Friday 18 April 2014

Why having icons to worship is an abomination: Response to Walid Shoebat

The walking talking controversy known as Walid Shoebat had written an article on the subject of icons and images and why the Catholics were correct on having such, which are purely his claims.

I have been suspicious of Shoebat's claims of being a former terrorist and still am inclined to keep my distance from him and other individuals such as Kamal Saleem, another who claimed to be an ex-terrorist who debated Muslim apologist Shadid Lewis. However, the claims of Shoebat are not going to be addressed in this specific article.

The issue that will be dealt with here is his claims about icons and the verses he quotes to justify his claims.

Shoebat's original article can be found here:

Lets establish one thing here. An image for decoration is one thing, but to bow to an image for worship or veneration is another and the latter is indeed wrong. We'll see if Shoebat's "exegesis" has any biblical validity:

"When I first attended church they told me that when it comes to church, that we needed to follow the Book of Acts model. I began to ask myself, what was the church like that was described in Acts? What was the church that Peter and Paul established in Rome like? Did they have incense and icons, liturgy or hymnal books?

Prior to my conversion to Christianity, when I was still Muslim, my Catholic wife Maria insisted to go to church since she was Catholic to Saint Francis de Assisi in Concord, California—I would insist that while she went to church that I would wait for her in the back with both kids, of course, lest they contracted the Catholic plague.

And while she was worshipping, I would have the kids learn some Palestinian style stone throwing at the statues of Mary and Joseph in the back as these were the right size for Palestinian style target practice.

What Maria wasn’t aware of was that I was training our children to be iconoclast.

Until she caught us on one fateful Sunday, red handed, the target practice was all over. Maria never understood why I hated these statues.

But then when I became Christian, I talked Maria into leaving St. Francis since I was more comfortable attending a Baptist church in which they had no icons. Later I began to ask myself; did my hatred for icons stem from my new faith in Christ, or was it reminiscing my clinging to Islam?

But as I researched the oldest Christians and their churches from the first century to the fourth, they presented a problem since all these churches used icons and incense. They all (even including Jesus and the apostles) used the Deuterocanonical books that are in Catholic bibles. They all had priests, altars, images and saints."

It would of been nice if Shoebat actually quoted a text from those books to actually demonstrate his point. I would like to see actual evidence for his claims. The priesthood in the NT Church was a spiritual priesthood, which in turn can be found in 1 Peter 2:9-10:
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Let's continue.

"As I shared my findings, it was too difficult to believe by my evangelical brethren. Of course, my friends never examined archeology, history and even the Bible itself to see if Icons were biblical or not.

The first question I asked myself after I did my discoveries was: Is God an iconoclast?

Solomon after all “made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high.” (I Kings 6:23)

I asked myself if icons were such a problem, then why do we I find “the brazen serpent” which God commanded Moses to make, (Numbers 21:8-9) and the golden Cherubim and Seraphim, which were purely an ornament in the figured fashion of the ark.

Archeology, one of my interests, provides ample evidence. The image of Jonah and the fish was a Christian image that with several crosses cut into the walls in first century catacombs.

There is an abundance of evidence that the early Christians during Acts did make use of icons along with statues and decorated liturgical elements, such as chalices with the image of Christ engraved upon them. A simple crawl through the Roman catacombs or the remains of Dura Europos (Syria) would provide a pointed demonstration."

The bronze snake was not built for veneration or worship, but was built for the purpose of healing the Israelites from snakebite venom, those who looked upon it anyway. Also, What Shoebat fails to point out to his audience is that Hezekiah centuries later actually destroyed it.
2 Kings 18:5 Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. 8 From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.

The snake was never built for worship or veneration and is actually destroyed because of the Israelites giving it the worship it shouldn't of been given. The Cheribim were not even used in the manner the snake was used and thus cannot be used as a pretext for allowing the worship of icons and images.

Sam Shamoun also comments on the cheribim and the abuse of the text by Osama Abdallah in his debate on Whether Muhammad is a true prophet or not from 2:22:06 to 2:22:46

But for what reason would Christians use images? It was purely for decoration that this was done and John Damascene or John of Damascus abused Hebrews 1 to try and justify icon veneration. You can find his treatise here for your own reading leisure:

"As I shared my findings the first thing they told me was that Catholics worship these images. When I asked Catholics they told me that they “venerated” these images and never worshipped them.

The ancient Jews understood this distinction (between veneration and worship/adoration), as did the Christians who came forth from Judaism as its true fulfillment in Christ.

Everything from the Jewish Mezuzah to the Torah was venerated (kissed) by pious Jews even until today. Christ would have done the same; this is an ancient custom. And regardless if one doesn’t find some of these customs in the Bible, it was practiced by the faithful from time immemorial.

I was quite impressed to see Messianic believers carry out such customs, yet found it an irony that they refuse Catholics to do the same while they do not have incense."

What customs of Messianics is Shoebat actually talking about? Messianic Jews, both Anti-Trinitarian and Trinitarians would abominate what the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox church do with icons and images. Anti-Trinitarians in Christianity and Messianic Judaism with respect to the Trinity are idol worshippers themselves but for a different reason and this is a topic neither here nor there.

The kissing of the Mezuzah doorpost is not even close to what Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do and I find it libellous to suggest that the Jews even did such a thing.

Chabad Jewish Apologist and director of Lubavitcher Archives David Zaklikoski has written an article explaining what the reasons for kissing the Mezuzahs actually are:

"The Roman catacombs are filled with predominantly Old Testament imagery, demonstrating that the early iconographers came from the Jewish Christians and not only the Greeks.

The tabernacle/temple itself was replete with images, practically everywhere that one would look (and while prostrating before them): on the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:18), on the curtains (Ex. 26:1), on the veil of the Most Holy place (Ex. 26:31), the statues of cherubim (1 Kings 6:23) on the walls (1 Kings 6:29), on the doors (1 Kings 6:32), and on the furnishings (1 Kings 7:29,36).

The objection is always when many quote Exodus 20:3-5 and Deuteronomy 4:15 God was proscribing against idolatry, that is the worship of images as gods. But in Exodus 25:18-22 and Ezekiel 41:18-19 He ordains the proper use of images in worship. Did God contradict Himself? Hardly."

The Israelites prostrated to God when inside the tabernacle and the temple, not to the images found within and the images in both places were there as decoration. Shoebat is grasping at straws in order to make his case for RC and EO idolatry being something virtuous and apostolic. I challenge ANYONE, including Shoebat to go through each text to see where idolatry is endorsed in those texts, even implicitly. I guarantee you will not find such nonsense. and his appeal to Ezekiel 41 and Exodus 25 in their proper contexts, do not prove Shoebat's assertions. Icons are not the problem, but the worship of them is.

"Even pre-Acts, the temple itself was an image (or “icon”) of heaven; it was made to represent heaven itself (Heb. 8:5; cf. Ex. 25:40). One can even read examples of favorable attitudes towards images in the Palestinian Talmud: 

“In the days of Rabbi Jochanan, men began to paint pictures on the walls, and he did not hinder them … In the days of Rabbi Abbun, men began to make designs on mosaics, and he did not hinder them” (Abodah Zarah, 48d)."

The Rabbis of the Talmud did not paint pictures so they could bow down to them. This disingenuous abuse of the Talmud doesn't demonstrate that using icons for worship is acceptable biblically and what does the Temple being an image of heaven have to do endorsing idolatry? NOTHING.

"Hebrews 8:3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”[a] 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises."

In Hebrews 8:5, it is simply making a point of what the tabernacle was pointing to, namely Jesus' atonement.

"In the age of the Apostles, the earliest Christians believed that physical phenomena, such as shadows and handkerchiefs, could be used to heal people. Acts 5:15 records how sick Christians believed that healing could come through being overshadowed by St. Peter’s shadow:

Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

St. Paul used handkerchiefs to heal the sick:

So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:12)"

What has this got to do with icons? Nothing. Bringing these verses to the table to make a point about icons is a red herring, because the contexts do not suggest that these items were used for the purpose of veneration, they were merely tools and the means to heal an individual.

Shoebat goes on to quote later in his paper from Abd al-Jabbar and tries to string a connection between al-Jabbar's claims about Christianity and the claims of Messianics and Evangelicals.

I'll say right of the bat that Constantine had nothing to do changing anything in Christianity, that I believe. Constantine's role in Nicea specifically was merely calling the Council together, he had no input in the Council of Nicea beyond that and InspiringPhilosophy has done an excellent dealing with the Council of Nicea:

Constantine didn't do anything to change the theology or the practice of the church and there isn't evidence he did such a thing, he didn't even introduce icon worship or icon veneration. That at least Shoebat would be correct on. But again, this wouldn't prove his point about icons and images to be valid, thus the claims about the icons and images still stand and even his appeal to Robert Bellarmine wouldn't help either.

I had mentioned John Damascene earlier who himself defended icons but he came years AFTER Constantine, so even that wouldn't demonstrate the idea that Constantine introduced anything.

I hope I have addressed Shoebat's claims accurately and it is my fond hope and prayer that Shoebat rethinks what he is teaching with respect to this issue, because it is a major one.

Answering Judaism.

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