The final episode of The Bible aired on the History Channel tonight. If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you know that I’ve been reviewing each episode highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each program. Once again, this review is not meant to be exhaustive to point out every little mistake or all the things they may have done well.
Tonight’s show took viewers from Christ’s trial before Pilate to the end of the New Testament with the Apostle John on Patmos. Overall, I thought tonight’s episode was worse than the rest, but I’ll try to give the benefit of the doubt, realizing that a ton of events are being compressed into a brief time slot. So let’s take a look at the final show.
In my view, the best elements of tonight’s program were in some of the “minor” issues (if there is such a thing in Scripture). I was glad to see that they included the brief mention of Pilate’s wife and the dream that she had (Matthew 27:19). But this wasn’t done properly, since the Bible tells us that she sent a message to Pilate about it while he was on the judgment seat.
I liked the scene with Ananias when he had a vision of Jesus telling him to visit Paul. For some reason, I had always pictured Ananias as an old man, but here he was portrayed as a younger disciple. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old he was at the time, so this is one of the things I’ve enjoyed about the program—it’s given me an opportunity to re-think how I picture some of the details not described in the Bible.
One of the strong points of tonight’s episode was the sign on the Cross. The Bible tells us that Pilate had a sign written in Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek, and Latin (John 19:19–22) stating, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” This upset the chief priests, but Pilate refused to change it. It seems that he was determined to get back at them for putting him in the awkward position of condemning Jesus, a man that he said was innocent. Most depictions of the sign only have the letters, “INRI,” which is the Latin abbreviation for “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Finally, the Crucifixion was handled decently. Obviously since the program is not rated R, much of the brutality and gore was toned down. But they showed many of the significant things that Jesus said on the Cross along with the earthquake and tearing of the temple veil when He died. For some reason the hyssop plant used to raise a sponge to Jesus’ mouth was a Roman spear instead. These unnecessary changes of “minor” details have been frustrating.
I found this episode particularly hard to watch at times. In my previous reviews I’ve given the filmmakers significant leeway to compress events for the sake of time. I understand that this is necessary when trying to depict so many crucial events (it took Mel Gibson two hours to cover the arrest and execution of Jesus). However, when you compress the events, you have to be careful not to significantly alter what actually took place.
The burial scene was not done well. They showed some of His followers washing the body, but since Jesus bled out after dying, then this blood would have been considered to be “mingled,” and according to Jewish regulations of the day, the body would not have been washed if more than ¼ of a “log” (a log was equal to the volume of six eggs) of mingled blood was present. But more than that, they did not have Jesus’ face covered or wrapped in any way in the tomb, yet the Bible specifically mentions a cloth that was wrapped around the face (the Bible doesn’t say whether this was a cloth tied around the face to hold the jaw shut or one that covered the face).
The Resurrection was handled even worse. They completely skipped the women going to the tomb early in the morning. Instead Mary Magdalene was the first one there. They had her inside the tomb (instead of outside it), no angels present, and Jesus appears to her before she ever went to tell Peter and John that the body was gone (yet Jesus appeared to her after Peter and John visited the tomb). Again, some of this was for the sake of time, but it just led to more mistakes. Next, Jesus appears to all the disciples (including Thomas who was once again portrayed as a grumpy pessimist who didn’t even believe right away when Jesus appeared—see last week’s post for more about how Thomas is often portrayed poorly). But Thomas wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to the group. Then the Ascension didn’t even take place at the Mount of Olives. At least they did portray Jesus as physically risen from the dead, so their portrayal of Jesus did not match the liberal view of a spiritual resurrection.
Speaking of Mary Magdalene, I mentioned last week that her role could have been done better. At the time, I thought it was nice to have her representing the women that traveled with Jesus, but tonight’s episode really got on my nerves in this area. Mary Magdalene was featured as much as any disciple other than Peter. She was repeatedly shown as though she were not only one of the disciples, but part of the inner circle along with Peter and John (the Bible puts James as the third of this inner group, but the program often had Mary as the #2 behind Peter). For example, when Peter healed the lame man, the Bible tells us that Peter and John were on their way to the temple when this happened. In the program, Mary approached the man first, then Peter healed him. John was just in the background. During a montage of the disciples taking the message around the empire, Mary was shown too. She was everywhere in the film, but the Bible never mentions her again after Acts 1. This emphasis on Mary Magdalene will give more wrong impressions about her, since many non-Christians have tried to argue that she and Jesus were romantically involved. Since they focused on her so much, the filmmakers should have made it clear that no such relationship existed. At Pentecost, she spoke in tongues and was given a longer speaking role than any other disciple.
And speaking of Pentecost…this was also handled poorly. Peter did not even give a sermon where he boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah before a large crowd of Jews. Instead, a handful of people overheard the disciples speaking in tongues in the upper room. The other events in Acts were also greatly compressed. For example, Stephen was stoned without a trial.
I didn’t like the conversion of Paul scene either. The Bible tells us that Paul’s first response to Jesus was, “Who are you Lord?” But the program cut the word, “Lord.” The Bible says that Paul also asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Paul instantly submitted to Christ at this point, yet the program has him defiant and refusing to believe that Jesus was before him. While some people have said that the filmmakers did this to eliminate the teaching that Jesus is Lord, I think they did it for dramatic effect—to add some more drama to Paul’s character by having him so antagonistic to Christ that he refused to believe until being blind for three days.
As I’ve stressed in each of my reviews before, this program can be helpful, but everything needs to be checked against Scripture. It can lead to some great discussions with the family about biblical teachings, but you have to be careful not to accept everything you see at face value. I’ve enjoyed seeing someone else’s portrayal of people, places, and events because they don’t always match what I’ve pictured (as I mentioned above with Ananias).
I think the best part of the show is that it has led some people to open the Bible and read it. The greatest danger with the program is that when it is inaccurate (either in what it depicts or if it gives the wrong impression by what it doesn’t show) then it misleads viewers about Scripture. The gospel message was not clearly presented. While it did touch on man’s sinfulness and it did show the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, it really didn’t explain why these were necessary to save sinners, and it also minimized the doctrine of eternal punishment (actually, I don’t remember any mention or hint of it).
In all, the program was very much what I expected it to be. I think the producers wanted to do a good job with it, but they portrayed more of a seeker-sensitive view of Christianity. At least they depicted the Bible as actual history, so let’s pray that God will use it to drive people to His Word, and that people will come to see Jesus for who He truly is—the Creator, God in the flesh, Judge, and Lord of all, and the only one who can save sinners from God’s wrath.