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10.28.2005    |    Picture this
The Ten Commandments are sacred to many, annoying to others, irrelevant to those who prefer a different source for their morality or who have no such source. One problem with taking any of them out of context is that the meaning can become lost.

Case in point: that pesky "graven image" commandment. Specifically, Exodus 20:4 (using the King James Version, 'cause we've all heard of that evil "graven image"):
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."
Now, for those who think that every single word of the Bible is God's unalterable and unanswerable law, no interpretation, thank you. That would surely mean that even a photo of your aunt Mildred is evil. Dogs playing poker rendered in black velvet? Fuggedaboudit. Elvis might be ok...

Just kidding about the King. The problem, as with much of Scripture, is that it usually isn't sufficient to just look at the literal meaning of a single verse. It is pretty clear that God had no intention of not letting us paint, sculpt, or, for that matter, take photos of dear Auntie. This is clarified in the very next verse of Exodus 20, verse 5: "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them..."

"Them" being those graven images. The injunction is against the worship of idols, of any thing that is less than God. Not against works of art. In a sense, we humans are caretakers of God's creation, and as part of that stewardship, it is hardly surprising that we attempt to imitate God by creating things of beauty.

So, to those who use the commandments as a bludgeon against the less pure, and to those who use them as a "gotcha" to show how confused believers are, perhaps you might read the context before firing both barrels.

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Blogger breakerslion said...

From the very Acts 17 that you referenced in a previous commentary:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

Attributed to Paul himself:

“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:”

Seems clear enough as to what Paul believed Moses was saying.

8:52 PM, October 28, 2005  
Blogger breakerslion said...

I wonder what Paul would say if he could see St. Paul's Cathedral?

8:54 PM, October 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breakerslion, I did not cite Acts 17; it was cited by commenter Chad. And the context wasn't graven images, it was Paul's use of reason in attempting to sway those in the synagogue to his belief in Christ.

As for Acts 17:29, Paul's concern was not to disallow the arts. It was to ensure that the objects portraying God, etc., were not worshipped in place of God - as was common in the Greco-Roman culture when Acts was written.

More on your comment re: St. Paul's Cathedral in a new post.

12:06 PM, October 29, 2005  

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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.