Putting the Brakes on Poetic License

I love Christian music. Well… perhaps I should rephrase that. I love most Christian music. Music that extols and celebrates the grace and truth that Jesus personified generates gratitude and praise, but there are challenges involved in translating the Word of God into modern musical terms. Music is a language all its own, and adjustments are often considered necessary to keep the message within the constraints that musical expression requires. Those adjustments are referred to as “poetic license.”

Producers Make Changes ~
Poetic license purportedly grants the artist extensive freedom to change things around in order to offer the original version in a different context. For instance, if you compare a novel to Hollywood’s version of the same story, you’ll notice that it isn’t quite the same. You might even wonder if the producers read the same book. A character you thought you knew from the book might emerge on the big screen with a totally different personality. Scenes you enjoyed in the book may be missing entirely, and by the time a Hollywood producer gets done with your iconic male hero, he might be a seductive blonde female with a penchant for beating up bad guys twice her size. Some changes can be inconsequential, but when they’re not, those least likely to care are those who never read the book anyway.

Our cultural obsession with applying poetic license in almost every form of artistic expression has made us complacent with it, and that can be hazardous when the original is uniquely authoritative. Poetic license can potentially result in changes that damage, obscure, or totally sabotage the original author’s intent. The Christian music I referred to earlier has more than a few examples, and we’ll get to one in particular, but first let’s consider a vitally significant statement that the Bible makes of itself.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)

“No” License Allowed ~
The term “inspiration” literally means that the Scriptures were “God breathed,” i.e., that the words themselves proceeded from the mouth of God. The human authors of the Bible’s 66 books declared that they spoke and penned His words as direct representatives of God. The authority and trustworthiness of their words rested upon the fact that they came from God and were thus immutable and eternal and not subject to alteration. No latitude or “license” to change them, poetic or otherwise, was ever allowed. Peter described it this way:

…knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NKJV)

But what about those who would hear those inspired words and then decide to proclaim them to others? While God offers incredible blessings for preaching them, teaching them, and putting them to music and singing about them, there are also serious responsibilities. Would-be proclaimers of God’s truth were warned that their work would be judged according to a higher standard because of the influence their words could have on others.

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1 (NKJV)

Subtle Inside Attacks Are the Worst ~
Given the devil’s tendency to use deception and subterfuge, it isn’t surprising that the most dangerous threat confronted by the early Church didn’t come from the outside. The worst of that damage was inflicted by those who claimed to be followers of Jesus, but who presented perverted interpretations of what Jesus taught, inserting pagan philosophies in place of the Word of God. Some false teachers were and are intentional, but sometimes well-meaning believers inadvertently misrepresent God’s truth, and we must be vigilant.

For example, there’s an idea that I’ve heard repeatedly in songs praising the Lord for what He has done for us. The singer is praising Jesus for having taken all our wrongs and made them right. Praise is wonderful and that sounds like an incredible gift, but it isn’t accurate. Things that God has judged to be wrong are forever wrong and cannot be made right. Jesus didn’t endure the cross to make wrong things right. He did it to take our history of wrongs away from us and to accept them, along with their awful penalty, as His own.

A “Wrong” by Any Other Name ~
We fallen human beings have a penchant for doing what God can and would never do. We have no problem with reclassifying unacceptable, sometimes illegal, behaviors from wrong into right. The premeditated murder of an unborn baby, for instance, has been wrong for most of human existence, but now people blinded by lust and greed have transformed the horrific practice into something that is not just “right,” but a Constitutionally protected “human right.” Prostitution is another example. It has been deemed “wrong” in America since before our founding and was illegal throughout the land until recently. But now, fueled by our obsession with sex and the decline of traditional (Biblical) values some states have declared that prostitution is a “victimless” act and reclassified sex-for-pay as an approved “industry.” Apparently, the fact that this “industry” enslaves untold thousands, destroys relationships, and helps to condemn souls to an eternity without hope doesn’t matter. Misguided and foolish legislators decided that what is wrong and criminal on so many levels is now neither.

No Semantic Manipulation ~
I heard a heartrending story recently about a teenage girl who was sexually assaulted, brutally beaten, and murdered by a coldblooded assailant. No perverted definition of justice could ever make that right. No expression of contrition, no verbal confession, and no cathartic exposition of regret can make that terrifying example of human depravity into something tolerable, much less “right.” It will remain as hopelessly wrong 10,000 years from now as it was on the day it was done. If God the Father could have erased the problem of sin by simply reclassifying wrong things as right, then allowing (much less requiring) the torture and death of Jesus would have been the most incomprehensibly unjust act ever perpetrated. Our redemption could not be accomplished through semantic manipulation.

Actually, Jesus didn’t reclassify my wrong things into something right. Even if He could do that, in His great love for each of us, He did something far better. He took them to the cross with Him and away from me forever. In their place, He gave me a new birth, a new identity, a clean and brand new record, and a forever future where my wrongs will never be seen as right . . . but they are cleansed by His precious blood and will never be found again.

______________________________

“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) . . . The term “inspiration” literally means that the Scriptures were “God breathed,” i.e., that the words themselves proceeded from the mouth of God.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 
  • Things that God judged to be wrong are forever wrong and cannot be made right. Jesus didn’t endure the cross to make wrong things right. He did it to take our history of wrongs, and accept them, along with their awful penalty, as His own.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 
  • “We fallen human beings have a penchant for doing what God can and would never do. We have no problem with reclassifying unacceptable, sometimes illegal, behaviors from wrong into right.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 
  • “If God the Father could have erased the problem of sin by simply reclassifying wrong things as right, then allowing (much less requiring) the torturous death of Jesus would have been the most incomprehensibly unjust act ever perpetrated.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 
  • “Jesus didn’t reclassify my wrong things into something right. Even if He could do that, in His great love for each of us, He did something far better. He took them to the cross with Him and away from me forever.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) 

Check out Ron’s book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth”

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About Ron Gallagher, Ed.S

Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher, Humorist, Satirist, Blogger ... "Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World." For Ron's full bio, go to GallaghersPen.com/about/
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3 Responses to Putting the Brakes on Poetic License

  1. I’m reminded here of the old saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Wrong is wrong, period, but we can rejoice that our sins are forgiven by Jesus, and that we can go on, in His strength, to do what is right in the eyes of God.
    Blessings, Ron!

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    • Thank you, my friend– I’m running way behind again, but never miss or ignore your uplifting comments and the insights you always share along with them. God bless you for being so faithful.

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  2. J.D. Wininger says:

    This is why we must write God’s inspired word on our hearts; lest we be deceived. More important today than perhaps ever before is validating everything we see, hear, and read that is purported of God against His unchanging word.

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