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Veneration of Images – Affirmative Constructive

May 1, 2016

The question today is whether image veneration is Biblical and Historical. Well, of course, in a sense it is. In Genesis 31 we have the first reference to people having “gods” when Rachel stole them from her father’s house. Then, in Genesis 35 we have the first purge of them. Jacob hid them under the oak in Shechem.

They were again forbidden during the Exodus, but when Moses delayed coming down from the mount, the people demanded an image, and Aaron complied by making one (Exodus 32). And the Old Testament law is very explicit in forbidding these objects of veneration – not just in the second commandment, but also in Exodus 34:17, Leviticus 19:4, 26:1, and so on.

The Old Testament contains numerous warnings against idolatry, both explicit and implicit. Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, was a mighty man of valour and was ordained by God himself to be their king. But as soon as Jeroboam put up idols for the worship of God, God turned against him (1 Kings 14) and he became known as Jeroboam who made Israel to sin because he set up the veneration of the golden calves.

There were, of course, images in a religious setting in the Old Testament. There were angels above the ark of the covenant, for example. But these images were not venerated. Another example would be the brass serpent. Looking at the brass serpent miraculously cured those bitten by the firey serpents. However, when the people started venerating that serpent (by burning incense to it), Hezekiah was praised for destroying it (2 Kings 18).

Indeed, Hezekiah was praised in the same place for removing all the unauthorized worship, including the high places, the groves, and the images. And that’s the constant theme in the Old Testament.

Even the Apocrypha or “Deuterocanonical” books and parts are not an exception. The story of Bel in Daniel 14 makes a mockery of the veneration of idols in a way that is roughly consistent with the canonical view of idol worship as improper and ridiculous – and reflects the views of Jews in the intertestamental period.

We see the same thing in Tobit, which predicts: “And all nations shall turn, and fear the Lord God truly, and shall bury their idols.” (Tobit 14:6)

We see the same thing in the added part of Esther, which associates idols with heathen worship (Esther 14:8-10).

We see the same thing in Wisdom 14:11-30 and 15:15, which includes a long explanation of the foolishness of venerating images.

We see the same thing in Ecclesiasticus 30:19
We see the same thing in the Letter of Jeremiah 1:73 “Better therefore is the just man that hath none idols: for he shall be far from reproach.”

Both first and second Maccabees contain only negative references to idols as well.

But what about the New Testament. Well, no surprise, the New Testament continues to be anti-idol. The dozens of references to images for veneration in the New Testament all depict the use of such images negatively.

Paul repeatedly distinguishes Christian worship from that of the pagans by comparison to worship via images. For example:

1 Corinthians 12:2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

And let’s be clear the idols and icons you see in churches today are just as unable to speak as those that Paul confronted.

Thus, when preaching to the idolaters on Mars Hill, Paul said:

Acts 17:24-31
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

The point of Paul’s diatribe is not that the Athenians should start worshiping crucifixes instead of statues of Jupiter. Instead, the point is that idol worship should altogether shunned and the living God should be worshiped.

Do you remember the opposition that Paul got in Ephesus? It was because Demetrius, the silversmith, realized that Paul’s message was iconoclastic. He wasn’t going to have to melt down the silver shrines for Diana, if Paul’s religion was right there would be no more demand for his work.

John’s first general epistle contains a blunt admonition:

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

So then, the New Testament is fully consistent with the Old on this point. The incarnation did not change the rules – it didn’t suddenly make the veneration of images ok. Instead, they remain forbidden.

But what about the early church? Eventually, image worship crept into the church as well.

Augustine, in Sermon 198, explains:

Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.

So, by Augustine’s day such veneration of images had begun to creep in, but was being resisted. We have other examples from church history of some of the opposition to image worship as it crept in, but eventually it became quite widespread.

It’s not really until the end of the patristic period that we see John of Damascus (8th century) defend the veneration of images. And that’s not just based on my own reading – I checked the Jurgens quote book to see what Roman Catholic patristics folks could identify – there were only three quotations on the topic in the entire collection, none of those were from before Nicaea, one of them was an erroneous categorization, one was alleged to be from Basil (but is from a fragment found in an a later catena) and the one from John of Damascus.

What’s the exact day? It’s hard to be precise, but consider this – they found what appears to be some kind of ancient church at an excavation site called Dura Europos. Those excavating it concluded that it was destroyed around the middle of the third century. If that dating is correct, and if the building was really a church, it would be the earliest example we know of, of a church being decorated as it was.

We don’t seem to know anything about whatever group worshiped there. Thus, I think it would be optimism to suggest that anyone was venerating the murals in that building. Is it possible? Of course it’s possible – men have been inclined toward idolatry since at least the time of Jacob and probably earlier.

Is the veneration of such images Biblical and historical? It’s certainly been done a lot in history, and it’s mentioned in the Bible, but the Bible condemned it and our best historical reconstruction of the early church based on their writings suggest that they didn’t venerate images.

One Particular Accomplishment in the Sye Ten Bruggencate v. Matt Dillahunty Debate

June 26, 2014

There were a number of highlights (and a few lowlights) in the Sye Ten Bruggencate v. Matt Dillahunty debate (link). One highlight was when an audience member asked Sye if there was anything Sye couldn’t be wrong – and Sye pointed out the essentials. The follow up was “and what are those?” Sye did a great job of immediately presenting the gospel. It was a great opportunity, and Sye nailed it.


On Silence of Christian Leaders

June 4, 2014

My brethren are getting frustrated with the fact that certain Christian leaders seem willing to talk boldly about things that all their hearers already agree with, while refusing to speak up about the more controversial in-house problems. Remember the words of Mordecai:

Esther 4:13-14
Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

God does use men, like Esther, to advance his kingdom and cause. Nevertheless, God’s purposes don’t depend on Esther. Christian leaders who remain silent, thinking it is to their advantage, are not undermining our cause, but their own. We can entreat them to do what they seem called to do, but we should also recognize that God will deliver us, if not from that quarter, from some other.


Ergun Caner at SBTS – November 13, 2003

May 15, 2014

We previously reviewed Dr. Caner’s comments on a panel with Mohler at SBTS on November 14, 2003 (link), but somehow we did not review his solo comments from the day before (link to mp3link to page for event). He presented a message he titled “The Gospel According to Oprah,” which we’ve heard elsewhere. All time stamps are approximate:

0:10 “In recent months, most of the times when I speak, I speak before hostile crowds. Virginia Tech being the most recent. In those debates with Muslims and such, where the crowd is decidedly not Bible-believing, orthodox Christians. And so I spend a lot of my time getting yelled at, getting called names, and cursed and threatened and such. So it’s always good to get among fellow believers.”

a) What debates?  Almost all the speaking engagements of Dr. Caner’s that we can find evidence of are speeches to Christian audiences.

b) I could not find any evidence of Dr. Caner actually speaking at Virginia Tech, although I did find a transcript in their digital archives of a news program from July 30, 2006, regarding Dr. Caner (link to full text):

Caner was raised a sunni Muslim in Turkey by his father, a prominent Islamic leader.
But at 13, he converted to Christianity, and was promptly disowned by his family.
Now, Caner uses his education as a muslim child, and experience as an immigrant to America, to explain what he sees happening in the Middle East, specifically Israel and Lebanon. 

a) He was not raised in Turkey.
b) While his father may have been a leader in the local Turkish community in Ohio, there’s no evidence of greater prominence than that.
c) He was disowned by his non-custodial father, but apparently not by his hippy-universalist mother.
d) The “at 13” may be accurate, but it suggests a date from November 1979 – November 1980, which is different from other accounts of his alleged conversion.

1:10 “My full name is Ergun Mehmet Caner. I am Turkish, was born in Sweden but my family is Turkish, and so we came to this country, my father being an architect, to build mosques.”

a) No, his name is Ergun Michael Caner.
b) His father was Turkish, his mother was Swedish.
c) There’s no evidence to corroborate this idea that his dad was an architect or that he came to build mosques.

3:25 “You’re never gonna have me back.”

And not counting the next day’s performance (which was already scheduled), they apparently did not.

16:00 “My brother and I do debates on university campuses. In 41 debates, I have never, I have never, did I say ‘never’? I mean have never run into one Muslim who ever said “Allah of the Koran is the biblical Jehovah, Adonia, El-Gabor God of the Bible.’  Not one!”

a) What debates?  Where is even one of these debates from a university campus?
b) The Koran itself claims that the Allah described in it is the same one that gave the Torah and the Injeel.

23:25 “I went to college at Cumberland College, just about 12 months after I got saved.”

That would suggest a 1983 conversion date, not a 1982 date (as suggested elsewhere), or a 1981 (as suggested in his book).

25:45 “He reached me 1000s of miles away, as a towel-head. I came to this country to be a missionary to you. I assumed that you hated me.”

He came as a toddler.

27:05 “They didn’t mock my language, or mock my accent, or mock the way I dressed in my full keffiyah, they simply loved me.”

What language? Swedish?  What accent? He grew up in Ohio?  The photos we have of him from that era suggest he wore ordinary clothes.


Debate Delay

July 19, 2013

Due to circumstances beyond my control, my debate opponent has had to reschedule the debate that was previously scheduled for tomorrow, July 20, 2013. Lord Willing, I will provide some posts on the topic of the debate over the upcoming week or month, depending on how much time I have. I apologize to my regular readers for the shortage of blog posts recently.

State’s Interest in Marriage?

April 7, 2013

During debate in the Supreme Court, one of the justices made an interesting comment.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Mr. Clement, the problem is that it would totally thwart the States’ decision that there is a marriage between two people, for the Federal government then to come in to say no joint return; no marital deduction; no Social Security benefits; your spouse is very sick, but you can’t get leave; people -­ if that set of attributes, one might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?

(I corrected the official transcript, which seemed to have some trouble with Justice Ginsburg’s accent)

It is remarkable that Justice Ginsburg’s question presupposes that the entire purpose of marriage relates to Federal labor and employment law or federal tax law. The answer to her question is that obviously states have other uses for having state laws including state labor and employment laws and state tax laws, but also for things like adultery, divorce, and other family law issues, and further for marital privilege in state courts.

Moreover, suppose that the whole purpose (from the state’s perspective) is to allow people to benefit from Federal benefits?  What is to prevent states from defining marriage as simply living at the same address, to permit roommates to secure federal benefits, regardless of sexual activity or actual marital relationship?

I realize that all this is rather trivial compared to the problem of a society ready to endorse the behavior.  Still, it would be good if there were clear thinking about the issues.


Status vs. Behavior

March 29, 2013

OLSON: Well, you’ve said in the cases decided by this court that the polygamy issue, multiple marriages, raises questions about exploitation, abuse, patriarchy, issues with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody, it is an entirely different thing. And if you—if a state prohibits polygamy, it’s prohibiting conduct. If it prohibits gay and lesbian citizens from getting married, it is prohibiting their exercise of a right based upon their status.

Amy Hall has some good thoughts about this (link), but I want to point something else out – actually three things, the first of which is:

When the government prohibits marriage to already-married people, it is prohibiting “exercise of a right” (assuming marriage is a right) based on their status of being married. It is prohibition that is explicitly based on the status of the person. In fact, if getting a marriage license were like getting a job, they wouldn’t be allowed to ask if you were already married. Prohibition of polygamy is about status. That’s my main point.

The second is much more nuanced. When two people of the same sex seek to be “married” to each other, they are not being prohibited from “exercise of a right” – even if marriage is a right – because they don’t want marriage as that term is defined. They want something that isn’t marriage, which they want to be called marriage and treated as marriage.

The third point is that calling marriage a “right” is odd, given that in America single people apparently don’t have this right unless someone else voluntarily consents to it. Can you imagine if your right to free speech depended on the people hearing you consenting to it? I’m pretty sure the pro-abortion folks wouldn’t think a woman has a “right to choose” if she has to get someone else (like whoever procreated with her or the child) to voluntarily consent.


New Roman Catholic Pope Elected by the Cardinals

March 13, 2013

Not this guy (link) but Jorge Mario Bergoglio, from Argentina. Naturally, he is “Pope Francis.”

Shocked by His Resignation!

February 12, 2013

The Christian blogosphere today is in shock over the departure of C.L. Bolt from the blogging team at Choosing Hats. It’s a completely unprecedented move, and he will (in all seriousness) be missed. I hope he returns to blogging soon!


Some New (Old) Patristic Quotations

December 17, 2012

For the last two years, the Ancient Voices blog has fallen into disuse, with very few quotations being posted.  I have plenty of quotations to post, though.  So, I will try to transcribe them and post them on a once-per-day basis.  For at least the next month or so, I expect to be posting a number of quotations, mainly from Theophylact (an early second millenium eastern father) and Chrysostom (who everyone knows).  Some are from my own reading, most of the rest are from comments posted elsewhere by David T. King.

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