Bringing the Bible to Life, or How Not to Make Bad Bible Movies

One of my favorite parts of my job as a pastor is getting to bring the Bible to life for the people in my church and my youth group.  I love the Bible and have been enthralled with its story for most of my life, but many people don’t share that same love.  I believe that is because they have never been allowed to see the Bible as the epic story it is.  Many look at the Bible, and even its stories (or especially its stories) as dry and obscure and irrelevant.

Our Bible movies don’t help. Movies should be one of our best avenues for taking the word and making it come to life.  Usually, however, the movie fails to even come close to capturing the drama and complexity of the Biblical stories.

It’s not that Bible movies are typically bad… It’s just that they’re not good.

Granted, the book is always better than the movie.  I don’t think we can change that.  But there has to be a better way to film the Bible than what we typically see.

It seems like movie-makers have only ever found two ways to make Biblical movies: one way is to stick so closely to the Biblical text that the dialogue is rigid and the acting is impossible to watch.  Jesus is tame and lacks all charisma. Saints become saintier and villains more villainous. Most of the characters lack depth and complexity.

The other way is to Hollywood-ize the movie to such an extent that the Biblical story becomes almost unrecognizable.  I loved the Noah movie a few years back, but let’s be honest; it wasn’t exactly true to the story.

My dream would be a movie that just takes the story as it is.  Doesn’t Hollywood-ize it, but doesn’t sanitize it either.  Creates 21stcentury dialogue without importing 21stcentury drama.  Trust me, these stories have all the drama we could ever want.

And that’s why I never quite give up on Bible movies.  Bible movies need to exist because the stories in the Bible are incredible stories with incredible storytelling.

We don’t need good Bible movies for the sake of the faith.  We need good Bible movies because these stories deserve to be told in a way that does justice to them.

That said, here are my ideas for three Biblical movies/tv shows that I NEED to see:

Judges: The Mini Series

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Netflix could pull this off next year if they wanted to.  I want to see individual, hour-and-a-half episodes about Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson.  Maybe give Samson two episodes if they need to.

I’d also be cool if they wanted to add some supplemental material to fill in the beginning and the end. Episode 1 could feature an old Joshua as a lead in to Othniel and Ehud. The series could end with an episode about Ruth, pointing forward to the main event, the next series I really want to see…

Samuel: The Series

The books of 1-2 Samuel have the best material for the screen in the entire Bible.  These books are dripping with drama.  You have battles, you have rivalries, you have romance, you have spurned love, you have underdogs, you have betrayal, you have deaths of both hated and of beloved characters…

The characters in Samuel are some of the greatest in the Bible as well.  I’m particularly fond of Saul, Joab, and Absalom—not as heroes, but as some of the most complex characters in the Bible.  None of them are written purely in a negative light, though all three of them end up on the opposite side of the heroes.  In a sense they are the relatable foils to Samuel, David, and Solomon.

I want to see a young Samuel chasing the Philistines.  I want to see Saul hiding among the baggage.  I want to Asahel chasing Abner, and Joab vowing revenge.  (I may be the only one on earth who wants to see that last one.)

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There is so much material here.  These could be limited seasons, much like a BBC show.  4-6 episodes would be plenty:

Season 1: Samuel and young Saul

Season 2: Saul and young David

Season 3: David the King

Season 4: David and his Sons

Season 5: Solomon the King

Someone please make this happen.

Luke’s Gospel: The Movie Epic

What about the Gospels? We have four to choose from, but they are not equal in terms of readiness for the screen.  Mark doesn’t have enough character development.  Matthew has really long sections of teaching. And John… well if you’ve read John, you know why that Gospel doesn’t scream to be made into a movie.

Luke, however… Luke could have been a screenwriter.  That entire Gospel is perfect for an epic movie script.  Just like any good hero epic, it opens with a montage that introduces the hero at a young age to explain what makes the hero, well, the hero. In chapters 1-2 Luke gives us a montage of John the Baptist’s birth, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the birth of Jesus, and the boy Jesus at the temple, then cuts to the title sequence: THE SON OF MAN.

When the story resumes in ch. 3, you’ve jumped 20 years into the future, and Luke is aware that he is making this jump.  You know how when a movie makes a jump to a new time and place, it’ll tell you the new setting at the bottom of the screen? (Galilee, 30 AD).  That is basically what Luke is doing in 3:1-2.  He resets the setting, tells us the year and who is ruling where, and then launches back into the story with the two heroes who were already introduced to us in the opening montage: John the Baptist and Jesus. 51JOze1XL6L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

This is exactly how epic stories are told and epic movies are made.  I don’t know if Luke was the first to tell a story like this, but he has certainly been copied for the last two millennia.  AND YOU ARE TELLING ME THAT WE CAN’T GET A DECENT BIBLE MOVIE!? C’mon people.  Luke already wrote one for us.

Luke’s script goes on, the heroes are fleshed out, their destinies foreshadowed by the opening montage are fulfilled, both heroes die, one of them conquers death… and no one sees it coming.

And this is one of the trickiest challenges to overcome when retelling Luke’s Gospel, or any of these stories in the Bible.  We are so familiar with the story that we DO see the end coming.  We fail to be moved because it is such an old story.  It’s predictable.

That’s why the best movie about Jesus needs to be surprised at its own ending. It cannot expect him to rise again at the end.  And even though we know he does, the movie needs to lead us into the same confusion and despair and doubt that the disciples experienced.

Here’s the thing: I know this list is pointless.  I have no influence.  I have no movie producer friends who are going to pick up these ideas and run with them. I also know that several of these ideas have been attempted in recent years, and they didn’t work, for whatever reason.  But a guy can dream…

What about you?  What book of the Bible would you most like to see brought to life on the big (or small) screen?

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