The Bible Supports Catholic Use of Images and Statues

Many people, especially those outside the Catholic Church, often wonder why Catholics make use of images and statues in their religious practices. Some even go as far as accusing the Church of violating the biblical commandment against idolatry. This misunderstanding is deeply rooted in different interpretations of Scripture, but a close look at the Bible, along with the teachings of the Catholic Church, reveals a harmonious understanding of the use of images and statues in Christian worship.

Understanding the Second Commandment

A primary point of contention stems from the Second Commandment, which says, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4, RSV). Many non-Catholic Christians interpret this as an absolute prohibition against any religious images.

However, the Catholic Church teaches that this commandment is specifically aimed at forbidding the worship of images as gods, not the mere use of religious imagery. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The veneration of sacred images is based on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God” (CCC 2141).

Images and Statues in the Old Testament

Contrary to the belief that the Old Testament entirely prohibits the use of images, there are instances where God Himself instructs the Israelites to create images for religious use.

For example, God told Moses to make two cherubim (a type of angelic being) of gold for the Ark of the Covenant: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:18, RSV). These cherubim were not idols but rather were used to adorn the Ark, which was central to Israelite worship. Their existence was sanctioned by God and served to embellish the place where His presence would dwell among His people.

Another example can be seen in the bronze serpent that Moses was commanded to make: “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:9, RSV). Here again, the image serves a religious purpose and is used in accordance with God’s command.

The Incarnation Changes Everything

With the coming of Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh (John 1:14). This is crucial because, as the Catechism says, “the incarnation of the Son of God inaugurates a new ‘economy’ of images” (CCC 2131). The invisible God is now made visible in Jesus, and this game-changing event allows for a renewed understanding of religious imagery.

By becoming man, Jesus made it possible to depict God through religious art. The early Christians understood this and made extensive use of images in their catacombs and churches. These images were never intended to replace God but to remind the faithful of His presence and His teachings.

The Church’s Position

The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 AD affirmed the importance of venerating holy images and icons, stating that the honor shown to an image passes on to its prototype, i.e., the person or thing it represents. The Catechism echoes this teaching: “The honor paid to sacred images is a ‘respectful veneration,’ not the adoration due to God alone” (CCC 2132).

Not Idolatry but Veneration

There’s a big difference between worship (latria) and veneration (dulia). Worship is for God alone, while veneration can be accorded to saints, angels, and holy images. This distinction is explicitly taught by the Church and backed by Tradition and Scripture.

The Catechism elaborates: “The Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts this veneration of icons — of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints” (CCC 2131).

Examples from Tradition and Practices

From the oldest Christian catacombs to the grand cathedrals of Europe, the use of images has always been a part of Catholic tradition. These images serve to instruct, to inspire, and to aid in devotion. They are, in essence, “books for the illiterate,” rich sources of Christian teaching for those who cannot read.


The Catholic Church’s use of images and statues finds both its justification and its roots in the Bible. The Old Testament itself, properly understood, contains examples of the sanctioned use of religious images. More importantly, the incarnation of Christ provides the ultimate justification for the use of holy images.

While some may argue that the use of images and statues is unbiblical or even idolatrous, the Catholic Church, leaning on both Scripture and Tradition, teaches otherwise. This is not a matter of theological opinion but rather a universal teaching of the Church. Catholics can thus confidently continue their veneration of holy images, following a practice that is deeply rooted in the Bible and the life of the Church.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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