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Just a wee-little thought on the Second Commandment.

The way people respond to me when I bring up thoughts about the Second Commandment often shows a rolling-of-the-eyes impatience with me as if I am some freak that is superstitiously stirring up a witch hunt. The kinder ones suggest that I am being legalistic and impractical. They act as if the Second Commandment is hardly relevant today. No sophisticated person bows down to idols. They immediately imply that I am ready to pray down fire from Heaven on the Sunday School flannel graph and start a crusade vandalizing nativity scenes.

I only wish to make one point here:
The Second Commandment is just as relevant today as is the Seventh Commandment.

The Law is spiritual (Romans 7:14). Jesus illustrates this in the Sermon on the Mount and the truth of Romans 7:14 and Jesus’ illustrations in the Sermon on the Mount apply to all the Law. You must prove it otherwise.

One person, frustrated with me for using the Second Commandment as a reason for my opposition to the Gibson movie, chided me for suggesting that people would actually look at the screen as if the actor were God. He said that the Second Commandment forbids the making of images to worship as God. That’s obviously true. He’s right on both points. But if worshipping an image as God is all that is meant, then God is repeating the First Commandment which says that we should have no other God besides Him; and that would mean that for centuries we have all been mistaken: there are actually only The Nine Commandments.

The other option is to do as the Roman Church has done and that is to split the Tenth Commandment into two separate commandments which is equally ridiculous because the problem of redundancy is still the same. The Roman Catholics combine the First and the Second Commandments as one; and my conservative, Evangelical brother’s assertion fits neatly into the Roman Catholic scheme of things. The Gibson film cannot possibly be a violation of the Second Commandment, he says, because God has said that we should not make images into God and this film was not made to be God.

This brother also said that the Second Commandment should be taken only literally. Really? If this is so, then we are far off base to consider this the Moral Law of God because then the Seventh Commandment would not exclude sex before marriage, just extra-marital sex. And there is no law, then, against me coveting a brand new car, only that I do not covet my neighbor’s wife, or his donkey, or his ox, or his servants (which is not hard because his wife is not pretty, and he has neither donkey, ox, nor servants). Since the Law is spiritual (Romans 7:14) — and Jesus illustrated this by saying that a mere lustful thought constitutes a violation of the Seventh Commandment — then it is equally true that the Second Commandment has spiritual ramifications that do not merely reiterate the prohibition stated in the First Commandment. You may not like my application. But I am not wrong to say that there must be one.

4 Responses

  1. I can see how you’re not necessarily crusading for the destruction of nativities and stain glass windows and flannelgraphs. But I think the potential ramifications of what you’re proposing do need to be addressed.

    Isn’t that why we’re all kind of leery of drawing hard fast lines when it comes to interpreting and applying interpretations of the 2nd commandment? Because we realize that their are far-reaching tentacles of application that threaten to un-do our previous understandings of all that is wholesome and good — on our bedroom walls, in the back of our Bibles, and in our galleries.

    Unless we grew up in the OPC or a denom with similar views, most of us who grew up in “good Bible-believing churches” acknowledge human artists’ human depictions of Christ as a regular part of our growing up lives, certainly harmless and certainly not deliberate violation of one of the Ten.

    So in a sense, this IS a strange tongue in which you’re speaking to us. Maybe we’re not rolling our eyes so much as throwing up our hands. If this serious an interpretation has really been true all along (as historical Baptists who would have read and agree with the 1689 confession would attest), then why DID we grow up on flannelgraphs?

    Just an inconsistency? Or a valid question?

    And are there ramifications for the art world? For those MANY who think that Christian artisans must stick to producing “Christian art,” what do we draw now? What do we make movies about now? How do we use our skills in multimedia and graphic design and computer animation for the kingdom now? If we can’t make Christian art now, how do we get to use our God-given talents for His glory?

    (I’m being tongue-in-cheek here, because I don’t really adhere to the premise that Christian artists should stick to religion — just like I don’t believe that the Lord Jesus’ jurisdiction is reduced only to the realm of religion — but if one does come to the table carrying certain presuppositions, there are inevitable conclusions that must be drawn and/or inevitable questions and confusion which must be addressed.)

  2. I agree with the applicability of the 2nd Word, but I understand it differently. I take the 2nd Word as a protection of Christ’s incarnation. The image of Yahweh is not a cow, but that’s what the people made Him out to be in Ex. 32-34. God told them not to make any _pesel_ (image) to represent Him (listing animals, etc., as examples), and Isaiah 42(v.9?) says that all of Yahweh’s glory will be attributed–not to _peselim_ (plural form)–but to the Servant whom He has been honoring in the context (vv. 1-8?). The NT clearly states in several ways that Jesus is the “image” who declares, reveals, and manifests God in a physical form. He is the one who *can* and must be worshiped. No, not the body in isolation, but the Person of Jesus is to be worshiped.

    When people make flannelgraphs and movies, they are not normally worshiping those icons in themselves. I admit that some Catholics and others may, but what concern is that to me? (Although, if your Sunday School kid wants to take the flannelgraph of Jesus home with him, obviously you’d better start asking some serious questions!!!) The issue is whether we are violating the 2nd Word.

    So how do people violate the 2nd Word today? All kinds of ways, but most of them have little to do with making or looking literal _peselim_ that supposedly represent Yahweh. Rather, they have to do with perverting the *doctrine* of who Christ is. I recall a radio talk show…. the lady called in complaining how terrible it was for Christians to condemn others (in any circumstances). They should, she argued, always and exclusively love others and never say something bad about someone else. Her reason? That is what Jesus always did.

    This woman was, in a sense, violating the 2nd Word. The “image” of God that she “made” and put forth for others to “see” was not the real Jesus. It was a perversion of her own sinful mind. (So I agree that the 2nd Word has a spiritual application.) The only way we can avoid violating the 2nd Word is to tenaciously study the biblical revelation of Him and His work. None of us are perfect in that, no doubt, but to the extent that Gibson has been careful to be accurate in presenting Christ, he is obeying–not violating–the 2nd Word. (This is not intended to justify all Gibson’s doctrine, etc…) And those who watch the movie are only guilty if they reject its (essentially) accurate presentation of Jesus. There are many such law-breakers. Read the reviews, for example, at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JMN3/104-5871830-8146322


  3. Dan, just a curiosity thing — where’s this preference to substitute the word “Word” for “Commandment” coming from? It’s not at all common that I’m aware of, and I’m wondering what are the implications of such a deliberate exchange?

  4. “Word” because _dabar_ is the Hebrew word always used to refer to the ten (e.g. Dt. 4:13) rather than _torah_ (law) or _mitzwah_ (command). We could translate that Yahweh commanded “ten things” or “ten items,” (or simply, “ten words”). The distinction is not particularly important to the present discussion, except that by “1st command” and “2nd command” some people refer to theological prioritization, i.e., (1) “love God” (Dt. 5) and (2) “love your neighbor” (Lev. 19), rather than to the first two of the ten words.

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