A Question I Was Asked:

How Can Icons and Images of God in Catholic Churches be Justified?

We know that when Jesus came the New Covenant commenced and many things changed from the Old Covenant but I was wondering about iconography and the use of icons, paintings and representations of Jesus and various saints which occurs in some Christian denominations, mainly Catholic and Orthodox. We can easily see things which Jesus said and did which overturned the high place of the Sabbath, for example, which the Pharisees held (which you mentioned recently) but did Jesus or the Apostles ever say or do anything to overturn the second commandment:

8. "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9. 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 parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10. but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Deuteronomy 5:8-10).

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, this is a very interesting question and one I have never been asked before.

A while ago, I watched a very long TV discussion on this very subject. A young lady (herself Greek Orthodox) interviewed two very important icon experts from the Eastern Orthodox Church, they were, apparently, especially expert on the Orthodox tradition of church/religious icons. The young lady never at any point asked them for a Bible justification - some verse or verses - for the use of icons/images, nor did they ever offer one. As far as one can see, there is not a single New Testament Scripture to justify the use of religious imagery of Jesus or anything else in churches. I recently looked at an Eastern Orthodox website, I found a page discussing iconography; this time I actually read a statement to the effect that the use of icons and images in church buildings does not have a single supporting Scripture one can turn to.

Orthodox and Catholic people tend to say that having images of Jesus and Mary helps them to pray to these people. Of course, they also sometimes pray to 'saints' and the images of these saints, they would undoubtedly say, also help them there, that the images and icons used in the church are not actually "worshiped" in any sense but are simply 'visual aids' to worship. Yet most Protestants don't seem to feel hindered in their prayer lives by having no images. It could certainly be argued that using religious icons violates the command to worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24). John 1:18 is clear concerning this truth: "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." Also, since God is Spirit (John 4:24a), it is not somehow irreverent to represent Him in an icon?

The interesting thing is that Catholics don't use the New Covenant argument to justify the use of 'worship icons,' I mean they don't say, 'Hey, we are now under the New Covenant, many of these things are bound to change, we now look beyond the second commandment to the law of Christ.' No, they never use that argument at all, in fact the New Covenant is greatly underplayed and under-stressed in Catholic/Orthodox theology! They place the ten commandments in a high place of importance. They will tend to say, 'the use of icons and images entered the church very early and we simply continue in that tradition.' And that's it. It is about tradition to them. We must remember that Catholicism/Orthodoxy considers itself as the true faith with a divine right to set teachings and doctrines, due to what many of us consider to be a misuse or misunderstanding of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. Go here for more information on this.

In conclusion, like most Protestants, I have a real problem with the use of icons in places of worship, especially when it comes to icons/pictures of Jesus or God. That is where I must stand. Ultimately God alone will be the judge of these things.

Robin A. Brace. February 21st, 2016.