5.3.2.5 The prohibition of images

Israel was surrounded by peoples who worshipped constellations and natural phenomena, statues, animal figurines, stones, and the like, as gods or their manifestations. The Israelites allowed themselves to be influenced by such cults and from time to time created images which they worshipped, for example, the golden calf (Exodus 32).

The biblical wording of the First Commandment forbids the fabrication of any images of things created by God: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image–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 nor serve them" (Exodus 20: 4-5).

The prohibition against the fabrication and worship of images must be seen in the context that images and statues were venerated and worshipped as divinities.

Human beings are not to make any image of God for themselves, but rather accept Him as He has appeared in the world: in Jesus Christ, the self-revelation of God in the flesh. Here it is not a matter of an external form of appearance, but rather of God's nature and will (John 14: 9).

Christian tradition does not regard the First Commandment as a prohibition against making pictures, sculptures, photos, or films, however. Among other things, this position can be derived from the fact that, according to the biblical account, God Himself commissioned sculptures to be made (Numbers 21: 8-9).

See also