Some interesting commentary about “A.D”".”

I went looking for what folks are saying about Episode 1 of A.D. Here are a few comments I found interesting:


I Watched the last night movie Killing Jesus, I was very disappointed in the story line, It was not what I expected, The actors were OK, It was the self serving Jesus in this movie, that falls flat ! I fell asleep during the last half hour , Jesus was & is not a coward, Reply:


Um, if you read the above article, you’d notice that Roma Downy and Mark Burnett’s production is NOT “Killing Jesus” but “A.D.: The Bible Continues.”

Different story–as this film does not come from Bill O’Reilly’s book, but from the Bible, and screen writers the producers hired–and different producers, director, actors, etcetra.

And, I watched it Sunday night. It was great! I did not bother watching “Killing Jesus” because I knew–from reading a review from Faith Driven Consumer–that it was a “humanistic, and historically & Biblically inaccurate, portrayal of Christ’s death.”

Reply to the Reply:

What was it that you thought was great?

Was it the 45 minutes of historical fiction? Mary & Mary M unbiblically having reminded the disciples of prophecy of Jesus resurrection? Was it Caiphas telling Pilate that Jesus preached insurrection against all authority? Also unbiblical. Was it the dialogue between the zealots and the disciples? Was it Joseph of Arimathea offering his tomb to Mary? Was it all the action that went on between the crucifixion and the resurrection? Was it the shining angel rolling the stone away? All the dialogue Caiphas’ wife brought to the political table? I’ll stop

All of the above is pure fiction/conjecture, but that you thought it was great doesn’t really bother me.

What I do know is in the end the Romans didn’t kill Jesus, nor did the Jewish religious leaders. It was my SIN (mine, yours, & ours – the sin of all who would believe in His Name) that nailed the Son of God to
the cross. Christ was slain at the hands of sinful men according to God’s predetermination and foreknowledge. And it pleased God to send Him to bruise Him. Acts 2 ;23 & Isaiah 53:10.

Therefore, to relegate the most important event in the entire human drama to political historical is like jamming the crown of thorns deeper into His brow. IMHO

Having said all that, episode one did provide me with 2 questions to ask during discussions about the program.

1.  What did Jesus mean when he pleaded with His Father…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

2.  And what did Jesus mean when he said “It is finished.”

They both could blow the door wide open to share the true gospel message.


Food for thought? Comments?

7 Metaphors for the Word of God

1. The Word of God is a sword that pierces (Hebrews 4:12).

2. The Word of God is a mirror that reveals (James 1:23).

3. The Word of God is a seed that germinates (1 Peter 1:23).

4. The Word of God is milk that nourishes (1 Peter 2, 3).

5. The Word of God is a lamp that shines (Psalm 119:105).

6. The Word of God is a fire that consumes (Jeremiah 23:29).

7. The Word of God is a hammer that shatters (Jeremiah 23:29).

These 7 ‘The Word of God is…’ statements were the main points of Dr. Steven Lawson’s presentation at the 2015 Shepherd’s Conference hosted by John MacArthur at The Masters Seminary in Santa Clara, California. I leave it to you to examine the passages of scripture annotated with the ‘7 metaphors’. Dr. Lawson’s presentation included much more scripture and I encourage you to watch his entire presentation.

This year’s conference was devoted to the inerrancy of Scripture. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the Domain of Truth blog has done us a favor and provided links to both the General Session videos and audio from the breakout sessions:

Inerrancy Summit Main Sessions

Inerrancy Summit Breakout Seminars


Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis–Al Mohler

Al Mohler – Tuesday • September 16, 2014

clip_image001Western society is currently experiencing what can only be described as a moral revolution. Our society’s moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a particular issue has undergone not small adjustments but a complete reversal. That which was once condemned is now celebrated, and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned.

What makes the current moral and sexual revolution so different from previous moral revolutions is that it is taking place at an utterly unprecedented velocity. Previous generations experienced moral revolutions over decades, even centuries. This current revolution is happening at warp speed.

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.

Why the Concordance Method Fails

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible word of God. We understand that, as B.B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.

There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.

It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations that are essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Needed:  A Biblical Theology of the Body

Biblical theology is absolutely indispensable for the church to craft an appropriate response to the current sexual crisis. The church must learn to read Scripture according to its context, embedded in its master-narrative, and progressively revealed along covenantal lines. We must learn to interpret each theological issue through Scripture’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Specifically, evangelicals need a theology of the body that is anchored in the Bible’s own unfolding drama of redemption.

Movement One — Creation

Genesis 1:26–28 indicates that God made man—unlike the rest of creation—in his own image. This passage also demonstrates that God’s purpose for humanity was an embodied existence. Genesis 2:7 highlights this point as well. God makes man out of the dust and then breathes into him the breath of life. This indicates that we were a body before we were a person. The body, as it turns out, is not incidental to our personhood. Adam and Eve are given the commission to multiply and subdue the earth. Their bodies allow them, by God’s creation and his sovereign plan, to fulfill that task of image-bearing.

The Genesis narrative also suggests that the body comes with needs. Adam would be hungry, so God gave him the fruit of the garden. These needs are an expression embedded within the created order that Adam is finite, dependent, and derived.

Further, Adam would have a need for companionship, so God gave him a wife, Eve. Both Adam and Eve were to fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth with God’s image-bearers by a proper use of the bodily reproductive ability with which they were created. Coupled with this is the bodily pleasure each would experience as the two became one flesh—that is, one body.

The Genesis narrative also demonstrates that gender is part of the goodness of God’s creation. Gender is not merely a sociological construct forced upon human beings who otherwise could negotiate any number of permutations.

But Genesis teaches us that gender is created by God for our good and his glory. Gender is intended for human flourishing and is assigned by the Creator’s determination—just as he determined when, where, and that we should exist.

In sum, God created his image as an embodied person. As embodied, we are given the gift and stewardship of sexuality from God himself. We are constructed in a way that testifies to God’s purposes in this.

Genesis also frames this entire discussion in a covenantal perspective. Human reproduction is not merely in order to propagate the race. Instead, reproduction highlights the fact that Adam and Eve were to multiply in order to fill the earth with the glory of God as reflected by his image bearers.

Movement Two — The Fall

The fall, the second movement in redemptive history, corrupts God’s good gift of the body. The entrance of sin brings mortality to the body. In terms of sexuality, the Fall subverts God’s good plans for sexual complementarity. Eve’s desire is to rule over her husband (Gen. 3:16). Adam’s leadership will be harsh (3:17-19). Eve will experience pain in childbearing (3:16).

The narratives that follow demonstrate the development of aberrant sexual practices, from polygamy to rape, which Scripture addresses with remarkable candor. These Genesis accounts are followed by the giving of the Law which is intended to curb aberrant sexual behavior. It regulates sexuality and expressions of gender and makes clear pronouncements on sexual morals, cross-dressing, marriage, divorce, and host of other bodily and sexual matters.

The Old Testament also connects sexual sin to idolatry. Orgiastic worship, temple prostitution, and other horrible distortions of God’s good gift of the body are all seen as part and parcel of idolatrous worship. The same connection is made by Paul in Romans 1. Having “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom 1:22), and having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25), men and women exchange their natural relations with one another (Rom 1:26-27).

Movement Three — Redemption

With regard to redemption, we must note that one of the most important aspects of our redemption is that it came by way of a Savior with a body. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Human redemption is accomplished by the Son of God incarnate—who remains incarnate eternally.

Paul indicates that this salvation includes not merely our souls but also our bodies. Romans 6:12 speaks of sin that reigns in our “mortal bodies”—which implies the hope of future bodily redemption. Romans 8:23 indicates part of our eschatological hope is the “redemption of our bodies.” Even now, in our life of sanctification we are commanded to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in worship (Rom. 12:2). Further, Paul describes the redeemed body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and clearly we must understand sanctification as having effects upon the body.

Sexual ethics in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, regulate our expressions of gender and sexuality.Porneia, sexual immorality of any kind, is categorically condemned by Jesus and the apostles. Likewise, Paul clearly indicates to the church at Corinth that sexual sin—sins committed in the body (1 Cor. 6:18)—are what bring the church and the gospel into disrepute because they proclaim to a watching world that the gospel has been to no effect (1 Cor. 5-6).

Movement Four — New Creation

Finally, we reach the fourth and final act of the drama of redemption—new creation. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-57, Paul directs us not only to the resurrection of our own bodies in the new creation but to the fact that Christ’s bodily resurrection is the promise and power for that future hope. Our resurrection will be the experience of eternal glory in the body. This body will be a transformed, consummated continuation of our present embodied existence in the same way that Jesus’ body is the same body he had on earth, yet utterly glorified.

The new creation will not simply be a reset of the garden. It will be better than Eden. As Calvin noted, in the new creation we will know God not only as Creator but as Redeemer—and that redemption includes our bodies. We will reign with Christ in bodily form, as he also is the embodied and reigning cosmic Lord.

In terms of our sexuality, while gender will remain in the new creation, sexual activity will not. It is not that sex is nullified in the resurrection; rather, it is fulfilled. The eschatological marriage supper of the Lamb, to which marriage and sexuality point, will finally arrive. No longer will there be any need to fill the earth with image-bearers as was the case in Genesis 1. Instead, the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Biblical Theology Is Indispensable

The sexuality crisis has demonstrated the failure of theological method on the part of many pastors. The “concordance reflex” simply cannot accomplish the type of rigorous theological thinking needed in pulpits today. Pastors and churches must learn the indispensability of biblical theology and must practice reading Scripture according to its own internal logic—the logic of a story that moves from creation to new creation. The hermeneutical task before us is great, but it is also indispensable for faithful evangelical engagement with the culture.


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Drowning in Distortion — Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

Monday • March 31, 2014, Al Mohler


My first experience teaching the Bible came when I was asked at the last minute to teach a Sunday School class of first-grade boys. I was only 16 years old, and I did not exactly volunteer to teach the class. I found myself telling a familiar Bible story to six-year olds and explaining it as best I could. There have been very few Sundays since when I have not taught or preached, usually to a congregation a bit less fidgety than my first.

You learn one thing fast when teaching the Bible to six-year-old boys — they often think they can “improve” on the story as found in the Bible. First-grade boys are big on special effects, blowing away bad guys, exploding just about anything, and what we might gently call “narrative overkill.”

That helps me to understand director Darren Aronofsky and his new film, Noah. Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel started with the Old Testament narrative about Noah, just about 2,400 words in English translation, and exploded it into a huge Hollywood production.

What could possibly go wrong?

Controversy about the movie erupted before the film hit the theaters. Three Muslim nations have banned the film and a number of evangelical figures registered concerns. Most of these concerns seemed to be about additions Aronofsky made to the narrative. Seeing the film after knowing of these concerns, I expected to be both entertained and irked. The actual viewing of the movie was an altogether different experience.

Evangelical Christians tend to be either too excited or too exercised about Hollywood. There is a periodic swing between giddy excitement that Hollywood has decided to make a movie about the Bible or a Christian theme and, on the other hand, barely restrained outrage that Hollywood has brought forth some new atrocity. Actually, most celebrations and consternations about Hollywood are overblown. The film industry is all about telling a story and selling movie tickets. There are artistic elements, worldview considerations, and moral dimensions to be sure, but Hollywood is, after all, an industry.

Believing that evangelical concerns about Noah were almost surely overblown, I went to see the movie. I was wrong. The concerns are not overblown. My response is not outrage, however, but deep concern – and part of my concern is that so many evangelicals are, in my view, focusing on the wrong issues.

Aronofsky, who has described himself as a “not-too-religious Jew,” is a skilled storyteller. His movies tend to be pretentious, but rarely boring. He has, to say the very least, added a very great deal to the Bible’s account of Noah in Genesis. In itself, that is not the problem.

As A. O. Scott, film reviewer for The New York Times commented, “The information supplied about Noah in the Book of Genesis is scant – barely enough for a Hollywood pitch meeting, much less a feature film.” Aronofsky told Rolling Stone magazine: “The film completely accepts the text, the four chapters in Genesis, as truth – just like if I was to adapt any book, I’d try to be as truthful to the original material as possible. It’s just that there’s only four chapters, as we had to turn it into a two-hour long narrative film. In the Bible, Noah doesn’t even speak. So of course we’ve got to dramatize the story.” Boy, did he dramatize it.

Before making that the issue, however, we had better note that evangelicals are not necessarily outraged to any degree when Hollywood (or anyone else) dramatizes the story, even adding non-biblical elements. There is no cold-hearted innkeeper in the Gospels, nor a donkey carrying the expectant Mary, but they make their way into countless movies made by and for Christians. There is neither a drummer boy nor a drum in the birth narratives of Christ, but no one seems to complain that the drummer boy appears. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

Cecil B. DeMille added to Exodus to tell the story of the Ten Commandments, but that movie is loved by many evangelicals.

Why is Noah different?

Well, the problem is not that Aronofsky and Handel added to the Bible’s account. It is that they distort it to the uttermost, perhaps without even intending to do so. Since they knew that they had to “turn it into a two-hour feature movie,” they knew they had to invent a lot of material not found in the Bible. They may not have intended to distort the story as they did. Furthermore, Paramount Pictures had a big say in the final form of the film, much to Aronofsky’s frustration. The director and the corporation share responsibility for this movie.

The problem is not that the movie has to fill in any number of narrative gaps, or that Aronofsky used his imagination in so doing. His oddest characterization, by the way, may well be the “fallen angels” called the “watchers,” based rather loosely on the Nephilim found in Genesis 6:4. They appear in the film as giant figures made of something like rock and asphalt. They first appear as enemies of humankind, but one, speaking with the voice of Nick Nolte, protects Noah and convinces others to do likewise. They appear as mighty cartoon figures in the movie, but they really belong in a science fiction film.

In portraying the Nephilim this way, Aronofsky has not made these figures more strange than how the Bible describes them. The Bible actually presents them in even more bizarre terms. They are described as beings who were on the earth in those days, “when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and bore children to them.” This appears to be an indication that rebellious angels had sexual intercourse with human women, who bore sons described as “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” This understanding of the Nephilim seems to be affirmed in the New Testament in Jude, verses 6-7. Thankfully, this is not the Bible story I was assigned to teach those six-year-old boys many years ago.

There are big problems with how Aronofsky and Handel expand the narrative, even when we accept the fact that a film maker has to invent dialogue and embellish the narrative. Even as Aronofsky told Rolling Stone that he had tried “to be as truthful to the original material as possible,” he clearly decided to change key elements, rejecting the Bible’s account in some respects. He includes a wife for Shem on the boat, but when the ark begins its journey there are no wives for Ham and Japeth. Genesis states clearly that their wives were among the eight human beings who entered the ark. Aronofsky invents a scene in which a barely adolescent Noah witnesses the murder of his father, Lamech at the hands of the movie’s arch villain, Tubal-cain. Genesis makes that impossible. As a matter of fact, Aronofsky lifts Tubal-cain out of context in Genesis 4:22 as “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron,” and puts him in the Noah narrative as Noah’s arch-rival, representing the line of Cain making war on the line of Shem. He even puts him on the ark, depicting Ham as his co-conspirator against Noah.

Aronofsky’s skill in cinematography and movie-making is clear. The visuals are often arresting and many of his narrative devices work brilliantly. Others are simply odd, like the suggestion that Methuselah would give Noah a hallucinogenic potion so that he can hallucinate God’s will. The list of odd elements would be very long.

But the odd elements are not the problem, the movie’s message is. Furthermore, the way that message distorts the Genesis account is a far larger problem when it becomes clear that the misrepresentation extends to the master narrative of the Bible – including the character of God.

Aronofsky presents the flood as the Creator’s judgment upon industrialization, urbanization, and ecological predation of humanity in the line of Cain. To be fair, there are elements of these themes in Genesis. But the Bible straightforwardly declares that the flood was God’s verdict on the sinfulness of humanity, seen in the wickedness and sinfulness that are described as “violence” and depicted, as in the tower of Babel narrative, as nothing less than idolatry. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously.” [Genesis 6:5]

In Noah, the existence of humanity is a blight upon the earth. Rather than suggesting that humans had misused and abused the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, human dominion is depicted as the fundamental problem. This leads to a horrifying anti-humanism in the movie that cannot be rescued by the (finally) rather hopeful conclusion, with Noah and his family depicted as placidly agrarian and vegetarian, restarting human civilization on a placid hillside. The covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 9 explicitly gives humanity animal flesh to eat, and the dominion and stewardship granted to humanity in Genesis 1:28 and re-set in Genesis 9:1-17 is a function of human beings made in God’s image. Image-bearing assigns dominion. The real question is what we will do with that dominion.

Aronofsky introduces Noah as a kind and caring family man, but his divine assignment turns the movie’s Noah into a sociopathic monster. At this point the movie veers into a radical distortion of the biblical account. Noah is now depicted as a madman ready to murder his own grandchildren in order to end humanity and rid creation of the human threat. This kind of distortion of the story is what led Christopher Orr of The Atlantic to refer to Aronofsky as “more Old Testament than the Old Testament itself.” The Old Testament, we might say, is Old Testament enough, on its own.

This not only misses the point of the Genesis narrative, it corrupts it. Aronofsky is telling a truly fascinating story in these segments of the film, but it is not the story of Noah as found in the Bible. Totally missing from the movie is the understanding that God is simultaneously judging and saving, ready to make a covenant with Noah that will turn the biblical narrative toward Abraham and the founding of Israel. God is spoken of in the movie, but he does not speak. He is identified only as “The Creator,” and he appears to be driven by an essentially ecological fervor. The entire context of covenant is completely absent.

God’s act of creation is both portrayed and celebrated as an act of divine glory and wonder, but Aronofsky cannot resist shaping the story to fit the theory of evolution, right down to the animation. The recasting of the creation narrative is not subtle.

The constant discussion of humanity as good or evil falls far short of the Bible’s treatment of sin. The problem is not that Aronofsky and Handel push an environmental message. There must surely be elements of that message in Genesis 6-9. The problem is their depiction of humanity as a blight upon the earth. The Genesis narrative clearly and consistently presents humans as divine image-bearers, though fallen. God’s purpose in the flood is not to destroy all humanity, but to begin anew with Noah as, in a sense, a new Adam. In this sense Noah and the ark function to point to what God will do for sinful humanity in accomplishing atonement for sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Genesis presents Noah as a faithful and obedient man. His obedience to God’s command is evident in Genesis 6:22 – “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” In Hebrews 11:7 we are told that Noah “in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” In doing so, “he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is described as “a preacher of righteousness.” In no biblical text is he presented as a murderous sociopath whose own moral judgment on the wickedness of humanity is in any way central to the story. The Bible presents God as the central actor in the story – not Noah.

More than anything else, the controversy over Noah should lead Christians to understand something that should be our natural instinct. We must recognize that the Bible tells its own story infinitely better than anyone else can tell it – Hollywood included. The Bible has suffered cinematic violence at the hands of its friends as well as its enemies. This is not to argue that the Bible is off-limits to Hollywood or that Christians, among others, should not make films and movies on biblical themes and narratives. It is to state, however, that no movie, book, story, song, or other narrative device can do what the Bible does on its own terms.

Hollywood knows that Christian families are a vast market. TIME published a major news report on the efforts undertaken by Aronofsky and Parmount Pictures to sell Noah to the Christian community. Similarly, USA Today reported on Hollywood’s new interest in the Christian audience. The writer of that report, Scott Bowles, quoted Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University: “Hollywood has the same corporate and relativist values it has had for many years . . . .  The producers have, however, identified a market that is underserved and won’t come to the movie theater to watch crazy violence and sex-drenched plots.”

We are given all that we need to know about Noah in the Bible – and we need every word of the Bible. We cannot expect Hollywood to tell that story for us, or even to tell the story well. Our response to Noah should not be castigation and cultural outrage, but rather a sober realization that the story is ours to tell, and to tell faithfully.

In a lengthy essay for The New Yorker, Tad Friend recounted Darren Aronofsky’s road to making Noah. The essay is not for the faint-hearted. In it, Aronofsky declares Noah to be “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made.”

We can’t say we weren’t warned. And yet, Aronofsky is almost surely far off the mark when he makes that statement. Noah is not the least biblical movie ever made about the Bible. There have been worse, and will be worse again. The movie is not without its brilliance and moments of penetrating insight. But it gets the story line wrong, indulges in eccentric exaggeration, and distorts the character of both Noah and God. That is what surprised me. I expected to be irritated by the movie – but I found myself grieved.

Oddly enough, the most important statement about the movie came at the conclusion of A. O. Scott’s review in The New York Times. The review, like most in the Times, ended with a statement about the movie’s rating, usually detailing the reason for the rating in terms of sex or violence (or both).

At the end of Scott’s review of Noah we find these words: “’Noah’ is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and only Noah remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”

Scott’s point is clear enough – the Genesis account of Noah is messy and troubling and violent. Of course, it is filled with grace and mercy, too. The Bible tells us the story as we are to know it and tell it, and it is ours to tell. Again, the Bible is infinitely better at telling its own story than anyone or anything else, including and especially Hollywood. Perhaps the main lesson Christians are to learn from this movie is that if we do not tell the story, others will.


Eisegesis Unplugged – Proverbs 29:18

Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.

The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.

Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text. Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation. Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words.

The Passage

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

This short passage is often used to promote the need for either a special vision for a church or a personal vision for an individual believer’s life. In fact, just a few days ago I heard it used in a sermon concerning the second reason – the need for ‘personal’ vision.

Specific questions were asked by the Pastor preaching the sermon. “Do you have a ‘vision’ to be healthier, be in better shape physically, have a better job or marriage, enjoy material prosperity & be debt free, or have godly children?” These are all things God wants for us, and if you don’t have a corresponding personal vision, you just miss out!

The Pastor’s prime example of a fulfilled personal vision was Walt Disney and his grand vision for Disneyland. We all know how that turned out! But is a need for personal vision what our passage is actually teaching? Let’s take a look. Here it is again, but this time the entire verse:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)

The first thing we notice is that there is more to it than perishing for lack of a vision. We have a small ‘but’ that connects ‘vision’ with obedience to God’s law. You might be asking: “Can’t it still be about having a personal vision for one’s life?” Let’s look again, specifically about the meaning of ‘vision’. A few other translations will be helpful.

“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” (NIV)
“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (NLT)
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (ESV)

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.” (NASB)

Now for a few commentaries on the use of ‘vision’ in our passage:

“no vision —no instruction in God’s truth, which was by prophets, through visions (JFB)

“No vision – No prophecy; no public preaching of God’s word.” (Wesley’s Commentary)

“Vision – The word commonly used of the revelation of God’s will made to prophets.” (Albert Barnes)

If we are to trust the additional translations of the entire passage, as well as the commentaries, it seems that our passage has absolutely nothing to do with specific visions for an individual church or individual believers! Rather, it’s all about the lack of sound Biblical teaching, specifically from the Old Testament Prophets. If we can correlate that to today, it would refer primarily to sound Biblical preaching and teaching from gifted pastors and teachers, and even from believers reading and studying the Bible for themselves.

The New Living Translation expresses the thought of the original

“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (NLT)

Once again, when we take a closer look at a familiar and often misused passage of scripture, we find that it doesn’t mean what we want it to mean. Here’s a bit of food for thought. Is misusing scripture, even somewhat harmlessly, something we as believers ought to be doing?

Food for thought . . . J

The Geneva Bible

For some years now I have had the habit of reading or listening through the Bible during the year. The reason for this post is that for this year’s journey through the Bible, I have chosen The Geneva Bible as the translation I would use. My beautiful bride had heard me talking about it as a 2013 project and decided to order it for me, but it took some time to arrive. I received an edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible sometime last Spring, and was already engaged in my project for 2013, which was listening through the entire ESV Bible. Therefore I postponed the literary excursion through what is perhaps the first English language ‘study Bible’ until this year.   To assist in my little journey, I am using the year-long Bible reading plan provided by The Gideons International, an organization we (Dan & Dee) joined this last year. I can remain in tune with the other Gideons in our local Camp and also include all of the study/marginal notes provided in The Geneva Bible in smaller units.

The information below is excerpted from an online article , ‘History of the Geneva Bible. ’  I recommend the entire article, especially if you are interested in the history of The Bible. Enjoy!


Despite being virtually unknown today, the Geneva Bible is most revolutionary of all English Bibles. It was born out of persecution and takes its name from the initial city of publication. When Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary,” took the throne in 1553, English Bibles were made illegal and heavy persecution broke-out against Protestants and proponents of English Scripture. Hundreds fled England and many of these exiles settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where they produced a new English Bible—the Geneva Bible.

The Geneva Bible was the first English version to be translated entirely from the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Though the text is principally just a revision of William Tyndale’s earlier work of 1534, Tyndale only translated the New Testament and the Old Testament through 2 Chronicles before he was imprisoned. The English refugees living in Geneva completed the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English for the first time. The work was led by William Whittingham.

When the Geneva translation of the New Testament appeared in 1557 and the entire Bible in 1560, it was innovative in both text and format, and quickly became the household Bible of English speaking people. It was the first English Bible to have modern verse divisions as well as modern chapter divisions. It was the first Bible to use italics to indicate words not in the original language and the first Bible to change the values of ancient coins into English pound sterling equivalents. It was also the first to use plain Roman type, which was more readable than the old Gothic type, and it was in a handy quarto size for easy use. With prologues before each book, extensive marginal notes, and a brief concordance, the Geneva Bible was in fact the first English “study Bible.”

Between its first edition of 1560 and its last edition in 1644, 160 editions, totaling around a half million Bibles, were produced. And for the first time common people could not only understand the words in the Bible, they could actually own one. Its widespread use first solidified the English language among the common people, not the 1611 King James Bible as many assume. Actually, the King James Bible required decades to surpass the popularity of the Geneva and supplant it from the hearts of the English speaking world.

In fact, the Geneva Bible was the principal English Bible initially brought to American soil, making it the Bible that shaped early American life and impacted Colonial culture more than any other.

Born Out of Blood

Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, took the throne in England in 1553 and set the stage for the creation of the Geneva Bible. Sixteen years earlier her father, Henry VIII, had released the first Bible in English following his separation from the Catholic Church at Rome. However, once Mary was in power, she immediately began forcing all of England back under the authority of the Roman Church and suppressing the circulation of the Bible in the common (English) tongue. Specifically, Mary I issued proclamations in August 1553 forbidding public reading of the Bible and in June 1555 prohibiting the works of reformers Tyndale, Rogers, Coverdale, Cranmer, and others. In 1558 a proclamation was issued requiring the delivery of the reformers’ writings under penalty of death. A vicious persecution was instituted against anyone who supported the reformers’ views or attempted to circulate the scripture in English. Overall, nearly three hundred people were burned at the stake under Mary’s reign, and many more were imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise punished. Reformer John Rogers, who produced the Matthew’s Bible, was the first to be burned. Others who followed the same fate included Bishop Thomas Cranmer, who was involved with the second and subsequent editions of the Great Bible, Nicolas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, and John Hooper, who was often referred to as the “Father of Puritanism.”

It is estimated that during Bloody Mary’s reign as many as eight hundred reformers fled England to seek shelter on the Continent. Some settled in Strasburg, some in Zurich, and some in Frankfort. Many settled in Geneva, the “Holy City of the Alps,” where Protestantism was supreme. The city was under the control of the famed scholar, John Calvin, with the assistance of Theodore Beza. By 1556 a sizeable English-speaking congregation had formed in Geneva with Scottish reformer John Knox serving as pastor. William Whittingham, a tremendous scholar who according to tradition married a sister of Calvin’s wife, succeeded Knox as pastor in 1557.

The Translation


Immediately after the release of Whittingham’s 1557 New Testament, the English exiles entered upon a revision of the whole Bible. Assisted by Beza and possibly Calvin himself, several English exiles were involved in the translating, but it is impossible to say how many. Miles Coverdale, who produced the Coverdale and Great Bibles, resided in Geneva for a time and may have assisted, and a similar claim may be advanced in favor of John Knox. The famed sixteenth-century English historian, John Foxe, was also in refuge in Switzerland during this time. Yet the chief credit belongs to William Whittingham, who was probably assisted by Thomas Sampson, Anthony Gilby, and possibly William Cole, William Kethe, John Baron, John Pullain, and John Bodley.

The Old Testament from Genesis through 2 Chronicles and the New Testament were merely revisions of Tyndale’s previous monumental efforts. The works of Coverdale, Rogers, and Cranmer were also consulted, and the English exiles completed a careful collation of Hebrew and Greek originals. They compared Latin versions, especially Beza’s, and the standard French and German versions as well.

While Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, and the Great Bible were merely revisions of Tyndale’s translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, the Geneva Bible charted new ground. The scholarly English refugees in Geneva completed the translation of the remainder of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew into English for the first time. Tyndale had only translated the Hebrew (Masoretic) text up to 2 Chronicles before he was imprisoned in 1535, and it was not until this handful of scholars assembled in refuge in Geneva that there was sufficient familiarity with Hebrew among reformers to complete the translation of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew. Thus, the English scholars who escaped persecution in their native land and resided in Geneva produced the first English Bible ever completely translated from the original languages.

The work took over two years, and in 1560 the world witnessed a new English Bible, which is now known as the “Geneva Bible.” In a simple prefatory note, the Geneva Bible was dedicated to “Bloody Mary’s” successor, Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Bolyen.

The Problem of Evangelical Biblical Illiteracy A View from the Classroom – David R. Nienhuis

For well over twenty years now, Christian leaders have been lamenting the loss of general biblical literacy in America. No doubt you have read some of the same dire statistics that I have. Study after study demonstrates how nearly everyone in our land owns a Bible (more than one, in fact) but few ever take the time to read it, much less study it closely. Indeed, while the Exploring Religious America Survey of 2002 reports that over 84 percent of Americans consider the Bible to be "very" or "somewhat important" in helping them make decisions in life, recent Gallup polls tell us that only half can name even one of the four Gospels, only a third are able to identify the individual who delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and most aren’t even able to identify Genesis as the Bible’s opening text.

Upon hearing these figures (and many more are readily available), some among us may be tempted to seek odd solace in the recognition that our culture is increasingly post-Christian. Perhaps these general population studies are misplaced in holding secular people to Christian standards. Much to our embarrassment, however, it has become increasingly clear that the situation is really no better among confessing Christians, even those who claim to hold the Bible in high regard. Again, numerous studies are available for those seeking further reason to be depressed. In a 2004 Gallup study of over one thousand American teens, nearly 60 percent of those who self-identified as evangelical were not able to correctly identify Cain as the one who said, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" and over half could not identify either "Blessed are the poor in spirit" as a quote from the Sermon on the Mount or "the road to Damascus" as the place where Saul/Paul’s blinding vision occurred. In each of these questions, evangelical teens fared only slightly better than their non-evangelical counterparts.

These numbers serve to underscore the now widespread recognition that the Bible continues to hold pride of place as "America’s favorite unopened text" (to borrow David Gibson’s wonderful phrase), even among many Christians. As a professor of New Testament studies at Seattle Pacific University, I know this reality only too well. I often begin my survey of the Christian Scriptures course by asking students to take a short biblical literacy quiz, including questions of the sort mentioned above. The vast majority of my students–around 95 percent of them–are Christians, and half of them typically report that they currently attend nondenominational evangelical churches. Yet the class as a whole consistently averages a score of just over 50 percent, a failing grade. In the most recent survey, only half were able to identify which biblical book begins with the line, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Barely more than half knew where to turn in the Bible to read about the first Passover. Most revealing in my mind is the fact that my students are generally unable to sequence major stories and events from the biblical metanarrative. Only 23 percent were able to order four key events from Israel’s history (Israelites enter the promised land; David is made king; Israel is divided in two; and the people of Judah go into exile), and only 32 percent were able to sequence four similarly important events from the New Testament (Jesus was baptized; Peter denies Jesus; the Spirit descends at Pentecost; and John has a vision on the island of Patmos). These students may know isolated Bible trivia (84 percent knew, for instance, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem), but their struggle to locate key stories, and their general inability to place those stories in the Bible’s larger plotline, betrays a serious lack of intimacy with the text–even though a full 86 percent of them identified the Bible as their primary source for knowledge about God and faith.

There are, no doubt, many reasons for the current predicament. In general we spend far less time reading anything at all in this culture, much less dense and demanding books like the Bible. Not long ago I met with a student who was struggling in one of my courses. When I asked her what she thought the trouble was, she replied, in a tone suggesting ever so slightly that the fault was mine, "Reading a lot is not a part of my learning style." She went on to inform me that students today learned more by "watching videos, listening to music, and talking to one another." She spoke of the great growth she experienced in youth group (where she no doubt spent a lot of time watching videos, listening to music, and talking with people), but her ignorance of the Bible clearly betrayed the fact that the Christian formation she experienced in her faith community afforded her little to no training in the actual reading of Scripture.

Indeed, a good bit of the blame for the existing crisis has to fall at the feet of historic American evangelicalism itself. In his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–and Doesn’t, Stephen Prothero has drawn our attention to various religious shifts that took place as a result of the evangelistic Second Great Awakening that shook American culture in the first half of the nineteenth century, key characteristics of which continue to typify contemporary evangelical attitudes. For instance, there was a shift from learning to feeling, as revivalists of the period emphasized a heartfelt and unmediated experience of Jesus himself over religious education. While this strategy resulted in increased conversions and the creation of numerous popular nondenominational voluntary associations, it also had the effect of requiring Christians to agree to disagree when it came to doctrinal matters. There was a corresponding shift from the Bible to Jesus, as more and more Christians came to believe that the key test of Christian faithfulness was not the affirmation of a creed or catechism, or knowledge of the biblical text, but the capacity to claim an emotional relationship with what Prothero calls "an astonishingly malleable Jesus–an American Jesus buffeted here and there by the shifting winds of the nation’s social and cultural preoccupations."

The most important shift, according to Prothero, was the shift from theology to morality. The nondenominationalist trend among Protestants tended to avoid doctrinal conflicts by searching for agreements in the moral realm. Christian socialists, such as Charles Sheldon, taught us to ask not "What does the Bible say?" but "What would Jesus do?" Advocates of the Social Gospel, such as Walter Rauschenbusch, taught that it was more important to care for the poor than to memorize the Apostles’ Creed.

Christians schooled in this rather anti-intellectual, common-denominator evangelistic approach to faith responded to the later twentieth-century decline in church attendance by looking not to more substantial catechesis but to business and consumer models to provide strategies for growth. By now we’re all familiar with the story: increasing attendance by means of niche marketing led church leaders to frame the content of their sermons and liturgies according to the self-reported perceived needs of potential "seekers" shaped by the logic of consumerism. Now many American consumer-congregants have come to expect their churches to function as communities of goods and services that provide care and comfort without the kind of challenge and discipline required for authentic Christian formation to take place.

Is it any wonder that Christian youth have had little option but to default to thin, pop-cultural platitudes in their attempts to make sense of their faith? In the largest study to date of the religious lives of American youth, the National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton found that though American teens are generally quite happy to follow the faith of their parents, the de facto religion they practice is best characterized as a kind of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" (MTD). In their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, they describe MTD as a vaguely Christian set of convictions that result in a view of God as a divine butler-therapist figure. The majority of teens interviewed reflected the belief that God is primarily concerned with making people happy, bailing them out when they get in trouble, and providing them with the necessary goods to enjoy life. Apart from these activities, God is uninvolved in the world. In other words, God is basically a nice, permissive dad with a big wallet.

These same teens could be profoundly articulate about drinking, drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases, but were generally stumped when asked to talk about their faith. "Most U.S. teens have a difficult to impossible time explaining what they believe, what it means, and what the implications of their beliefs are for their lives," Smith and Denton report. There is more at stake here than a lack of basic biblical and theological knowledge, of course. The authors go on to say:

Philosophers like Charles Taylor argue that inarticulacy undermines the possibilities of reality. So, for instance, religious faith, practice, and commitment can be no more than vaguely real when people cannot talk much about them. Articulacy fosters reality. A major challenge for religious educators of youth, therefore, seems to be fostering articulation: helping teens practice talking about their faith, providing practice using vocabularies, grammar, stories, and key messages of faith. Especially to the extent that the language of faith in American culture is becoming a foreign language, educators, like real foreign language teachers, have that much more to work at helping their students learn to practice speaking that other language of faith.

Inarticulacy undermines the possibilities of reality. If Smith and Denton are correct in their analysis (and I think they are), then it means that even those teens who are able to answer isolated Bible knowledge questions will not automatically be enabled to make the biblical story a constitutive element of their daily existence. Knowing that Jesus was born in Bethlehem will not in and of itself empower them to speak the language of faith. Satan’s use of Scripture in tempting Jesus is clear indication that a merely cognitive level of biblical literacy does not automatically result in the formation of a Christian character.

To make a real difference in people’s lives, biblical literacy programs will have to do more than simply encourage believers to memorize a select set of Bible verses. They will have to teach people to speak the language of faith; and while this language is of course grounded in the grammar, vocabulary, and stories of the Bible, living languages are embedded in actual human communities that are constituted by particular habits, values, practices, stories, and exemplars. We don’t memorize languages; we use them and live through them. As Paulo Freire reminded us, literacy enables us to read both the word and the world. Language mediates our reality, expands our horizons, inspires our imagination, and empowers our actions. Literacy therefore isn’t simply about possessing a static ability to read and write; it is a dynamic reality, a never-ending life practice that involves putting those skills to work in reshaping our identity and transforming our world. Biblical literacy programs need to do more than produce informed quoters. They need to produce transformed readers.

This is part of what I find troubling about what appears to be the dominant model of biblical literacy employed among evangelicals in their attempts to raise children of faith. This approach emphasizes the memorization of discrete Bible verses and "facts," mostly in the service of evangelism and apologetics. By mastery of passages that are deemed doctrinally relevant and emotionally empowering, it is hoped that believing youth will be equipped to own their faith, share it with seekers, and defend it against detractors. Most of the students in my classes who consider themselves "familiar with the Bible" have been trained to approach Scripture in this fashion.

Before I go on, let me be clear that I have a deep respect for the venerable and immensely valuable tradition of memorizing Scripture. Indeed, it is a central component in learning the language of faith. The deliberate, disciplined, prayerful repetition of those texts the church has come to especially value has long been a strategy for inscribing the Word of God directly on the heart and mind of the believer (Jer. 31:31-34). My comments thus far, however, should make it plain that I do not see how a person trained to quote texts out of context can truly be called biblically literate.

I observe two common problems with students who have become "familiar with the Bible" in this way. First, many of them struggle to actually read the text as it is presented to them on the page. Just last week, several of my Bible survey students expressed their surprise and disappointment that "years of church attendance and AWANA Bible memory competitions" never trained them to engage the actual text of the Bible. They weren’t trained to be readers; they were trained to be quoters. One in particular noted that all these years she had relied on someone else to tell her what snippets of the Bible were significant enough for her to know. But whenever she was alone with the text, she felt swamped by its staggering depth and breadth; so if she read the Bible at all, her method typically involved skimming the Scriptures in search of the passages she already knew and loved. This method of "reading" (if it can be called that) is seriously limited, if not dangerous, because it reduces the Bible to a grab-bag repository of texts that reaffirms the reader’s prior commitments.

Second, this method leads students to uncritically assume that doctrinal reflection is exhausted by the capacity to quote a much-loved proof-text. In doing this they suppose not only that the passage they are quoting is entirely perspicuous as it stands (in complete isolation from its literary and historical context), but also that the cited text is capable of performing as a summary of the entire biblical witness on the matter at hand. In this they are sometimes led to uncritically conclude that Christians who believe differently from them are either incompetent or willfully disobedient. They are therefore often surprised (and occasionally profoundly demoralized) when they read the verse in its actual literary context and discover that the meaning they had come to invest in it is not completely commensurate with the plain sense of the text on the page. Those of my students who are quick to quote Ephesians 2:8-9 ("For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast") are sometimes shocked to read the subsequent verse 10 ("For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life"). Those who have memorized Romans 10:9 ("If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved") are often horrified to read Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21 ("Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven"). In fact it requires both a far more substantive grasp of Scripture and a capacity for careful doctrinal reflection to know how to negotiate the rich plenitude of the biblical witness. Unfortunately my students’ encounter with the Bible’s depth and breadth often leaves those who have been raised to quote verses feeling very insecure in their faith.

So what then shall we do? What is biblical literacy? Coming to an agreed-upon definition is itself part of the problem. I think all would agree that, at base, it involves a more detailed understanding of the Bible’s actual content. This requires: (1) schooling in the substance of the entire biblical story in all its literary diversity (not just an assortment of those verses deemed doctrinally relevant); (2) training in the particular "orienteering" skills required to plot that narrative through the actual texts and canonical units of the Bible; and (3) instruction in the complex theological task of interpreting Scripture in light of the tradition of the church and the experience of the saints. The survey courses we teach at SPU seek to do these very things. But in the end we want to do more than fill believing heads with objective knowledge about the Bible; we want to empower our whole community–students, faculty, and staff–to buck the cultural trends and take up the spiritual discipline of reading Scripture. It is not enough for a Christian university to function as an outpost of the academy; it must also take up the task of serving the church by becoming an abbey for spiritual growth and an apostolate for cultural change. Through our newly established Center for Biblical and Theological Education, we are working to create a reading program–a lectionary of sorts–that will contribute to the formation of readers who come to cherish a relationship not with the "astonishingly malleable Jesus" of American culture, but with the particular God whose story is related in the Bible and celebrated in the Christian church. We want to create a community ethos of habitual, orderly, communal ingestion of the revelatory text. We do so in the hope that the Spirit of God will transform readers into hearers who know what it is to abide before the mirror of the Word long enough to become enscripturated doers; that is, people of faith who are adept at interpreting their individual stories and those of their culture through the grand story of God as it is made known in the Bible.

1  Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–and Doesn’t (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 111.
2  Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 268.

David R. Nienhuis (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) is associate professor of New Testament Studies at Seattle Pacific University and interim director of SPU’s Center for Biblical and Theological Education. He is the author of Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon (Baylor University Press, 2007).

Issue: "Recovering Scripture" Jan./Feb. 2010 Vol. 19 No. 1 Page number(s): 10-13, 17

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The Bible: “Viewer discretion is advised”

by Lutheran Pastor, Ted Giese

The Bible Logo

As might be expected, Lutherans are keen on the Bible. Our churches read aloud from the Scriptures every week during worship. In those same services our pastors preach sermons based on the readings for the day. We encourage our members to read their Bibles in personal devotions, and to attend Bible studies at our churches so that they can grow in their knowledge of God’s Word.

Helping people know the Scriptures better is the goal behind Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey’s new television adaptation of the Bible for the History Channel. In a recent interview, Burnett says he believes there’s a growing “Biblical illiteracy” among young people. It is admirable that someone would want to tackle that problem, not just among young people but among all people.

Each episode of the new series begins with a disclaimer. “This programme is an adaptation of Bible stories,” it says. “It endeavours to stay true to the spirit of the book. Some scenes contain violence. Viewer discretion is advised.”

That warning—to use your discretion—is good advice. The best advice is to watch this programme with your Bible next to you. Use your Christian discretion, your gift of discernment, while you watch (Matthew 24:4-5). Or, if this is not a strength of yours, turn to a fellow Christian with this gift (Luke 24:25-27).

Jesus talks about the need for discernment in Matthew 24: “See that no one leads you astray,” He tells his disciples. “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” Discernment then is about being able to look at something and tell if it’s accurate or not, if it’s true or not, if it’s genuine or not.

St. Peter tells us that we should “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14). One way to be prepared is to know your Bible and know it well. When your co-workers say, “I was watching that Bible thing on TV last night,” you will be a help and a benefit to them if you’ve both watched the episode and followed that up with careful reading of the biblical passages it was based on. Just be sure to bring the conversation back around to “the hope that is in you.” That hope is Jesus.

Jesus Himself explained that all of Scripture was about Him. After His resurrection, He traveled the Road to Emmaus with two of his followers. They were discussing the events of the previous days (they didn’t recognize Jesus) and were sad because they could not understand what had happened. “O foolish ones,” Jesus says to them, “and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

What does this mean? It means that no matter what part of the Bible you find yourself in, it will be about Jesus. This is an important detail to consider as you watch the Bible miniseries; every part of the show should be about Jesus.

Abraham and Isaac

Abraham-Isaac-webKeeping this in mind, let’s look at a familiar Bible story that appears in the first episode of the series. In “Beginnings,” Abraham and Sarah give birth, despite their advanced age, to a son they name Isaac. Isaac came as the realization of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the night sky. But as the Scriptures continue, God commands Abraham to sacrifice this special son Isaac; you can read the story in Genesis 22:1-18.

In the new television series, when asked by an inaudible voice to sacrifice his son, Abraham replies: “Sacrifice? No, no! Have I not shown you enough faith?” These are not words spoken by the biblical Abraham.

In other parts of this television series, the writers have God speak audibly. Here, however, they do not make God’s voice audible even though His words are present in the biblical account. This is a small detail but an important one; it informs the rest of how they tell the story of Abraham and Isaac. The Scriptural account has Abraham as an obedient follower of God’s command; he trusts God even in the face of this difficult request. The miniseries, however, presents Abraham as deeply conflicted. This is all speculation on the part of the writers.

Moreover, they show Isaac struggling with his father when he’s put on the altar. This too is not in the Biblical account. And just as he’s about to sacrifice Isaac in the television series, Abraham begs him to forgive him—again something not in the biblical account. The series does have Abraham being stopped at the last moment by the angel of the LORD, but it cuts out what God tells Abraham through that angel: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him,” the Scriptures record, “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12).

On the surface, the television programme resembles the biblical account; but it fails to accurately portray what the Scriptures say happened. Sarah is shown rushing to the mountain top in a series of scenes not found in the Bible. The sacrifice provided by God to Abraham in place of Isaac is not a ram with its horns caught in a thicket, as the Scriptures record, but instead a little lamb standing beside a small tree. At the very end of the story, the narrator tells us that “Abraham has passed the ultimate test” and that “he will become the father of God’s nation.” It then passes on.

The book of Genesis was written by Moses, and Jesus says that Moses wrote of Him; so where is Jesus in this? If all the Scriptures were written concerning Jesus, as He says they are, then Jesus should be in this story. In the biblical story, Jesus is found in a number of ways. One way He is found is in the obedience of Isaac who goes willingly without complaint to the place of sacrifice trusting his father, just as Jesus would later do. Jesus is also found in the ram caught in the thicket, which prophetically points to the substitutionary nature of Jesus: just as the ram dies in the place of Isaac, Jesus dies for you. The television series curiously replaces this ram with a lamb. And while Jesus is sometimes referred to as the “Lamb of God” in the New Testament, there is no lamb in the biblical account of Abraham and Isaac. Why the change was necessary is unclear.

The Book of Hebrews tells us that it was “by faith [that] Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17-19). From this we see that the story of Abraham and Isaac is ultimately about trust in God and the promised resurrection of the dead: Abraham knew that God could raise his son Isaac from death even if he sacrificed him.

The story is also about God’s love for us. It points to God the Father’s willingness to sacrifice His beloved Son, Jesus, for us. But the Bible miniseries here and in other Old Testament stories misses Jesus and salvation history.

What to make of the series?

jesus-on-cross-webWhat then can be made of the Bible miniseries? Sadly, the focus is not on Jesus but instead on examples of God testing people’s goodness and leadership skills. The Bible miniseries is, in the end, more about you than it is about Jesus for you.

On a technical note, the production values for the series are adequate but pale in comparison to other recent epic television and films projects. The acting is uneven and includes some cringe-inducing moments. The writing frequently moves away from the text of the Bible: there are many things subtracted and many things added to the biblical account. Fight scenes not in the actual biblical stories are added, apparently for entertainment value. And there are significant passages of biblical dialogue absent which would help the audience to make sense of the narrative. This last criticism is particularly puzzling because the producers sought out the help of Christian advisors in making the miniseries.

One positive thing to note about this series is that the History Channel is notorious for airing documentaries that are openly negative and hostile towards Christians and their faith. While the new Bible miniseries is by no means perfect, it certainly isn’t deliberately negative in the way some other programmes on that channel are.

The question then is this: “Did the Bible miniseries do what it intended to do? Did it fulfill its purpose?” Mark Burnett’s desire to stem the tide of “biblical illiteracy” is not greatly helped by this miniseries, unless it gets people interested in reading the actual book itself. If it sends people back into the pages of the Bible to see what’s there, then maybe it will have served its purpose. It would be great if people young and old could be encouraged to pick up their Bible and do some fact checking while they watch the production.

If you are planning to watch or are watching this miniseries, be careful to use viewer discretion; it is both advisable and recommended. You can also use the series as an opportunity to encourage others to read their Bibles and get involved with a Bible study in their church.

Does the series succeed in staying “true to the spirit of the book,” as it claims in its initial disclaimer? That question requires discernment. Thankfully, you are blessed to have God’s actual written Word to see for yourselves.


NOTE: There is a short but good interview with Ted Giese at the Issues, Etc., a Christian Talk Radio program.

“Part 3 of The Bible gets a 4 star review”

Author: Donna Sundblad, Atlanta Bible Study Examiner

Part 3 of the History Channel‘s The Bible aired on March 17 with the prophet Jeremiah warning Israel’s King Zedekiah about the coming siege of Jerusalem by Babylonians. Jeremiah’s warnings go unheeded and he delivers a final message to Zedekiah. “Surrender to Nebuchadnezzar or die. God is bringing disaster.”

The biblical account of this historical time explains that Zedekiah was placed on the throne as king by Nebuchadnezzar, after King Jehoiachin was taken captive and brought to Babylon. As the television miniseries fast forwarded through the remainder of the Old Testament and into the New Testament account of the birth of Jesus and the start of his ministry on earth they did a good job.

“In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem with his entire army. They laid siege to the city and built a siege wall against it all around. The city was under siege until King Zedekiah’s eleventh year” (2 Kings 25:1-2 HCSB)

The prophet Daniel

The Bible offered a realistic portrayal of the massive Babylonian army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. No one escapes the city and after 18 months the Israelites start to starve. The TV miniseries showed the Babylonians shooting fiery arrows over the wall and King Zedkiah turning to the prophet Jeremiah for help. The prophet tells the king to “repent and all will be well. God will save us.” Then almost in the same breath he says, “You’re too late,” and the scene moves to a battering ram at the gates. Jerusalem is destroyed and the temple is plundered and burned to the ground. The Jewish people flee including a man named Daniel who is taken captive. This works for the miniseries for the sake of time constraints, but in actuality he was taken captive to Babylon when Jehoiachin was deported.

“Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiachin to Babylon. Also, he took the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the leading men of the land into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:15)

The Daniel in episode 3 of The History Channel’s the Bible looked old compared to Daniel of the Bible who was taken captive as a youth (Daniel 1:3). The condensing of events is understandable for TV, but in actuality Daniel was in captivity about three years before he was to be “evaluated” by the king. The miniseries did a good job of showing Daniel’s visionary powers, and how Nebuchadnezzar grows to trust him after none of the other wise men, sorcerers, or seers could tell him his dream. Daniel not only tells him his dream, but what it means. Of course in the Bible more than one dream is interpreted, but the miniseries did a great job with the condensed version.

A large gold statue is constructed and everyone is expected to bow to it. When the music is played all the people bow except three Jewish men who remain standing. This was a powerful scene that created a strong visual of the faith they lived. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar, “They will only worship God.” An angry Nebuchadnezzar vows that he will “make them bow.”

The scene of the fiery furnace left a little to be desired but overall the producers got the idea across when Daniel’s friends do not burn in the fierce flames and a fourth “man” appears in the fire with arms outstretched. His friends are not harmed and the miracle unites the people. They reaffirm their trust in God.

Daniel and the lions’ den

Cyrus, King of Persia conquers Babylon without a fight, and Daniel finds favor in his sight. Others who serve the new king are jealous of Daniel, and develop a plot. They know the only way to bring Daniel down is his God. The men flatter the king and trick him into creating a law that forbids the people to pray for a month. They know Daniel will not abide by this man-made law, and it will mean his life. Daniel goes up to his room, puts on his prayer shawl, faces east, and prays. Through lattice work in the room, his enemies witness the breaking of the law and Daniel is arrested and thrown into the lions’ den.

Cyrus does not sleep and asks for the door to be open. In the miniseries this happens the same night, but in the biblical account he waits until the following morning because it is the law. Daniel is found unharmed. Cyrus calls for Daniel to come out and says, “God is with you. You’re God is real. Your God has saved you. Your people will return to Jerusalem. Sadly they no longer have a temple to worship him.”

The Jews get to return to Jerusalem, but Daniel stays in Babylon. He says, “I fear for their future. I saw a great beast. It had great iron teeth and it devoured the whole world, but I saw one … this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.” The narrative was a nice lead in to the New Testament.

Birth of Jesus

The miniseries featured flash scenes covering the next 500 years including information from extra-biblical texts. This worked as a segue to the New Testament times where Mary and Joseph are introduced through a modern day lens as Joseph thinks about how pretty Mary’s eyes as they gather in worship. Romans crash in and Joseph tells Mary to go back to her Father’s house. On the way she hears a voice. A burgundy-caped angel says, “The Lord is with you. Don’t be afraid. You will soon give birth to a son. He will be the son of the most high. The Holy Spirit will move in you. Don’t be afraid.”

By the time Joseph and Mary are shown next, he sees she’s is pregnant. She explains it is the work of God, but Joseph grows angry and says, “I thought I knew you.” When she explains that it is God’s child, he says, “Mary God doesn’t do this to people like us,” but an angel tells him, “Joseph son of David, be at peace. Take Mary as your wife. She is pure. The child she carries is from God.”

Joseph returns to Mary, where a crowd is surrounding her and calling her “whore.” Joseph shouts, “I believe her and I will still take her as my wife if she will have me.” This is much different than the biblical account where Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy but it does get the story across.

The miniseries depicts Mary and Joseph alone against the world, as the birth of the king of the Jews is announced in the heavens. Wise men quote scripture, “a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem and are caught in a fierce rain storm as she goes into labor and they can’t find a place to stay.


While the Bible doesn’t name the wise men, tradition names them: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The miniseries cuts to the astrologer Balthasar as he stands before Herod. He asks, “What can you tell me of the new king?”

Herod is portrayed as a crazy, self-indulgent King disturbed by this inquiry. “King of the Jews? Did you not come here to see Herod, King of the Jews. Then who is claiming to be king.”

Balthasar answers, “No one. He is not born yet. Surely your scribes have received the prophecy.” He returns to his companions and they follow the star as Herod goes into a tirade. This scene is rushed as Herod learns through the Scribes that the king will be born in Bethlehem. He sends his troops to kill all the babies in Bethlehem before Jesus is born.

“Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity” (Micah 5:2)

In the biblical account, Herod doesn’t order the babies killed until he realizes the wise men are not returning to tell him where he can find the baby. In fact, in the Bible, when the wise men come to Jesus and Mary they are in a house and he is referred to as a “child” not a baby. This is why Herod’s order is to kill the baby boys two years and under.

In the miniseries, Joseph has a nightmare. He sees all the babies in Bethlehem being killed. “We have to leave now,” he says to Mary. “I can’t explain. Just trust me.”

Return to Galilee

After Herod dies, the people sense an opportunity to win their freedom, but the Roman response is brutal. The uprising is crushed and in Galilee alone, 2,000 people are crucified. In the scene where Joseph and Mary return to Galilee, Jesus looks to be about four or five years old. They come upon victims of crucifixion. Joseph reminds Mary that they must trust in God’s plan.

John the Baptist

At the River Jordan crowds flock to John the Baptist in the desert. Some people call him the Messiah, the Redeemer of the Jews, and the anointed by God, but he makes it clear “There is one to come, greater than me. I’m just a voice in the wilderness preparing the way.”

Jesus walks on the scene and tells John, “John what you are doing is right. Baptize me.” Following his baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness. For 40 days his spirit is tested, preparing him for the challenges to come. He walks like he is about to faint, then collapses with labored breathing. A snake slithers up beside him. Jesus trembles. A black robed Satan walks up to him, and Jesus stands. Satan tempts Jesus, but Jesus resists Satan’s temptations and gets ready for his ministry which will be without John the Baptist who has been arrested.

Jesus returns to his home region and goes to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. His mission begins here with Peter, a fisherman. When Peter asks, “What are we going to do?” Jesus answers, “Change the world.”

John the Baptist beheaded

John the Baptist continues to preach in prison. This part of the miniseries is quite different from the biblical account, but it ends with the prophet losing his head.

The History Channel’s The Bible part 3 overall did a good job of depicting biblical events within the time constraints needed for a project of this magnitude. While the miniseries is very good, it is important to remember it is not a replacement for actually reading God’s Word.


Donna Sundblad has read through the Bible more than 20 times in her life, but reading the Bible isn’t enough. In 2 Timothy, 2:15 we are told to “study.” Study involves many aspects including a look at the original …


My thoughts:

I’m stll enjoying engaging in discussions around the miniseries. Not a bad review, but still glaringly MIA (Missing In Action) is the story of redemption! I had hoped that the angel who told Jesus’ earthly dad Joseph would have included the rather important statement concerning the child in Mary’s womb “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

I was disappointed that the demonstration of the Trinity at Jesus’ baptism was omitted. to me that would have been something NOT to leave out. On the other hand, since the miniseries has in no way attempted to teach any actual doctrine in the first three segments, perhaps I should be complementing the miniseries on its consistency.

Also, I don’t remember hearing in this episode Jesus’ words recorded in the NT at the beginning of his ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”, which is perhaps the best demonstration of the Trinity in the NT, if not the entire Bible.

Lastly (not really, but enough for now), the allegedly episode ending climactic answer to Peter’s question about what they would do, “Change the world.” is nowhere in scripture and probably sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry being portrayed mainly as a the ‘social gospel’ so prevalent in today’s liberal minded evangelical climate. Rick warren is undoubtedly proud of the miniseries and his own contribution as a technical;/spiritual advisor for the project.

According to the Apostle Paul,

    “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

The miniseries still has a couple of more episodes, but my hopes that it will get to the MIA plan of redemption are becoming dim.

First Thoughts about The History Channel Series ‘The Bible’

Yesterday evening I watched the first installment of THC’s The Bible and came away with mixed feelings. Which feelings are relevant or accurate is anyone’s guess at this point and depends on the perspective from which a person watches the epic tale. I watched it from the perspective of a person who has read the source document multiple times in different translations, as well as one who has engaged is serious Bible study more than just occasionally. I was therefore interested in both literal Biblical accuracy and the faithfulness of the stories that would be told to the text and context of the Bible.

I realized that I might need to immediately adjust my expectations as well as my opinion when at the very beginning viewers were provided this disclaimer:

“This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world. It endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book.”

One review I read called that a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Perhaps it was and perhaps it wasn’t. It might just have been an honest goal, considering that inspiring thousands (if not millions) of viewers to pick up a bible and actually read it was also a goal, according to an interview I read. However, I would expect someone who ends up reading the Bible might end up with an often repeated thought running through his/her brain that sounds something like: “Well, that‘s a bit different than that TV series I saw!"

I found myself numerous times thinking "Well, that part is not in the book!" as I watched the first segment. The most notable instance was undoubtedly when the ‘destroying angels who wreaked havoc in Sodom went all ‘ninja’ with two edged swords and left numerous bloody dead bodies lying in the city street.

I have to admit that the scene in Sodom was as I expected it would be when they portrayed the men of Sodom clamoring at Lot’s door demanding to be handed the angels, but didn’t mention their stated purpose in wanting to have sex with them, at least according to every Bible translation I’ve read. I cannot however stand in judgment on the saga’s producers concerning their motive in leaving out those details, although I have ‘ratings related’ suspicions.

As usual with these sorts of things, I was also asking the question “What about the gospel?” as I watched the stories from the books of Genesis and Exodus and knowing that all 66 books of the Bible have to do ultimately with Jesus Christ, the savior of God’s people, either prophetically in the Old testament or literally in the New Testament. That aspect was missing in this segment, but the series is just beginning. Perhaps when the series nears its end in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Savior, that connection will be emphasized and viewers will be further encouraged to read the Bible for themselves.

Sadly, I have doubts that the ‘gospel connection’ will be communicated to the many viewers who will watch the entire series. Roma Downey stated that her favorite character in the entire series is Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom she portrays. That’s of course understandable, since she is a devout Catholic.

Without passing judgment at this juncture, I will say that the saga will undoubtedly open a lot of doors for discussion, which could in turn lead to talking about spiritual matters, which could lead to a clear presentation of the gospel, It’s also a more fitting film as a backdrop for preaching a sermon than many others used in today’s movie based sermons that seem to permeate the evangelical landscape. Green Lantern, anyone?

If you think ‘permeate’ is too strong a word, just Goggle something like ‘movie based sermons’ and see what it generates.

I’ll let it rest for now and keep watching.

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