Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 25, 1966
NUMBER 16, PAGE 2b-3a


Robert H. Farish

Iconolatry, or image worship, like all sin is deceptive. In its early stages of development in any society, it appears innocent, even presenting itself as good and helpful.

In its embryonic stage, it is accepted as an aid to teaching; it then becomes an "indispensable" aid at which point it has attained. Criticism of pictures of Jesus are met with emotions ranging from naive amazement to contemptuous scorn.

Iconolatry is spreading like wild fire. Much of the Bible class literature, some religious magazines and the advertising in the "Campaigns for Christ" which are the current rage, use "pictures of Jesus", to teach and advertise.

Commenting on idolatry of which Iconolatry is a specific, Barclay wrote: "The fact is that in the beginning, no one worshipped the idol. An idol had two functions. It was meant to localize the god it represented, and it was meant to visualize the god it represented. Originally, the idol was never meant to be worshipped. It was simply meant to make it easier for a man to worship the god whom it represented by giving him something visible localized in a definite place. But once that had been done, it was almost inevitable that a man should go on to worship the idol rather than the god whom it represented... Flesh and Spirit, p. 33.

It is freely granted that the publishers of literature etc., which contain "pictures" of Jesus, do not intend to contribute to idolatry, but neither at first did their spiritual predecessors.

Pictures Of Jesus

The New Testament has no statement regarding the external appearance of Jesus. And according to The New Schaff Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, neither did "the earlier post-Biblical Christian authors have any statements regarding the personal appearance of Jesus". It is significant that the Holy Spirit not only failed to inspire an artist to paint a portrait of Jesus, but left out even a single statement about a single physical feature. The height, weight, complexion, color of eyes, color of hair and all other physical characteristics - all fall into the area of silence of the Scriptures.

There is a ridiculous story that Luke at the request of Veronica attempted to paint a picture of Christ, but was unsuccessful whereupon the Lord impressed the image of his face upon the handkerchief of Veronica. This story dates only from medieval times. Other stories, just as absurd as this one, which were designed for poor benighted people plagued by superstition, could be cited but this is sufficient to demonstrate the nature and source of Icons.

Dating from the time of Tertullian (the latter part of the second century) are pictures of "a youthful and beardless, sometimes even boyish, figure, a round head with curling hair, and a frank face with regular features". It was not until the fourth or fifth century that the bearded pictures began to appear along with the beardless type. This diversity of images should be enough to show that these are not portraits of Jesus but are creations of human imagination. Augustine (354-430) said, "what his appearance was we know not". Note that this statement was made by an informed man in the century before the bearded picture appeared. It is interesting that the color of the hair and the beard ranged through all shades from yellow to gray and black!

"Pictures" of Jesus and Mary have been defended as a means of instruction and an aid to devotion. This is the only ground upon which attempts can be made and are being made to defend them today. It should be realized that the instruction provided by such pictures is false and misleading and that they are a hindrance to true devotion.

Modern day iconoclasts would do well to direct some of their efforts toward "diggin up", "tearing down" and "overthrowing" the current efforts stemming from iconomania. Let us not allow our literature to be reduced to the comic strip level. Eusebuis exhorted Constantia to "seek the image of Christ in the Scriptures". That is the best advice that could be given to those who are seeking instruction and greater devotion through "pictures" of Jesus.

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