Posted in Art, God

Visual Art in the Bible

**This is the next in a ten article series on Christianity and the Arts**

Christians and media traditionally enjoy a rather strained relationship. Many Christians, particularly up-and-coming leaders in their twenties, hold strong opinions regarding media. Some, caught in the heat of the Prayer Movement, have decided media has gone too far. They throw out televisions and shun movies, in an effort to hear God and see revival.

Others go to film school, and then pack up for Hollywood to, “make a difference.” Still others see no issue, and consume media as freely as the air they breathe. What is right? How should the Christian properly respond to media, particularly television and film?

In the essay, Art and the Bible, the late theologian Dr. Frances Schaeffer explores the Biblical uses of visual art, which is essentially at the core of television and film. He examines visual art in the building of the Tabernacle and Temple, and the uses of art in secular life. Many of the Biblical standards toward art can be applied to cinema, graphic design, and multi-media.

The Tabernacle

The first example Schaeffer uses is found in Exodus 25. It tells the story of God giving Moses instructions for building the Tabernacle. He said to use gold and silver, fine cloth and dyed ram skins, fine wood and precious gems.

The specific architectural directions included two cherubim of gold—statues of golden angels on either side of the mercy seat. Outside the Holy of Holies, Moses was similarly commissioned to create lamp stands of pure gold. Exodus 25 specifically enumerates the lamp stand:

“Make a lamp stand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lamp stand—three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lamp stand. And on the lamp stand there are to be four cups shaped like flowers with buds and blossoms. (Ex. 25: 31-33).”

Moses decorated the ornate lamp shafts not with spiritual material, but with nature. The Bible specifically ordained art with no purpose other than to appreciate God in nature. Moses is also commissioned to build a table overlaid with gold, with matching gold dishes.

Exodus 28:33 describes the robes for the priests, “Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells in between them.”

Pomegranates naturally occur in scarlet and purple, but not blue. Schaeffer writes, “The implication is that there is freedom to make something which gets its impetus from nature, but can be different from it, and bring it into the presence of God.”

The Temple

Art was also important in building the Temple. According to 2 Chronicles 3, God gave Solomon the instructions to garner the house with precious stones for beauty. Solomon “overlaid the ceiling beams, doorframes, walls, and doors of the temple with gold, and he carved cherubim on the walls.” (2 Chronicles 3:7).

Later on, in 2 Chronicles 3:16-17, he built pillars. The pillars served no architectural or engineering purpose, and were flanked with multi-colored pomegranates. God commanded them simply for beauty. Finally, in 2 Chronicles 4, Solomon installed a 10,000 gallon pool suspended above the ground by statues of golden oxen. The entire temple was an unified statement of beauty and art.

Schaefer writes, “Angels are represented by the bas-relief of cherubim, inanimate nature is represented in carvings of flowers and pomegranates, and animate nature is represented in the form of cast oxen. Representational art of nonreligious subjects was thus brought into the central place of worship.”

Art in Secular Life

Visual art was not only used in the building of places of worship, but also in secular life. I Kings 10 describes Solomon’s throne.

“Then the king made a great throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. (I King 10:18-20).”

This served no religious purpose, yet the Bible clearly looks upon it favorably. Finally, in Numbers, God commanded Moses to fashion a fiery serpent of bronze and mount it on a pole. Schaefer points out that Hezekiah destroyed the snake in a fit of holy rage later in 2 Kings. However, it was destroyed not because it was art, but because it had become an idol.

Christians believe that God enjoys art. He commissioned exquisite beauty for sake of beauty and demanded perfection. He also wanted creativity and vibrant color. The Temple, Tabernacle, and Solomon’s throne used the best of materials, and the most precious stones and metals. For Christians, when art becomes an idol, or cause people to worship other things, then it becomes wrong.

Sources:

Frances A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Intervarsity Press, 1973).

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

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