Is it Wrong for Christians to Take Pictures?

Rule 2: Should You Take Pictures?

Posted by danieljkoren on September 2, 2011 in Viewpoints |

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.


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  • Edward says:

    Amen, I thank God for photography. While i do not read many books besides the bible, I do love buying animal picture books, as it makes me awe in how perfect God is. The fact that he created all these things makes me see how much God loves us. I do believe that we should do all things for the glory of God, If we are to even display certificates or awards, They should not be to show off, but to glorify God by pointing out the fact that without God that award was not possible to achieve. Fantastic article! and amen to moderation, May it be playing dominoes to eating candy to just going out and spending time with friends, All in moderation with our eyes fixed on Christ at all times. Much blessings! God bless you brother! I cant help but even point out a portrait of a family pet and thank God for giving us such a friend and companion! God is good! I pray for you that God keep showing you the truth which many need to see! Blessings, Your friend Edward.

  • Christine S. says:

    Thank you for posting this article. I suffer from a weak conscience at times and I am a gifted photographer. I feel the enemy has accused me and tried to rake me over by making me feel I am doing wrong by photographing nature. I don’t worship these things, I feel nature reminds and glorifies God. God knows my heart. People like Hetterites and Muslim beliefs cast unnecessary doubt on people in these matters and just cause them to stumble. I just want to glorify God and serve Him.

  • aint no prophet says:

    Lets take it for what it says and stop trying to twist it around for our benefit: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or ” notice the or in that sentence. now what does graven mean: Engrave (an inscription or image) on a surface. i rest my case.

    • danieljkoren says:

      Hey, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately you broke your own rule by using a computer with images.
      However, you are not under that law, no matter how you read it, if you are in Christ. Why live under a weaker covenant that is now obsolete? See Hebrews 8:7-13.

  • joseph says:

    hi daniel:-) Iev got a question I fell guilty because I like to draw superheros and collect action figures I dont worship these characters but I do think there cool its a constent bother for me because I do.t make the FATHER(GOD) angry with me or disapointed I wanted know am I doing wrong?

    • danieljkoren says:

      Congratulations on developing your God-given talents. That’s a skill many of us do not have.
      Superheroes could steal glory from God by their nature of doing the impossible and saving the world. They are a modern mythological idea that can have god-like aspirations.
      Have you tried illustrating Bible stories and showing the miracles of God in action?

      • joseph says:

        thank you daniel:-) to answer yes I have I drawn GOD but thats before I knew no man can see him and live it was just me drawing him in superhero fashion from my own imagination iev also drawn LORD JESUS CHTIST and Samson I,pray to GOD and JESUS for fogiveness im cant help it love draw shs I wish they not be angry with me because of this it seems like when I do draw I have misfortune im not like I was as kid I know I should not whorship these characters I ev created my own sh characters I centainly from the bottom my heart dont want my characters if ever publish take GODs glory from him

  • Fred says:

    It’s really simple. Those who truly love God hate the world and flesh. Both the world and flesh are fallen. God is perfect. People take pictures in order to perserve the image of things they like/love. If you’re taking pictures in order to perserve the image of the flesh you most likely do not have much love for God. The following verses may apply to you. Matt 7:21-23.

    You either love God or you don’t. YOu can’t love both God and the fallen world.

    • danieljkoren says:

      So do you have a driver’s license? Do you ever use cash? Those have images on them. Does a person with a picture ID love his or herself? If you use cash are you loving money?
      I appreciate your defense of your convictions, but your logic is flawed.

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