The History Channel’s The Bible Episode “The Mission”

March 25th, 2013 Post by

The_Bible_Series_-_Art_Preview_587x327When in Napa Valley, and wanting the best dining experience possible, you would likely ensure that you have reservations at the French Laundry to taste the exquisite cuisine of Chef Thomas Keller. Upon arriving at that fine dining restaurant, you are seated at your table and put in your appetizer order along with your first wine pairing. Perhaps you order the “Oysters and Pearls,” which is a Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. You eagerly await your order while sipping on the sommelier’s delicious recommendation. After five minutes or so, you see your waiter calmly walking up to your table with a white bag in hand. He plops the bag down in front of you and exclaims “Oysters and Pearls!” and gracefully walks away, disappearing into another room. Uneasy, and a bit dismayed, you open the bag and peek inside to find your face flush with hot steam and anger. Inside the bag is a container of Burger King French fries and a couple packets of Heinz Ketchup. You show the contents of the bag to your dining partners only to hear from one of them, “Isn’t that great! You got some hot American cuisine!” Your head swims as a vein in your forehead feels like it is extruding into the next century. You’re a consumer, and you have been let down by a Michelin starred chef, to say the very least.

The fictitious dining horror story I tell above illustrates my concern with the History Channel’s series “The Bible.” As I sat and watched Sunday’s episode “The Mission,” I became keenly aware that I was being served up a consumable “good” by executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett; both of whom are keenly aware that several bible-themed films are coming up in Hollywood and they seek to compete with them.

“The Mission” tantalizes viewers with its Moroccan scenery and a cast of actors who do a fairly good job at acting out their roles. I am a “B movie” fan, mostly of the sci-fi genera, and this series hasn’t let me down, as a consumer, with the solid “B movie” acting (yes, there is irony in there). I have found the series entertaining.

Portugese actor, Diogo Morgado, who plays the role of “Jesus,” gives us a character that is much more balanced than some other Jesus characters I have viewed in past programs. Unlike some of them, Morgado’s character is capable of something other than a syrupy, pasted on, smile and bubbliness permeating every scene. Morgado’s character actually shows some anger at times, and in particular in the scene where Jesus tosses over a couple of the money changer’s tables and scolds them for turning the temple into a “den of thieves.” This “Jesus” flexes a little muscle.

the-bible-mary-magdalene-and-jesusIt was also refreshing to see the disciples of Jesus portraying their characters as real, living and breathing, persons and not a group of happy-clappy cultists dancing around and handing out loving glances at all the “sinners” as if they were followers of Hare Krishna distributing love and flowers at an airport.

I must report, though, that I am not terribly happy with this episode. The “Mission” starts off with a series of miracles performed by Jesus, but for no rhyme or reason. Here Jesus travels the vicinity of Jerusalem doing miraculous acts without any explanation from the characters, or narrator, as to their significance. As Lutherans we understand that Christ’s miracles are performed showing that the Kingdom of God has come and confirming the ministry of Christ (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). The significance of these miracles is apprehended by faith alone (John 11:25–27, 38–40; 20:30–31). In other words, miracles are faith strengthening and are performed to coincide with important points in time (i.e. salvation history) as God speaks the Gospel to the human race. Miracles performed without the Word of God are insignificant magic acts. The Bible series does more to portray Christ as a magician, than they do to report that He is the Word incarnate sent to speak to the world in these last days (Hebrews 1:2). The question of “Why the miracles?” is not answered in this episode of the series and that is troubling.

I was also troubled with the scene where Nicodemus secretly meets with Jesus and the disciples. This scene would have been a wonderful opportunity to speak the truth of the Scriptures as to what it means to be born again. In many evangelical circles, being “born again” is marked by an emotion laden “spiritual experience” which is supposedly a direct experience with God. In such a view, God doesn’t deal with us, where our salvation is concerned, only through His Means of Grace. The Lutheran Confessions identify those holding this unscriptural view as “Schwärmerei,” or “enthusiasts.” The Enthusiasts reject God’s teaching on the means of grace and prefer to talk about experiences with “the spirit” apart from God’s Word. This scene certainly reinforces the false teachings of the Enthusiasts. Nicodemus asks what it means to be “born again” and Jesus responds, “To see the kingdom of God you must be born again, but not in the flesh but in the spirit…. The wind blows where it will… and so it is when the spirit enters you.” There is no mention at all of “water.” Indeed, the Holy Scriptures are clear that Christ tells us, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). There is no “born again experience” without “water and the Spirit.” The Jesus of this History Channel series gives only half the truth by leaving this clear reference to water baptism out and replacing it with the Enthusiast’s message, “spirit alone.” A half-truth is no truth at all.

As the show progresses, I find myself wincing more and more at the “half-truths” of this episode until the scene of the Last Supper of our Lord. I expect to find the words of institution butchered beyond recognition, but am somewhat pleasantly surprised when the actor portraying Jesus utters the words, “This is my body…. This is my blood.” There is nothing added to suggest that the bread and wine are mere symbols. No sooner was I feeling a little “happy-clappy” over the words of institution not being mangled, at least up to that point, when the actor stopped short. “Come on!” I said. “Where are the words, ‘…for the forgiveness of sins’” as found in Matthew 26:28? Years of catechesis had me shouting inside, “What does this mean?” as the “Mission” episode once again fell short on delivering the Gospel.

nicodemusthebibleThere are many, many, more problematic scenes in this episode (Such as the “other Mary” in Gethsemane with the Apostles while Jesus prays and basically tagging along as if one of the twelve in many scenes. Women’s ordination?) and for the sake of brevity I can’t report on them all, but will only touch upon two more. There is Jesus telling the viewers, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” with no mention of “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The exclusivity of the truth claims of Christ are given no air time. Furthermore, there is nothing in this episode which clearly articulates the deity of Jesus. The closest we get to such an affirmation of Christ’s deity is in the scene where Caiaphas interrogates Jesus and asks him if he is the Messiah. Jesus is silent and Caiaphas prods him with a pointed “Are you the Son of God?” to which Jesus affirms, “I am and you will see me coming at the right hand of God.” Caiaphas tears his clothes and shouts, “blasphemy!” but there is nothing to indicate to the viewer why Caiaphas would label Christ’s claim blasphemy. We are just given a descent moment of theatrical tension and left with that.

As I sat on my sofa, snack foods in hand, and watched this drama, I had to confess that I was entertained. The producers of this program aimed their message at teenagers and because of that fact; we are given snazzy fight scenes and emotion laden drama rather than Scriptural truth and historical accuracy. The series is definitely consumer driven and as such I am not surprised by the fact that when I was looking for a gourmet meal of truth in this episode, I was only given a bag of fast food. I suppose some Lutherans reading this article are saying, “Isn’t this series great! At least we got some truth!” However, I prefer the real Michelin starred deal I get every Sunday morning, where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are rightly delivered. What I like most about this series on the History Channel is that it opens up more opportunities for me to tell others about the mercy Christ has shown to me.






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  1. Joe Strieter
    March 25th, 2013 at 15:52 | #1

    Let’s get things going here.

    I watched quite a bit last evening, and it wasn’t all that great (at least Jesus didn’t smile ALL the time, but he does have nice hair). What’s more, I doubt that there was more than 80 minutes of actual story–the rest was advertising (and lots of that was pretty awful, as well), and the music can best be described as banal, inane, insipid, (I’m trying to put the best construction on things),…. BUT!!!!!——-

    For background see my post #36 on the previous Thread, “The History Channel’s The Bible Parts 5 & 6: The Absent God”. The story continues: This morning, I was working out with my friend who “isn’t much of a Bible guy,” so I asked him what he thought of last evening’s episode. He said, “I’m loving it. Only watched an hour, but I have it on tape, so I can watch the whole thing.” Then he went on, “You know, I don’t really believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I just don’t. But I want to believe, so that’s why I go to church!” So what do I do with that? “So, tell me, ________, where do you go to church?” He replied, “Oh, I go to the Lutheran Church!” Turns out he attends an ELCA church nearby. Now, I can’t blame his attitude towards Jesus on the ELCA. Here’s a man who still goes to church, who says he “wants to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” So do I trash “The Bible?” Heck no! With all its flaws, distortions, omissions, errors, it’s an opening, the way I see it. So, “Hey ____, looks as tho we have a lot to talk about when we do lunch.”

    Go figger. I don’t like the series, but even if there’s only money as a motive for making it, if not downright evil intent, God can use it. (Maybe I should put on my Kevlar jacket?)

  2. wineonthevines
    March 25th, 2013 at 16:22 | #2

    I heard a pastor on Issues Etc. (commenting on this series) last week opine that he thought, “Les Miserables” was the best biblical movie he’d seen all year, because of it’s emphasis upon God’s grace & mercy!

  3. Joe Strieter
    March 25th, 2013 at 18:30 | #3

    I think it’s time someone starts working on “The Steadfast Lutherans’ Non-pejorative Study Guide to ‘The Bible’ Miniseries.” It may take a few pages, but it would be worth it. Go for it, Pastor Fisk!

  4. March 25th, 2013 at 18:36 | #4

    “It was also refreshing to see the disciples of Jesus portraying their characters as real, living and breathing, persons and not a group of happy-clappy cultists dancing around and handing out loving glances at all the “sinners” as if they were followers of Hare Krishna distributing love and flowers at an airport.”

    Well I guess we can thank the producers that they had the good sense to refrain from a liturgical dance scene. Thanks for the good review Jim.

  5. Nicholas
    March 25th, 2013 at 20:20 | #5

    “Mission” is a popular buzzword in the seeker-driven church movement, as are “purpose” and “vision.”

    While conversing with Rick Warren on stage at Saddleback, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett revealed that they were exchanging e-mails with Warren very frequently while filming the series. I think it is safe to say that Rick Warren was the primary “theological” influnce on this TV series.

    Another of the “theological” advisors to the series was a member of “Women in Ministry for Obama”: http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=27668 This person was probably responsible for the “other Mary” being present with Jesus and the Twelve in so many scenes, including even Gethsemane.

  6. Joe Strieter
    March 25th, 2013 at 20:58 | #6

    Let’s face the facts: It’s out there. We ain’t gonna like it, but it ain’t going away. It’s bad–very bad. It needs a lot of work, but ain’t nobody gonna fix it. I’m not so naive as to minimize the dangers in “The Bible.” But….

    So there it is, everyone’s watching it, and many like it. What are we going to do about it?

    We turn it to our advantage. Use it as a teaching tool. Use it as a point of departure for discussion. Use its shortcomings as opportunities to demonstrate the truth. “Always be ready….”

  7. Jim Pierce
    March 25th, 2013 at 21:39 | #7

    @Nicholas #5

    Thank you for this information. I will add that it is apparent the series is purposely driven towards lacking any theological substance to such an extent that I don’t think either Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses would take issue with the series. It’s a “one size fits all” sort of production where the viewer can give their own meaning to the narrative: how post-modernistic.

  8. March 25th, 2013 at 23:02 | #8

    I have to agree with everything you say, however I am thankful it is here, because my wife is not a Christian, she likes the show, and I am able to discuss it with her. However, there are so many missed opportunities, and there’s definitely a reformed biased with the show.

  9. Peter Slayton
    March 26th, 2013 at 08:17 | #9

    @Joe Strieter #3
    Why would you expect Fisk to have anything good to say about this series? He is pretty in-your-face about false teaching and half-truths. Why would he go easy on something like this when it clearly has major issues? He’s always about pure doctrine! I’m surprised you would think otherwise.

  10. Rev. McCall
    March 26th, 2013 at 08:35 | #10

    The problem is that there is little to build from of this show when it comes to evangelism. The show has a guy named Jesus in it and the Bible has the Son of God named Jesus in it and that’s about where the similarities end. Any witnessing based off of this show would have to involve a huge amount of correction just to the basic story. A better approach might be, “So I heard you liked “The Bible”. It was an intersting Hollywood take on things for sure. Can I tell you about the real Jesus Christ? Who He truly was and what He truly came to do?”

  11. March 26th, 2013 at 08:39 | #11

    @Rev. McCall #10

    I absolutely agree rev. However as I said in my comment, my wide and I sit, I correct and tell her what that meant what wasn’t there so on and so forth… and she nods.

  12. Joe Strieter
    March 26th, 2013 at 11:49 | #12

    @Peter Slayton #9

    You’re missing the point. Where did I say that Pastor Fisk should/could/would say anything good about “The Bible?” What I said was that he might start working on a corrective. Here’s what I said: “I think it’s time someone starts working on ‘The Steadfast Lutherans’ Non-pejorative Study Guide to ‘The Bible’ Miniseries.’ It may take a few pages, but it would be worth it. Go for it, Pastor Fisk!” “Non-pejorative” hardly means approval, tacit or otherwise. I believe he’s eminently well-qualified to do such a study guide. Sans pejorations, of course.

    @Rev. McCall #10
    You said, “The problem is that there is little to build from of this show when it comes to evangelism.” Yep. I could not agree more. It’s downright awful. But when a casual acquaintance says he loves “The Bible”, it doesn’t make any sense to go into a frontal assault on all its flaws, distortions, errors, etc., etc., etc. My “Hey ____, looks as tho we have a lot to talk about when we do lunch” is the next step after your, ““So I heard you liked “The Bible”. It was an interesting Hollywood take on things for sure. Can I tell you about the real Jesus Christ? Who He truly was and what He truly came to do?” And over a sandwich and a coke, to boot (on me, of course).

  13. Joyful Noise
    March 26th, 2013 at 12:55 | #13

    @Scott Diekmann #4
    It was not refreshing, however, to see that there was a woman disciple. What’s that all about? Perhaps through her theological studies, Roma is hoping to become a pastor and is preparing the way for it.

  14. Joyful Noise
    March 26th, 2013 at 12:57 | #14

    Joe Strieter :
    So there it is, everyone’s watching it, and many like it. What are we going to do about it?

    Recommend that everyone read Pastor Fisk’s book “Broken.”

  15. Joe Strieter
    March 26th, 2013 at 15:53 | #15

    Joyful Noise :

    Joe Strieter :
    So there it is, everyone’s watching it, and many like it. What are we going to do about it?

    Recommend that everyone read Pastor Fisk’s book “Broken.”

    Yes, indeed. 100% agreement, there.

    Maybe his study guide on “The Bible” could be titled, ” ‘The Bible’–Repairing What They Broke.” Non-pejorative, of course…..

  16. Paul of Alexandria
    March 26th, 2013 at 19:57 | #16

    @Joe Strieter #1
    Well, the basic problem is that the series is made by a group of non-believers – certainly non-LCMS Lutherans – in order to take advantage of an “in” trend. They’re not interested in getting the history right (that would, in large part, require in-depth research and taking sides in a number of historical-theological arguments) so much as getting it plausible. They are most certainly not going to go out of their way to portray Jesus as the Savior-on-His-way-to-Calvary that we know Him to be; they’re going to portray Him as the moral teacher who accidentally gets himself killed – the popular concept of Jesus.

    Now the best recent depiction of Jesus that I’ve seen was “The Passion of the Christ.” Mel Gibson may be a twit at times, but he actually believed in the Christ that he was portraying, and you could tell it. Perhaps we in the LSMC should put our money where our mouths are and make our own biblical history production.

  17. Nicholas
  18. Joe Strieter
    March 26th, 2013 at 22:25 | #18

    @Paul of Alexandria #16

    I haven’t seen “The Passion”–can’t comment on it, except that lots of people thought it was over the top, blood-and-gore-wise.

    Re: the basic problem, I’m not sure what the makers of “The Bible” believe. For openers, I think the basic problem is the anthropocentric character of the story line. It’s all about leaders, and vision, and purpose. Then, there’s the fact that there’s no unifying theme–since man is at the center, the Messiah gets short shrift, and the series becomes nothing but a series of disconnected adventures or misadventures. You don’t get any sense of where the story is going. I could go on, but you get the drift.

    So, it’s goshawful, already. When you’re speaking with someone who may not be a believer, you have to start someplace. They’ve seen the series–they like it, or are intrigued by it, and may have questions. So, it’s where you can start. Whether the producers are believers or non-believers (non-Lutherans, for sure), they have unwittingly (and perhaps misguidedly) given us a place to start. I don’t have to like it, but it may be all there is for some folks. So, that’s where one begins.

  19. Marlene
    March 27th, 2013 at 18:49 | #19

    I watched one part of this series. Jesus goes into Lazarus’ tomb….not in the Bible….not even close….what else is distorted?….I turned OFF the television and brought up Issues etc. music radio on the computer…..ahhhh, much better….

  20. Joyful Noise
    March 27th, 2013 at 20:21 | #20

    I don’t believe The Passion was anymore blood and gore than the current edition of The Bible. And it wasn’t unnecessary blood and gore. No eyes being poked out, etc. Plus they didn’t make up dialogue for Jesus. That one is well worth watching which I certainly can’t say for The Bible.

  21. Joe Strieter
    March 27th, 2013 at 23:05 | #21

    Joyful Noise :
    I don’t believe The Passion was anymore blood and gore than the current edition of The Bible. And it wasn’t unnecessary blood and gore. No eyes being poked out, etc. Plus they didn’t make up dialogue for Jesus. That one is well worth watching which I certainly can’t say for The Bible.

    Marlene :
    I watched one part of this series. Jesus goes into Lazarus’ tomb….not in the Bible….not even close….what else is distorted?….I turned OFF the television and brought up Issues etc. music radio on the computer…..ahhhh, much better….

    I agree with your opinions of “The Bible.” Well, it’s out there, and it’s getting a lot of play. We’re going to have to deal with it. A good way, it seems to me, is to look at the Biblical text, then talk about what they did to it. I think that folks will begin to see this series for what it is–bunk. But you have to start with the real Bible first.

  22. helen
    March 28th, 2013 at 10:38 | #22

    @Paul of Alexandria #16
    Now the best recent depiction of Jesus that I’ve seen was “The Passion of the Christ.” Mel Gibson may be a twit at times, but he actually believed in the Christ that he was portraying, and you could tell it.

    The Passion of the Christ was laced with RC tradition, but it did plainly show that Christ was God in the flesh. We could bring it back at Easter time, as an antidote to “the Bible”.
    [BTW, use quotes for the TV drama, because it's not the Bible!]

  23. wineonthevines
    March 28th, 2013 at 10:47 | #23

    @Helen #22

    Chris Roseborough at his review of it at “Fighting for the Faith” refers to it as, “The babble”!

  24. Joe Strieter
    March 28th, 2013 at 14:28 | #24

    wineonthevines :
    @Helen #22
    Chris Roseborough at his review of it at “Fighting for the Faith” refers to it as, “The babble”!

    I think Chris means “Bobble,” (as in fumble–”oops–he bobbled the ball”). He also calls the disciple-ette “Regina” after some witch-like TV character (whom I had never heard of) I thought “Elaine” would be kind of nice, in “honor” of Elaine Pagels, the Bible-scoffer. I would simply refer to the series as “The Bible?????????”. Maybe “Un-bible” is more accurate. But as I’ve said (ad nauseum), it ain’t going away, folks. Deal with it.

  25. Joyful Noise
    March 28th, 2013 at 20:31 | #25

    <BTW, use quotes for the TV drama, because it's not the Bible!]

    Good point, Helen.

  26. Nicholas
    March 28th, 2013 at 22:27 | #26

    Rosebrough reads an e-mail about this episode of “the Bobble”: http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/2013/03/easter-what-does-it-make-you-think-of.html

  27. Nicholas
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