Looking For the Right to Edit Scripture
Two recent popular movies have taken the liberty to edit Scripture to present versions of biblical stories in a way not found in Scripture. I have heard two different camps arise through various discussions regarding how these movies portray Scripture. The first argument goes something like this, “We should be glad that we’re seeing biblical stories and themes presented on the big screen. We can hope that the interest in these edited stories will lead people to find the true stories as outlined in the Bible.” The second argument is, “How dare we edit Scripture and put our own representation of God’s Written Word on the big screen.”
As I’ve been involved in more and more of these discussions I have found that I’m standing firmly in the latter camp. How dare we edit Scripture and present our versions of the stories as truth! I’m not talking about taking creative liberties to fill in the gaps in the stories, to creatively portray what things looked like during Bible times; or even to represent Christ with the wrong color skin, eyes, or hair. As a creative writer, I’ve often thought about the background aspects of biblical stories and taken liberties to fill in some gaps to convey biblical stories to a secular audience. I’ve always been careful to make sure the wording of my stories and plays match the wording we find in Scripture. I’m being critical of others changing the words of Christ, the order of the biblical account, or to portray biblical characters in ways that go against their traditional definition.
While recently watching “Son of God” a few nagging thoughts continued to gain momentum in my mind. Why did the producers change the words of Christ as recorded in the red letters? They put words into Christ’s mouth that aren’t in Scripture, they reworded the order in which He communicated them, and they completely left out portions of sentences that are crucial to the Christian faith. An example would be John 14:6. “Son of God” has Christ saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” But they completely leave out the rest of the statement, “No one comes to the father except through me.” I’ve always been taught that those two sentences are intrinsically tied together as one statement. Why did the producers possibly leave that out? My only thought is that they wanted to portray a version of Jesus Christ that wasn’t going to offend.
Early the movie Jesus calls Peter to be His disciple in a manner that is different than the account which has been clearly outlined in Scripture. In the movie version He climbs aboard Peter’s fishing boat and has a conversation with him about how his fishing is going. Hearing that Peter hasn’t caught much Christ tells peter to cast out a bit farther from shore, puts His hands in the water to call the fish to the boat, and then tells Peter to try to catch fish again. This time the nets are full and Peter turns to Him to say, “Who are you?” Jesus asks Peter to join Him and tells Peter, “We’re going to change the world.” This account again changes Christ’s words. Jesus doesn’t say, “We’re going to change the world.” He says, “I will make you fishers of men.” In fact, nowhere in Scripture does Christ ever say, “We’re going to change the world.” Why change “fishers or men” to “change the world?” What right do they have to change these words of Christ? For what purpose do we need to amend Scripture?
As I was watching the film I kept on thinking, “If I were teaching a kids Sunday school class and I was using clips of this movie to show the students the stories from the Bible, I would have to explain to them that what they just saw wasn’t how it really happened.” My initial take was that every account in the movie had been changed from the biblical account – except for the words Christ spoke on the cross. I believe those were accurately represented. I wasn’t able to read along with my Bible as I watched the film, so I’m not sure if every scene deviated from Scripture, but I’ve read others making the same observations after seeing the film.
The other big movie soon to be released this year is “Noah.” The reviews I’ve read to date say the producers deviated from the biblical story line numerous times. In the previews I myself noticed a few important edits. The first is the number of animals that came onto the ark. The movie shows numerous of each kind making their way onto the ark. The Bible says:
Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Genesis 7:2-3
Why do they need to inundate the ark with more animals that the Bible indicated? Perhaps God only wanted to have one pair of the animals on the ark to indicate that He wanted to start over – with just male and female as it was as he created in the Garden of Eden. He sent seven pairs of the clean animals knowing that these animals needed to be available in abundance in order to make sacrifices. Is it not enough to show just two of each kind of animal on the ark? Why do we need to show more?
The other important deviation is the closing of the door of the ark. Scripture says that God was the one who closed the door. Genesis 7:16, “ Then the LORD shut him in.” Seeing Noah struggle to close the door against the surging mob coming to overtake the ark implies man’s own protection rather than God’s protection of Noah, his family, and all the animals. These become important changes in the meaning of the story as related in Scripture.
What right do we have to change the red letters of Scripture? What right do we have to alter “Thus Sayeth the Lord” passages of the Holy Bible? Who are we to edit what has been passed down from generation to generation as written by those who there to witness the events – according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. People lost their lives upholding the integrity of those words and we defile them with movies like this!
In “Son of God,” I think a bigger question is “Which Jesus did the producers want to portray?” The producers have ties in New Age religious beliefs. The New Age version of Jesus is not the same as the biblical version. He’s more feminine, more kind and loving – less authoritative, less “the only way to get to God in Heaven.” This feminized version of Christ is the one that we see in “The Son of God.” This is a false version of Jesus Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, Paul is chastising the Christians in Corinth for believing in a Jesus that was other than the one the disciples/apostles preached. These false teachings had begun to infiltrate the church and Paul was writing to warn them to keep their image of Jesus Christ pure and undefiled.
"I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough."
The term to describe false teaching is “heresy.” Are we embracing heresy by presenting a false Christ? Are we false teachers by representing biblical stories in ways that are contrary to the Written Word of God? I certainly believe so.
At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. "So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.
2 Peter 2:1-3
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.
1 John 4:1-3
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
Is it not heresy to represent a Christ that is different than the one we find in Scripture? Who’s job is it to point out a false Christ? I believe it is our job as pastors and as disciples of Jesus Christ to point out false christs and point people to the true Christ.
If Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormon Church produced a movie about Jesus Christ would we flock to theaters to see that movie too – even though their beliefs about Jesus Christ are not founded in a biblical definition? Would we overlook the discrepancies? Would we be okay with the false teachings that are being presented as truth just because Jesus was a main character? Would we be okay with the movie developing a new interest in Jehovah Witness churches or Mormon churches? I certainly hope not! I see nothing different in this case.
I think the version of Jesus Christ that we see in this film is just as dangerous. We can hope and pray that God would indeed generate interest and bring people into churches that can properly portray Jesus Christ. Yes, I will gladly talk to anyone who is interested in Christ because they saw the movie, but I am not going to advocate for this being an evangelistic process.
Compare this presentation to the Jesus Film – an adaptation of the book of Luke. You can read along with this film version, being able to recite the movie word-for-word by reading Scripture out loud. Now that is a movie that brings true glory and honor to Jesus Christ.
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.