Bible Art Journaling: No, No, No

The Second Commandment says that any graven images of the Holy God are forbidden.

"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." (Exodus 20:4)

The next sentence says nor shall you bow down to them, so this commandment is talking about worshiping idols. Matthew Henry Commentary explains,
It is forbidden to make any image or picture of the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to worship any creature, image, or picture.
And then Henry goes on to explain the deeper meanings of the command..

So, I've been thinking about pictures lately, spiritual pictures. I became aware last week of Presidential candidate Dr Ben Carson's portrait with Jesus. Carson claims to be a believer, but as a Seventh Day Adventist there are too many aberrant beliefs within that cult in order for me to take his claim at face value. (FMI on Seventh Day Adventism, please go here,  here  or here)

Yes Dr Carson's portrait is real.

Carson has said it is representative of his faith and displays his gratitude that Jesus gave him 'gifted hands' as a surgeon. I personally believe the portrait is blasphemy. The Second Commandment said not to portray in pictures any image of the Deity, and yet there is a big old picture of the Second Person of the Deity. Worse, Carson is seated while Jesus is standing. At the least one would think Carson would be bowing.

I like this picture of the Robe of Righteousness by Lars Justinen. In Justinen's painting, Jesus' face is not shown. The focus is on His act of clothing us with His righteousness and the reaction of the sinner. I'm still not sure if the Justinen painting breaks the Second Commandment if Jesus' face and His body is not shown. But it might.

A friend made a comment on Twitter last night. She posted a photo of a Bible that had been altered by the owner having added paintings all around the edges of the margins. Apparently it's called Bible Art Journaling. Apparently Bible Art Journaling is a "movement".

Many visually oriented folks know that prayer journals and art journals are a great way to record thoughts and reactions to scripture. I mentioned in last night's essay that I made art journals and individual little books during my process of coming to salvation and just afterwards. As a new babe in Christ I had difficulty grappling with new doctrines and I'd often try to visualize them since words failed me. I also used my art journal to make collages in praise to the Lord. I was so excited! The depth of my gratitude overflowed and words failed me then, too, so I'd use pictures to express what I felt. I did them in my blank sketchbook, though, NOT in my Bible.

I have had a lifelong aversion to writing, drawing, or even underlining any book whatsoever. Not novels, not textbooks, nothing. I never even wrote my name in one. I don't write in my bible nor do I underline anything in it. Since that book is God's Holy Word I feel even more strongly that a Bible should be handled with gravitas and respect. I've never underlined or written anything in any of my Bibles. "Prettying up" a Bible with my own art is not necessary and mixes my paltry words and pictures with God's. Besides, the Bible isn't an art project! We don't need tutorials explaining why gesso is not a good idea to use on the thin pages of God's word, but stencils are!

Google Image search results page for search term "Bible art journaling"
Now, if the Bibles being decorated don't violate the Second Commandment by depicting an image from heaven nor does the owner bow down to it, then why am I writing about it? Where is the concern? Isn't it just a matter of preference?

I have three answers for that.

1. Yes, it is a matter of preference. There is no commandment that a Christian can't find solace in creative work on the pages of one's Bible. But not everything allowed is profitable. (1 Corinthians 10:23). See #2.

2. I don't want to disrespect this young woman, but I do have concerns with this approach to "encountering Jesus." This page is a tutorial page on how to "journal your Bible." It's called Bible Art Journaling Challenge, and the woman promises to "Help you encounter Jesus through creativity" through "52 weeks of life-changing creative fun!" She's not the only one. Bible Art Journaling is being promoted this way in many places.

Now here's the issue. There is nothing wrong with art. There is nothing wrong with creativity. There is nothing wrong with collages, illustrating a prayer, painting a verse. Visuals combined with words often helps us meditate on the Word. Here is a collage I did when I was a babe, regarding 2 Corinthians 4:4 and satan's blinding of men to the truth. All the while people play games with their life, never heeding the seriousness of it and the squandered worship they could be performing.

Here is another one I did as a babe in Christ, musing on Philippians 4:7 and the peace that passes all understanding. No matter if there is violence, war, explosions, the gal sipping tea is peaceful and unperturbed because she has Christ.

Another creative outlet I employ is spending a lot of time matching a verse with one of my photographs, all the while thinking of what the verse means. I shared these with you to show I'm not a wordsmith purist nor an old fuddy-duddy, lol. Creativity is good. Visuals are good. It's just not a substitute for engaging your mind totally on the unadulterated word of God. Reading God's Word is the encounter with God. Painting swirls on a Bible page is not an encounter with God.

The difference is, God's word should stand alone and not become an "fun activity."

We read that satan is the most subtle creature in the Garden. (Genesis 3:1.) If he can do anything to divert a Christian's attention from the pure, unadulterated word of God, he will do it. This Bible art journaling is just such an activity. The Bible is not an art project. Coloring on its pages does not bring you closer to Jesus. Painting on its pages does not spark an encounter with Him. Reading His word, meditating on it, and obeying it is what illuminates the mind of God to us. Satan is an incremental foe. I have no idea abut the theology of this blogger but this one paragraph struck me as the best description of satan's ploy in incrementally changing our stance on doctrine.
Incrementalism is the single best arrow in Satan's quiver...It is a subtle approach to change masked as genuinely positive, and since it always comes in slow, bite size chunks over time, you do not even feel that you have been deceived until too late.
See what this blogger said about her jump into the journaling Bible movement. Again, I don't disrespect her, but her opening statement seems to perfectly capture the incremental nature of satan's ploy as explained above,
Truth be told, I had resisted this whole "art journaling in your Bible" movement at first since I already do a lot of Bible studying and I didn't want to take time away from that in order to "play". BUT, the seed was planted. Just about every time I cracked open my Bible I could see how I could incorporate this into my life by keeping it simple and recording what I was already learning. (source)
So once the seed was planted when she opened her bible she didn't see Jesus anymore but all she saw was how to use the space for her art. See? It's a problem. We have blank sketch books for art. We have altered book tutorials. Not Bible art. As a matter of fact, bible art journaling IS a form of altered book art.
Altered books: An altered book is a form of mixed media artwork that changes a book from its original form into a different form, altering its appearance and/or meaning. An altered book artist takes a book (old, new, recycled or multiple) and cuts, tears, glues, burns, folds, paints, adds to, collages, rebinds, gold-leafs, creates pop-ups, rubber-stamps, drills, bolts, and/or be-ribbons it. The artist may add pockets and niches to hold tags, rocks, ephemera, or other three-dimensional objects.
Here is an example of altered book art:

Here is an example of MY altered book art:
EPrata art
Here is an example of altered Bible art:

Bible art journaling obscures God's word. It competes with it. To be fair, the Bible art journaling blogger does not advocate abandoning devotional time nor substituting creative time for actual bible study. But that is the subtle genius of satan. He is an incremental foe. A sly insertion of an activity with the Bible instead of reading the Bible itself is the goal. A familiar proverb or saying goes,

"If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow."

#3. I'd said that satan is subtle. Usually there is not anything particularly wrong with an activity or practice. You can't point a finger and show the smoking gun. However the incremental nature of satan, taking an inch here, a half an inch there, over time chisels away at the foundation and all of a sudden you look around and wonder, "how did I get here?"

Just as Catholic labyrinths were re-branded as Protestant prayer walking, just as occult channeling was re-branded as "hearing from God", just as mystical "contemplative prayer" was re-branded as "Protestant contemplative prayer", just as Hindu Yoga was re-branded as 'Christian Yoga', just as Wiccan pentagrams were re-branded as "circle making"...". Remember enneagrams? Those have Sufi roots. Bible art journaling is already melding with Hindu Mandala coloring. "Color your way closer to God?" No, no, no.

This Mandala Coloring Book For Grown Ups Is The Creative's Way To Mindful Relaxation
For the unfamiliar, a mandala is a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, made from a nest of squares and circles, that represents the cosmos. As the Asian Art Museum put it: "mandalas are not just images to view, but worlds to enter -- after recreating the image in their mind’s eye, meditators imaginatively enter its realm."
Oh! You mean, an encounter with the divine through creativity! Like this Christian description!
Bible art journaling is part of the growing, Illustrated Faith and Bible doodling movement where many are creating on the pages of their Bible. The idea is to engage more freely with the Word of God in new ways and to record personally inspiring scriptures in creative and artistic ways, which serve to remind us of moments in our personal journey with God. (source)
Or like this book available at Amazon, coloring Hindu mandalas to match Christian hymns.

Abide: An Adult Coloring Book Featuring 30 Great Hymns of the Faith: Where Art-Therapy and Soul-Therapy Meet
With original mandala artwork and hymn excerpts to color, Abide is certain to stimulate spirit and heart. Turn on some background music to play along as you color. Each coloring sheet is one-sided, with hymn texts printed on the back of each design.
Carefully selected hymns to appeal to young and old. Original mandala artwork. Artistic script designs. Simple, but beautiful mandala designs.
People, Mandalas are HINDU. They are not, nor will they ever be CHRISTIAN. They represent something sacred to the unsaved. Something sacred to the unsaved is an IDOL. We are back to the Second Commandment I opened this essay with. Don't believe me? See mandalas defined-
Definition of mandala:Mandala (Sanskrit Maṇḍala, 'circle') is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Indian religions, representing the universe. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. In Hinduism, a mandala (yantra) is a two- or three-dimensional geometric composition used in sadhanas, puja or meditative rituals. It is considered to represent the abode of the deity. Each yantra is unique and calls the deity into the presence of the practitioner through the elaborate symbolic geometric designs. According to one scholar, "Yantras function as revelatory symbols of cosmic truths and as instructional charts of the spiritual aspect of human experience". (source)
Do you really think it's innocent to color a mandala just because some money-grubbing, undiscerning author re-packaged a pagan activity by pasting a line from a beloved hymn over the top of it and adding "Christian" to the title?

That is where Bible art journaling leads. It's a diversion.

The Puritans had a high view of the Bible. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote in the mid 1600s,
The reading of the word of God, and the explication and application of it in good books, is a means to possess the mind with sound, orderly, and working apprehensions of God, and of his holy truths: so that in such reading our understandings are oft illuminated with a heavenly light, and our hearts are touched with a special delightful relish of that truth; and they are secretly attracted and engaged unto God and all the powers of our souls are excited and animated to a holy obedient life.
Therefore I do not believe that painting butterflies on my Bible's pages is an encounter with Jesus. Doing so incrementally adulterates it, alters it, and then slowly degrades the high view we should have of it. The Bible is not an art project.

See? I like butterflies. Really.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Rose,

      Thanks for your lengthy comment and asking for scriptural evidence as to why likenesses of Jesus violate the 2nd commandment. I opened this essay with the evidence. It is the Second Commandment. I'll repeat it here. Exodus 20:4-5a

      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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them...

    2. Rose,

      I cansee why people call you a legalist. It's good to be opinionated, to ME that means having prayerfully come to a settled biblical conclusion after research and over time. For ME it takes time to allow the Spirit to seep all the nuances of a verse into my mind and open my eyes to see it played out in practical terms.

      The 'images of Jesus' issue is not as black and white as you'd presented. Moreover, insisting on ONLY biblical evidence is a bit narrow. (I published the verse at the beginning but you overlooked it). Don't dismiss Matthew Henry's commentary. He is a man God raised up to explain the scriptures. His work has lasted through the centuries because God filled His mind with wisdom. Don't dismiss your own pastor's sermons, other preachers such as John MacArthur, or biblical forums such as GotQuestions and, written by men who are strong in the Bible. We are a body and iron sharpens iron.

      I was careful to say several times that the 2nd commandment warns against likenesses of Jesus (or anything in heaven) for the purposes of making and IDOL of it. I am fleshing out what that means in terms of the balance of whether possessing an image means I am bowing down to it, (I think in Ben Carson's case, it does) or if the liberty within that verse means it is a danger and temptation only but OK if I am strong and DON'T bow down to it, or if it means I am disrespecting Jesus by making an image of Him at all ( or if it doesn't mean that at all.

      Also, while Jesus is the image of the living God, drawing a picture of Him doesn't only mean that. As we read in the Jamison Fausset commentary of the Colossians 1:15 verse you referred to (He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation)--

      "image—exact likeness and perfect Representative. Adam was made "in the image of God" (Ge 1:27). But Christ, the second Adam, perfectly reflected visibly "the invisible God" (1Ti 1:17), whose glories the first Adam only in part represented. "Image" (eicon) involves "likeness" (homoiosis); but "likeness" does not involve "image."

      You see the nuances at play here.

      Moreover, the re-statement of Jesus of the greatest commandments, 'Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul, and love your neighbor a yourself', relates back to the OT second commandment. As brethren we have the image of God in us in the form of the Holy Spirit, and so we are to love each other as ourselves because it's God in us. There's more to it of course.

      This blog is a way for me to work through some doctrines, present them, get feedback, and record the advance in my sanctification for having studied, meditated, and considered. It's a process. It's a public process, I know, but there are nuances. There are parallel verses to consider. There is the harmony between OT and NT. There are commentaries, history, and context to consider.

      So please be patient during the consideration process rather than demanding- and understand that your own understanding might also need further research and settlement by the Spirit rather than a black and white "I demand this" or "you need to do that." In love.

  2. I don't highlight or write in my Bible either. Since coming to an understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture I have not seen the point of marking up my Bible as if certain parts are really awesome and not others. It seems like it would detract from the idea of considering context, too. Also, when I return to places where I have been many times in the Word the Holy Spirit moves my heart in new ways which might be different than the time I read the passage months or years before. I think that marks would be distracting. But maybe I have gotten to be kind of uptight. Plus my fancy John MacArthur Study Bible wasn't cheap. :)


    1. When I highlight (and make notes, as well as *gasp* Bible journal) and I return to that page again, I am excited to see what God has already taught me about a certain scripture and then what he tells me upon a second reading. I date my pages so it is interesting to see how God has answered prayers or seen me through a difficult time.

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  4. In 2007 I got my first ESV bible. I was also attending a women's bible study, and our leader encouraged us to highlight or underline various verses we studied. She even provided Crayola Twistables to use as highlighters because they didn't bleed through. Now, eight years later, I wish I would have never started highlighting. First of all, my eyes are drawn to the highlighted verses, ignoring the ones not highlighted. Second of all, a lot of highlighted verses ignore the full context and intent of the passage and are read as a 'stand alone' verse. Third, highlighting seems to be a waste of time. I will be reading a chapter and wonder why I highlighted that verse but didn't highlight another verse. I would have been better off not highlighting anything at all. This past year I gifted myself with an ESV study bible. I will not sully its pages with highlighting, underlining, or circling words so that each time I open it I will see God's word presented purely, unobstructed by my marks.

    1. Maybe, it would have been helpful if you had of dated your highlight with a note in the margin on why it was meaningful. When you reflect back or reread that passage it would allow you to go deeper.

    2. Thanks Darcia, well said and great advice. Notetaking while reading the Bible or listening to a sermon is great. Actually, there are many bibles that are designed with extra wide margins for this very purpose. I take notes in a separate little notebook, but others like to take their notes right alongside the verse which they are pondering.

  5. What did the Bible journaling lady say when you brought your concerns to her?

    1. What did your pastor say when he realized you misunderstand and twist Matthew 18?

  6. I have a study bible, and an art journaling bible. This way I always have my eyes and my mind on God's word. When I am finished with my bible study in my unmarked Bible, I like to create my art. I am most definitely not distracted negatively. In my humble opinion, I believe each person should speak for themselves on this matter.

  7. just lol at this article. drawing in a bible is not like we are drawing god or what happens in heaven. it is just paper and ink. what matters most is how we live the word of God. plus, I do not worship images or idols... I just draw in it, write, take notes that indeed bring me closer to God. what should be said then, of catholics who worships statues ?

    1. Hi Deborah,

      I'm glad you got something out of the article, even if it was only a laugh.

      How we treat God's word and how we think of it is important.

      As for Catholics (a false religion) who worship statues, it goes without saying that this is wrong I twas wrong for the people to worship the statue of Dagon (1 Samuel 5) and it's wrong for Catholics to worship their statues and idols. God doesn't change His mind over time. It's still wrong to do that.


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