On Images of the Incarnate Word

91px Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn 079Over at Postmillennialism.com, the Reverend Dr Kenneth L. Gentry has been posting a series of articles in defence of visible representations of the Lord Jesus Christ. I responded to this latest article as follows.

There is a fundamental flaw in Dr Gentry’s argument defending images and other visible representations of Christ. Dr Gentry explains that it is only images of the divine persons in their divine essence which are forbidden. Indeed, Dr Gentry explains that because God is a spirit, He is incapable of being represented visibly and thus this is the point of the second commandment in relation to images of God. Dr Gentry goes on to explain that the body of Christ is not essentially divine but human and thus visible and capable of visible representation. This is the crux of Dr Gentry’s argument in defence of visible representations of Christ.

While this distinction between the human nature and the divine nature of the Theanthropic Person is accurate and essential to biblical confessional orthodoxy, it fails as a defence for making images of Christ. First, we should note that the premise framed by Dr Gentry is demonstrably false. While it is true that God is a spirit, and thus invisible in His essence, Dr Gentry’s suggestion — that this in and of itself makes it immoral to represent visibly any or all of the divine persons — is not true. We know this is not true because God Himself, the invisible God, repeatedly represented Himself visibly throughout redemptive history before and after the incarnation of Christ. As it is impossible for God to sin, this visible representation of the Divine cannot be sinful in and of itself because God Himself did it.

And now we begin to see the real issue at hand. God alone may represent Himself visibly. This is part of what is forbidden to man in the second commandment, namely, the “making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature” (from WLC 109). This has never been forbidden to God — it is indeed a prerogative which God reserves exclusively to Himself. God has, throughout redemptive history, represented Himself outwardly in various images and likenesses. This prerogative of God has always been forbidden to man.

The Incarnation of Christ is certainly the superlative epitome of Divine visible self representation, but the Incarnation does nothing to change the fundamental prohibition expressed in the second commandment. This visible representation is a prerogative that belongs to God exclusively. Dr Gentry’s own comments highlight this fact when he notes, ‘God himself prepared this “image,” the body of Christ.’ Exactly. This is a prerogative that is strictly reserved to God Himself and forbidden to man. The incarnation does not change that moral fact, it demonstrates it.


One thought on “On Images of the Incarnate Word

  1. Thanks Vaughn. Your argument is further highlighted in that today it is also imposible to create a representation of even Christ’s human nature with any kind of truth. When the proponents of purported pictorial representations of Christ cry up that they would never create any representations of the “spiritual” nature of God because it is impossible to do so, they also fail to see that consistency demands that any creativity in an “image” of Christ is thwarted through this same kind of impossibility, and in fact, will result in choosing a representation different from the one that Christ himself chose. As the Master from Geneva intimated 5 centuries ago, images do indeed teach, but they teach lies.