Watching ‘The Bible’ With My Family

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 Sunday night, my wife and I decided we wanted to watch the debut of History Channel’s much-publicized new miniseries The Bible with our family.

If you haven’t heard, The Bible is the brainchild of Survivor producer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey (best known for her role on CBS’ Touched by an Angel). Over the course of five two-hour episodes, this Hollywood power couple’s project seeks to tell the sweeping story of Scripture, beginning in Genesis and moving all the way through the New Testament narratives about Jesus’ life. Obviously, it’s a lot to cover in just 10 hours, but The Bible seems up to that task. (I should note here that Focus on the Family is supporting and promoting the show.)

Our family immediately ran into a couple of unexpected obstacles. First, when we turned on the TV and clicked over to the History Channel, we realized—oops—our cheapo Direct TV package doesn’t include that channel. So we quickly schlepped into the minivan to head over to Grandpa and Grandma’s house to watch the show with them.

When we got there, we ran into roadblock No. 2. My mother-in-law told us that the show (the first few minutes of which we missed) had included a parental-discretion warning regarding The Bible’s at times violent content. Sure enough, a little black box in the corner of the screen told us that the program sported a TV-14 rating, for violence. What to do?

We decided that we would watch The Bible as a family anyway, but that we would distract our kids and/or cover their eyes during particularly violent moments. It turned out that there were quite of few of those, such as the destruction of Sodom, as well as several intense battle scenes involving swordplay and death. We’ll probably have a conversation about whether we want to employ that approach again, as there was enough intense material to fully warrant that TV-14 rating.

 Apart from our kids’ occasional frustration at us covering their eyes, however, watching The Bible together was an interesting and rewarding experience. Grandma soon got her Bible out, and we spent most of the time during commercials quickly scanning biblical stories to see how the show matched up.

As is often true in movies and television shows dramatizing historic events, The Bible takes some creative license at certain points. For example, when heavy-hearted Abraham takes his young son Isaac to (presumably) sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah, we watch Sarah slowly figuring out what’s going on and frantically running to meet them at the bottom of the mountain upon their return. You won’t find that part of the story in the Genesis 22 account, but its inclusion here seems a plausible dramatic extrapolation, and one that doesn’t detract from the story’s core truths.

Writing about The Bible in his blog last week, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly said of such dramatic interpretations:

Because it’s impossible to tell the entire story of the Bible in just 10 hours, you might notice that some creative license has been taken from time to time. For example, we know the Magi didn’t visit Jesus until he was approximately two-years-old, but in the miniseries you’ll see them honoring the infant Jesus upon his birth. In short, though, you should know the series never deviates from prevailing themes.

Daly also expressed his hope that The Bible could serve as a cultural conversation starter for many unchurched or unbelieving viewers:

We’re living in a dark day when millions of people, including our neighbors and even many of our family and friends, refuse to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Many of these same people refuse to go to church. They refuse to open a Bible. But many of these people watch television. That The Bible may serve as a spark to rekindle or kindle their faith should be a source of great excitement for all of us. I hope people don’t lose sight of the big picture, that this series is designed to turn people to Jesus and to encourage them to dig deeper into their Bibles.

Daly’s not the only one making that argument. Writing for The Washington Post, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, pastor of The Lamb’s Church in New York City and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalotion, said:

This mini-series proclaims to be a film adaptation of some of the most well-known Bible stories. It never claims to be a visual-literalist rendering of Scripture. This labor of love seeks to get the nation [and] the world talking about the Holy Bible again. … One reason I am watching and supporting The Bible is because I know that television is often the nation’s number one form of consumption. I know there may be detractors who say, but I don’t agree with the rendition in this scene or that. Some would say, ‘I would’ve done it differently.’ That’s fine. But let’s not miss the proverbial forest for the trees. A major Hollywood couple invested their time, energy and gifts to get people talking about the Bible again. With all of the options that television has to offer, some quite toxic, why not an adaptation of the holy Bible? Again, it’s not claiming to be anything other than that. People all over the country right now may be reading their Bibles for the first time.

Given the fact that The Bible attracted the most eyeballs of any cable program this year in its debut—14.8 million viewers—Burnett and Downey’s “labor of love” may indeed be opening significant doors for spiritual conversation over the next few weeks.

It certainly accomplished that purpose in our family. And I suspect the coming weeks’ installments could continue to serve as an imagination-stirring catalyst for millions of other viewers as well, one that invites us to interact in a fresh way with the Bible’s familiar—and sometimes not so familiar—stories of God’s redeeming work in the world.

So did you watch? What did you think?

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

streven hollingsworth More than 1 year ago

--I only watched a portion and was totally disappointed. The only thing that I found positive is if it gets people to get into the Bible and read the true accounts. Terrible.

phred phlinstone More than 1 year ago

@EIl, I suppose you are right, the Bible doesn't contain the words "slavery is good". But with the exception of a small bit in Paul the Bible does everywhere behave as if it is good. I notice that it's the same with marriage.

LK Parker More than 1 year ago

@phred: The Bible never called slavery good. just as the bible never calls divorce good. it was permitted for a time because God would use it for his purpose i.e. Saving the world from Famine through Joseph, demonstrating to Israel his power over there adversity and slave masters etc. But later in Scripture and even earlier than the new testament you see God advocating the rights of slaves and ultimately the pursuit of freedom from it in a world where no slaves even had rights. Gradually over time God lifted it.

Derek Ormiston More than 1 year ago

Okay, so we watched the show with our in laws and friends. I think some of us here are missing the big picture. Here we have a chance to support someone getting a reasonable representation of the bible out to the general public. And all I see here is bickering. Come on people. For starters, Who's to say that angels dont use multiple fighting styles? Does it really matter what the race of the actors is? I just read a blog that was upset that most of the actors aren't darker, did you notice they are also speaking english???? Heres the thing. This is a  great show. Its fun to watch and its sticking to scripture as much as is possible. I get they didnt show two men making out in soddom, but there was a man dressed as a woman. Can we please just all get behind this great idea? If one man comes to Christ thru this show its a success.

Sarah Eckert More than 1 year ago

I read that Roma Downey or somebody said that they hope that this will drive people back to the Bible, but in our TV-infested culture, I doubt this is going to be the case.  I think instead, people will take this TV program as "Gospel" and not bother to read the actual Book.  Disturbing when you have "ninja angels" as one of the teenagers who was watching with us on Sunday called them on TV, when there's no mention of them in the Bible.  I was not going to watch the program in protest (I already think America watches too much TV anyway), but then my small group decided to watch it since we meet on Sunday nights.  I was the only dissenter (we took a vote as to whether we wanted to watch it as a group), so we're watching it.  I bring my Bible and point out the inaccuracies (ironically, I know these stories so well that I could spot the inaccuracies before even looking them up).

Emily White More than 1 year ago

I heard the interview with the producers of the show as well. They made it clear that they can't teach the bible. People interested in learning more need to readit for themselves and seek sound teaching through a bible believing church.I saw through watching it a respect and reverence for Scripture. They want people to discuss the bible and discover it for themselves. I cannot think of a more worthwhile goal for this miniseries! I am confident God will use it to draw people to Him, even if there are a few discrepencies.

Rheta Ellis More than 1 year ago

I just have a comment I like how the angels were shown on the show.I think that most people think of angels as been nice and cute and fuzzy,like the way that Thomas Kingkade drawed them.But it showed that they were warriors and not to be taken lightly.Also I like how they showed them in different nationalities of people one was black and one liked japanese or chinese.Also that not one character was perfect, that they all were shown with flaws and that was why I like this mini series to make people get interested in what happend. To actually  to get curious about what  the bible says,  and check it out  for themselves and maybe just maybe think that God really cares for me and for others.So I say cheers to Roma and Mark to have the courage and determination ,to take on the challenge of doing this series.Yes there were things left out and some were more important then other parts,but think can you actually do what they did?To take on this kind of  project? Just something to think about.

Carol Morrisey More than 1 year ago

I heard the interview with the producers on Focus on the Family, and I am pleased with their stated purpose:  to get more people to read the Bible.  By not emphasizing the sin of Sodom,  they avoided controversy which would have obscured the purpose, but anyone who decides to read the story for himself will inescapably see it.  I am not delighted with deviations from the text, such as having the initiative for Abraham and Lot's separation come from Lot's wife instead of Abraham himself, but am reserving judgment until I see how Jesus is presented.  I suspect the overall impact of the series will be positive--I pray so.  Of course my story selections would have been different (the love story of Jacob and Rachel would have been dramatic, and of course, Joseph and his brothers), but there are so many options possible, no one will agree totally no matter what is chosen.  May God bless the positive aspects of this miniseries and use it, despite any flaws.

David Duggan More than 1 year ago

With discussion resumed here, I have new things to tell in a shorter comment.

First, the sexual actions in Sodom went further than what I call acting before I could even tell that it was heterosexual. Second, the actual verses go no further in describing lewd intent than the word "relations," and they had no interest in Lot's daughters. Third, Lot was the next person (and the only one in the Bible so far) known to experience what can be described as "rape" (his daughters were the ones inflicting it). Fourth, what happened after the demise of Lot's wife was all left out, shifting the focus to Abraham's part of the story. Fifth, I support those who say that "love the sinner, not the sin" isn't discrimination, and understand that the word "gay" used to refer to happiness, which many LGBT people don't know.

AndStuff, I looked into what library_girl was telling about, and it was hard to like. The reasons for that had nothing to do with whether I'm Lutheran (some might remember that I've never been Catholic, and I know there are many denominations). The speaker there often used an insulting tone of voice, and later, there was humor at the expense of Jesus between the portions which analyze the first episode. The speaker also used humor to describe the ninja-like moves of the angels. The other viewer I referred to in my early comment agreed that every other part - even when they stopped Noah's story before birds were used - was better. I don't disagree with everything in what library_girl suggested, but the disagreement in how it was presented is enough to keep me from telling more about how to find it than she has.

I know the post by someone who found Roma and Mark's names unfamiliar is gone, but since the person who posted it may be still looking here, I'll briefly explain. Roma hasn't altogether been mainstream, but her lead role on the CBS series Touched by an Angel lasted for nine seasons into 2003. Mark has much experience as a producer in reality TV, such as Survivor (at least the original) and The Apprentice, to name a few.

phred phlinstone More than 1 year ago

@common15, I'll take your word for it that you don't find the gang rape of Lot's daughters yucky but to be fair I don't think that you do. I think that you've gone through your life hearing that Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality and so that's what you see in the story and you don't see everything else that's going on there. Liberals don't see the story as being about homosexuality they see it, correctly, as being about rape so they welcome the story.

And there is another very important way that they differ in the way that they read the Bible--and they do read the Bible. When the Bible says that slavery is good or that a man should kill his daughter if she has pre-marital sex, the liberal says to himself and to his God "Well, that's wrong." And then the liberal moves on to the other parts. The liberal doesn't have any problem with the idea that the Bible has good parts and bad parts and so want's the Sodom and Gomorrah story presented so that every one can see that.

It's not the liberals who are to blame. In fact, a casual dip into the internet will show that they are less than impressed with this series.

Aaron Davies More than 1 year ago

I enjoyed it to a point but the creative licenses and the cutting out of entire sections/stories bothered me. I know you cant fit the entire Bible into 10 hrs and budget restraints hinders how much you can do but still, they could have tried a different route. Another thing is how the show was marketed for the whole family and I found it disturbing on how graphic the violence was at times. Over all an entertaining show and I will look forward to whats coming in the next few weeks.

Kathy LaChance More than 1 year ago

I was disappointed and stopped watching after Sodom.  Looking at the bigger picture is fine, but the Bible should never be altered to suit any audience.  It is what it is and should be viewed as it is - unaltered.  Did I miss the part in the Bible that said God's Word can be changed to be more entertaining, or to reach cardinal Christians or unbelievers?  God gave us His Word as a standard of truth, a guide for our lives, to comfort, teach and encourage us, to caution us about the mistakes of others, as a tool against temptation, and to give us  knowledge of God.  Will the viewers get God's bigger picture?  Who are we trying to please?

I think it is wonderful they chose the Bible as the subject, but God's Word is too Holy to not tell it like it has been written.

Edward Kichura More than 1 year ago

I agree with JeanSC about her disappointment that the sin of homosexuality in Sodom and Gomorrah (S&G) which is in the Bible was left out. But it was left out for a reason. See below.

I don't agree with Phred that this is a yucky part of the Bible that is best ignored or with Jeanmary that the S&G cioverage would be too long or X rated if they showed what the Bible stated took place. If it would be too long, they could have shortened the violence part but the series wanted to show that it was only violence that caused the S&G destruction. This is PC correct. Her husband has a point. The liberal comunity is trying to revise biblical truth so that same sex marriage can be made more palatable to the current culture.

However, I will still watch the series as I have watched almost every media movie or presentation concerning the Bible.

Betty L More than 1 year ago

I enjoyed the program and plan to watch the other episodes.  I was disappointed about the PC concept for the Sodom scenes.  It is very plain in the Bible what the sin was and why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.  Christians should get past being afraid of offending someone when they are teaching or standing up for God's word. Love the sinner; hate the sin.

phred phlinstone More than 1 year ago

@jeanmary, I really don' think that they skipped over that part of the story to appease the liberals. They men of the town weren't after all trying to invite the angels to the discothèque, they were trying to rape them and then Lot, the righteous man, offered to let them rape is daughters instead. Later his daughters will get Lot drunk and then rape him. This is one of those yucky parts of the Bible that are best ignored.

Jean Gilmore More than 1 year ago

I thought they did a great job with this first episode of THE BIBLE but my husband got all hung up on the scene in Sodom.

He felt by leaving out what was really the intent of the mob to call out the angels who were vising and were inside, that they

[the producers] were 'sugar-coating' the actual sin going on. I didn't feel as strongly about that as I  felt they had to shorten the coverage somehow and to stress what they may have wanted to do with the angels would make it too long and x-rated as well.

I understand the intent of the producers to try to cover as many dramatic stories in the short time they have to do it, that some

freedom of creative license had to be allowed.

I am afraid that my husband will not watch the rest of the series with me without getting hung-up on places that will appear to alter the story for the sake of appealing to the gay community or liberals. What does anyone recommend that I can say to him in defense of this?

Anna Salisbury More than 1 year ago

Yeah, it was sorta violent. We (as a family) watched it and I really didn't appreciate some of the violence. I wish they could have done it a little more discreetly, however the OT is pretty violent in and of itself.

phred phlinstone More than 1 year ago

You can follow one biblical scholar's not very happy response to it at www.wilgafney.com/.../history-channel-whitewashes-the-bible-day-1-332013 .

Margaret Ruehle More than 1 year ago

I watched from Sodom and Gomorrah on, I didn't catch it till then. I saw a few discrepancies, but it was really very good. I look forward to the next installment. And library_girl what Lutheran teacher is against it? I'm Lutheran and I haven't heard anything about that.

syd collings More than 1 year ago

I think that it's interesting to note that despite the TV-14 rating, 'The Bible' got a pass. Despite the admittedly violent content,  you're summarily concluding that it's okay. Also getting a pass are the inaccuracies and extrapolations made for story sake. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that y'all were trashing Lincoln for taking creative liberties with history?

Do I sense a double-standard here?

And what is with Mr. Daly saying that non-christians ''refuse'' to open a bible, you can't FORCE people to open the bible or got to church. What is he getting at exactly? If they don't want to hear about it, you can't shove it down their throats.

Finally, I'm not sure what your definition of ''Hollywood power couple'' is, my understanding is that it refers to people who are quite famous. I've never heard of Mark Burnett or his wife Roma Downey, and I'm sure more mainstream people haven't either.

LK Parker More than 1 year ago

I have not seen the series due to the fact it is only on cable. However I have watched footage all the footage from the site online. Many fellow believers had the same response to it. When we are dealing with the scriptures as a historical document there can be some creative license in areas of film aesthetics but a clear contradiction of what really took place is not cool at all. The scripture mentions that adding traditions of men to the word nullifies the effect. It also forbids the altering of scripture through addition or subtraction because those who do so will be held accountable for it (mainly if it is for the purpose of reading into the text something that it does not mean at all). The bible is FULL of material to work with as far as movie making. The problem is that people who often adapt it don't try to find creative ways to make the narrative come alive besides adding erroneous lines and subplots. I myself have worked in film and have been educated in it over the years, and adapting the bible accurately and in an entertaining way is possible but it takes a razor sharp commitment and creativity. Many assume it is not possible but look at the Harry Potter franchise....you ask most people about the film and they will tell you it stays very close to the source material. If that's the case for a fictional story why not the Non-fiction book of Scripture?The Biblical story of Sodom and Gommora having "Ninja angels" is an example of recklessness. I applaud the effort to bring the Bible on screen to our generation but we should also strive to make films and tv series that do not ABUSE their creative license. The surprising thing is that there are several secular articles that accuse the series of the same problem. There is a reason why the Bible is the #1 best seller of all time. Creative license is not a sin but the abuse of it is.

Josiah Northcutt More than 1 year ago

I think it's worth noting that the Bible isn't and never will be a totally clean-cut, happy go lucky book. A women raped to death and her body cut apart? Violent assassinations?? A tent peg driven through someones temple??? It's all in the bible folks. This mini-series depicts violence because the bible has some of the most violent acts in human history in it!!! Hiding that fact simply ignores it's message and unfortunately takes away some of the Bible's power because when we shield our kids and pretend like evil acts and sin aren't there they a) don't receive the full message because the message has been stripped and edited, and b) they develop and attitude of "I can't wait till I'm older so I can watch whatever I want and have no one tell me otherwise. Instead of shuddering and acting shocked every time a violent act is depicted talk about it!!! Discuss why was it their, why did the authors of the bible write it down, what was the backstory behind it, discuss how violence impacted that particular biblical event, and be sure to mention that the bible discourages such acts that harm are fellow man. But please don't just don't say violence is bad and pretend it never happened, learn what the bible teaches us about it and remember Jesus didn't teach us to stop violence by shielding our eyes and acting like it never existed. He taught us to recognize it and avoid it because of the harm it does to us. God Bless

David Duggan More than 1 year ago

This is probably the best subject for one of my comments in a while, and I like it that nothing is "anonymous" anymore.

I'll start by saying that I agree that there are important errors in TBAA's spiritual messages, library_girl. Everything about the disagreement has respect for you and Plugged In behind it. While I never knew who is on the advisory board, I find the combination of how I understand TBAA's core ideas and the ways it integrates truth to be very compelling. I know the experience is sure to vary with viewers' spiritual maturity, and that the errors may be why a number of people asked producer Martha Williamson for a role at social events, instead of through an agent (I know much about the basics of such operations). It seems like there are few bad episodes in any season, but Williamson somehow avoided being an alcoholic or otherwise depressed when the series ended. She kept the series from being about bad angels who had once been human, which is far from biblical, and even CBS knew something was wrong. I'm glad that one problem which seems to have never been abundant is profanity (I once posted about how there are even euphemisms I don't use before the comment system changed). It's much closer to biblically-based idealism that I've seen too rarely than much else, with or without another's preference to identify with Christianity. To anyone who reads this, please remember that some of Jesus' own words told about how there are standards which even sinners hold (believable hearts of gold could be found in TBAA), which can probably help us sympathize in ways outside the purposes in many others.

Even with all of that, I went into the viewing while understanding that The Bible would be rated 14-V, but another who viewed with me agreed that a number of sexual themes were done in ways which aren't really acting. The violence was more watchable, but we both have standards which exclude a lot. Those other themes were confined to the Abraham portion, and the others were better (they still shortened everything before, leaving most of the depth out). Still, the events surrounding the Tower of Babel and Nimrod have a lot of historical information which I've collected, and much else can't be true. One problem was that it seemed like there wasn't a search term specific enough to dig further into Nimrod's life, but the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel mention some of the things (this has long been used to falsely accuse Catholicism, of which I've never been part). I liked how a number of TBAA episodes approached topics such as prostitution, AIDS, drug use and unwed mothers, all of which seem to fit a "14/PG-13" better than many other episodes. I'm sure that not everyone here thinks that Satan and demons fit "PG," but if you don't believe that or the fact that many (not all) such episodes were done well, I'm sure you'll take my word for what the show features. The segment The Bible had about Joshua was small, but I still liked that introduction better than the Abraham scenes as a whole.

In conclusion, I believe that The Bible has proven to be neither the best nor the worst I've seen. The Moses scenes were closer to the source material than The Prince of Egypt, but while I'm sure that putting it into darkened theaters was among the worst related decisions, I like the result from beginning to end. Tweens who understand the story and themese (except for some of what happened on the way back to Egypt) can probably benefit, since it has intense scenes of slavery, the Ten Plagues and more that I won't reveal for those who haven't seen it. The Nativity Story and the famous 1979 film about Jesus are more thorough adaptations, though there's at least one more biblical film I like from the 70s. The one I mentioned is the same one known for being translated and shown into a very large number of languages. One more thing I can add is that the plans for The Bible are supposed to go all the way into Revelation, and there seem to be more opinions about that than there are prophetic events for that future period. I'm sure that I'll look forward to what gets posted about The Bible next.

Jonathan Henry More than 1 year ago

I watched it and enjoyed it for what it was. It was a bit jarring how they blew past Joseph, but I did enjoy what I saw.

Michelle Heumann More than 1 year ago

We didn't watch...aside from the fact that we don't have cable, given the massisve theological inaccuracies in 'Touched by an Angel', and the advisory board of people like Joel Osteen, it seems a bit sketchy. I'm a Lutheran, and one of our respected Lutheran teachers is quite against the project, so I won't go out of my way to see it. If you're interested in another perspective on the 'creative license' taken in putting the show together, you can Google "Fighting for the Faith Theological Errors of the History Channel's Miniseries "The Bible".