Gnostic Noah

I haven’t watched a movie since I fell asleep during Lincoln (it was long, it was late and his voice was whiny). So I haven’t seen the Noah movie, but I suspect this is the best review of that movie that you will ever read. It confirms what I’ve been saying for 15 years, evangelicals are Gnostic and don’t even know it. How can so many Christian leaders watch this film and not notice its pagan message?

Update:  the review I linked to above has received some push back from other movie reviewers (see here and here). There are reasons to think the Noah movie isn’t Gnostic, though still influenced by Jewish mysticism. Gnosticism remains a large problem in our churches, as evidenced by the songs we sing, though it may not be a big deal in the Noah movie. I will have to watch the movie to find out for myself, but I’m kind of busy right now. At least its presence in theaters may present conversation starters with non-Christians.







25 responses to “Gnostic Noah”

  1. JW

    I’d love to see the grade on a theology paper delivered to you that started out ‘I don’t really like theology, but this article seemed to be really good (about the text I didn’t even read)’!

    Mattson raises some interesting points. The film’s environmental themes didn’t seem to reflect any sense that matter was evil or inferior, but Gnosticism is slippery.

  2. mikewittmer

    JW, if that’s your real name, I found the review compelling. If it’s factually incorrect, then I’d like to hear about it. If not, then play nice.

  3. JW

    I found the review compelling too, though way overstated and one-sided. I can say this because I’ve seen the movie in question.

    I’m sorry if I’ve not come off ‘nice,’ but I think my analogy works. You are critical of Christian leaders based on a review of a movie you haven’t seen. This kind of reasoning would not fly in a classroom, I’m not sure why it should in the blogosphere.

  4. mikewittmer

    I think making comments and not giving your name is inappropriate too. I did not name any Christian leaders, which would have bolstered your argument (also notice I used the term “suspect,” which also weakens your case). I have demonstrated repeatedly elsewhere that evangelicalism and its leaders are quite Gnostic. Indeed, Gnosticism lies behind much of the current push for gay marriage (our bodies don’t matter). But you’re right, not having seen the movie, I am taking this reviewer’s word for it. But he actually makes an argument that strikes a reasonable person as compelling. If I was going to grade him, I would indeed watch the movie first.

  5. JW

    I won’t make comments going forward without using my real name if that’s your preference.

  6. Hi Dr. Wittmer,
    I too watched this movie and while I can see some of the gnostic influences on some of the story elements, my Catholic sensibility helps me in realizing that there is always more than one way to see things and while it is easy to label something as gnostic, I think that’s honestly a bit simplistic and a stretch. I think there is much good to affirm in the movie. The themes of justice and mercy are what ring out the loudest throughout the story. I have replied to this review directly to the writer and made some points about the movie that go against his argument. First, the Creator is not portrayed as evil for judging the earth; it is the sins of humans that brings the judgement on the earth. Second, creation is repeatedly affirmed as good, with the animals described as a part of the Creator’s creation. I have no problem with God being called just the Creator because based on the Scriptures, God did not reveal his name to humanity until he speaks with Moses. So, I just believe this guy reads to much into the extra biblical elements that he places in the movie. The Watchers I believe come closest to giving off the gnostic element. For the movie’s purposes, they do offer a compelling type of character that are sort of akin to the Ents in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Lewis and Tolkein I think would have enjoyed this telling of the Noah account. If you are approaching Noah as a literal news report filled with exact facts, then I think you’ll have problems with the movie. If you see it as a story that calls people to consider the justice and mercy of God and how man seeks to understand the will of God, I think you may have a positive experience with the movie. These are my two cents. I have a longer review I wrote on the Rotten Tomatoes review site, but I can send that to you later. God bless! Enjoy Noah and then keep reading the Bible!

  7. I read Mattison’s review last night and thought it very compelling. I agree with you that Gnosticism is prevalent in modern evangelicalism. You say you have been pointing that out for 15 years. Have you written about Gnostic themes/influences among some evangelicals anywhere (either books, articles, or the blog)? If you have links I would love to read them. Thanks, Dr. Wittmer!

  8. My review of Noah, from Rotten Tomatoes: ★★★★☆ 4.5 out of 5 stars. Noah, by Darren Aronofsky, is a movie that is going to divide people of different sensibilities. I have heard Christians of all different stripes be passionate in their praise and condemnation of this movie. I am going to share why I believe this is a powerful ‘biblical’ film but not a literal one. I am going to suggest that thematic core of this movie expresses the most important of spiritual principles that reoccurs all throughout Scripture. Sadly, many people are getting hung up on the artistic liberties that the director has chosen to tell the story in his own unique way. I would argue the bible ‘fundies’ begin with the wrong question when assessing the value of this biblical movie. They start with, “Does the movie follow the biblical text faithfully and accurately?” The problem with this question is that it is based on a major false assumption about the Bible. This is going to be news to some: the Bible is not a newspaper. The Bible is not a history book. If I were to pick up a newspaper, the question regarding perfect accuracy an faithfulness to the details of events would be very important, for the very purpose of a newspaper is to report events accurately and completely. The Bible is the Word of God passed down orally and eventually in writing. It is a collection of different writings with different purposes and genres. The Bible is really not a book but a library of writings that were originally passed on orally within community. So to demand of the Bible something that it had no intention of doing displays a deep unfamiliarity of the Bible’s intentions and its history.
    Returning to the movie Noah, I will say that the main bullet points of the story from the book of Genesis are all found within the movie. These are how I would breakdown these basic points: [[Mankind becomes exceedingly wicked. God communicates to Noah he will destroy the world with water. God communicates to Noah the mission to build an ark to save all the creatures of the earth and his family (the confusion of Noah on whether man is worth saving I will speak on in a moment.). Noah obeys God and builds the Ark. God draws the animals to the Ark. God floods the world. God allows waters to recede. Noah and creatures leave the ark. Noah gets drunk and naked. Noah is given the sign of the rainbow that the earth will not be flooded again.]] So these story beats are all retained in the movie. But knowing these ‘facts’ does not transform you or effect you. The effect of God’s revealed word is that it works its way into our heart and ‘converts’ us and turns us back to Him and away from ourselves. So the account of Noah portrayed in this movie is ‘filled in’ with some coloring and shading that urges the viewer to ask questions about God, on how we communicate with God, on what it means to be just and what it means to show mercy. I have no problem with angels encased in rock and becoming misguided in trying to help humans. I have no problem with having one daughter being saved and adopted by Noah and having Methuselah heal her barrenness through his patriarchal blessing. I have no problem with Noah spending a time on the Ark in confusion of what God spoke to Him. I’d encourage you to think about how this truly relates Noah to our own experiences in our encounter with God. Also think of all the times throughout all of the Biblical writings where people are not given the fully story from God and initially misunderstand the full picture of what God was revealing. The Bible is saturated with this theme. If you are going to go to this movie and you love the Bible, you will not love the Bible any less after seeing this. But you will need to take off your western/american lenses and look at how the account of Noah fits into the context of the larger story God has told over and over again throughout history in a million different ways. This is the question that you really need to ask before both reading the account of Noah in Genesis and watching this movie that is loosely based on this account: “Why did God want to tell us this story? What is He trying to communicate through its telling?” That is a better way to approach God’s word. He is not trying to tell you ‘just the facts.’ He is trying to grab your heart and awake your soul. The movie Noah can do this if you see it properly. It can awake your soul to ask the questions Noah had to face. ‘What is justice? What is mercy?’ ‘What does it mean to be a person made in God’s image?’ Aside from the special effects and the story’s large scale, there is a very personal journey taken in this movie by the character of Noah and it takes him to his depths to understand the love, mercy, and justice of God. What you need in watching this movie is a jewish sensibility. You come at Noah knowing the end before it arrives. What this movie does it is brings you through the depths of Noah’s soul in trying to figure out where everything went wrong and how can God make it right again. I can guarantee that Noah didn’t have all those answers in an instant. Read the Psalms and see how many laments there are in being frustrated with not understanding the ways of God. Look at Abraham, Moses and David. All of these people were given partial views of God and his Will and there trust was deeply challenged throughout there whole life. Here is why I ultimately like the movie; Noah comes across as a real person and not some Sunday school flannel graph figure. Everything the character does makes sense to what we experience as human beings. I love the artistic touches and the rich symbolism used to convey the creation story, the violence of Cain toward Abel, and also the whole vision of what the world could have possibly been like before the flood. I actually enjoy that it is more mystical and has a touch of fantasy. I like how God uses more physical things to bring about miracles and reminders to the characters such as the snake skin, the relics from Eden, and the powerful fiery substance that is simply called zoar. I believe people like C.S. Lewis and Tolkein would have loved this telling. Lewis understood that God’s interaction with us in this world is something amazing and mysterious. Lewis conveyed it in his Narnia stories and Tolkein with his tales of the Hobbits. God used the account of Noah to tell us about Himself and the state of sinful humanity. Aronofsky understood this and that is why since the age of 13 he has wanted to bring the story of Noah to film. There is a lot that is done very well here and there are a few things I would have done differently. But those are things I reserve to discussing in personal conversation. I do not desire to make sweeping condemnations or overgeneralizing my criticisms. Anyway, go see Noah and then keep reading the Bible!

  9. mikewittmer

    My first book addressed this, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” and next February I have a follow-up coming out, “Becoming Worldly Saints.” Both are with Zondervan.

  10. Thanks, Dr. Wittmer.

  11. A better review from Father Robert Barron, the president of the seminary I am attending:–A-Post-Modern-Midrash.aspx

  12. Skeeter

    I suppose I learned this somewhere and forgot it, but in the dialogue here I see the notion of Eve being Adam’s second wife. Does this come from gnosticism as well? I just encountered the idea in one of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books as well. Was Lewis gnostic? I like his writings in general but am aware there is some theologically difficult points in some of it. Hadn’t specifically considered gnosticism to be one of those stumbling blocks. As a side note I don’t think gnosticism is the only faulty theology that is found lurking in the mainstream today. I find a lot ‘of health, wealth and prosperity’s’ effects in place among those who swear they reject that notion. Perhaps it is more a smorgasbord theology that has crept in. A little taste of everything..

  13. Larry High


    The Mattson review is excellent especially at the scholarly level. Al Mohler also watched the movie and wrote a piece as well, this quote for me is the real issue:

    “More than anything else, the controversy over Noah should lead Christians to understand something that should be our natural instinct. We must recognize that the Bible tells its own story infinitely better than anyone else can tell it – Hollywood included. The Bible has suffered cinematic violence at the hands of its friends as well as its enemies. This is not to argue that the Bible is off-limits to Hollywood or that Christians, among others, should not make films and movies on biblical themes and narratives. It is to state, however, that no movie, book, story, song, or other narrative device can do what the Bible does on its own terms.”

    I have never really understood the blowup that occurs when pagans attempt to tell God’s story. Do we really expect anything else? Except for the rampant ignorance by “Christians” of bible Truth this would be little more than a yawn.

    There still is no more powerful way to tell Bible Truth than the Spirit filled man of God communicating by Spirit filled preaching of the biblical text.

    Larry High

  14. mike wittmer

    Thanks, Larry. This is partly why I still haven’t watched Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” A troubling thing I heard was that many Christians who watched the movie were surprised to learn that Noah became drunk. Wow.

  15. Just a question. If you haven’t seen the movie how do you know it has a pagan message? I’m not defending the film – I haven’t seen it either.

  16. Skeeter

    The average person has two theologies, the one they say they believe and the one they practice. There are two ways they tend to go, either conforming their lifestyle to said beliefs, or altering their beliefs to support their lifestyle. Gnosticism seems to open the door to indulging their lusts without needing to feel bad over it.

  17. Jeremy

    You’ve never seen “The Passion”, Dr. Wittmer? While it has its flaws, I think it’s the best depiction of Christ’s crucifixion that I have ever seen. I would highly recommend it!

    People were upset by “Son of God”, as well, and that tried to honor the text. I noticed many errors committed in that film, for the sake of moving the narrative along while telling the story. No movie can ever portray scripture with complete accuracy.

    Regardless of what Aronofsky’s intentions were, the movie made $45 million last weekend. People who don’t know Genesis are seeing it. I plan to see it to so that I can discuss it with believers and non-believers. It’s a doorway to evangelism, if we use it.

  18. mikewittmer

    Jeremy, I guess I’m not a big movie guy. I agree that the movie may open opportunities to talk about the Bible. I think that can still happen without seeing the movie, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

  19. Here the thesis of Mattson is countered and dismantled thoroughly while also acknowledging some aspects Mattson gets right. Dr. Wittmer and all commenters, please read this:

  20. mikewittmer

    Thanks, Michael. There does seem to be another side to this. I’ll update my original post.

  21. Thanks for making the addendum. May the grace of Christ be with you this Lenten season as we journey to Holy Week!

  22. Jeremy

    I saw the film today. Ten minutes into it, I was expecting to see Tina Turner appear on screen to sing “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. This is an entertaining theological hot mess. When you’re watching fallen angels who resemble rock versions of the Transformers defend the ark from mauraders, I think you can safely say that you’ve left the road of Biblical accuracy. In Aronofsky’s vision, the angels only fell because they wanted to help man. It appears that Big Mean Creator won’t let them back in, until one of them is killed, and the spirit ascends to the heavens. A second “Watcher” allows himself to become a suicide bomber, and, wow, he goes to the sky, too! When I read of this film in production, I knew it would not be accurate. Even so, when Noah says “I am not alone” in the trailer, I still hoped he was talking about God. In the context of the film, you realize he is referring to the Watchers that surround him. I do think that the trailer is misleading Christian audiences, but movies are about box office returns today.

    I have read the attached reviews, and see the truths that each writer observed, with the exception of the statement that the Biblical bulletpoints were represented. Aronofsky hazes and twists every detail. This isn’t Genesis; this is Mad Max. If you watch the film as an epic thrill-ride, it succeeds. Suspend your bias, enjoy the ride, then answer questions from seekers about what really happened. People are going to be hungry for truth, and we can give it to them. Thanks for reading this!

  23. […] 15 years one of my old theology professors, author Michael Wittmer, has been saying that evangelicals are Gnostic and they don’t even know it, as evidenced by some of the songs we […]

  24. […] 15 years one of my old theology professors, author Michael Wittmer, has been saying that evangelicals are Gnostic and they don’t even know it, as evidenced by some of the songs we […]

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