In a previous church that I attended there was a debate on whether or not pictures of depicting Jesus were a violation of the 2nd Commandment. So throw out many of the children’s Bibles, paintings, sculptures, and anything else where Jesus is depicted. If you are not familiar with the 2nd Commandment, it reads:
“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).
Looking at the wording of the text in Exodus and if we applied to not being able to even have images – it would literally apply to anything. So perhaps the Amish are right and we shouldn’t have any graven images… no I wouldn’t go there. What this verse is saying is that these things are not to be made for the purpose of worship – we are not to bow down to them. We are not to serve them. We shouldn’t pray to them. God gave this command to the Israelites because all of the cultures surrounding them were making idols for worship. God did now want His people to be worshiping what was crafted by human hands, but rather their worship was to be to Him and Him alone.
Now idolatry isn’t limited to statues, but can be anything we have misplaced devotion – anything that takes center stage in our life and usurps God’s place…. that’s a whole different blog post there.
Back to the original question – are pictures depicting Jesus to be considered idolatry? I don’t believe so. Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason points out that the pictures of Jesus are depictions of His human nature, and while in the Person of Christ both human and divine natures exist we are incapable of depicting the divine nature.
That doesn’t mean there are not problems associated with pictures that depict Christ. For example what color was Jesus? You go into any number of African-American churches and Jesus is typically black. You go into a Lutheran Church and He looks Scandinavian. I would think that Jesus wouldn’t not want us bickering over such a thing. I think we can say for certain He probably was neither being that He came to earth as a Palestinian Jew and being in that region he wouldn’t be lily white. Palestinian Jews are also not African. The point really is that we don’t know what He looked like, and frankly does it even matter? I don’t think so.
Now can people make an idol of a picture depicting Jesus? Certainly. 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?
Update: David provides a good rebuttal and points out that I left out the Deuteronomy passage. I want to be clear here, while I am saying a picture that someone says depicts Jesus in and of itself I don’t believe is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. Jesus did come in human flesh. He did walk the earth. He came in the form of a servant and was born into the likeness of men. That can be described and visualized.
Not accurately though because it isn’t as if He had somebody taking photos. So I’m not saying it is a good thing, and I’m not advocating more of the same. I’m just not going to go cut the pictures from my kids’ old children’s Bibles. I don’t think David and I are really that far apart on the subject.