Episode four of A.D. The Bible Continues recently aired on NBC. This TV mini-series—a spin-off of the History Channel’s popular The Bible program—intends to show the beginning of the church following Christ’s death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Episode three ended dramatically with Peter and John in prison for preaching in the temple, an attempt by Jewish Zealots on the Roman governor Pilate’s life, and the murder of a Roman guard. You can read a review of the rather disappointing episode three here.
Each week, writer and researcher Avery Foley has been writing a detailed review of the current episode. She provides the following review of episode four:
Last week I highlighted how A.D. seems to be going out of its way to avoid preaching the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite how gospel-centered the book of Acts is, the writers and producers have managed to make it three episodes—now four—without really presenting what Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection was all about.
As I pointed out last week, the series is spending more air time showing conflict that may or may not have happened between the Roman governor Pilate and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas than showing what we know happened with the Apostles and the church. This episode again focused on the relationship between Pilate and the Jews as Pilate orders horrific punishment against the Jews until they turn over the would-be assassin and murderer. Of course, this is all artistic license and does not reflect anything recorded in Scripture.
This episode also showed the disciples baptizing new believers “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”* This is in accord with Scripture (Matthew 28:19). In the episode, before baptism, the new convert was asked, “Do you repent of your sins? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the Cross and rose again on the third day?” This is the closest that A.D. has come to presenting the gospel message. Although rather brief and vague, this does include repentance and belief in Jesus’ death and Resurrection, which is more of the gospel than we have seen so far.
The neglect of the the Trinity has also been a troubling trend throughout all four episodes. I pointed out several purposeful omissions of Christ’s deity in my review of episodes one and two, but it is not just Christ that they avoid referring to as God. The Holy Spirit has also not been referred to as God but is instead consistently referred to as an “it.” In the show, the Holy Spirit is more of a presence or a power that comes on Peter or John when they are speaking or answering questions. This continuing avoidance of attributing deity to Jesus and the Holy Spirit—which the Bible clearly does—is another troubling pattern that the show seems to be making.
The episode begins with Peter and John languishing in prison and the show seems to indicate that, contrary to the account in Acts, they were in the prison for longer than one night (Acts 4:3, 5). When they finally appear before the Jewish rulers, Scripture records that “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it” (Acts 4:13–14). However, in the episode, Caiaphas’ wife tries to bribe the lame beggar into lying about his condition and the Jewish leaders do not seem at all impressed by the miracle or the Apostles’ defense. They only reluctantly let the Apostles go with a warning when the beggar publicly refuses to lie about his condition. During this exchange, the script writers quoted directly from Acts 4:19 but neglected to include the following verse, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). It’s unfortunate that they left this verse out because it emphasized the reason for the Apostles’ teaching—they had been with the Lord and were His witnesses to His death, burial, and Resurrection.
In the episode, when Peter and John arrive back at the upper room, Peter is shocked by all the people rejoicing in the crammed room. He asks, “All these people, what happened?” The answer, “You did, and they just keep coming.” But “Peter” didn’t happen—the Holy Spirit happened. It was because of the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God by Peter that people were coming to know Christ, not because of Peter’s charisma, charm, or boldness.
In the show, Peter then gives another speech to the assembled crowd. However, in the book of Acts, what actually happens is a prayer for boldness by the church. They ask God to “look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29–30). After their prayer, the whole room is shaken, they are all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they go out and speak in boldness (verse 31). The preaching work of the Apostles (verse 33) is sorely neglected throughout the episode and is instead overshadowed by their acts of benevolence (verses 34–35). After that, Scripture records that they begin sharing everything that they had (verses 32–35). In the show, however, there is no prayer for boldness, no outpouring of the Spirit, and no preaching. Peter simply gives a very vague man-centered speech about unity and common wealth (i.e., sharing material resources) among the believers. This stands in sharp contrast to what Acts 4 actually records.
In the episode, while on the streets, Peter is asked to heal a young girl and he claims that if God wills it, it will happen. But he seems rather doubtful of Christ’s ability to heal and seems quite surprised (and relieved) when he “prays” twice and the girl is healed. This contrasts with the incredible miracles God did through Peter and the other apostles (Acts 5:12–16) with no mention of doubt or wavering. Also, the episode shows John having a vision that directs him to the temple where he meets a rich seeker who wishes to join them. John invites him with, “Join us in the name of Jesus Christ and the man will be fulfilled.” This is not a call to repent and trust in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—it is not the gospel message.
While the architectural reconstructions of Jerusalem and the Temple in particular are beautiful to look at and bear some resemblance to archaeological evidence and literary descriptions, there are many egregious errors. For example, in the brief flyover of the Temple Mount just after John’s dream, the gates of the temple edifice seem to be oriented to the south (indicated by the direction of the shadows) rather than to the east. Also, Solomon’s Porch appears on the opposite side of the Temple Mount than it should, and the urban development and defensive walls are contrived.
Also, in the show, the man that John invites to join them, Barnabas, gives the growing church a piece of land outside Jerusalem. The church uses that land to start a sort of colony. However, Acts 4:36–37 tells us that Barnabas sold the land and gave the proceeds to the disciples. Another minor error in the episode was that Barnabas introduces himself to John as “Barnabas,” but Acts 4:36 tells us that his name was Joses but he was named Barnabas by the Apostles.
The producers also lost another opportunity to speak about Jesus and what He came to do. A Jewish Zealot, Boaz (Pilate’s potential assassin), sought refuge with the Christian community and again tried to sell his cause to Peter. Of course, no such exchange is recorded in Scripture, but the script writers could have had Peter reply by showing that Jesus was promised in the Old Testament (Luke 24:27) and how His kingdom was not of this world that it could be gained by weapons (John 18:36).
The episode also shows Ananias and Sapphira’s joining the church, giving all of their possessions, but holding back a part of it for security in case the venture failed. They remain with the group for a while until Peter, by the Holy Spirit, realizes that they are lying and they both die gruesome deaths. Now, Scripture does not say that Ananias and Sapphira gave everything they owned to the Apostles. Actually, the show seems to portray giving all you have as some kind of initiation rite into the church, but Scripture never says any such thing. Scripture says that Ananias and Sapphira “sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1–2). Scripture seems to indicate that the death of Ananias happened right after he gave the money, not days later as is depicted in the show, and Scripture says he “fell down and breathed his last,” but the producers made his death quite gruesome and bloody.
Also, contrary to Scripture, the show doesn’t make it clear that the money was Ananias’ and he could do whatever he wanted with it. He wasn’t judged for not giving it all, he was judged for lying to the Holy Spirit. While the show does mention lying to God as the offence, it does not make it clear that Ananias could have done whatever he wanted with the money (Acts 5:4). In the show, Sapphira later comes in and inquires about her husband and Peter asks her about the money. She, like her husband, lies, and Peter says, “You bet against our mission succeeding, you bet against God, Sapphira. How can you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord?” She then dies. However, Scripture makes no mention of betting against God or the Apostles’ mission. Rather, it just mentions conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9).
Lastly, during one scene, Caiaphas touches the dead body of a victim of crucifixion as it hangs on a cross. As the high priest, Caiaphas would have been considered unclean for a full seven days after touching a dead body (Numbers 19:11) so it is highly unlikely that he would have touched the body.
Again in this episode, as with the last three, although the producers took a lot of artistic license, we can say that the events in the book of Acts are presented as if they really happened and as if the people involved really lived. This is certainly a good thing. However, it is disturbing to see the many subtle contradictions and major theological omissions. Saddest of all is the almost complete neglect of the precious message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that alone can save.
As with the other episodes of A.D., I encourage you to use them as a platform to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of your family, friends, and coworkers will be watching the series, and it provides a great opportunity to direct the conversation from a simple TV program to the message of Christ’s death and Resurrection on our behalf.
Stay tuned for an upcoming review of episode five.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.
*All quotations from the episode are taken from the subtitles provided by NBC in the video on their website.