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Bowing Down Before Statutes

Question: A Catholic friend told me that it is all right to bow down before statues. She said that bowing is an expression of honour and that God told people like Judah that others would bow down to him (Genesis 49:7). She also said that the Bible talks of men praising men and even of God praising men (Romans 2:29). She concludes that it is reasonable to bow down before statues of Mary and the saints.

Answer: There is nothing wrong with giving and showing honour to fellow men and women, and this is exemplified and commanded in the Bible. The problem arises when this innocent truth is stretched to justify idolatry practiced in the Catholic religion, for "honour" and "bowing" could also be expressions of that kind of reverence that belongs to God alone, and not to fellow creatures.

Thus when Cornelius met Peter, he fell at his feet in reverence. Peter would not allow this kind of "honour" and he made him get up: “Stand up; I myself am also a man” (see Acts 10:25,26). Similarly, when John fell down to worship at the feet of an angel, the angel rebuked him: "See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God" (see Revelations 22:8,9). Clearly the honour and praise we should give to men and angels could easily deteriorate into idolatry.

So, what is the dividing line between legitimate honour to fellow creatures and idolatry? Rather than relying on our opinion, we should turn to God for an answer. He told us what we should and should not do in the second commandment:

“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; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4,5).

God defines idolatry as the making of images, bowing down and serving them. God does not prohibit art or sculpture. For example, God commanded the making of golden cherubims and a bronze serpent (Exodus 25:18-20, Numbers 21:8-9). But the people of Israel were not called to bow down before them or serve them. God never intended that the cherubims should be venerated by praying and bowing down before them, and indeed they were hardly ever seen by the people of Israel as they were hid in the Holy of Holies. Similarly the bronze serpent was a picture of Christ dying on the cross (Numbers 21:8,9; John 3:14,15), but the people of Israel were never told to pray or bow down before it. When in course of time they did that, the godly king Hezekiah smashed it to pieces (2 Kings 18:3,4).

God is not interested in our worship unless it is done in obedience to His Word. If you are a devout Catholic, I implore you to meditate on the second commandment. May God give you the wisdom to see the veneration of statues and saints for what it really is, that you may repent from idolatry and begin to worship God in spirit and truth.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi