catapult magazine

catapult magazine


The Passion: Violation of the Second Commandment?


Feb 19 2004
08:53 pm

A friend had an honest concern about viewing The Passion. I say “honest” because he is the sort of person who usually embraces cultural activity. But here his conscience troubles him.

The Passion, he argued, is a violation of the Second Commandment. John Murray, a Reformed Theologian, argues that all images of Christ (i.e. in or out of church) constitute a violation of the second commandment. His argument is something like the following.

Any image of Christ, if it has any value whatsoever, is bound to magnify our appreciation of Christ. Inasmuch as it is Christ being magnified, we cannot help but worship Christ through the image. Such use of images of Christ—worship through or on account of the image of him—violates the second commandment.

A curious argument. Comments?


Feb 20 2004
04:34 am

I get an image of Christ when I read the gospels. I don’t know if it’s possible to not see a picture of the people in stories. Whether that picture is imagined or visual doesn’t make much of a difference to me. The spirit of the law is in how we react to it and what we do with it. I’m not going to worship the actor on screen because he’s not my savior.
My mother grew up Catholic and switched to the Christian Reformed church when she was in her late twenties. Her reason for switching is the way I perceive the second commandment. She said that there came a time in her life when she was incapable of praying without a crucifix in front of her. That scared her. She seemed virtually dependent on a vision of Christ to think about him.
The second commandment has two parts. Do not make for yourself an idol and you shall not bow down to them or worship them. I’m not sure what making or setting up an idol entails, but my mom was pretty sure about the worship part.
I guess I see an actor portraying Christ as a representative not an idol, just as in the same way I view Aslan in the chronicles of Narnia by Lewis.


Feb 20 2004
08:26 am

I appreciate the perspective of the Orthodox church on this issue—that icons are a window into worship. If we are going to affirm nature, physical matter, and art as avenues in which God can work, why can we not appreciate symbolic uses of images? I am not at all comfortable with the idea that iconography or visual/tactile represenation of the Christian journey equal idolatry. Certainly images and symbols can be misused, but in liturgical traditions that make use of “bells and smells,” the evocation of the senses is always intended as a means to lead believers into worship.I don’t see how worshipping with the aid of an object is the same as worshipping an object. In terms of the validty of using images to represent a spirit—God—what about the incarnation? In my own prayer life, I have often found the fact that God is not a physical being to be a stumbling block. Remembering that God was in skin too is really helpful. If we omit sight, smell, sound, touch, and hearing from our communion with God, I think we miss a good chunk of the power, beauty, and mystery of the incarnation.


Feb 22 2004
06:03 pm

If anyone is more curious about this, J.I. Packer in the early chapters of Knowing God makes the case pretty strong that anything that is used as an aid in worship is an idol. That the first commandment forbids worship of other gods, that the second forbids using images in the worship of the true God.

It has been a while since I read this, but I think he even uses the example of the Israelites making the golden calf – that in concept it was a throne for God – something to make Him seem more real to them, not something to be worshipped of itself.

I find it hard to believe that the entire concept of images is forbidden. So much of the Scriptures have such rich imagery – Daniel and Revelation to make a start.