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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Christian Bale, in a scene from the new Twentieth Century Fox movie Exodus: Gods and Kings directed by Ridley Scott, as Moses looking over his Jewish people in Egypt (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

{source}<iframe style=”float: left; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #C0C0C0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”400″ height=”225″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source}Hollywood began its “year of the Bible” with Noah, which earned more than $100 million.  Son of God took in nearly $60 million; Heaven Is For Real made $28.8 million against a budget of $12 million.  God’s Not Dead was a surprise winner at the box office, garnering $62 million against its $2 million budget.

Now we have the final biblical movie of the year with Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.  Christian Bale plays Moses, while Australian actor Joel Edgerton is the pharaoh Ramses.  One reviewer says of the movie, “though it’s a good film, it could have been a great one.”  He says director Ridley Scott “deserves kudos for the film’s being masterfully shot” and applauds Christian Bale for giving “yet another stellar performance which is both engaging and compelling.”

By contrast, another reviewer called the film an “eye-rollingly bad movie [that] is silly, sluggish and miscast.”  He complained that the biblical story is “ruined with [a] poor script and bad cast.”  Many critics are especially upset that the movie “whitewashes” the Bible, since the lead characters are both white.  Signourney Weaver plays an African queen; actors of color are relegated to minor roles.

My chief concern in this review is with the film’s fidelity to the biblical text.  According to a 2014 poll, 79 percent of Christians say accuracy is important in movies dealing with religious topics.  A recent survey found that 98 percent of faith-driven consumers were not satisfied with Noah; I certainly agree with their assessment, as my review makes clear.

What about Exodus?  One critic states that the movie is too true to the Scriptures, complaining that there are “not a lot of fresh angles on the biblical story” and wishing “this one was a little more fresh.”  However, another notes that the writers “clearly labored to put a fresh spin on an ancient and oft-told story.”

Cultural analyst Jonathan Merritt notes “critical deviations from the text that viewers familiar with the Bible will notice.”  Most significant, when God meets Moses at the burning bush, the Lord is played by an 11-year-old British actor.  One critic predicted: “The portrayal of God as a willful, angry and petulant child in EXODUS will be a deal breaker for most people of faith around the world.”

Having seen the movie, I agree that its depiction of God is the most troubling part of the film.  The images are indeed stunning, and Christian Bale is excellent.  However, few would want to know the God portrayed by the movie.

In addition, there are dozens of inconsistencies with the biblical narrative, though none rise to the level of genuine heresy.  Rather, it’s clear that the four screenwriters wanted to retell the story in their own way.  Simply taken as literature, their version is not nearly as compelling as the biblical account.  As my wife said when we were leaving the theater, “four men wrote the screenplay, and none was God.”

Here’s what interests me most about Noah, Exodus, and other movies that deviate significantly from the biblical story they purport to tell.  The popularity of such films reveals much about those who see them.  Our culture increasingly views itself as “spiritual but not religious.”  The number of Americans who express no religious commitment has grown eight-fold in the last 50 years, and yet the vast majority of us claim to believe that God exists.

We approach religion as if our opinion constitutes reality.  A man recently declared to me, “I don’t believe in hell,” as if his belief had anything to do with whether hell actually exists or not.  It’s like saying, “I don’t believe in Queen Elizabeth” and expecting her existence to conform to my opinion.

Successful movie directors know what the public wants—in the case of Exodus, an entertaining blockbuster with great special effects.  If the Bible must be rewritten to please the crowd, so be it.  Thus Exodus serves as a parable for how “the truth” has devolved into “my opinion.”  But C. S. Lewis was right: the person who denies the sunrise doesn’t harm the sun—he only shows himself a fool.

Here’s the good news: the real God who brought his people from Egyptian slavery into the Promised Land is ready to do the same for you.  Jesus is your Moses, come to liberate you from the pharaohs of sin and lead you into the paradise of transforming relationship with himself.  Whether you stay in Egypt or not, is up to you.