Blogging the Institutes–1.11.2–Images Condemned in Moses and Isaiah

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Images Condemned in Moses and Isaiah

Moses not only condemns the making of images but also includes the reason why. He writes, “You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16). God plainly speaks against making any kind of image so that we’re aware that making such images is rebellion against Him.

Now, the prophets also speaks against making images– most notably–Isaiah. Isaiah demonstrates how God’s majesty is defiled by such absurd and ugly images (Isaiah 40:18; 41:7, 29; 45:9; 46:5). It is vain to capture God who is spirit through tangible images; He who is invisible to visible idols; He who fills all space into a little bit of wood, metal or stone. Paul also reasons the same ways: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill” (Acts 17:29). Therefore, it’s abundantly clear that any statues or pictures, which are said to represent God, are totally displeasing to the Lord and are insults to His majesty. 

Is it strange that the Holy Spirit thunders such responses from heaven when He compels blind and miserable idolaters to confess the same things while they live on the earth? Seneca’s complaint as recorded by St. Augustine is well known: “The sacred immortal and invisible gods–when they are dressed up human clothing and exhibited through images and pictures, when they have a mash-up of different bodies and some are ‘gender-neutral,’–they ‘gods’ would be considered monsters.” Thus, those who support the use of images resort to evasion. They pretend that the Jews were forbidden from using images on account of their susceptibility of having their worship devolve into superstition. But such an argument is nonsense because the Lord’s prohibition against images is founded upon His own eternal essence and the uniform predictability of nature.  Besides, when Paul refuted the error that God could have a bodily shape, he wasn’t talking to Jews but to Greeks in Athens.

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