The Old Testament is a tough book to study. There are details missing, we don’t always understand the culture and it’s hard to get the hang of what its all about. So sometimes it’s easier to turn to movies or books which explain the story in a way we relate to. One option is to read novels, and I have read a few on David which have concerned me. As both a fiction writer and a student of David’s life, I would like to share how novels can negatively influence our understanding of the Word of God.
We’re not specifically told in the Bible that novelising the Word of God is wrong, but it creates practical problems by the power of suggestion. When we read fiction, as we become engrossed in the story which is presented to us, it gets harder to identify what facts are real, and which are embellished. Studies have now shown that memories are altered each time we recall them and that adds to the problem. If we remember what we’ve learned about King David as we read a novel about him, those memories of what the Scriptures actually say can easily be changed by the text we’re been exposed to, and we may not realise it.
When an author works on a historical novel, they have to deal with masses of details being missing and unobtainable. To counter that problem, they devise character traits, motivations, scenes and most of the aspects needed to turn what, in David’s case, is a summary of selected facts, into a story which flows. This is where the main danger comes in. When you assign emotions, thoughts and motivations to someone, you can unintentionally, completely misrepresent them. If, like David, their story comes from the Old Testament, you are also grappling with a radically different moral and cultural mindset, which is extremely hard for a Westerner to understand, (even with extensive research.) This hampers the work, and can easily result in an incorrect analysis of why and how David acted, which can then affect the benefit his life gives us through the Bible, as we’re less willing to listen to his words.
I have seen book and movie authors try and make David a combined romantic figure and power crazed villain as they simply don’t understand his culture. We expect people in the Old Testament to think like us, hold exactly the same values and live much the same way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One series of books I read quoted the Psalms and make King David a God-fearing good guy, then added fictional circumstances and motivations to known facts, to create scenarios to move her storyline and it’s themes along. While the work is sold as fiction and should only be taken as such, the problem is that her own thoughts and biases against polygamy, plus her misunderstanding of the laws handed down through Moses, dominated her storyline and in the end, David came out looking evil in a manner which contradicts Scripture. (Please see my article on polygamy.)
“For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and had obeyed the Lord’s commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite.” 1 Kings 15:5 David wasn’t an angel and if he had been, few could relate to him. However, to villainise someone because issues such as polygamy, the role of an ancient Israeli King and the status of women aren’t well understood by our Western culture, isn’t to do the Word of God justice. David’s actions appeared as sin or made no sense. It extended to more than David. His wives were all treated as powerless victims, as life in David’s time was approached from a modern viewpoint, which has no relevance on a culture which existed nearly three thousand years ago. There were masses of negative comments online which reflected my own feelings about this author, and I approached the Publisher, defending God’s Word. Sadly, they did not want to listen.
For me, reading this series illustrated the pitfalls of embellishing a partial storyline, and thankfully, has made me very cautious about what I read, and especially, what I write, regardless of whether it’s fiction or not. Incidents such as David’s sin with Bathsheba are there to teach us the consequences of our actions. They are not meant to be romanticised and to do so, is to disrespect the intention the Word of God has in telling us about Bathsheba.
The book of Revelation gives a stern warning that anyone who adds to that book will be punished. Perhaps that should make us pause and consider how we handle all of God’s Word? “And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.” Revelation 22:19 In Deuteronomy 4:2, Moses tells Isra’el: “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.”
The Word is the inspired truth, written by many authors, but compiled as God the Father has determined it should be. There are historical writings and Psalms that were never included in our Scriptures. Why not? They are not writings that the Lord wishes to include. We need to be careful about what we do. Paul tells us that teachers of the Word are subject to more severe judgement as they can lead so many astray. [Ref. James 3:1] If you novelise, whether it is intentional or not, you are teaching, as you are planting ideas in people’s heads. Caution has to be taken.
If you are going to read a novel based on the Bible or watch a movie, please approach it with your Bible open beside you, and take the time to ask the Lord if He wants you to read it (and wait for an answer.) I love novels, I love movies which make the Word of God come alive, but I don’t want to approach Bible study with an attitude which may shut out what the Lord wants to teach me.
Additional Helpful Reading
- Judgement Versus Discernment: Reading the Bible Righteously
- Why So Many Wives? Polygamy
- Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?
- How Gentle Kings Become Killers: David as a Warrior and Psalmist
- The Anti-King: David and Humility
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