The Bible on TV

I like movies. I also like to read. I especially like movies based on books I’ve read, and I’ve seen some really good ones in recent years, such as The Bourne Identity (and its sequels), The Hunger Games, and Jack Reacher. Good books. Good movies. There is one thing these all have in common, however: I always like the book better. As a rule, books are better than movies. It is impossible to put on the screen directly and comprehensively what is on the written page. Books are just better. And when it comes to the new miniseries, The Bible, the same is true. The book is much, much better.

Having said that, I’m enjoying watching the TV production so far. Of course, the writers and producers have employed much dramatic and artistic license. But thats to be expected, and that in itself is not something about which I get bent out of shape (in fact, I really liked the ninja-like angels). We didn’t complain about Cecil B. deMille’s 10 Commandments, which many Christians rightly see as a classic. Even Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which had word for word dialogue, added things visually that were not recorded in Scripture. Think about it like this. If you were explaining part of the Bible, you might not just read directly from the Bible. You would tell the story I. Your own words. This is also what happens in a sermon or Bible Study. The Bible is read, then the preacher or teacher uses illustrations and explanation to get point across.

Also, much of the Bible is left out of the TV show. That is necessary if the producers want to tell the entire story in 10 hours. After all, the Bible is a very long book covering about 4,000 years of history. 10 hours just isn’t much time.

The main question we should ask about any such movie is this: Is it true to the Bible? This is not the same as asking if it is precise and word for word in all it portrays, but whether it presents the Bible in a way that faithfully communicates the message and story of the Bible? My answer? Mostly.

The reason I say “mostly” instead of giving a straightforward “yes” is because there are a few factual errors. For example, when Abraham offers Isaac to the Lord, in the movie, the Lord provides lamb instead of ram. Also, the circumstances surrounding Moses fleeing Egypt are not entirely accurate. And Joshua refers to Jericho as standing between God’s people and the Promised Land (Jericho was in the Promised Land). Obviously, all of these are minor and do not contradict or diminish any core doctrinal truth. In fact, most of us have probably made mistakes like these when talking about the Bible, but we don’t see ourselves as promoting heresy. Neither should we judge The Bible so harshly.

Let me tell you some things I like about the miniseries so far:

1. Miracles are portrayed as miracles, not exaggerated natural events. When the Red Sea parts, it’s not just some shallow body of water that happened to succumb to prevailing winds during the dry season. God piled the water high both sides, and after the Israelites crossed on dry land, He released the sea to destroy the Egyptian army.

2. God is seen as the one true God, creator of all that exists and sovereign over all creation. He is the defender of His people, the hater of sin, and the keeper of all His promises.

3. Sin is seen for what it is–devastating and soul-destroying.

4. The Bible is portrayed as one consistent story about God instead of as a collection of disconnected stories. Viewers are given the opportunity to consider the grand narrative of Scripture from beginning to end, and this will help with understanding the Gospel better as Jesus is rightly seen as the fulfillment of prophecy and the hope of all mankind.

The bottom line? The Bible is not the Bible. However, it has piqued interest in the Bible, and the producers are trying to do it justice. While watching a 10 hour miniseries cannot replace reading the Bible, I do not believe any harm will come from watching it. In fact, I can see some potentially results. Perhaps Christians and non-Christians alike will have their interest in the Bible so aroused that they will desire to read it more consistently and more thoroughly. Perhaps in seeing the drama of Scripture portrayed so vividly, people will realize that the Bible is not some boring religious tome and will want to check it out for themselves. Moreover, if you have non- Christian friends watching it, you might have new opportunities for conversations about what you believe. And might I suggest giving them a Bible, offering to answer any questions, and inviting them to your own Bible Study and worship celebration?

So, enjoy The Bible. I am. And then pray for open doors to tell everyone you can about your great God who came to set His people free.