Images and Worship a primer                                                                              By Jack Kettler


Images and Worship, a primer. This brief study will look at images of God in Worship, images to enhance Worship, images, and art that would distract from worship. In addition to its brevity, this primer is designed to provoke thought and discussion.


As in previous studies, definitions will be looked at along with scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how to live.


Images of God in Worship:


“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, (temuna) 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 …” (Exodus 20:4 ESV)


Strong's Exhaustive Concordance


“image, likeness, similitude


Or tmunah {tem-oo-naw'}; from miyn; something portioned (i.e. Fashioned) out, as a shape, i.e. (indefinitely) phantom, or (specifically) embodiment, or (figuratively) manifestation (of favor) - image, likeness, similitude.”


Therefore, watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16 ESV)


What is a graven image?


It is a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of Worship. An image would include pictures.


From Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament on Deuteronomy 4:16:


“In the words, “The day (היּום, adverbial accusative) “that thou stoodest before Jehovah thy God at Horeb,” etc., Moses reminds the people of the leading features of those grand events: first of all of the fact that God directed him to gather the people together, that He might make known His words to them (Exodus 19:9.), that they were to learn to fear Him all their life long, and to teach their children also (יראה, inf., like שׂנאה, Deuteronomy 1:27); and secondly (Deuteronomy 4:11), that they came near to the mountain which burned in fire (cf. Exodus 19:17.). The expression, burning in fire “even to the heart of heaven,” i.e., quite into the sky, is a rhetorical description of the awful majesty of the pillar of fire, in which the glory of the Lord appeared upon Sinai, intended to impress deeply upon the minds of the people the remembrance of this manifestation of God. And the expression, “darkness, clouds, and thick darkness,” which is equivalent to the smoking of the great mountain (Exodus 19:18), is employed with the same object. And lastly (Deuteronomy 4:12, Deuteronomy 4:13), he reminds them that the Lord spoke out of the midst of the fire, and adds this important remark, to prepare the way for what is to follow, “Ye heard the sound of the words, but ye did not see a shape,” which not only agrees most fully with Exodus 24, where it is stated that the sight of the glory of Jehovah upon the mountain appeared to the people as they stood at the foot of the mountain “like devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:17), and that even the elders who “saw God” upon the mountain at the conclusion of the covenant saw no form of God (Deuteronomy 4:11), but also with Exodus 33:20, Exodus 33:23, according to which no man can see the face (פּנים) of God. Even the similitude (Temunah) of Jehovah, which Moses saw when the Lord spoke to him mouth to mouth (Numbers 12:8), was not the form of the essential being of God which was visible to his bodily eyes, but simply a manifestation of the glory of God answering to his own intuition and perceptive faculty, which is not to be regarded as a form of God which was an adequate representation of the divine nature. The true God has no such form which is visible to the human eye.” (1)


Making images of God are forbidden in all forms.


What about pictures of Christ, are they forbidden?


 Images of Christ by James Durham


“And if it be said man’s soul cannot be painted, but his body may, and yet that picture representeth a man; I answer, it doth so, because he has but one nature, and what representeth that representeth the person; but it is not so with Christ: his Godhead is not a distinct part of the human nature, as the soul of man is (which is necessarily supposed in every living man), but a distinct nature, only united with the manhood in that one person, Christ, who has no fellow; therefore what representeth him must not represent a man only, but must represent Christ, Immanuel, God-man, otherwise it is not his image. Beside, there is no warrant for representing him in his manhood; nor any colourable possibility of it, but as men fancy; and shall that be called Christ’s portraiture? would that be called any other man’s portraiture which were drawn at men’s pleasure, without regard to the pattern? Again, there is no use of it; for either that image behooved to have but common estimation with other images, and that would wrong Christ, or a peculiar respect and reverence, and so it sinneth against the commandment that forbiddeth all religious reverence to images, but he being God and so the object of worship, we must either divide his natures, or say, that image or picture representeth not Christ.” (2)


Pictures of Christ by Loraine Boettner


“Closely akin to the use of images is that of pictures of Christ. And these, we are sorry to say, are often found in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches. But nowhere in the Bible, in either the Old or New Testament, is there a description of Christ’s physical features. No picture of Him was painted during His earthly ministry. The church had no pictures of Him during the first four centuries. The so-called pictures of Christ, like those of Mary and the saints, are merely the production of the artist’s imagination. . . . No picture can do justice to his personality, for he was not only human, but divine. And no picture can portray his deity. All such pictures are fatally defective. . . . For most people the so-called pictures of Christ are not an aid to worship but rather a hindrance, and for many they present a temptation to that very idolatry against which the Scriptures warn so clearly.” (3)


In light of the above, it can be said:


1.      Pictures of Christ have no semblance to the way He actually looked. Christ's glory cannot be captured in a picture, so they are necessarily inaccurate and false.

2.      Since no one knows what Christ looked like, all pictures of Him are necessarily false.

3.      Furthermore, since an imaginary picture of Christ cannot capture His deity, they are false.


The “Iconoclastic Council,” of 754 decreed that because Christ is God and man in one Person, it is not possible to make a true picture of Him, and thus that all pictures of Christ are idolatrous, whether venerated or not.


What about images of saints to enhance Worship? Can this be justified?


“…beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female …” (Deuteronomy 4:16 ESV)


In some churches, you find statues or pictures of Mary, Joseph, and the Apostles. The churches that have statues usually hold to the doctrine of special sainthood of the apostles and others. Prayers asking for intercession are offered to these special saints. From one Roman Catholic website, it says, “Praying to the saints is praying to God, in a fundamental way.” This website goes on and says, “The authors of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (“light of the nations”) noted that it was important that we “suppliantly invoke” the saints and “have recourse to their prayers…”


Prayers for the intercession of the saints is a doctrine also held by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodox Churches do not have statues. Instead, they use pictures called Icons, which are supposedly windows into heaven.    


Do statues and pictures of the special saints used to facilitate divine intercession fall under the condemnation of Deuteronomy 4:16?


To answer this question, consider:


The Church of England’s “Thirty-Nine Articles” denounce the “invocation of saints” as “a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God” (Article XXII).


In answer to the question, yes pictures and statues that aid in or facilitate prayers to God or the saints violate Deuteronomy 4:6.


Can a church have pictures and statues not of God for decoration similar to stained glass windows or stylish carpets? Possibly, but the consideration of distraction from the preaching can be a real danger. Ugly carpeting and stained glass windows while not forbidden can be causes of distraction. If not for Worship, why there be a statue or picture of a saint placed in the sanctuary?  


Are there Scriptural approved visual representations for Worship?


The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are visual representations of the gospel.


Can images and art distract from Worship? The danger of emotional experience:


Art and music can most certainly stimulate emotions. Emotional stimuli is not necessarily bad. However, do intensified emotions indicate something spiritual is happening? Not necessarily. Can emotions be confused with the movement of the Holy Spirit? Is so, then there is a danger of outside stimuli that can move the emotions and be confused with the work of the Holy Spirit? 


Consider the dangers of visual stimuli in Worship:


“To my mind this means that we should avoid introducing other media in our sermons. If we are tempted to use them to aid our communication, we should understand that we are making our own job harder, not easier. If people's brains are trained to love images and videos and want to click on to more and more of them, then the last thing we should do in the middle of our sustained preaching is to turn on that desire, to remind them of what they are missing, to set alongside our verbal the stimulus of the visual. This can only make it harder for people to listen after the image, not easier.” (4)


It times past there was much more concern about visual and emotional stimuli that could interfere with gospel preaching. The next entry shows historically how a safeguard was put in place to prevent this. 


One paragraph from “Why a Genevan Robe?” By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon:


“The Genevan Robe aids the congregation in being reminded as to what is taking place – it is the elevation of the Word of God. As Paul states in 1Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” The Genevan Robe emphasizes the importance of heeding the Word of God, instead of worrying about how the pastor looks this week. Allow this example to make the point – after a service that I attended in a church I was visiting, I overheard two women talking immediately after the service. At first, I thought that these women were going to make a comment about the sermon that had been given. Instead, they began talking about something quite different. One woman said, “Didn’t the pastor look wonderful today?” The other responded (truly) by saying, “Yes, the crease in his pants is always so perfect.” I was taken back. Instead of concentrating on the Word of God being preached, these women (and it could have just as easily been the men) commented on how good the pastor looked that day. The personality, clothing, and demeanor of the pastor should not reflect the manner in which he dressed that day in a nice suit, but rather the Word of God should be the focal point where attention should be called. The Genevan Robe aids in the congregation’s focus on the Word of God, and is a lawful distraction from the personality, demeanor and clothing of the preacher who is standing in the pulpit to deliver that Word.” (5)


Historically some of the Puritans used the Geneva Robe and a hat to mask the preacher’s apparel and appearance. All the congregants saw was the minister’s face and his mouth moving to proclaim the Word of God. All attention was to be directed to the Word of God and not the man delivering the message.


A summary of Reformed Catechisms on images of God:


Lord’s Day 35 (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563)


96. Q. What does God require in the second commandment?

A. That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.


97. Q. May we, then, not make any image at all?

A. God neither can nor may be visibly represented in any way. As for creatures, though they may be visibly represented, yet God forbids us to make or have any likeness of them in order to worship them or serve God by them.


98. Q. But may not images be tolerated in the churches as books for the laity?

A. No; for we must not be wiser than God, who will not have his people taught by dumb images, but by the living preaching of his word.


Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed. (Westminster Larger Catechism, 1647.)


It can be concluded that:


·         All images of God and Christ in any form are forbidden

·         Images and statues of the saints to facilitate Worship is forbidden

·         All outside visual and emotional stimuli to effect Worship is dangerous  


In closing, questions for discussion:


Can a musical performance at church cause an emotional response on the part of some in the audience, rather than a conversion based on the preaching of the gospel? If so, is this a danger? Can music and images to be used to get people to come to church? If so, is this a danger? What about images and art in general? For example, would it be wrong to look at a Leonardo Da Vinci painting of Christ in a museum? Does the regulative principle of Worship extend into private life? If so, would it be wrong to listen to instrumental music in the home?



1.      Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p. 311-312.

2.      James Durham, The Law Unsealed, or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments, (Glasgow. Printed by John Bryce), p. 89.

3.      Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing CO. signed copy 1984), p. 284.

4.      Garry Williams, The World in the Church: A Distracted World, a Distracted Church? October 2015

5.      Dr. C. Matthew McMahon, Why a Genevan Robe?


 “To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: