Are Graven Images Sinful?

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Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether graven images are sinful. The argument is that Exodus 20:4-5, Leviticus 26:1, and Deuteronomy 5:8, 27:15 say that graven images are sinful, whereas Exodus 25:18 and 37:7-8 say that they are not sinful. However, there is a very simple explanation that solves this alleged contradiction.

Scriptures on Graven Images

Graven Images Are Sinful

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,

Exodus 20:4-5

You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 26:1

“‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Deuteronomy 5:8

“‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

Deuteronomy 27:15

Graven Images Are Not Sinful

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

7 And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, 8 one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim on its two ends.

Exodus 37:7-8

The Answer

Exodus 20:4-5 says, regarding graven images, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Graven images are sinful when they are objects of worship.

The cherubim in Exodus 25:18 and 37:7-8 were not made to be worshipped, and so it was not sinful to make them. They were to be placed in the Holy of Holies in the temple by the mercy seat, which was not a public place of worship. This means the Israelites would not have been tempted to worship these cherubim.

There is simply no contradiction at all between these passages.

Foundational Principles Regarding Bible Difficulties

There are some foundational principles that apply to all alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible. To read more, see Bible Difficulties: Foundational Principles.

More Answers to “Contradictions” in the Bible

To read more answers to alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible, see “Contradictions” in the Bible Answered.

These books are also excellent resources:

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