Blogging the Institutes–1.11.5–Images Don’t Substitute for Scripture

“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 Don’t Substitute for Scripture

Gregory the Great has said that, “Images are the books of the unlearned.” But the Holy Spirit goes in a very different direction. If Gregory had been taught by the Holy Spirit in this matter, he too would have gone in a different direction. When Jeremiah claims that idols are a delusion (10:8) and when Habakkuk claims that an idols is a “teacher of falsehood” (2:18), we can infer this truth from these verses: Everything learned from images about God is futile and false.

Now some may respond and claim that the prophets were only criticizing pagan idols. I admit this. But I add (which should be obvious to all), that the prophets condemn what the Catholic Church advocates: images can replace books. The prophets contrast images with the true God, as if the two were opposites in their nature, and could never be made to fit together or agree. In the passage which I quote above, the conclusion is drawn that since there is one true God whom the Jews worshipped, all visible shapes made to represent Him are false and evil lies. Therefore, anyone who looks to images of God for knowledge of God is miserably deceived.

In sum, if any knowledge could be gained from images of God, then the prophets would not have criticized images in such broad language. Therefore, the position I hold is this: Whenever pastors teach against the use of images of God, they are merely restating what the prophets have already said.

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