Posted in God

Art and the Bible

** I published this article a few years ago on Suite101.com, but I thought it fit better here. **

Change is coming, so the Christian prophets and wizened ones all foretell. They predict pink-haired hipster prophets, and tongue-studded sophomoric voices calling down fire from heaven. They see pubescent Christian ministers, with masses weeping at their feet, and healings from hands that have never held a landline phone.

If this is true, Christianity must prepare for an onslaught of new ideas, challenges, and questions. One area that such a movement will challenge is the arts. What does God think about art? What is “Christian art?” Is God glorified in some artistic expressions and not others? When is it worship, and when is it just Christian music? In his book, Art and the Bible, Frances Schaeffer argues that the Bible encourages artistry and artistic experimentation.

Visual Art in the Bible

Little is known regarding ancient Mesopotamian art, Biblical or otherwise. What has survived is usually representational. Christians must, therefore, use the representational art in the Bible to reference all visual art, including cinema and multi-media.

Representational art was important in the Bible. In Exodus 25, Moses fashioned a Tabernacle using gold, silver, fine cloths and dyed skins. Statues adorned the sides, along with pure gold lamps. Solomon built his temple in 2 Chronicles 3-4, with exquisite detail that, according to 1 Chronicles 28:11-18, came from directly from the Spirit.

Pure gold inlaid the entire inside, including walls, doors, and door frames. He put palm tree designs in the main hall and adorned the roof with precious stones. Enormous cherubim carvings decorated the walls, as well as the curtains made of finest cloths. Statues of golden oxen suspended a pool, estimated to hold 10,000 gallons of water. He built pillars, for no engineering reason, and flanked them with four hundred multi-colored pomegranate sculptures.

Solomon also contracted the best artists. He wrote to the King of Tyre for recommendations. He likely chose the Phoenician city of Tyre for its standing as a leading industrial and cultural center. The king replied, sending one of the best artisans from Tyre (2 Chronicles 2:3-15). It is interesting to note the amount of non-religious art in the Temple: pomegranates in unnatural colors, oxen, and palm trees.

Music in the Bible

Historically, music has been one of the most divisive issues in the church. Oddly enough, the Bible has much to say about it. Moses wrote the earliest songs in the Bible, but only three are recorded. Later, when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the entire country celebrated, “with songs and harps, and lyres, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals,” (2 Sam. 6:5).

David also established the Levites as Temple musicians. The Levites were a group of 4,000 full-time musicians who, “lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties. They were employed in that work day and night.” (1 Chron. 9:33). Israel was commanded to financially support them. (2 Chron 8:14; 31:5-16; Neh 11:23; 2 Chron 29:25-27; 2 Chron 35:3-15; 2 Chron 20:19-28; 2 Chron 23:18; Ezra 3:10-11; Neh 12:24, 45; Neh 13:5-12). Other music in the Bible includes songs in Isaiah, as well as music in the New Testament.

Biblical musicians drew from the popular, albeit, primitive, instruments of the time. In his book, All the Music of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer analyzes the wide array of ancient instruments in the Bible. Included are stringed instruments such as the harp, lyre, psaltery, sackbut and viol. Wind instruments used were many, but included cornet, the dulcimer, the flute, horn, organ and trumpet. Percussion instruments included bells, cymbals, the sistrum, and tabret.

Poetry in the Bible

The most prevalent use of Biblical poetry lies in the book of Psalm. Widely credited to David, it is believed he only wrote up to about 73 of the 150 pieces. The rest were written by many other writers, including various Levites.

The Bible records a large amount of other poetry, not all of it religious. In 2 Samuel 1:19-27, David wrote a poem to praise the courageous deeds of Saul and Jonathon. Scholars also believe David wrote many other secular pieces not included in the Bible. Further, the Song of Solomon, aside from its metaphorical applications, celebrates the beauty of human sexuality.

For the Christian to properly integrate the arts into their faith, they must go to the Bible. They must carefully examine what the Bible says about visual art, music and literature. Only then, can Christians build a Biblically-inspired, culturally relevant theology capable of transcending time and culture.

Sources:

Herbert Lockyer Jr., All the Music of the Bible (Hendrickson Publishers, 2004).
Andrew Wilson-Dickson, The Story of Christian Music (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003).
Frances A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Intervarsity Press, 1973).

Holy Bible, New International Version (Zondervan, 1973).

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