This first-thoughts review is only going to scratch the surface of the issues that this episode raises and really serves as a launching pad for me to make some points that I have not posted about elsewhere. In this episode one of the best things is simply seeing Jesus tell some parables (this is not an unqualified endorsement of those retellings) and give the Sermon on the Mount. If people hear the word of God it will not come back void — so praise God for those moments in the episode. Jesus will even say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
I take issue with the way that the episode interprets the Pharisees. The narrator claims that the Pharisees urge strict obedience to the Law. However, the Pharisees had high standards but often those standards were less than the Law’s standards. And the episode wants to contrast the Pharisees with Jesus, but they do not connect the dots for the viewer. But let us move on to a more troubling scene.
The episode’s narrator says that Jesus is “a potential threat to Rome.” The one qualifier “potential” does not avoid the problem. The New Testament, by contrast, goes to great lengths to show that Jesus was no threat to Rome at all. Pilate (and Herod) at the trial of Jesus both conclude that Jesus is no threat to Rome. The only ones who argue that Jesus is a threat to Rome are the religious authorities of Israel (including the Pharisees). So the episode’s narrator accepts the religious leaders’ charge as true. This is incredibly troubling. Why are they siding with them instead of with Jesus?
And then there is the woman caught in adultery. The Bible miniseries on The History Channel is by nature selective in retelling the story of Scripture because of the limitations of time and the medium. This leads me to say that they should have left out the story of the woman caught in adultery. The oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of John do not include the story, some later ones include it at John 7:53ff, others include it earlier in the chapter (after John 7:36), or after John 21:25 or even after Luke 21:38 with some variations in the text. This is what scholars call a floating pericope. The choice of putting the text after John 21:25 is instructive, that puts it after the end of the Gospel of John. It appears that early copyists understood that the story was not in the original version of the Gospel. It likely tells a true story, which is why there was not a huge outcry at its inclusion in some texts. It likely was a story that was floating around (hence it became a floating pericope in some manuscripts). But that does not make it Scripture. Only the original Gospel of John (or Luke for that matter) is Scripture. This is why conservative Bible-believing scholars take the study of the ancient manuscripts so very seriously.
I really liked the sequence concerning Peter walking on water to Jesus from Matthew 14, but they really missed an opportunity to highlight the response of faith by the other disciples by leaving out Matt 14:33.
The story of the rebellion concerning the aqueducts hits us out of the blue. Where is this in Scripture? The answer is that it is not in Scripture! No doubt they have done this to highlight the climate that would lead to Jesus’ death and I thought perhaps to even introduce Barabbas, but then we see Barabbas as a foil for Jesus begin shortly after this. Next, Jesus goes into the tomb instead of calling Lazarus to come out. But then we come to the triumphal entry. The story in this episode of the miniseries from this point incredibly disappoints. The high priest appears most concerned in the miniseries that Jesus will disrupt the Passover observance and the portrayal of Pilate supports this concern. But this is not a reason why the high priests wanted to see Jesus die according to the Scriptures. It was only a factor for the religious authorities as to the timing of the death of Jesus (i.e., Mark 14:2).
It certainly would help the viewer to follow what is going on in the episode if the viewer knows some of the Christianese terminology and some of the story. Christ and Messiah were both used, but I do not recall the narrator explaining that they are words for the same title in two languages. We wait to see what the next will unfold…
I know that some will simply say that we Christians know how to eat our own. And some will no doubt say that we should just overlook the things that these episodes add to Scripture that is not there and overlook the things that they skip and overlook the things that they do include. But this leaves me wondering, if I am to overlook all of these things, then what is left? Instead, it is valuable for us as Christians to examine these things and challenge one another’s interpretations so that we can refine them according to Scripture. I offer these thoughts not to tear down others, but instead to encourage you to read the word of God and see the truth and thus be built up in Christ. It is worth noting then that I have the same goal as the producers of The Bible miniseries. I have heard them say in interviews that they too want to inspire you to read Scripture.