The Image of Christ the Nazarene
First of all let me again thank you for reading through my response. My new responses are in red and marked R4 and my previous statements which you quoted are in blue and marked R3. Your statements are in bold black.
Thank you Ramon for taking the time and effort to continue this dialog. Thank you also for taking extra effort in making sure our letters are orderly by putting in labels and colors. I must admit I was a little surprised that you intended to rest your case with your last reply. I will respect that if you choose to do so anytime. Maybe we can agree when it’s time to do a “final exchange” regarding a certain topic, where you and I will send our final summarizing thoughts in one page or less.
R4. I really appreciate your suggestion on a “final exchange.” I believe that we have covered already many issues related to sacred images. This would be my final response after which I am going to prepare my final summary in one page or less as you suggested.
R3. There is no contradiction if we do not isolate the phrase “prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man” from the qualifying phrase in Deut 4:15 “since you saw no form.” … What I did was to explain this qualifying phrase in the context of Deut. 4 and other Scriptural passages that speaks about idolatry. It is a fundamental rule in biblical interpretation to understand the meaning of a given passage in the light of other related passages and to see it in its historical context and not to isolate a verse or phrase as though it stands by itself. If this rule is not followed it will usually lead to a truncated version of the truth.
I appreciate your explanation and the thinking process that you went through and that you also hold to the rule that context is very important in proper biblical interpretation. I was trying to point out that the conclusion that God’s intention was for the Israelites not to make any images “as if divinity can be found in those visible forms or as if God existed in those forms” is not warranted in the context. Understanding the context is very important, but we must be very careful not to add any thought that is foreign to the passage or the context of the passage. Even how much I try to analyze “saw no form” in its context and history and in the light of other passages, it just cannot equate with as “if the divinity can be found in those visible forms or as if God existed in those visible forms”. The context of Deut 4, even when expounding “saw no form” does not support your qualifying statement of “as if divinity can be found in those visible forms or as if God existed in those visible forms.”
R4. In my previous post I have explained to you that “the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man” has a qualifying phrase “since you saw no form.” I have expounded on this qualifying phrase by citing Scriptural passages condemning idolatry like Isa 44:15-17, Acts 17:29, Wisdom 13:2, 10, 17, Exodus 20:3-5 and even Deut 4:15-16 which clearly illustrates the nature of idolatry i.e., that pagans thought that God existed in some visible form and that their idols has the inherent power to save them. So far, I have not come across any negation on your part that those who practice idolatry worship idols “as if the divinity can be found in those visible forms or as if God existed in those forms.” You have not offered an alternative explanation why the qualifying phrase “since you saw no form” is included in the prohibition of man-made representations of God. Again, it is my contention that this qualifying phrase can only be understood properly against the back drop of idolatry and in the light of God’s transcendence.
R3. Again I would like to assert that in understanding the intent of the prohibition in Deut 4:15-18 we have to consider other available data from Scriptures. In my previous post I have cited at least two passages to clarify my point (Isa 44:15-17, Acts 17:29). The qualifying definition I used actually underlies every other Scriptural passage that deals with idolatry.
I have read this paragraph and the succeeding 3 supporting paragraphs which I did not quote anymore. I think I am beginning to see something of where you are coming from. Please correct me if I’m wrong and pardon the complexity of the next phrase, but I think that you are thinking that I’m thinking about idolatry. I am not (yet) thinking about idolatry in this exchange with you. That is God’s first commandment in Exo 20:3. I am thinking about the second commandment in Exo 20:4 as expounded by Moses in Deut 4:15 and repeated in Deut 4:23, which forbids the making of any representation of God, regardless of motive or intention or purpose. There is a difference. The first commandment is a commandment against idolatry. The second commandment which is expounded by Moses in Deut 4 is a commandment against the making of any image of God. Although I must point out that idolatry is not far behind once the second commandment is violated as Deut 4:19 warns us “lest you be driven to worship them”. And like I mentioned, if for example, I see you bowing down before an image, or kneeling down before an image, I would be tempted to suspect that the image is becoming more than just a reminder, just as Deut 4:19 warns. The Bible is clear — faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), as you have indicated in our other exchange, not from looking at images to warm the heart.
R4. The attempt to delineate between what you think is the first and second commandment is well appreciated but I think that this distinction cannot be supported within the context of Deut 4:15-24 or in any other passage in the Bible. The entire quote from Deut 4:15-24 and Exodus 20:3-5 when viewed in its entirety are proscription against idolatry (worship of images as gods) and polytheism (worship of many gods) and it is within the context of these corrupt practices that the prohibition of making any man-made representation of God is given. Exodus 20:4-5 is simply an expansion on Exodus 20:3. Your assertion that Deut 4:15, 23 is outside the context of idolatry seems to be so only when it is cut out from the intervening verses 16-22 which clearly speaks about idolatry. I do agree that your explanation involves a certain amount of complexity which I think is due to your attempt at avoiding a straight forward reading of the verses. I am glad that you wrote “bowing down before and image” and “kneeling down before an image” which is fairly accurate description of catholic doctrine and practice. To pray before an image is different from to pray to an image. It is not that you can’t see the distinction but (as I notice in the course of these exchanges) it is that you don’t want to make the distinction. In the book of Joshua we read: “Joshua, together with the elders of Israel, rent his garments and lay prostrate before the Ark of the Lord until evening” (Joshua 7:6). In the second book of Samuel we read: “And David danced before the Lord with all his might… So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet” (2 Samuel 6:14-15). Notice the use of the word “before” and not “to”. That faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17) is well taken but it does not say by hearing alone. The preacher who is sent (Rom 10:15) could use both oral (audible words) and visual (visible signs and symbols) instructions to lead a person to faith as we very well know in children’s catechism classes.
R3. I’m glad that you candidly admit that God prescribes the making of a cherubim (Exo 25:18) and that he also prescribes sacred images to adorn His temple (Eze 41:18). I too am glad that we have this common ground. This is precisely the whole point of my argument. That God forbids idolatry (the worship of images as god) but permits iconolatry (the proper use of images in worship).
That is also what I am trying to show you — that God’s instructions for the making of the cherubim and other temple adornments cannot be taken as a sanction for iconolatry. And that is what I plan to continue doing by presenting to you the context surrounding those instructions, examples from Israel’s history and practice, and examples from the New Testament practices. Actually, it’s not that I need to admit, since the Bible clearly states the making of cherubim and temple adornments. But hold on for a moment, Ramon. I said that God in the Bible prescribed the making of the cherubim and the temple adornments, but I did not mention anything about “sacred”, not sacred in the context of iconolatry which is an unsupported conclusion. God prescribing the making of cherubim and temple adornments do not equate to God prescribing iconolatry. I think that’s only speculation (I apologize for using the term). There is no support for it. There is also no evidence in the Bible that the people of God actually practiced iconolatry in the Old and New Testaments. On the other hand, they were forbidden explicitly to even make images of God. Again, I do not say this in the context of idolatry, but in the context of God’s plain prohibition on the making of images of Him, regardless of motive, intent or purpose.
R4. God’s instruction for the making of the cherubim and other temple adornments proves several points: 1) that God did not absolutely forbid the making of images, 2) that images can be used to adorn God’s temple, 3) that although these images do not represent God as He is yet they could point towards Him, 4) that God employs the salutary use of images in His dealings with men, 5) that the people of God use images in their dealings with God. You may not want to call this practice as iconolatry but a rose called by any other name is still a rose. God’s prohibitions against making a visible representation of Him are all in the context of teaching us God’s transcendence on the positive side and a proscription against idolatry on the negative side. Your qualification of “regardless of motive, intent or purpose” is not supported by any Scriptural passages and is based on a false premise that Deut 4:15 is a command which stands by itself with no qualifications whatsoever. God judges not our external actions but the intent of the heart (1 Kings 8:39).
R3. The temple is a place of worship therefore its adornment should necessarily be in the context of worship.
I don’t think this is necessarily true. Take for example decorative plants. Are they put in there to be used for worship? Can an adornment not be put in simply because it makes the place look nice? If electric fans are put in to cool the place, are they to be used for worship? Would you rather have your officiating priest sit on a nice chair with handcrafted carvings, than on a plain Monobloc chair? And would the handcrafted chair then be said to be used for Roman Catholic worship? Furthermore, do you mean to say that the plain kapilya or the broken down old church building is a much lesser place of worship than a super-adorned Roman Catholic church?
R4. If those adornments were placed at a far corner inside the temple then maybe you would have a reason for denying that those adornments were used in the context of worship. The book of Ezekiel mentions “thus they were figured on every side throughout the whole temple” (Eze 41:18-19). I am really amazed on how you can reason that the carved images inside God’s temple were merely for “architectural design” and “because it makes the place look nice” but not for “lifting the mind and hearts of people to God.” It is much like saying that the purpose of putting an excellent choir is simply to hear “nice music” or to say that the purpose of installing a very good sound system has nothing to do with lifting the mind and hearts of the people but that they are simply part of the “electrical design.” Electric fans and nice chairs do not necessarily lift our minds to God. We can look at them all day and not be reminded about God. This is altogether different with the images of angels, Mary and the saints thus your analogy fails. But even these things when placed inside the temple have their intended purpose i.e., the electric fan to cool the place so that those who worship will not be distracted by intense heat and thus be able to focus more on God. Regarding your comparison between the “kapilya” and “basilica” there is no saying about a greater and lesser place of worship but that these places of worship are to be adorned as the means may provide. Going back to the sacred images inside God’s temple if these were not intended to lift the mind and hearts of the people to divine realities then they would only serve as mere distractions except of course if the people worshipping inside are all blind.
R3. We do not place the image of the President or Rizal in our Churches for they do not necessarily direct us towards God.
I think that there does not have to be a religious reason to not putting images of politicians in our church buildings. It may be enough to use good sense and sound reason to not put these images.
R4. Honestly, I think that they will only serve as a distraction to worshippers inside the temple for our mind responds to things we see. If we look at pornographic pictures our minds will become impure. If we look at the images of Jesus, Mary, angels, saints and pictures portraying significant events in salvation history our minds will be lifted up to heavenly realities.
R3. It is altogether different with the images of angels, the saints, Mary, and Jesus. I think St Paul sheds light to your question: “Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the place of expiation. Now is not the time to speak of these in detail. With these arrangements for worship, the priests, in performing their service” (Heb 9:5).
I want to thank you and I appreciate your trying to reply to my question when I asked you for evidence that the temple adornments were used for worship purposes. I want to address your reference to Heb 9:5 by quoting the whole passage. I ask you to read with me. From this, I will try to draw an analogy and then try to explain the passage.
Now (even) the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was constructed, the outer one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of offering; this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second veil was the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, in which were the gold altar of incense and the ark of the covenant entirely covered with gold. In it were the gold jar containing the manna, the staff of Aaron that had sprouted, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the place of expiation. Now is not the time to speak of these in detail. With these arrangements for worship, the priests, in performing their service, go into the outer tabernacle repeatedly, but the high priest alone goes into the inner one once a year, not without blood that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people. (Heb 9:3-7 NAB)
Let me give you the Roman Catholic equivalent as best as I can imagine it. As I remember it, there’s the table, there’s the place where the priest stores the host and wine, there’s the lectern or sermon stand, there might even be a nice arch. There can also be a lampstand. “With these arrangements for worship”, the Roman Catholic priest performs the Roman Catholic worship service. The context tells us that the priest needs his “props”. He needs his materials and equipment in the performance of his duty. The props are not indicative of how the rest of the people were to worship God. They are simply for the priest’s use in the performance of his duties. And no, the passage still does not support your claim that the people of God used the temple adornments for worship. The people could not even enter into the place to see them.
R4. I’m glad that you quoted the passage in full. St Paul mentions that the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. This earthly sanctuary as the Apostle describes contained visible objects which points to invisible realities. The lampstand symbolizes God’s eternal light, the table symbolizes the heavenly altar, and the bread of offering symbolizes God’s people. The Cherubim of Glory symbolizes God’s presence among His people. Thus these things are not mere “props” as you would like to believe but they have a religious and spiritual meaning. The earthly Temple with all its beauty and grandeur is a visible figure of the heavenly temple. The heavenly temple is where the angels and the saints abide (Hebrews 12:23) that is why God’s earthly temple are adorned with the images of angels and holy persons (Ezekiel 41:18-19) in order to point us to that reality which they signify. In contrast to the Catholic places of worship Catholic convert David Currie writes: “In an Evangelical church, it is usually the pulpit, the preacher, or the choir that is the predominant feature in front of the church. That arrangement makes it much harder to direct worship to God alone. All those people can get in the way.” (Born Fundamentalist Born Again Catholic, p 148)
R3. Granting without admitting that the command to use the adornments for worship is not explicit but at the very least it is implicit in the command to adorn the temple being a place for worship.
Saying something is implicit is quite prone to personal interpretation and can be very subjective, but never conclusively supportive. Following this kind of reasoning, the kitchen is a place for cooking, so does it follow that all your kitchen adornments are to be used for cooking?
R4. The Bible is not always explicit in a lot of things and I am not talking here about some minor doctrine. For example, where can you read the word Trinity in the Bible? Where can you find in the Bible that it is explicitly stated that in One God there are three divine persons? Using your own principle does it mean that using the Bible alone one can never be conclusively supportive regarding the Trinity? Don’t get me wrong here. There is some truth in your statement that saying something is implicit is quite prone to personal interpretation and can be very subjective but I disagree when you say that one can never be conclusively supportive. The fact that a teaching is implicitly taught does not mean that we just have to discard it or just subscribe to all sorts of interpretation. As you say, it may be enough to use good sense and right reason. Regarding the kitchen as a place for cooking, good sense and right reason would tell us that kitchen adornments are not to be used for cooking. They are there to remind us that the place is a place for cooking. We don’t usually place our family picture in the kitchen nor do we place a portrait of the Last Supper in our bedroom. Likewise in God’s temple sacred images are there to remind us that we are in a place of worship and to direct our attention to God.
R3. Let me borrow from your reply on our dialogue on Scriptures where you wrote: “Masturbation is addressed by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matt 5:28.” We both know that masturbation is never mentioned in the verse you quote and I think it is not mentioned explicitly anywhere in the Bible. Yet I can agree with you (although other people may not) that Mat 5:28 implicitly bear on the issue of masturbation.
In this case, I was not thinking of an implicit reference. My thinking on Matt 5:28 and why I referred to it was the thought process that usually goes with the act of masturbation. It is the thought process that is mentioned explicitly in Scripture and this is what I’m referring to. As to the purely physical act itself, I do not have a ready reference for you.
R4. Granting your explanation is correct but the fact the you have to explain that what you were referring to was the thought process and not to the purely physical act itself when quoting Mat 5:28 to me shows that the verse does not speak explicitly about masturbation with all its implications.
R3. I think the same principle applies here as to the adornments inside the temple. As I have explained in the previous paragraph that the temple was intended to be a house of worship and its’ adornments should be in the context of worship (Heb 9:5).
Your usage of “should” can be very subjective and cannot be used to conclusively support a claim. It means that is what you think it ought to be, but may not necessarily be so. Heb 9:5 tells us that the priest uses materials and equipment in the performance of his duties. It does not say that the adornments were used by the people of God for worship. Furthermore, those adornments could not be seen by the people for they could not enter the inner courts, only the priests could. And into the Most Holy Place referenced in Heb 9:5, only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year at that.
R5. In discussions like this and even in the courts of law one does not have to prove beyond all doubts but only beyond reasonable doubt in order to arrive at a conclusion or a verdict. With the possible explanations forwarded as to the purpose of the sacred images which adorned God’s temple I find the alternative arguments like “we should not presume to know God’s purpose” or “for architectural design” and “to make the place look nice” as inadequate and lacking Scriptural support. The only explanation which is consistent with the purpose of the temple being a place of worship is that the adornments should be in the context of worship i.e., as visual aids to lift the mind and hearts of the people to God. A good architect or interior designer naturally takes into consideration the purpose of the building which he is designing and to implement adornments in line with that purpose. Can we suppose that God who is the supreme architect and designer would miss this fundamental rule in design? The fact that only the High Priest could enter the most only place and only once a year does not negate what I was trying to prove: that the People of God in the Old Testament in their religious worship used visible objects to signify invisible reality.
R3. In the New Testament when Jesus saw that the temple was profaned, he rose in holy indignation: “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:15-17). Jesus in this instance never reprimanded the Jews for the sacred images which filled the temple but on the contrary has stamped it with his own divine authority.
R3. I appreciate the reference and explanation, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. This still does not show that the adornments were used for worship. Using your line of reasoning, I might say that yes, Jesus never reprimanded the Jews for their sacred images because there was no need to. They may not have been using them for worship at all. But then I would be adding my foreign reaction to your foreign thought. I must caution you again since we both agree that context is important, that we must be careful not to add any thought that is foreign to the text or context. Your last sentence is (alarmingly) quite foreign to the text and context.
R4. Jesus on many occasions reprimanded the Jews for man-made practices they invented that nullified the word of God (Mat 15:1-8). But never did Jesus reprimand the Jews on their practice of adorning the temple with sacred images. On the contrary Jesus endorsed the Temple, with all the sacred images which adorn it, as a place of worship, a house of prayer, and his Father’s house. Jesus teaches us in this instance to give due honor and reverence to those things which are dedicated for a holy purpose. Such is the case for the Temple and all the sacred images inside it. These form part of our worship to God.
(Benjie previously) We must be very careful not to add to, or take away from, what God has instructed in the Bible. They are the words of the Almighty King and Sovereign Lord. We are warned by the apostle John in 2 John 1:9 that whoever goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. (2Jn 1:9). The book of Deuteronomy also warns us: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (Deu 12:32)
R3. I think it is those who deny the proprietary use of images in worship who are questioning God’s wisdom. It was divine wisdom that guided Solomon to adorn God’s temple with sacred images (Eze 41:18-19). It was divine wisdom that guided Joshua to prostrate himself before the Ark of Covenant (Joshua 7:6). It was divine wisdom which guided King David to dance before the Ark of Covenant (2 Sam 6:13-14). It is divine wisdom that gives men the artistic talent to paint and to carve and this can be used for the service of God (Exodus 35:30-35). And I think it is the same divine wisdom which is guiding the Catholic Church in instructing her children on the proper use of images in worship for the greater glory of God.
If I appear to question God’s wisdom by denying the proprietary use of images in worship, and you show me proof from Scripture that this is so, then I would readily accept correction. I would question this so called divine wisdom from the Roman Catholic church by the many publicly available references to its errors and blunders which I would as much as possible not want to go into for this would be like opening Pandora’s Box in our exchange. You still have not given my any proof that the people of God in the Old and New Testaments actually used images for worship. Until then, this wisdom that you refer to cannot be divine or inspired by God.
Regarding your references, there is no indication that the people of God in Eze 41 actually used the images for worship. On the other hand, I have shown you proof of the contrary — that they could not have been used for worship. I believe the reason Joshua and David treated the Ark special was because God said that His presence would dwell there. This is not a case of iconolatry, but God’s presence was really and actually there. Exo 35:30 mention artistry, but does not say they were used for iconolatry.
R4. Take note that on top of the Ark of Covenant are the graven image of two cherubims (Exodus 25:18-22). In Joshua 7:6, Joshua prostrate himself before the Ark of Covenant. In 2 Sam 6:13-14, David danced before the Ark of Covenant. In each of this instances Joshua and David were worshipping God. Basing on your principle I will be inclined to think that you would suspect Joshua and David of worshipping the Ark itself and not God. But you and I know that such is not the case. They were worshipping God in front of or at the occasion of the images of the two cherubims. You might not want to use the term iconolatry to describe this but again a rose called by any other name is still a rose. In Exodus 35:30-35, the artistic talent to paint and to carve was not given to men for artistry’s sake but that art can be used for God’s purpose and that is to lift the minds and hearts of His people to Him. What would be a better and more fitting place to accomplish this purpose than the Temple itself which is a place of worship?
R3. As I quoted above the use of these sacred images within the Temple were in the context of worship and that is iconolatry. Let me again quote St. Paul: “Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the place of expiation. Now is not the time to speak of these in detail. With these arrangements for worship, the priests, in performing their service” (Heb 9:5).
Heb 9:5 talks about the duties of the priest in the performance of his worship ritual. It speaks of the materials and equipment the priest uses. Taking these materials for the priest’s worship duty, and extending it to say the adornments were used by the rest of the people for worship would be going too far. The people of God could not even enter this holy place. It does not speak of iconolatry and cannot be used to support it. Iconolatry is still not mentioned by one New Testament writer as it is not mentioned in the Old Testament.
R4. The fact that God’s people, be it the High priest alone within the Most holy place (Hebrews 9:5) or the High priest together with the entire congregation within the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:14-16) or David together with the people in a religious procession (2 Samuel 6:1-17), used visible objects to signify invisible realities which ultimately point to God is iconolatry at its best.
R3. I think that this event in Israel’s history is instructive. Notwithstanding His explicit command in Exodus 20:4 “You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth” God commanded Moses to make a graven image of a bronze serpent and used it to manifest His power. Later, when the people started to misuse it God had the bronze serpent destroyed. Here we see on one hand God sanctioning the proper use of images since those who are bitten by the venomous snakes has to look upon the image of the bronze serpent in order to be healed (Numbers 21:8-9) and on the other hand condemning its improper use (2 Kings 18:4).
I see here an explicit command from God in Exo 20, and (I have to say) your interpretation or speculation (for there is no indication they were used for worship) that through the one incident of the bronze serpent, God is already universally sanctioning the proper use of images in worship. I would like to ask you if God actually told the people to worship Him this way, by looking at the bronze serpent. God was quite clear in His purpose for the making of the bronze serpent, and that is to heal those who looked upon it. We read of only this purpose. If you say that God’s purpose was for the people to use it for worship (iconolatry), then that would be going too far and you would be guilty of putting words into God’s mouth which He never said.
R4. This one incident of the bronze serpent together with the other passages which I cited makes a very strong case for the proper use of images to signify God’s presence and healing power and for our instruction. The bronze serpent was used by God to remind his people on the precept of His law. The bronze serpent did not only manifest God’s healing power but also points to the incarnation and redemption: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-15). Because of God’s healing power which was manifested through the bronze serpent God’s people were led to acknowledge and worship Him.
R3. God commanded Moses to make a graven image of Cherubims (Exo 25:18-22) and He commanded Solomon to adorn the temple with sacred images (Eze 41:18-19) and St. Paul said these were used in the context of worship (Heb 9:5).
If you read Paul’s letter, he was comparing OT and NT practices. He mentioned the priest’s use of the various temple materials in the performance of his duty as required by God. He did not say that the people of God should use them for worshipping God who said that His true worshippers will worship Him in spirit and truth, not through the use of images. There is still no sanction for iconolatry in the New Testament. No mention at all if it is really so essential in worship.
R4. If we read carefully Paul’s letter we will realized that the sacred worship of the people of God in the Old Testament were full of visible signs and symbols which signify invisible spiritual realities and thus helping the worshippers lift their minds and hearts to God. Just open your Bible and read through the books of Exodus and Leviticus for you to appreciate the proprietary use of visible signs and symbols in their worship to God. God himself prescribed all these things from the Temple adornments to very minute details of priestly vestments so that His people may render the worship that is due to Him.
R3. The Psalmist prayed to God for retribution to those who desecrated God’s temple by smashing the sacred images therein (Psalms 74:3-8).
We must again be careful to read the text carefully and understand the context, which is the whole Psalm. David prayed for retribution against God’s enemies primarily. He mentions that some of the things they did were break down the adornments and destroy the sanctuary. I have no issues with their importance since David mentions them in his psalm and more importantly, it was God Himself who had them designed in. But going back to our issue, does that importance mean the sanctioning of its use in worship? That conclusion is not found in the text or in the context. To me, smashing the sanctuary and its adornments was indicative of how bad David’s enemies were. Just like when one our kids makes “sumbong” and enumerates so many things that their sibling did to them.
R4. David prayed for retribution against God’s enemies primarily and for their desecration of God’s temple in particular. I can imagine a similar incident to what occurred in Israel’s history during the Iconoclast heresy. Emperor Leo the Isaurian under the guise of opposing the legitimate use of sacred images caused churches to be pillaged and desecrated. These men destroyed everything sacred they could lay there hands on. They smashed the images of Christ, Mary, the angels, and the saints which adorn the churches. We can still see remnants of this barbaric act in some headless statues which stands until today. Given the chance, I think people misguided by their private interpretation of the Bible, would not hesitate to do the same. The main point I want to raise in the above quote from Psalms 74:3-8 is that we should reverence God’s temple and all other objects which reminds us of Him. This is precisely the Catholic teaching: that the honor which is given them (sacred images) is referred to the originals which they represent. How would you regard a friend who while pledging his love and loyalty would trample on your picture? How would Jesus regard those people who while professing to acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior would trample upon the crucifix and other sacred images representing Him, Mary, angels and the saints? Satanism as a movement is thriving in our world today. Ex-members of this satanic cult testified that part of the satanic ritual is that the members trample upon sacred images of Jesus while uttering blasphemous words against our Savior.
R3. This legitimate practice which prevailed among the Jews was never condemned by Jesus but on the other hand he has approved it with his own divine authority (John 2:15-17). Considering the weight of authority behind this practice I can’t seem to understand how anyone would prefer otherwise.
I see is no legitimate practice mentioned in the Psalm that you referenced. I even read the Catholic NAB version and there is no mention of any practice. It’s just a factual reference to the things that were in the temple which God designed in. Are you not just assuming that just because there were adornments there, the people of God were using them for worship, and then calling it a legitimate practice? Saying that Jesus approved of it is reading in too much in the text of John 2:15-17 when Jesus drove out the traders and money-changers. You will be going too far. Please read again, carefully. It’s just not there. Both your assumptions are absent from John 2:15-17, the practice by the people of God and the approval by Jesus Christ of that practice.
R4. The legitimate practice I was referring to was the making of sacred images and adorning of the God’s temple with sacred images. The Jews, unlike most Protestants, did not have any misgivings on adorning God’s temple with sacred images. They visited and prayed inside the Temple with all those sacred images surrounding them. By the way, I happen to attend a protestant worship service, and I noticed the bare walls and ceiling in their place of worship. This I think is a very poor reflection of the Temple which God himself prescribed to be adorned with sacred images. That the images inside the Temple were for the purpose of lifting the minds and hearts of the people is a safe conclusion considering the purpose of the Temple being a place of worship and notwithstanding the inadequate explanations which you offered to the contrary.
(Benjie previously) At this point, I would like ask – why not focus on these two commands that are clearly and explicitly spelled out in the Old Testament and say that they have not been abrogated? Why focus on trying to find Scriptural support for iconolatry of which there is no clear reference? Which is more important – the clear command, or the (sorry, I have to call it) presumed command?
R3. I do not deny that the command forbidding Idolatry remains in force (Deut 4:16-19, Exo 20:3-5, etc) that is why the Catholic Church forbid the worship of images as gods or in place of God and She teaches us that we should not think that images in themselves have any power or divinity. However, the command to adorn God’s temple with sacred images (Exo 25:18-22, Eze 41:18-19, etc) was never abrogated therefore it also remains valid for us. As Catholics, we are taught not to pick and chose on the truths that God has revealed in Sacred Scriptures.
The command in Exo 20:4 and recalled by Moses in Deut 4 do not necessarily fall under the context of idolatry which is the first command in Exo 20:3. Idolatry is a much wider context that just the creation of images. Little “gods” do not necessarily have to be little images, but anything and everything that we put above God. “You shall have no other god before Me”. So when you remove the limiting mindset of idolatry and take the Exo 20:4 as it is and as expounded by Moses in Deut 4, you will see that it is the creation of images of God that is absolutely forbidden, regardless of whether it is used for idolatry or not. And again, God’s instruction to adorn the temple cannot support iconolatry since there is not clear reference. It is one of your “should”s. It is a presumption. There is really no command to be carried on today. There were simply construction instructions. There is no direct supporting reference for iconolatry.
R4. Since you admit that idolatry is a much wider context then how can you say that Exodus 20:4 and Deut 4:23 do not fall under this broader context. Why suddenly narrow down what you just mentioned as “a much wider context”? I think your attempt at delineating what you think is the first and second commandment is a conclusion which in not derived from a straight forward reading of the text but based on some preconceived interpretation. Again Catholic icons are not images of God as He is. They are representations of Jesus in his humanity, Mary, angels and saints. I hope that you will do better than attacking a caricature of Catholic teaching which I think exists only in your mind.
R3. In saying thus, I am not denying what you said about Jesus’ coming to the world to save us. We Catholics wholeheartedly believe this. What I meant is that where in the Old Testament the Israelites were forbidden to make any man-made representation of God since “they saw no form” when the Son of God became man He appeared to us in visible form and thus made it lawful for us to represent him (not his divinity but in his humanity) in human form and together with this those who were closely associated with him in the work of redemption like the Blessed Virgin, the apostles, the angels and the saints.
I see that we have here the explicit second command in the Ten Commandments as recalled in Deut 4, and your claim of the lifting of the command by the coming of the Son of God as a man. To see if your claim is valid, let me ask a few questions. Do you see any reference by Christ or any of the gospel writers regarding the lifting of the second commandment? Do you see any reference in book of Acts or any of the letters of Paul, Peter and John, James on the use of any image of Christ? Do you see any Scripture reference that the use of images of Christ was practiced by the early churches? If the answers to these questions are in the negative, and you further cannot show any other biblical support for your claim, then it will remain speculation and unsupportable presumption to support the Roman Catholic teaching on iconolatry. There just is no reference in Scripture. If it was so important, don’t you think its use then would be mentioned just a little in one of the letters to the early churches? (Heb 9:5 as I have shown you does not count in favor of iconolatry).
R4. I did not claim any lifting of the command in Exodus 20:3-5 and Deut 4:15-23. Catholics do not claim that Catholic icons are representations of God as He is. Catholic icons are representations of Jesus (who became man), Mary, angels, and saints and we do not worship these images nor believe that these images have inherent power in them (that would be superstition). They serve to remind us of important persons in salvation history and during worship to aid us in lifting our minds and hearts to God. I think its time that you confront this plain teaching and do away with what you think is “catholic teaching.” Even the image of Jesus is not a representation of Jesus in his divinity but as I was always careful to qualify it is a representation of Jesus in his humanity. I hope that you would not go to the extent of denying the true humanity of Christ as some sects have done. Actually they only went with their premise all the way: That since God is entirely transcendent it is a contradiction for Him to become truly human and therefore the historical Jesus is nothing more than a three-dimensional projection of a man. Of course their bizarre teaching also included the prohibition of representing Jesus as a man for He never became a man in the first place! I know that a lot of protestant denominations haven’t gone that far but in so doing they are also involved in another inconsistency: They profess that Jesus was truly human but prohibit any representation of Jesus in the form of a man!
Regarding the use of images as aids to devotion practiced by the early Church, we have archaeological witness on our side. Albert J. Nevins, M.M. writes: “The early Church used statues and images as aids to devotion and as expressions of faith. One need only to visit the catacombs in Rome to see statues and frescoes representing not only Christ but also scenes from Scripture. When the Church emerged from the catacombs, it continued to decorate its houses of worship with statues, mosaics, frescoes, and oil paintings, all designed to increase a spirit of prayerfulness” (Answering a Fundamentalist, p 106). If the use of sacred images in worship is a later invention by the Catholic Church why don’t we have adverse reactions from the early Christian communities during its introduction? The first adverse reaction against the use of sacred images came with the iconoclast heresy in the 8th century. This opposition was revived by the “reformers” in the 16th century. We have records of the writings of the early Church fathers, most of them renowned for their sanctity and orthodoxy but there is hardly any record of any opposition to the use of sacred images in their writings.
R3. I also agree that we should worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). But contrary to your interpretation, I think the passage simply does not exclude the use of sacred images in worship.
Respectfully again Ramon, if we go back to our original contention, it is the use of images in worship which you are trying to prove from a Scriptural perspective. I think you need to show passages that include the use of images, not passages that do not exclude its use.
R4. I hope you remember that it was you who quoted from John 4:24 as a denial of using visual aids in worship. I was only responding that while I agree that we should worship God in spirit and in truth (which we can read in John 4:24) I do not agree with your interpretation that it excludes the use of visual aids in worship (which is not found in the letters of John 4:24).
R3. Had God created us like the angels who are pure spirits then we would have no need of visible signs and symbols.
I will disagree on this, as evidenced by God’s command to the Israelites in Deut 4. God, in His infinite wisdom, forbade the making of any image of God. Don’t you think God would have sanctioned this a long time ago if indeed we needed visible signs and symbols of God? Are you saying that God was wrong in forbidding the making of images of Him, when according to you, the people actually needed a visible sign or symbol? At this point I find it appropriate to refer you to the incident recorded in Exodus 32. Moses had gone up the mountain to meet with God where he was to receive the 10 Commandments. The people started getting restless. Moses was not with them and to compound that, the visible sign and symbol of pillar by night and cloud by day were not with them anymore. The Israelites then asked Aaron to make for them a symbol and representation of God. They wanted something visible. You will see that the result toward the end of the chapter is not a good one. God killed those who did not repent of this grievous sin. God would have killed them all had Moses not interceded. This is how serious this command of God is.
R4. I am really amazed with your persistence but I hope you will be able to distinguish between making a man-made representation of God as He is (which God forbade) and the use of visible signs and symbols which signify invisible spiritual realities to lift our mind and hearts to God (which God permits). In fact, the letters of the Bible which you hold dear are visible representations of the word of God. God by his power could easily infuse to us spiritual knowledge without the aid of visible signs and symbols as He does at times. He could have healed his people without visibly manifesting his power through the bronze serpent. He could have made his presence felt among his people in a mystical way without the manifesting it through the image of the Cherubims. He could have prescribed that his temple be devoid of sacred images as most protestant churches stands today. But God who made us ordinarily works in ways which is consistent with our human nature. He communicates his truth to us through visible signs and symbols i.e., through a burning bush to manifest His holiness (Exodus 3:2-6), the staff of Aaron as a sign of his power (Exodus 4:1-5); pillar of fire to assure his people of his presence (Exodus 13:21); the Tent of the Tabernacle a symbol of His dwelling (Exodus 25:8); the image of the two Cherubims as a sign of His majesty (Exodus 25:18-22); and the bronze serpent as a sign of salvation (Numbers 21:8-9). This list can go on and on but as St Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews: “Now is not the time to speak of these in detail” (Hebrews 9:5). The incident you cited is about the Golden Calf which is worshipped by the unfaithful in place of the one true God (Exodus 32:7-8). This is idolatry plain and simple.
R3. To worship God in spirit and in truth is to engage our whole being body and soul towards God in accordance to His will.
I appreciate the interpretation, and I would like to add more thoughts. Going back a few verses to catch the context, we see the Lord Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman. Samaritans were outcasts to the Jews for they were a mixed people. They worshiped in a way that was not prescribed by God in the Old Testament. Their ways of worship, although they tried to worship God, was continually referred in the OT as “evil in the sight of the Lord”. The Lord Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the hour has come when the people of God will neither worship on that mountain nor in Jerusalem (where the temple was). Jesus is saying that place is not important anymore. Paul also tells Timothy in 1 Tim 2:8 that “in every place the men should pray”. God tells us in Malachi 1:11 tells us that “in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.” God is spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth. God does not say that because He is spirit and we are physical beings, we need visible signs and symbols. On the contrary, what God is commanding is the opposite of what you are saying. This means that the temple in Jerusalem, including its adornments, was not important anymore in the worship of the true and living God. (This includes your reference to the Heb 9:5 mention of the Old Testament way of worship which Christ already made obsolete by His coming, consistent with what the writer of Hebrews was saying. This is another proof that Heb 9:5 is not talking about iconolatry.) The Lord Jesus also tells the Samaritan woman that the true worshiper will worship God in truth — according to the truths as revealed in His word. The Samaritans did not worship according to His word, but according to what they thought was the proper way to worship.
R4. I disagree when you say that place in not important anymore. Jesus could not possibly contradict His declaration about the Temple as a house of prayer for all peoples (Mark 11:17, Mat 21:13, Lk 19:46), the house of God (Mt 12:4, Lk 6:4), his Fathers’ house (John 2:16-17). Jesus was talking about the Spirit which is given by God that reveals truth and enables one to worship (cf. John 3:5, 7:38-39, 14:16-17, Romans 8:26). Jesus was teaching the Samaritan woman a deeper reality about the Spirit whom Jesus is going to give to those who will believe. Some theologians refer to the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church. Where there is unity, there must be a principle or bond of unity. The members of our human body constitute one same reality only because we have a human soul which unites all the members of our body and causes them to be one same physical whole. The Church, likewise, considered in its totality and as having diverse states, constitutes only one and the same whole, the “Mystical Body of Christ.” We, therefore, should hold that there must exist some principle of unity, some bond which makes all the members something that is one. Now we find that it is the Holy Spirit, personally, who is the bond of unity. So when Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), He was referring to the members of His Church who will constitute not only Jews or Samaritans but people from all places. His Church shall a light to the nations (Acts 13:47) and possess unity in faith, worship, and governance (Ephesians 4:4-5), and as you quoted 1 Tim 2:8 and Malachi 1:11 “in every place.” These last two passages seem like connoting the word universal or catholic to me. I think to imply that John 4:24 includes doing away with Temple adornments is foreign to the text. In your comments on John 4:24 you said: “God does not say that because He is spirit and we are physical beings, we need visible signs and symbols.” But neither did Jesus say that since God is spirit we don’t need visible signs and symbols. I think it is not within good sense and right reason to impose in a given passage what we want it to say and if its’ not there we conclude that the verse is denying what is not said therein. Actually what you are trying to tell me, is for John 4:24 not to disprove iconolatry the verse should say: “because He is spirit and we are physical beings, we need visible signs and symbols.” Since the verse does not say so then bingo you have a verse that finally refutes iconolatry! I honestly think that you can do better than use this kind of reasoning.
R3. The Israelites adorn their temples with sacred images (Eze 41:18-19) and according to St Paul: “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship..” (Romans 9:4).
Yes, to the Israelites belong the worship of God. This is quite true and I don’t know what you’re trying to say here. If you’re trying to sway this verse toward iconolatry, I think that is going very very far. Concatenating the two thoughts and saying that the Israelites adorned the temple of God and used those adornments for worship is not a warranted conclusion. They are two completely different thoughts and must not be manipulated to support our personal interpretations.
R4. What I was trying drive at here is that since it is said that to the Israelites belong the worship of God and considering that the Temple which is their place of worship is adorned with sacred images and that they used sacred signs and symbols in their religious rites and ceremonies that these practices are perfectly legitimate before God.
(Benjie previously) Your theory is interesting. But it makes a very glaring assumption and claim – that the Bible is not complete, that the omniscient and omnipotent God somehow left out the importance of iconolatry in light of the more pressing issues of that day. Will this theory hold? Can this theory be supported in Scripture? I’d like to pose the question back to you. Do you truly believe in your heart that the omniscient and omnipotent God, whose ways are higher than our ways, who knows our inmost beings and darkest secrets and weaknesses, would leave out something as important as the true worship of Him?
R3. What I am saying is that the Bible is not always explicit in all issues pertaining to faith (what we ought to believe) and morals (what we ought to do), that the sacred writers did not always put the same emphasis on different issues concerning the Christian faith.
I think I will rest my case here since you did not answer my question.
R3. Not one of the sacred writers intended to write a compendium of the truths of the Christian faith. There were truths which they deem better to convey orally. St John says: “Although I have much to write to you, I do not intend to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and to speak face to face so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12). “I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen and ink. Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face” (3 John 1:13). Regarding the issue on the proper use of images in worship, I think God has not left this out as proven by the passages I quoted (Exo 25:18-22, Eze 41:18-19, etc).
It is already agreed that the Bible did not contain all of their writings, but everything that is necessary for salvation is recorded (John 20:31). Paul also tells Timothy in 2 Tim 3:16-17 that the Bible contains everything that is necessary to make the man of God complete and fully equipped, lacking in NOTHING. There may have been things during the apostle’s time that they wanted to deliver orally, which is not surprising as you and I know there are really things that are best delivered orally. But it does not mean that Scripture is lacking. God’s word is God Himself speaking. It transcends all the wisdom of man. God is the best communicator, the perfect communicator, the most complete communicator, for He is God after all. I would like to ask where your thoughts are going regarding these truths that were conveyed orally? Is it safe to assume that you want to say that the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is the recipient of these orally conveyed truths? Have you ever played the game where one phrase is passed on and the resulting phrase is sometimes so far from the original already, to everyone’s delight? This will at least show you the absolute unreliability of orally passed messages. That is why only Scripture is what we can consider the source of the inspired word of God. I believe we will be covering this in our other exchange, of which you have already sent you response.
R4. I hope to respond to this in our discussion on Scriptures. But a word on the unreliability of orally handed down message. Using this principle you would be forced to admit the unreliability of Scriptures since the word of God before it was transmitted in writing came from oral tradition. You would begin to doubt the unreliability of the Biblical Canon since this was finally settled almost 400 years after the birth of Christianity.
R3. I posed the question to you in order to illicit from you a convincing answer since you denied that it was intended to uplift the minds and hearts of the people inside the place of worship. In your current response you said that the temple ornaments served only architectural purposes to the temple. To me this is not convincing enough. Architectural designs are ultimately for the benefit of people not buildings.
There is no indication that their purpose was more than architectural, no reference, no mention. You even said this was explicit when now you are offering your own interpretation. With due respect, I think it is you who needs to show that they were intended for worship, for my contention is that this thought is absent from Scripture and even explicitly forbidden, which I have already shown your though commands and OT and NT practice. I have no doubt that architectural designs do benefit people. As I have indicated, I think you would rather have your officiating priest sit on a chair with handcrafted designs, than on plain Monobloc chair. What we are talking about here is whether these designs were used for worshipping God.
R4. I have explained to you the indications that it was more than merely “architectural” but it seems to me that you simply don’t want to consider it as a possible explanation since you have already made up your mind that it could not be more than “architectural.” The fact that the passages I quoted did not say explicitly as you want it said like “the purpose of the Temple adornments was not simply for architectural reasons” or “the purpose of the Temple adornments was to lift the minds and hearts of the people” does not mean that we are facing a blank wall, that we just stop thinking. The word “explicit” and “implicit” are somewhat relative terms depending on one’s point of view. What might be “explicit” to one person may be only “implicit” to another. What might be initially implicit (unclear) could be made explicit (clear) after considering additional information. Granting that I said it was explicit since to me it is very clear considering the evidence in favor of iconolatry. I only said it is contained implicitly since I was adapting to your line of thinking since you say that there is no explicit command.
R3. Let me back track a little bit on my explanation on the purpose of sacred images inside God’s temple. Prophet Ezequiel mentions that sacred images “were figured on every side throughout the whole temple” (Eze 41:19). Thus, inside the House of God wherever the people face they will see these images. If these images where not intended to lift the minds and hearts of the people then they will serve more as a distraction during worship which to my mind is contrary to God’s wisdom.
I think I understand your reasoning. By itself, your reasoning sounds quite valid. The problem is that there are times when our reasoning can be wrong, even how right it may sound. So this reasoning must be subjected to testing from Scripture. I see no explicit command them in worship, but an explicit command to NOT use images in worship. And did you not note my comments that the people of God could not possibly see those adornments for they were only limited to the outer courts? Did you also note my comments on the total absence of any image of God in God’s instructions for the design of the temple, consistent with His command in Exo 20:4 and Deut 4:15?
R4. I would really be happy had you pointed out to me where we can read the “explicit command to NOT use images in worship.” Honestly if there is such a verse then I would reconsider my position on sacred images. Your statement that the people of God could not possibly see those adornments for they were only limited to the outer courts is not true. Let me describe to you in more detail the Temple of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. If one entered the southern gate one came onto the Court of the Gentiles. This great square received its name from the fact that Gentiles were also allowed to enter it. This is the place where Jesus drove out the merchants (Mat 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-17; Lk 19:45-46). Gentiles could enter the court of the Gentiles but a railing had been erected beyond which only Jews were allowed to pass. Approaching the sanctuary one had to pass three inner courts (inside the building): the Court of the Women, the Court of Israel, and the Courts of the Priests. Each of these courts was five steps higher than the preceding court so that one really had the impression of going up the mountain of God. The Court of the Women owed its name to the fact that women were allowed to enter it but not go beyond it. The Court of the Women also contained thirteen alms boxes in which obligatory and voluntary contributions for the Temple were deposited (Mk 12:41-44; Lk 21:1-4). In this court too the prophetess Anna worshipped God day and night (Lk 2:36-38). When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple for the ceremony of purification (Lk 2:22-24), Mary would have stayed behind in the Court of the Women while Joseph proceeded into the Court of Israel, which only men could enter. The priest would have taken Joseph’s offering of turtle doves up to the altar in the Courts of the Priests and performed the rite (Lev 12:1-8). Christ was referring to this place in Mat 5:23-24. The Court of Israel is the place where Jewish men went to pray, facing the sanctuary (Lk 18:10-13). The most sacred part of the Temple was undoubtedly the sanctuary. The first room was called the Holy Place, and normally only priests could enter it. It was inside this room that Zechariah saw a vision (Lk 1:11). Beyond the Holy Place was a smaller room called the Holy of Holies. This room should have contained the Ark of the Covenant, but, as the Ark was not found after the exile, it was empty. St. Paul in Hebrews 9:3-7 must have been referring to the original Temple. Thus we see that the Jews, both men and women, can enter into the Temple building to pray and worship. Regarding your comment on the total absence of any image of God I would not be surprised but there were images of Cherubims, faces of a man, etc. which reminded the people that they are in a place of worship and thus focus their mind and hearts to God.
R3. I don’t pretend to read the mind of God. But we should use our God-given intellect to discern God’s will using the available data in Scriptures. That God’s purpose of adorning the temple with images was to uplift the minds and hearts of His people is a theological certainty because it could not have been otherwise for if not then they will serve nothing more than just a mere distraction to the people which is evidently against God’s wisdom. Are we to limit God’s purpose in ordaining sacred images inside his temple to merely “architectural reasons”?
I agree wholeheartedly that we should use our God-given intellect to discern God’s will using available data in Scripture. This is consistent with God’s command in Deuteronomy: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut 29:29). Thus I find it inconsistent of you to follow this noble thought with your own interpretation that does not use available data in Scripture to arrive at a “theological certainty”. I think the issue in not limiting God’s purpose, but in adding a perceived purpose which is foreign to the rest of Scripture, such as your adding “ordaining sacred images”.
R4. You acknowledged that God himself prescribed the construction of the Temple and God’s prescription included adorning His Temple with sacred images. If that is not “ordaining sacred images” then what is it? I hope you would not say that in prescribing that His Temple be adorned with sacred images God was prohibiting the use of sacred images. People can contradict themselves, but God can’t.
(Benjie previously) Picture with me the temple in which God said He would dwell. Now, if God dwelt in the temple, what would He think if a worshiper came in whose attention was on the images instead of God Himself who was in the temple? What purpose would the images serve when the true and living God was Himself there in the temple?
R3. I fully agree with the above observation. If the attention of the worshipper will stop at the image then it has not served its’ purpose. Sacred images are not the end in themselves but a means to an end i.e., to lift the minds and hearts of the people to divine realities and ultimately to God. That sacred images accomplish this purpose is clearly evident in Scriptures: “So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4). “Then David and all the people who were with him set out for Baala of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which bears the name of the LORD of hosts enthroned above the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2). “There I will meet you and there, from above the propitiatory, between the two cherubim on the ark of the commandments, I will tell you all the commands that I wish you to give the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22). Their eyes beheld the image of the Cherubim but their minds were directed to the Lord.
I think you are forgetting one thing in your examples. The cherubim is special case. In the case of the cherubim on top of the ark, God said it is there that His holy presence would dwell. So the people rightly treated it with extreme reverence, not because of the icons (which I think you have wrongly presumed), but because God’s presence was actually there. I would then want to ask again, what purpose would images serve when the true and living God was Himself there in the temple?
R4. No, I did not say that the people regarded it with extreme reverence because of the icons. The people treated it with extreme reverence (thanks for saying that) not because of what they saw but because of what it represents i.e., God’s moral presence. This is what the Israelites realized in the course of their history regarding the bronze serpent, “For when the dire venom of beasts came upon them and they were dying from the bite of crooked serpents, your anger endured not to the end. But as a warning, for a short time they were terrorized, though they had a sign of salvation, to remind them of the precept of your law. For he who turned toward it was saved, not by what he saw, but by you, the savior of all” (Wisdom 16:6-7). Consistent with this is the Catholic teaching: the honor which is given them (sacred images) is referred to the originals which they represent. My point is that although the image of the Cherubims were not representation of God as He is yet it was used by God to remind the people of Him. Thus sacred images inside God’s temple can be used to lift the minds and hearts of people to God. To the question: What purpose would images serve when the true and living God was Himself there in the temple? I might as well add: You said that God’s presence was actually there (between the two Cherubims) and in the temple. What’s the use of the image of the Cherubims and the Temple, since God is everywhere anyway (Jer 23:23-24)?
R3. Today we know that images do not possess inherent power, virtue or divinity in them. I think that regarding the proper use of images in worship we have come to the level of maturity which God intended for His people. Images are not the form of the Divinity but visible signs which points to God’s presence among His people.
To this I would say that when men so presume to be so mature as to add to God’s word their own reasoning that is contrary to Scripture, and to even put their reasoning above God’s words, then in reality, men have degenerated and not matured. With all due respect, up to this point, you have not shown me one valid reference to iconolatry in the Old and New Testaments.
R4. I think that I have presented enough Scriptural evidence on the practice of iconolatry among God’s people. I have pointed out to you some fallacies and inconsistencies in your handling of Scriptures. I may not have explained each biblical passage I quoted with the clarity and rigor which would have been needed but I think taking them all together makes a very strong case for iconolatry.
As what I have pointed out above, God’s prohibition in Deut 4:15 is a prohibition that stands by itself. It is a prohibition on the making of any representation of God. The danger in trying to assume a purpose is that we will be prone to error, in this case, to protect the people from idolatrous practices. For then, we can also say that images are okay as long as they are not used for idolatrous purposes. For then, we would not be true to God’s commands. An example is when God commanded in Exo 20:15 that “you shall not steal”. If we try to presume God’s purpose and say that His purpose is to prevent greed, for example, then that would make stealing okay if you are already starving. Will that make it right?
R3. The prohibition in Deut 4:15 should be understood in the light of other similar Scriptural passages in order for us to gain additional insight as to its meaning within a broader context. I think it is very dangerous to suppose that a single verse stands by itself for it usually leads to a truncated version of the truth.
For example, in John 8:40 Jesus says: “But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.” Taken at face value this would seem to support the belief that Jesus is a man and not God. On another occasion Jesus was asked by a rich young man: “What must I do to enter into eternal life?” Jesus replied: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mat 19:17). Taken at face value it seems that the only requirement that Jesus required for salvation was to keep the commandments.
Let me deal with your example on the commandment “You shall not steal.” This apparently simple commandment can lead to a host of other issues: right of private property, power of expropriation by the state, theft, business fraud, unjust wages, hoarding of goods, excessive profits, tax evasion, forgery of checks and invoices, excessive expenses and waste, vandalism, willfully damaging private or public property, promises and contracts, games of chance, enslavement of human beings, respect for the integrity of creation, preferential love for the poor, etc. I think that the essence of the seventh commandment enjoins the practice of justice and charity in the administration of earthly goods and the fruit of man’s labor. Stealing is the unjust taking or keeping the goods of one’s neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. I underscore the word unjust as a qualifying definition. Thus, the state may justly expropriate private property if it is for the common good.
Let me cite a parallel example: The fifth commandment “You shall not kill” does not stand by itself. Scriptures specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous” (Exodus 23:7). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill” (Mat 5:21) and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred and vengeance. Furthermore, someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to punish malefactors by penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, and in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge (CCC par 2266).
Points taken and much appreciated. But I quote the entire length of section of your response since your intro was talking about not taking a single verse in isolation. Although I did not really take a single verse but several verses in Deut 4 and also Exo 20:4 and (lack of) examples in the Old and New Testaments. I was expecting you to offer several more references regarding the subject, but it did not come. Maybe you were distracted by the analogies in stealing and killing and forgot to get back to the original topic? Mind you, if I am guilty of taking a single verse in isolation and out of context, I would readily take a correction.
R4. I was responding to your statement that “God’s prohibition in Deut 4:15 is a prohibition that stands by itself.” I was trying to show you that some things which on the surface appear to be simple can actually involve a lot of intricacies. No single Scriptural passage stands by itself. Every passage has to be understood in its harmony with adjacent passages and in its harmony with the entire Biblical revelation (and for Catholics, in its harmony with the Living Faith Tradition of God’s people and the Official teachings of the Church magisterium). Although you thought that I was distracted by the analogies in stealing and killing, I think the analogies I mentioned were necessary to help you understand what I was trying to say.
(Benjie previously) Any image of God will be an aberration, a horrible twisted misrepresentation of true and living God. Would you allow somebody to paint a portrait of you only to find out later on that the image he painted was that of a goat? (I apologize for the example.) God simply cannot be represented by anything made by the hand of men.
R3. The image of the Sto. Nino is not a representation of God as He is. It is a representation of Jesus in his incarnate form as a man who at one time became a child (Isa 9:6, Luke 1:35, Rev 12:5). Let me repeat that the images of Jesus, Mary, angels and saints are not representation of God as He is (in His divinity) and they do not have inherent virtue, power, or divinity.
You really cannot separate the Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnate form as opposed to his being God. He is both God and man at the same time. He is fully God as if He was not man and fully man as if He was not God. Jesus Christ in His incarnate form is still GOD. Let me ask you. Do you have any record of the physical details of the Lord Jesus? Do you have even a description of how his face might have looked like? Are you not curious as to why God in His infinite wisdom did not leave us a record in Scripture of Christ’s facial features? If so, are not the images of Christ today immoral aberrations and only based on men’s imaginations? Personally, I find a striking resemblance to the Old Testament where God did not show them any form when today, we have no record of Christ’s face?
R4. Since you agree that Jesus became man I think it would be inconsistent on your part to object representing him in the form of a man. A number of protestant Christian churches sponsor Easter plays in which various members of their congregation dress up in costume as Jesus and the saints (give living images) to the audience in an attempt to get the audience to focus on the lives of these spiritual giants. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not! What about all those religious movies about Jesus of Nazareth wherein actors portray the role of Jesus and New Testament personalities? I think it is perfectly alright, and I know a lot of protestant will agree with me, as long as these portrayals are faithful to the gospel account concerning his life and teachings. Most Christian denominations have crosses in their sanctuaries or images of crosses in the stained glass windows of their churches. Is there anything wrong with that? Certainly not! In order to teach their children, many Christian denominations use religious instructional books and children’s Bible that have pictures of Jesus in them. Aren’t pictures of Jesus two-dimensional images? Is this breaking God’s commandment? Not at all! But the protestant might say: But we don’t worship those images! We Catholics would reply: And neither do we! I know a lot of protestant who after having been told that Catholics do not worship images still go on believing that we do or wishing that they would find some uninstructed Catholic who do. Truly, it is difficult to overcome prejudice against the Catholic religion. Cardinal Sheehan was right in saying: “A lot of people hate the Catholic Church not for what it is but for what they think it is.”
In the light of God’s clear commands in Deut 4:15 and Exo 20:4, is this still your position?
R3. In the light of God’s revelation in Scriptures I still maintain the above position.
In our case Ramon, I can only plead with you to let Scripture be your judge and ruler. As someone who is genuinely concerned for your eternal welfare, I have tried to show you to the best of my ability that your claims are not really supported in Scripture and that they are even a violation of Scripture.
R4. Considering the time and effort that we devote to continue this dialogue, I would naturally have chosen to spend my time in some other worthwhile endeavor had I not have a genuine concern for your eternal welfare as well. As St Augustine said: “One soul is enough diocese for a bishop.” I am thankful of your concern for my eternal welfare. I am really glad that our paths have crossed.
R3. In this exchanges, I think I have clarified what a catholic believes and thinks when he prays before (not to) a sacred image. I hope that you will trust me on this one.
I appreciate your responses very much and your efforts in presenting explanations and Scriptures. I also appreciate your handling of this exchange and your presentation of the Roman Catholic beliefs. I don’t know if you will agree, but we might have gone off too far on the side though and spent too much time on iconolatry in general, when our original contention was the image of Christ and the Sto Nino. For your supporting verses in Exodus and Ezekiel for iconolatry only mention adornments, not images of Christ.
R4. That’s not surprising since the time of Exodus and Ezekiel predated the coming of Christ but as the Catholic Church teaches the sacred images ordained by God in the Old Testament points to the incarnation.
R3. You are right that you cannot judge the intentions of my heart and the hearts of millions of Catholics spread throughout the world.
There is a biblical reference for this: For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:11)
Thank you once again Ramon for presenting the Roman Catholic position and your taking much time and effort into presenting them in this exchange.
R4. With the above comments, I would gladly rest my case and I will be preparing my final closing statements in one page or less (as you suggested). I will be sending it to you once it is finished. Thank you for reading through. I think you have been very cordial and gentlemanly in this dialogue. I wish I had presented my side as cordially and gentlemanly as you did.