Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's A Graven Image?

Biblegems #74

Question: I need explaining about Exodus that I read in a novel. It was a reference to the Amish people and how they don't like to be photographed. As it is written in the book:
Exodus 20:4 "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

So my question is does this apply to art, like drawing or painting or photography? Should we not do these things?

The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:4 translated “graven image” (KJV) or “idol” (NIV) is “fesel,” which is derived from a word that means to hew or carve into a shape. “Graven” is a Middle English word dating before 1000AD that means to carve or sculpt. Idols in the Old Testament era were typically carved out of wood or stone, but so were many other things, such as stone tablets for writing. So the term itself can be translated either as “idol” or “hewn,” depending on the context.

So, according to Exodus 20:4, what specifically does the commandment say not to do?

In Exodus 25, God instructs Moses to:
“…make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover” (Ex. 25:18-20).

These gold cherubim were to adorn the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. The process of hammering out the gold and shaping it into the image of an angel or cherubim is exactly that of shaping an idol. What makes this any different than the kind of carving God says not to do in Exodus 20:4?

The difference is in the purpose of the carved image. The commandment in Exodus 20:4 is part of the first commandment, which states that no other god but the LORD (Yahweh), and no fabricated image, is to be worshiped:
         Ex. 20:2-6          I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [ generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God has no problem with art, statues, photographs or computer graphics—so long as they are not immoral, indecent or made and used for the purpose of worship. They are not in and of themselves a violation of the commandment to make no graven images. The NIV’s translation more accurately conveys the meaning of Exodus 20:4, that we are to make no “idols.” Therefore, praying to a likeness of Jesus or Mary or one of the apostles is idolatry, whereas having a nativity scene on the table as a simple reminder of the Savior’s birth is not.

So… the next time someone wants to take your picture —


1 comment:

  1. Question: So, with that being said, does this mean that as long as people are not worshiping their Tattoos then it is okay to have them— even the skull's and the gravestones, etc?

    Biblegems Answer: The basic principle, only as far as engraving is concerned, applies to tattoos as well, although there other issues connected with tattoos. I would encourage you to read Biblegems #39, "The Bible & Tatts," where I deal with that question specifically.

    Thanks for your sharing your comment. It is helpful to others as well!