Recently, we at Nehr HaOlam were asked, “What says the Bible about religious icons?” To me, it seems as if though many refrain from saying the word “idol” because of its implications. Granted, many are familiar with the Ten Commandments when it says, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea” (Exodus 20:4, NLT). So instead of hearing questions like, “Is it permissible to have an idol?” questions are being reworded with “Is it permissible to possess a religious icon” with the subtle implication that an icon differs from an idol.
Though some may argue that an icon is not idol, the truth of the matter is that the term “icon” is a Greek term that literally means idol. In fact, the term “icon” was Latinized from the Greek term eikon that was first used in the mid 16th Century; in like manner, the term icon as we understand it today we redefined as early as the 19th Century, a recent invention that has no true biblical grounds as to whether or not First Century Followers of Messiah’s teachings upheld to. As per the term itself, the Oxford English Dictionary defines an icon as being “A devotional painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically executed on wood and used ceremonially in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches” (OED 2014). Though some might reason that it’s just a graphic representation of some biblical event or figure, the Oxford English Dictionary continues to explain that such icons are oftentimes perceived as being “worthy of veneration” (OED 2014). In short, the main intent for which icons are created is so that individuals may prostrate themselves before that which was created and worship it.
Many of these so called "icons" are either fashioned out of wood, stone or metal. These "icons" are even painted and adorned with clothing. Those who are in possession of them easily are persuaded to render homage of some sort, like adorning flowers, offering incense and even placing foods and drinks so that these "icons" do not go hungry. As innocent as these act may seem, it provokes the Heavenly Father to both anger and jealousy. Many even argue that their actions are not similar to what idol worshipers do; however, when you compare the actions between what some do with how Buddhists meditate, they do not seem any different from one another. On the contrary, they're both the exact same thing with the person to whom the veneration is being rendered to being distinct.
So, what’s the harm in possessing a religious icon like The Rosary or a Crucifix? I’m not worshipping it! It’s just a friendly reminder of the Christ laying down his life for my sins!” Though some might reason that it’s perfectly fine to be in possession of a religious icon like the Rosary or the Virgin Mary, the Bible is clear to mention that the abominable sin of idol worship begins when a person fabricates such a thing. Torah says, “So be careful not to break the covenant the Hashem your Elohim has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for Hashem your Elohim has forbidden this” (Deuteronomy 4:23). According to Scriptures, fabricating such a thing is simply prohibited for the children of Israel to do (Deuteronomy 4:25). To add, being in possession of such an icon is also prohibited: “You must not take it or it will become a trap to you, for it is detestable to Hashem your Elohim” (Deuteronomy 7:25).
“Why does Torah deem religious icons as both detestable and abominable?” From the very beginning of the first few pages of the Bible, we’re reminded of how the Heavenly Father created mankind. Torah informs us that the Heavenly Father “[...] breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7). Whenever someone fabricates a religious icon such as the Virgin Mary or Jesus, that individual is placing themselves in the Heavenly Father’s position of being the Creator. In fashioning an icon, the fabricator is essential rejecting the Heavenly Father as the Creator just as much as the Heavenly Father himself is rejecting both the person who fashions such a thing as well as the person who comes in possession of that which was created to be venerated (reference 1 Samuel 15:23).
“What, then, should our attitude be towards the individual who fabricates such an abomination to our Creator or come in possession of it?” The Bible says, “‘Cursed is anyone who carves or casts an idol and secretly sets it up. These idols, the work of craftsmen, are detestable to Hashem.' And all the people will reply, ‘Amen.'” (Deuteronomy 27:15) According to Scriptures, such a person is a disgrace (reference Psalm 97:7). As opposed to fashioning religious icons and holding them up in high regards, the Bible is clear to foretell its demise: “Idols will completely disappear” (Isaiah 2:18). To stipulate otherwise is to disregard wholeheartedly what the Heavenly Father desire of us.
When it comes to religious icons (a Greek term synonymous with idols), Messianic Jews are discouraged from both either fashioning one or even having one in their possession.
© 2014 by Nehr HaOlam Publications.
Winslow, New Jersey, USA
All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures were taken from the New Living Translation of the Bible.
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