What does the Bible say about reading or writing fiction?Question: "What does the Bible say about reading or writing fiction?"
Answer: The Bible is the Book of Truth. God exhorts us to speak truth and reject lies. Given the Bible’s emphasis on truth, where does fiction fit in? Is writing fiction—by definition, a made-up story—a lie? Is it sinful to create and distribute something that is untrue? Should we read fiction? After all, 1 Timothy 1:4 tells us to avoid myths and fables.
Actually, 1 Timothy 1:4 is warning the church against getting involved in controversy over extra-biblical conjecturing. A church’s teaching ministry should be based on the Word of God, not on the ideas, philosophies, and imaginations of men. Speculation over the existence of the angel Raphael or the color of Samson’s hair is unprofitable; dogmatism on such subjects is even worse. However, the Bible has no command against reading or writing fiction.
In fact, the Bible itself contains fiction. By that, we do not mean that the Bible is untrue. We mean that the Bible sometimes uses literature that would fall into the category of fiction to relate truth; stated otherwise, the Bible contains examples of storytelling. In 2 Samuel 12:1–4, Nathan the prophet tells David a fictional story of a man whose only lamb was stolen and killed. When the hypothetical crime incites David’s rage, Nathan reveals the story is an allegory for David’s affair with Bathsheba. Other notable fictitious stories in the Bible include Jotham’s fable (Judges 9:7–15) and Ezekiel’s allegory (Ezekiel 17:1–8). The greatest storyteller of all is Jesus. Every one of His parables in the Bible is a fictional story. Each one reveals a spiritual truth, but in form they are fiction.
To write fiction such as the Bible contains, to reveal a spiritual truth, rightly follows Jesus’ example. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of fiction, yet it is one of the most biblically based books ever written. Many of C. S. Lewis’s stories are fictional allegories that reveal spiritual truths. Bunyan anticipated that his work would receive criticism because of his use of “feigned” (fictional) words. His defense was that fiction can be a vehicle of truth: “Some men, by feigned words as dark as mine, / Make truth to spangle, and its rays to shine!” There is no conflict between the Bible and fiction as a genre.
Does this mean that every fictional story a Christian writes, reads, or watches must, at its core, have a Christian message? No. A worthwhile story does not have to be overtly Christian, although the Bible does give us some things to consider in our fiction. Colossians 3:1–2 reminds us to set our minds on things above. Philippians 4:8 explains what those things are—the true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely. The Lord of the Rings is often used as an example of non-Christian fiction from a Christian author. J. R. R. Tolkien actually despised Christian allegory—including that of his good friend C. S. Lewis. He wrote the Middle Earth books as an allegory of war and the downside of technological advancement with no intended spiritual message. It was inevitable, however, that his beliefs saturated his story, filling the plots with such biblical values as courage, unity of purpose, and self-sacrifice.
The Bible allows for the use of fiction. Of course, whether the fictional stories are spiritual allegory, historical fiction, or simple entertainment, Christian authors still need to apply biblical guidelines and Christian readers need to exercise biblical discernment. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” A few verses later, Paul admonishes, “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:4). Writers of fiction need to remember that, even if they intend their fiction as pure entertainment, all stories contain an element of teaching. And the Bible says that teaching is a spiritually serious endeavor (James 3:1), no matter what the medium.
Recommended Resource: The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke
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