The Bible TV series: a brilliant retelling of the greatest story ever told

The Bible TV series: a brilliant retelling of the greatest story ever told December 2, 2013

The human race excels at storytelling. It is how we transmit our values, it is how we make sense of who we are.  Westerners sometimes like to pretend we are too sophisticated for stories. We say, “just give us the facts!” But our constant diet of movies, and TV entertainment demonstrates this is far from the truth. It is concerns me how we passively allow ourselves to be shaped by the stories unbelievers tell us.

Meanwhile the greatest library of stories the world has ever seen sits on a shelf in our houses gathering dust. If we pick it up at all it tends to be to focus on the so-called “doctrinal bits,” which in many churches in practice means only the Pauline epistles. We become experts in the rarefied finer points of doctrine but in the meantime we don’t know how to live. And if someone does turn to one of the Bible’s stories we are too bored, over-familiar, and complacent to appreciate their wonder, and to allow them to shape us as God intended them to.

The Bible is not just a story book for children. It is made up of a massive sections of narrative and only a few much shorter sections of what we envisage as instruction. Yet the Bible itself tells us “ALL SCRIPTURE” is profitable to teach us (2 Tim 3:16). These things happened as examples for us. They happened to guide us. They happened to shape our worldview. They are designed to show us how mankind has wrestled with a desire for sex, power, and violence for thousands of years. They show us the original foundations of civilized society: a God who intervened and first told warring tribes they should limit their revenge to “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” and later spoke of an even better way, “turn the other cheek,” which even just this week got the response, “but that’s ridiculous!” from one of my own children.

The Bible tells us of a God that intervenes to save us, despite our continual rebelling against him. Every character in the Bible except God himself (and of course Jesus who is God in the flesh) is fatally flawed. Unlike any other religious textbook that I am aware of, the Bible’s heroes are revealed in gory detail, warts and all.

Modern TV and film audiences are used to a diet of sex, violence, and complicated relationships involving betrayal, and sometimes redemption. Because of this,  it is remarkable that we do not see much more interest in taking these Bible stories to the screen.

The Christian Church has a long history of retelling the Bible stories in dramatic form, and at times writing novels based on what we know from the Bible. In the process we have always allowed embellishments, and tweaks to improve the dramatic impact, and the emotional connection an audience feels.  This kind of artistic license works in two ways: the cynical unbeliever who thinks they are not interested in the Bible finds themselves sucked into the story. The bored believer finds the old familiar stories live again.

I will never forget telling a friend who had grown up in Communist Eastern Europe the story of King David. I explained how David was the unsuspected hero, the savior of the nation, the favorite of God and man alike. Then I got to the bit about him selfishly taking someone else’s wife for himself, getting her husband killed, and then being caught by the prophet. I was not expecting what followed. As I explained how David repented and was forgiven tears flooded down her face. She had never heard any of the stories of the Bible growing up.  We need to recapture that sense of hearing these stories for the first time.

One of the publicists working on PR for the UK  for The Bible TV series (only now being shown over here) spoke recently of how in their office they had been in tears working with the material. That kind of emotional response that, whilst shunned in some circles of the modern church, is precisely what we should be looking for.  We often find that first time visitors to our own church find themselves crying during our services, without really knowing why that is the case. God often uses emotion to reach our hearts.  It is in our hearts that we are transformed.

Every good preacher adds embellishments to the Bible stories they are retelling.  They say things like “perhaps Abraham thought, why does God have to test me again?” or “Lot seemed to find the lure of the city irresistible, despite Gods promise to give them the whole land.”  Some of these kind of comments are based clearly on the text, others are reasonable inferences, and still others are wild speculation.  Provided we understand that such things are not part of the text themselves, they all serve to help us enter into the stories and be transformed by them.

A skillful retelling of a Bible story will stir in the viewer a desire to read more of what the Bible actually says. And as you do so, some of the interpretations of the story teller will drop away. Others will be seen as the helpful inferences that they are, and some will be seen as simply wrong.

Some Christians have been complaining about such things, calling them inaccuracies. What they don’t appreciate is such things are an essential part of story telling. They are a key reason why a program like The Bible series grabs our attention, and will not let us go until the entire ten hours of Bible story-telling are complete. Instead of complaining about this series, we should be thanking God for it!

I do not understand why anyone would be negative to this series, least of all Christians.

The Bible is a massively neglected and misunderstood book.  I am praying that this series will stir our nation again to re-examine it in a fresh light. 1.2 MILLION British people apparently watched the first episode live, despite it clashing with “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here!” and being late at night on a Saturday night. Many more will have watched it as I did on catch-up.

Today as you got to work, if you are in the UK, look out for opportunities to intact with your colleagues about this series.  Don’t go straight to how “wrong” it was!  Ask them what they thought about it.  Expect them to ask questions like, “do you really believe that God made the World?” and “Why on Earth was Abraham asked to sacrifice his son?” and “Why does God seem so violent?

Perhaps you need to re-read some of the stories that The Bible coverered in its first installment so you are better prepared to discuss these matters over your coffee break or lunchtime later.

Interest in the Bible was unprecedented in the United States while this was aired. In fact this is the fastest-selling TV series of all time!

Lets seize the opportunityt this series gives us to invite people to church, and perhaps even to give people copies of “The book the series was based on” to read for themselves.

There are a lot of helpful resources available on The Bible UK website.

Here is another clip for anyone who hasn’t yet watched it:

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  • Sam Hailes

    An excellent blog Adrian!

    Re the viewing figures. 1.2million sounds impressive. But there are 33 million Christians in the country and of those 2 million are evangelical Christians.

    The program was marketed heavily toward evangelicals although this is pure guesswork on my part, I would say the majority of people who tuned in were probably already believers.

    So I’m doubtful as to how much this series will really get non Christians talking about the Bible. As you say, it clashed with I’m a Celebrity. It was also broadcast on Channel 5! Plus my Twitter feed was dominated by comments from Christians. I didn’t see any of my non Christian friends on social media even mentioning the program!

    All that said, a program like this will always be seen by some non Christians and will always get some people outside of the church talking. This should definitely be celebrated and the opportunity should be used well. I’m just being a little cautious as I feel some are over-egging the potential of this series.

    Again – loved the post, so please don’t take this as a criticism of what you’ve said. Would be interested to hear your thoughts (or even statistics if they’re available) of exactly WHO was watching!

  • Steven Carr

    I like the bit where God sends lions to kill people who don’t believe in him.

    2 Kings 17:25

    When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people.

    I wonder if the producers managed to afford some lions on their budget.

    • Herro

      And she-bears! They’ll need two she-bears!

      • Steven Carr

        And 42 small boys.

        But health and safety would never allow it….

        • Herro

          Surely you mean “And 42 adult hooligans” ? :S

  • John Mushenhouse

    If this was the same series shown in the US, I can comment on it. it was added to the words of the book and we know the outcome. I quit watching it when Noah said the flood was to give humans a second chance to get it right. So much for God’s plan before the foundation of the world. Man gets a second chance to save himself.
    It seems many are so desperate to see anything with bible in it shown to the so-called masses.
    I have a wonderful idea instead. Why don’t we all go into all the word and preach the gospel. Why don’t we start witnessing to those we meet during the day. This would get the message out so much faster and if one really knows the gospel, it will get the message out correctly.
    Why are we depending on Hollywood (who just want to make $$$$$$ off of the gospel) to do our mission. Wait, many just say it isn’t their ministry or they weren’t called to share.
    I say check to see if you remember your first love if you even had one.