I’m excited about the upcoming Noah movie, but am also well aware that a lot of Christians have expressed concerns and the movie has already come in for a great deal of criticism. While I can’t speak to the legitimacy of much of that criticism until I’ve seen the movie, some of it has demonstrated a need for Christians to revisit the Noah narrative themselves, to make sure their critiques are, in fact, Biblical. There are also a few other things they need to be aware of.
Toward that end, I’d recommend rereading Genesis 6-9 and remembering the following:
- Who were the “sons of God” who married the daughters of men and had children by them? Angels? Fallen angels? We don’t know. Given the context, many interpretations have a very sexualized nature to them, but Noah filmmaker Darren Aronofsky says they took a more metaphorical approach to avoid being too graphic for families.
- Who were the Nephilim? These “heroes of old, men of renown” are also a mystery to us. Personally, my favorite interpretation is found in Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters, but that, too, is just a guess.
- What did the “wickedness of man” at that time involve? Well, apparently violence, corruption, and evil — the Bible doesn’t get any more specific than that. We should be careful not to project our own ideas of the most heinous sins onto the situation and assume we’re correct. The Noah narrative occurs just a few chapters in Genesis after God gave man stewardship responsibility for the earth, so an interpretation that part of the wickedness involved stewarding the earth poorly is valid and not necessarily an attempt to create environmental propaganda.
- How did the people of Noah’s day respond to his building of a boat? Here again, we don’t know. Regardless of how many sermons we’ve heard on how we need to be “fools for Christ” just like Noah seemed to be when he built a boat in the middle of the desert, the Old Testament narrative is silent on this question. The New Testament does refer to this time, but simply to draw a parallel with the Second Coming and state that most people were oblivious and caught unawares by the flood.
- How did God speak to Noah? You guessed it — we don’t really know. The Bible says He “spoke” which we tend to assume means a big, booming voice from heaven, despite the fact that our own experience of God’s voice tends to be different than that.
- How did Noah respond to God? He obeyed. But apart from his actions, we have no record of him speaking to God in response to what God tells him. When God told Abraham He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham urged Him to show mercy. Why didn’t Noah do the same? Apparently this question drove much of the film’s explorations of what it means to be righteous.
- How did Noah refer to God? Well, as noted, typically he doesn’t — his conversations with God are almost all one-sided with God speaking to him. But on the one occasion he does speak in reference to God, he uses Yahweh and Elohim, which we usually translate “The LORD” and “God.” However, it’s worth remembering that out of respect many Jews today are cautious about pronouncing God’s name and instead use substitute names for God (e.g., “the Creator,” which we hear in the film trailer). That’s worth keeping in mind when considering criticizing the film for not including the word “God.”
- Did Noah get drunk and naked? Yes, he did. The film may or may not merit criticism for how it portrays that, but remember that it is in fact part of the Biblical narrative.
- Was Noah a “preacher of righteousness”? Yes, but that doesn’t come from the Old Testament narrative, that’s from 2 Peter 2:5. Since the film seems based on the Old Testament narrative, I’m not sure we can fault them if that’s not part of their characterization.
- Isn’t the film adding extrabiblical material? Well, yeah, but so does the Son of God every time the actor playing Jesus changes his facial expression. Any portrayal of Bible stories is going to fill in gaps, hopefully they just do so in a way that doesn’t contradict what’s actually in the text. And hopefully we as Christians are aware of when we’re projecting extrabiblical understanding of our own (if you believe there were 3 wise men, you need to re-read your Bible — but that’s another post for another time).
Rather than prejudging the film and staying away, I’d encourage Christians to see and evaluate it for themselves and, more importantly, engage friends, family, and coworkers in the discussions of faith the movie is already provoking.
A major movie is highlighting a Bible story and drawing out themes of goodness, wickedness, mercy, and justice. The culture is ripe for frank and honest conversations about faith. Are we ready?