Category Archives: History Channel Bible

The Bible on The History Channel: Final

So here’s a question: Would you watch The Bible on The History Channel again? I can definitely say I would not. As far as I am concerned it missed its mark–at least the mark I set for it as a potentially viable, useful, inspiring account of the Bible. It was needlessly violent, did not offer any real purpose behind the violence it did show (particularly violence that was not merely incidental and not tied to the furthering of Israel, etc.). God was conspicuously absent, and frankly it was kind of boring.1 Now, on to the final installment.

Roma Downey & Mark Burnett

Roma Downey & Mark Burnett (Photo credit: Sharon Graphics)

Don’t Bore Us With Details!

There were the usual liberties taken, with the story.

Not surprisingly, the passion followed a traditionally Catholic viewpoint and Mary the mother of Jesus was quite active, beyond scripture of course.

After the crucifixion, Mary the mother of Jesus is sent off to Galilee by none other than Mary Magdalene. Of course, Jesus’ mother was in the Upper Room at Pentecost (it’s not likely that she went all the way back to Galilee and back to Jerusalem, and of course she is not shown in the Upper Room in the Burnett/Downey version.

The Ascension was lame and incomplete. Peter looks at his fellow disciples ( and Mary Magdalene of course) and says, “We’ve got work to do!” No awe. No wonder.

Kudos for making an effort at depicting the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. There were actually 120 in the Upper Room and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. The reaction of the disciples after the experience was sort of  a “Hey, that was a cool experience!” Peter’s sermon was non-existent.

Mary Magdalene was prominent once again, even replacing John as Peter’s partner in the account of the crippled beggar’s healing in Acts 3 and 4. The account overwhelmingly is about Peter and John: the Burnett/Downey version was largely Peter and Mary.

The martyrdom of Stephen was anticlimactic; almost an add-on. It marked the beginning of the scattering of the church.

Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road was thoroughly botched. B&D had him shouting “No!” to the risen Lord! In fact, he was portrayed as maniacal before his conversion and referred to as Paul before and after (every Sunday Schooler knows better! Why not the world in on it?).

The beheading of James the brother of John was shown, proceeded by a fabricated story of fear and dispersion (the dispersion actually began after Stephen’s martyrdom five chapters earlier), and Mary Magdalene once again the voice of wisdom keeping the disciples straight. No sense of Holy Spirit boldness moving in the disciples, only in Mary M.

Too much was made of Peter, though his imprisonment after the beheading of James is ignored), and Thomas’s doubt was overblown. For Thomas seeing was believing, but not in the Burnett/Downey rendition (again due to the underplaying of Jesus’s actual bodily resurrection).

I sort of liked the summary scene depicting the various directions the apostles took as the Church began to grow and spread.

We see Paul as he is trying to minister to the Church that is afraid of him and then we see Paul reach out to Luke saying “I can’t do this alone!” while Barnabas is “chopped liver” or something, even though he was instrumental in helping Paul gain credibility in the Church. Paul was certainly not alone and the New Testament doesn’t depict such a needy Paul.

And then what is this appearance of Jesus to Peter? More “touched by an angel” type story telling. And then the angry “seizure” of Peter on behalf of Cornelius. Entirely misses the true essence of what really happened! I have to wonder what is going on in Burnett and Downey’s minds when they simply decide to tell the story differently than is written, even changing the actual details to form a different story! O course, the events that took place at Cornelius’s house were completely truncated to leave out the falling of the Holy Spirit upon them as Peter was preaching, an important detail.

The treatment of Paul in prison is good and his confidence at the end is inspiring. And, ignoring the reduction of the Book of Revelation down to something very ordinary, and Jesus’ last statement “May the grace of the Lord be with all God’s people!” (a possible nod to people outside of the Christian faith?), the final words of Jesus telling of His coming, etc. were effective.

The Resurrection

On a more serious note, I felt that the resurrection was not dealt with full on. It was treated as though somehow Jesus was “alive” but the story never really emphasized that He had risen from the dead. In fact in one place we hear Peter declaring, “He did not die! He is still with us!” I assume the B&D Peter simply meant that it was as though he had never died, and that His influence was still with them. Lame. The scene at the tomb was so sedate. In fact, coupled with their reaction at the ascension, you have to wonder what it is going to take to impress these people?


Oh, there’s plenty more. I do not have time to trace out the ways in which Peter was “pope-ified,” but you can watch it for yourself if you haven’t already. It’s out on DVD and Blu-Ray tomorrow.

1 Any story can be told imaginatively and in an inspiring way that leaves the listener changed or at least informed. I don’t feel the BHC did that.

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And another thing about Sunday night’s “The Bible”

There was another portrayal from the fourth part of The Bible on the History Channel that was potentially the most explosive insinuation of the entire series thus far. It wasn’t Peter walking on the water, although Burnett and Downey’s depiction of that story came awfully close to saying it was just a dream. I think the view of Peter lying there stunned was him on the boat afterwards wondering what had just happened. No, I’m talking about something much more serious.

While Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for the Father’s will, Caiaphas was also seen praying in the temple. Of course we don’t know whether Caiaphas was doing that or not. I suppose there could be extra-canonical material that might shed light on how Caiaphas would have approached such an event. I think frequently the view we take of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, etc., is that they were not honest in there doings since there were false witnesses, etc. So, if that is your view you might find it hard to imagine the Jewish perpetrators of the crucifixion as having “been in prayer” during that time. Nevertheless, that is what we saw Sunday night. But there is more.

We also saw Pilate’s wife praying to her ancestors.

One of the most important aspects of the family religion was the family cult. Romans believed that offerings to their deceased ancestors were crucial to their happiness in the afterlife. Furthermore, they feared that if they neglected their duties to their ancestors, the unhappy ancestral spirits would haunt them and their families. Because of this, Romans felt that it was vital to see that their ancestors were well cared for during their lifetimes and in future generations. Carrying on the family name, then, was a major concern of the pater familias. 1

The scene came very close to placing all three on the same level. The music and the visuals created a sense of suspense; a sense that something was about to happen. We see Jesus praying, we see Caiaphas praying, and then we see Pilate’s wife praying. Had they shown her one more time, it would have put her spiritual effort on the same level as the priests and Jesus and I would have to have assumed that a statement was being made. As it is, perhaps a statement was being made.

What was your interpretation of this scene from the History Channel’s fourth installment of The Bible?




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“Messing with the Barbecue!” The Bible on the History Channel, Part 4

Don’t Mess with the Barbecue!

I’m from Texas and one of the things I miss here in New York is good-ol’ Texas barbecue. I have really only had barbecue at one particular New York establishment that I thought made passing marks. (Surely there are other places as well! I have to hope so anyway.) But, about four years ago someone took me to a place here on Long Island that was supposed to be “the best.” No. It was more like essence of barbecue. It was barbecue in caricature. I left thinking to myself, Can’t they just go to Texas and learn how to do what they do up here? Don’t mess with the barbecue!  An experience like that just leaves you nostalgic for the real thing. That’s how I felt about this week’s Burnett and Downey rendering of the Bible.

The High Points

Overall, this installment was an improvement over the first three. They chose a believable looking Jesus, Diogo Morgado. The actor’s disposition was engaging and there were some scenes that I thought were inspiring for their visual effects rather than any dialogue. The telling of the food multiplication miracle with a great thronging crowd around Jesus just as you imagine it would have been. The scene with Jesus and Nicodemus was pretty good, and I appreciate that B&D did not jettison the “born again” language. The scene at the Last Supper was visually nice and captured at least the emotional essence of the Eucharistic meal. Any problems with this version of Jesus were not due to the actor. I think his portrayal captured the compassion and vulnerability of the Scriptural Jesus, if not the strength.

Jesus: Kenotic, Weakly, Humanistic

But, alas, there were problems, and not just the usual trouble that comes when you ignore Scripture and put in your own details. No, these problems were more interpretive. For example, Jesus seemed to get premonitions that surprised Him (the crucifixion, Peter’s denial, Judas’s betrayal). It could be that B&D chose the less followed kenosis theory that says Jesus emptied Himself of His Divine attributes at the Incarnation, or at best willingly laid some of them down. Though some hold to this theory due to problems understanding how an omniscient God can be a baby, or how an omniscient Jesus does not seem to know important eschatological details (Matthew 24:36), there is not enough Scriptural evidence for this theory and, in fact, there is sufficient reason from Scripture not to hear it at all. Nevertheless, the B&D Jesus seemed entirely kenotic.

The Burnett/Downey Jesus was human as He should have been, but He was lacking in divinity. Last week, at His baptism there was no dove, no voice. And in the wilderness He said, “I will worship the Lord My God.” In the garden of Gethsemane, when He told the disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” He seemed to be making a comment on His own status rather than giving an exhortation to them. But this was in line with the humanistic bent of the entire series.

The Thirteenth Disciple

Mary Magdalene was practically a thirteenth disciple in this story: standing near Peter most of the time and quite comfortable, very verbal; at one point uttering words that should have come from the mouths of the disciples. You will search in vain for anything like Sunday night’s depiction of Mary when you look in the real Bible. It is true that she, along with other women, including Jesus’ mother, did travel with Jesus and His disciples and helped support them out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). But it is the inordinate emphasis upon Mary Magdalene that has given rise over the centuries to the idea that she and Jesus were married. Scripture knows nothing of the sort.

Nicodemus took quite a hit in this version. He carried the water for those opposed to Jesus for almost the whole story. Of course in the real Bible, Nicodemus is only mentioned five times and only in the Gospel of John, though still a significant figure because of the conversation he had with Jesus.

Other Stuff

Once again, there was plenty enough violence to go around. In fact, it was amazing that Jesus had the opportunity to speak at all since turmoil and suspicion and intrigue were so rampant. And, of course, there were the usual rewrites of the actual Bible to accommodate for the story. One of the most notable was Jesus practically force-feeding the bread to Judas at the Last Supper.

Judas: “But Master, I don’t want to do this!

Jesus: “Eat it, Judas! You are the guy whether you want to be or not!”

Judas: “But Master . . .”


Then, there was Jesus running out of the Last Supper all by Himself. Gone was the singing of a hymn (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). But this panicking Jesus helped to feed the surprised, weak, and humanistic Jesus we saw moments later. And what was this scene where Jesus was playfully tickling a little girl while declaring that the temple would someday be destroyed?! Oh yes, and at a peak moment in the Passover weak, as Jesus was preaching He exclaimed that the most important thing was to love others as you love yourself (or something to that affect). That falls in line with the humanistic “God and all of us” approach of the series. What Jesus really taught was

29 “The most important one [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:29-31).”

Still, you can’t help but enjoy the gentleness of the Burnett/Downey Jesus. Makes you nostalgic for the real Jesus. And in that I can find at least some value in this week’s History Channel presentation.

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The Bible on the History Channel, Part 3

English: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the...

English: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Furnace (Dan. 3:23-24,91-98) Русский: Седрах, Мисах и Авденаго в раскалённой печи (Дан. 3:23-24,91-98) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok. Here’s my problem: there is simply too much to write about that is wrong with the History Channel’s presentation of The Bible! I can’t do it, I tell you!! But let me summarize some recurring themes and then get to what was the worst about last night’s presentation.

What have been the recurring themes? They have been:

1. Violence

2. “God is with us!”

3. Human accomplishment

Part 3 was no different.

Empty Battle Cry

Let’s be clear: this version of the Bible is all about the people and what they did. (Did the narrator just say that Moses earned his people’s freedom from slavery? Way to go Moses!). Yes, we hear the constant refrain “God is with us!” But when we hear it, it smacks of human machination and doesn’t seem to reflect any real sense that God is part of the story. In fact, God hasn’t really shown up. I get no sense that God is doing anything but that the people are accomplishing much through violence. No sense of the love of God. (Can the love of God be found in the Old Testament? Yes!) No sense of the thread of redemption that runs through the Bible from start to finish. No sign of the God Who, from the very beginning in the garden, wants to be with His people. If these things are absent, the refrain “God is with us!” misses its mark and seems hollow.

O Daniel, We Never Knew Ye!

I’m going to skip Zedekiah. I’m sure there’s plenty to share but my head is so dizzy from being transported all the way from David to Zedekiah—passing over Solomon (the wisest man in history), Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, and Hezekiah (probably not enough opportunities in those stories to feed the show’s major theme, which is violence; but would have been great opportunities to see the power, love, and forgiveness of God)—that I only have a little strength left. So let’s get to that “sniveling coward” Daniel.

So, of course, never letting the Scriptural details of the real story get in the way, the opening story involving Daniel is truncated, reduced, and hacked, thereby missing a great opportunity to show that Daniel was a strong but humble and compassionate man of God who prayed and heard from God; a chance to exalt God as Daniel does after praying and receiving from God the revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king (Daniel 2:17-23).”

And forget about the fact that when Daniel revealed the dream and its interpretation, “Nebuchadnezzar fell down prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.” Then he said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries . . . (Daniel 2:46-47).” Oh well.

Daniel to the Three Hebrew Children: “Don’t do it!”

So, next we overhear as Daniel and the three young men Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known to us as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) are arguing as Azariah expresses to Daniel his weariness with captivity and subservience to Nebuchadnezzar. They are apparently on their way out to the field where the big golden idol of Nebuchadnezzar has been set up where all will be expected to bow before it. (Hey, at least the statue looks cool!)  And then I can’t believe my ears: Did I just hear Daniel say to Azariah, who, along with his friends, intends not to bow down, “Don’t do this! He’ll kill you!”? Imagine that version of the story as it gets played out around the little table at the Primary class in Sunday School:

“Kids, Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol even though Daniel encouraged them not to resist.”

That would never happen in the Primary class. Why? Because the Primary class doesn’t deal with aspects of the Bible that are not actually in the Bible! Daniel is not a part of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When you try to put him in the story you are forced to interject things that did not happen!

The visual depiction of the three Hebrew children in the moment they refuse to bow down captures the event pretty well. Then it is ruined by the continuation of the story where it is not so much the words that Daniel speaks to Nebuchadnezzar but the terrible look of fear and worry on his face. Not the hero we find in the real Bible.

Then comes the anticlimax of the story. The three Hebrew children are thrown into the fiery furnace (which is no furnace but essentially a stake to which the three are tied). Oil is added and Old Neb himself throws the torch in. (Of course this is entirely inaccurate but we’ve grown accustomed to that.) We hear one of the them weeping, “Please save me.” The fire starts and we hear the worst kind of screaming from the three fearful Hebrew children. There’s no sign of the three Hebrew men from the real Bible who stood before Nebuchadnezzar and said:

 “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel is in agony. Then it is discovered that they are not burning up and the look of surprise on Daniel’s face is noteworthy. Daniel seems to come to faith right there!

Then comes the pep rally as Daniel cries, “People of Judah! Rise! God is with us! He’s with us! God is with us!” That’s ok. I’m sure they were excited and amazed. But Daniel seems to be so amazed at the fact. Then the narrator tells us that the miracle in the fire unites the Jewish people and they reaffirm their trust in God.” If only Scripture indicated that.

Is this Egypt?

Next we see a spiteful Daniel visit Nebuchadnezzar and rebuke him while expressing his own sense of despair over being trapped in exile. (Of course the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s reduction to what was essentially an animal are truncated and we don’t get to see Him exalt the God of heaven as it is seen in the actual Bible. But, that’s show business.)

Why TV Daniel’s attitude is so odd, and TV Azariah’s frustration as well, is that the situation they are in is not an undeserved enslavement by Egypt. They have been carried into exile because they refused to repent and follow God! God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to do just what he did! (Tough to swallow, I know. Habakkuk didn’t like it either!) If Azariah and Daniel want to be angry they should be angry at themselves and their people for not trusting God! The real Daniel and Azariah knew that!

Now, we experience a strange time travel where we skip over the actual kings that came next and jump to Cyrus, BUT we get the story of Daniel in the Lions den that actually happened when Darius was king. I can only imagine how it must have looked on the Hollywood set:

Roma/Burnett: “Uh, King Darius, we’re cutting your part. We need this to happen later with Cyrus.”

King Darius: “But Roma, the story . . .”

Roma/Burnett: “Could someone get Darius out of here? He’s getting in the way of our story!”

Who Cares?

Oh, that’s enough for now. Why does any of this matter? Because this is the Bible we are talking about. Because never before have I seen such an assault on the authority of the Bible from inside the church! Because if a pastor twisted the details like this to make his story better we would call him on it. Because there are those like Phyllis Tickle and others who are welcoming the demise of sola Scriptura. Because Genesis 1-3 are under assault. Because evangelicals are beginning to accept homosexuality by reinterpreting Scripture. Because the believing Church seems to have trouble discerning which things are excellent and which things are not. Because it is getting to where we accept everything for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Because the believing Church is responsible for the message.

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The Bible on the History Channel, Part 2

I just can’t go with everyone on this. Let me ask those who are so strongly supporting this series: Is it really all that engaging? Is it really all that entertaining? It’s not its accuracy that is reeling you in.

My take of last night’s installment (at least as much as I have the interest to share at this point) is that it is mostly focusing on violence.  It has emphasized a fair amount of sexuality as well. You might say, “Well, it’s in the Bible isn’t it?” Sure. Violence and sexuality are in the Bible but they must be seen and understood in the larger context of knowing the whole story.

The problem with the show as I see it at this point, beyond the blatant inaccuracies, is balance. It seems so far that it is a chronicle of all of the bloodiest moments in the Old Testament. Another problem is a complete failure to leave the audience in awe of an awesome, loving God who has a plan. Instead, we get the refrain from the on screen characters, “God is with us!” without any indication that He is with them in any significant way other than to condone violence or to take over the land. Anyone who really knows the Bible understands that from the very first to the very last the thread of redemption runs through its pages.

On a positive note for Burnett and Downey: I took a brief look at the devotional book they have designed based on the series and it reads like you would want it too. It’s reverent; it seems at first blush to be theologically correct. Even though Downey refers to Della Reece (which I have an issue with) it does not seem to be overly laden with “touched by an angel” theology though it certainly has some of that as well. All I can say is that it is too bad that the series doesn’t capture some of the reverence and love of God that Burnett and Downey seem to have. And if you think that such a message can’t be found from the very beginning of the Bible, then you don’t know the Bible!

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What Critics are saying about The Bible on the History Channel

Source URL:

2:05 PM PST 3/3/2013 by Jane Kellogg

History’s ‘The Bible’: What The Critics Are Saying

The miniseries left THR’s [The Hollywood Reporter] TV critic wondering who the intended audience was for this “fractious and overwrought” adaptation of the most well-known and popular book in the history of humanity.

Will The Bible be as popular on screen as it has been throughout the centuries on paper?

Despite the sacred text’s popularity — some estimate that in 2005 Americans purchased 25 million Bibles — not all book-to-movie adaptations translate well to audiences. But for all the negative reviews that have rolled in from television critics of the miniseries, History channel is anticipating record audiences.

So what did those critics actually have to say about the labor of love created by Mark Burnett and his wife, Touched By An Angel star Roma Downey?

The Hollywood Reporter [7]’s TV critic Allison Keene found the biggest conundrum of the miniseries to be its struggle to pinpoint an intended audience.

“The Bible never seems to figure out how to present itself. It spends a lot of time in the New Testament (at least, in the Gospels), which is already very well-worn territory on TV and in film.  Sometimes it stays true to scripture, but then does things like adds angels with ninja skills to spice things up. That’s one thing the Bible itself really doesn’t need — it’s a complex and lyrical work full of prophesies and call-backs and a sense of being one, organic, intertwined story. Unfortunately, The Bible is fractious and overwrought. Others are sure to pick apart the deviations from the sacred text, but that’s just the beginning of the miniseries’ issues. In the end, this is the most well-known and popular book in the history of humanity for a reason — it’s exciting and interesting and full of hope. The Bible is unfortunately none of these.”

The Miami Herald [8]’s Glenn Garvin couldn’t look past the History channel’s hypocrisy in choosing to air such a miniseries, when they famously killed a dramatic mini-series about the Kennedy family on the grounds that its “dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”

The Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t amount to much more than a further piece of evidence that drama and reverence don’t mix well. (To be fair, it would be the prohibitive favorite if only there were an Emmy for Screenplay In Which The Sentences ‘God Has Spoken To Me’ and ‘God Will Provide’ Are Said the Most Times.) With the pace of a music video, the characterizations of a comic book and the political-correctness quotient of a Berkeley vegetarian commune — laughably, the destruction of Sodom is depicted without the faintest hint of the sexual peccadillo that takes its name from the city — this production makes Cecil B. DeMille look like a sober theologian. The Bible marks the first attempt at drama by reality-show maven Mark Burnett, whose soul I would consider in serious jeopardy if it hadn’t already been forfeited during the second season of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Los Angeles Times [9]TV critic Robert Lloyd is just plain tired of producers rehashing the same old story.

“The series is ultimately a work of the imagination; indeed, it could have used a little more.” Lloyd continued: “The Bible according to Burnett and Downey is a handsome and generally expensive-looking production, but it is also flat and often tedious, even when it tends to the hysterical, and as hard as the Hans Zimmer soundtrack strains to keep you on the edge of your sofa. The dialogue is pedestrian and functional — sometimes it has the flavor of having been made up on the spot — and often overacted, as if in compensation. It is ‘psychological’ only in obvious ways, with the poetry of the King James version all but ignored.”

The New York Times [10] critic Neil Genzlinger seemed most disappointed in Survivor producer Mark Burnett’s missed opportunity in tackling “the ultimate make-me-believe-it-challenge.”

“The result is a mini-series full of emoting that does not register emotionally, a tableau of great biblical moments that doesn’t convey why they’re great. Those looking for something that makes them feel the power of the Bible would do better to find a good production of Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar. And those thinking that the ancient miracles might be better served by the special effects available in 2013 than they have been in previous versions should prepare for disappointment. The Red Sea parts no more convincingly here than it did for Charlton Heston in 1956.”

Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [11]was at least thankful that The Bible — or “The Bible’s Greatest Hits (Sanitized for Your Protection)” — was “up front about its intentions. Sunday’s premiere begins with this get-out-of-jail-free disclaimer: ‘This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world. It endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book.'”

“Nothing here is as ridiculous as NBC’s 1999 Noah’s Ark miniseries, the nadir of biblical interpretation that featured Noah warding off pirates. But The Bible probably should not be taken too seriously or venerated. It often plays more like an action film than a serious interpretation of a holy book.”

Not surprisingly, The Christian Post [12]found the History miniseries spot on in its review from guest contributor Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO/Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance. For his part, he claims to have been skeptical at first, noting that most interpretations of The Bible are “pretty high on my ‘cringe factor’ scale.”

“Just recently I did a marathon session and watched the entire series in one single day. For someone that has read and taught the Bible for most of his life, I had a remarkable spiritual and emotional experience. The theme of God’s love and hope for all humanity is the thread that holds the entire series together. I received a fresh new perspective on many of the famous Bible stories: Looking through the eyes of Sarah as she thinks that her husband, Abraham, has sacrificed their son Isaac; listening to Noah telling the story of Creation to his children on the ark; agonizing with Mary (played by Roma Downey) as she sees her son, Jesus, beaten and crucified. These and so many other stories allow you to connect with the characters on a deep emotional level.”

The Bible premieres tonight, Sunday, March 3, at 8 p.m. on the History channel.

[2]’s ‘The Bible’: What The Critics Are Saying
[7] http://
[8] http://
[11] http://
[12] http://

The Bible on the History Channel . . . A Review

I have learned from past experience that practically any time channels like The Discovery Channel, the Biography Channel, A & E, and in this case The History Channel, try to take a closer look at the Bible or Jesus, it always comes from the perspective of human reasoning and not a belief in the supernatural, and certainly not a genuine belief in the God of the Bible. And I must admit that, going into last night’s presentation, I expected very little from The Bible, the new History Channel series by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. And that’s what I believe we got.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of cool moments: the image of Adam rising up out of the earth at his creation, the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea. But, generally speaking, last night’s presentation was no more inspiring than Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments or Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth and it cannot even be compared to Mel Gibson’s The Passion! In truth, the “drink of water” scene and the Crucifixion scenes in Ben Hur get more to the truth and are much more moving.

Now, I understand that for what Burnett and Downey were trying to do there is not enough time to take into account all the details. But let’s at least tell the story with the nuances we do have from Scripture. For example, and it may seem a small point and perhaps what was shown could be interpreted differently, but it seemed that the people on the ark were not what the Bible indicates: Noah and his wife, and Noah’s three sons and their wives. The scenes we saw looked like the daughters of Noah or something. I realize that this could be explained as the young wives of Noah’s sons and the mothering instincts of Noah’s wife.

Next, Lot’s wife will get plenty of opportunity to make a bad name for herself later in the real story, but to imagine her animosity toward Abram (as he was called until further along in his journey) when the call of God came is pointless and only serves to direct attention to the human story and not the point of the story which was the call of God.

Then, the parting of the ways between Lot and Abram, though initiated by the strife that was breaking out between their respective herdsmen, was an amiable solution and not one initiated by Lot (and certainly not Lot’s wife as seen in the presentation), but was approached first and graciously by Abram:

 “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.’”

There are more, finer points of order to quibble with, but let me move forward! The three visitors to Abraham (who now has an expanded name reflecting God’s promise and covenant) are done pretty well at the start. I liked that the writers understood that they were dealing with a “theophanic” appearance thus they did not show the face of one of the visitors (that would have been Christ pre-Incarnate) but only showed the other two. This was sustained even through the Abrahamic intercessions for Sodom. (Note: if they use the same actor whose face we can barely detect in the intercession scene later when it comes to depicting Jesus we will have a winner!) However, the depiction of the angels when they got to Sodom—calling for help, being injured, having to fight with swords like it was a Lord of the Rings battle, even the idea that Lot was being tested rather than the Sodomites being investigated—all missed the mark. The straight up Biblical text would have been fine thank you very much! And by the way, the soft handling of Ishmael (in deference to Islam?) and the no handling of homosexuality (the chief sin of Sodom as depicted in Genesis) was another mishandled aspect of the presentation.

As for Moses, does anybody remember Moses’ real response to God at the burning bush? We didn’t see it last night. After four questions-slash-hesitations Moses finally says, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it!” Again, maybe they didn’t have time to give the whole account but don’t give the story a different conclusion! Further, a tremendous opportunity to exalt the covenant Name of God was lost! This is the moment when the Great I Am reveals Himself in a way never before experienced and reveals the Name by which He is to be remembered from generation to generation! Nothing much was made of it.

Another point to be made concerning the treatment of Moses and his call from God is how the writers shifted Moses’ use of the words “my people” to indicate his growing connection with his Hebrew roots rather than the clear command from God: “Let My people go!” God’s people! It is a lesser point that they were Moses’ people.

All in all, last night’s presentation didn’t start any cults or insult God or His people as far as I can tell. But it also didn’t do anything to demonstrate that the Bible can be taken just as it is without taking unnecessary liberties that detract from the Bible’s greater message. Human dramatization (filling the gaps of the story for the sake of moving the story along) may be a necessary part of telling a story about which we do not have all the human details, but where the details are given we should stick to them. In any case, when we fill in the story for ourselves from our reasoning, focusing on the human aspect, we detract from the God of the Bible and His message. Perhaps that’s why we are not given all of the dramatic human details in the first place.

Now, let me move to what is really bothering me. It is time for the true Church to stop hoping that Hollywood treats us nice. It is time to stop swooning every time we think we are going to make it to prime time. What is it that goes through our minds? Did we really think we were going to see a strictly faithful telling of the story of the Bible complete with altar call? I hope someone will pick up the Bible as a result of this presentation, but what were we truly hoping for? That America would watch TV last night and suddenly say to themselves, “You know, these Christians have been right all along! There it is on the History Channel (prime time) so it must be true!”

This next part will seem mean to some but I assure you it is not meant to be. I take the Bible and the Church and my calling as a pastor very seriously. And it goes beyond just caring about my own local church. There are many people today who speak authoritatively into the issues that concern Christ and culture. My policy is that if you are going to speak into the culture about God, then your life and its details are to be considered as well. Not so much one’s mistakes—who doesn’t have those? But your beliefs! In the case of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, she is a staunch Catholic and the two of them were married in 2007 by Della Reece, and ordained minister in new thought Christianity (home to denominations such as Religious Science, Unity Church, and the Church of Divine Science, among others). I think this matters. I think that before we regale a project simply because someone somewhere said it might be good because it’s about the Bible, we should be careful to investigate the messengers. Even if last night had been a grand slam, by endorsing it do I (as a Pentecostal, Evangelical Christian) send potential Christians into the arms of the Catholic church? Into the arms of Della Reece and the new thought movement?

Finally, we in the Evangelical, Bible believing branch of Christianity need to wake up and realize that there are many people who love the Bible and who call themselves Christians that do not hold true to what the Bible actually teaches. We are being infiltrated by many who are not arbiters of the faith once delivered to the Church!

In fairness, last night’s presentation and the installments forthcoming will not likely do any damage to the Church. And I am not questioning whether Mark Burnett and Roma Downey love Jesus and are saved. I am also not declaring that they are, or that they even have the same understanding of what that means that I do. But I am saying that it is time for the true church to stop being giddy every time Hollywood looks our direction. I’m saying that our standard strategy of hoping that maybe somehow someone might possibly consider thinking about pondering the possibility that maybe they should mull over the call to reflect on the validity of the Christian faith just because we get some airtime on prime time during which we make general statements that there is a God and He is powerful, rarely, if ever, works, and that we should prepare ourselves for a more straight forward approach and brace ourselves for the reality that, in the end, when we claim that we know the truth and declare that truth, this present culture will not like us.

So, here are some final clarifying questions. Would you, as a Bible believing, Evangelical Christian, be OK if the pastor of your church left and was replaced by a staunch Catholic? Would you be OK if your current pastor brought in Della Reece as a guest minister (see above for Della Reece’s brand of Christianity)? Are we so soft in our convictions that we have slipped into our own brand of “I’m OK/You’re OK?”

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