When asking, “Is it wrong for Christians to take pictures?” people are often referring to this passage:
“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: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-5)
What this rule does mean
God does not want people worshiping anything but Him. We should not worship man-made idols, either Buddha or the Blessed Virgin.
However, the commandment does not just say, “Don’t carve images,” but, specifically, do not make images to worship them. The worship of something other than God is the point of this commandment. While the liberty of Christ does not force us to follow the Ten Commandments, those who love God would not worship anything other than Him.
What this rule does not mean
Some people argue that this means one should not have any kind of knickknacks or decorations on your house or clothing that included animals or people. Many take this to say “no pictures” whatsoever. That means it is a sin to have your picture taken, to put up family photos, and to snap pics of animals at the zoo. If this is what God meant, then He would have followed the same rule.
However, the Lord ordered images of angels in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:18; 36:8). Sculpted bulls highlighted the Temple (I Kings 7:23-25). He even had Moses, the one who wrote this commandment, make an image of a snake! (Numbers 21:8-9).
Some would say that if God made the rule, He can break it. However, God never asks man to break a moral law. When did God ever tell someone to bow down to an idol and worship it? When did he ever tell a man to commit adultery? God does not go against His own desires, He cannot. If pictures and images were immoral in themselves, He would not have ordered His people to make them.
Should Christians destroy all pictures?
The King James translation says, “ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures” (Numbers 33:52). First, this command was written to the Israelites, who had no idea what a photograph or picture was. The original sense was that they destroy all idols when they invaded Canaan. Second, if a person forces this passage to mean that new believers must destroy all their pictures, then they better also start driving out all the ungodly inhabitants of the land!
So, is it wrong for Christians to take pictures? What could be wrong with celebrating your grandkids with wallet photos or putting them on the screensaver of your computer? A few probably idolize the kiddos too much and need to repent of vanity. However, by passing around the joy, you are showing how thankful you are for your children and grandchildren God has given you.
While defending the taking of pictures, I will point out that I am a modest person who does not splash my home with photos or figurines. You will not find sculptures in my yard or photos plastered all over my blogs and websites.
I believe in moderation in all things. If you put pictures up out of pride, then the sin is your motive, not your image. Even God had the bronze serpent destroyed when people’s priorities ran amuck (II Kings 18:4). This proves that the image was not the problem, but the worship of it was.
I believe in the principle of Numbers 33:52. If I buy an electronic device, I purge it of any images the world has put there. I do not want their demo videos of dancing girls on my phone. If I bought a furnished house, I would throw out any ungodly decorations, too. I hate the image of the world so much I have been known to the turn the TV toward the wall when I stay in a hotel.
Why I would want pictures outlawed
If world governments would pass a law against pictures and photographs, at least pornography would cease. I would sacrifice every picture in the world to be rid of such devil worship. Do not allow your children free access to the internet on their computers, phones, or game stations. Protect yourself from this evil.
The other joy of a world without pictures would be life without TV. I do not watch television, and I would rejoice to see the rest of the world come outside and do something with their lives. Enough of my personal views, however, back to the matter at hand.
The Second Commandment cannot mean pictures
Every letter of the alphabet originally came from a drawing. Egyptian hieroglyphics were pictures of people, animals, and objects which came to be used as letters in later alphabets. The letter O, for example, came from a drawing of an eye, and is called by that name in some languages. The letter J was a drawing of a bent arm, and N was originally a drawing of a snake. If you are going to take the second commandment to mean you cannot have pictures, then you also can no longer read or write! Letters, also called characters, are just tiny drawings.
Moses could not have written down rules 3-8 if rule 2 meant no drawings. At the time he wrote the Pentateuch, Hebrew writing was still very much like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Carvings on a stone near Mt. Sinai show how many pictures and symbols were still a part of the language.
What did Jesus say about images? When opponents asked Him about paying taxes, He asked for a coin. The emperor’s image was on that Roman coin. He said as much as, “Pay the man what he asks for, and remember to give God His portion as well” (Luke 20:24-25). Jesus did not say, “This is evil! Because it has a heathen image you should destroy it.” Those who say you cannot have pictures should also give up their money. If this is you, I have a place it can go.
The misapplication of this commandment means no picture books for the kids. No dolls. No stuffed animals. Why would it be a crime for a child to play with a rubber chicken? Paul said “an idol is nothing” (I Corinthians 8:4). I do not like going into Chinese restaurants with an image of Buddha. However, I know he is nothing. I am not worshipping him by being there. The sin is in the worship, not the image.
Some would say you can have pictures, buy figurines, and even watch movies as long as someone else made them. That kind of thinking really means, it is okay for godless people to express themselves in art, but true believers will not be allowed to reflect God’s beauty with artistic expression. If we can give God glory in writing, music, singing, speaking, and acting, it cannot be wrong to exalt Him with all art forms as well.
Notice what God was saying, when He said it
He did not end His thought with “do not make images.” The complete thought was “Do not make images to bow down and worship.” In Deuteronomy chapter four, Moses emphasizes this thought again. He talks about how the people hear but did not see the invisible God, so they should not make any religious statues to replace Him (4:15-19, 22-23). Here, He says they should not worship anything but Him—and He is stressing this thought again because they are going into heathen territory full of idols.
Daily, we face distractions that get our eyes off of God. Movies and the pleasures of this life will cause us to focus on the wrong thing. We must destroy anything, including books or hobbies, that draws us away from God instead of closer to Him. We must teach our children such principles as well. Rulemaking will only make rebels, as Israel also demonstrated.
Since the earth is the Lord’s (Exodus 9:29; Deuteronomy 10:14) we should enjoy all its natural beauty. Since the wonders of animal life bring us to understand the greatness of God (Job 39, 40, 41), we should explore it. We could not appreciate nor express praise to God for all His wonders if it was not for pictures.
You cannot go to the exotic places necessary to see penguins, tropical animals, microscopic creatures, and deep-sea dwellers. The beauty of photography and other illustrations help us see the intricacies of Gods’ creation. High-resolution pics and articulate drawings show us the detail of His genius.
Apply the principle today
While God does not care if you post a pic of your dog on facebook or snap a photo of your child with chocolate all over her face, He does care about your image. He cares that you not adopt the image of the world. A person can commit idolatry without a single picture. Take Nascar for instance: you go to a guy’s house and he could have Nascar posters, collector cars, jackets, window decals, and hats galore. If he is ate up with Nascar is it okay since it is not a living breathing creature? Of course not.
Legalism and law-keeping create all kinds of twisted rules with illogical amendments such as driver’s licenses and passports are okay but school yearbook photos are taboo. If we worship anything other than God, we are in sin.
On the other hand, a person might not be fixated on photos so much, but may idolize a movie star, vocal artist, or sports figure. Without even one pic of this idol, such a person would be living in sin to imitate that worldly person by walking like, talking like, or dressing like that person. Emulation, the imitation of others, is a sinful work of the flesh, not the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-21).
The only image that matters
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. You cannot duplicate Him in a drawing. Not that it is particularly sinful to try to depict Jesus in drama or art, but no image will ever replace the image. If any images should be destroyed, we should get rid of the pictures of Jesus that paint Him as a long-haired hippy, with blue eyes, a skimpy beard, a limp wrist, and a sad face.
Want to picture Jesus? Live out His character in humility and joy. Conform to His likeness in simplicity, not extravagance. Love modesty. Enjoy creation. You were created in the image of God, so fill that picture with color.