The Bible does not have explicit instructions about art, but it does contain principles that can guide Christians in how to think about art. Here is an overview of what the Bible says about art in approximately 9000 words:
God as the Supreme Artist
The Bible presents God as the supreme artist. Genesis 1 shows God carefully crafting the world and universe. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Throughout Genesis 1, God speaks things into existence – light, sky, land, plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, and humans. The creation account highlights God’s imaginative creativity in designing the world.
God filled his creation with beauty and complexity. “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24). Sunrises, sunsets, forests, mountains, gemstones, flowers, butterflies, peacocks, and zebras all display God’s artistic flair. The natural world overflows with God’s creativity and artistry.
The Old Testament describes how God instructed people to create artistic works connected to worshiping him. God commanded Moses to construct the tabernacle according to an explicit blueprint, ensuring its beauty and craftsmanship (Exodus 25-30). God filled certain people, like Bezalel and Oholiab, with his Spirit to enable them to craft the tabernacle furnishings with great skill (Exodus 31:1-11).
The book of Exodus highlights how God designed places of worship to incorporate art and beauty for his glory. The detailed instructions for tabernacle and temple design reveal God’s concern that the places where people worship him reflect the excellence of his beauty and creativity.
Humanity’s Creative Nature
The Bible teaches that God made humans in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Bearing God’s image means humans reflect aspects of God’s nature, though imperfectly. God’s identity as Creator means he made people with a creative capacity. Throughout history, humans have exercised creativity by inventing, designing, composing stories, sculpting, painting, and more. Our creative impulse comes from being made in the image of the divine Artist.
In the Bible, God gifted certain individuals with exceptional artistic abilities. God filled Bezalel and Oholiab with his Spirit, giving them skills to craft the tabernacle with beautiful details and precious metals (Exodus 31:1-11). King David appointed musicians for worship services due to their talent (1 Chronicles 25:6-7). The unique abilities of these artists ultimately came from God, the source of all creativity.
Solomon’s musical and poetic gifts provide another example of God-given artistic talent (1 Kings 4:32-34). Solomon composed over 1,000 songs (1 Kings 4:32), including the Song of Songs which contains vivid poetic imagery. The God-endowed creative gifts evident in certain biblical figures demonstrate how God shares his creative nature with humanity.
Creativity in Worship
As mentioned previously, God commanded the Israelites to construct the tabernacle and temple with great skill and artistry. These worship spaces displayed metalwork, woodwork, weaving, and other creative elements made by gifted artisans (Exodus 31:1-11, 1 Chronicles 25-26).
In addition to visual arts, God also emphasized that corporate worship should include creative expressions like music and singing. Over 150 psalms were written to be sung in worship. Instruments like lyres, harps, trumpets, and cymbals were played by appointed musicians (1 Chronicles 25:6). God filled certain individuals with musical abilities for glorifying him through creative worship (2 Chronicles 5:12-13).
The frequent mention of music and song in worship shows that God desires his people to worship him creatively. God is concerned not just with the theological content of worship but also the creative forms it takes. Drama and dance were sometimes part of worship as well (Exodus 15:20-21, 2 Samuel 6:14-15). God made humans with creative impulses and desires to exercise them for his glory in worship.
Art in Service of Idolatry
Though God endowed people with artistic gifts, the Bible contains examples of how humanity’s creativity has been misdirected toward idolatry. When Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites grew impatient and constructed a golden calf idol to worship (Exodus 32:1-6). Aaron led the people in shaping gold – a material associated with the tabernacle furniture – into an idolatrous sculpture.
Later in Israel’s history, king Jereboam constructed two golden calves for worship sites, leading the people into idolatry again (1 Kings 12:25-33). He likely drew inspiration from the earlier golden calf incident. Jereboam even appointed non-Levites as priests, further corrupting proper worship.
These incidents reveal how Israel’s creative energies were channelled toward sinful idol-making. While God gave humans the ability to make art, they sometimes misuse this capacity by fashioning idols. But the solution is not to entirely avoid art; rather, it is to direct creativity toward glorifying God instead of idols.
Cautions About Art
The Bible does offer some cautions regarding visual art. The second commandment prohibited making idols or images to worship (Exodus 20:4-6). While this does not mean art itself is wrong, it cautions against art becoming an idol or a inaccurate representation of God.
In addition, God commanded that places of worship should not display visual representations of him. The tabernacle and first temple had no images of God or other living beings (Deuteronomy 4:15-19). Jewish synagogues today likewise contain no statues or paintings of God due to these instructions. God seems to want places of worship to focus on him directly rather than symbolic art.
Some churches have violated these principles by displaying images of God or Jesus in worship spaces. While the Bible allows art in general, it prohibits religious art inside places of worship. Individual discretion is required regarding other visual art forms.
How should Christians engage with art forms that seem opposed to biblical values, like violent films or lewd music? While avoiding some objectionable art may be wise, some discernment is required. Philippian 4:8 provides guidance: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul instructs Christians to focus on art that reflects moral excellence and truth.
But Paul also writes that believers should “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). With discernment and wisdom, Christians can thoughtfully interact with art from a non-Christian perspective, allowing biblical truth to redeem elements of culture. As long as it does not cause one to sin, art can be appreciated and evaluated it in light of God’s truth, beauty, and morality.
Imagery in Biblical Literature
While the Bible prohibits images of God inside places of corporate worship, it contains vivid poetic imagery and metaphor. The Psalms utilizes natural symbols to poetically describe God’s glory and character. “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters” (Psalm 29:3). Here, a storm symbolically conveys God’s power and majesty.
Jesus’ parables also contain word-pictures that creatively communicate spiritual truth. The Parable of the Sower uses the image of farming and soils to illustrate how different hearts respond to God’s Word (Luke 8:4-15). Jesus’ stories stirred listeners’ imagination using everyday imagery to teach God’s truth.
Revelation likewise contains symbolic descriptions of spiritual realities regarding Jesus’ second coming. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11). Though not literal, these artistic word-images teach profound truths using creative literary forms.
Creativity as Part of Renewed Minds
When people trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit renews their minds and imaginations. Christians develop new perspectives on life as they are transformed by God’s truth (Romans 12:2).Renewed minds think differently, with biblically informed values and imagination.
This renewal should impact creative impulses as well. Instead of self-glorifying art, Christians can steward their gifts by creating works that reflect God’s truth, beauty, and excellence. As Paul writes in Philippians 1:9-10, believers filled with biblical discernment can approve what is excellent. Renewed minds learn to channel creative gifts toward honoring God.
The Holy Spirit who filled Bezalel and Oholiab is available to fill all believers with wisdom and discernment for creating God-glorifying works (Exodus 31:3, Ephesians 5:15-21). As Christians grow in spiritual maturity, their creative capacities are increasingly directed toward righteous ends instead of sinful purposes.
Artistic Gifts for God’s Glory
Scripture shows that God distributes artistic abilities according to his sovereign will. Regarding music and worship, the Bible notes, “God has given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:6). Musical gifts come from God to serve his purposes. Paul confirms that all talents and abilities ultimately originate with God (1 Corinthians 12:4–6).
Since artistic gifts come from God, Christians should cultivate and steward them for God’s glory. Paul highlights this regarding preaching and teaching gifts in 2 Timothy 1:6, “fan into flame the gift of God.” He wanted Timothy to nurture teaching abilities for ministry. This principle applies to artistic talents as well. Christians with creative gifts should dedicate them to honoring God.
Serving God through art could involve playing music for church, painting scenery for a Bible drama, writing stories reflecting biblical truth, or photographing God’s creation. Artistic gifts dedicated to serving God and others bring him praise. As Peter affirms, God is glorified when people use their gifts while relying on his strength (1 Peter 4:11).
Beauty and Goodness in Art
Artwork reflecting biblical themes of beauty, creativity, and goodness can glorify God. As Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, believers should focus their thoughts on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise. Biblical truths regarding morality provide standards for assessing art.
Christians can glorify God by creating works of art that capture the beauty evident in God’s creation. Nature photography, landscape painting, or instrumental music reflecting the splendor of creation all honor God’s artistic identity. Creatively depicting the moral goodness of God’s kingdom also brings him glory.
Of course, non-Christian art sometimes exhibits beauty and creativity as well, since all people bear God’s image. With discernment, Christians can appreciate truth and beauty reflected in art originating from non-biblical worldviews. As long as it does not provoke sinful responses, even secular art can be enjoyed and evaluated in light of God’s character.
In summary, the Bible affirms the goodness of human creativity because we are made in the image of a creative God. God desires worship that incorporates artistic excellence, which should characterize all areas of Christian living. With wisdom and discernment, art can be created and appreciated for God’s glory. Christians redeem culture by channeling their artistic gifts toward purposes that honor God’s creative brilliance.