Sunday, March 31, 2013

Don't Mess with The Bible

I am a purist. I like movies based on books to be true to the story--both in spirit and in detail. This is especially true when the Bible is involved. I understand editing. I understand dramatic license. I understand the need to focus on one angle. However, if it is clearly written in the Scripture, then don't alter it. Seriously. If teachers are held to a higher standard (James 3:1), then movie producers should be extra careful when portraying the Word of God. If IT IS WRITTEN, then leave it alone. God's word doesn't need help when it comes to drama.

So, this brings me to the "Epic TV Series, The Bible", Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's ten hour retelling of the Bible's most well-known stories, from Genesis to Revelation. I applaud their bold approach and vigorous advertising.  It takes a certain audacity to retell any Bible story, but to attempt to tell the whole thing  in ten hours of television time requires, well, chutzpah.

What they did right:

  • Focus on God's Chosen People as a continuing thread
  • Pilate's attitude
  • Caiphas's arrogance
  • Most of the crucifixion itself (including the terror of the earthquake)
  • Pentecost (that was actually pretty cool)
  • After Pentecost. This was unique. Most resurrection-based dramas end once the empty tomb is revealed. Incorporating the first believers and their persecution shows attention to the whole story.
  • The stoning of Stephen (the first martyr) brings that event to life in a new way.


  • Abraham and the sacrifice
  • Moses striking the Red Sea (The Scripture says in Exodus 14 that he lifted his staff and held his hand out over the sea.)
  • Most of what happened with David and Saul
  • Huge leaps in time with narrative as bridge
  • Ninja angels at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (actually, kind of cool)
  • Samson as a black Jew (interesting idea)
  • Time taken with the burial of Jesus
  • Mary at the tomb on Resurrection morning (although her excitement was rather tempered. I think if I saw a person I knew to be dead walking around and calling me by name, I would be hard to contain. But that's me.)
  • Saul of Tarsus and his transformation to Paul the Apostle
  • The scattering of the Apostles after James's beheading--the Bible doesn't articulate how it happened, but this approach makes sense.
  • Transforming Paul's letters into sermons
  • Peter and Cornelius (except the part where Jesus appears to Peter. That didn't happen.)
  • John on Patmos and his vision. Meh.


  • Moses taking off his shoes (holy ground is kind of a big deal)
  • The fiery furnace that did not consume Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did not meet the standard according to Daniel 3. For that matter, the lion's den proved a disappointment as well. (Daniel 1-6 strikes far more fear into the reader than the television recreation does.)
  • Chaos at the feeding of the 5,000 men (plus their families)
  • Jesus walking into Lazarus's tomb (Actually, most of that event is wrong. Read John 11 for the real story.)
  • Jesus gently turning over tables in the Temple
  • Judas being on Jesus's right hand at the Passover meal. And Jesus did not feed Judas the bread when He identified the betrayer.
  • Leaving out the illegality of the trials....leaving out two of the three trials
  • Eliminating "before the cock crows" and moving Peter's denials to daylight
  • Leaving Herod out altogether
  • Peter offering communion to the disciples after the resurrection.
  • Making Jesus too meek and mild. (My personal opinion, but I think Jesus walked with purpose and spoke with passion--especially regarding the Pharisees.)

I like the hour spent on early Christianity. It demonstrates that those early believers REALLY understood the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus. They never faltered in belief-even though they were beaten, tortured, and murdered for it. It's an essential part of the story that is too often overlooked. Part of understanding Christians is understanding that our faith is rooted on a historical fact, attested to by more witnesses than required by the Old Covenant Law, and supported by the lives and deaths of those first century believers.

Although I like parts of it, the series tries to do too much. And they just don't get Jesus right. I think Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is more accurate in its portrayal of Jesus in both his humanity and his deity. (I am not a great fan of Gibson, but this particular movie stays true to the Scripture and what is historically understood.) The producers, for all their good intentions, change too much of what believers and scholars know to be real in an attempt to increase the dramatic effect. If the series drives people to their Bibles, then they deserve kudos. My fear, however, is that skeptics will find more reason to dismiss the Gospel because so much of this drama strays from accuracy.

1 comment:

Sheri Frontiero said...

Thank you Steph! I shared many of your same thoughts, but then I had a realization. It came when Peter, my husband sat to watch part way through the series. Peter believes in God, but is not religious. He does not know the Bible stories. To hear his mind open, to have him ask questions that gave me the opportunity to direct him (and myself) to the actual Bible for clarification was huge. I finished the series with the hope that more viewers were like my husband. I am hopeful that this television event, perhaps, touched others to seek out the truth. For that, and that alone, I applaud the History Channel. :)