Two Biblical Themes in Black Panther
Last night I led some high school students through a discussion of the movie Black Panther. We explored some of the big themes of race, tradition, and identity. We also discussed two biblical ideas embedded in the film.
Idea #1: He Who Is Given Much, Much Is Required. The moral question at the heart of The Black Panther is whether Wakandans have the responsibility, given their wealth of technological and natural resources, to help the rest of the world.
At the beginning of the movie, the newly anointed king T’Challa of Wakanda (Black Panther) adopts the traditional view of his ancestors that they must hide their resources from the world to preserve their way of life. But as the movie progresses, he begins to realize that he has a responsibility to share their resources with the world precisely because they have been so fortunate.
The movie is clearly making a political point about American technology and wealth, but the underlying idea, that we have a responsibility to love our neighbor, has biblical crossover.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a master who leaves his servants in charge of his household and delays his return. When he finally returns, the master judges the servants according to whether they are being faithful or not.
Peter asks whether the parable was for the apostles or everyone. Jesus responds by saying, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48). In fairness, Jesus is speaking of the kingdom of God, and he is motivating people to be faithful because of a future unexpected event.
But the principle has broader application: Those with greater gifts, opportunity, and resources have the responsibility to help those who are less privileged. Black Panther makes this point on a global scale, and Jesus made it on an individual scale for believers aiming to advance the kingdom of God.
Idea #2: Your Sins Will Find You Out. T’Chaka is the Father of T’Challa (Black Panther). T’Challa reveres his father until he finds out that he had his uncle killed for betrayal, and then abandoned his young son. In an ironic twist of fate, the son turns out to be Killmonger, the villain who temporarily steals the throne from T’Challa, and nearly leads a worldwide revolution. When T’Challa confronts his father with his actions, T’Chaka says, “He was the truth I chose to omit.” In other words, he hoped his sins would stay hidden.
But the reality is, as the Bible emphasizes, truth always wins in the end. In Numbers 32:23, Moses tells the people of Israel that their sins would find them out. Years earlier, Moses personally experienced this reality. He thought he had successfully killed the Egyptian slave-master, but his sin was observed and eventually came to the surface (Exodus 2:11-15). Like T’Chaka, his actions could not stay hidden. And the same is true for all of us—if not in this world, then in the next.
I doubt the writers intentionally embedded these Christian elements in the film. When directors do this deliberately, such as in I Am Legend, they often leave certain “Easter Eggs” for audiences to observe.
In the case of Black Panther, these elements are simply features of good storytelling that resonate deeply with human experience. And they are good reminders that elements of the gospel can be found even in the most unexpected places.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.