Thanks again for your thought out reply – I truly believe that respectful discussions such as these that don’t beat around the bush will bring us all closer to the truth.
Your entire post reveals a deep misunderstanding of my position so I will first attempt to clarify my position and to put the discussion in context.
On a superficial level our argument centers on the concept of “representative idolatry” – in other words, making an idol and worshiping it as a representation of the true God.
My position is that this is possible, that it is considered idolatry by the Author of Scripture but that in a certain limited sense it is a bit less evil than outright idolatry. Furthermore, I believe that the worship of the golden calves (at Sinai and of Jeroboam) is an example of this representative idolatry as well as the idol of Micah described in Judges 17,18.
You position is not clear to me. I recognize that you believe that the worship of the golden calves of Sinai and Jeroboam as well as the worship of the idol of Micah were not examples of representative idolatry but I do not understand your position on the other issues. Do you believe that representative idolatry is not possible? Do you believe that if someone creates an idol as a representation of the true God and worships it that it would not be considered idolatry? Do you believe that the Bible never addresses the issue of representative idolatry?
The context of our discussion is Trinitarian Christianity. I recognize that you are not a Trinitarian and I respect you for recognizing the fallacy of that falsehood but there still seems to be a difference between us on this matter. I believe that although those who worship Jesus as a divinity believe that he is somehow “one and the same” as the God of Israel are still engaged in idolatry. You seem to believe differently and you seem to be basing your argument on the fact that the Bible never addresses representative idolatry.
But even if you are correct in your assessment of the Bible (and I hope to demonstrate that the Bible DOES address representative idolatry) I don’t know how you could jump to the conclusion that the worship of the Trinitarian Christians is not idolatry. The fact of the matter is that they are not worshiping Jesus because they believe that he created heaven and earth. They wouldn’t need Jesus if that is what they were trying to do. Their worship is inspired by the activities that were expressed in a human body (an allegedly sinless life and death on a cross). How do you see the fact that they believe that Jesus is “one and the same” as the One who created heaven and earth as a factor that changes the act of worship?
In fact I would say that this is actually worse than representative idolatry. Representative idolatry begins with a desire to worship God. The worshiper then makes a statue to represent the true God. The motivator is a desire to worship God. In the case of Jesus the historical motivator was a desire to exalt Jesus. The theological conundrum that posits that Jesus is “one and the same” as God was only conjured up to justify the worship that had already begun – if not in the sense of worshiping him as a divinity, but certainly in the sense of being overwhelmed by his character.
One more clarifying statement before we get to our differences in Biblical interpretation. You seem to think that I believe that representative idolatry is not a rebellion against God. That is a mistake. I believe that representative idolatry is a rebellion against God, not only in the sense that it is a direct violation of His commandment not to create an image but because it is worship of a different entity than God. Men may think that this physical being represents God but the Bible teaches us that it is worship of the physical being and not worship of God. Representative idolatry is a rejection of God, a rebellion against Him and a turning away from Him. People may attempt to fool themselves into thinking that this is not the case, but the Bible teaches us that this is in fact what is happening in the hearts of the people.
The only way in which I believe that representative idolatry is less than outright idolatry is because there is an element of confusion. This element of confusion would not hold up in a court of Biblical judges to save a person from the death sentence. The letter of the Law only recognizes the mitigating factor of “unintentional” and this confusion wouldn’t qualify as unintentional because God explicitly commanded against it. But we see that when God judges, He considers factors beyond the simple line of intentional vs. unintentional. I see this mainly in the difference of the way the Scriptures discuss the sin of the golden calves of Jeroboam and the way they discuss other idolatry. They are both rebellion against God and both are a rejection of God but the one has an element of confusion and the other doesn’t. But I do agree with you that this distinction is largely irrelevant because as far as humans are concerned both are rebellion against God. If you didn’t notice, most of my blog is dedicated to exposing the error of representative idolatry and demonstrating how despite the sophistry of theologians it is still rebellion against God. (- See for example https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/isaiah-44/ )
Now that we have clarified (I hope) what it is that we are trying to prove let us approach the various Scriptures.
I will begin with Deuteronomy 4:15 because that is where I believe that God is commanding us against idolatry in a way that clearly includes representative idolatry.
Why would someone who is consciously rebelling against God and rejecting Him give a hoot if God did or did not show Israel a form at Sinai? Is this rejecter of God not turning his or her back on everything that God taught them? Why would this idolater care if God showed Israel a form or not? This person isn’t even trying to worship the God who spoke to Israel at Sinai.
Or perhaps let me word it this way – if someone does want to engage in representative idolatry would the prohibition expressed in Deuteronomy 4:15 not apply to such a person? I do not see how any of your arguments on this subject change the simple reading of the verses.
You wrote that God showed Israel no form so that they should stand apart from the nations around them in that they worship no form. Exactly! And if they do make a form to represent God they would be just like the nations around them.
At this point I will address the points you raise in your comment in the order that you raised them.
I agree with you that not every image is an idol. In fact I believe that the act of idolatry is a sin of the heart and can be committed without a physical image. If the worshiper imagines his or her object of worship and directs devotion to that object (such as a fictional character described in a book) that would also be idolatry. (See – https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/trinity-idolatry-and-worship/ )
On the question of whether the golden calf was still present when Moses called that those loyal to God should gather at the gate of the camp. You argue that it would have taken too long for Moses to grind the calf down to dust. But would it have taken a long time for Moses to remove the calf and take to a place where he or those loyal to him could begin the grinding process? Why would he allow the worship to continue if he could physically remove the calf?
In response to my question about the mindset of the people 3000 years ago you lecture me on the concept of embodiment. I am well aware of the concept of embodiment and that is precisely my point. Those worshiping the calf did not believe that the piece of metal took them out of Egypt but that the power who did take them out of Egypt was somehow embodied, represented, manifest, incarnated or hypostatically unified in the calf in front of them.
So which power did they believe took them out of Egypt? Was it one of the Egyptian gods who were ALL afflicted at the time of the exodus (Exodus 12:12; Numbers 33:4). I don’t think that that would be logical even for people living 3000 years ago.
I pointed out to you that the worshipers of the Ba’al wanted the prophets of God dead while the worshipers of Jeroboam’s golden calves did not. I believe that this lends weight to my argument that the worshipers of the golden calf deceived themselves with the argument that the golden calves were somehow representative of God. I do not see how your arguments counter my point. The fact that Jezebel was involved in Ba’al worship and the fact that you believe that there were more Ba’al worshipers than there were worshipers of the golden calves does not mitigate my point.
I do agree with you that the frequency of Ba’al worship was far greater than worship of the golden calves but I don’t see how this quantitative difference justifies the difference in the way the Scriptures describe the two worships.
You ask me if the idolatry of Solomon (1Kings 11:5) was representative idolatry and how determine which worship is representative and which is not.
Response – Solomon’s worship was not representative idolatry simply because the verse explicitly names the idols and the name of the true God is not mentioned anywhere in association with these idols. The way I see if a particular worship is representative is if the Scriptures associate the true God with this idol – such as when the Scriptures tell us that the worshipers claimed that their idol was the one that took them out of Egypt or when the name of God is used in association with the idol (Exodus 32:5).
The fact that you ask me how does the fact that the Northern Kingdom being exiled because of idolatry “square” with my theory – shows how you don’t understand my theory. I never said that representative idolatry is not idolatry. This brings me to your next point when you argue against my theory by saying that God always defines idolatry as a rejection of God. Of-course! When one worships a calf, a person or the fictional character of some Greek book they are certainly rejecting God. And this simple fact does not change if the worshiper deceives him or herself into thinking that their object of worship is representative of God or not. All that I was saying is that because there is an element of confusion present in this worship so it is a bit less of a rebellion than outright idolatry where the worshiper does not even bother paying lip-service to wanting to worship God.
You claim that I cited commentators that post-date the advent of Christianity in support of my theory of representative theology. Can you point out to me where I have ever cited any authority aside from the Bible?
You present a theory that the reason that God had the Jews make a tabernacle and an ark of the covenant, why He put a pillar of cloud and fire in their midst was because of their pagan inclinations. How then do you explain the fact that the prophets predicted a physical Temple in the Messianic era (e.g. Isaiah 2:1) when such pagan influences will be eradicated?
You cite the fact that the Jews were worshiping idols of other nations from the times of their ancestors – I don’t see how this has a bearing on our discussion.
You ask why would Joshua link inclining their hearts to God with the act of putting away foreign gods if their hearts were already inclined toward God by way of representative idolatry. – I never said that the Jews always engaged in representative idolatry. Even if they would have been engaged in representative idolatry Joshua would not have been satisfied because that is still idolatry. In any case – The Jewish people worshiped God all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders that lived on after Joshua (Joshua 24:31) – so the Jews of that generation were not engaged in any type of idolatry.
David – I feel I responded to the points that you raised and I hope that you will understand my position. If you still disagree with me – I encourage you to write again and articulate your position – but before you do that I would like you to consider one question:
If a person were to take a statue and stand it up before him – and this person would tell himself and his friends that this statue represents, is a manifestation of, is symbolic of, and/or is an incarnation of the God who created heaven and earth – and then this person would bow down toward the statue believing that he perceives the greatness of God in the beauty of the statue – would you consider this idolatry? Or more importantly – what do you believe that the Bible teaches about such an act – or does the Bible teach anything on this subject?
(My response would be that the Bible directly addresses this and teaches us that this is worship of the statue and not worship of God – but I wonder what your response would be).
If you found this article helpful please consider making a donation to Judaism Resources by clicking on the link below.
Judaism Resources is a recognized 501(c) 3 public charity and your donation is tax exempt.
Yisroel C. Blumenthal