Writing Between the Lines

This morning, while reading my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a post about the upcoming movie Noah. Specifically, a concern that the movie wasn't Biblical enough. As I read through the article, I saw that the concerns related to a perception that the film makers had "an agenda for another worldview or belief system" which differed from theirs. To quote from the article:

Since early drafts of the script were leaked a couple of years ago, “Noah” has been plagued by suggestions that it portrayed the famous flood as a punishment for man’s disrespect for the [sic] nature, as opposed to sins against God

I went back and reread the Noah story. Here's what I found. Genesis 6:11-13 (NRSV) reads:

11Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make and end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.

I see nothing there specifically about disrespect for nature. But I also don't see any specific mention of sin against God. The sins specifically mentioned are corruption and violence. Sins against people, not God. So why is one perspective more "biblical" than another?

Since September, my church has been engaged in reading through "The Story" together. This is sort of a "Reader's Digest" version of the NIV translation of the Bible. Each week, the sermon is taken from that week's chapter, we have two different adult education sessions on the chapter, children and youth Sunday School classes, and we have an online blog about it. The two adult education sessions we hold are very different from one another. The one held on Sunday morning is a fairly traditional, lecture type class, and very didactic in nature. The Monday evening class is much smaller, and more focused on discussion and is relational in nature. I generally attend the Sunday morning class, and assist in the leadership of the Monday evening class. While I benefit more from the discussion approach, I appreciate that many people do better with the lecture style. But, quite apart from the style of presentation, I've had some difficulties with the Sunday morning classes. Just like the criticism of the Noah movie, material is often presented as biblical fact, when it is actually an interpretation of the text. For example, today we were discussing the book of Esther. In that story, Haman is clearly the villain. So the instructor read out a passage, and asked us to identify truths, half truths, and outright lies. Esther 3:8 reads

Then Haman said to the king, "There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provincesof your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not appropriate for the king to tolerate them.

The leader's comment was that the bit about "they do not keep the king's laws" was a lie. But I feel that this was her, reading into the text to try to make Haman look even worse than he was. The whole reason that Haman was out to get the Jews in the first place was because Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down to him, as the king had decreed. A clear violation of "the king's laws."

Don't get me wrong. The leader does a good job with the class. Her love of God and the scriptures is obvious, as is her passion for passing that love on to others. I just get upset when that passion leads to blanket statements of interpretation presented as unassailable fact. And, in the big scheme of things, this one instance is really very minor. Who cares if Haman lied or not about this one item? I only mentioned this one instance because it was recent in my mind, and I think it's indicative of a common problem of reading in too much, based on our own experiences.

Of course, we all bring our own biases and perspectives with us with everything we read, including the Bible. I'm certainly as guilty of that as the next person. All I'm trying to say here is that I think we need to try to be aware of those biases when we attempt to read, interpret, and apply scripture to our lives.

One of the joys of this time of reading the Bible together as a group in church has been the process of digging past what we think the text says, and getting down into what's actually there. So many of us never got past the lessons we learned in Sunday School as a child. Actually reading the Bible, in community, can help make us more mature and educated in our faith. So we're not swayed by what others tell us we should believe. We need to read between the lines of scripture. We just need to make sure we're not reading what some later person wrote between those lines.

Getting back to Noah -- I don't know how biblical the movie is. I haven't seen it. I'm not sure that I will. But I do know that I won't allow that decision to be based on how closely the movie plot follows somebody else's view of what the Bible says.




oh, and one more point ... seeing a movie that comes from another perspective could be the basis of some real good conversation and Biblical learning.

Peter Berg liked this on Facebook.

Now, you know we're going to HAVE to watch the movie at some point ... it does have Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins in it, so it will have to be good ... and "epic".

It's the difference between exegesis and eisegesis ... letting the scripture speak or reading into the scripture. Of course, you're right about the fact that none of us can read scripture without reading between the lines and reading through our own lens of experience.