my spot on editorial on a movie I haven’t seen (or, OMG “NOAH” GETS THE BIBLE WRONG!!)

my spot on editorial on a movie I haven’t seen (or, OMG “NOAH” GETS THE BIBLE WRONG!!) March 28, 2014

I’m sure I’ll see Noah soon enough. Maybe when it comes out on video.

I’m sure I’ll like parts of it and not like other parts.

And I am absolutely sure it will get the biblical very, very wrong.

And I don’t care.

  1. Didn’t we just go through all this?
  2. I feel I should be getting worked up about other things.
  3. I am growing weary of “I strongly disagree with you” being equated with the “Gospel is at stake” culture-war-dive-off-a-cliff vibe.
  4. Any depiction of the typically brief, “gapped,” laconic episodes of the Old Testament absolutely has to take serious liberties in adding to and reinterpreting what is written.
  5. For generations of children’s Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible Schools, conservative Christians have already done a fine job of getting the Noah story wrong, so to get upset now strikes me as a stunning lack of self-awareness.

If I may elaborate on that last point.

In our bedroom, we have hanging–actually, used to have hanging–a wood carving of the ark scene, complete with cute animals and a rainbow. The caption, which reflects perfectly how the flood story is often spun, reads, “God’s love never fails.”

I’m completely down with that idea, but I certainly don’t get that from the flood story.

What I do get, and which I suggest as an alternate caption, is, “God’s love never fails (for Noah and his family).”

Or, “We get no further than the 6th chapter of the Bible, and God has already had it with humanity enough to drown every living thing on earth and start over, which, we realize might strike some of us as a bit over the top.”

Or better: “Ancient Israelites, living in a world of already very ancient stories of a catastrophic deluge (likely occurring around 2900 BCE) that left ancient peoples scrambling for answers about why the gods would do such a thing, adapted that story to say something of theological significance for them by way of contrast with these other ancient stories. This is not to suggest, however, that the entire earth was actually, geologically, in space and time covered with water, nor does it even suggest that this story give us permanent, let alone primary, information about of God’s ‘character.’ But it does suggest that this story had some significant religious value for its writers, and we ought to try to understand what that might be rather than capturing the story in a misleading slogan that will set up our children for a faith crisis once they get old enough to read the story for themselves or watch The History Channel and learn about the other ancient flood stories or NOVA and learn about geology and the age of the earth.”

But that last one wouldn’t fit on the wood carving. It wouldn’t sell very well to the demographic, either.

OK, I’m not painting the entire picture here.

The story of Noah has more theological substance than what any of my alternate captions suggests–although the last caption is, I think, the beginning of serious and rewarding theological reflection.

I’m just saying that whatever the movie does with the story–even if it gets it 100% wrong and winds up being utter nonsense–those who “take the Bible seriously” often don’t do much better.

And at any rate, the unwashed masses who see this movie are not going to be “confused” about God from seeing it. It’s a movie. They are likely going to forget it by the time they unlock the car doors. Getting the Noah story wrong isn’t a lost opportunity to be that crucial magical experience that maneuvers people into church.

Actually, getting the Noah story right might be more confusing for unchurched or skeptical people.

“Thanks for coming to our Bible study. How’d you like the story of Noah and the flood?”

“OK, I guess.”

“What to come to church now?

“Absolutely not.”

Now that I think of it, I’d rather the movie take serious liberties with the biblical story. I might have less explaining to do.

The Gospel isn’t at stake when a movie comes out. It may be more at stake when people watch Christians get frantic, as if the Christian faith is such a fragile thing that a movie threatens its integrity. If the Gospel is at stake, it may be more because of how some Christians react.

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  • The flood story is a near-universal myth, with versions told in hundreds of cultures from Singapore to Peru. I am not offended by another re-telling. Although the real reason I want to watch it is to see if Hermione Granger whips out her wand at some point and lays expelliarmus down on the bad guys.

  • Occupy Christianity

    Ken Ham called it “disgusting”…I think I may go see it after all.

    • Andrew

      He should be happy they had a global flood.

    • Luke Allison

      At this point, I see Ken Ham’s negative comments as absolute validation in all things. It’s how I determine what I eat, drink, watch, read, and the overall direction of my life.

  • Lillian

    When I was a child, I had a coloring book full of Bible stories. I distinctly remember one of the pages for Noah’s story showed a man on a rock looking at the ark in despair while the rain poured down. My mom was INFURIATED by this man on the rock. “The Bible says that no one survived! That man should not be there!” I remember telling her that he had probably crawled up on a rock to survive and that he was going to die. (I was a young kid!) But she wouldn’t drop it and I eventually colored the man and the rock all black so she couldn’t see it and my picture would be “Biblically accurate.”

  • danhauge

    From the initial reports that I’m hearing, sounds like it actually might be worth going to see because it’s a good movie (what a concept!)

    • Luke Allison

      It is. And it’s making money.
      It’s actually a “great film” in the sense that it constantly pokes and prods at the things inside of us that make us human. T

  • Does anyone else remember the video game Bible Adventures: Noah’s Ark on the NES? I’m really dating myself here. In the game, Noah was so muscular that he could lift bulls, pigs, snakes, and sheep over his head – at the same time. Anyway, it was completely inaccurate but was a game created by a Christian company (Wisdom Tree). It was embraced by conservative evangelicals (I remember playing it at “Family Book Stores” when I was young). So the outrage is selective, and based on who is re-imagining/reinterpreting the story and the purpose for it. It is about ownership of the story. I for one love re-imaginings and especially new translations. Translations themselves infuse new tones which bring stories to life in amazing ways – they force us to see things from a new angle. I challenge anyone to listen to audiobook version of Robert Fagle’s translation of the Odyssey (as read by Ian McKellan *shivers*) and not have the story come alive in a way that wasn’t possible in dry school-assigned translations or even the movie adaptations. Sometimes its the medium which changes the whole dynamic. Religious storytelling is protected because of its sacred meaning to those who first heard it. The conservative protest that people will misunderstand the True story if they hear new versions is really a protest that they don’t have firm control over the story. But the Bible belongs to us all. I agree we should understand what the original Noah tale was created to convey, sure. But what Aronovsky is doing is interesting and worthwhile as well.

  • Spot on!

    I was thinking of writing a review as well, but now that you have written such a perfect review, I don’t need to.

    Seriously. I’m not being sarcastic. This is exactly what needed to be said. Thank you.

  • jason

    I for one am angered by these Hollywood types who are constantly trying to add things to this sacred story, such as strange spirits imprisoned in an underworld, Noah preaching a message of repentance to the wicked, and perhaps the worst of all, the idea that the flood prefigures Christian baptism. Who gives people the right to add to God’s Holy Word? They are worthy only of God’s judgment (Rev 22:18).

    • Nathabj

      I am pretty sure they don’t add to the word of God. The Bible is still the Bible, and that’s the point. Why get angered and upset over something that isn’t in any way changing our religion or our Bible. If anything, maybe someone will see it and curiously ask you if that’s how the real story goes, and maybe you can tell them about the Lord. But getting upset isn’t going to stop the movie from being made, and the movie being made isn’t changing the story in the Bible, it is just telling a story. And like he said, you would pretty much have to add stuff and take liberties. If not, the movie is going to be very short, because if you can’t add any dialogue, which is not in the text, you are gonna have like 5 minutes of talking. I for one want to see the movie and see what I think of it. If I hate it, oh well, it’s not like I am being forced to change my religious views. And if I like it, then cool. And if it gives me an in to talk about the Bible to someone who might not otherwise want to talk to me about it, then great! But if they know I am super upset and boycotting I probably won’t get the opportunity to talk to them.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Nathan, his post was in jest. Re-read it (don’t worry, I didn’t catch it the first time either)

    • hashavyahu

      I see what you did there.

  • gingoro

    Look I don’t see or care about other apoplectic scfi movies why on earth should I care about this one? Since it is pre Abraham maybe the muslims will get worked up about this movie and get it banned.

  • Lise

    If you want to get worked up about those “other things”, I highly suggest you read, “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. It will infuriate you.

    • Preston Garrison

      Saw the corresponding PBS series. if you are already aware of the nasty things that go on in the world, rather than infuriating you, it might motivate you to get involved somehow.

      • Lise

        I couldn’t agree with you more that anger is a powerful motivation for social justice and transformation. If channeled constructively, being infuriated has served its higher purpose. I thought the corresponding PBS series was beautiful. In particular, I loved the woman who rescues girls from brothels. “I am them and they are me.” I am involved….

  • dave

    Actually, I am not concerned with the ad lib nature of movies like Noah except for one type of viewer, the Christian that does not read their bible and does not try to understand the bible. Instead, they see the “creative license” of the directors and producers and turn that into actual gospel when it resonates with them.

  • Jim

    The definitive interpretation of Noah has already been done; The Broadway Musical “Two by Two” opened in 1970 with Danny Kaye. God had to youthen him back to 90 so he could build the ark. And Shem tried to corner the market on manure in the new world. Plus, that whole family could really sing!

  • Preston Garrison

    “And at any rate, the unwashed masses who see this movie…” I haven’t seen the movie, but given what they can do with special effects these days, I’m guessing the masses may feel rather washed after seeing it.

  • LorenHaas

    Just saw the movie today.

    Meh. Nothing to get worked up about. Some good parts but most of the inside the Ark scenes were just boring. Much facial experessions and angst. Requisite violence and rock “angels” that could become kid’s action figures. Way better that the videos shown at vacation bible school:
    But not as good as the 1933 classic:

  • Andrew Dowling

    Just await until Hollywood takes on the creation story in Genesis. Christianity Today: “Hollywood butchers historical accuracy of Adam and Eve; snake used was not species that could have been in Garden. They also gave Eve dreadlocks . . .scandalous!”

  • James

    I think the brutal conquest of Canaan is easier for the literalist to justify than the great flood. In one swoop God wiped off the map the whole of humanity (except for Noah and his immediate family) not just a particular evil nation. Quite a raw story upon which to start a series of OT messages on the theme of hope culminating in Jesus Christ! I wonder how naïve the pastor thinks the congregation must be to buy that party line–based on the bald evidence of the literal read with a bit of ‘flood geology’ by Whitcomb and Morris thrown in for good measure!

  • Andrew

    I liked it.

  • SpyPlus

    As long as they show the sons of God having relations with our lady folk count me in.

  • Ben S

    If Noah has dialogue, it’s not Biblical 😉

  • Luke Allison

    Dr Enns,

    I saw this yesterday in the afternoon with two other seminarians/pastors/church staffey people in a reasonably conservative evangelical environment. All three of us shared the opinion that this was one of the most batshit insane films we’d ever seen (and we mean that in a very good way), and also one of the best representations of a very alien and primeval worldview that we’d ever seen. The film contains no enlightenment trappings. The strangeness isn’t presented from the perspective that says “look at these odd barbaric people, look how simple and noble and ignorant they are!” Instead, it presents an odd, unrecognizable world (I love they fact they didn’t go with “generic Middle-eastern environment” as the context) full of odd and mysterious people. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

    And there are multi-limbed rock giants based on The Watcher traditions. F$%$#ng nuts. They also laser into the sky. Also, keep watch for the “Cain and Abel as all of human violence” shadow puppet montage. Awesome and theologically astute.

    So, it’s crazy, but it’s also moving and profoundly touching; it’s about US…all of us. It’s full of tensions and debates and moral conundrums. Aranofsky seems to get what ancient literature is supposed to do: confront its readers with the question: “Are we like this?”

    Perhaps the most moving aspect for me was Tubal-Cain’s struggle with the silence of God. This is of course the struggle of numerous human beings: some have taken this silence to mean non-existence, while others have taken it as a challenge to wrestle; still others have no clue what to do with it. Tubal-Cain takes it as a reason to assert control over his environment: At one point he says “We are made in your image, so shouldn’t we do what you do?” to justify killing. Amazing theological/theodical stuff. Seriously, go see it….I think you’ll enjoy every second.

    • Antonja Cermak

      I was pleased to see they put the Giants in. It’s a weird little non-sequitur of a verse in Genesis but the book of Enoch has the lowdown on them.

      • Luke Allison

        Yeah! If anything, this film inspired me to read the books of Enoch for the first time. That’s a good thing, right?

  • Lars

    “…nor does it even suggest that this story give us permanent, let alone primary, information about of God’s ‘character.’ But it does suggest that this story had some significant religious value for its writers, and we ought to try to understand what that might be…”

    I’ve been trying to understand the religious value of this story my whole life! Is it that God regretted creating humanity, then regretted destroying humanity, then put a rainbow in the sky to as a promise to humanity that He would only destroy them in much smaller chunks from now on? If anyone has ‘Genesis for Normal People,’ can you let me know if I’m in the ballpark? Thanks!

    • KAM

      Not knowing what “religious value” means to you, I may not be much help. But here’s what I understand.

      If you take the text seriously (rather than importing an agenda from one wing or another) and as saying something true, whatever it means, it’s hard to miss the increase of human depravity from Adam onward. Lamech lives 777 years–pointing to a sort of perfected evil, if I read it correctly. (See the other 7’s in his story.)

      Human wretchedness deserved punishment. Apart from Jesus Christ, there are no real heroes in the Bible; nobody comes off very well. What is remarkable is not God’s judgment of humankind, but his mercy. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. And at the end of the story, he promises good to all humankind. The Noahic covenant, unlike those that follow, is with all humanity. And even with the animals, who suffer from human depravity.

      Noah is a new start. The parallels with Gen. 1 are obvious.

      Noah found favor not because he was thoroughly good, but because he trusted God. He doesn’t come off well by the end of the story. Variations on the theme are constant throughout the Old Testament.

      But all this is available out there. This conversation is thousands of years old.

      • Lars

        Hi KAM, Any relation to HAM? 🙂

        Religious value to me is a moving target. I spent the first third of my life going to church at least three times a week, the second third once a week, and the last third (to date) watching Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly on PBS. However, I take the text very seriously even though it seems impossible to approach any sacred text without some sort of agenda.

        When you say “If you take the text seriously … and as saying something true, whatever it means ” – that’s my point! That something that is ‘true’ is highly speculative and may be buried under thousands of years of agendas and suspect interpretations (and even conversations such as this one). Don’t you wonder why God only seems to speak with us individually now (and with His messages often at odds as a result). Throughout the OT and NT, God’s message was dynamic and hand-delivered and then, suddenly, nothing (Pat Robertson notwithstanding).

        If I have agenda, and I suppose I do, it’s that life is midrash (I learned that here!) and we don’t need God or Jesus to tell us that treating each the way we want to be treated is a good place to start. I’m doing the best I can and for no other reason than I hope it makes society incrementally better. I have no expectation of heaven, and, finally, despite my birthright wretchedness, none of hell either.

        (And for the record, I figured knowing the Secrets Of The Universe for only $8.99 was just too good to pass up and bought Genesis for Noobs via Peter’s refreshingly discreet link. I’m now halfway through and find it an excellent approach and highly entertaining to boot! That perspective, even when I disagree, is what keeps me coming back here, so thank you, Peter.)

  • Al Cruise

    Watching intellectual evangelicals who believe in inerrancy trying to deal with this stuff, is truly fascinating. As science advances with new super computers and truth becomes more and more revealed, it will become even more interesting.

    • Luke Allison

      It’s fascinating, and also kind of depressing. I had a moment while watching it (near the end, as Noah’s wine-tasting plays out as a sort of numbing agent for the horror he’s seen) where I thought: If more people made films that dealt with sacred texts in this very gutsy human way, I genuinely think culture could actually change. Film has that power. And a film that advocates a beautiful and divine-touched life over and against an ugly, grasping life has a power that sacred text simply don’t.

      Then I thought: But a huge chunk of people in our culture think that exact aspect of this film is what makes it blasphemous.

      What a tension!

      • Al Cruise

        Yes. However a big chunk of conservative /inerrant folk will go in looking to see how the movie doesn’t line up with scripture.They will not see anything past that and even carefully make mental notes to discuss with others later on, the errors they see. It will be a prime topic in many Sunday school classes, the comparing of notes and pointing out error. People existed thousands of years before the Bible existed. These people thought about what makes a beautiful and divine-touched life over and against an ugly grasping life, and many found the answer, long before there was a Bible. Long before there were names like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jesus and Paul. The divine touched life is not just reserved for the protestant clan after Martin Luther.

        • Luke Allison

          I saw several older fellas doing just that in the theater: a guy in front of me had biblegateway opened “following along” with the story. Was probably a short endeavor.

          I once heard somebody describe Protestant views of Church history as: “The Church close her eyes at the end of the 1st century, and then opened them again in the 16th. What is their view of prehistory? I can’t think of anything clever.

          • Lise

            First – Luke Allison – thanks for adding a little spice here with your phrase “most batshit insane film” you’d ever seen. Wonderful comments, including the reference to Wayang Klulit. I’m convinced that with a decrease in creativity and arts education comes an increase in concrete thinking. Art is always marginalized. So often it is viewed as “soft”, childish, or worse yet, girly. “Take the theatre class. It’s an easy ‘A'”, is so often the refrain from college students. Even in theology, what is more experiential and feeling based is viewed as inferior to cogitation. And yet art (theatre, film, poetry, visual arts, etc) is wonderfully dangerous. It boldly pierces the truth even in the realm of make believe and requires high intelligence when well executed. Creativity enlightens and liberates and is the one trait we humans have that no other animal does. The ability to create is how we are made in the image of our Maker. I’m preaching to the choir but thanks for your comments.

          • Al Cruise

            Some of the best pastors we have are the late night TV comedians.

          • Lise


          • Luke Allison

            Word indeed.

    • ron_goodman

      “Intellectual evangelicals who believe in inerrancy”? Are you trying to peg our irony meters, or what?

  • Marshall Janzen

    Can’t wait to see it!

    Why did God destroy the earth with a flood?
    “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5)

    Why will God never again destroy the earth with a flood?
    “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” (Gen. 8:21)

    • Lars

      I like this. If God can learn from His mistakes, so can we.

  • Wendy Young

    Well said. I was in a young adult Sunday School class belonging to the Southern Baptist institution in 1988. My daughter was approaching one year of age. In that young adult Sunday School class a petition was passed around rather publicly, meaning there was no way out of signing it, regarding a movie called The Last Temptation of Christ. We were supposed to sign the petition and promise not to see the movie. I signed it. I’m not proud of that. The fact that it was passed around in a public assembly instead of just having it at the back of the room for people to sign at leisure forced me to sign it. I watched the movie as soon as I possibly could using the technology of 1989…VHS. My faith was not shaken….in fact it was strengthened by the crucifixion scene. Jesus could have chosen a “normal” human life and instead, he chose to die for us. Amazing. I so wish I could remove my name from that petition. My rebellion of watching the movie will have to suffice.

  • Levedi

    A-men! My toddler keeps getting Noah based children’s books and the theology is so bad it’s mind boggling. Why anyone would think Aronofsky’s film is a serious threat to the gospel is beyond me.

  • David Tiffany

    “Actually, getting the Noah story right might be more confusing for unchurched or skeptical people.”
    I don’t think so. The Apostle Peter tells of those who deliberately forget the flood. And that it is important to understand that the same God who judged the world with water will again judge the world with fire.
    The account of the Noah story tells us that God is just and He does judge. We are a fallen creation worthy only of death and destruction as the result of our rebellion against God.
    And then that leads us to the grace of God. He looked for someone to stand in the gap for us but found no one. So He sent His Son who paid the penalty for our sin to satisfy the justice of God and offers to fill our account with His performance, His righteousness, reconcile us to God and give us eternal life.
    So the Noah account lets us see the judgement of God, and the Jesus acccount lets us see the grace of God that will enable a person to escape the judgement that is sure to come.

    • Luke Allison

      Not really dude. The Noah story teaches us that at one point the earth was full of violence and corruption (typified by some kind of angelic mating with human females) and that God wiped out all life except for one family and a bunch of animals. God’s purposes in doing this in the text is to “establish a covenant with” Noah and his family, presumably because Noah was a righteous man who walked blamelessly among the people of his time.

      That’s what the text says. What you’ve articulated is a particular Christian theological tradition’s interpretation of a Jewish story. I’m always so confused by such strong-spirited young men such as yourself saying things so definitively as though you’re plainly reading a text. Knowing the difference between exegesis and theology is a great step toward becoming wise, or at least humble.

      • Al Cruise

        Yes. Just maybe the Noah story is a lesson on how we should live with each other and just maybe the Noah story is playing out now. Live in selfishness, promote exclusiveness, promote hate under the guise of good, use wealth to keep wealth from others, base the severity of punishment by the race of the offender, measure worth by gender, you get the picture. Just maybe the flood that comes, is a flood of people left in permanent poverty, a certain race being the majority in prison, the promotion of polarization between groups in all levels of society in all aspects of their lives, social and economic, that leads to outright hatred of each other. Could this flood drown us all?

        • Luke Allison

          Right! And if you want to maintain a Jesus-centered stance, articulate how Jesus being Lord addresses this flood, much like Peter did with his typology.

          When the story is codified, it suffocates and dies.

          • Al Cruise


        • Lars

          It would HAVE to drown us all! That’s the way it works since our every inclination will always be evil. And I’d like to nominate Franklin Graham to be the next Noah, just to get a jump on the third inevitable Flood.

    • According to the doctrine of the inherited sinful nature, people are wicked BECAUSE God Himself cursed them with a sinful nature making sin inevitable

      So God would eternally torture billions of people due to sins He Himself bounded them to commit.

      Such a god is a moral monster far worse than Hitler.

      Ironically enough, the text of Genesis itself does not teach this at all, as I pointed out in the above link.


  • Gail Finke

    Great piece!

  • RocksCryOut

    From what I’ve read about this movie (and I’ve read a LOT from a variety of sources), it holds little interest for me, Christian or not (although I am). Regardless, Aronofsky’s work is spotty, and Russell Crowe can’t act his way out of a paper ark. So telling me that I should support these guys with my hard-earned money just to have an “informed opinion,” or to make a point with Hollywood isn’t really encouraging me to do so. I believe I’m making a point by not supporting “Noah”: “Hey, Hollywood! Quit making crappy movies and maybe I’ll start forking out for them again!”

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      Russel Crowe might have had some bad movies, but he has had some really good ones too.

  • Thematically this movie has the potential to generate some great discussions about the Bible and I am very happy that I saw it. Is it “verse by verse” accurate? No. Does it draw on some deeply biblical themes? I think so. Tubal-Cain’s twisting of God’s words about subduing and having dominion over the earth alone are worth a long hard look for Christians.