Are you watching the History Channel miniseries called, “The Bible?” All of the hype and marketing of the series captured my attention. I love the Bible and am eager to see new ways it is represented through media. Being a media missionary these things grab my attention even more, so I was eager to watch it. But after seeing the first installment of the ten-hour series I was sorely disappointed.
If you want to know the story of the Bible then “The Bible” series is not something I’d encourage you to watch. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this series represents a low view of the scripture. Let me briefly explain why.
“The Bible” adds significant plot points foreign to scripture that take away from the message and meaning of the text.
The scripture is quite plain about how we are to handle it. Dueteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Revelation 22:18-19 warn us about adding to, or taking away from scripture. How does “The Bible” miniseries do this? In the first installment alone there are multiple examples. The most glaring is the scene of the ninja angel slashing his way through the Sodomites. Yet there was nothing of the angels striking the people with blindness so that Lot and his family could escape.
Producer Roma Downey explained that changes like these were made to make the Bible more relevant to a young generation. Ninja angels make the Bible more relevant?
Downey has misunderstood a significant truth about scripture. The scripture doesn’t need to be made relevant, it is already relevant. It is the job of the Christian to make that pre-existing relevance known through appropriation and application. The numerous additions and subtractions in the series don’t make the scripture more relevant, it actually makes it less relevant by removing critical plot points, and moments of truth.
“The Bible” leaves out critical parts of certain stories without which a viewer cannot properly understand the Bible’s story line and how it’s stories eventually relate to Jesus. Where did Hagar come from? Why weren’t the Sodomites struck blind? Why are Lot’s children little girls instead of mature girls who get their father drunk to sleep with him? Sarah pursuing Abraham to stop him from sacrificing Isaac seems to hint that Abraham might be a monster for following God’s command when the actual scripture paints Abraham very differently. There are just to many departures from scripture to mention them all here. And that’s just from the first episode!
The producers noted that they wanted to create a Bible series with high production values to be more relevant to modern times. But judging the scripture by production standards is like judging a book by its cover. How many movies have we seen with high production values but mediocre stories? Special effects can make a movie more engaging, but it can’t make a movie good. The scripture is already good for the purpose for which it was written, and God doesn’t need help by changing it.
The most successful film about Jesus ever produced was what we might call a “B” movie today. The JESUS Film is the most watched film in history. No other tool, other than the Bible itself, has done more to bring people to Christ than the JESUS Film. More than 200 million people have come to Christ after watching JESUS. I believe this is because JESUS is nothing more than the Gospel of Luke set to film—no additions, no subtractions. Just the straight story of Luke. God has honored that effort by bringing millions to Christ through that “B” movie.
Why not trust the Bible’s text and represent it clearly? Because the desire to add to the Bible’s story represents a low view of scripture. It demonstrates that we care more about culture and perceptions than we do about the timeless and life-changing truth of scripture. Hundreds of millions of people from virtually all countries and cultures have had their lives changed through scripture unchanged and unedited. What makes the 21st century so different? Nothing. It is an illusion that we need to update scripture. More than ever we need to remain faithful to it. That is when we will see lives changed.
In Mongolia I needed to fill a 15-minute slot in our TV programming. We didn’t have the resources or time for a standard production so I decided instead to create a simple program that was nothing more than a Mongolian pastor reading the scripture with some countryside scenery in the background. No sermons. No exposition. No explanation. Just read, pause, and reflect. What happened blew my
That little program captured up to 28% of the TV audience for its time slot. Measured against original and translated programs on 15 other stations it consistently rated number one or number two in it’s time slot with overwhelming audience.
For three years.
I think it’s wonderful that there are producers who want to represent the scripture through dramatic movies and series. As Christians in the arts God has called many of us to share the news about Jesus and even disciple people through creative presentations of scripture and its principles. I’ve spent my career doing this and it is a true privilege. But I think the first thing a producer of such media needs to cling to is the absolute sufficiency and preeminence of scripture. Trust the scripture. Even when it makes you cringe. The Holy Spirit wrote it and it is his primary tool when leading others to faith in Jesus. Adding to and taking away from scripture frustrates the Spirit’s work and dishonors him as its author. Think of how many times a book is turned into a movie and people complain bitterly when the movie parts with its original storyline. Christian, why do we praise movies about the Bible that do the exact same thing? Trust the Holy Spirit. Trust the scripture. Then, like a little 15-minute Bible reading program, see what God will do.