Last week’s blog post addressed the first of five programs airing on the History Channel based on the Bible. This miniseries has been a popular topic of conversation in some Christian circles and has received mixed reviews. So before commenting on tonight’s episode, I’d like to offer a few comments about the reactions to last week’s episode. If you read my post, you know that I thought there were some strengths and some weaknesses to it, but overall, I think it is worth watching. Even the inaccuracies will give you an opportunity to watch with an open Bible, comparing the movie with Scripture to see for yourself what they got right and what they missed.
Based on some feedback I’ve seen, several Christians have been overly critical of the series for various reasons. Some of them don’t like the producers or consultants. Some of them have complained about the inaccuracies or the glossing over (or skipping over) of certain events. Others have charged the filmmakers with blasphemy because they don’t like the way something was portrayed.
I read a blog post earlier today where the writer claimed that the program bordered on blasphemy by making God seem capricious. How did they do this? According to this blogger it was because in the account of Abraham and Isaac the filmmakers didn’t teach that the sacrifice pointed to what Christ would ultimately do at the Cross. While I’m all for taking every opportunity to share the gospel with people, there are a couple of problems with this charge.
First, the Bible never tells us that the Abraham and Isaac pericope was pointing to what Jesus would do (although I think there are some obvious parallels that can be drawn and it’s easy to use the account to talk about Christ).
Second, the filmmakers are attempting to adapt the accounts in Scripture in a dramatic manner so that they come alive for the viewers. It would seem a little strange to add commentary after each account saying something like, “And this happened because it was a foreshadowing of…” While some Christians think that every OT passage should be taught this way, and others think we need to make sure we point every lesson in that direction, it should be noted that the Bible doesn’t do that. That is, when you read Genesis 22, you read about Abraham and Isaac, and how God provided a ram (not a lamb as shown in the program) for the sacrifice. But the end of the chapter does not say, “And this was a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do on the Cross.” So according to the logic of this blogger, you would be bordering on blasphemy if you simply read Genesis 22 to someone.
Now let’s take a look at some of my initial thoughts about what aired on tonight’s program.
One thing I have really liked about the series so far is how they portray the angels (my wife pointed this one out). In many Bible programs, angels show up as overly squeaky-clean and extremely mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and somewhat effeminate. Not in this series. The angels show up as tough warriors. While the non-fallen angels are holy beings, they are also extremely powerful, as evidenced by one angel’s killing of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (Isaiah 39:36).
Tonight’s episode covered three major accounts: Joshua and Jericho, Samson and the Philistines, and Saul and David. It was interesting to see these passages brought to life. After conquering Jericho, Joshua proclaimed that God had kept His promise to the Israelites, and that if they obeyed Him, then they could accomplish what He had planned for them.
I thought the story of Samson was done fairly well, even though it was greatly compressed. That is, several events were cut out or compressed into one for the sake of time. This is often necessary when adapting a text for the screen, so I don’t think it’s fair to automatically accuse the filmmakers of taking away from God’s Word when they are simply compressing events, although there is a big risk of misrepresenting the Bible (or any other text) when you do this. In this case, I thought the Samson account was pretty well done, and I really liked the part where he fought the Philistines with a jawbone (although it would have taken the whole two hours to show him killing a thousand of them). Yes, they skipped Samson’s riddle, which ultimately led to the reason his wife was burned, and they skipped some of Delilah’s whining when she was trying to get Samson to tell her the secret of his strength.
As for the account of Saul and David, I thought there were some strengths here as well. For once, David was not just a pipsqueak when he fought Goliath, although this still wasn’t presented accurately (see below). I really liked how they portrayed the part about Saul slaying his thousands and David his ten thousands. That can really help the viewer understand some of the reasons for Saul’s jealousy of David.
As mentioned above, one of the dangers with compression is that you can mislead people about what happened. In the film, Rahab didn’t really hide the spies, and the order of events was messed up. The anointing of David was inaccurately portrayed. Rather than calling the people of Bethlehem for a sacrifice and then meeting with Jesse and his sons, the film had Samuel just meet David while he was out in the field with a flock. When Nathan confronted David about his sin, the story of the rich man and poor man was not told, but this was vital to David’s recognition of his own sin and ultimately his repentance, so it should have been included.
Not only was the David and Goliath account greatly compressed, it was also inaccurate. David was already Saul’s armor bearer at the time, although he had just come from his father’s place because he had occasionally helped out there. David was also already known as a mighty man of war, a man of valor before he fought Goliath (1 Samuel 16:18); he didn’t just become a great warrior after the fight as shown in the movie. There are several other indications that David was indeed a mighty man, and not small when he fought Goliath.
While the film did a pretty good job of showing Saul’s anger and jealousy toward David, it also rearranged some of the events. For example, the first time Saul tried to kill David was before his plan to give his daughter Michal to David (in hopes that the dowry price of 100 Philistine foreskins would lead to David’s death). But the film had Saul throw a spear at David right after Michal had been given to him.
There were some other things that were done well and others that were not. Should Christians trash this miniseries because of the inaccuracies or should they use it as an opportunity to instruct people who are talking about it? While I certainly think it is extremely important to point out error, we need to be gracious toward people when we do it. Sadly, I’ve seen too many overly zealous Christians ranting against the filmmakers and the production as a whole, and yet many of them have not even watched it.
We all need to be on our guard against error, and we should compare everything we read, watch, or listen to with the Word of God. The Bible miniseries has given Christians a great opportunity to share the truth with unbelievers. If viewed properly (with open Bible in hand), then viewers can have a great learning experience and come to know the Word of God in a better way.