CTT | 2nd Commandment Violation (2CV)?

Today I’d like to take a look at a commonly used rebuke in social media whenever someone posts an image of God or old icons from the early church depicting Jesus, or even a crucifix. The rebuke being a claim that the post was a 2CV, or 2nd Commandment Violation. So, what does this mean? 
This is a reference to a numbering of the 10 commandments common to the Reformed tradition and most Protestant denominations. By that numbering, the 2nd Commandment is “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.” or usually shortened to “You shall not make any graven images”. The argument usually follows the line of reasoning that any image that might be of God or might be worshiped as an idol constitutes a breaking of this commandment, regardless of how the image is actually being used. There are varying definitions of what constitutes a 2CV, but in the extreme sense, any paintings, drawings, carvings, statues, etc. are forbidden by the 2nd Commandment. 
Lutherans don’t follow this numbering of the 10 Commandments so a “2CV” for a Lutheran would be breaking of the Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” This leads to some confusion in communication between Lutherans and Protestants. So, let’s look at the Commandments themselves rather than the list/numbering found in a denomination’s Catechism or Confessions. For that, we’ll turn to Exodus 20:1-21 without the verses numbered.
Exodus 20:1-21 (ESV)
And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“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 or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Now, the ESV editors also insert line breaks. But if we look at the words themselves, we don’t see any numbering. I don’t read Hebrew or Greek so we cannot discuss this passage linguistically. But we can look at the context of what is written. Both traditions start numbering the Commandments at “You shall have no other gods before me.” 
In the images above, I’ve highlighted the verses surrounding what is called the 2nd Commandment by those using the 2CV rebuke. Here is where Lutherans (and others) see a problem with isolating verse 4 as its own Commandment. The context of verses 2-6 is all on the same topic… the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”. So we treat v2-6 as all part of the 1st Commandment and consider verse 7 as the start of the 2nd. I’ve run across folks who allege that Rome and Lutherans number the Commandments so they can “skip the second commandment” to protect their graven images. This is simply untrue, particularly given how we teach the commandments. It is true that at the time of the Reformation, Rome was in grave error of several forms of idolatry, but their numbering of the Commandments wasn’t born of these errors. Rome’s numbering comes from the early Church fathers and Luther pulled from the early church as well, so Lutherans didn’t pull from Rome, we both pull from St. Augustine’s work. I believe most Protestants pull from Origen. Historicity alone cannot determine which is “more right”, which is why we started by examining the Scriptures in context.

So is it a direct violation of the 1st or 2nd Commandment to depict Christ or the Holy Trinity in a drawing or sculpture?

I cannot see that as the focus of Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. The focus is on idolatry, the worshiping of idols as gods. An argument can be made that under the Mosaic covenant, the idols themselves were idolatry. Under the New Covenant, we have a clearer picture of the sin of idolatry and realize that we are guilty of the sin of idolatry when we allow anything to rise above God in our hearts, even without physical idols, and that we are far more guilty of this sin than any of us can imagine. So, under the New Covenant, we need to carefully examine the purpose of such depictions of the Triune God of Scripture to ensure that it is indeed pointing the observer to the One True God, not to worship of the depiction as god. Discernment is needed here. Now, not all depictions of Christ are sound, some are quite blasphemous. The blasphemy should be targeted and rebuked. I don’t recommend getting stuck on a blanket prohibition of drawings/depictions in hopes of making your rebuke irrefutable.

But the commandment says not to make ANY graven image of ANYTHING!

If we allow that verse to be lifted out of its context, this might be a fair argument. But it becomes highly problematic both in its immediate context and in the instructions God gives Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27), which included several graven/woven images of cherubim. God commanded Moses to craft a fiery serpent on a pole (Numbers 21) for the Children of Israel to look at for healing from the deadly snake bites. That bronze image had to later be destroyed because the people later set it up as an idol they had named and made sacrifices to (2 Kings 18). So, we see the heart of the matter is the worship of a false god. Idolatry is found in the heart of the idolators, not in the substance of the idol. The idol itself is nothing (1 Cor 8), but in worshiping the idol, pagans are worshiping demons (1 Cor 10). This is breaking the first and greatest commandment:

Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.

Deuteronomy 6:5 (ESV) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Since someone might stumble due to a depiction of the Triune God, we should ban all of them!

No, the answer to sin isn’t more law; rather, it is the clear preaching of the Gospel. God’s Law doesn’t grant the power to keep it, a man-made law is infinitely worse. The New Testament makes it clear that no one keeps the law but Christ and that salvation is by Grace through Faith, not by works of the Law. Your accuser might claim to be (or speaking out of concern for) a weaker brother/sister.

1 Corinthians 8:4-13 (ESV) Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Speak in truth with the brother/sister with all patience, humility, and kindness. If it is something you’ve posted deliberately on their wall or in their feed, remove it. If they are demanding you remove it from your own social media, kindly decline when the depiction is intended to benefit other neighbors. Need to exercise discernment here on a case-by-case basis.


When someone charges you with 2CV! do try to give it a best possible construction, that the individual is trying to uphold the Law as he/she has been taught. Might there have been something idolatrous in what you shared? Temper your initial response (and offense) in order to gauge the level of knowledge or understanding possessed by your accuser. Above all, do everything to the Glory of God.

Our catechisms are helpful in training up disciples. We need to know our catechisms well enough to identify where they summarize Scripture and how they’ve done so. The numbering of the 10 commandments is such a summary. Be willing and able to return to the Scriptures when dealing with differences in confessions.

Jude 24-25 (ESV) Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,

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