A.D. The Bible Continues: “The Persecution” Review

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Episode six of A.D. The Bible Continues aired recently on NBC television. This series, a sequel to The History Channel’s popular The Bible, has been a great disappointment so far as it claims to show the events of the book of Acts but really manages to portray little biblical history and much hypothetical historical drama. Episode six just continued this disappointing trend.

Writer and researcher Avery Foley provides a review of this latest episode:

Episode six of A.D. The Bible Continues furthers the trend we’ve seen over the last few episodes by ignoring the biblical text and developing an entire plotline that has nothing in common with Scripture.

The episode begins with the disciples preparing the body of the church’s first martyr, Stephen, for burial. This is in accord with Acts 8:2. While they are preparing the body, John says a lament drawn from Isaiah 60:18–19. As the disciples are carrying the body out of Jerusalem, they are accosted by Stephen’s hysterical mother who screams, “My son is dead. Stephen is dead. Because of you, you and your politics. Where is he? Where is he now, this Messiah of yours?”* Instead of providing an explanation, all Peter does is give Stephen’s mother a comforting hug while the disciples stand around discussing why he doesn’t raise Stephen from the dead. Where is Peter, the great evangelist and author of the words, “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15)? Furthermore, Stephen requested to be with Christ (Acts 7:59) as his physical body was dying, so he did not even wish to be resurrected. In the burial scene, Peter quotes from Isaiah 35:1–2 as the church mourns for him.

Saul, the great persecutor of the church, was introduced at the end of last week’s episode as he stood approving of Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1). In this episode he arrives at the Christian camp outside the city walls and is greeted by two of the Christians, Phillip and Barnabas, who ask him if he has come to learn about Jesus. He scoffs and arrogantly proclaims, “I am Saul. Scholar, Jew, Roman citizen, Pharisee, defender of the great temple of Jerusalem.” He then begins to threaten and accuse them of blasphemy. They say nothing in defense of Christianity. This is an unbiblical portrayal of both Barnabas and Phillip. Barnabas was a great evangelist and eventual colleague of Paul, who made great missionary journeys to tell others about Christ. Philip was noted for his fruitful speaking ministry (Acts 8:5–6). Surely one of them would be able to say something in defense of the Christian faith. Instead they just stand there looking hurt and offended. Sadly, the show so far has shown the Christians like this. None of them have demonstrated any ability to defend Christianity or to answer any of the hard questions put to them. Instead they simply stand in silence. This gives the impression that Christianity is an indefensible faith; we must simply believe without evidence or reason. This, however, is not true and is not how Christians are supposed to handle questions and accusations (Colossians 4:5–6).

Saul then proceeds to set up his camp in the midst of the colony and reason with the people to encourage them to leave the camp. Here he is confronted by Peter. In this exchange Peter quotes some of Christ’s words (John 14:6), which is an improvement over previous episodes. During their exchange Saul quotes from Deuteronomy 21:23 and Peter replies with words taken from his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:24). Saul then turns to the crowd and asks who has actually seen this resurrected Messiah. There is silence as no one raises their hand or offers a comment. This was a ridiculous addition on the part of the scriptwriters and shows a complete ignorance of Scripture. Contrary to the way it is portrayed in the show, Jesus did not just appear to the disciples. He appeared to many more people while He was on Earth for 40 days, including 500 people all at once (1 Corinthians 15:6)! Surely some of those 500 would have been gathered with the disciples and, even if they weren’t, someone would have spoken up and said something like, “Well, we haven’t seen him, but he appeared to hundreds of people. They live in Jerusalem, and we’ve talked to them ourselves!” Instead Peter offers the lame response of “Jesus and the truth of his message are loved.” Saul then retorts that Jerusalem killed him. Peter then correctly quotes from Isaiah 53 to state that this is what was supposed to happen, according to the prophets. The quotations of the Old Testament from Peter are the most biblical part of the episode but are, unfortunately, very brief and infrequent. Oddly enough, after the heated exchange between Saul and Peter, Simon the Zealot (one of the Twelve) lunges forward and bellows that he will tear Saul’s head off if he stays. This is completely out of character from the way any of the disciples are portrayed in Acts. Saul threatens them again before heading back to Jerusalem.

It should be pointed out again that Scripture never hints that the church set up a village for itself outside of Jerusalem. In fact, many places in the early chapters of Acts make it clear that the believers lived and worshipped in Jerusalem (Acts 5:42, 6:7, 8:1). So the portrayal of the separate camp for the Christians is unbiblical. Also, nowhere in Acts does it state that Saul tried to reason the people away from the faith by getting into shouting matches with Peter. Rather, Saul is introduced in Acts with, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). This is not what happens in the episode. Later in the program Saul and a mob of angry men he aroused do drag people from their homes, but they are not necessarily Christians, just Christian sympathizers being accused of “aiding, sheltering, and feeding the followers of the false messiah.” Saul and his men also arrest a large crowd of people standing in the streets listening to John and Peter preach, but Saul allows the apostles to go free. The sermon that John and Peter are preaching contains a quotation from Scripture (John 8:12) but otherwise is largely a political sermon aimed at the Jewish leaders and the Romans. As in other episodes, the Apostles do not preach the gospel at all.

At the very end of the show Saul and the temple guards storm into the Christian camp to arrest and possibly kill some of the Christians, but they flee and escape. The escape scene even involves Peter lighting a ditch of tar on fire to create a wall of flame. Peter then stands on the other side screaming at and taunting Saul and his men while Saul hollers “No! No! I will crush you!” Peter responds, “You will try!” It appears that the writers attempted to be biblical by having Peter and the other Apostles return to Jerusalem when the church is scattered. But Acts 8:1 says that the Apostles remain in Jerusalem—not that they head back to the city—when the church was scattered throughout Samaria and Judea. This scene is a completely unbiblical portrayal of the persecution that Saul inflicted on the early church, which resulted in “havoc” and imprisonment for many (Acts 8:3).

As with other episodes, the show is not complete without inserting a bunch of drama with the high priest, the Jewish rulers, and the Romans. In this episode Caiaphas’ father-in-law Annas and brother-in-law Jonathan, as well as Joseph of Arimathea, plot against Caiaphas to supplant him and replace him with Jonathan. They take their plan to Pilate to ask him for a decision. Tired of their games, Pilate first appeals to the goddess of wisdom, Minerva, and when she fails to give him an answer, he flips a coin. The coin decides that Caiaphas stays in office. Later it is revealed that the coin was a loaded one. Because of his treachery, Joseph is banished from Jerusalem. This whole subplot is completely imaginative and does not seem at all likely to be historical. Furthermore, Caiaphas and Annas are frequently mentioned together, as if they are in perfect accord, in Scripture (John 18:13, 24). There is no hint of discord in the biblical text. Also, it should be noted that the Jewish Festival of Purim (Esther 9:18–32) is mentioned during a meal at Caiaphas’ as being the occasion for the visit of Herod Antipas and his wife. But Purim occurs in the early spring, before both Passover and Pentecost, so the chronology of the episode is off.

One positive in this episode was that, contrary to last week’s portrayal, Gamaliel is shown as a bit wiser this time around. This matches with Scripture, which states that he was honored by the people (Acts 5:34). Also, he is shown to be counselling Saul, and we know from Acts (Acts 22:3) that Gamaliel was Saul’s teacher. However, including again Gamaliel’s caution to the Sanhedrin that in opposing the Apostles they might be found fighting against God (Acts 5:39) would have made these brief scenes stronger and more biblically based.

Another ongoing problem with A.D. is the depiction of Peter. He is still, six episodes in, being shown as an incompetent leader who is struggling to lead the infant church. This is an inaccurate and degrading portrayal of Peter contrary to the record in Acts. At one point in this episode, Peter is confronted by Mary Magdalene who tells him that he needs to let his grief about Stephen’s death out. She says, “Honor Stephen by leading us, Peter.” Peter then stands up and screams out his frustration in the middle of the camp. After screaming, the wind blows—a sign in the show that the Holy Spirit is filling him—and he preaches a “sermon” that emphasizes that Christ is the church’s foundation and the people, not the place, is the church. He then says they must go into Jerusalem and “preach His word to build His church.” At least in this point the producers relate the building of Christ’s church with the proclamation of His Word (Acts 6:7).

Summarily, this episode was supposed to be based on the first few verses of Acts 8:1–3, but it bore little resemblance to the biblical text and its description of Saul’s persecution of the church. Like the last few episodes, there was very little correlation between the events of this episode and Scripture.

Sadly, this show has completely missed what could have been a great opportunity to accurately portray the events of the book of Acts. What could have been a powerful, gospel-centered show is anything but. Still, like other weeks, I encourage you to use this show as a touch-point with the culture from which to proclaim what the show is missing—the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
Ken

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 its website.

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