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The halo has been a very popular symbol used in Christian art for centuries. You’ve probably seen them in various forms, from shining discs painted behind saints in medieval art to little yellow rings around a cartoon angel’s head. How should Christians view this popular symbol that has adorned depictions of Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints, but has also been found associated with people and gods of other non-Christian religions over the centuries? Most importantly, what is God’s view?
A June 24, 2021 BBC article entitled “The Halo: A Symbol that Spread Around the World” explained the widespread use of the halo: “Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Greek mythology are usually regarded as utterly distinct religions, largely defined by their differences. But if you just look at them, you will see a symbol that connects them all – the halo.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that the halo is a “radiant circle or disk surrounding the head of a holy person, a representation of spiritual character through the symbolism of light. In Hellenistic and Roman art the sun-god Helios and Roman emperors often appear with a crown of rays. Because of its pagan origin, the form was avoided in Early Christian art, but a simple circular nimbus was adopted by Christian emperors for their official portraits…. In the 5th century it was sometimes given to angels, but it was not until the 6th century that the halo became customary for the Virgin Mary and other saints” (“Halo,” Britannica.com, April 28, 2023).
As these brief quotes and other sources explain, the halo originated in pagan religions, meaning religions that worship many gods, and predates the life of Jesus. With this brief background in mind, we can turn to the Bible to see God’s view of similar symbols.
One of the worst and constant failings of ancient Israel was their dabbling in the worship of other gods, which often involved them using pagan practices to worship the true God (cf. Deuteronomy 12:29–32, 1 Kings 3:2–3, 2 Chronicles 33:17). God hated this sin, as seen in Deuteronomy 12:2–4: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things.”
God told Israel, once they entered the promised land, to break up or burn down everything related to the previous nations’ gods. This instruction was often repeated (e.g. Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:5), and carefully followed by faithful kings like Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Chronicles 31:1–3, 34:1–7).
This issue is very important to God because He knows the use of pagan practices and symbols leads people away from Him and toward false gods. Exodus 34:13–16 explains this point strongly: “But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land… and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.” God is “jealous” of His people and forbids His people to dabble in pagan practices because it leads to “harlotry” with false gods. God often uses the imagery of filth, adultery, and harlotry when describing this form of sin (Judges 2:17, Ezekiel 6:9, Hosea 4:11–13).
The use of pagan symbols, like the halo, fundamentally violates the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). This fundamental commandment reaches far, forbidding not just the direct worship of other gods or becoming an adherent of another religion, but also all association with the beliefs, practices, customs, and symbols used to worship other gods, even if such practices are said to be used to worship the true God (cf. Deuteronomy 12:4, 31, Matthew 6:7, Mark 7:6–8).
The halo is not found in God’s word, but originated from religions of other gods, and is similar to ancient Israel’s use of high places, sacred pillars, wooden and carved images, and other pagan objects and symbols.
From the perspective of human reasoning, a circle around a person’s head on a painting seems relatively insignificant. But a Christian’s view of the halo should be the same as God’s, and many scriptures show that God hates all practices, customs, and symbols related to other gods—including halos.
For more information on how many practices related to false gods crept into Christianity, please order the free booklet Satan’s Counterfeit Christianity. Please also refer to the articles “Green Trees and Jesus” and “Forgotten Symbols,” available right here at TomorrowsWorld.org.
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