Is It Biblical To Set Up Images Of Divinity And Dead Saints And To Bow Down To Them?

(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version)

It’s common practice among some Christians to venerate the Holy Trinity, as well as dead saints (including Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus), by setting up images of them in places of worship (as well as in their homes), and by bowing down in reverence to such images, during prayer and worship. This practice, which is considered an act of respect or reverence for the people represented by those images, is a long standing tradition dating back to the immediate post-Apostolic period. The veneration of images of the Holy Trinity and saints became more pronounced and widespread during the reign of Emperor Constantine, when Christianity was made the state religion in a hitherto pagan Roman Empire. Is it biblical to set up images of divinity and dead saints in our homes and places of worship? Is it scriptural to bow down to or venerate such images, including those which are supposed to represent the Holy Trinity? We shall attempt to answer these questions through a careful examination of the Scriptures.

Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words:

Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

Exodus 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

Exodus 20:6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The second commandment expressly forbids the making of images of any kind, whether of things in heaven, on earth or beneath the earth, for the purpose of worship or veneration. God made it clear to his people in the Scriptures that such an act amounted to idolatory and would be severely punished. When God spoke to Israel at Mount Sinai/Horeb, while establishing his covenant with them and giving them his laws for observance, he made it clear to them that he deliberately did not appear to them in any visible form or similitude, so that they would not see any form or picture to ascribe to divinity. Therefore, he warned them not to make an image of any form to represent him. Thus, we see God is particularly against the idea of being represented by images of any form or shape, both as a memorial and for veneration. Any image designed by humans to represent divinity is thus abhorrent and detestable to God!

Deuteronomy 4:10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

Deuteronomy 4:11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness.

Deuteronomy 4:12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.

Deuteronomy 4:13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.

Deuteronomy 4:14 And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 4:15 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully,

Deuteronomy 4:16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman,

Deuteronomy 4:17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air,

Deuteronomy 4:18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.

Deuteronomy 4:19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars —all the heavenly array —do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.

What stands Jehovah apart from every other god worshipped by heathens is that he is a Spirit and invisible, and cannot be localised in the form of a statue or an image. We are told in the Scriptures that God is a Spirit, and that those who worship him must do so in Spirit and in truth. That’s the kind of worshippers God seeks- those who will connect to him spiritually without the need of physical images to appreciate his reality. The worship of Jehovah requires a faith relationship to connect to him. By his Spirit dwelling within his people, God connects with us in a profound manner, and thereby enables us to experience his awesome reality in a very personal way. Thus, without seeing God physically, true believers experience God spiritually, and have the witness of his presence within themselves, and therefore do not need any physical link to God in the form of statues and graven images! The Christian lives and walks by faith and not by sight!

St. John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

St. John 4:20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

St. John 4:21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

St. John 4:22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

St. John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

St. John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

St. John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

St. John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

1 Timothy 1:17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen (KJV).

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

Romans 8:8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

1 Peter 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1 Peter 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

1 Peter 1:5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

1 Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith —of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

1 Peter 1:9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

2 Corinthians 5:5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 5:6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:7 For we live by faith, not by sight.

Those who make images of the Godhead and dead saints and approach such in prayer and worship claim it’s done out of respect, and that the physical images help them to connect to divinity and the departed saints. They claim they don’t actually worship those images, but only use them as a means of connecting to the persons represented by the images. An examination of these claims in the light of the Scriptures and common sense render them baseless and absurd. Firstly, concerning the divinity, no one has seen God at anytime. Even for Jesus Christ the Son of God that once lived among men during his incarnation, no true picture of him exists that was captured while he walked on planet earth. The same goes for all the departed old and new testament saints whose images and statues adorn most cathedrals and religious shrines. Thus, the images and statues we see in these places of worship, that are supposed to represent divinity and departed saints, are only figments of some people’s imaginations! They are not images of the Godhead or of departed saints! There’s no difference between the images adorning some cathedrals and those adorning heathen shrines! Baptising such idols with Christian names doesn’t make venerating them any less idolatrous! People are bowing down to pagan idols inside Christian tabernacles, all the while thinking they’re worshipping Jehovah! What satanic deception! Secondly, you cannot kneel or bow down before an image or a statue and claim not to have worshipped or venerated it, for the very act of bowing down to an image constitutes worship! Don’t be deceived! The moment you kneel or bow down before an image you’ve worshipped the image! Even when some men of God fell down before angels in adoration, out of awe, they were severely rebuked for doing so, and commanded to worship only God instead! Above all, Jehovah expressly forbids people venerating images of him or of any being for that matter! He abhors and detests it, and so should we! Kneeling or bowing down to God in worship does not require an image or statue!

Psalms 95:6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

Psalms 95:7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,

Psalms 95:8 “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,

Psalms 95:9 where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

Psalms 95:10 For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ’They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’

Psalms 95:11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ’They shall never enter my rest.’”

Revelation 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

Revelation 19:10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”

Revelation 22:6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

Revelation 22:7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

Revelation 22:8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.

Revelation 22:9 But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

The three Hebrew children (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), like thorough-bred Jews, recognised the gravity of the sin of bowing down to an image, and would rather die than be compelled to do so! They rightly understood that image-worship was a heinous sin with grave consequences! Even Naaman, the Syrian general, upon conversion to the Jewish faith after his miraculous healing by Elisha, dreaded to escort his heathen king to the house of his god, as was his duty, for he feared to be leaned upon by the king when bowing down to the image of his god! We all need to have such fear of bowing down before any image, for it constitutes idolatory, and is a direct affront to God and a violation of the second commandment! Even the patriarchs understood that secretly bowing down to an image in one’s heart was an act of idolatory that deserved to be severely punished; how much more then when we make a public display of it!

Daniel 3:8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.

Daniel 3:9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever!

Daniel 3:10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold,

Daniel 3:11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Daniel 3:12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon —Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego —who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3:13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king,

Daniel 3:14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?

Daniel 3:15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.

Daniel 3:17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.

Daniel 3:18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

2 Kings 5:15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

2 Kings 5:16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.

2 Kings 5:17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.

2 Kings 5:18 But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also —when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”

2 Kings 5:19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

Job 31:26 if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor,

Job 31:27 so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage,

Job 31:28 then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.

In conclusion, the Bible expressly forbids the setting up of images of any being in heaven, on earth or beneath the earth, for the purpose of worship or veneration. Such an act directly violates the second commandment, and provokes God to intense jealousy. And, God promises to punish fiercely those who indulge in such acts of idolatory! Jehovah is an invisible Spirit, and those who worship him must do so in Spirit and in truth. It requires a faith relationship to connect with God and serve him rightly. Every born-again child of God is connected to God spiritually, through his indwelling Holy Sprit, and doesn’t need to behold vain images of divinity to revere and focus on God. The divine reality is impressed upon the souls of true believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is the seal of our salvation, and our connection to divinity. The Christian lives by faith, not by sight. It is therefore neither respect nor reverence for divinity that image worship inspires; rather, those who bow down to or venerate images of deity or dead saints only end up provoking God’s wrath and jealousy, and inviting judgement upon themselves! Let’s therefore desist from all forms of image-worship and worship God in Spirit and in truth, for that’s the only kind of worship that pleases God and secures his blessings.

Thanks for visiting and for reading. We look forward to reading your responses and feedbacks. God bless you!

Published by Dr. Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Dr Ojo is a Biblical scholar and teacher who believes firmly in the original Apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian doctrine and conduct.

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