What is Art, and what does the Bible say about Artistic talent? By Jack Kettler
What is Art? How does the Bible treat Artistic talent? How should Christians interact with the Arts? This study is an introductory primer on the arts in general. The reader should consult Images and Worship a primer by this author for a survey on Art and worship.
“KJV Dictionary Definition: Art
‘ART, The second person, indicative mode, present tense, of the substantive verb am.
ARTFUL, a. See Art.
1. Performed with art or skill.
2. Artificial, as opposed to natural
3. Cunning; practicing art, or stratagem, crafty, as an artful boy. This is the most usual sense.
4. Proceeding from art or craft, as an artful scheme.”
In general, art is an exhibition of human innovative skills and imagination.
Art can be different things, pictures, painting, music, sculpture, Shakespearian plays, poetry, movies, and literature. In one sense, everything created by a man is a work of art. Art can represent good and beautiful things created by humans. It can also represent ugliness and rebellion against God.
Art is never neutral; it can be good or evil. It can glorify God or mock God. Literature and films can be inspirational, or they can be pornographic and promote atheism and other forms of ungodliness. Therefore, the Arts should be viewed discerningly. Unfortunately, Art produced by Christians can be flawed as well, and represent heresy. See * note for an example of Christian heresy in literature and film.
In many cases, Art displays reveal the artist’s worldview. The viewer of the Arts should be aware of particular worldviews that are on display and judged accordingly.
A painting or picture of creation would fall under the description of Psalms 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 ESV)
Art that replicates God’s creation is not neutral according to the Psalmist; it declares the glory of God.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18 NKJV)
Art produced by the men of Romans 1:18 likewise is not neutral; it suppresses the truth about creation.
How does the Bible say about Artistic talent?
Artistic talent is borrowed from Heaven. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29 ESV).
In Scripture, we see that God gives artists their skill, and He gives particular artisans specific directions for His ordained projects.
From the HELPS Word-studies using the Strong’ numbering system on the word gifts:
“Cognate: 5486 xárisma (from “grace,” 5485 /xáris) – properly, the operation of grace (divine favor), i.e. a grace-endowment to edify the Church (note the -ma suffix, focusing on the end-result of the endowment of grace).
5486 /xárisma (“grace-gift”) divinely empowers a believer to share God’s work with others, i.e. Spirit-empowered service to the Church to carry out His plan for His people.
[5486 /xárisma (but not limited to) “spiritual gifts.” xarismata (the plural form) literally means “grace-endowments.”]” See Helps Ministry Inc.
These gifts or xárisma are not limited to spiritual gifts. Consequently, they can refer to artistic gifts. Artistic skill is a gift of God’s grace.
What do men do with their talents; glorify God or themselves? What does the Bible say about the artist and Artistic talent?
We see a reference about artistic work in Exodus 31. God gave this artistic talent: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, See I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle – the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base – the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place.” (Exodus 31:1-11 NKJV)
In this text, God is instructing Moses to create a sacred tent for the Ark of the Covenant. This sacred tent was a visible symbol of God’s presence. God references several artisans whom He selected to decorate the tent. God says, “I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans.” In this text, we learn that God commands the work of the artisan, and He is the origin of this artistic talent by way of what is known as God’s communicable attributes. These attributes are those, which He shares with humankind.
Another example is Solomon building the temple in 1Kings. This text focuses on detail and precision: “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits1 long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house. When the house was built, fit was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built. The entrance for the lowest story was on the south side of the house, and one went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. So he built the house and finished it, and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar. He built the structure against the whole house, five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar.” (1Kings 6:1-10 ESV)
The above text in 1Kings show the details that went into constructing the House of the Lord.
In 1Chronicles, we learn about the precious stones went into beautifying the temple:
“So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble.” (1Chronicles 29:2 ESV)
In 2Chronicles, we read about the decorations and Artistic skill that went into the building of the temple: “The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father.” (2Chronicles 2:14 ESV)
“The nave he lined with cypress and covered it with fine gold and made palms and chains on it.He adorned the house with settings of precious stones. The gold was gold of Parvaim.So he lined the house with gold—its beams, its thresholds, its walls, and its doors—and he carved cherubim on the walls.” (2Chronicles 3:6 ESV)
Other passages about Artistic talent that God gave to individuals in the Bible: “The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” (Exodus 35:1-5 ESV)
“He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.” (Exodus 35:35 ESV)
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV)
In passages survey from Scripture, we see that God is concerned about detail and gives individuals Artistic talent. The aim was that in all this is that God will be glorified.
A view of the Arts by Protestant reformer, John Calvin:
“But, as sculpture and painting are gifts of God, what I insist on is, that both shall be used purely and lawfully, that gifts which the Lord has bestowed upon us, for His glory and our good, shall not be preposterously abused, nay, shall not be perverted to our destruction.” (1) “The object of music is God and His creation. The glory of God and the elevation of man are its goal, and the inspired Psalms are its means. Since it is the goodness of God emanating through the universe that makes men sing, God ought to be the centre of man’s thoughts and feelings when he sings. Seriousness, harmony and joy must characterize our songs to God.” (2)
Presbyterian theologian and a missionary, Francis Schaeffer’s thoughts on art:
“The lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts,”
“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.”
“There was no pragmatic reason for the precious stones. They had no utilitarian purpose. God simply wanted beauty in the temple. God is interested in beauty.” “…there is a very real sense in which the Christian life itself should be our greatest work of art. Even for the great artist, the most crucial work of art is his life.” “As a Christian we know why a work of art has value. Why? First, because a work of art is a work of creativity, and creativity has value because God is the Creator.”
“Second, an art work has value as a creation because man is made in the image of God, and therefore man not only can love and think and feel emotion but also has the capacity to create. Being in the image of the Creator, we are called upon to have creativity. In fact, it is part of the image of God to be creative, or to have creativity.” (3)
Abraham Kuyper, prime minister of the Netherlands, asserts that leading Protestant reformer John Calvin believed regarding the Arts: 1. “esteemed art, in all its ramifications, as a gift of God.”
2. “fully grasped the profound effects worked by art upon the life of the emotions.”
3. “appreciated the end for which art has been given.”
4. “believed “that by [art] we might glorify God.”
5. “attributed to [art] the noble vocation of disclosing to man a higher reality than was offered to us by this sinful and corrupted world.” (4)
Art is the demonstration of human innovative skills and imagination by virtue of created human beings sharing in the communicable attributes of God. Communicable attributes are those attributes shared with humanity. God’s incommunicable attributes, such as omniscient and omnipresence, are not. Artistic talent is not innate in a man; it is given by God to be shared with God’s creation, humanity.
Christians, therefore, can and should participate in the Arts. They should do this being aware that artistic is talent is borrowed from heaven or more preciously; God gives or loans the talent to the artist this side of heaven.
In a unique display, the famous contemporary Irish music group, the Corrs understood this quite well and titled their fourth studio album, Borrowed Heaven. John Coltrane, the jazz saxophonist, was one of the first musicians in the modern era publically to give God credit in the notes from his album A Love Supreme.
Does the artist give God the glory for their talent or not. The talent or ability is on loan from God. Whom gets the glory?
In evaluating the arts, Christians should be worldview conscious. Said another way, view the Arts with discernment with a biblical mindset.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) And “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, and The S.C.M. Press Ltd., London, 1960), 1.11.8-16.
2. Quoted in Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinist Concept of Culture, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1972), p. 110.
3. Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, (Inter Varsity Press, Kindle Edition), pp. 18, 26, 49, 51.
4. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1981), p. 153.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM
For More Study:
* Six Major Problems with The Shack https://www.ltw.org/read/articles/2017/03/six-major-problems-with-the-shack