The Boundaries of “What if?” ; Part 2

EyeCoverSmall2Christian readers are often sensitive about stories that relate to the Bible, and rightly so. They react against writing that twists the contents of the Bible in a way that denigrates the messages they revere.

When my book Eye of the Oracle came out, I faced significant visceral reactions to the content. Since the story adds fictional details to biblical accounts, some claimed that the book violates the biblical command regarding adding to or taking away from Scripture. Since I used a biblical framework for my fantasy story, supposedly I crossed a line into forbidden territory. One blogger even claimed that I would go to hell because I wrote this book.

The accusers usually point to one or more of the following biblical passages to back up their claims:

You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2)

Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32)

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

It is true that no one should add to the commands of God or take them away. No one should add to his word and (claim) their own teachings as inspired Scripture. No one should point to any Scripture and claim it is not God’s word, thus taking away from the word of God. In obedience to the word of God, my stories commit none of these errors.

Eye of the Oracle is a fantasy story. It mentions biblical characters and stories and creates a fictional account, asking “what if” questions, thus creating a new story. My story is not true. I don’t claim it to be true. In fact, I emphatically claim that the extra-biblical events that I created never happened.

Is this adding to the commands of God? Of course not. Am I claiming that my story is scriptural, and thereby adding to Scripture? Definitely not. Am I pointing to any part of Scripture and saying that it’s not true? No, again. Therefore, I am neither adding to nor taking away from Scripture. I have heeded the Bible’s warnings.

Still, the story communicates truth in a powerful way. Since the only “what if” questions I ask are in areas in which the Bible is silent, it never contradicts Scripture, and for many readers the story illuminates what the Bible teaches in a way that is helpful and enlightening. The story communicates unconditional love, selfless sacrifice, godly perseverance, and God’s faithfulness in ways that line up exactly with biblical truth.

Some people worry about the book’s use of myths such as Lilith and Naamah or stories from the Book of Enoch. Certainly I am not the first to do this. Both Tolkien and Lewis borrowed from myths, and the book of Jude in the Bible quotes from the Book of Enoch. I think I’m in good company. I certainly can’t find any Bible command that forbids the use of such things in telling a fictional story, so if someone claims that God forbids it, who, then, is the one adding to the commands of God?

Others are concerned about the presence of evil or occult influences in my story. Yes, they are there, portrayed in all their wickedness. Evil is clearly evil, and good is clearly good. The Bible does the same, showing us what the forces of evil are like and how the children of light can overcome them. Again, I am in good company.

I tell stories to illustrate truth, fantasy stories that open our physical eyes to the unseen spiritual world. Jesus did the same. He told us of a camel passing through the eye of a needle and about a man going to a place of torment in a mysterious afterlife prison. He performed wondrous miracles that would be amazing elements in a fantasy novel if not for the fact that they really occurred.

I learned about employing fantastic stories from the storytelling Master Himself. That is the greatest company of all.


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13 replies

  1. Good post :). As long as authors try to stay reasonably consistent with the bible, then it is often good to write a what if story. One thing that reading Christian fantasy and even things based on the Epic of Gilgamesh has done for me is made it easier for me to want to read the bible for myself. And after reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish and a lot of the bible, I can better debate people who claim there are a lot of similarities between those stories. That is important because people claim those similarities prove Christianity is false. And at least now I can say there aren’t many similarities between those stories.

    There are some what if scenarios that kind of bother me a bit. I watched The Red Tent with my family not long ago, and other than there being some parts to skip I somewhat disliked how they completely changed some parts of Dinah’s story from the biblical account and that sort of made Israel look like an evil group of people and the nations around them good. The artistic license is fine, it just gets a bit tiresome and worrisome for me when we see people constantly painting the situations in the bible that way.

    • I think altering the characters in a biblical account is out of line. That crosses a boundary in a way I wouldn’t approve of.

      • Yeah. There’s so little in the bible in Dinah that one could argue that there isn’t anything about her that could be changed, but that one part I mentioned was a little eh to me. People can’t help but fill in details that arguably could make a char different than they are in the bible, but there is a bit of a problem when a show has a ‘see what you read in the bible? That’s not how it really happened.’ tone.

        What was your opinion on the Noah and Exodus movies?

        • I have not seen either film, so I have no opinion on them.

        • I haven’t seen either, but I know that Noah is really bad. The story of Noah is really skewed with extrabiblical content added and worldly agendas woven into its entirety. Not a good film from what I’ve read and seen: evolution, environmentalism, etc. 🙁

          • The things you mentioned are definitely in the movie, and were things I really disliked. I’ve kind of had mixed feelings about Noah and Exodus, since there are pros and cons to both of them. I suppose one of the questions to ask is that since these movies were not written by Christians(that I’m aware of) does that change the equation at all? Of course it isn’t right for anyone to skew the bible so completely, but maybe one can say these movies are good because they get atheists to look at Christianity more thoroughly, and perhaps read the bible for themselves and see how wonderful it is. There is also the idea that we as Christians need to understand and figure out how the world sees these things, and while watching the movie think of what the Christian response should be.

            I think one of my largest problems with the shows is how they depict God. It’s different from the scenario I mentioned before, with the idea of someone writing an evil God story to point to how God is actually very good in real life. These movies are made by people that don’t understand the true nature of God, don’t care or who think it’s fine to depict God the way he was in the movies without having enough in the shows to counter that.

            But someone could ask us why we would have a problem with Noah and Exodus, but not the Prince of Egypt. It strays from the biblical account too, after all, and focuses on the idea of God wanting to liberate slaves rather than simply keep his promise to his people. I don’t think God likes slavery, but didn’t he still allow the Hebrews to keep slaves after they left Egypt? I guess there’s a lot of little details to sift through when deciding exactly what we disagree with.

    • Hey, Autumn, I’ve heard that “The Epic of Gilgamesh” could be about Nimrod from Genesis 10:8-9.
      [ … See to read an in depth article about Nimrod and other names he could have gone by in other legends and cultures.]
      It could be possible that the few parts that are similar from “The Epic” actually point to the Bible and “The Epic” is just one of the legends written down after the Tower of Babel dispersed all the people.

      Agreed. Artistic license contradicting what the Bible says is not okay.

      • Interesting articles :). I’ve heard that, too, and Nimrod and Gilgamesh being the same is an interesting thing to consider. I’ve heard people say that the Epic of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish were written before the biblical creation and flood accounts, and thus they say the bible is just a myth derived from other myths like Gilgamesh. But they don’t take into account that the biblical creation, etc could have been an oral tradition for a long time before people bothered to write it down, and Gilgamesh could have been a myth derived from the people’s memory of a flood history passed from the biblical account. The bible is very specific with names and places, where Gilgamesh is not, which is one thing that I think points in the bible’s favor.

  2. I admit to originally being a little surprised you used Lilith, but only because my first introduction to the Lilith story was…jarring, to say the least, and I think I was still kind of getting over it when I read Eye of the Oracle.

    Per the other, I agree that changing the core story or the characters is out of line, but on the other hand, I can’t quite imagine how Abraham and Sarah would have looked to Hagar as anything but monsters, even if they weren’t, for instance. Jacob and Laban are liars; and Rachel and Leah compete over conjugational rights with their husband. So there is a little room for saying these people were not perfect. (The Dinah thing…does sound weird. Honestly, the brothers might have gotten carried away in their revenge but I can’t blame them for going after the guy. Besides, the bigger point in Genesis is that they were over the line. That doesn’t make the other people group better or in the right.)

    • Agreed. In The Red Tent I thought it was interesting to show that Dinah may have worshipped idols rather than God, and I thought her perspective on that was reasonably realistic since the story was from her perspective. Something like that might make sense, but if I recall from the bible Dinah was raped, by multiple guys if I recall correctly. The Red Tent’s way of saying that Dinah actually fell in love with the prince and married him without her father’s permission and most of her brothers deciding to kill the prince’s people because of it is the sort of thing that makes me uncomfortable. Especially with Dinah screaming at her father(who had nothing to do with the brother’s slaughter), cursing him for killing a country full of righteous men. So yeah, like you said, it makes sense to portray biblical chars as less than perfect, but I guess the line not to cross is only showing the ‘Israel is evil and everyone else is innocent’ side.

      • No, it was just Shechem, the prince – and that he’s the prince might explain why the brothers didn’t just go after Shechem; they had to make sure no one could come after them for harming a ruler’s son. Perhaps – and I’ve never heard of the movie so I’m guessing – The Red Tent was trying to make sense of how v 2 could say he raped her, and v 4 say he loved her and had his father ask permission to marry her. (I went back to look at the chapter to make sure I had facts straight.) It does actually seem like Hamor and the other citizens were trying to appease Jacob (I mean, they did agree to the circumcision), and the brothers weren’t having it. It makes it nice and complicated, and maybe the film was trying to appeal to modern western culture that says you don’t attack a whole town for one man’s actions.

        Honestly, it just sounds like a bad film, even without the mistreatment of the source material.

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