Images of Christ

“…Christ, who is the image of God…”

2 Cor. 4:4

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:  For by Him were all things created…”

Col. 1:15-16

“…he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father?'”

Jn. 14:9

“And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘All hail.  And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.”

Mt. 28:9

“Then saith He to Thomas, ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.’  And Thomas answered and said unto Him, ‘My Lord and my God.'”

Jn. 20:27-28

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Order of Contents

Introduction & the Crux of the Issue
Where to Start?
Articles
Audio Resources
Books
In Latin
The History of
.     The Early Church
.     Reformed History
.     On the Westminster Standards
.     Quotes

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Introduction & the Crux of the Issue

Images of Christ are common in churches and society today.  However the Early Church and the Reformed wing of the Reformation considered any image of Christ, anywhere, in any context, and for any purpose, to be idolatry and forbidden.  Why?

Because they understood the profound ramifications of the orthodox doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, that Christ’s one person exists in two natures: human and divine.  Christ’s human nature (body and soul) does not exist, and cannot exist, apart from his Person.

Thus, any image of Christ’s human body is necessarily an image of his Person existing in human nature, as Christ’s human nature joined to his Person is a revealing of, and necessarily an image representing, his Person (being inseparably joined to it and animated by  it).

Christ’s human nature, due to the unique Hypostatic Union, is in a qualitatively different category than anything else in this universe, as no other portion of created dust is inseparably joined personally forever to the heart of the uncreated, Second Person of the Trinity.  

While Christ’s finite human nature (body and soul) remains creaturely and finite, yet due to the special and mysterious Hypostatic Union, it is a means (divinely appointed) by which, and the only means by which, we may worship his Person through the creation.  It is because Christ in the flesh is the living, full, perfect and sufficient Image of God (and that lawful, made mysteriously by God Himself), and is revealed perfectly and sufficiently to us through his Word and Spirit, that all other images of God are forbidden.

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Are Images of Christ Images of his Person?

Sometimes persons claim that images of Christ are only images of his human nature and not of his divine person.

Yet, when one points to a picture of a friend, they say, ‘That is a picture of my friend,’ not: ‘that is a picture of my friend’s body’.  The picture of the body, because of its union to the soul, represents all that the person is.  Note the frequent Biblical language, especially in the Psalms, where ‘my soul’ refers whollistically and naturally to the person, body and soul united together.

With images of Jesus, we do not speak of them as images of a person-less body, but images of *Jesus* (the person), the picture of the body signifying and representing the person.  While such images do not, and cannot, portray the divine nature (it being invisible, uncontainable and unportrayable) yet the image is intended to *represent* the person (who is divine), and cannot but do so.

If anything is said to be a representation of *Jesus*, it is necessarily claiming to represent and be an image of the Person of the Son of God, and thus is by definition forbidden.

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The Crux of the Issue:

In heaven, if you plan on worshipping Jesus in the flesh, then you cannot make an image of Him.  If you can make an image of Jesus, then you cannot worship Him.

This is not a theoretical question: men in Christ’s earthly ministry in Scripture already lawfully worshipped Jesus in the flesh.  Thus, we cannot make an image of Jesus.  

The prohibition in the 2nd Commandment (Ex. 20:4-5) is not only not to worship images, but is explicitly not to make them at all (contra those who would seek to use images of Jesus for instructive purposes, see Hab. 2:18 and Heidelberg Catechism #96-98).

If a person makes an image of Jesus, they do not understand the Hypostatic Union: Christ’s one person existing in two natures, human and divine, inseparably, indivisibly, without mixture, forever.

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Conclusion

Thus the Early Church and the Reformed wing of the Reformation forbid images of Christ because they understood the orthodox doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, that “God was manifest in the flesh… seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world…” (1 Tim. 3:16).

The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the reformed teaching on images, saying that:

“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are…  any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself…  the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it…”

In the Early Church it was not till the late-300’s that images of Christ began to be made and propagated, and that by those who sought to teach against the divinity of Christ.

**  Note that the historic Reformed teaching is that the obligatory destruction of such idols (which should not exist on God’s green earth before His sight, Acts 19:19-20, Ex. 34:14Lev. 26:30; Eze. 30:13), should only be done as persons have lawful authority over them in their places and callings, and by the civil magistrate who is the servant of God and is to uphold the moral 2nd Commandment by the authority of God (Rom. 13:1-5).

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“Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, ye love.”

1 Pet. 1:7-8


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Where to Start?

Article

Murray, John – Pictures of Christ  1961  11 paragraphs

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Short Book

Hyde, Daniel – In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace  Buy  192 pages

This excellent short book shows the Biblical principles that forbid images of the Son of God, and verifies this position through church history.


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Articles

1600’s

Cheynell, Francis – The Grounds of Christ the Mediator Receiving Divine Worship  1650  20 pp.  with an Introduction and Outline

Cheynell was a Westminster divine.

We are to only worship God, and yet Jesus, a man, was worshipped in his earthly ministry.  How is this so?  The answer is that we worship Jesus, the God-man, not insofar as He is a creature, but insofar as his Person is God.  Cheynell, a Westminster divine, argues this precious jewel of theology in a bit of detail in a way that will be clear to the simplest, and make the most knowledgeable cry out: ‘Oh! the depths and the riches! (Rom. 11:33)

Owen, John – The Chamber of Imagery in the Church of Rome Laid Open, or an Antidote Against Popery  

Turretin, Francis – ‘Whether not only the worship but also the formation and use of religious images in sacred places is prohibited by the Second Commandment.  We affirm against the Lutherans’  in Institutes, vol. 2, pp. 62-65

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1800’s

Spurgeon, Charles – ‘Portraits of Christ’  a sermon on Rom. 8:29

A fascinating sermon on Christians being the living images of Christ, not made with hands.

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1900’s

Murray, John – Pictures of Christ  1961  11 paragraphs

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Contemporary

Barth, Paul – Three Reasons why Images of God are Idolatrous  2016  10 paragraphs

Coldwell, Christ – Indifferent Imaginations?  The Case Against Images at Meetings of N. Texas Presbytery  1996, 40 paragraphs  

Can images of Christ be regarded as indifferent, and thus allowed in a public meeting place of a church, if they are offensive to some Christians?  The Biblical answer is no.  Here is one church’s attempt to petition a presbytery to take down such images.  Some historic quotes on the topic follow the article.

Curtis, Edward – ‘The Theological Basis for the Prohibition of Images in the Old Testament’  1985  11 pp.  in JETS 28/3 (Sept. 1985) 277-287

Kik, J. Marcellus – ‘Pictures of Christ’  11 paragraphs

VanDrunen, David – ‘Pictures of Jesus and the Sovereignty of Divine Revelation: Recent Literature and a Defense of the Confessional Reformed View’  Buy  from the Confessional Presbyterian #5 (2009), p. 214-228

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Booklet

Barnes, Peter – Seeing Jesus: the Case Against Pictures of our Lord Jesus Christ  Buy  1998  32 pp.


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Audio Resources

Clark, R. Scott – Heidelberg 52: Images Of Christ Don’t Affirm His Humanity, They Deny It  29 min.

Moek, Gregory – Westminster Larger Catechism 7a: Understanding why we say ‘God is a Spirit’  65 min.

Moek is an elder at 1st Orthodox Presbyterian Church of San Francisco.

Reformed Forum – The Second Commandment and Images in Worship  55 min.


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Books

1700’s

Erskine, Ralph – Faith no Fancy: or a Treatise of Mental Images… showing that an Imaginary Idea [Image] of Christ as Man… Imports Nothing but Ignorance, Atheism, Idolatry, Great Falsehood and Gross Delusion  †1752  490 pp.  The first four chapters of this work have been put into modern formatting here.

Erskine was a justly renowned minister of the Secession Church in Scotland.

“Many of the ignorant followers of [George] Whitfield [at the Cambuslang, Scotland revival] talked of seeing “Christ.”  Deceived by misunderstanding the word as used in the Fourth Gospel, where ‘seeing’ means, as often elsewhere, knowing or having an intellectual apprehension, they thought they must have an apparition of Jesus in either a human, transfigured, or glorified form.  To expose this and similar delusions Erskine composed a volume entitled, “Faith no Fancy; or, A Treatise of Mental Images.”” – George W. Hervey, The Imagination in Revivals

For further historical background to this work, see the article by La Shell above.

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Contemporary

Hyde, Daniel – In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace  Buy  192 pages

This excellent short book shows the Biblical principles that forbid images of the Son of God, and verifies this position through church history.

Dunbar, J. Virgil – Why Christ Can’t be Pictured: God is not like Art  Buy  1994  280 pp.  The whole book is online, see the chapters on the right column.

La Shell, John K. – Images of the Lord: A Travesty of Deity  being a Masters thesis for Talbot Seminary, 1976

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In Latin

Daille, Jean – Of Images  1642  900 pp.

Spanheim, Frederic – The History of Images Reformed  1686  675 pp.

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The History of Images of Christ


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The Early Church

Schaff, Philip – ‘Images of Christ’  1867  8 pp.  in History of the Christian Church, ‘Third Period: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity’, pp. 563-571

Ussher, James – ‘On Images’  †1656  14 pp.  in Answer to a Jesuit, with other Tracts on Popery, pp. 430-444

Ussher, in the polemical context against Romanism, traces the Early Church’s large rejection of images in worship against the later development that rose into to the Romanist acceptance of them.  Ussher’s discussion includes religious images in worship, images of God generally, and images of Christ.


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Reformed History

Article

La Shell, John K. – ‘Imagination and Idol: A Puritan Tension’  1987  101 paragraphs  from Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 49:2 (Fall 1987)

Table of Contents

Introduction
I. Puritans and the Imagination
.     1. Scholastic Background
.     2. Continuity of Definition
.     3. The Danger of the Imagination
II. Images and Idols
.     1. Images of Christ
.     2. Types and Symbols
.     3. Mental Images
III. Historical Perspectives
IV. Theological Arguments
.     1, James Robe
.     2. Ralph Erskine
V. Epistemological Arguments
.     1. Separation of the Faculties
.     2. The Hindrance of the Senses
.     3. Occassionalism
VI. Evaluation
.     1. Erskine & Robe
.     2. Easing the Tension

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Books

Eire, Carlos – War Against the Idols: the Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin  Buy  1989, 336 pages

This excellent history book shows that purity of worship and the removal of religious images from the place of worship, including all images of Christ (whether in worship or not) was a hallmark of the reformed wing of the reformation.  Much different than most reformed churches today.

La Shell, John K. – Imaginary Ideas of Christ: A Scottish-American Debate  being a Ph.D. dissertation for Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985  470 pp.  available from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan


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On the Westminster Standards

The Intent of the Westminster Larger Catechism #109 Regarding Pictures of Christ’s Humanity, from the Confessional Presbyterian Journal, #5 (2009), p. 227-228, 323, 9 paragraphs

Chris Coldwell demonstrates that the Larger Catechism forbids images of the Son of God, contrary to those who have taught otherwise.

WLC 109:

“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are…  any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself…  the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it…”


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Quotes

Collections of Quotes

Barth, Paul – An Historic Witness Against Images of Christ  Includes 10 Scriptures followed by 11 quotes from historic documents and theologians

Coldwell, Chris – ‘Historic Quotes against Images of Christ: a Violation of the Second Commandment’, Part 1, Part 2, 1996 & 1998, 34 & 42 paragraphs, part one contains six quotes and part two contains sixteen quotes. The link appears to have been taken down from the net.

Here are excerpts on the topic from Irenaeus, Epiphanius, the Synod of Constantinople, Calvin, Bradford, the Second Helvetic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession, Flavel, Durham, Henry, Fisher’s Catechism, Ridgeley, Murray, Cummings, Boettner, Kik, Rushdooney and Williamson.  

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Individual Quotes

English Parliament  1644, May 9th 

An Ordinance for the Further Demolishing of Monuments of Idolatry and Superstition

Representations of God, Angels, and Saints.; Copes, Surplisses, Roods, etc.; Organs.

The Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, the better to accomplish the blessed Reformation so happily begun, and to remove all offences and things illegal in the worship of God, do Ordain, That all Representations of any of the Persons of the Trinity, or of any Angel or Saint, in or about any Cathedral, Collegiate or Parish Church, or Chapel, or in any open place within this Kingdom, shall be taken away, defaced, and utterly demolished; And that no such shall hereafter be set up, And that the Chancel-ground of every such Church or Chapel, raised for any altar, or Communion Table to stand upon, shall be laid down and leveled; And that no copes, surplisses, superstitious vestments, roods, or roodlons, holy-water fonts, shall be, or be any more used in any Church or Chapel within this realm; And that no cross, crucifix, picture, or representation of any of the Persons of the Trinity, or of any angel or saint shall be, or continue upon any plate, or other thing used, or to be used in or about the worship of God; And that all organs, and the frames or cases wherein they stand in all Churches or Chapels aforesaid, shall be taken away, and utterly defaced, and none other hereafter set up in their places; and that all copes, surplisses, superstitious vestments, roods, and fonts aforesaid, be likewise utterly defaced; whereunto all persons within this Kingdom, whom it may concern, are hereby required at their peril to yield due obedience.

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Ralph Erskine, part 1, 2

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“As soon then as He had said unto them, ‘I am He’, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”

Jn. 18:6

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God.'”

Jn. 14:33

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

1 Tim. 3:16

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father)…”

Jn. 1:1,10,14

“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? [by the preaching]”

Gal. 3:1

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Related Pages

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Worship

All the Works of the Westminster Divines on Worship

Religious Images in Worship

Christ

The Human and Divine Natures of Christ