David C. Harris
I’ll let you know what I think about the Noah movie after I read a review by someone else who hasn’t seen it.”
Full confession: I have not seen the Noah movie yet, but I probably will catch it later, when it appears in the dollar theaters.
As you may or may not know, I have been promoting the study of Noah – the Scriptural Noah – through my website and recent teachings over the past few months. I work as a Bible teacher and pulpit minister at Adat Yeshua Messianic Synagogue, and as it turned out, the Noah movie was being released during the same time when I happen to have been teaching through Genesis each Saturday in an ongoing study of the Bible.
Now the movie has gotten a far more controversial reaction than I had imagined, and it seems to me that this has been somewhat divisive. I have read reviews both positive and negative. For my own part, when I taught the Noah passages at Adat Yeshua, I made it a point to say there was indeed a movie coming out, and that those who were learning the Bible at our little house of worship would be well equipped to go see the movie, evaluate it, and then come and correct me if was wrong! At the time I said this with some humor, because I believe my own exposition of Genesis 5 through 9 is solid and accurate. (I still believe that.)
But one recent reviewer has caused me to write this response, and it comes from Dr. Brian Mattson. In his review he makes a solid case that the Noah movie is fleshed out by both Gnosticism and Jewish mysticism – ie Kabbalah. It is this point which I feel I must address.
Not having seen the movie yet, I am sure you may be thinking, “What kind of arrogance drives you, Dave, to think you can write such a pre-emptive review?” I will explain.
To start with, I believe Dr. Mattson is imminently qualified to speak to this issue, more so than your average joe. He is a philosophical theologian with an earned doctorate from an accredited and highly respected university. To even be able to recognize these things, in an action movie no less, takes some significant training. He is not a hater of movies. Quite the opposite, he is a cultural observer of a high order.
Second, after going through the Noah account in my own teaching, and dissecting nearly every Hebrew word in those chapters, I can tell you there is really not much there in the way of movie content. In the entire account of Noah, the Bible tells us of only one instance when Noah actually speaks. In Genesis 9:25-27 he curses the offspring of Ham, and blesses the offspring of Shem. How do you make a two hour movie out of such scant material? The answer, apparently, is to pad it with Gnosticism and Kabbalah!
So what does that mean for those who may be considering seeing the movie? I say, go ahead and see it if you want to. It’s a free country. As I have told the people of Adat Yeshua on several occasions: the Jewish way is not anti-intellectual, and neither should the Christian way be. If you want to see the movie, go have fun. But I would be remiss if I did not take the time to warn against Kabbalah in general, and the superstitious mysticism that, in all likelihood, is throughout this entire movie from beginning to end. The director, Darren Aronofsky, as it turns out is also responsible for the movie Pi, which is the one movie I point to whenever someone asks me about Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. Pi is a darkly interesting film about the insanely complex maze a person can get lost in when they obsess over numbers and secret conspiratorial codes. In the end, the protagonist is driven crazy, and ends up lobotomizing himself to get some peace of mind. It’s gruesome, artsy, and a pretty good movie. But that sort of theology is poison and dangerous.
If I had known beforehand that this was the same director, I would have guessed as much from the beginning about the Noah movie. So again, go see it if you want to, but I would have to agree with Dr. Mattson’s assertion that church leaders should have been far more cautious about buying out entire theaters, with church money, to take their flocks to see something like this.
Movies like these have a tendency to miss the mark widely because they don’t use the Bible as their only source. The Last Temptation of Christ was the same way. In it Jesus was transformed into a mousy weakling who had to be prodded by his disciples to keep it together and not melt down. Similarly, The Passion of The Christ was laced with Catholic art throughout. I am not saying artistic license is bad, but you as a viewer should not walk into the theater, sit down, and allow a movie to teach you about the Bible. God could have given us a movie, but instead he chose to give us literature – a book. Movies appeal to the heart, knowledge is found in books. Granted, if one is skeptical enough, it is entirely possible to watch a movie, listen to a song, and observe a painting, without allowing the worldview of the artist to be plugged into your brain. But people can be highly impressionable. I have been so myself. I have no doubt some people will go to this movie, as I did when I went to see The Last Temptation of Christ as a young, clueless, non-believer, and then walk out thinking that must have been exactly how it was in real life.
So be wise. Don’t check your brains at the door when you see any movie. Think for yourself. Be rational. Be thoughtful. Your mind is too precious a gift from God to be poisoned with superstition, lies, and false doctrine. And by the way, while we are on the topic: there is no secret Bible code. There is no mystical numerology which unlocks the keys to the universe. The stars do not hold the answer. But nothing is deeper and more powerful than the simple Gospel message.
[UPDATE: World Vision has admitted its mistake and reversed its decision. As to our decision to support them, we will pray about it. There are, after all, many good Christian charities out there that serve the poor and needy.]
By David C. Harris
To cut to the chase, my wife and I decided not to give funds to World Vision anymore, because of their new policy which, to our thinking, takes sides in favor of same-sex marriage. This decision was a no brainer for us, and as we shook our heads in sadness we needed no lengthy discussion about withdrawing our support. It was obvious.
But why? Is it because we are reactionary fundamentalists, who read our Bibles too narrowly, and get a kick out of hating sinners? Is it because we are intolerant of other people’s views, and are too rigid in our own thinking? No. It’s because we don’t believe World Vision should have distinguished themselves on this issue by coming down on the wrong side of it. If World Vision wanted to stay out of theological issues, as CEO Rich Stearns asserts they do, they should have thought harder about this one. Contrary to Stearns view that this move was not divisive, it most certainly is.
And why is that? Simply because World Vision, to my knowledge, was not under any pressure at all to make such a move. World Vision has taken an inglorious lead, on the heels of the Boy Scouts, in what is clearly a misguided attempt to be relevant. Or cool. Or something, I’m not sure what. But that’s the real issue: Why did World Vision feel the need to cram this issue into its operational agenda? To read Stearns comments one would think the entire Christian world was clamoring for the change, as he gives lengthy explanations behind their reasoning. But in truth, if recognition of same-sex marriage is so evidentiary and obvious, why is there a need for such long winded explanations in the first place? It looks more like squirming.
Jen Hatmaker, in an attempt to be rational and above all this, says the following about the matter:
Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been. Historically, Christian theology has always been contextually bound and often inconsistent with itself; an inconvenient truth we prefer to selectively explain.”
With all due respect to Hatmaker, whose writings we love in our household, on this one she is dead wrong. And I think her sympathies may be getting in the way. So here is another inconvenient truth: This is a matter of practical theology, which means we are obligated to apply our understanding of the Bible to our situation here today. What I’m sure many of us who disagree with Jen – and who know full well she really is incorrect about this assertion – would like to see, is the mountain of exegetical evidence for any historical endorsement of same sex marriage in the entire history of the Christian church.
Can anyone provide me that? Okay, forget mountains. How about just a shred?
In truth, both the Old Testament and the New strongly condemn homosexuality, along with a litany of other sinful activity. Even Jesus himself said,
…from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.” (Mark 7:21)
Don’t misunderstand. When Jesus says, “sexual immorality,” he is referring to an entire list of Levitical sexual standards, including homosexuality, which, along with violence, was a central reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But wait, you say, that’s going to far. Okay, let’s dial it back a bit…
I believe the real problem is people in the church who are trying to find theological justification for same sex marriage are doing what many thoughtful Christians in seminary tend to do on a regular basis. They think deep thoughts. They imagine an ideal world. They try to be profound. They put love above all things, and bend over backwards not to judge others. And what does that get you in the end? Well, it makes you very “Christian,” but not very Judeo-Christian, I’m afraid. It’s like Lot, trying to put hospitality above his family members.
But for those who are more rooted in the visceral realities of Jewish thought, this is a non-issue. If World Vision was being pushed to bow to political pressure, as the Boy Scouts were, there might have been some sympathy. But this remains a divisive issue, because the Bible is far more clear than many people would like it to be. In effect, World Vision has voluntarily jumped into the chopper. No doubt this move will hurt, and other Christian charity organizations will benefit from the fallout and exodus.
For what I consider the best contemporary writing on what is happening surrounding this issue, I would suggest this article by Andrée Seu Peterson.
A faithful man will abound with blessing, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 28:20, ESV
There is no substitute for hard work. That’s what Mom and Dad always said, right? Little by little, pay your dues, do your time, and learn your craft. After a while you’ll start to see some progress, and as you get older you’ll find that, somehow, despite everything, you’ve managed to accomplish a few things in life that are worthy of a measure of humble self-satisfaction. That’s how the WWII generation did it, and it seemed to work, at least in a quaint sort of way.
But maybe you are an aspiring writer of more modern sensibilities, or a movie maker, or a hotshot entrepreneur. If you hold to a high ethical standard, or pretend to at least, why not cheat and manipulate your way to the top? And if you really think hard about it, your ship ought to come in sooner than that! So if you write that book, forget about originality and research. You might just buy your way onto the best seller’s list. Or if you have a successful TV show, you might consider re-editing bits of it, and releasing it as a movie. People in church will buy it, they’ll buy anything! In ministry, you see, it’s all about spreading the gospel of Jesus. Isn’t that right? And the quicker the better, so anything goes!
A recent article in Christianity Today portrayed the Bible software company, Logos, as breathlessly pushing the limits of biblical studies, to the point where Logos employees feel they are “hacking” the word of God. One of their employees has devised an algorithm that scrambles Bible translations into new configurations, which make it possible for anybody – literally any Tom, Dick, or Mark Driscoll – to produce an official Bible ‘translation’ (I use the world loosely), that can be bought and sold right alongside the NIV, ESV, NASB, etc.
How tempting! And isn’t that just what you want? A computer generated mad-libs Bible translation, autographed by a celebrity pastor? And we can remove that pesky human element altogether. As a Bible translator myself, I feel as if I have been put rightfully on notice: We can do this without you now kid. Everyone is instantly an expert, so move along quickly and quietly…
Let’s connect the dots then, shall we. If you want to sell a Christian book, just buy thousands of copies to rig the charts. If you want to make Christian movies, just re-cut and re-sell some of the material from your last project. And if you want to become a great Bible exegete, translator, or theologian, just buy the software that does it for you. No need for hard work, or elbow grease. Why do that to yourself anyway? You’re better than that! After all, the electric chainsaw defeated Paul Bunyan, and the supercomputer Deep Blue was able to checkmate Russian chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov, why should someone as important as you make such an effort!?
Well, there is at least one thing, albeit a small thing, to consider. The faithwalk is, truth be told, a very long road, meant to be travelled step-by-step. The progress of the pilgrim calls for grinding, often painful toil, as you travel from the womb to the tomb. This used to be called the ordo salutis – the way of salvation – and in the old days there were no shortcuts.
But no, forget all of that! You have a fast car and a cell phone. Get busy! Get into the fast lane and go! Make those deals! Push those boundaries! Build that empire of yours! You’ll need agents, lawyers, publicists, and any number of lackeys to work for your success. (Drive them hard, for the sake of the gospel!) You’re young and cool, so don’t waste your time waiting in line. Get to the front, and push people out of the way. It’s all for Jesus, right?
That way, when you get there, you can look around and survey the fields you have conquered. People will applaud you, seek your sage advice, model themselves after you. Just look at all those accolades, titles, honors, and the riches your efforts have afforded to the church and others around you. What’s a few broken eggs to make an omelet? In order to create one must first destroy, or so the axiom goes. And see? You didn’t even need to work up a sweat. You did it the quick way! You cut corners! Let your eyes feast on all you have accomplished.
Oh, but be sure to look quickly, because those sorts of things do have this nasty habit of burning in the fire.
It’s no secret that theology proper – the formal study of God – is an unwelcomed pursuit in the hallowed halls of today’s upper academia. We have lived in a science driven world since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, and as any self-respecting rationalist can tell you, religion is not a suitable topic for investigation, dissertation, or the laboratory. No, indeed. We have moved beyond God, and if the truth be told, the larger public sphere itself is no place for superstition. In light of this, the removal of the faithful (read: the duped) to their tiny Bible colleges outside of mainstream academics is a good thing entirely. Now, if only we could get these small minded, anti-intellectual, gun toting plebes, to unclench their death grips from their Bibles, then we’d really be on to something.
See you must understand. Biblical Studies, as a discipline, does have its place, and that is within the museum, along with so many other artifacts from the dim and distant past. These relics sit inside glass cases to remind us how primitive mankind used to be, before we killed God, and got beyond all that messy tribalism, and the warlike mentality of those who cannot see past their religious dogma. And so, thankfully, the Bible does retain a tiny place in the Ivy League. As a matter of fact, if you have some time to waste and money to burn while you are in college, you may even take a course of study from highly credentialed experts, such as Christine Hayes, who, in a basic Bible overview course taught at the distinguished Yale University, begins with several rock solid faith-canceling premises. Among these fundamental and dogmatic assertions are 1) that the Bible is not, I repeat not, a unified literary work, and 2) that it contains absolutely zero theology to boot.
Well, who knew?!? Don’t you wish you had studied Bible at Yale now?
These two notions, that the Bible is un-unified and contains no theology, are patently insulting to every great and small theologian of the last two thousand years, not to mention every schooled pulpit minister, along with every thoughtful lay person who ever picked up a Bible since the invention of the printing press and the execution of William Tyndale for translating it into English. One cannot help but wonder what Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest philosophical theologian in history, and himself a Yale graduate, might say.
“Hey Johnny!” we might smilingly inform him, before he sharpens his quill to jot down notes for his next sermon. “We want you to know the Bible has no theology in it. That’s right, none whatsoever. It is merely an epic tale of the Israelites – who we only begrudgingly admit existed –with no internal unity, and it was never meant to be used for theological study. So sorry about that ol’ chum. We know you were really into that sort of thing. Why not take up the banjo instead?”
Do the students who travel the halls of Yale Divinity School, making great use of the Jonathan Edwards Center, harbor any inkling of betrayal at the thought that the Bible, the greatest literature in the history of mankind, teaches nothing concrete at all about God himself? How high those tuition rates must seem at times like these!
But fear not. There is still hope, even for those brilliant professors who have toiled so laboriously over their papers, hunched over, night after night, doggedly churning out those elite pages of research which only their colleagues and indulgent family members may understand and fully appreciate. Have no fear, because there are still answers to such vexing questions as these, and fortunately the salt of the earth has access to them, thanks to those same small-minded religious dogmatists, who cling to their Bibles, their guns, their banjos.
In short, what unifies the books of the Scripture into a coherent whole, is theology itself. God is the unifying literary factor of the Bible, and nothing else. Understand that theology comes from a defense of what we learn about God from the Bible. Theology is forced out of the friction between those who believe the message of Scripture, and those who would twist and deny it. And so, far from worrying about what a great mind like Edwards might think about the way God is put to death at Yale, perhaps it’s better to concern ourselves with what the Almighty Himself might think about the way we have dismissed Him.
But I know, that’s insane. Way too simple. Take your religion out of here! Out! Back to the lower swamps of the people’s churches, where darkness reigns, and a clergyman’s views are worth less than fool’s gold. Keep your Bible, and your banjo.
Noah’s Ark is the classic story of judgment, righteousness, redemption, and second chances. It is one of the first Bible stories a child learns, and why would we have it any other way? The Ark, the animals, the flood, the rainbow – all these capture our imagination, and inspire us to think beyond ourselves. Adults tend to think of themselves as having outgrown the story of Noah’s Ark, seeing it as simply a mythic tale meant to entertain. But isn’t that the same tragic perspective of those who were lost in the flood? They thought nothing so far-fetched could ever happen, and they kept right on living their lives as if the end would never come, as if God didn’t care, as if God didn’t even exist.
So I submit these teaching files to you, for the sake of revisiting The Great Story. Chances are, as an adult, you haven’t given Noah a whole lot of thought lately. But with Bible themes being so popular, and a new movie coming out in near future, isn’t it time to re-learn Noah’s story? You will find, if you take the time, that some things are very familiar, while others are strangely different than you may have learned as a child. Either way, I hope these teachings will inspire you, and cause you to look at the Noah story with a renewed vision. And if you download the slides that go with it, you will pick up some Hebrew Bible vocabulary along the way.
Noah part 1…
Noah part 2…
Noah part 3…
Noah part 4…
The Gospel of Mark is thought by many Bible scholars to be the very earliest Gospel account. Now you can delve even deeper into this amazing book than you ever though possible with this seminary-level study of the entire book. You’ll get the entire course of 18 quality MP3 files, reflecting the very latest in biblical scholarship, all taught from a Messianic Jewish perspective.
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To listen to the introduction: dch_mark_intro
“The Four Evangelists”
You may download the MP3 files from the RSS feed, or from iTunes!
These files are meant to be used to practice the biblical alphabets, so that they become as familiar to you as your own alphabet. Try to recite them with and without visual aids for 15 minutes a day. In 3 weeks you will know them by heart. Practice makes perfect!