Monday, October 09, 2006

Art IN the Bible

If anyone thinks that the Bible doesn't include any art, then they just need to look a little closer. Schaeffer takes a look at several instances of art in the Bible. Most of the references do come from the Old Testament, which contains more history. The New Testament is more concerned with teaching, so art does not really show up significantly (except for the beauty of the New Jerusalem, with gold and precious stones used to decorate streets).

The first time we see art in the Bible is when Moses is given directions for the tabernacle. In Exodus 25:9, God tells Moses to follow all of the patterns he is given. The Lord goes on to have two cherubim of gold formed (Ex 25:18). There are also candlestick with branches and almond-blossoms coming off of it (25:31-33). These are both examples of representational art. Later in Exodus we see an example of interpretive art: on the skirts of the priests' garments are pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet (28:33). In nature, pomegranates are red. Now purple and scarlet could be part of the growth cycle of the fruit, but blue definitely would not be. Thus, God wants beautiful things associated with His worship, and there is creativity to interpret things beyond the exact of what they are on earth.

In the temple, it was covered with precious stones "for beauty" (2 Chron. 3:6). The stones didn't have a symbolical or representational aspect that required their presence. God just thought they looked nice! Later on in chapter 3, Schaeffer talks about free-standing columns decorated with chains and pomegranates. These columns do not support weight or have a utilitarian significance(3:16-17). Again, they are there for beauty and presentation. This is a good argument for any who would say that art needs to have some purpose, such as evangelism or exhortation. It is possible to create a work of art just because - in order to create something beautiful is reason enough in itself.

There is artwork besides visual art in the Bible. One obvious area is poetry. Much of the Old Testament is written in poetic form, with a lyrical beauty that transcends the original Hebrew and comes across in other languages. Not all of the poetry is psalms and prophecy though, strictly religious subjects. 2 Samuel 1:19-27 is "a secular ode, a poem by David to the praise of Saul and Jonathan as national heroes" (FS p385).

The Song of Solomon is often interpreted as the love of Christ for the church, which is a definitely valid interpretation. However, we must not forget what its original purpose is, which is obviously a love poem. This is inspired Scripture - a demonstration of holy love of a man and woman, enjoying all that God has given them - including a celebration of beauty.

I could go on to discuss music and drama and dance in the Bible, but I think my point has been made. Art is in the Bible, and God has used it both for His purposes (psalms in worship, Ezekiel acting out the siege of Jerusalem as a prophetic word) and for beauty's sake alone. Now that I've established this point, I'll go on next time to discuss what Francis Schaeffer has to say on perspectives of art.

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