How We Interpret the Bible

Commentary by Ben Bowen King

What it is about contemporary Christians and the Bible? We consider it “The Direct Word of God” one moment and the next minute we’re using the Book of Exodus as the basis for a Broadway-style musical. At least that was the pleasant contradiction I found myself considering while listening to the newly minted musical Moses and the Burning Within.

Though Moses has all the trappings of classic musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, it puts a different spin to the “Bible on Broadway” approach.  More than just a collection of dialogue and songs, it’s a “package” being offered to U.S. churches as a way to raise funds, evangelize and build community. Churches buy the rights to the musical and get everything needed to put on a performance including karaoke-style backing tracks for the singers. Out less than six months, Moses is already being performed by various churches in 32 states.  

Moses is the latest step in a series of Bible “re-writes” that started in the 1960s with the Cotton Patch Gospel, which set St. Paul down in the middle of the South during the Civil Rights struggle.

In Moses the action still takes place in ancient Egypt, but the music ranges in style from American Idol-style ballads to blues and Southern Gospel. By the time we get to Moses rounding up the Israelites for the escape from Egypt, his brother Aaron starts to sound like the lead tenor in a Southern gospel quartet.   

This is rousing music, but I do scratch my head and try to figure out what’s going on here. I’ve been told countless times that the Bible is “God’s word,” but is it good or bad that contemporary Christians feel free to add their own spin? This naturally brings up other questions about the Bible and Christians’ interpretation of something like the Book of Leviticus. You’ve got a lot of rules in there and some Christians seem to pick and choose what suits them.  

Obviously, such questions aren’t going to be settled here or in a church putting on a musical production for the congregation.   But it’s something to think about as we clap along with Aaron and Moses as they lead the Israelites out of Egypt with some superb old-time gospel harmony.

PRACTICE:  Think about the ways the Bible figures into your spiritual journey?  How do you read the Bible?  Is it for inspiration? Take one of your favorite passages and think about how it might be re-told in 21st Century vernacular?

Help explorefaith. Purchase a copy of MOSES AND THE BURNING WITHIN by David Kauffman and William Gokelman at