Idol Worship, Statues & the 2nd Commandment

Q. Why has the Catholic church changed the Second Commandment?…set no graven image before me nor the likeness thereoff? Is this , again, adding to the Word of God.

A. You have taken a phrase out of context from Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments. Let’s take a look at the whole commandment first—in context. This is not adding to the Word of God. I will even put a Protestant version and a Catholic version here for you to compare. So that you can plainly see we are not adding or taking away anything from scripture. Since you used KJV I will too.

Protestant: King James Version Ex. 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 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. 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God…

Catholic: Douay-Reims Version 3Thou shalt not have strange gods before me 4 Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. 5Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous..

As you can see the phrase, ” Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image” is referring to the worship of an idol or statue. It absolutely cannot mean that all statues, of anything, are strictly forbidden in sacred places of worship. What IS forbidden is the worship of these statues. How can I be so sure? Because in the very same book, only five chapters later we find this:

Exodus 25: 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

And where were these two cherubim placed? In the Holy of Holies! In the cult of Israel there was no place more sacred than the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was placed; the very seat of God Most High. And this was the express command of God. Therefore, we KNOW that statues were not forbidden, only and emphatically, their worship.

Later, in Solomon’s temple despite the 2nd Commandment:

“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”

As you can see below, the Temple was decorated with many different things in the likeness of things in Heaven and on Earth. The Jews clearly understood that the 2nd Commandment did NOT forbid the creation of art in the likeness of things in Heaven and Earth.

Deuteronomy 7:18 He made pomegranates in two rows19 The capitals … were in the shape of lilies, four cubits [l] high. 20 On the capitals of both pillars, a…were the two hundred pomegranates in rows all around. 22 The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies …24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit …25 The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east…. its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. …27 He also made ten movable stands of bronze; …between the uprights were lions, bulls and cherubim—and on the uprights as well. … 36 He engraved cherubim, lions and palm trees on the surfaces of the supports and on the panels, in every available space, with wreaths all around. 42 the four hundred pomegranates for the two sets of network (two rows of pomegranates for each network, decorating the bowl-shaped capitals on top of the pillars…44 the Sea and the twelve bulls under it …49 … the gold floral work and lamps and tongs;

The bulls are perhaps the most surprising given the Golden Calf incident in Exodus. But then again they were worshiping the Golden Calf. Catholics do not worship the statues and pictures in our churches or our homes. During all the long ages when most people could not read the Bible they could understand the language of art. The purpose of art in our Churches is instruction. They remind us of the people and events in scripture and Christian history.


6 Responses to Idol Worship, Statues & the 2nd Commandment

  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the good post. Blessings and Peace. KB

  2. Pavel Jancik says:

    With all due respect, the answer is only half hearted. It explains the issue of idolatry and idols (objects to be worshiped – can be money as Paul indicates in his letter to Colossians 3:5) and Ephesians 5:5). BUT, it avoids answering where did the 2nd commandmend go in the Catholic doctrine. Splitting the 10th commandment into 9 and 10 (coveting neighbour’s wife v.s. other things) is in my opinion wrong. Leaving out an explicit warning against idolatory (2nd commandment) is not worth it, in my opinion.

  3. bfhu says:

    Catholics have this commandment. It did not go anywhere. We number them a bit differently but not in order to exclude the prohibition of worship of idols. That is Protestant slander. The commandements are not numbered in scripture and the way the Catholic Church numbers them began long before Martin Luther rebelled. The Protestant numbering may have been done purposely to give teeth to their accusations against Catholic that we worship idols. We do no such thing. It is a tradition of men that Catholics worship idols, Mary, the saints etc.

  4. Anonymous says:

    im sorry but catholics do pray to idols, why do they have grottos for instance you can clearly see people on their knees praying to this saint or that depending on what they are praying for. In my opinion it is up to the individual personally i need no explanation the commandment is clear no images and no idols and i find it imperative to obey rather than play somantics.

  5. 62peppe says:

    The Catholic Bible is accuratelly translated from the original Hebrew version.

    The Bible, in the original text, has no punctuation and numbering of the verses. Therefore, the division of the Commandments is conventional and depends from which of the 3 traditions it referes to:
    1.The eastern christian tradition based on the book of Exodus, which consideres the prohibitions of desiring the woman and the property of others as one comandment, and so the prohibitions of having more than one God and of worshiping idols are considered two commandments.
    This tradition was adopted by the Orthodox Church, and later by most of the protestants.

    2.The agostinian western christian tradition based on the book of Deutoronomy, which consideres the prohibitions of desiring the woman and the property of others as two comandments, and so the prophibitions of having more than one God and of worshiping idols are considered one commandment.
    This tradition was adopted by the Catholic Church, and later by the lutheran protestants

    3.In the jewish list of the 10 commandments the first is “I am the L-rd, your G-d…” and the second is the Prohibition of Improper Worship which combine the prohibition to worship other gods and that of making idols like the first commandment of the catholic list.

    The conspiracy theory of the Catholic Church to have altered the 10 commandments to be able to use the images is a lie for 2 reasons.

    The first reason is that the Lutheran church, which does not allow the use of images, uses the same 10 commandments of the Catholic Church.

    The second reason is that the Orthodox Church is among the churches that consider the prohibition of the idolatry of the images as the third commandment, and it has never had any problem in using images because the veneration of saints and the use of images as a means of religious teaching isn’t idolatry.

    So the questions are:

    Why the Catholic Church is accused of having “cleared” the commandment of not worshiping idols , while the Orthodox Church, which specifically mentions this prohibition, uses images exactly like the Catholic Church?

    Why did the Protestant Lutheran church adopt the division of the 10 Commandments of the Catholic Church, despite not using the images?

    Should the jews be accused of having removed the second commandment and split the first like the catholics who are accused of having removed the same commandment and split the 10th?

    The contradictions in this conspiracy theory are evident. It is pure fiction, like the Da Vinci Code.

    In this regard, it is useful to bear in mind that the same synagogues in the first centuries after Christ had not infrequently images. Very interesting is the site of Dura Europos , of the 3rd century AD , in Syria, where were found both a synagogue, which was totally covered with frescoes representing scenes from the Old Testament, and an ancient house-church, which was also painted.
    There is no biblical evidence that it is forbidden to use images as a mean of religius teaching or to honor people with statues. If yow make a statue of George Washington to honor him and remind his example you don’t worship him as a God. If I ask you to pray God for me I am not worshipping you as God , ans so it is if I ask a saint to do the same.
    The Early Church and Religious Images

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