- Fiona Veitch Smith
In this last year there have been many books and movies that draw from the Bible for inspiration. From "Noah" to "Son of God" to the upcoming "Exodus" inspired by the story of Moses, many are calling this "the year of the Bible movie." However, drawing on Biblical material is not new. We enjoy a long tradition of films, TV series and books that draw heavily on the Bible for inspiration.
As a writer who sometimes draws on Biblical material for inspiration, I'm well aware that there is a difference in opinion between some Christians about whether or not we should take "creative license" with the stories of the Bible. The argument is that the stories should be able to stand on their own – they are, after all, The Word of God – and that adding anything to them is unnecessary at best, and heretical at worst.
In my experience, the criticism against creative interpretations of the Bible frequently comes from people with a didactic motivation: bible teachers, preachers, etc. (although there are many more teachers and preachers who don't have a problem with it at all). There is obviously nothing wrong with having a didactic motivation – the world needs teachers! But I would just like to draw attention to the fact that the artistic and didactic motivation employ different methods to communicate truth, but we both have the same goal in mind – sharing God's love.
The important thing about books or movies that draw from the Bible is that they communicate the core truth of the Bible: God loves people and wants to draw them into relationship with Him and into right relationship with one another. But does this mean that we shun the Bible stories as they are told? Absolutely not. We should take what the Bible tells us and use it as a framework.
The use and reference to this framework should vary according to what best serves the intention of conveying God's love to readers and viewers. For some stories, this framework is complete in itself and needs no "filling in of the gaps" – David and the Giant is an example of this – but for others there are just snippets in the original text that would not be complete as stories in themselves. The percentage of "core story" to "imaginative speculation" often differs according to the source material available.
In any case, I believe it's a misnomer to say that there is one true version of the Bible stories within the Bible itself. Many of the details of the stories differ from one account to another – the timing of things differ (for instance one account suggests that David was called to Saul's palace to play the harp to him before he and Saul had met during the battle with Goliath, and another suggests it was afterwards. Which is the 'true' story?) Also, the names and numbers of David's siblings differ between accounts. Again, which is the "true" story?
Doesn't this confuse people between what is "real" and what is "made up?" People understand or can be helped to understand that some things in stories might not have happened in "real life" exactly how they appear on stage or on the page. Every Christmas, at re-enactments of the Nativity, camels talk, inn keepers ad lib and shepherds and "kings" arrive at the same time at a stylized manger where Mary wears a fetching blue frock and Jesus is a plastic girl doll.
Does this take away from the truth of the story? We really don't fret, "That's not exactly as it is in the Bible," in addition, laying aside the inconvenient fact that the telling of the Nativity story differs from one Gospel to the next anyway. Nativity plays, like storybooks and movies based on the Bible, should be used as a springboard to take children and adults to the Bible. They were never meant to, nor will they ever, replace it. But if they can engage their audience and readers with the central truth of the Bible and wet their appetite for more, then that in my opinion, is a job well done.
Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the beloved Young David Books, which can be accessed in the Young David Books App for iPad. For more information, visit http://www.brief-lives.co.uk/. Fiona resides in Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom with her husband, daughter and two dogs.