don’t see the issue. [/BIBLEDRB][/BIBLEDRB]

A simple example would be, if you were to look in your house, I am sure there are pictures of your family, parents, grandparents… etc. The pictures symbolize people you love, respect and look up to, yet they are not the real person. The same goes for statues and images at church. We do not worship the statue, but see it is as a symbol for who they represent.

As a kid, I went to a Lutheran parish built in the 1850’s. Lots of stained glass - tells a story.
And that was the early Church reason, AFAIK, for iconography, etc. People couldn’t read, so the Church told the Gospel in images, and music, as well as word and sacrament.


The Commandment against making and worshipping graven images must be understood in its proper context. It is actually a subordinate clause of the Commandment against having strange gods. In other words, the Commandment does not prohibit the making of graven images (statues and images in relief) in general but only prohibits the making and worship of graven images of strange gods, of creatures regarded as divine beings. This can be clearly seen by the large number of approved 3-dimensional images found in the Old Testament: the two golden cherubim that were on the lid of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:18), the bronze serpent on a pole (Numbers 21:8-9), the twelve bronze oxen that held up the great bronze sea outside the Temple, the two very large golden cherubim statues in the sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple, the countless images in relief of cherubim, lions, oxen, etc. that adorned the walls and panels of the Temple. (1 Kings 6:18–7:36)

Consider the bronze serpent of Numbers 21:8-9. God directed that it be made to be an instrument of his healing power. It was an approved graven image, a good and holy thing. However, years later the idolatrous Israelites started regarding the bronze serpent itself as a god and began worshipping it and burning incense to it. In other words, the idolatrous Israelites turned a perfectly good and holy religious statue into a contemptible idol fit to be smashed by King Hezekiah. (2 Kings 18:4) Objectively, there is nothing wrong with graven images. They only become a problem when people start regarding them as gods and start worshipping them.

Catholics do not regard their statues as gods. They do not pray to them or otherwise offer them divine worship. Consequently, Catholics do not violate the Commandment.

I think it important to remember that Peter didn’t undo these things on his own. There was much debate on the matter. It was the Church in council who did this.
As you say - the authority to “bind and loose”, which was given to the Church in Mt 18:15-18 and we are told to “listen to the Church”.

That said…I think that the issue for many protestants is that this isn’t just one of the laws given by Moses. It’s one of the Ten Commandments…written by God’s finger onto the stone tablets.
We Catholics, just as all Christian communions Hold to the Decalogue even if we do not hold to the whole of the Mosaic Law. Thus, the OP can legitimately question our reasoning.

That said, you bring up a good point about the temple…I did not know that.
I am not familiar with that part of the bible.
Guess I need to look that up.


Practically those images are very the 90s ,i read an article on an Indiianaplois newspaper about a convenient store robber.he was about to pull the trigger at the owner’S head,when he suddenly turn his head and saw the statue of virgin mary.he stopped and fled.the owner attributed the presence of statue as having save his life…also,when i was a kid,i was about to steal some cash from my mother purse,but i got scared ,as there was statue of jesus close to it.if it wasnt there,im sure i did it,being mischievous,then!


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