What is a Graven Image?
Are statues ok? What about photography?

dadeen asks: How does the second commandment apply to modern life? It seems to ban photography. Moslems refuse to have pictures in mosques, and only decorate with geometric patterns. Should Christians do that? Just wondering what you will say
Question about Right and Wrong in the Bible: God's laws
Motivation - Interest in religion: Interest in Judaism
Bible view - A religious guide - [question 8, Saturday, 02-Jul-2011]

From the Torah

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments
- Exodus 20:3ff [JPS]

The Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. One finds the Decalogue, or Ten Words, or Ten Commandments, in Exodus chapter 20 and again in Deuteronomy chapter 5. Deuteronomy is a summarized recapitulation of the Torah, hence deuter, second, onomy, law.

The Talmud, a central text of mainstream Judaism, establishes Exodus 20:3 as the start of the second commandment: 'Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.' This phrase, in conjunction with the bracketing 'Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them,' puts the prohibition against graven images in context: nothing shall receive worship that is reserved for God. So worship is at the center of the second commandment: worship of the one true God is allowed, and worship of graven images is not allowed. It is a specific strengthening of the monotheism of the first commandment which says 'I am the LORD thy God.' The entire second commandment appears in the box at the left. It is quoted from the Jewish Publication Society version of the Bible.

The second commandment establishes purity in thinking about the God of Israel, and is sub-divided into several categories:

- Graven image fobids worshipping the one true God in the wrong way, not as an intangible Spirit, but as a tangible object fashioned by human hands, i.e., an idol

- Any manner of likeness extends the prohibition past idols to any thing the human mind can conceive, such as worshipping an impersonal force, angels, dead people, witchcraft, one's self, chance, or luck

- In heaven above: the sun, moon, and stars are not to be worshipped (e.g., astrology)

- In the earth beneath: bulls, frogs, trees, and nature in general are not to be worshipped (e.g., the current environmentalist movement)

- In the water under the earth: fish, monsters of the deep, and water dieties such as Neptune and Poseidon

Positive Atheism points out that there are several different structures assigned to the Ten Commandments, and only the Jewish version extends 'graven image' to 'any manner of likeness' as shown above. You can see their comprehensive comparison at Positive Atheism's page on the Ten Commandments. As conservative Christians, AFTB sides with the Jews.

Even with differing structures and possible over-extensions, the fundamental message of the second commandment is that only God is to be worshipped, nothing else, and He is to be worshipped in a spiritual sense, not in open idolatry. So what, then, does it mean to worship God in a spiritual sense? This question is addressed next.

worship of the golden calf
Worship of the golden calf in direct violation of the second commandment (Exodus 32)

Worship of Graven Images

The commandment encourages worship of God and forbids worship of idols. Statues and photographs and everything else are fine, unless you worship them. If you do, you are placing them before God, undermining the unity and holiness of God as it pertains to your life.

Dictionary.com defines the verb worship as (1) showing profound religious devotion and respect to; adoring or venerating, (2) to be devoted to and full of admiration for. A standard Christian understanding of worship is glorifying God with our voices, hearts, and lives. The idea is that worship ultimately affects outward speech and actions based on internal, personal devotion to God. The progression from inward, heartfelt feelings to outward, deliberate actions is seen in the second commandment when 'nor serve them' appears at the end of the phrase 'thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them.'

There is a marked progression of worship in the Bible, starting with the blunt and sobering second commandment and ending with an intensely personal relationship between individuals and God. The sample verses (KJV) below are taken in biblical sequence from Exodus to Galatians. Note how each reference becomes more and more personal when worshiping God.

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. [Exodus 20:3]

And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. [I Samuel 1:3]

After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. [Jeremiah 31:31]

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [Luke 1:46ff]

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. [John 4:24]

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. [Galatians 4:6]

The last verse above is special, especially when you recognize that the Aramaic word Abba is often considered equivalent to the English word Daddy.

Post Script

Rolf asks about photography and design in Islam. AFTB is not well versed in Islam, but the reference at IslamicIslamic.com indicates that photography 'creates a likeness' and is thus suspect of usurping Allah's authority as creator.

There are other dispositions, some Christian or Christian-like, that shun photography as well, perhaps on the grounds of creation, pride, plainness, or idol worship.

There are no such explicit prohibitions in the Bible, and anyone with a 'big view' of God would never consider the idea of being able to create something from nothing as God did in Genesis 1. If you take a photograph or make a statue and worship it, the Bible has a lot to say against that.

Fri, 21-Jul-2017 22:49:39 GMT, unknown: 651120 ABdISWFaGfios