- It was the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard Piper preach. It compelled me to worship my sovereign God, long to be with Him, and hate what He hates.
- The Gospel Coalition’s site will have audio and video from the conference available for free in about three weeks, but Desiring God has already posted the manuscript and MP3 of Piper’s sermon entitled “The Triumph of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth,” an exposition of Romans 8:18-25.
- The MP3 does not include D. A. Carson‘s introduction in which he gave an anecdote about D. Martyn Lloyd Jones‘ powerful preaching and then described John Piper as the modern-day Lloyd Jones.
“The big problem with Bible study today is that we think it should be easier than other things we do. We study recipes for quality meals, how-to books for all kinds of things—carpentry, plumbing, automobile maintenance and so on—and read vociferously for our hobbies. Why do we think the Bible is the only subject we should not have to study?! Let me challenge you—make the Bible your hobby. At one level I do not like the analogy; the Bible must be so much more than a hobby! But at another level, what if we spent as much time and money on Bible study as we do our hobbies? What if we took the same amount we spend on golf clubs and courses or on skiing equipment and skiing trips, and put it into Bible study? Yes, encyclopedias, commentaries and other reference materials are expensive. But so is everything we do. The question is about priorities: what is important enough for our time and money? I want to encourage you to get and use the tools that enable us to bridge the gap back to Bible times and authorial intention.”
–Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (2d ed.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 25.
Last weekend Jenni and I checked out from the library the DVD One Night with the King, a dramatization of the book of Esther. It was a disappointment.
- official site | DVD at Amazon.com | Wikipedia
- The film is based on the 2004 novel Hadassah: One Night with the King, so my analysis of the film is probably a partial analysis of this novel, which I have not read.
- Reviews: Phil Gons’s review is the most helpful I’ve seen. I significantly disagree with much of the positive tenor in the reviews by Plugged In, Christianity Today, and Dr. Michael Haykin.
2. Brief analysis: The film is deeply disappointing in both content and form.
- Content: Jenni and I have grown up hearing and reading the book of Esther, and the biblical plot is fresh on our minds because we worked through the book of Esther in one sitting both the night before and the morning after watching the film. I am just stunned by reviews that claim that the film’s plot is faithful to the biblical plot. The film’s plot mutilates the narrative that God inspired. It would take a long essay to substantiate this, and I have no desire to take the time to do that. Suffice it to say, most of the key points in the film change significant details in the biblical narrative with both addition and subtraction.
- Form: The film made us laugh—but for the wrong reasons. We laughed because many of the characters and lines are so corny. The film is light and comical with slapstick humor similar to The Princess Bride (but not nearly as funny!). Though not as outrageous as Veggie Tales, the form of the film does not fit the weightiness and gravity of the biblical narrative. Esther, for example, behaves like a flighty, immature teenage girl.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rank the film at 1 or 2. It’s really that bad. I would go a bit farther than Phil Gons, who cautiously recommends watching the film. If you haven’t seen it, my advice is simple: don’t waste your time on it. Read the book of Esther instead. (And if you’re looking for a Bible film to watch, my top recommendation is The Gospel of John.) Films that take dramatic license with biblical narratives almost inevitably compromise the message of the text. Narrative is a literary genre that a film cannot perfectly reproduce. The problem with One Night with the King is not that it fails to reproduce the biblical narrative (that would be an unfair standard), but that it twists and distorts both its content and form.
3. Learning from the story of Esther
In 2002, I prepared a sermon on Esther entitled “Trusting God’s Silent Providence.” I’d no doubt tweak it if I preached it today, but my outline (which reflects Layton Talbert’s Not by Chance—see below) highlights many details in the biblical narrative that the film alters.
- God’s silent providence directs man’s wrath.
- It directed King Ahasuerus’ wrath (because of proud embarrassment) against Queen Vashti (1:12; 2:1).
- It directed Bigthan’s and Teresh’s wrath (because of political hatred) against King Ahasuerus (2:21).
- It directed Haman’s wrath (because of offended arrogance and racism) against Mordecai (3:5; 5:9).
- It directed King Ahasuerus’ wrath (because of a mistaken impression) against Haman (7:7, 10).
- God’s silent providence includes “chance.”
- It included King Ahasuerus’ call for Queen Vashti and her refusal (1:10-12).
- It included Esther’s replacement of Vashti as queen (1-2).
- It included Mordecai’s uncovering of the assassination plot against King Ahasuerus (2:21-23).
- It included Haman’s unexplained promotion (3:1).
- It included the lot (“pur” in Hebrew) that Haman cast to determine when to destroy the Jews (3:7).
- It included Esther’s hesitation to petition King Ahasuerus at the first banquet (5:6-8).
- It included King Ahasuerus’ inability to sleep and the reading of Mordecai’s unrewarded deed (6:1-3).
- It included the timing of Haman’s appearance at King Ahasuerus’ court when the king desired to reward Mordecai and Haman desired to murder him (6:4).
- It included the reversal of what seemed to be certain destruction for the Jews (8-9).
4. Some recommended reading on Esther and/or the narrative genre
- Layton Talbert, “Silent Providence,” in Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 2001), 120-40, 284-89. This chapter is an outstanding, succinct, and accessible explanation of Esther.
- Karen Jobes, Esther (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 248 pp. Tremper Longman III, in Old Testament Commentary Survey (4th ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), says this about it: “Without a doubt this is the best commentary to buy on Esther. It is informative about its original meaning and insightful on how to apply it to the contemporary world. Jobes is theologically astute and a good writer” (p. 77). Longman places Jobes’s Esther at the layperson-minister level and gives it five stars (his highest ranking).
- David C. Deuel, “Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition, John MacArthur Jr. and The Master’s Seminary Faculty (Dallas: Word, 1992), 273-87. This helpful article uses the Joseph (not Esther) narrative as a test case.
- Michael H. Burer, “Narrative Genre: Studying the Story,” in Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis (ed. Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning; Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 197-219.
(If you’d like to share comments about One Night with the King, I’d recommend doing so here.)
BiblicalTraining.org is now offering an “Introduction to the New Testament” course on MP3 by Craig Blomberg (Theopedia | Wikipedia). The first half, Gospels and Acts, is currently available in some thirty-five MP3s (available for free downloads). Blomberg, author of a number of books and articles on the Gospels, has recently penned From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006).
This weekend my wife and I watched The Gospel of John film on DVD again, and I’m glad we did. I think we’ll make this an Easter weekend tradition. We watched this film for the first time in January 2006 after Phil Gons tipped me off to it, and we enjoy it so much that we’ve watched it about ten times.
About The Gospel of John film:
- It is a three-hour presentation of the Gospel of John in the Bible. (The 2-DVD set also comes with an abridged two-hour version, but I much prefer the three-hour version.)
- It was produced by Visual Bible International, Inc.
- It was released in some movie theaters in fall 2003.
- More details and links are available at Wikipedia. See also the Plugged In review.
- It included Bruce Waltke on its board. He is one of the scholars featured in the interviews in a supplemental DVD about the movie (included in the 2-DVD set).
The Gospel of John is the best Bible film that I’ve ever seen. I enthusiastically recommend it for several reasons:
- The film has an inspired script. The script is verbatim from the Good News Translation and it follows it unwaveringly. (This is not among my most preferred translations, but I agree with what the KJV translators wrote in the preface to the KJV: “the very meanest [i.e., poorest] translation of the Bible in English . . . containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.”) Except for occasionally excluding some narrative discourse indicators like “he said” or “she said,” the film script does not add or remove a single word, nor does it skip around or rearrange the material. It takes a little over two hours to read the Gospel of John straight through, so the other hour in this three-hour film is due to dramatic factors like pauses and setting the scene. Every other Bible film that I’ve seen irritates me in this regard by rearranging events, adding dialogue that is not in the text, and emphasizing themes that are not proportional to those that the text emphasizes (Cf. my review of One Night with the King.) The passion scenes, for example, include relatively little violence, which is in sharp contrast to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
- The film is classy. The actors, film angles, picture clarity, and soundtrack are first-class. It is evident that professionals, not amateurs, produced this.
- The film is tasteful and modest, not offensive or flashy.
- The film is creative and thought-provoking. The interpretive ways it portrays the scenes and dialogue is mind-stimulating. (This is not to say that I agree with every last detail of the film.) One creative feature is the use of black-and-white flashbacks during narratives that reference previous events in the book.
- The film is instructional and edifying. A film cannot replace the written word, and it can even be detrimental. This film is valuable, however, because it makes you think more about the text in its historical context. (Aside: When we watch this DVD, we often turn on the closed captioning feature.) The film has provoked me to reread and re-listen to the text of the Gospel of John and check out commentaries (like this one, my favorite) on various passages. For example:
- Every time my wife and I have watched the film, we have been struck with how arrogant Jesus’ statements must have sounded to other people. It is easy to read the Gospel of John today and forget about the context in which Jesus uttered his statements. Seeing someone speak those same words reminds us that a human being claimed to be Yahweh. Staggering.
- Jesus’ healing of the man born blind is vivid (John 9).
- Perhaps the most moving part of the film is when Thomas sees the risen Lord and declares, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.
- The film is reverent. I dislike paintings of “God” because of their historical association with veneration and because they don’t help me worship God (not to mention how they relate to the second commandment). While watching this film, it has never crossed my mind that the actors were actually the real Gospel characters; I know that because I’ve never felt like worshiping the person acting out Jesus! But the film has compelled me to worship Jesus for His perfect obedience in life and death.
- The film is affordable and accessible. (This reason isolated from the others is weightless!)
- Ben Witherington, “The Gospel of John” (with other reviews after Witherington’s). Witherington later noted this sad news on his blog: “The makers of the wonderful verbatim version of the Gospel of John which had a terrific cast, after intending to also film the Gospel of Mark are bankrupt. They had worked through three scripts and planned to film, but the Gospel of John did not do well enough either in the theaters or on DVD.”
- Ted Baehr, “The Best Retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told: The Gospel of John”
- S. T. Karnick, “The Word, According to John: A Gospel on the Silver Screen”
- Randy Alcorn, “The Gospel of John DVD“
- “The Gospel of John, the Film” blog
- Justin Taylor highlights another film on the Gospel of John that uses the NIV (also available via Amazon Prime): The Gospel of John.