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Religion: The Word

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Protestant reformers believed the Bible to be the unmediated Word of God. They were concerned with scriptural truth, and only those practices and beliefs that could be verified within its pages were regarded as lawful.

When evaluating the legitimacy of images in churches reformers looked to the Bible for guidance. The Ten Commandments and other biblical texts contained passages regarding their use and role. The prohibition of images was expounded in the Second Commandment:

Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth below … thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them for the Lord thy God is a jealous God ….

Opinion was divided about the precise interpretation of this prohibition. More moderate Protestants emphasised the part that forbade the worshipping of images. The radical position understood the Commandment as an unequivocal condemnation of all religious images in churches, requiring their total destruction. It was this iconoclastic interpretation that came to dominate Protestant thinking. Visual imagery stripped from churches was replaced with words from the Bible.