My take on the History Channel's: The Bible

"This series endeavors to be true to the spirit of the Bible"
Disclaimer before each episode of History Channels "The Bible"

"All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God will be thoroughly equipped for every good work"
II Timothy 3:16-17

Earlier this month, the History Channel began to air a highly anticipated and highly promoted 10 part, 20 hour series called "The Bible".  This long awaited series was promoted in many evangelical Christian circles as one of the most up-to-date attempts to capture the essence of the Biblical stories.  It has been promoted in the most widely used Bible app (Youversion) and Youversion has become the "official" Bible app of the series.

I want to begin by saying that such an undertaking to render an authentic telling of the Biblical Narrative is daunting enough without the limitation of only having 20 hours to tell it.  The writers, editors, and advisors had one of the most difficult tasks I can imagine.  Trying to figure out in a limited scope, which stories to include and which to exclude depends on cultural, theological, and cinemagraphic frameworks that are often varied and expansive.

I am genuinely appreciative of this attempt of bringing the written Bible into visual imagery that people  since the1960's prefer. The History Channel brings credibility to this series through its reputation for using scholarly work in its products, and "The Bible" is no different.

I believe that the response to "The Bible" has varied within the Christian community due to the diverse opinions regarding the nature of Scripture and the relatively common phenomena of Biblical illiteracy. Personally, I have a high regard for Scripture as the word of God and that in itself flavors how I understand "The Bible" and why I have been somewhat critical.

A couple of thoughts as I have watched 2 episodes:

1. There are numerous errors (direct contradictions with Scripture) in the depiction of the stories.  Abraham rescues Lot with just his men as opposed to the Armies of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham is seen looking back at the destruction of Sodom but not destroyed.  Samson's wife is raped instead of simply married off to a Philistine.  All little distortions that are minor, but easy to fix. There are more but each tends to glamorize and market the characters in a way that is not the tone or the spirit of the texts.

2. Most of the chosen Bible stories feature important and well known characters whose depictions are often exaggerated with gratuitous violence.  Now, the Bible stories are often incredibly violent and "The Bible" has been very accurate with most of them.  However, we see the Angels performing ninja-like, Samarai moves in Sodom (In the Bible it says that they blinded the men of Sodom) while causing the eyes of the men of Sodom to bleed profusely.  We see Abraham, not as the participant with an army to liberate Lot, but as nearly a single handed warrior who is a deadly killing machine.  Samson's portrayal in "The Bible" does not show him as the compromising, manipulative judge that scripture reveals but exaggerates the offense against him by the Philistines in order to set up a redemptive violence scenario that is equal to contemporary Rambo motiffs.  These edits are done to glorify the characters as opposed to supporting a contextual reading.

3. The show seeks to honor the spirit of scripture but accuracy is secondary.  I think it is trying to express the generalities of each story which gives a license to take liberties.  Subtle liberties lead to subtle misrepresentations which is not a big deal. except that people are so hungry for spiritual information that they are willing to base entire theologies on misunderstandings and misrepresentation. Keep in mind that most  major heresies began with a misunderstanding based often on a subtle change.

4.  The Bible stories are often edited to remove stories of failure We see no record of Abraham multiple failures of faith prior to his willingness to sacrifice his son; or Mose"s near refusal and clearly shaken faith in going back to Egypt, or the role of Israel's idolatry in God allowing the Philistines to oppress the  Israelites in the telling of Samson's story.  These edits give an unrealistic portrayal of the characters and I think are actually discouraging to the average person who is flawed and would likely be under the impression that God only uses special, highly gifted and powerfully motivated people.

5. Lastly, the Biblical narrative is a story of the development of a people of God.  At the core of the work of Jesus is the development of community and communion between God and humanity, and humanity to itself.  Much of the Mosaic law is focused on how a community lives.  Yet, there is very little on the development and desire of God to shape a community.  In western society (the Bible is written in much more a eastern understanding), there is an emphasis on individuals and that is reflected in "The Bible" but is not necessarily Biblical.

So overall, I appreciate the effort and anything that brings attention to Scripture I am generally in favor.  I find "The Bible"  as a polished "hollywood" collection of biopics that seeks to tell Biblical stories in a way that is favorable to most themes in the Bible, but manipulates the narratives to promote a version of the story that is far more "acceptable" and "heroic" than the texts actual suggest.  I hope that most faith communities use this series to discuss its themes, its manipulations, and its faithfulness to the text.

I would love to know what you think,

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor