What Are Graven Images or Idol Worship?

Old and New Testament Mentions of “Graven Images”

The reference to graven images may be found in several locations throughout the Old and New Testaments. The main prohibition to graven images is found in the Ten Commandments as located in Exodus 20:4,5 and also Deuteronomy 5:8. The first commandment stresses God’s complete uniqueness.

There is no other God, and no false gods are to have place in our lives. The commandment forbidding any graven image specifically demands that thou shalt not bow down thyself to them. God is spirit and cannot be represented by statues or any likeness. (Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume II, p. 154)

What is Not Allowed?

The clarification as to what graven images really are does not forbid painting, sculpture, or other art forms as such, it does, however, forbid selling art as a point of contact for worship. All Scripture is consistent in condemnation of the worship of any created thing in place of the Creator. Here, the theological truth is that the essence of God is spiritual and unseen (John 4:24). (The Criswell Study Bible, p. 100)

The first commandment therefore forbids the worship of any false god, seen or unseen, it is here forbidden to worship an image of any sort, whether the figure of a false deity or one in any way symbolical of Jehovah.

The presence of the invisible God was to be marked by no symbol of Himself, but by His words written on stone, preserved in the arc of the Holy of Holies and covered by the mercy seat. (Barnes’ Notes, p. 52, Exodus 20)

Graven Images in Israel

The actual Hebrew word for graven images means “carved image.” The Hebrew means something hacked or chisled into some “likeness.” These idols were normally of wood (though the word could cover stone carvings as well), usually with some precious metal covering. The condemnation of images clearly includes images that were idols. It may be that these images were in use among Israel’s ancestors (even Orthodox Jewish tradition allows that Terah, Abraham’s father, was an idol-maker).

The children of God – Israel – were monotheistic, that is they worshipped one God. The Israelites, however, lived in the midst of a polytheistic world thus the apodeictic commandments (short, sharp “you must not”) were a prohibition by God to His people that He would not share their worship with any other God.

The commandment, therefore, would be “you must not make for yourself an idol.” Similarly, in the next verse, the core of the command would seem to have been “you must not bow down to them.” (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Exodus, pp. 154, 155)

Christian Application

The application of this commandment for the modern day Christians would be simply that Christians are not to place their faith in any other object or person other than the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians are not to divide their devotion time due to God alone with any other object or activity. “…Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).

The Christian life itself is a life abundant in Christ and a life of liberty to serve God freely and wholly throughout our daily living. The Christian is to be careful, however, not to be a stumbling block or cause offense in doing anything that could cause someone to reject the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3).

The Christian is to live a separated life from the ungodly things that would cause difficulty in their lives as well as in other lives. This could include allowing certain objects, such as Satan worship objects or other religious symbolic objects, to influence their lives.

“And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6: 15-18)

The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

Latest posts by Dr. Elmer Towns (see all)