On March 3, 2013 the highly anticipated television miniseries The Bible aired on History (formerly known as The History Channel). The first episode of the miniseries was watched by an estimated 13.1 million viewers. It was one of the most widely watched cable shows of the year. The series received three Emmy Award nominations for best miniseries, sound editing, and sound mixing.
Since the airing of The Bible, many other films and television shows have attempted to retell biblical stories and captivate audiences. Millions of viewers watched productions such as Son of God, a 2014 film also produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downy. Paramount Pictures in 2014 released Noah, a biblical epic directed by Darren Aronofsky and loosely based on the Genesis account of the Flood. Moses was also brought to the big screen by actor Christian Bale, known by superhero fans for his role as billionaire-by-day Bruce Wayne and vigilante-by-night Batman in The Dark Knight movie trilogies. Well-known actors participating in these productions include Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and Emma Watson.
Christian writers and theologians critiqued the interpreted retellings, sometimes labeling them as lies, half-truths, or attempts to blaspheme – pick your offense. The positive and negative reviews of these films seemed to take the media by storm, perhaps coincidentally generating even greater publicity for the films.
The Bible (no, I’m not talking about History’s miniseries), has often been portrayed in film and television. Although one could make a good argument that business machines like Hollywood don’t make biblical films for deep spiritual reasons but instead for monetary gain, it nonetheless brings at least portions of the bible to “life” on screen for millions of people to watch.
Premiering yesterday (Easter Sunday), April 5, is the next Burnett-Downy biblical drama, A.D. The Bible Continues. A quick summary taken from NBC’s website describes the show in this way: “The epic story picks up where ‘The Bible’ left off, exploring the aftermath of events following the Crucifixion.”
It’s worth looking at behind-the-scenes trailers and information concerning this production, at nbc.com. Christian Post (CP) reporter Emma Koonse writes about Mark Burnett, a producer of the show, in the CP article titled, “Roma Downey, Mark Burnett Avow ‘A.D.-The Bible Continues’ Contrasts ‘Gruesome’ Crucifixion with the Promise of the Resurrection.” In it, Koonse reports “Burnett noted that ‘A.D.’ entertains audiences all while educating them on the Book of Acts. However, the ‘Shark Tank’ producer clarified that the series is respectful to both believers and non-believers.” It would seem that Burnett believes someone (possibly a non-believer) would potentially disagree with the Book of Acts and that this person’s views need to be respected.
Yet it’s hard to produce a version of Scripture that is faithful to the text without giving offense. The teachings of the Bible penetrate to “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12-13); for many of us, that invites discomfort and, yes, offense.
In a promotional trailer for the series on NBC’s website, Mark Burnett says, “We are taking major advice from faith and biblical experts, to make sure when ‘A.D.’ deals with biblical episodes that they are accurate…and around that, we build the history of the times so the viewer can really feel what was it like to be one of these disciples?, how scary was this?”
I appreciate Burnett’s caution. A clear reading of the Book of Acts indicates that for many early Christians, danger lurked as surely as it does for today’s victims of ISIS.
Historical background is good for biblical understanding. Making sure that the Roman soldiers’ uniforms are consistent with first century military attire, for example, lends texture and authenticity to “A.D.” like productions. Historical errors discredit the very truth that well-intended producers, writers, and actors want to convey.
Experiencing portrayals of the Bible in media do many things for the viewer, both good and bad. For instance, if the Apostle Paul were to be depicted as a shy and hesitant person in retellings of the book of Acts, would it be accurate with Scripture? We are clearly told in Scripture that Paul, “…went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 9:28). Paul was bold (bold for Christ), and should be depicted as much in retellings. God’s word needs to be used clearly and carefully whether used for a Hollywood film, or preached in a Sunday morning church service.
Coming to know the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, is the basis of an abundant life now and eternal life hereafter. I pray that this miniseries, along with anything attempting to display the power of Christ, will be used by God to inform people of the Gospel and inspire people to experience the ultimate biblical drama, a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I encourage all to read the actual Bible and discover for yourself the promises that God has in store for each and every one of us. In the Book of John 14:1, Jesus tells us, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” That’s the most dramatic challenge any of us will ever answer.