It’s no exaggeration when I say I’ve been mulling over in my head for a great deal of time exactly how I was going to write this. There are so many ways in which this miniseries is just plain wrong that it was difficult to figure out which angle to take. When watching this latest installment of History’s series “The Bible”, I probably woke my sleeping daughters at least three or four times yelling at the TV.
The easy and obvious tack is to pick apart each detail of Scripture that is incorrectly portrayed. There certainly are a lot of them. In the Daniel portion there is a confusion of Darius with Cyrus. The timing of the arrival of the Magi seems to be off when compared with Matthew’s Gospel. When Joseph hears the truth about the Child in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, it is not in a dream. When John the Baptist sees Jesus, he sure looks like he’s meeting Him for the first time. And when John the Baptist is beheaded, there is no wedding, daughter, request, or silver platter. But these are details, and though they’re important, these oversights fall by the wayside when the real issues are examined. There were also a couple of artistic licenses taken — the snake in the wilderness during the Temptation comes to mind. But again, one expects a certain amount of license even for a dramatization of the Bible.
I had a couple of sheets of paper with scribbles and arrows and a bunch of underlines, trying to make sense of how to present some of the more glaring problems with this presentation. No one’s faith is going to be shaken by a mistake over Darius, or by Magi showing up to the manger. But there are a number of issues that must be noted, and many of them undercut the major teaching of Holy Scripture. As Lutherans, we believe that the Bible speaks two words to men: God’s Law that convicts us of sin and shows us the need for salvation, and His Gospel that shows us how He has saved us in Christ. For us, it all comes down to this teaching about justification. Now, it should come as no surprise that a program put together by a modalist, a new-ager, and many Christians who hold to erring confessions of the Faith will not be Lutheran. I hope no one expected this series to even feel Lutheran, because there was never a shot at it. At the same time, I think most of the truly glaring errors can be reduced to this: God is simply missing.
I wish I had a really eloquent way to say it, but I don’t. God just seems to be away from His desk, asleep at the switch, or completely aloof from His creation. Take Nebuchadnezzar. The conversion God managed to pull off with him was truly amazing. Daniel records the song he sings after the Lord preserved the lives of the three young men in the furnace: “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:3) Yet, History makes no mention of his conversion. No God at work here.
In the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, Matthew’s account (Matthew 3:13-17) is full of references to the divinity of Jesus and the activity of the triune God . After John protests that he ought to be the one being baptized, Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). The Son is obedient to the Father’s will, and will remain obedient. The Father, then, calls down from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and comes to rest on Him (Matthew 3:16-17). And yet, nothing of the sort is shown in the miniseries. The divinity of Jesus is not so much as hinted at, and after Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan the only thing portrayed is swirling clouds and deafening silence.
Next, we find Jesus wandering out into the wilderness, but not being led by the Spirit. It is as if the makers of this miniseries go out of their way to excise any divine activity. So Jesus is tempted by the devil, but the response to the temptation reveals what the makers of the series think about the Word of God. Even Jesus Himself uses Holy Scripture to refute Satan’s lies (Matthew 4:1-11). But in this series, Jesus is speaking the words anew, never prefacing them with the word “It is written”. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). But the lesson the viewer takes away from this, I guess, is that when we are tempted by Satan’s lies we should try to be clever just like Jesus. Oh, and not to be missed is when Satan tosses a stone to Jesus and in the tossing it becomes bread. Do they really think Satan has the ability to create? Again, no God active in His Word.
The scene fast-forwards to John the Baptist in prison and about to be beheaded. As mentioned previously, John is not speaking against Herod’s sin (Matthew 14:1-12). Rather, he is preaching — but he is preaching an alien gospel: “He [Jesus] will bring a new age of righteousness and justice. His [Jesus’] power will draw all men to a new world.” The underlying worldview isn’t too hard to detect; the very words “new age” are coming out of John’s mouth! This obviously has nothing to do with the justification of the sinner before God. Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), but that’s not why the Jesus of this series came. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any real need for God becoming Man, and certainly no need for that Man to hang lifeless on a tree for the sins of the world.
Then we see Jesus calling His first disciple, Peter. I must say that this portrayal was flat-out bizarre. Along with what Chris Roseborough calls “Vidal Sassoon Jesus” (due to a first-century Jew having hair to rival a conditioner commercial), this was a Jesus who looks like Luke Wilson, acts like Woody Harrelson, and speaks like Rick Warren. And he’s doing that oh-so-pious looking-slightly-upward-all-the-time thing. But He walks out to Peter’s boat and says, “Peter, just give me an hour, and I will give you a whole new life” — text from the Holy Bible, Purpose-Driven Edition.
Lastly, as Jesus and Peter are on the boat, Jesus tells Peter that they are going to “change the world.” Again, this is the purpose-driven Jesus one would expect from a production that uses Rick Warren for expert advice. Rather than speak of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10), saving the world through Himself (John 3:17), revealing the Father (Matthew 11:27), preaching the good news of the kingdom (Luke 4:43), doing the will of the Father (John 6:38), proclaiming the year of thee Lord’s favor (Luke 4:19), giving life (John 10:10), or fulfilling the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), the creators of this series choose to turn Jesus the Savior and remake Him into Jesus the Generic Revolutionary.
In summary, it was most disheartening to see the total absence of explicit divine activity in the world. The Gospels are chock full of it, but instead we’re treated to seemingly random snippets from the life of a long-haired visionary who has some vague notion of his purpose. As others have pointed out, there was little reason to expect anything else, given the kind of “experts” that were consulted, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing when you actually get to see it.