Movies are powerful ways to tell stories. But what happens when they turn biblical reality into myth?
[Gary] At Easter time you can flip through the television channels and watch movies about the two great historical themes of the season—the Exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egyptian slavery—and the person of Jesus Christ.
Moses and Jesus have been central characters in movies since the days of silent films. How much have these films shaped what you believe about the Bible? How much do you really know about the real biblical Moses, or even the Jesus of the Gospels?
I have to admit—as a child—my view of Moses was shaped by Charlton Heston's rendition in Cecil B. De Mille's 1956 blockbuster—The Ten Commandments. I was inspired by Moses' over dramatic command to Pharaoh, "Let my people go." And the opening of the Red Sea was one of the most exciting scenes I'd ever seen.
Now maybe your view of Moses has been shaped by Christian Bale in a more recent movie, Exodus: God's and Kings. In this Hollywood movie, Moses isn't led by a miraculous pillar of fire and smoke as described in the Bible. Instead, his version of Moses is clueless to where he's going and then lies to the people, telling them that God is leading them.
How much have movies like The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Last Temptation of Christ, or the Son of God shaped how you think about Jesus?
Today, we'll look at movies and popular culture in—"Three Ways Hollywood Gets the Bible Wrong."
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[Gary] How much does Hollywood influence your view of the Bible?
Movies are powerful visual ways to tell stories. But what happens when movies change history—turning reality into myth?
At Easter time, we're inundated with religious movies about Moses and Jesus. Moses, because it was at the Passover time that God used him to lead the ancient Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. It is a story filled with conflict and hope—miracles and freedom. You will also find many movies about Jesus. Christians believe that during this time of year Jesus Christ—the Son of God—was crucified for humanity's sins and was resurrected.
In reality, these two great events are actually linked together in God's plan for all of us—but you wouldn't necessarily know that from Hollywood's versions. We'll show how the incredible link between these two biblical events actually work in the Bible just a little bit later.
Right now, we're going to look at three ways Hollywood gets the Bible wrong—and how movie makers have adversely influenced how people understand the Bible.
Let's begin with the 2014 special effects spectacular Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Christian Bale, who played Moses in the film, said this about his character, "‘I think the man [Moses] was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life." (DailyMail.com)
The book of Exodus portrays Moses as a complex man who was born a slave but rose to become a prince of Egypt. Moses struggled with God's calling for him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites from Egypt into the Promised Land. The biblical Moses is a man of wisdom, leadership skills and most importantly a man who believed and followed God.
He could be violent. The Bible reveals that he killed an Egyptian for beating an Israelite. At times he even lacked confidence—after being a shepherd for decades he told God that he wasn't qualified to talk with Pharaoh. Moses was a man of profound faith who instructed the Israelites to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so that God would "pass over" and spare their lives as He killed the firstborn of Egypt.
This isn't the Moses played by Bale who constantly argues with God and actually lies to the people he leads about God's guidance.
And this brings us to our first way Hollywood gets the Bible wrong...
1. A bias against biblical accuracy.
Because of this bias against the Bible as being historically accurate—biblical personalities are many times interpreted in the light of post-modern ideas and actual anti-Bible prejudice. Bale had no qualms about interpreting Moses' as a schizophrenic.
Another case in point in this same movie—the Bible says that God caused the Red Sea to part so that the Israelites could flee Egypt on dry land between two walls of water. The director of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott, had some problems with the biblical account.
Entertainment Weekly reported, quote—"You can't just do a giant parting, with walls of water trembling while people ride between them," says Scott, who remembers scoffing at biblical epics from his boyhood like the 1956 The Ten Commandments. He said, "I didn't believe it then, when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I'd better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation."
In Scott's interpretation, an earthquake caused the water to recede, hundreds of thousands of people crossed on semi-dry land, and the Egyptians are wiped out by a tsunami. This scenario, as played out in the movie, is scientifically impossible, yet Scott feels that his "scientific" mythology is more plausible than the Bible.
Many writers, producers, directors and actors aren't interested in portraying the Bible as historically accurate, or even in changing a few biblical details in order to create story flow. They are motivated to change the biblical narrative. They want to redefine the meaning of the biblical text. They are acting as modern theologians interpreting the Bible to fit their preconceived ideas.
A case in point is Scott's mythology—God is shown as a small, cranky, unreasonable, vindictive—child. This brings us to a second way Hollywood often gets the Bible wrong...
2. A bias against God.
This bias was apparent in the 2014 film, Noah starring Russell Crowe. Darren Aronofsky, the director of the film, didn't hide his disdain for the God of the Bible. He called Noah "the least biblical, biblical film ever made."
In the 1950s and 60s heyday of biblical epics, God was off-screen—mysterious—working through miraculous events. Now these movies didn't necessarily help people understand God. People might not know God through these films, but at least they got a vague idea that He was a God of goodness.
More and more, God is portrayed in movies as capricious—capable of unexplainable cruelty. Many times the biblical reasons for God's actions are not communicated in the story. He appears more like Zeus of Greek mythology than the God revealed in the Bible.
This brings us to the third way Hollywood gets it wrong...
3. The Bible is interpreted through the lens of secular culture.
When historical happenings are distorted to fit conventional ideals, the actual events and people become detached from reality. So much is added and subtracted to the stories that eventually the real story—the truth—becomes shrouded in myth. For many people then the myth becomes the truth.
Every generation struggles to understand the message of the Bible in the culture in which it was written and then how to apply its message to the present time. But, if a believer accepts the Bible as God's instruction book to humanity—inspired—touched by God's mind—then it must be studied in careful reverence.
To be fair, to make almost any movie about the Bible there has to be some artistic license. We don't have all the exact words of Moses' conversations with Pharaoh. Or how and when did Moses get an Ethiopian wife.
But if the Bible is the Word of God, then we must be careful to try and understand His message to us. Movie makers must strive to stay loyal to the meaning of the original text. To distort the Bible stories is to distort God's message to humanity. To distort His message is to lose our ability to have a deep relationship with our Creator.
I want to talk about the dangerous effects of the three ways Hollywood gets the Bible wrong. One, a bias against biblical accuracy. Two, a bias against God. And three, viewing the Bible through the lens of secular culture.
But first, let me tell you about the free study guide we're offering today.
As I've discussed so far today, major motion pictures regularly portray biblical events falsely or inaccurately. One problem is that many people don't really know or understand the Bible so they don't even know that a movie can be distorting the truth.
But it doesn't have to be this way! Why? Because the Bible itself gives us keys to understanding its dynamic meaning and purpose. If you would like to discover those keys for yourself, be sure to request your free copy of our informative study aid: How to Understand the Bible.
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We've looked at how movies based on biblical stories can change—even distort the reality of the Bible. There are three ways Hollywood gets the Bible wrong: One, a bias against biblical accuracy. Two, a bias against God. And three, viewing the Bible through the lens of secular culture.
What are the effects on people who watch these movies without any real understanding of the real Bible story?
Well first, when movies reflect a bias against biblical accuracy, they promote the Bible as a book of myths instead of a book inspired by the Creator God.
A good example is the 2006 movie, The Da Vinci Code. The Bible teaches that Jesus never married or had children. Dan Brown's novel and subsequent Hollywood film claimed that Jesus had a child with one of His followers, Mary Magdalene. The movie was pure fiction, yet you wonder how many people now believe Jesus and Mary had a child together. The movie made Jesus, the central figure in Christianity, into a myth.
When the Bible is seen as some nice teachings, a little history mingled with myths, it undermines its authority as the living words of God. If the Bible is inspired by the Creator—if it is His instruction book about life—then its teachings have a power over our lives. To deny that power is to deny the God of the Bible.
The second issue—Hollywood's bias against God—twists the biblical record so that people lose faith in the God of the Bible. Without any revelation from God about Himself, all of us simply make God in our own image. God is real—and the Bible is His self-revelation to us. It's a doorway to understanding God's love, justice, goodness and His plan for everyone who will give their lives to Him.
Now coupled with these two ways that Hollywood gets the Bible wrong, is that many times the Bible is interpreted through the lens of secular culture. The result is a culture that uses the term "Christian" but in reality what many people think about God or the teachings of Jesus Christ has little to do with what is revealed in the Bible. It actually produces sort of a "Christian agnostic"—people who believe in a God, but deny the Bible as the source of spiritual knowledge and authority.
In all fairness, the blame for our increasingly secular "Christian agnostic" culture can't all be laid at the feet of Hollywood. Movies both shape the culture and reflect the existing culture. But we also can't deny the effects movies have on the way people view both the Bible and the God of the Bible.
The apostle Paul wrote to Christians living in the first century Rome. The city was multicultural—in many ways it's sort of like the United States today. It reflected the arts, crafts, religions, entertainments from the people from the far flung corners of the Roman Empire. Paul's words to those Christians ring true for biblical Christians today:
He wrote: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20 NIV)
Here Paul claims that God can be recognized by the power and genius of His creation. Those who try and distort God's message are without excuse—nature itself proves the existence of a Creator. Let's face it—if there is a God—and the Bible is His instruction book—then there are a lot of movie makers who have been defaming their Creator.
At the beginning of the program I mentioned the two great events of movies shown around Easter—Moses and the Exodus and the life of Jesus. These two are linked together in God's plan for all of us—but you wouldn't necessarily know that from Hollywood films.
It was in the spring of the year when God used Moses to lead the ancient Israelites out from Egyptian slavery. The last of the plagues God brought upon the unyielding Egyptians was the death of their firstborn. The Israelites smeared the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and God passed over them and spared their firstborn. This event is celebrated even today by Jews, and some Christians, with a special ceremony known as the Passover.
It was at the time of the Passover that Jesus was crucified and resurrected. This event is the foundation of Christianity.
The apostle Paul makes this remarkable statement about Jesus, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth…" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NIV).
These two great lives, Moses and Jesus, are connected. God spared the physical lives of the Israelites because they were under the blood of a physical lamb. God will give eternal life to those who are under the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus Christ.
When you read through the New Testament you will find that the earliest Christians didn't celebrate Easter. They celebrated the Passover. Notice what we just read. Paul told them to "keep the Festival" in relationship with Christ as the Passover Lamb. They coupled the events of God passing over the Israelites and sparing their lives to God passing over Christians and sparing their lives.
Christians need to carefully select the movies we watch—and when you watch a film that claims to be based on a biblical theme, go home and read the Bible to compare it with the film. Use this opportunity to explore the real biblical stories. Discover the depth, strengths and weaknesses, dreams, hopes, disappointments and triumphs, the humanity of the biblical characters. At the same time, you will begin to discover how God wants to interact in your life.
If you want the real Exodus story, read Genesis and Exodus. If you want to discover the real Jesus, read the book of Matthew. Then compare these writings to discover God's message to you through Moses and Jesus. Don't let Hollywood get God's message wrong in your life.
Now I'd like to remind you to request your free copy of our valuable study aid: How to Understand the Bible. This 40-page booklet will give you essential keys to understanding the Bible's dynamic meaning and purpose.
And when you order: How to Understand the Bible—we'll send you a free subscription to our helpful magazine. This bi-monthly publication will give you insight into the practical teachings of the Bible. It will also help you grasp the significance of Bible prophecies which will aid you in preparing for the exciting future that lies beyond today.
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We've been looking at how many times Hollywood gets the Bible wrong. I'm joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.
You know guys, I'm fascinated with movies. I just love movies and I love biblically-based movies. But, why is it that Hollywood often gets the Bible wrong?
[Darris] The main reason is because there is an innate bias against things religious, against the Bible in particular, and quite frankly against God. And as you had the quotes from one director there in your script today, they don't believe that the Bible is true or true as written. They may believe parts of it are historically accurate but the supernatural aspects did not happen. In that way, they are like Thomas Jefferson who didn't accept the supernatural aspects of the New Testament and created his own bible. But, there is an innate bias there that just does not believe that the Bible is the Word of God. And so when they try to portray it, there is going to be some artistic license as they say.
[Steve] I think one of the reasons Hollywood gets it wrong is that they don't really care. When you think about it, does Hollywood really care if they get it right or not? I think they are more concerned about the entertainment value and the profit level. If they can make money at it, then that works for them. And so, whether it is truth or fact—that is definitely secondary.
[Darris] Which is interesting because there is a very large religious market and that's one of the reasons they are making some of these new updated versions of The Ten Commandments or the Noah movie, because of a religious market. But, they certainly are not interested in catering to or with a respect toward their beliefs, they tell a different story than what the Bible does.
[Gary] You talk about the religious market—a lot of Christians debate about movies. What movies should we watch? This is something that Christians really need to be careful about. What advice do you give Christians on how to select "biblical" movies?
[Darris] Biblical movies—I tell them, look, don't go to a biblical movie expecting the truth. If you go, hopefully there is some entertainment value. If you want the truth, I tell people, look at the Bible. And read the Bible. In this, again, this example of the Exodus movie, start with chapter 1 of Exodus and just read what it says. Frankly, it's far more interesting, far more fascinating than any way that the Hollywood can portray it. Even the venerable, old Ten Commandments movie done by Cecil B. De Mille back in the 50s, there were problems with that one. Read the Book. Read what the Bible says on Noah, on Exodus, Adam, Abraham, whatever it might be, Christ. You are going to find a far better read and get better information.
[Steve] I think often times we see stories that are portrayed in movies. And we forget many times when we see what it actually is based on. They'll say, it's based on a true story. And normally that means maybe the character's names are the same? And really when you get down to the story, it's totally different. And often times that's the case with biblical stories, biblical movies. That it really doesn't have all that much in common with the truth.
And so, religious audiences sometimes don't even know the Bible well enough to recognize whether this is truth or error. So you do have to read the Book. You have to get back to what the Bible really says, and many times we recognize that with other stories, we'll read a book and we'll say, wow this was a great book. And then the movie comes out, you go see the movie and you go, the book was so much better than the movie. And it's true with the Bible as well.
[Darris] Yes, Steve makes an excellent point. Don't believe what you see on the film, believe what you read in the Bible if you want the truth of it. And, you will find more fascinating, compelling, gripping drama and story narrative within the Bible and the stories there than you will even with the best story told on cinema.
[Gary] You know, we tell people go read the Bible, but a lot of people say, I've tried to read the Bible. I just can't understand and it seems so complicated. So, what advice do we give to people? Okay, here's how to begin to understand the Bible.
[Darris] Get a good readable translation, number one. That will help a person read it in modern English.
If you need help with names and places and terms, get a good Bible dictionary. And use that as an aid and as a companion.
And then, graduate perhaps into a topical Bible that will take a particular topic like Abraham, or Moses, or prayer—or whatever the topic might be and go through it by topic; would be an excellent way to begin to see what it says.
[Steve] If you are going to begin, one of the things you want to do is ask God for understanding. Pray about understanding the Bible. Before you even crack the Book open, ask God to guide you and to lead you so that you can understand what it's about. And there are so many wonderful truths there that as God inspires you and directs you and you read His Word, you can actually come to understand what it means. And maybe most importantly, what does it mean for your life? What does it mean to me? What does God want me to learn? What does He want me to do when I read this Book? And we begin to answer those questions I think by praying to God and seeking His understanding.
[Gary] We talked about dictionaries. If someone buys a good Bible dictionary, how will that help them? What information will it give to them?
[Steve] You can find out all kinds of information about different topics and different things that are presented in the Bible. And I think most importantly, what does it mean to me? The Bible is going to challenge you. It is going to challenge your practice. It's going to challenge your worship. It is going to challenge your relationship with God and are you going to do what it says? That's the real challenge for your life. That we've got to be willing to let the Bible speak for itself and then we have to act upon what we read.
[Gary] The Bible contains the living Words of God and when you hear those words they have to live in you. You have to respond.
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Don't forget how Hollywood gets the Bible wrong. One, a bias against biblical accuracy. Two, a bias against God Himself. And three, viewing the Bible through the lens of secular culture.
God has so much to give to you in the pages, the pages of His instruction book. Get a Bible then start a daily reading program. Order How to Understand the Bible—and begin your discovery of God's message for your life.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, "Thy Kingdom come." For Beyond Today I'm Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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