The History Channel’s The Bible, Parts 3 & 4: Fire the Narrator

The_Bible_Series_-_Art_Preview_587x327Last night featured the next installment of Executive Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downeys’ docu-drama The Bible on The History Channel. Theirs is a tough challenge, as they try to capture the broad sweep of Holy Scripture in ten hours. They’ve done a decent job of creating a grandiose setting with beautiful landscapes and nice special effects, and so far they’ve systematically marched through a compressed linear presentation of the Bible. Where they seem to be lacking is in presenting the theology behind the spectacle, specifically, the Biblical themes of Law and Gospel, and on an even more basic level, of pointing us to Christ.

Episodes 3 and 4, titled Homeland and Kingdom, roughly cover the high points of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 Chronicles. Rather than provide a blow by blow review of these two episodes, let’s concentrate on the transitions at the beginning of Episode 3 and towards the end of Episode 4, and see how they relate to the whole.

The transition at the beginning of Episode 3 involves Rahab. The bare bones Biblical facts: Rahab, who is found in Joshua Chapters Two and Six, is a prostitute living in the wall of the city of Jericho. Joshua sends two spies to Jericho to scout out the bad guys, who are aided by Rahab. She hides them on her roof and then helps them escape.

The theological significance: Rahab is a believer. She states “I know that the LORD has given you the land….” She confesses that “the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” Rahab has been catechized. Not only does she believe that the LORD is Creator, she knows His name, Yahweh, here translated “LORD.” She knows of God’s mighty deeds, including the parting of the Red Sea, and believes that the LORD has given the Israelites the land. She reverences the LORD’s name, and has the spies swear by the LORD that they will save her and her family. In faith, she saves the spies, who in turn offer her the scarlet cord which marks her home as the sole dwelling in Jericho to be saved from the coming destruction.

This simple story is a very poignant reminder of God’s grace. We see the Law at work. Rahab is a prostitute. The Mosaic Law condemns her to death for being a prostitute, and as a Canaanite, she is outside God’s Covenant. She deserves the same fate as the rest of the Canaanites of Jericho. She also deserves the same fate that we should suffer, for we too are sinners. Yet the Holy Spirit has worked saving faith in her heart, just as He does in ours. She has heard the Word and has believed, and her works manifest that faith. Rahab will go on to become an ancestress of Christ (see Matthew 1:5), and is mentioned in the Hebrews “faith hall of fame” (11:31), as well as in James 2:25.

Now let’s take a look at how The Bible presents Rahab.

We first see the spies bursting into Rahab’s house to avoid capture. While Rahab does say

You have a God who commands the winds and parts the seas. This whole city is terrified of you. How can we fight a people whose god can do that?

…she demonstrates no faith, she only fears for the safety of her family. After the spy tells her, “Help us and we will help you,” she helps them escape. He gives her the scarlet thread from around his waist, and tells her “When our army comes, hang this on your door, so they will know not to harm you. You’ll be passed over.” As Jericho is invaded, Rahab is shown placing the scarlet thread outside her door. The angel of the Lord previously told Joshua that Rahab must be spared, and she and her family are rescued.

The closest we come to Jesus is the mysterious angel of the Lord, and Joshua shouting after the conquest “He truly is the Savior of the world.” Joshua says “God has kept His promise. If we obey the Lord, anything is possible.” Thus a familiar theme is restated, a quid quo pro relationship with a God where the magic word is obedience. There are no clear Biblical themes of sin, repentance, and redemption presented. The narrator’s lines in this series are a failure. It is here that the series could have “redeemed” itself. If only the narrator had said this as the camera slowly zoomed in on Rahab:

Rahab places the scarlet thread outside her door, a sign for the Israelite army. We see this same scarlet thread marching through time in the pages of Holy Scripture. It represents the saving presence of Jesus Christ, who is the true Lamb of God. The thread was present as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and as they painted the lamb’s blood on their door posts during the Passover, protecting them from the Angel of Death. That blood prefigures the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross and sprinkled on all those who have faith in Him. That blood cleanses us from all our sins. Here in the figure of Rahab, who will become an ancestress of Jesus, we again see the blood of the Lamb at work. Rahab’s faith, worked in her by the Holy Spirit, saves her and her family from destruction. We will see this same scarlet thread again and again woven throughout the pages of Scripture, leading to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His defeat of sin, death, and the power of the devil,  for us.

The end of Episode 4 highlights King David and Nathan (and lastly the birth of Solomon), as they wrestle with David’s adultery and murder.

The Scriptures record Nathan’s confrontation with David regarding his sins in 2 Samuel Chapter 2, recorded in verses 9 and 13:

Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. …David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.

David’s contrition and faith are clearly shown in his repentance, as is Nathan’s absolution of David’s sin. Prior to Nathan’s proclamation of the Law to David, David had lost his salvation, as Luther points out in the Smalcald Articles: “When holy people …fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them” (III, iii, 43). In contrast, in The Bible series, while Nathan rebukes King David, David never repents, and he never receives absolution. The closest thing to an absolution is Nathan’s words “Even though you are weak, he loves you David. You have forged God’s nation on earth. Take comfort in each other, you will have another son.” The Biblical categories of sin, repentance, and absolution are glossed over, obscuring Christ’s glory and our need for a Savior. This oversight is a glaring error.

There is more to these two episodes, including the story of Samson, David and Goliath, and Saul’s pursuit of David. If you’ve got further questions, I’d encourage you to speak with your pastor. My guess is that he’s been watching this miniseries, because he knew you’d be watching as well.

While this miniseries may indeed stimulate questions and generate plenty of blog posts and commercials, its lack of fidelity to basic Biblical themes make it difficult to watch. The purpose of the Bible isn’t to “entertain and inspire,” it’s to kill and make alive, pointing us to Christ, themes you’ll have to look hard to find in the television miniseries The Bible.

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


The History Channel’s The Bible, Parts 3 & 4: Fire the Narrator — 37 Comments

  1. In the series so far, I have yet to hear anything about the promise of a Savior. If I were an unbeliever or unchurched, my question would be what is the point of the entire thing? Without the promise of a Savior, it’s just a bunch of related or unrelated story.

    They really ought to fire the guy who is doing the casting, at least for his choice of the actor who played Samson. Samson was a judge, a man of God, a Nazarite from his birth. We know he had tremendous strength and because he was a judge, I would also assume that he possessed a normal amount of intelligence. In the series, Samson is a bumbling, not very bright individual whose conversation in many instances seems almost child-like.

    I am watching the series so that I can discuss it intelligently with friends who seem to be enraptured with it but anyone would be far better off spending the two hours in the Word.

  2. The best I can about this series is that it trivializes the Bible. As I’ve said in another post, the music simply atrocious, and, like so much of this digitally produced music, it’s all hype and geared to effect. Goliath was a joke–he sounds just like the bad guys on Saturday morning shows: deep echo-like voice, issuing threats, but the character is hollow, just as Jonathon is. The tortured character of Saul is unconvincing–he’s just another bad guy. Is it the acting? The script?

    Another thing that nobody else has pointed out so far. We have not had four hours of “The Bible.” At best, it’s more like three hours. I videotaped the first two episodes for a friend, and will check out the actual times, but, based on the number of commercials, I doubt that we’ve had the pleasure of three hours. Extrapolated to the five-two hour episodes, that is more like 7 1/2 hours.

    So far, “The Bible” wouldn’t even make a decent Cliff Notes version. Frankly, I could get more good theology reading Arch Books.

  3. I really appreciate this review that points out the error and educates. Thank you! I hope you will keep your reviews coming though I am not sure how much more of the miniseries i can take. I would like to be able to discuss them in a manner that is educated and not just to turn my nose up (though I do roll my eyes and laugh quite a bit) but I do not want to do this to my friends. I even heard some excited conversation in my congregation yesterday.

  4. I think this is a good presentation for the audience that they’re trying to attract–the unsaved. Once you start going to the religious extremes by pointing out all the sinners in the scenes, then the self-righteous finger points right back to us.

  5. @Joyful Noise #2
    You obviously have a racist issue, based on Samson being played by a blackman in which he really was. Perhaps you thought all jews where white liked and youre absolutely wrong. Also where coded words are also signs of your racist view, such as lack of intelligence in not those exact words, non intelligent conversation and bumbling. Yes please spend that two hours in the word and hopefully our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can expel that racist spirit out of you. Heaven does have segregated sections my fellow Christain. Thanks for your feedback JOYFUL NOISE

  6. The Muslims will probably want equal time and want to produce a four Part series on the Koran. That would be enlightening.

  7. John :
    The Muslims will probably want equal time and want to produce a four Part series on the Koran. That would be enlightening.

    If Mark Burnett and Roma Downey do “The Koran” the way they did “The Bible,” my guess is that they’ll have to go into hiding. Besides, I’m not sure how you make 10 hours of nothing but teaching interesting.

    On the other hand, “The Bible” just makes me want to go into hiding.


  8. @John #6

    Riots! Death to the infidels! I’m not sure it would go over well. Who could we get to play Mohammed? And could we portray him accurately? How about some of his more notorious quotes and actions – wouldn’t that set things right!

  9. I would pray all Lutherans are using this great opportunity to tell their neighbors of the good news that so far has been absent in this video presentation. While I’ve found many have watched this series, few know what is missing, namely Christ for us. The two scriptures I’ve found most helpful are Luke 24:27 and John 5:39. Jesus was very clear concerning the purpose of the scriptures – they are not about ninja angels nor hollywood theatrics.

    The scriptures all bear witness to Him. This is what He told the disciples on the Emmaus road who departed Jerusalem disappointed in the events during Holy Week. There is much good news to be told and who better to explain these scriptures to our neighbors than Lutherans! God has given us two excellent gifts, His Son and a Bible series woefully deficient in Christology. It’s time we spread the Gospel to those watching and willing to listen. Go – tell your neighbor the Good News.

  10. I’ve seen both episodes and was not impressed. Where is the peace, love and joy of God? Nothing so far other than fighting, and killing. Thankfully, that is not the way of the Gospel of Christ or of Christianity.

  11. @Rev. David Mueller #13

    Well, Pr. Mueller, there are cherubim and seraphim, creatures with wings, among God’s heavenly servants.
    I have been taught though, that those who appeared to men/women, did so in the likeness of men, possibly so the humans wouldn’t be scared silly. As it was, the first thing they needed to say was,”Do not be afraid!”
    That does make a hash of a lot of beautiful art, doesn’t it!? But no doubt the wings and the halos were “artistic license” so that we would know who was who in the pictures?

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen “It’s a wonderful life” (if I’ve placed your quote correctly).

    Scott and others:
    I thank you for keeping me “up to date” on the History Channel’s version of the Bible! God bless and keep you from absorbing heresy inadvertantly!

    G’nite now!

  12. Here is an AP article that may shed some light on the intent of this series; look who endorsed it. QUOTE – “Burnett and Downey have been building anticipation for “The Bible” by previewing it at churches and for religious leaders. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, have all endorsed the work.

    “The faith community is going to sample it, unquestionably,” Dubuc said. “Whether they stay or go remains with the TV gods. Our job has been to present this as an epic tale of adventure.”
    “We knew that we could make it heartfelt,” Downey said. “We knew we could make it faithful. But we wanted to be sure that we could make it cool.”

    Now here is how the devil is doing his work – QUOTE – “The television airing of “The Bible” on History is only the beginning for this project. Lifetime will air a repeat each week after a new episode appears on History. It will air internationally, and a DVD package will go on sale this spring. The series’ scripts are bound together into a book. Producers will make a theatrical release movie of a portion of the story, and are looking at showing it in stadiums this fall. Burnett and Downey have also reached a deal to make parts of the film available as part of a religious education curriculum for churches.”

    “More people will watch this than any of our other series combined over the next three decades,” Burnett said.

    Note this paragraph –

  13. I highly recommend Malcolm Muggeridge’s “Christ and the Media.” He spells it out in spades.
    “….the camera ALWAYS lies,” he says. Spot-on.

    I’m beginning to see this series as a parody. It has almost a Monty Python-like quality. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this.

  14. @Michael Plummer #7
    Oh, Michael, you couldn’t be more wrong when you call me a racist. I have three black grandchildren who I adore and have had black friends for many, many years.

    I’m wondering if you actually viewed the episode. Samson’s conversation with his mother was very child-like and he certainly was not portraryed as a man of any great intelligence. That’s my personal opinion but others have made the same comment.

    As I stated previously, Samson is far from my biggest concern with the series. My concern is that as of yet absolutely nothing in the episodes has pointed the way to Jesus Christ. If I were an unbeliever, I think I would wonder what the whole thing is all about as without the focus of the promised Messiah, it appears to be a number of unrelated storeis.

  15. @Michael Plummer #7

    Mr. Plummer, nobody except for Afrocentrists and other Black supremacists believe that Samson or any of the Israelites were Black. And clearly, Joyful Noise mentioned nothing about the race of the actor. For you to repeatedly call him a “racist” is a serious sin, a repeated violation of the Eight Commandment. Your obsession with race, and your use of the term “white liked,” show that the only person here who is a racist is you. Repent, Mr. Plummer, of your racism, hatred, and your bearing of false witness against Joyful Noise. Repent and believe on Christ!

    All, go here to understand the mindset of Michael Plummer:

  16. The History Channel is so Racist in my opinion. People of color can only play bastard roles. and small roles as angels. One angel was Black and the other Asian. They treat people of color in the dark continent of Africa as though they played no role at all in The Holy Scriptures. That is not to say that Angels are not important. However, the role of Samson was given to a black actor. His mother was single. His wife was white and killed for marrying Samson an Isrealite. All of this is not in the Holy Bible. The Holy Bible teaches us that Samson’s father’s name was Manoah. His mother was not some single black, unwed, mother. Please give us a break! The Holy Bible teaches that Samson’s wife was not killed, but, given to Samson’s best man. Samson gave his wife away because she gave away an answer to a riddle that he wanted the Philistines to solve. She was a Philistine. The History Channel made the story of Samson into a story about RACE instead of a story about a man that had the gift of strength from God. This is ridiculous, racist, and counterproductive. They can only pull this stunt because AMERICANS DON’T READ! The masses continue to be dumbed down, racist, and so 1930’s, Jim Crow-ish! This is so silly!

  17. @Sharon Whittaker #26
    Did the History Channel produce this movie; cast this movie, or do anything other than air it? To the best of my knowledge, the History Channel presents programs about — what other, history. And some of that, sad to say, is racist.

  18. @Joyful Noise #28

    I’ve read your post (#2), and, like Nicholas (#25) can find nothing racist anywhere. If calling people “stupid” is a sign of racism–coded language–then the national media must have had racist intentions in their opinion of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, to mention just a couple.

    As to the History Channel presenting programs about–history, much of what they present, especially where Christianity and the Bible are concerned, is “bunk,” to quote that great history-lover Henry Ford. Not sure about the racist quality tho–racism slices both ways.

    “The Bible?” It isn’t. Not the Bible, and not history.

  19. I thought your review was very good. Just having something about the Bible is good, I guess, but I was unmoved by the 2 evenings I watched. First, there were inaccuracies which shouldn’t have been there. Second, a lot of time was taken by fighting when more could have been spent on what it is all about. Third, it didn’t bring you to tears or joy as did “The Passion of the Christ”. And as a side note, I wonder why almost all presentations of Biblical people avoid those who look Semitic? Are we ashamed that Our Lord and His mother and others were Jewish?

  20. @Christina B. #30
    “And as a side note, I wonder why almost all presentations of Biblical people avoid those who look Semitic?”

    Oh, we couldn’t have Jewish-looking people–that would be racist or anti-semitic. Not PC, no, no, no. But, as you correctly observe, that is just a “side note.” The characters are non-semitic, and the script is non-biblical.

    I watched parts of last evening’s episodes, and they were marginally better–barely. You just can’t do justice to the Bible in such a short time frame. Although God was mentioned a bit more, the whole production is still very anthropocentric. And the music–is predictably trite and banal–as I’ve said elsewhere, it sounds as tho they cribbed the soundtrack from “Home Alone.” Ugh! Can’t wait to see what Chris Rosebrough has to say (no offense, Scott).

  21. Kevin :I think this is a good presentation for the audience that they’re trying to attract–the unsaved. Once you start going to the religious extremes by pointing out all the sinners in the scenes, then the self-righteous finger points right back to us.

    The seeker-driven mindset everyone! Just don’t preach Law and Gospel; preach “relevant life tips” and you’ll really pack ’em in!

  22. @Michael Plummer #7

    Mr. Plummer said: Heaven does have segregated sections my fellow Christain.

    Somehow I missed that, and it’s certainly news to me. Please show me Biblical evidence of that statement.

  23. Chris Rosebrough discusses Jim Wallis’ support for the show:

    Wallis likes the line where “Jesus” says they’re going to “change the world,” which is not in the Biblical text.

    If you don’t know who Wallis is:

    Rosebrough also mentions this article, which discusses Roma Downey’s studying for a Masters’ Degree in “Spiritual Psychology” from a school founded by a New Age guru:

    Don’t forget to listen to yesterday’s episode as well, where Rosebrough plays “Daniel” talking about how the returning Israelites are “moving with purpose.”

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