I recently read a review of a new movie about Jesus, which covers the forty days He was tempted by the devil in the desert.* The Bible doesn’t give details, but the movie does. Jesus is presented as dirty, hungry, talking to Satan, tempted with lust, and what the reviewer terms “edgy theology.” The Bible details none of these forty days in the life of Jesus, except that He fasted and was tempted. Then, we’re told about the final temptations, which Jesus defeated with Scripture.
I often read teaching materials. They might be children’s curricula or Bible studies for adults. So many of them take liberties with the Word of God. They tell the children, “And then Moses (or David, or Jesus, or another biblical person) said . . . .” The problem is, what the biblical character supposedly says is completely made up by the author. You won’t find those words in the Bible. The teaching text doesn’t even say, “You might imagine that Moses said . . . .” Nope! It teaches the story as a made-up story, just as you might be reading Peter Rabbit and adding your own words to “hippety hoppity,” along the way.
Does the Word of God need embellishment? Why can’t we just teach what it actually says—and leave out what it doesn’t say?
Why is this so important? Why shouldn’t we add colorful imagination to the Bible? Why be so protective of its words?
For one thing, the Bible is perfect. It is God’s revelation to mankind.
- For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).
- At the very end of the Bible, God says, And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:19). When the Bible was completed, it was the revealed Word of God. There isn’t any more, and there’s no need to add to it. The Bible contains all the Word of God that anyone needs to know.
When we read the words straight from the Bible, it helps our audience learn to respect God’s Word. It lends authority to the story—that it’s Bible and not just a bedtime fable. When you teach Sunday school or any other class, the audience notices if you’re quoting from the Bible. I suggest that when you’re telling a Bible story, you read directly from the text when you quote a biblical character.
The Bible—its words—has the power to change lives.
- For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
- For the word of God is quick (living), and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
- Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever (1 Peter 1:23).
The Word of God is spiritual food.
- But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
- As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:2).
Apparently, adding to the Word of God and twisting its meaning isn’t a new problem. Read what Paul says in his letter to the church at Corinth:
- For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17).
- But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2).
So, is it wrong to add to the Bible? Yes, the Bible says so, as we read (above) in Revelation 22:19. The Bible must be compared with itself for interpretation. We can’t just pull a verse out of context and make up our own thing.
- Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:20-21).
- Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (1 Timothy 2:15).
What about biblical, historical fiction? Is it taboo? I believe it depends on how it’s written.
- Is it meticulously faithful to the biblical facts?
- Does it reflect the holiness of God?
- Is it pure?
I have read some very good biblical fiction, which challenged me to live for the Lord. One series made me look into the Bible to check the facts! (They were accurate.) I’ve also read some terrible biblical fiction, which was lustful. (I actually didn’t finish two books.) Do we need to be imagining biblical characters like Joseph, being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, in vivid detail? No, the Bible tells us all we need to know. I think that an author who wishes to write a biblical novel needs to do so with a great respect for the Bible. He must use the biblical text as a background for his novel and stay true to it where they intersect. (This goes for movies, drama, and other art forms, as well. Surely, you’ve seen how Hollywood messed up The Ten Commandments.)
Let’s respect God’s Word and stay faithful to its holy text!
How sweet are thy words unto my taste!
yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through thy precepts I get understanding:
therefore I hate every false way.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
and a light unto my path.
* Last Days in the Desert, movie review in World Magazine, May 28, 2016.