The 10 Plagues in THE BIBLE Mini-Series

 Call me a skeptic, but when The History Channel started it’s advertising campaign weeks ago for their latest debut mini-series THE BIBLE (which premiered on 3.3.13 – ooh spooky!), I knew right away what was going to happen. Either they would hire some two-bit historians, the usual parade of higher-critical, liberal scholar hall-of-famers, or they would fill their theological glass full of the best and brightest in American pop-Christianity. In the end the result is really the same however. The former destroys any objective claim Christians can (and should) make for the historicity of the events in the Bible by writing them off as myths, fairy tales or legends. The latter destroys any hope for an objective preaching of the Gospel by gutting the very essence of the Biblical salvation story (a true one we must add) from every key person event in the Old and New Testament. Now of course, many who support this mini-series project will say, “How could you be such a nay-sayer? It gets the Bible out in the public eye. Isn’t it good that people hear the story of the Bible, even if it is on TV?” That would all be well and good if in fact the Biblical teachings were the primary focus of the mini-series and if the central message of the Bible actually was the central message of THE BIBLE, namely repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus. So far, I’ve heard nothing of sin or forgiveness in any of the pre-broadcast media. The same is true for the actual debut itself.

To be fair, I’ll hold out judgment for the New Testament segments of THE BIBLE until they are released. But for now, there is plenty to discuss even in the mini-series premier this last Sunday evening, including the previews of the New Testament episodes, which hold little hope. As one of my good friends observed yesterday, it would be easier (and shorter by far) to list the things THE BIBLE got right. The question is, how much will survive Mark Burnett’s History Channel island?  In any regard, after watching Sunday’s episode I’ve come up with a list of top ten plagues found in this first installment:

10. Follow the Source: If you haven’t seen THE BIBLE TV show yet, you don’t even need to in order to discern what theological direction it will be headed in. A brief glance at the board of advisors and theologians reveals where the prevailing theological winds will take this ship. Of note are three names in particular, Joel Osteen (the smooth talking voice of Christless Christianity), T.D. Jakes (the well-known anti-trinitarian), and Rick Warren (everyone’s favorite player at the Bible context game of Twister).  As Chris Rosebrough said on Pirate Christian Radio yesterday, “It’s all about the theology.” And the theology of this thing stinks from the start. A bad tree produces bad apples. If the water you’re drinking is poisoned, all you have to do is look up stream to find out who or what plopped into the water.

9. The “Spirit” of the Book:  In the opening credits, the producers acknowledge the fact that they will take creative license with this series followed by a not-so-reassuring statement that says “We’ve attempted to stay true to the spirit of the book.” What exactly is the “spirit” of this book? For that we have clear words, Jesus’ words: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24). The “everything” that Jesus refers to there is his life, death and resurrection in order to save the world from sin, death and the devil. Test the spirit of this show to see if it’s declaring the same message and the same Jesus.

8. The Devil is in the Details: As I watched the program Sunday night, and again last night on DVR, I was struck by the sheer quantity of missing historical and narrative details in the story telling (from the seemingly small and unimportant to the rather large and glaring ones). We’re first introduced to Abraham not as Abram. We’re never told about his name change or why YHWH made such a big deal about that. His call and the first promise are smashed into an answer blowing in the wind making Abraham look more like a side-walk freak on Hollywood Blvd. than a trustworthy prophet.  No mention was made of the covenant YHWH made with Abraham, which by the way, happened when he was sleeping and was entirely the Lord’s work. Pharaoh didn’t die in the Red Sea as Exodus records and Moses must have been a better character single and lonely. Where was YHWH’s pillar of cloud and fire at the Red Sea? Not to mention YHWH’s presence with in the Tabernacle. One simply doesn’t walk into the Holy of holies – such as Joshua was depicted doing – without some heads rolling. And what’s with those ninja-Jason-Bourne-like angels in Sodom? 

I know there’s such a thing as creative and artistic license, that’s fine. But the entire reason a theological advisory board was brought on was to ensure that Biblical details were accurate. And they’re not. I’m not saying I’m surprised. I’m saying this reveals that the theologians involved either knew the details and did not tell them (or production changed them, in which case why bother with advisors) or they didn’t think them important enough to include in the stories. Either way – ignorance or seclusion – reflects poorly on the Christian faith.  Historic Christianity is founded upon these kinds of seemingly small details; they matter, each and every one of them. We expect Hollywood to get it wrong. We should demand that Christians working in Hollywood get it right. It makes Christians look historically foolish.

7. Theism: I heard lots of “God-talk” in the opening segment but nothing whatsoever of Christ. Nothing was even so much as hinted at about a Messiah or a Savior or a future hope such as YHWH delivered to his people starting already with Adam and Eve.  Theism is popular these days. But it’s not Christianity. There will be plenty of good theists in hell. Thankfully the only way we know God is because of Jesus: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And it is Christ who makes him known to us in his death and resurrection.

6. Passing over the Passover: Given the amount of time and detail the historical accounts of the Exodus (not to mention the attention the Psalms and prophets give to it), you would expect the Passover sacrifice to be well-narrated and given a bit of exposure. This, however, was not the case. They showed the lamb, the blood and the doorposts. But there was no meal. No explanation why Israel had to eat the bitter herbs and the lamb and the unleavened bread. No atonement mentioned. No forgiveness of sins even hinted at. “The blood of on the doorposts marked them as God’s people,” the narrator said. Yes, but what does this mean?

5. Promises, Promises: As I mentioned already, THE BIBLE severely botched the Abraham covenant account. In fact it skipped over it all together. Kind of shocking, really, considering how important this covenant was for YHWH’s people. Again, it was a unilateral, one-sided covenant between YHWH and Abraham and his descendants. Instead it was described as God’s covenant that Abraham and his descendants had to keep, as if it were entirely up to them to do the 40 years of purpose-driven, every-day-a-Friday kind of living in the wilderness before they could get to their best promised land ever and be the better “yous” God had planned for them to be. There’s just one problem, “purpose driven” anything isn’t a promise; it’s simply more commands and duties disguised as promises; it’s simply the Law presented as Gospel. No wonder Moses says to Aaron, “Now we get to fulfill Abraham’s covenant with God.”  Wow. 

And then there was that little statement at the end of the flood chapter where the narrator calmly and quickly said, “Noah and his family could now begin restoring the relationship between God and man.”  Noah’s name may have meant rest, but neither he nor his children were capable of restoring the broken relationship of the Fall.  That only comes in the New Testament with the true Man of Sabbath Rest, Jesus. And that rest is won by his death and rest in the tomb and his resurrection from the dead to give us an eternal Sabbath. 

4. The Long Arm of the Law Cut Short: Mark Burnett was successful in one thing: he made me appreciate Cecil B. DeMille’s version of the 10 Commandments. I had heretofore not enjoyed that movie. But that movie at least listed the 10 commandments and why they were given. The Law was dulled and its teeth yanked out in THE BIBLE. And if the long arm of the law is cut short, we’re reduced to people having made “bad choices and bad decisions” and behavioral problems instead of an outright rebellion against YHWH almighty that leads to death at every turn.

3. A Famine of the Gospel: When the Law is dulled, so is the Gospel. When a sinless Bible is presented it’s no wonder that it is also a Christ-less story in the end.  If sin is merely a behavioral problem, a bad habit in need of improvement, then there’s really no need for a Savior from sin, death and hell. The Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions repeatedly remind us that it is only the sick who need a physician and that we cannot come to know the cross without knowing how great an evil sin truly is. THE BIBLE mini-series has presented little to no Gospel so far. And what is there has been lost in a computer graphic theology of glory.

2. Computer Graphics are Cool, but They’re Not the Gospel: If the producers and advisors would have put as much into the presentation of the substance of this movie as they did the style (cinematography, etc.) this would have been a far more accurate presentation of the real Bible they are trying so hard to portray. The Church – as the Scriptures – stands or falls on the article of justification, that God was reconciling the world unto himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them. So far this central message has been noticeably absent. Perhaps it is assumed, but the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied. Pretty pictures don’t get us one step closer to Jesus, and in this case, they appear to be leading us in the opposite direction.

1. THE BIBLE is not The Bible: Let the reader understand. Of course THE BIBLE is claiming to tell the Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation.  Christians who know and read their Bible and who attend Bible study and Divine Service regularly will see the movie for what it is: another attempt by Christians (even if well motivated, although motives are hard to guess) to present the Bible in a way that is friendly to the outsider and popular to the insider that falls far short of the mark of Biblical accuracy and fidelity.  I worry far more about the people who will take their theology and Biblical knowledge from this movie. That would be entirely dangerous. The theology in this mini-series is anything but faithful to the historic Christian faith. And the Bible presented by THE BIBLE is anything but a good story, even if it’s visually stimulating. In this case, the book – as is always the case – is better than the movie. One good thing that could come of this whole event is that people might actually ask their pastors about the bible and its teaching, or, Lord willing, pick it up and read it themselves from the source instead of the knock-off brand. Instead of drawing from the sinking sands of THE BIBLE as our source of doctrine and comfort, let’s return to the bedrock of the Scriptures, to Christ’s sure and certain Word in all of it’s life-giving, effective, faith-producing, sin-forgiving, faithful-confession-working power. This is the sure foundation for Lutheran Confessions and for all who are called by Christ.

About Pastor Sam Schuldheisz

Pastor Schuldheisz serves as Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Huntington Beach, CA. He graduated in 2004 from Concordia University Irvine. And he is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pastor Schuldheisz is also blessed in marriage to his wife of 7 years, Natasha. Together they enjoy the blessings of parenthood with their daughter Zoe. And when he’s not writing sermons or changing diapers, he enjoys reading and writing about the works of the Inklings and other belletristic literature, and Christian apologetics. He’s even been known to answer to Pastor Samwise on occasion.


The 10 Plagues in THE BIBLE Mini-Series — 10 Comments

  1. About Moses being a Model for Warrenism in “The Bible” miniseries:

    Opps…Moses didn’t quite get to go to the “Purpose Driven Land” because:

    They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
    and it went ill with Moses on their account,
    for they made his spirit bitter,
    and he spoke rashly with his lips. Psalms 106:32-33

    Maybe Warren’s Model is a little Broke???

  2. It’s about right to compare this to DeMille’s Ten Commandments: Entertaining, carries a smattering and sketch of history, but far from being a wellspring of doctrinal truth, or even complete historical accuracy.

    For the record, I’m convinced to this day that, in the Resurrection, Moses will be a clone of Charlton Heston. 😀

  3. Note to the Lutheran Church: Produce something better than the others. You did it 60 years ago; why not now?

    For 25 Years I have been reading articles like this. It is fine for us and our kind to know. We have criticised to death generic American religion since Walther’s day. The result is predictable – apathy.

    Apologies to the Doctor: Scripture alone – but Scripture is never alone. Perhaps we would get different result by by showing people how this sort of thing is done right. Contrast that with the Gospels, which we have come to realize are first-rate productions as far as Koine Greek literature go. And we’ve had a few other highlights along the way, like Paul Gerhardt and Johann Sebastian Bach.

    I love the Lutheran Hour and I willingly promote them and support them in our church, but I don’t get why we don’t get TV in our church any more. I remember an old sign the back of my home church promoting “This is the Life” long after the show had disappeared. Back then, people acknowledged that it was better than any other religious broadcast to be found. Period.But who even remembers?

    Pray in our time, that those who were able could cough up the dough to get a visual production done right, and find the talent who know how to speak 21st century; people like Jonathan Fisk, and all those young artists in our parishes who are languishing ignored, because nobody has the vision to harness their talent for proclaiming the Gospel the way only Lutherans can.

  4. @Rev. Joe Das #4
    Rev. Das,

    This is the Life was indeed a great program. I can remember watching it many times. However, we ran out of money for production of same. Perhaps it was because there came to be a greater emphasis on our colleges becoming universities which took some monies perhaps. But, I am wondering if there is not something coming soon and or in the future. There was an attempt via cable channels but it was not the stories of This is the Life.

  5. I only watched a few minutes of this debacle, but I’ve been listening to Chris Rosebrough’s anaylsis of part I. As I was watching it, something bothered me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then, while listening to F4F, it hit me: The music. This needs to be the 11th plague, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve noticed that lately all the background music on TV sounds pretty much the same (I don’t go to that many movies). Also the over-use of sound effects, which is simply there for hype.

    First, the music. It is obviously computer-generated. So there must be a menu with various musical “effects” or “themes” (or leit-motivs, per Richard Wagner). I can just see some operator, sitting at a console is hitting this key or that key to get the effect the director wants (I don’t think he has more than about 25 choices). After viewing a few of these productions, it all sounds the same, and very predictable. This is just a hyped up version of the Hallmark Channel. Where is Victor Young (“Shane”), or Franz Waxman (“Sunset Blvd), or Miklos Rosza (“Spellbound”), or Max Steiner (“Gone with the wind”), or Bernard Hermann (“Psycho, “Vertigo”) when you need them? If you watch “Home Alone” you will hear virtually the same music–insipid, boring, unimaginative, and frankly, meaningless. Adds nothing.

    Second, the sound effects. Good grief, how many “whooosh-bangs” do we need? Going back to the computer console idea, I’m guessing there’s about 15 of them, and the operator just picks one out. Talk about over-kill! Again, just a re-run of “Home Alone”.

    As I’ve said before–quoting Malcolm Muggeridge–the camera not only CAN lie, it ALWAYS lies. And that goes for the sound track, also.

    Bah, humbug! I think I’ll go watch “Home Alone”. That, at least, is supposed to be funny.

  6. Sometimes, you have to reach the nations in a way that catches their attention and makes them search deeper. You sadly make the conclusion that we are capable of presenting the whole, unaltered message of the Holy Bible to every person we encounter. Instead, our daily interactions and witnessing opportunities (even the readings and sermons in church) only present little snippets of the story to those we reach. This “The Bible” series does the same thing. I’ve now watched the first 3 parts, and I can say that sometimes a wrong point gets made, or a pivotal moment gets skipped, but just as many important moments of Scripture are dramatized and brought to life for many who have never read them. I pray that this imperfect series and its countless advertisements for the Bible app encourage people to pick up a real Bible, find a Christian friend, or seek spiritual direction from a pastor as God draws them to Himself through His perfect Word. We’re only human, after all.

  7. My question is of all the things that you could be ridiculing and tearing apart you choose this. So if you’ve started watching this and stopped what holsom Godly show did you watch instead. I don’t read anything that resembles Christa Love. From your words are your words driving people to the cross or away from it. If I was an unbeliever and watched just one episode of this and was taken back at the possibility that any of this happened and then I came across you guys who are leaders and examples of Christ and his church I’d be done with those thoughts and I’d walk away. What was the last movie you went to or selfish sin you indulged in? But you sit there beating your chest with pride accusing this show of being wrong evil a debacle. Do you know the hearts of the lost ones watching it? There maybe details that are missing or out of place but does that take away the power that God has in his name when it’s being displayed in this Manner. I ask you again are you really driving the lost ones to the cross with your contemned to this show. So many other shows and movies you could display the lack of God but you choose this. Have a heart of Christ and be a fisher of men as was written and also displayed in the show.

  8. I agree that this show is missing some very fundamental points of the faith. But I would raise the question, instead of sitting in our ivory towers and writing this off as a meaningless piece of pop-spirituality can’t we use this as an opportunity for sound teaching? Sure, it gets things wrong and neglects the central message of scripture, but isn’t that where dear old pastor is supposed to come in to fill these voids? At the end of the day this program does something printed word cannot; it provides a captivating visual, it condenses a complex narrative for perhaps a new audience. The issues we Lutherans (rightly) have with this series need to serve as a stepping stone toward engaging the show’s viewers and introducing them to the truth of the Gospel! And to the person who gave the Satan/Obama link, shame on you. Democrats and Republicans alike are welcome in God’s house and the president’s political views and tragic misunderstanding of human life do not make him any less worth reaching out to. I’m seeing a lot of big talk in these responses and very little about how to grow God’s Church on earth. What a shame on our end that a television series should be such a stumbling block.

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