Thomas Magers is the pastor of Tiplersville Baptist Church in Tiplersville, MS and is a student at NOBTS.
The movie Noah will feature a disclaimer to announce to moviegoers that Noah is not entirely biblical. The disclaimer reads, “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
The movie has not been released yet, so I cannot comment on the validity of the story compared to the biblical account. But that’s not why I’m writing this post; this post strives to understand the disclaimer in light of homiletical endeavors in churches across America, yes even Christendom.
Could not this disclaimer be placed upon every sermon that we as biblical expositors deliver weekly? We take artistic license when we preach the Word of God. Please don’t misunderstand me! I’m not comparing what the movie has done with what we do as preachers, however, I believe that if we truly only taught “the Bible,” then pulpits across America would be dedicated to the reading of the Bible and not the explanation of the Bible.
For instance, this past Sunday I preached the illustrious text Luke 15:1-10. In that passage, Jesus told the Pharisees and Scribes a parable, actually two parables about something lost being found. In the message, I tried to convey the idea that the shepherd searched for the lost sheep intensively. The text reads that the shepherd left the “open field” in v.4, but returns to his home when the sheep is found (v.6). One suggestion is that the shepherd traveled far and returned after nightfall with the sheep. That is not in the text, but I used artistic license based upon syntax and context to develop that idea.
Why don’t I have to preface my remarks on Sunday morning with a disclaimer like the movie? The reason is because I hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. I take a Bible passage and allow the context to determine translation and application. In all actuality, the artistic license that I enjoy is minimal when compared to others. For instance, in the history of Christianity there have been people that used artistic license to convey ideas from the passage that the passage does not support. This is called allegorical interpretation. This style of interpretation allows the interpreter to control the meaning. Origen put forth an allegorical interpretation of the Good Samaritan. He described the Good Samaritan like this:
“The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. . . . The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.”
Now let’s apply this to something else. I have read many blog posts about the Calvinism/Arminian debate. There are some, who like myself, do not take sides in this debate. What I have heard many of my contemporaries say is something like this: “I’m not an Arminian or Calvinist, I’m a Biblicist. I just stay with the bible.” That is simply a misrepresentation of the truth. A true Biblicist could not comment upon a Bible passage because once they do, they have taken artistic license and are speaking about something other than the Bible. I do concede, that they, and I are likely speaking biblical ideas but once you move from the actual text to something else, you are using artistic license.
What do you think about “artistic license?” Am I tracking correctly with my interpretation of interpretation? Or have I misconstrued interpretation in my use of artistic license? I look forward to your responses.