I need help understanding the proper grammatical-historical interpretation of Ezekiel 8 and how that can be applied to contextualizing the gospel in Native American Christian culture.

In Ezk 8, Ezekiel sees the walls of the temple portraying images of all sorts of "detestable animals" which are being worshiped as idols.

My question is, in the context of God's entire Word, does Ezk 8 ALLOW or CONDEMN the artistic usage of images of these same animals (which were once used in detestable, idolatrous ways in Ezekiel) in a holy and Christian way?

For example, in Native American spirituality, an eagle is considered a sacred animal and a spirit. This would be a "detestable animal" and an "idol" in Ezk 8 when it is turned into a graven image (like a totem pole). Would Ezk 8 allow for a Christian Native American to still use an image of an eagle in Christian worship if they were to change the form and meaning of the eagle?

For example, instead of carving an idolatrous image of an eagle in a totem pole, the Christian Native American could bead the image of a (non-totem) eagle to represent Is 40:30-31 and Ps 103:5.

Or does Ezk 8 say that once an animal is considered "sacred" and "idolatrous" by a certain people, then all images of that "detestable/sacred" animal are forever afterwards condemned as "sacred objects" to be destroyed (Dt 7:25-26)?

Does Ezk 8 allow the form and meaning of an animal, which was once used idolatrously by a people group, to be given a new Christian artistic form and meaning and used in Christian worship?

Are the following Scriptures supportive of an interpretation of Ezk 8 that allows a "detestable animal" to have its form and meaning changed and be used in worship of YHWH?

In Ex 32, the Israelites worshiped the golden calf. The calf/bull/ox was made a "detestable animal". Yet God commanded that 12 bronze bulls be cast to support the Sea in temple worship (2 Ch 4:15).

Thanks to any bold person who would dare to answer such a contentious issue.

  • See Acts 4:12 - there is no value in any "sacred" objects. There is only one name by which we must be saved, Christ Jesus. That is all that matters.
    – Dottard
    Sep 12 at 11:11
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    First... welcome to the group! I wonder whether this question would be better dealt with on Christianity.se... So far no veterans voted to close it so let's see. In the meantime Please take a look at the Tour (link at bottom left of the page) and the Help section for an orientation. Sep 12 at 14:49
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    Thank you. The real heart of my question is centered on the proper grammatical-historical interpretation of Ezk 8. This is what I'm confused about. I am using this passage (among others) to Biblically evaluate Native culture in terms of what can be kept or redeemed and what must be destroyed.
    – non-expert
    Sep 12 at 23:17
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    This is a valid hermeneutics que and doesn't belong in ChristianitySE. The Christianity SE is a place for inter denominational questions, but this is strictly about cultural hermeneutics or interpretations impact on cultural practices, more like the Corinthians 8. It should not be closed. I think everything should be destroyed from our past culture, and we should look different to our fellow pagans. Draw a clear conspicuous cultural separation from them. It's another thing if we are forced to keep pagan names instead of English names for security reasons. It's a western religion.
    – Michael16
    Sep 13 at 11:17
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    Hello and welcome to the site. There's probably a good core of a question here about Ezekiel 8, but it would need to be edited down to focus specifically on that passage rather than asking about broader matters.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 13 at 12:20

4 Answers 4


Much of what is being asked comes down to a doctrinal viewpoint. But the focus is on how certain scriptures can be reconciled with each other in order to worship Jehovah God in a truthful way.

The nation of Israel was given the Law Covenant to help guide them into a way of worshipping the Creator in the way he wanted them to worship. This is where we need to focus our attention. As I have heard many people profess, they want to worship God in the way they want to.

Since the Israelites were coming into a land filled with nations that worshipped false gods, Deuteronomy chapters 7 and 12 laid out for the Israelites strict guidelines against following the same practices of these idolatrous nations. Did this mean that the objects used in their worship were "evil"? No, but the way in which they were used was against the true worship that Jehovah required. The Israelites were even cautioned about being curious in asking how the nations worshipped. (Deuteronomy 12:30, 31)

Of course, the next question is "How does this reconcile with Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, 10?" We need to recognize that the Roman and Corinthian Christians were centuries removed from the fledgling nation of Israel. Yes, they had just been introduced to a new way of worship but this was a worship from the heart.

Recall the incident at Mount Sinai where the Israelites began to worship a golden calf. They knew about worshipping statues from their time in Egypt but this was unacceptable by Jehovah God.

Exodus 32:7, 8

7 Jehovah now said to Moses: “Go, descend, because your people, whom you led up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have quickly deviated from the way I commanded them to go. They have made for themselves a statue of a calf, and they keep bowing down to it and sacrificing to it and saying, ‘This is your God, O Israel, who led you up out of the land of Egypt.’”

Jehovah was ready to destroy the Israelites because they were replacing him with an inanimate object and attributing their salvation from Egypt to it. Their heart was not acknowledging Jehovah but was centered on having a good time.

On the flip side, note the attitude of some Ephesians of the first century. After hearing the report of the sons of Sceva trying to expel a demon, they became believers.

Acts 19:17-19

17 This became known to all, both the Jews and the Greeks who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus went on being magnified. 18 And many of those who had become believers would come and confess and report their practices openly. 19 Indeed, quite a number of those who practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them up before everybody. And they calculated their value and found them worth 50,000 pieces of silver.

Yes, they were afraid but afraid of displeasing the one whom they had come to know and this moved them to reject irrevocably anything that would put them in opposition to Jehovah.

Yes, we strive to worship Jehovah in "spirit and truth". (John 4:24) Our heart is what leads us to him and we do not need any physical object to worship him.

  • Thank you. I am a pro Christian artist; art and music are my languages of worship (Ex 31:1-11, Ps 96:1). Objects are not needed, but objects and songs are the expression of my worship "in spirit and truth". If proper grammatical-historical interpretation of Ezk 8 condemns any "good" part of Creation as "detestable" when it's given the "sacred object tag", then why did God "redeem", so to speak, the calf/bull/ox (which had become "detestable" through the golden calf") to be cast for the bronze Sea in temple worship? The answer to this gives me the Biblical framework to evaluate Native culture.
    – non-expert
    Sep 12 at 23:36
  • God did not "redeem" anything; man is the one who defiles for his/her own use. Remember it is the intent behind the usage. A knife can prepare a meal and kill a person; is the knife "evil" or can it be "redeemed"?
    – agarza
    Sep 12 at 23:45
  • Thank you. I think you've answered my question about Ezk 8. Does the gram/hist interpretation of that text ALLOW or CONDEMN the Christian's usage of eagle feathers (sacred to Natives) in Biblical ways (eg. reminder of Is 40:30-31)? Does it sanction a Christian's right to "destroy" the "sacred object tag" off the eagle feather and use it as a Native Christian cultural decoration with no sacredness attached, just like the bulls of the bronze Sea were used? This is different from a bustle (circle of feathers--dance regalia) which is a sacred object and mediatory device. Please confirm.
    – non-expert
    Sep 13 at 0:14
  • As far as the usage of eagle feathers, I don't want to say something that would lead you in a certain direction. Jehovah God doesn't "tag" anything a certain way. He wants to see if we are willing to follow the guidelines he has set for us through the scriptures.
    – agarza
    Sep 13 at 0:41
  • Thank you. I think I'm understanding that Ezk 8 doesn't condemn a neutral thing once it's been used as an idol. It just condemns the idolatrous object made in the form of the neutral thing. The neutral thing can be used in a Biblical, non-idolatrous way regardless of whether or not another culture has used it in an idolatrous way. Thank you for your help! Sorry if I've not stayed within the guidelines of the forum. As a non-theologian, I was a little fuzzy on the guidelines. Thanks again!
    – non-expert
    Sep 13 at 2:31

The basic question seems to be: "Biblically, what is an idol?"

Matthew 22:34-40

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

This is a New Testament passage but Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. My point is that this commandment is central to the whole Bible.
An idol is anything that detracts from, confuses, or replaces God as Lord and the focus of our loving Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.

How does this apply to your situation?
It has to do with Lordship and loving God completely.
For someone who came from a tradition of seeing a drum, or a statue, or anything or anyone other than God as Lord that object is an idol.
For many others, a drum or a statue, etc. is just a drum or a statue. It's not about the object or person. It's about who or what has our heart. God wants our heart, all of it.
Objects cannot be redeemed, only people can be redeemed.

Isaiah 29:13

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught

The people of Israel were saying and doing all the "right" things but their hearts were far from the Lord. They were culturally, and ritually, the people of Israel but God did not own their hearts. As important as culture is can it be more important than God?

For some people or people groups, it may take some time, maybe generations, for the former person or object of Lordship to become just a person or object. The people of Israel had a similar problem when they couldn't give up the false gods. The prophets speak to this problem at great length and provide insights into this problem for us today.

Another aspect of this is that what may not be an idol to you can impact your witness and confuse others. The church at Corinth had a problem like this.

1 Corinthians 8:4-13

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. 7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

We all have our idols. It's tough to root them out and lay them before the Lord.

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    Thank you very much for your insights into the spirit of the law and not just the letter of the law. Yes, culture is subject to Christ and is "rubbish" compared to Christ (Php 3:3-8). However, people aren't cultureless, and worship in spirit and truth must manifest itself through the human culture of the worshiper. Euro/West worship with pianos and guitars is a 'foreign/Gentile' culture to Jewish culture and no better than Native culture. A Biblical native cultural expression of Christian worship is true to who they are; to worship in a foreign way risks a form of worship without heart meaning
    – non-expert
    Sep 13 at 2:23
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    @non-expert well said "people are not cultureless". Culture can be good. The key is to prevent culture from becoming a barrier or substitute to focusing on God. Euro/West worship has fought over "correct" instruments, objects and methods for at least centuries.
    – David D
    Sep 13 at 13:16

Specific denominations and teachers have various opinions on this subject. As far as the text goes, Deuteronomy and other authorities are clear that idols must be destroyed. Regarding Ezek. 8, natural phenomena are innately good since they were created by God. But it is forbidden to worship them in themselves.

In terms of Native American practice, the issue is complicated by the question of which Old Testament laws must still be upheld. We no longer obey the commandment to execute mediums and witches (Leviticus 20:27) and most of us were disgusted by the Taliban destroying giant statues of Buddha that had major cultural value. So the question may boil down to whether sacred Native objects are worshiped in place of God, or whether they are honored as part of a people's sacred heritage.

As a practical example from the Bible, the Bronze Snake that Moses made is instructive. The Israelites "looked" (נָבַט) at it in order to receive healing. The word נָבַט is also translated as "respect" or "show regard to."

Numbers 21:9

Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever the serpent bit someone, the person looked at the bronze serpent and recovered.

Later on, this icon was placed in the Temple of Jerusalem. But when people began to venerate it with incense, King Hezekiah had it destroyed. (2 Kgs 18:4) This is a good example of a natural being (a serpent) used as an object of healing and rightly given a place if honor in the Temple - but then wrongly worshiped instead of only respected as a part of Israel's sacred history.

The Bible does not deal with Native American history, so it may be a mistake to equate eagle feathers and native drums to Canaanite counterparts. One certain thing, in terms of biblical theology, is that such objects, while they may be honored as a part of a people's history, are not to be worshiped in place of God. This site is not meant to substitute for a local priest or minister's advice, so I will refrain from answering your question about whether you are allowed to construct the drum you asked about. But here is a hint from Psalm 150:4-6:

4 Give praise with tambourines and dance, praise him with strings and pipes. 5 Give praise with crashing cymbals, praise him with sounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord!

  • Not to be worshipped in place of God.. Bullseye. Sep 12 at 20:24
  • Thank you for taking the time to reply. These are insightful comments about the bronze serpent and the perversion of God's original purpose for its function.
    – non-expert
    Sep 12 at 23:08

Glorifying God with Culture?

I don't think the hermeneutical issue pertains to grammatical-historical approach, since it is not about the original context, but the broader implication and rather closer to the Paul's advice on the cultural conflicts pertaining to food, meat, eating in the idol temples and observing sabbath, new-moon etc. In this case, I don't see any conflict in your practice of observing your cultural drums, beaded eagle, beaded cross. The eagle is already a national symbol of the Christian America, there doesn't seem to be any objection over it.

The wearing of feathers may look too extreme and pagan. This is where the conflict and doubts start. You are already writing good English, a well-educated man (not a tribal) in which case, there shouldn't be any reasons for you to want to cling to your tribal ceremonial practices. It should be a question to those newly converted and thinking what to do with these pagan objects and idols I'm supposed to burn or have already burned most of them, but thinking about maintaining the eagle and beads and dressing. My question to such people who are anxious about their cultural practices under the Christian (Jewish and European religion) is to find the reason behind it. If you are guided by love, there is no judgment upon minor cultural practice, observing of festivals etc.

There is nothing wrong with maintaining the pagan tribal appearance and culture, it is not going to harm your spirituality if your heart is clean. However, I encourage you to focus on Paul's letters rather than the OT historical passages. Food, artefacts and drums, ceremony and rituals would not commend us to God (1 Cor. 8:8-13). The impression you would give to your weaker Christian or non-Christian brothers while looking like a wild tribal pagan man should be a more dangerous concern worthy of anxiety than the useless objects themselves. Works alone are the fruits which commend us by giving a testimony to others that you represent God. You should be an ambassador of God, not your wicked pagan ancestors, however, it's really a personal matter of discernment and choice and I cannot claim to know your personal situation.

God commands us to hate our mother and father and ancestors (Luke 14:26). I encourage you to question your hatred for your ancestors, and to love that foreign European culture which saved you from the culture worse than Canaanites or any other wicked tribe of the Bible. The restrictions and judgments of others should not a concern to any spiritual man who is free from the bondages of culture and tradition. If you love Christ and want to save others for him, you should count everything as expendable, even if it's legitimate tradition.

I myself have been saved from my ancestral cultures in my nation and would count every little cultural practice as a curse because they resemble those to whom I associate darkness and evil. Think about the reason why the Jews started a law which separated themselves not just by diet, but also the mixing of fibres and appearance. It was to separate themselves from the sinful surrounding cultures as much as possible. They condemned and banned the pagan hairstyles, tattooing, clothes etc in Lev 19, because there should be absolute disassociation with those people. They also commanded at certain wars not to leave a single breathing thing in the midst of the enemies. Have we exterminated and disinfected ourselves with everything associated with our sinful ancestors and their culture, religion? We who are in Christ have no obligation to observe the Jewish days, feasts and rituals, but we should also not have any burden to maintain any tradition especially if it's from demonic traditions.

Imagine if some Israelis would've said that I love their clothes, hairstyles and food, I want to sanctify them, and of course those animals are not unclean in themselves. This person would be ignoring the fact that the animals were counted unclean because of arbitrary reason for their association with the gentile pagan tribes. The unclean animals represent the unclean people of the nations. Now, since the nations along with animals have been considered clean, we should not find reasons to sanctify every single pagan practice and tradition to Christianize them. Such a mentality points to the Marxist world-view of intersectionality and multiculturalism, which cherishes everything counter-culture or counter-civilization. That is everything that go against the common sense and good Christian culture by enforcing anti-Christian values and traditions by pushing pagan and evil cultures of the past, be it the American skeleton mountains that they praise or certain foreign ethnicities. I'd warn against not only the hatred to the European culture which saved us, which is caused by European Marxists/Socialists themselves and also the unnatural love for the dead ancestral practices.

The Roman Church immediately sanctified their Virgin Athena goddess into Virgin Mary, they also sanctified their festivals of drunken debauchery and indulgence. There should be reasons and wisdom behind trying to Christianize any practice. If I were in your situation, I would be grateful towards the European saviours and would incline towards the classical and things of excellence, which means Piano, not the pagan drums and feathers of my ancestors. Circumcision of the heart matters, our intentions and works alone matters. There doesn't seem to be any restrictions of using any kind of drums or instruments for Christian worship, nor there is any necessity of using electrical or acoustic instruments in particular.

The Evangelical Church is distinguished by breaking liturgical uniformity by giving freedom and originality in worship. However, my question of concern is that we, the newly freed pagans should naturally hate our ancestors and their practices due to their association with the sinful sources, and not for the objects themselves, the reasons for which the Israelites were commanded to hate their surrounding sinful nations. If we are constantly gravitating towards our tradition of the sinners, we may not have truly recognized the difference between the American tribes with the European Americans whom God used to punish and destroy the tribes.

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