Are images of Theophanies a breach of the Second Commandment?

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Regi Addictissimus

Completely sold out to the King
Let's start with defining the term Theophany for any that may be unclear of the meaning.

From the "Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch:"

A theophany may be defined simply as a visible manifestation of God, a self-disclosure of the deity. The word does not occur in the OT or NT but is a theological word formed by the combination of two Greek words, theos (“god”) and phainein (“to appear”). Thus theophany refers to an appearance of God. The Greek word was actually used in nonbiblical literature to refer to the displaying of images of gods at a festival at Delphi. In the OT the Niphal of the verb rʾh (“to see”) frequently occurs in the context of a theophany with the meaning “to appear” (Lev 9:23; Num 14:10; 16:19, 42 [MT 17:7]; 20:6).

Rooker, M. F. “Theophany.” Ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch 2003 : 859. Print.


From the "Evangelical dictionary of theology:"

A theological term used to refer to either a visible or auditory manifestation of God. Visible manifestations include an angel appearing in human form (Judg. 13); a flame in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2–6); and fire, smoke, and thunder on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:18–20). Auditory manifestations include the voice of God in the garden (Gen. 3:8), the still small voice to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12–18), and the voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:17). Normally the physical aspects are not described with any detail because it is the message of God that is emphasized. However, the physical aspects are there to impress the recipients and authenticate the revelation.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition 2001 :1190. Print.

Now that we have the term defined, are Theophanic illustrations and images a breach of the Second Commandment? We tend to just think of images of Christ as a violation of the Law. Why would not an illustration of the burning bush be a violation? God appearing to Moses in the burning bush is, without a doubt, a Theophany.
Here is a follow-up question. Is the Holy Spirit appearing as a dove or as cloven tongues of fire a Theophany? I say that it is. I have had people try to argue that it is not. The Holy Spirit is a Person in our Triune God. Why would those manifestations of the Holy Spirit not be a Theophany? If they are Theophanies, are illustrations of those manifestations a breach of God's Law?

I have posed this question to a few people now. The response has typically been "I've never thought about it." After giving it some thought, a small number would proceed to say that images of Theophanies are not a breach of the Second Commandment. If you agree that they are not, please explain why.

I welcome any thoughts to these questions. Please keep to the topic at hand.
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Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Why would not an illustration of the burning bush be a violation? God appearing to Moses in the burning bush is, without a doubt, a Theophany.
But the Bible expressly says in Deuteronomy 4:15-16 that the later fire at Horeb, when God spoke to the people from the fire on the mountain, was NOT an image of God: "Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves..." In fact, the way God spoke without an image from the fire is given as the reasoning behind the no-images command. If that visible fire clearly was not an image of God, why would we think the earlier burning bush at Horeb was an image of God? Based on this direct explanation from Scripture, I don't see how we can consider any of the fires associated with God to be images of God.

For what it's worth, I don't believe the dove in the gospel accounts (assuming an actual dove was seen) is an image of God either. These representations reveal truths about God, but they don't reveal the form of he who is formless. They were never intended to. God does not look like fire. Assuming we are aware of this, we are not attempting to picture God when we picture the burning bush.

I suspect there's a profitable discussion to be had here, with things for everyone to learn and consider, so I will try to make time to engage in it once you are able. I teach a lot of children's lessons, so this is a topic I've had to think about. It's always good to discuss such things with others, and it's often particularly helpful when the other person goes into the discussion inclined to disagree.
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Puritan Board Senior
The burning bush itself is not a theophany. God appeared in the midst of the burning bush. The burning bush represents the church on fire but not being consumed.

Henry Hall

Puritan Board Freshman
If an image of Jesus Christ is a 2CV, then all the more it follows that an image of a theophany is a 2CV.
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