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Dramatizing the Bible

By Justin Johnson

Dramatizing the Bible is not new, and I have never seen it end well. The most recent forays into Bible dramatization in movies and television are no different.

Dramatizing the Bible exposes millions of people to the Bible who would not have otherwise been exposed to it, or does it?

There are many known problems with dramatizing the Bible, but they are all lost amid the Christian hype and hysteria created by hearing the name of Jesus spoken by celebrities, popular publications, and media.

Whether dramatizing the Bible is good or bad depends on how it avoids these problems. Otherwise, what people are being exposed to is a mixture of truth with fiction: the definition of a Biblical lie.

Too Much Information

Firstly, Bible dramatizations inevitably add or remove content from the Bible. This should cause concern for anyone familiar with the admonitions not to add or take away from God’s book (Deu 4:2; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18-19).

A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes that is too many words to depict what God said accurately. While there are places in the Bible that are very descriptive, it is impossible to dramatize without filling gaps with content that is not from the Bible.

Not Enough Information

Have you ever seen a movie or drama, and wondered why your favorite parable, event, verse, or quotation from the Bible is missing? A straightforward reading of the Bible does not align with the dramatic structure. Dramatization requires Bible content be removed to fit the determined plot, climax, and denouement.

A good example is the recent dramatic television series A.D. Lengthy sermons fill the book of Acts with important doctrinal information. None of these sermons appear in dramatization. Why?

How entertaining would it be to watch 40 minute long sermons about Jewish history, promised Messiahs, theological arguments, and gospel presentations? The show would look more like a class lecture than a climactic action packed dramatization.

Are You Not Entertained?

The reason dramatizations use conventional dramatic structure is because it makes the story more interesting and exciting. This is why movies are always about the most exciting parts of the Bible: the Exodus, Jesus’ miracles, Revelation, etc.

This is one of the most popular motivations behind producing dramatizations. They think it makes the Bible more exciting to appeal and attract the unbeliever.

The producers of A.D said their desire is for their series to be the Christian version of the popular (and lewd) Game of Thrones. Why would Game of Thrones be a pattern of Christian ministry at all? Answer: it entertains millions. Something is awry with our method and pattern of ministry.

The content of the Bible is not entertainment, it is inspired truth. Entertainment produces satisfaction of men; truth produces understanding about God.

Drama as Fiction

Dramatizing the truth turns it into a work of fiction. The world is happy to oblige in changing the truth of the Bible into something merely for our viewing pleasure. They know there is a difference between what entertains us, and what is true. This is one reason why there are so many unsaved men directing, acting, and producing Biblical dramatizations these days.

Action packed supernatural hero stories (such as the ones in comic books) are enjoying large financial success.

When Christians peddle the Bible as a comic book, Jesus is gladly welcomed to the pantheon of ancient mythical heroes. Everyone knows the dramas are works of art, interpretation, storytelling, and fiction. The Bible is not, but perhaps many self-proclaimed Christians do not know the difference.

The Bible does not belong with these bedfellows, nor should it be depicted as such.

An Ineffective Means

The motivation provided for why people produce, market, and peddle Bible dramatizations is to present the gospel to as many people as possible in the most effective means possible. The end does not justify the means, especially when the means leads us to a different ending.

Preaching the gospel is seen as a foolish method by modern purveyors of visual communication and cultural psychology. They observe that people do not read books or listen to sermons anymore, they say. They watch television, online videos, and movies.

While this may be true, it has always been true and people have always loved dramatizations more than preaching. This is why Paul says preaching was seen as foolish in the first century also, but it is the means of ministry that pleases God (1 Cor 1:21).

Artistic License and Private Interpretation

When dramatizations are about Jesus, there is always a big ado about who is playing Jesus. Millions claim to put their faith in Jesus, and people will be able to see him in the drama, but that is not the real Jesus, it is only an actor, … right?

It is not uncommon to look for actors that give the spiritual “look”, and for people to attribute actors with spiritual strength, because Satan must be fighting you (like he did Jesus?).

While it may seem to be an honest motivation to help people believe, what are the viewers supposed to believe? Are they to trust the directors depiction of the Bible? Are they to trust the actors interpretation of Christ? Are they to put their faith in the screenwriters ability to capture the essence of the Christian tradition?

Without the Bible to correct all of the errors, and words to explain what they are to believe, dramatizations peddle private interpretation and artistic license under the guise of trying to see souls saved.

The sad truth about dramatizations is that they produce people of faith whose faith is not in the Bible, but in a movie script and camera angle. Many people will not believe a thing unless they see it. Dramatizations bypass the need to believe without seeing. They bypass the need for the gospel.

Sure, Bible believing Christians can compare the movie with the Bible and learn the truth, but they did not need the drama for that, and I thought the target audience was supposed to be unbelievers?

The Missing Gospel

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with dramatizations is the diminishing, hiding, or plain removal of the gospel of Christ unto salvation. Producers (saved or unsaved) have little concern for preaching the gospel, and so avoid Paul’s epistles like many preachers.

Many dramatizations are about Jesus, his ministry, his miracles, and some even include his resurrection, but where is the gospel preached? No doubt the producers are trying to explain the origin of their tradition, but have no clue that salvation is fully explained in the epistles written by Paul.

Watching the events of Jesus’ ministry to Israel is not the preaching of the gospel. Falling in love with a long haired blue eyed Jesus with a British accent is not hearing the truth that saves, nor is it the Jesus of the Bible. Contrary to popular belief the gospel cannot be seen, it must be heard with words (Eph 1:13; 2 Cor 5:7; Rom 10:17).

If there is one thing dramatizations want to avoid, it is eight chapters of theological sermonizing (Rom 1-8). What they also avoid is seeing souls genuinely saved.

The Bible Not Enough

More can be said about many more problems, and hopefully it can be seen that this is not a polemic against all dramatizations, but about dramatizing the Bible.

When works of art and fiction are dramatized, the improvements are appreciated and the changes do not matter a great deal. However, the Bible is a book that is altogether different. It is a book not subject to change, and which cannot be improved.

The underlying root of all of these problems with dramatizing the Bible is the false notion that the Bible is not enough, or that it is not sufficient.

When the church returns again to believing in the inspiration, preservation, inerrancy, and total sufficiency of God’s words, then any attempt to alter it will be resisted, even if it means losing in the box office.

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Published: May 16, 2015
Last Modified: August 23, 2018
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