Exodus 20:4-5 declares, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” This verse is part of the First Commandment, which states that we can’t worship false idols.
Non-Catholics, however, often accuse Catholics of violating this commandment because the Catholic Church venerates relics.
In his book The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, Dave Armstrong lists Biblical passages supporting every Catholic teaching in order to clear up misconceptions about the Church. When it comes to relics, Armstrong points out that 2 Kings 13:20-21 states:
And so Elisha died and was buried. At that time of year, bands of Moabites used to raid the land. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they saw such a raiding band. So they cast the man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and got to his feet.
We see something similar in the New Testament, as well, when it says, “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).
Armstrong explains that Catholics believe physical matter can convey spiritual grace through the power of God. The verse from 2 Kings supports this teaching, since physical contact with Elisha’s bones was the channel for a miracle—this man’s resurrection. Paul’s handkerchiefs were a channel of healings, as well. Such miracles demonstrate that relics from saints can confer spiritual graces, just as the bones of the holy man Elisha did. God chooses to make use of humble things to grant grace.
Finally, there’s a difference between venerating relics and worshipping them. Exodus 20:4-5 makes it clear that mere objects are not to be worshipped, which is why Catholics don’t worship relics. Instead, these relics—land sacramentals such as crucifixes and holy images—raise our minds to God in prayer.
When someone says that Catholics worship false idols because they venerate relics, just explain the difference between worship and veneration and point them to Elisha’s story in 2 Kings and Paul’s story in Acts.
To discover more Bible verses that clarify confused Protestant beliefs, check out Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses, sold here.