Did Jesus Approve the Veneration of Images?
“I heard some religious people say that Jesus approved the veneration of images when He asked for a coin and pointed to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Mark 12:17). Is this correct?”
In Mark 12, we read of some Jewish leaders who tried to deceive Jesus with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus took a Roman coin and asked, “Whose image and inscription is this?” (vs. 16). Due to the word “image” in this question, and because Jesus did not condemn Caesar’s image on the coin, some religious people (especially Catholics) argue that Jesus authorized the veneration (religious honor/worship) of images by indirectly promoting them. But this argument is fallacious because of the following reasons.
First, the fact that Jesus did not condemn an image does not mean that He approved religious images or their veneration. To argue this from the text would mean that Jesus approved the veneration of images of pagan political leaders, not of “saints” or Deity (as suggested by those who use this passage as proof text.) Would Jesus have approved or encouraged the veneration of images representing pagan Roman emperors such as Tiberius or Nero? Obviously not! God has condemned such practice since old times (cf. Daniel 3). [Note: Biblical testimony against veneration of images, whether of pagan idols or so-called “saints” or Deity, is both extensive and evident (e.g., Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:15-19; 5:8-9; Isaiah 40:18,25; Jeremiah 51:17; Hosea 9; Romans 1:22-23; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 21:8.)]
Second, we are to consider the context of the passage under consideration. Some Catholic apologists have argued that, if God really condemns religious images, then this incident in the life of Christ would have been an excellent moment to do so. But Jesus’ discussion with the Jewish leaders was not related to idolatry; it was based on the question they had posted for Jesus to answer: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Mark 12:14). The question was not: “Is it lawful to venerate/worship images, or not?” Jesus’ answer (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”—vs. 17) directly relates to this specific question. It is a sign of poor exegesis, or a simple pretext, to assign Jesus’ answer to a completely foreign question. Jesus’ enemies, full of hypocrisy, used this question to test Him (vs. 15); and now there are those in the religious community who are enemies of sound doctrine and proper hermeneutics who will misuse the answer given by our Lord to try to promote their human traditions.
There is simply no text, either in the Old or New Testaments, that supports (by direct command, example, or implication) the veneration of images as means to draw close to God. Those who promote this are “futile in their thoughts” and have “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man” (Romans 1:21-24).