restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


1917 and the Bible

 David Alan Black 

The camera work in 1917 is absolutely brilliant, as you well know if you've seen the movie. Sam Mendes, who directed the film, was once asked if he thought that audiences were sophisticated enough to pick up on the genius of the behind-the-scenes camera work. His response was that he hoped people would pay more attention to the story line than to the movie's brilliant cinematography. He said, "I don't want the camera to be the most interesting thing in the movie."

I don't know about you, but when I watched 1917 on the big screen I found myself focusing almost exclusively on the camera operators, at least for the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie.

Eventually, however, I forgot about them and watched the story, oblivious to the work of the cinematographers. In other words, a camera is not designed to draw attention to itself. In the words of director Mendes, "I don't want people to think of the 'how' but the 'why' of the movie." Getting 1917 to look like one single shot took the highest level of planning and some awfully clever shooting and editing. But the film is not about filming. It's about a putting the audience in the shoes of a British soldier fighting in WW I. 

Years ago I became enamored with the literary artistry of the New Testament. I had been trained in the standard historical-grammatical method of exegesis and so was quite shocked to discover that the New Testament contains all kinds of fascinating rhetorical devices. It was, in fact, a jaw-dropping experience. The danger, of course, is that we begin to read the Bible only as an esthetic text and not as a theological document. The Bible then becomes merely literature and not sacred Scripture. As I have written elsewhere, I believe that too many people study the New Testament as either a great work of literature or as a textbook on theology. Is this a valid dichotomy? Not in my mind. I would claim that studying the New Testament as literature helps us better understand those ultimate concerns with which it deals. As such, it is best studied not merely as a collection of complex literary devices (chiasmus, inclusio, word play, etc.), as so many studies seem to do, but as the means by which God inscripturated divine truth.

Just as the cinematography in the movie 1917 contributed to the message of the film, so the purpose of highlighting literary devices in the New Testament writings is not to impress people with its esthetic qualities but rather to see how they function to advance the message of the Bible. The Bible is indeed great literature, but it is so much more than that. The literary method has both strengths and limitations, and it's probably a good idea to keep both in mind constantly.

January 31, 2020

David Alan Black is the editor of

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