Graven Images

Another scholarly question, if we refer to the 10 commandments in Exodus, we find part of the translation as…

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,"

No idols, nothing in heaven, nothing on the earth, nothing in the water. Basically no images. Would this not technically include the saints, mary, the crucifix? Or was this restated in the new testament to remove this requirement?

Please, no flaming each other. Just debate.

Well, our icons and statues and paintings aren’t idols, because we don’t worship them. :stuck_out_tongue: However, I’ll give you a serious answer. A good explanation that I read once went something like this: under the old Law men were not allowed to create images of God specifically because, due to the heavily pagan surroundings, there was a possibility that the Hebrews over time might come to mistake the representation as God. God had not yet revealed himself in any physical form. However, the Divine was eventually revealed in physical form in Jesus. Because of this, it is now acceptable to portray God and others (angels, saints, etc.).

Of course, it’s important to remember that even in the Old Testament some “graven images” were acceptable if they were used in a religious context. These images included the cherubim on the Ark and the bronze snake that Moses used to cure the Israelites of plague. Of course, worship of these images was and is unacceptable.

Oh, and here’s an article from the ever-helpful that talks about images and statues at the beginning, if Biblical justification of this practice is what you’re looking for. :thumbsup:

The commandment was against images used as idols, not against all images or the ark of the covenant couldn’t have had images of angels(winged beings) on it. The commandment is against worshiping graven images as a god. The Jews, conscious that they lived surrounded by cultures that worshiped images as god, refused to make any images which was wise but not absolutely required by the commandment.

In most protestant churches there is an image of a cross. They honor the cross and sing about it. They are told to come to the foot of the cross. No one thinks that someone praying in front of a cross is worshiping the cross as a god.

Laudetur Iesus Christus.

The First Commandment (Exodus 20:4) does not say “basically no images.” Rather it says, “no false gods.”

We can tell this by reading just a little further in the same book. Exodus 25 says:

And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. (Exodus (RSV) 25:18.)

These golden images of heavenly creatures were to be placed on the Ark and to be placed at the very focus of the worship of the people. Clearly a dangerous place, if one were forbidding all images because of a risk of false worship.

Exodus 26 also directs:

"Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff; with cherubim skilfully worked shall you make them. (Exodus (RSV) 26:1.)

These images of cherubim are mentioned several more times in the Book of Exodus. Clearly the requirement that Scripture be read as a whole and that the harmony among all of the parts of divine Revelation must be used to guide our reading require that the First Commandment not be read as forbidding images, but as barring false worship and the making of idols as the object of such worship.

In the Book of Numbers, God also commands the making of an image, this time of an earthly creature, which God endows with miraculous powers of healing – another risk of inspiring false worship which the people were expected to resist.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers (RSV) 21:8-9.)

It was only much later, after the reign of King David, that this image of the serpent itself became the object of worship and for that reason was destroyed:

He smashed the bronze serpent called Nehushtan which Moses had made, because up to that time the Israelites were burning incense to it. (2 Kings (NAB) 18:4.)

There were also other images used in the worship under the Old Covenant, which were not specifically ordered by God. Solomon’s temple contained statues of cherubim and images of cherubim, palm trees, open flowers, oxen, and lions, in addition to those described in the Book of Exodus. God did not condemn these images. They were used to support the proper worship of the true God within the Temple at Jerusalem. (See, I Kings 6:23-36; 7:27-39; and 8:6-67.)

None of these images were condemned as violations of the First Commandment, so long as they were aids to true worship and not themselves treated as idols or false gods.

I hope this is helpful. (Some of the citations above were found on the Scriptur[al] Catholic website,, a very useful reference source.)

Pax Christi nobiscum.

John Hiner

Protestants sometimes bring up graven images in light of the commandments. But is a crucifix for example graven :eek: St Paul says that “we proclaim Christ crucified.”

Found this old apologetics article…

For a long time, most people were illiterate. Images, wether statues or stain glass windows or paintings depicting Christ, His life, His teachings and other important Biblical figures, were used to catechise people and remind them of the glory of Christ. Nowadays there are movies, books, posters, cartoons, CDs, bumper stickers, t-shirts and pictures used at Sunday school classes.

Cities are full of works of art and similarly in our homes we see art. Perhaps there are photos (not around in Christ’s time) hanging on the wall or statues or gnomes in the garden etc. They make our house look nice; and statues etc make a church, the house of God, look nice too.

The most obvious example of an image would be a nativity set at Christmastime or the fish symbol used by early Christians. In our personal lives it would be photographs, reminding us of a summers at the beach and loved ones past. Photos in history books too. There are statues of Presidents in Washington and portraits of Kings and Queens in London.

God forbids the worship of images as God, in lieu of the 10 commandments. He does not however ban the making of images, as long as they are not worshipped. In fact God asked Moses to make a statue of a serpent, which would heal people. It was destroyed only when people began worshiping it.

God asked that Cherubim’s to be made and was very specific in his instructions. Ezekiel received a vision from God of the ideal temple with carved images, palm trees, Cherubims. David gave Solomon the plan for “the alter of incense…to make the likeness of the chariot of the cherubims…”. The next verse tells us that all these things came to David “written by the hand of the Lord…” In Acts handkerchiefs and aprons are used to heal the sick.

The Church says (CCC 2132) “Religious worship is not directed to images themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate is as an image, but tends towards that whose image it is” - Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The Church also says that “Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God’” (CCC 2114).

Here’s an interesting thing to think about: after God gave the commandments he told them to build the Ark of the Covenant which had Cherubim on top. That is an image of something in heaven. God also told them to make the brass serpent so that they could be healed from snake bite by looking at it; that is something from the earth. It all depends on the purpose of the image. We are not to worship them. They are like pictures of loved ones to remind us of them.

In Christ,

Another thing to remember is that when the 10 commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, no one had seen God and could not make an exact image of him. He was commanding against the practice of those like the Egyptians who molded their gods in the shape of creatures that were half animal, half man and the like. Once Jesus took the form of man, we had something to compair to, an image of the God/Man. That changes things a little.

Most importantly we should remember that we use statues, the stations of the cross, etc… as bible christians use the bible, simply as tools of prayer, leading our eyes and hearts to Christ, reminding us to live a better life and to strive for holiness (saints). We do not worship them but we ask them to pray for us as we ask people in our parishes to pray for us.

Unfortunately, according to the Protestant way, there is no such reality as Transubstantiation. Therefore they do not look kindly on Catholic practices of Eucharistic adoration.

All the comments you’ve received here about the various images God either commanded or accepted in the OT liturgical setting are valid and important, as is the point that the commandment is against worshipping graven images, and we still prohibit worshipping any created thing. Only the Uncreated God may be worshipped. But another point connects with your query about the NT. The radical, even shocking truth of Christianity was this: “He is the image of the invisible God” Colossians 1:15. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” John 14:9. “Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.” This is absolutely the core of the rejection of Jesus by the Jews: the notion that God could visible and material was blasphemy. It’s a difficult concept, and the struggle to understand the Incarnation led into assorted heresies that denied one bit or another in order to try and reconcile what appears to be irreconcilable (a Mystery!). Many Protestants today (and not a few Catholics) hold, unknowingly, the same heretical opinion - that Jesus couldn’t REALLY have been God - either His humanity was not quite like ours, or it wasn’t fully joined to His divinity, because they conceive of the material world as corrupt and corrupting, and so cannot conceive of God-in-the-flesh. It’s also why they cannot accept the Eucharist (which when you think about it is no more difficult a miracle than the Incarnation). The crucifix reminds us of that Truth.

and no nativity scenes. . . . .

Actually this is not really true. Many Protestant denominations believe that Jesus is real present under the wine and bread. What they do not accept is the artificial construct of defining how it happens. Catholicism has decided to speculate on this event. Some Protestants, those that believe in the real presence, tend to allow the “how” of this remain mystery, unknowable by humans.

So in fact I don’t imagine there is necessarily an objection to Eucharistic adornation. We keep the light on at all times too! :slight_smile:

I generally agree here. I frankly have no objection to Eucharistic adoration. Lutherans generally don’t practice it, as we take Christ’s words for the primary purpose of the Eucharist - to eat and drink (I’m sure Catholics do, too).

As for graven images, Catholics don’t worship statues, we don’t worship crucifixes. Therefore, they are not idols, and do not fall under the prohibitions of scripture, or the early councils.


It depends on the denomination. What about for example, Baptists?

This is what Catholics believe regarding the First Commandment:

Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence. They serve grape juice and like a cracker (can’t remember). It serves no purpose just like their baptism. Strange that they would call themselves Baptist when they don’t believe that baptism does anything huh?

This is why I would suspect that they have a problem with Eucharistic adoration.

Whether this is an actual fact or not I am not sure, but I heard that Orthodox Jews many years ago would not allow pictures taken of them, as they felt these were images. Also if you understand the commandment in the protestant understanding of it, wouldn’t it be a sin to have pictures of your family, carvings of fish or animals etc.?

If someone has heard this about the Jewish tradition regarding pictures, please convey the information as I find that interesting.

Yours in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary


Yes that would include the statues and paintings, while in letter they are not said to be worshiped in practice they are. Also anything can become an idol beyond statues and pictures

Like the bible?

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