In the Bible God reveals his law to man. The basic fundamentals of his law are contained in the Ten Commandments. As postmillennialists we believe that God calls upon us to develop human culture under God’s law and to his glory. But then the question arises as to the role of specifically religious art: May Christians make images of Christ? This is an important issue for Bible-based postmillennalism as it promotes human artistic achievement.
In yesterday’s article I began considering the Second Commandment and its application to artistic representations of deity. In today’s study we will narrowly focus on the question on the issue of images of Christ.
Despite the divine condemnation of making images of God, we are making a theological miskake if we claim that we may not under any circumstance paint a picture of Christ. How is this so, since Christ is God the Son, the incarnation of God (Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3)?
As we engage the question theologically and biblical we must understand that pictures of Christ are not pictures of God. This argument needs to be carefully understood because ultimately the very integrity of orthodox Christianity is at stake.
In A.D. 451 the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Church meeting at Chalcedon declared the orthodox, biblical view of Christ a great mystery. For Christ really has two natures, unlike us. And his two natures are contained in one person “without confusion, change, division, separation.” Consequently, Christ has both a divine nature and a human nature — without any mixing or dilution of the one in the other.
Thus, a picture of Christ is a picture of his humanity, for he does, in fact, possess a truly human body (as well as a truly human soul). A picture of Christ is not a picture of his inner, divine essence, nor even of his soul. Rather it is a picture of his external bodily form. Thus, a picture of Christ’s human form is a picture of his humanity, not his deity; it is a picture of man (the God-man), not a picture of God.
Some will object that you cannot separate the human and divine, for they are forever united in one person in Christ. It is true that you cannot separate them, but you can distinguish them. In fact, the orthodox view of Christ demands that the two natures be distinguished, for they are without mixture or dilution.
We must remember that the whole point of the incarnation is because the eternal God could not die for the sins of his elect people in order to provide redemption (Heb. 2:9-15). Consequently, the Second Person of the Trinity took upon himself a true human body and soul to accomplish redemption:
• Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
• Hebrews 10:5: “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me.”
Thus, when we produce artistic representations of Christ, we ourselves are not making images of God, who is invisible and impossible of representation. Rather, God himself prepared this “image,” the body of Christ. Our picturing Christ’s human form is not our attempt at reducing the divine nature to an image. And the body that Christ took was truly human: it was a body susceptible to thirst (John 4:7; 19:28), weariness (Matt. 8:24), hunger (Matt. 21:18), and death (Rom. 5:6).
We must be careful that we not suggest that his body was divine. When he trimmed his hair, deity did not lay upon the ground to waste away. When his body laid in the tomb in the coldness of death, deity was not dead. Rather, Christ’s mortal body was the real and tangible manifestation of his true incarnate condition. And as such, was capable of artistic reproduction.
We must remember the biblical rationale forbidding Israel from making an image of God: “Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form– only a voice…. So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure” (Deut. 4:12, 15-16).
John 1:18 informs us that “no man has seen God at any time.” Yet many men saw Christ. John also informs us in that very context that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory” (John 1:14). In fact, when he walked the earth no one could tell by his appearance that in him dwelled the divine nature (except perhaps at the transfiguration, Matt. 17:1-2). As John explains this elsewhere: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1).
When we partake the Lord’s Supper, we partake tangible elements representing the Lord’s corporeal human body. And Christ himself gave us this “image” of him.
We must wonder: If photography had existed in the first century, would God forbid pictures of Christ? Undoubtedly not, for he did not forbid people looking upon him. And surely the disciples themselves (especially) would fondly remember him in his earthly appearance.