The movie “Shrek” features a talking donkey (creatively named just, “Donkey”). Did you ever stop to think that Donkey was a subtle dig against the Bible? Here is why: the characters of Shrek are ostensibly all from fairy tales (Pinocchio, the Ginger Bread Man, etc.). By including the talking donkey, Dreamworks is basically lumping the Bible in with the “other” fairy tales.
Because the Bible has a talking donkey in it. Read on.
The other night, at a certain weekly discussion group of which I am a part, the question came up concerning the stories of the Bible that seem, not merely miraculous (such as Jesus turning water into wine or raising the dead), but actually outlandish. You know, the Bible reports as historical fact such events as the following:
- The first man and woman being created from a lump of clay and a rib, respectively.
- A snake talking
- Two of every kind of animal traveling to Noah’s ark.
- A donkey talking
- A fish swallowing a man, then vomiting him back up, alive.
- And many more.
The difficulty of these stories
These stories seem far-fetched to our (post)modern sensibilities. They really seem like fairy tales–unbelievable. The stuff of story books and CGI movies for children.
Of course, these stories undoubtably seemed far-fetched even to many of the pre-modern people who read the accounts. Talking snakes and donkeys were not everyday occurrences then, either.
Certainly, pre-moderns had myths of all shapes and sizes, but the Bible does not present itself as myth. It presents as historical truth–a factual account of a rational Creator who loves, judges, and communicates with His people. Yet this historical account is peppered with stories that stick out like a sore thumb, stories which stretch our sense of plausibility.
So why do we, and I am speaking of followers of Jesus today, believe those stories? Why do we not simply accept the “reasonable” stories, and discard the others as myth–as good-natured attempts of pre-modern theocrats, doing their best to make sense of the world using nature imagery and metaphor? Why not do that? I can think of many reasons (including the astounding archaeological evidence that corroborates the Bible), but I want to focus in on just two, and one is far more important than the other.
Because genre matters
The first reason is this: to discard the unexpected, outlandish-seeming stories from Scripture is to do damage to the text. These stories were not written as fairy-tale add-ons to an otherwise sensible historical narrative. They are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of the God’s story. They belong in Scripture, and they are written as history. Sure, we could ignore all that and simply decide to only accept what seems appropriate to us.
But in doing that, we would be ignoring all meaningful categories of genre and authorial intent.
Far from making the Bible more intelligent, chopping it up that way–with total disregard to what the biblical authors intended–is a far less intelligent way of interacting with ancient texts, or any texts for that matter. More than being un-faithful, it would be un-intelligent and incoherent.
Because Jesus matters
The second reason why we should believe the stories in the Bible that offend our sense of reasonability is simply this: Jesus believed them.
To read the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament) is to read about a Messiah whose life and ministry were deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament–which contains many of the aforementioned “outlandish” stories).
For example, Matt Slick (in this excellent article) that Jesus believed in…
- The story of Jonah and the giant fish.
- The story of Noah and the flood.
- The authority, reliability and vital importance of every single word of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Jesus believed in the Bible. All of it. Even the hard parts. And that matters, because of who Jesus is.
He is God’s ultimate prophet, conveying God’s truth in an infallible way–He cannot be wrong.
He is the king of the universe, and He commands His people to believe God’s word–of which word He claims to be the central theme.
He is the ultimate counselor, who lovingly guides his people like a shepherd leading his sheep, by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and through the Bible.
When the King of Everything tells us to believe and obey something, our first response ought to be absolute, unquestioning belief and obedience. Of course, we all stumble and struggle in many ways. None of us has totally perfect faith (as my dad says, “only one person was ever perfect, and they crucified Him”).
However, there can be no question that Jesus believed the Old Testament is true. We can rest confident that God the Son knows what He is talking about.
What this means about everything else the Bible teaches
I do not have time to get into it right now, but there are some wonderful implications of the above.
The Bible lays out the world’s most comprehensive, cohesive and coherent worldview ever. No other system so satisfyingly, so scientifically, so truthfully answers the deepest questions of life:
- Who are we?
- What’s wrong with us?
- How do we fix it?
- Where are we going?
I have argued elsewhere (though I am certainly not the first to do so!) that the Bible, taken as a whole, alone provides an adequate basis for science and knowledge–for thinking we can know anything at all. But that means it all must be true, even the part about the talking donkey and the big fish. All 66 books of the Bible, and everything in them, must be true, or none of it is.
To conclude: because Jesus believes the Bible, we must believe it too. So while Shrek may have been poking fun at something unexpected in Scripture, it turns out to have been getting at something much deeper. We really can know, because the Bible told us so. Now sing it with me: “some-BODY once told me….”