I am somewhat particular about the kinds of movies and television shows I like to watch. I prefer comedies. I like some action shows, but do not like military or war movies. I enjoy westerns, but will leave the room if others want to watch a horror movie.
Being a Christian and a gospel preacher, one may be surprised to learn that I do not like Bible-based movies and TV programs. With all the foul things that are found in movies and on TV, what could I have against this genre of "wholesome" entertainment? With commands like "keep your heart with all diligence" (Prov. 4:23) and "set your mind on things above" (Col. 3:2), why would I not prefer to watch programs that are based on Scripture?
The reason I do not enjoy watching Bible-based movies or shows is because they are never accurate. They may be based on people or accounts found in the Bible, but they never "stick with" the accounts as they are written in the Bible.
For example, this past Sunday was Easter, and that evening there were a lot of programs on television about Christ. We were clicking through the channels during a commercial and stopped on one of these programs. In the scene, a leprous woman and her son walked past Jesus and his disciples to get a drink from a water trough full of dirty water. The actor playing Jesus stopped the woman and asked that a cup of clean water be brought to her and her son. As the woman gratefully drank from the cup, Jesus began a conversation with the woman who had brought the cup of water. "What is your name?" "My name is Mary," to which Jesus replied, "What a coincidence, my mother's name is also Mary."
CLICK went the remote. The next thing we were watching was the Cardinals up to bat against the Yankees on ESPN.
What is my problem? Why didn't I want to continue watching this touching account of the tender love and mercy of Jesus? The Gospels do not speak of Jesus stopping a leprous woman and her son from drinking from an animal's water trough. Not only that, this scene was obviously the way Mary Magdalene was being introduced in the story. Jesus did not meet Mary Magdalene while she was fetching water for a leper. Mary Magdalene is introduced in the gospels as a woman out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). And don't get me started on the Lord saying, "What a coincidence, my mother's name is also Mary." I probably changed the channel before he said, "My dad is Joseph the carpenter. Maybe you've seen his show on HGTV?"
Why is this a hang-up for me? My job as a gospel preacher is to be honest and accurate with the word of God. I do not have the right by God to employ poetic license and "rewrite the script" as I see fit to get people to fall in love with the great stories of the Bible. I am charged by God to "preach the word" (see 2 Timothy 4:1-5). In order to do this, I must be diligent in my study of the Scriptures so that I can rightly divide or handle accurately the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). While Hollywood will embellish a character's dialogue or a story's plot, I dare not add to or take away from the Word (Rev. 22:18-19). When it comes to telling people what the Bible says I have to get it right. I don't appreciate it when people don't get it right. It doesn't matter if it is a denominational preacher teaching false doctrine or a production company giving us their interpretation of the Bible.
Don't get me wrong; I do not believe it is a sin to watch Bible-based movies or TV programs, and I do not judge or think less of those who do. However, I do think there is an obvious danger involved. For example, I have had some brethren come and ask me whether or not I think the story lines in these programs is the way it really happened. I want to ask, in the real words of Jesus, "Have ye not read?" Don't you know the Bible well enough to tell when someone is not getting it right? If not, perhaps you should turn off the TV and read the Bible. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, not by a movie or TV program (Rom. 10:17). However, if we are allowing such programs to become our means of Biblical instruction, we are in trouble.
When it comes to the Bible, the book is always going to be better than the movie. God has chosen to communicate His mind and His will to us through the words of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:9-13). When we read these words, we paint our own pictures of what really happened in Israel long ago. We can see Noah's ark float as the flood destroyed the world. We can see the Red Sea part as Moses lifted his rod. We can see the walls of Jericho fall. We can see Elijah defeat the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. We can see Jeremiah lifted out of the cistern. We can see Daniel and his friends withstand the testing of their faith in Babylon. We can see the courage of Esther as she entered the inner court of the king. We can see all Israel come out to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. We see the tender mercy of Jesus as He healed the multitudes. We can see His great love while dying on the cross. We can see His great victory as the tomb was found empty. When we read Scripture, we can see these great truths more clearly than Hollywood could ever capture them for us through a camera's lens.