There are No Pictures of Jesus, Only Pictures of Ed.

Shane Vander Hart just posted an essay on depictions alleging to be of Jesus, asking if they are idolatry.   But that is not the only question that should be asked.  Another question relates to the ninth commandment:  Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.  So that I do not have to keep using the words “purported”, “alleged” or “supposed” pictures of Jesus, let me say up front that I don’t believe there are pictures of Jesus: whether paintings, children’s drawings, movies, or statues.   We simply have no idea what Jesus looked like.  Oh, I suppose we assume he has a darker skin tone than a Norwegian, but even that is not certain.   But have you noticed, otherwise, how much the pictures all look alike?   Do all bearded Jews look the same today?   A friend of mine calls them instead, pictures of Ed (which I will apply to the second command later below).

Suppose I took some picture of a random lady walking in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.   And then I presented that picture to everyone as YOUR wife or mother.  You would immediately be indignant, as you should.   Ask any newspaper editor how quickly they will hear about it if the wrong picture accompanies an obituary.   Or what if they put your picture in a news story saying this is what the armed robber looked like?    Or the reverse.  Suppose you won some award, but the picture they used in the news story was of Charles Manson?   Have you noticed how many pictures of Ed resemble Charlie Manson?

They say a picture paints a thousand words, but what thousand words can I get from the picture on Shane’s post?  I honestly don’t know what the picture “means”.   Is there something theological there?   I’m not being a smart aleck.  I think the message is ambiguous.  I think if I had that painting in my living room it would be lead me to wrong ideas about Jesus.

So why should we present to anybody, let alone children, some image of Jesus that we JUST MADE UP?  I believe this is bearing false witness.  The problem with the “harmless” view of pictures of Jesus is the idea that we could ever possibly take such an image as meaningless.   If the picture really is a picture of Jesus, it must be treated with some kind of special respect.  Can you imagine just throwing it away when you are done with it?  Suppose somebody took that picture in the foyer of Ed standing by a door and vandalized it by putting sunglasses or a pointed hat on the picture.   How religiously offended would you be?   Only to the degree you have venerated a man-made image of the Son of God.

On the other hand, if you say the image is nothing at all, then why have it at all?   Does it add one iota to our knowledge of God?   What can it possibly teach children that words cannot?   Be careful with your answer.   God gave us The Word to pass on to our children.   He left us no pictures.   Certainly none of Himself.

Let me now address the Second Commandment as Shane has given us:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments, (Exodus 20:4-6, ESV).

Shane rightly suggests that the Commandment does not forbid the making of all images (i.e., photographs, paintings or sculptures of people or animals) for God Himself commanded certain images at times. Then Shane suggests that it is only the bowing down and worship of these things as idols that is wrong.   But I think he misses the middle ground here.  No images of God are ever to be made.  That was the point.   The images of animals were mentioned in Exodus 20 because, not seeing God, the Israelites might think he was like an animal (remember the Golden Calf?).   But God clarifies this in the second giving of the law:

Deuteronomy 4:14-19. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it. {4:15} Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day [that] the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: {4:16} Lest ye corrupt [yourselves,] and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, {4:17} The likeness of any beast that [is] on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, {4:18} The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that [is] in the waters beneath the earth: {4:19} And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, [even] all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

Images of Jesus would be forbidden because Jesus is God.  Shane argues that because they are only portraits of the humanity of Christ, they are permitted.   But from a human perspective we cannot separate out the humanity of Christ from the Divinity.  It is to portray him in a way that God never intended.   This was why the Mel Gibson portrayal of Ed in “The Passion of the Christ” was so brutal and one-sided.  It could only present the human Jesus. Gibson, as many Catholics do, see Christ’s suffering as primarily physical.  The movie was idolatrous, and ironically, Gibson’s film company for the movie was called ICON Productions. 

Shane wrote:   

I knew a man who said when he prayed  he said he thought of a painting depicting Jesus in his church.  You also have people who must have statues or images depicting Christ when they worship and pray. That would be idolatry, but as for the pictures in your child’s Bible… I don’t think the 2nd Commandment applies.  What say you?

I say that I don’t want my children or grandchildren to think about pictures of Ed they saw in Sunday School literature when we have family worship.  


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  • Shane Vander Hart

    I agree with you that we don’t have pictures OF Jesus, just pictures done by some who say they is meant to depict Jesus. But by acknowledging that you’d lose your clever title.I obviously also agree with you that Jesus is God… I hope that can go without saying. I also agree that to depict God who is Spirit as anything would be a violation of the 2nd Commandment.Good point with Deuteronomy, I should have addressed that. That was an unfortunate oversight on my part when trying to write a short post (not an essay).Here’s the rub. Jesus is God, but He did come in human flesh. He was seen by a lot of people. “But from a human perspective we cannot separate out the humanity of Christ from the Divinity. ” Did I say separate? Also did Jesus reveal to us His glory when He was on earth? No because everybody around Him would die. By the way that was Greg Koukl, not me, who suggested that. When Jesus took the form of a servant, born in the likeness of men, he could be seen, known and described.

    I say that I don’t want my children or grandchildren to think about pictures of Ed they saw in Sunday School literature when we have family worship

    I don’t either… which is why I said that would be idolatry in the previous sentence. Look, I’m not advocating that we have pictures that we say depict Jesus. I can see the negative consequences. So I really don’t want to develop an apologetic for this. We don’t have pictures (outside of maybe having a children’s Bible in a box somewhere) that depict Jesus in our home.I’m just not convinced that the Golden Calf and say the Passion of the Christ are one in the same.

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  • DavidShedlock

    “‘I’m just not convinced that the Golden Calf and say the Passion of the Christ are one in the same.”

    I am not suggesting they are the same. They can both be wrong but for different reasons. Many Reformed Christians may have forgotten all the hints of revival evangelical leaders made that would supposedly come out of this distinctly Catholic movie. It, of course, never happened, because the focus was on the physical suffering at the hands of men, instead of where the Bible puts the emphasis: the suffering under the wrath of God, which could not be depicted with pictures. Pictures paint a one-dimensional picture of Christ, rather the Christ who was and still is God.
    “he could be seen, known and described.”
    He was seen and known, but he was not described for us. Indeed the apostles and others saw Christ’s physical body, but not a single one reported on or described his complexion, the size of his nose, his eye color, his height, or any other physical attribute. God sent Jesus in an era before cameras for a reason. Icons have been worshipped for centuries. If God chose not to have a contemporary portrait made of Christ when he walked among us, we ought not to make one either.
    “did Jesus reveal to us His glory when He was on earth?”
    The coming of Christ was accompanied with Glory:
    {Luke 2:9} And, lo, the angel of
    the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone
    round about them: and they were sore afraid.
    Glory accompanied the incarnation:
    John {1:14} 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,) full of grace and truth.
    His miracles: John {2:11} This
    beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and
    manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

    We see His Glory by faith:

    John {11:40} Jesus saith unto
    her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou
    shouldest see the glory of God?
    Indeed, the Glory of God was shown in the Face of Christ:

    {II Cor. 4:6} For God, who commanded
    the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts,
    to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in
    the face of Jesus Christ.

  • DavidShedlock

    I sent this post to a vendor of pictures of Jesus. This is the response I got.

    Hello David,
    Thank you for your interest,

    I read the article and it is very negative and of course I don’t agree with it. We have the greatest photograph of Jesus ever left to humanity, the Shroud of Turin where I use it as reference in some of my paintings. I’ve also seen Him face to face and it’s not up to anyone to decide if Jesus can be seen or not and painted, He can appear to any one He wants to without anyone’s permission. Jesus has done this to many throughout history and has personally asked them to paint his portrait ( ie. St. Faustina/Divine Mercy) He wants people to look at Him and not the things of this world. Jesus in His humanity relates to humanity but is not confined to this one dimension of course, so we shouldn’t get hung up on this subject. This is a vain and empty argument of men and does not bear fruit of the Spirit of Christ, something scripture tells us not to do. ( Titus 3:9, Romans 16:7 )
    I’m under Grace like you and not under the Law or follow Judaism. This is a Law argument….


    Kathy Berry
    In His Image Creations

    You can post this response if you like to..
    I’m also attaching my new drawing I just finished of Jesus called ‘ Fear Not’
    I hope you enjoy it!!