The BIBLE on the History Channel

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It’s been a couple weeks since the premiere of the BIBLE on the History channel. I’ve heard a range of opinions, some hating it, some loving it. Last night I caught a rerun of some of the first and second episodes. I have to say that it was better than I expected, and it made me wonder what other Sunday school teachers are thinking. I’ve been teaching first grade lately, but haven’t been in the classroom since it’s aired, so I haven’t heard the buzz from kids who are watching. Is it sparking any interesting questions? Any meaningful family discussions?

Two things struck me as I watched it. First, it can be tricky to remember exactly what is in the text and what comes from the imagination of the writers and directors. Sampson’s mother, for example, plays an interesting role onscreen. I don’t remember her in the story… It’s hard to watch without thinking, "wait, is that how it happened?" or "nope, they missed it there" or "I bet that was what he was thinking!" So it sends me back to the text to explore and remember these great stories.

Second, the real human emotions come through in vivid ways on screen. I was struck by the sadness of the plagues that finally killed the Pharaoh’s son and all the other firstborn boys in Egypt. I was sitting on my couch with the baby monitor next to me and I could see my baby girl sleeping in her bed as the smoke surrounded Pharaoh’s son. It made me think about how the sin of a parent affects a child too, and the pride of a leader affects the whole community. Wasn’t it strange to see the children cheer when the soldiers drowned? It’s hard to imagine that children were there too, running from the soldiers and celebrating the death of their enemies.

I found it fascinating to watch these stories from Scripture unfold and to wonder about the choices that were made—things added or left out (like the whole passover meal) in order to tell the story in this medium. What are your thoughts about this new mini series? How do you see it sparking conversations at church and at home? How might it shape kid's perception of the Bible or of God, for better or for worse?

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We have watched this as well. my wife and I are quite familiar with the Bible stories. The series does make them interesting. Certainly, a lot of details in the Bible are not included, and sometimes the series skips over a lot of Bible history. So while it may be interesting, I do not think that someone unfamiliar with the Bible should study it without also looking at the Bible itself for reference, and rely on this for his/her Bible learning alone. Worth watching.

Thanks for the comment, Fred. I wonder how many people who aren’t familiar with the Bible are watching it. Your caution reminds me of a time when I was leading youth group for high schoolers and someone asked about a story that they thought was in the Bible. It was sort of a fable with a moral, and it was totally fictional, not in the Bible at all.  Yet this person was convinced that the story came from Scripture! Perhaps it was used in a devotional or as a sermon illustration at one point. Likewise, people can get confused when the story is combined with creative liberties.  

I didn't catch the latest episode, but I heard it was quite violent. I hope families with young children are cautious about watching it with their kids. In Sunday school we don’t tell all the stories to every age group. Sometimes people criticize that, but we have to strike a balance—we know kids today to face violence and hardship, and some of these stories speak to them. But we also need to be sensitive to young imaginations that are vivid and easily frightened.  

One of our members told me yesterday that her non-Christian husband asked her to watch it with him.  I am praying that God will use this series as the open door through which this man will step asking more questions and perhaps finding the answers in Christ.

In the Heidelberg catchism  L.D. 35 , images of God or Jesus are not permitted .  I would be interested to see if anyone else thinks that movies like this would be applied to this.

I think question 97 explains the purpose of this Lord's Day.   We are not to worship images or substitutes of or for God.  Jesus was a man also, fully human, as another Lord's Day explains.  So people saw him, touched him.   Representing the Jesus they saw, admittedly we don't know what he looked like, is in one sense having an actor represent Julius Ceasar or the apostle Peter in the telling of a visual story.   However, if you find yourself worshipping such an actor, or thinking that the actor represents God, rather than the human suffering aspect of Jesus, then you probably should not participate in the watching. 

A.God can not and may not
be visibly portrayed in any way.

Although creatures may be portrayed,
yet God forbids making or having such images
   if one's intention is to worship them
   or to serve God through them.1
 

 

Interesting conversation here! I agree that determining whether worship is the intention is a big factor in understanding when images of Jesus are or are not appropriate. But we also can't underestimate the power of images to make helpful or harmful impressions about Jesus. When Christ is portrayed on screen or in pictures it can affect the way we think about him. From the smile or stern look on his face to the color of his skin or the friendliness in his voice, these details do make an impression for better or for worse. 

In a best case scenario art and film that depicts Jesus could help stir the curiosity of people who don't know Jesus (like the man that Bill Vis mentioned in his comment) and prompt them to take a look at what the Bible has to say. And for those of us who read the Bible, it might challenge us to wonder about God in new ways and take a fresh look at the stories of Scripture. Art can certainly reflect the beauty and truth of God in ways that speak to our imaginations. I wrote about this in an earlier blog when we talked about using art in Sunday school. But in a worst case scenario, depictions of Jesus could make God seem more distant or set in our minds an image of God that we hold as true even though it isn’t accurate.

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We've been watching this with our kids (10, 10, 6) and have all cringed at some of the violent scenes. But they're eventually going to see this kind of violence on a screen, and I'd rather it be in this context with us than at a friend's house watching some Hollywood movie.

Other than the violence, they LOVE it and are begging to watch the episodes we've recorded. It's really helped the Bible stories come alive and has triggered good conversation (case in point, last night we watched the episode with David and Bathsheba!). I'm grateful for the series and the discussion opportunities it provides. I appreciate that they show the characters as fallen people used by God.