The Bible is humanity’s most published, most purchased book that has delivered a life of peace and significance to billions of people, for thousands of years. It shouldn’t be surprising then that, well executed, it would also make a record-breaking television series.
The Bible TV series is the brainchild of reality TV producer Mark Burnett (The Voice, The Apprentice, Survivor) and his producer wife Roma Downey. Both purport to be committed Christians. One night, while watching Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, they were struck again by the grandeur of the production and wondered if they couldn’t translate this 1956 classic into the 21st century. The result is a ten-hour television series covering the broad sweep of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible spends five episodes in the Old Testament and five in the New Testament, but this isn’t a senseless mining of great moments, says Burnett:
Part of what we hoped to accomplish with the series was to show the Bible is not simply a collection of unconnected stories which are often discussed and analyzed in snippets with chapter and verse numbers … They are one sweeping story with one grand, overriding message: God loves each one of us as if we were the only person in all the world to love.
What emerges is Biblical Theology for the masses. While watching, my wife and I kept pausing to ask, “Are they really going to put this on television?” It seemed hard to credit, given how faithful the series is to the Bible’s message. In the first two episodes we hear Noah tell his family about the creation of the world (while riding out a storm on the ark), we see God show both compassion and justice towards the sin of Sodom, and we meet Abraham, His chosen instrument for solving the havoc caused by humanity’s rebellion. I have little doubt that this story will faithfully come to ground with Jesus and His death and resurrection – but will the Nine Network allow us to see that landing?
Will The Bible succeed in Australia?
Burnett and Downey have certainly done a great job injecting the energy back into what for many has become an over-familiar book. The Bible was staggeringly successful overseas, debuting in the United States with 13.1 million viewers on The History Channel and never dipping below 10 million for its entire run, making it the most successful cable show of 2013. In fact it was so successful that the NBC Network engaged in a bidding war for the rights to the second series about the history of the church, due to be released in 2014 and titled A.D. Australia’s Nine Network has given the series a 9:00 PM time-slot but there’s every likelihood of it slipping to 10:00 PM and even later if The Bible doesn’t achieve instant success. The opening episode peaked at a respectable 1.18 million, but continuing ratings may depend very much on how prepared people are to receive the series’ ultimate message.
Biblical scholars might get bent out of shape over Noah having young children on the ark, or ‘ninja angels’ defending Lot during the destruction of Sodom. However anyone watching long enough will realise that the Bible is all about Jesus in the end. This is something He too was keen to point out to His challengers:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
And the same thing is just as likely to happen again. If The Bible does its job, then people will realise that God’s plan leads to both Jesus’ offer of salvation and his call to follow. The trouble is, most viewers will like the idea of God reaching out, but baulk at the need for all that disturbing repentance and submission.
Watching The Bible with your kids
The Bible storylines are as ‘adult’ as the Bible, though Burnett and Downey have taken care not to show any violence or sexual content that you’d be afraid to show a young high school student. I’d consider asking:
- Does the series change your impression of The Bible?
- What impression of humanity does The Bible leave you with?
- What about God – how determined is He to save His people?