The TV series A.D. The Bible Continues attempts to tackle Acts 8:3–25 with episode seven, “The Visit.” Like nearly all of the episodes of this continuation of The Bible series, the producers tended to ignore what God’s Word says happened and instead chose to focus on make-believe drama between characters in the show. Even though we expect that some artisic license will be used in making the Bible dramas, the series has often contradicted Scripture, and there has not yet been a presentation of the gospel, nor do we expect that there will be in the last few episodes as the writers seem to be purposely shying away from it. Writer and researcher Avery Foley has been providing an in-depth review every week, including where the scripts contradict God’s Word. Here is her review of episode seven:
Episode seven begins with Saul and his men charging into homes and hauling men and women violently into the street. Presumably these people are Christians who are being arrested for their faith in Christ. This appears to be a continuation of Acts 8:3, which was dealt with rather disappointingly last week.
While Saul is hunting down Christians, Peter, the disciples, and a few other Christians are in hiding taking Communion. After he has distributed the wine and bread, Peter says, “We eat and drink them now to give us the strength to bear witness to him and to live in unity with him.”* This is a far cry from the true reason for Communion. Jesus told the disciples that the bread and the cup of Communion was a symbol of the New Covenant and that we are to “do this in remembrance of Me [Jesus]” (Luke 22:19). Paul also stresses that this is the reason for Communion in 1 Corinthians 11:24–25. He also says, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Although the act of Communion can encourage us and help to unify the Body, Communion is an act of remembrance of what Christ has done and a proclamation of His death, not some kind of magical act that gives us strength to witness and live in unity as it is portrayed in the show.
Phillip then says, “The Holy Spirit tells me I must go to Samaria.” In the book of Acts there is no mention that the Holy Spirit directed Phillip to Samaria, only that “those who had been scattered [by Saul’s persecution] preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there” (Acts 8:4–5). Now it is entirely possible that the Holy Spirit did direct Phillip to Samaria where the gospel needed to be proclaimed, but Phillip also could have just been following Jesus’ final words, “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), by taking the gospel to Samaria. He is cautioned not to go by the disciples, who say that if the Samaritans find out he’s from Jerusalem, they would tear him apart. But he says that he will find some “good Samaritans.” The Jews and Samaritans did not have a good relationship with one another (John 4:9), but Phillip was not in any danger of being torn apart by them. For example, Jesus and His disciples passed peaceably through Samaria more than once and, although they were not always welcome (Luke 9:53), at least one Samaritan town eagerly welcomed Jesus’ message (John 4:1–42). This caution was completely out of step with historical details.
Mary cautions the disciples to leave Jerusalem while they still can. Peter replies with, "People are coming to us all the time. What would they do if we weren’t here to give shelter?” Again, with Peter’s response, the producers appear to be putting the disciples’ care for the poor ahead of their mission to preach the gospel. While caring for the poor and displaced is certainly important for Christians, our primary mission is to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19–20), and this is what the disciples did. Now, it should also be noted that the disciples had already put the care of the poor in the hands of seven deacons so that they could focus on their primary calling—to preach Christ (Acts 6:1–7). But over the course of this entire series there has been little preaching and the emphasis has been placed on the care of the poor and communal living.
When Phillip comes in sight of Samaria, he sees a woman struggling with her work. He stops to help her and is immediately attacked by several men who beat him and take his shoes and a pendant from around his neck. Of course, such an event is not mentioned in Scripture. A man eventually comes to assist Phillip, and when he learns Phillip is from Jerusalem, he seems surprised and says that those from Jerusalem usually avoid Samaria because it is too dangerous. Instead of seizing the opportunity and saying something like, “My message is worth the risk. I have come to tell the Samaritans that our Messiah has come,” Phillip just mentions what was stolen from him.
Phillip and the man then travel to the marketplace where they meet Simon the Sorcerer performing something akin to a magic show. Simon summons Phillip onto the stage and replaces the pendant that was stolen from Phillip. Phillip then accuses him of “having no gift, no power from God, just cheap trickery” before being shoved away by the angry crowd. Nowhere in Acts is a confrontation between Simon and Phillip mentioned, and it seems likely that if Phillip had really been standing before a crowd accusing Simon of being a phony, he would have used the opportunity to talk about the power of God evidenced in Christ and use that as a door to present the gospel. Instead, Phillip doesn’t preach at all but simply leaves.
Later, Simon attempts to heal a woman and exorcise the demons possessing her, but is unable to. Phillip speaks up and says, “Let me try.” Simon mocks him and warns him with, “If you fail, they’ll kill you.” The Holy Spirit then fills Phillip, and he heals the woman in Jesus’ name, to the astonishment of Simon and the gathered crowd. He then says, “That is the true power. The power of Jesus.” The crowd surrounds Phillip, cheering. Now Acts says that Phillip performed many miraculous signs in Samaria and that “they all paid close attention to what he said” (Acts 8:6) and “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). However, A.D. does not show Phillip performing any other signs and does not show him preaching whatsoever. However, it does show him baptizing new converts in accord with Acts 8:12. Simon comes to him to be baptized as well according to Acts 8:13.
Sometime after his baptism, Simon slices his sorcery partner’s hand open and declares, “I’ve been baptized. I can heal it.” Of course, he can’t. This sequence of events contradicts Scripture. Simon did not think he would receive the power of the Holy Spirit because he was baptized. Rather, he saw Peter and John place their hands on the Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then “when Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:18–19). He was then rebuked severely by Peter. But Peter and John are nowhere near Samaria in the show, and there is no receiving of the Holy Spirit.
Much of the episode deals with Emperor Tiberius’ supposed visit to Jerusalem. Now, such an event would be highly unlikely historically and is not mentioned in historical records. Historical records mention that Tiberius retired to the Island of Capri in AD 26–27 and only rarely left to go to mainland Italy. Though a center for the Jews, Jerusalem was hardly a center for the Romans, which makes it highly implausible that the Emperor would choose to visit. Also, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Tiberius didn’t come to Pilate; he called Pilate to Rome. Pilate was removed from office in AD 36 by Syrian prelate Vitellius, following complaints of excessive cruelty during the squelching of an uprising in Samaria. After his removal from office, Pilate was ordered to Rome to answer these charges. He arrived in AD 37 and by that time Tiberius had died. The new emperor, Caligula, replaced Pilate with Marcellus. Also, the episode has the future Emperor Caligula and Agrippa coming with Tiberius to Jerusalem. But Agrippa was avoiding trouble (and creditors) in Galilee, Antioch, and Alexandria between AD 33 and 36 before returning to Rome where he was imprisoned by Tiberius in AD 36 for treason and was not released until AD 37 by Caligula. Agrippa appears to have returned to Jerusalem in AD 39, two years after Tiberius’ death. So the idea that this Roman delegation visited Jerusalem is historically inaccurate and only distracted from the actual account of what really happened in Acts.
Caiaphas and the head of the Jewish guard attempt to get the now overly zealous Saul to leave Jerusalem so that Emperor Tiberius’ visit is not interrupted with the arrests Saul persists in making. They get a witness to lie and say that Peter left for Damascus. Presumably this sets the show up for Acts 9 when Saul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, this TV scene contradicts Scripture—the Bible says that Saul went with letters of authority from the high priest to Damascus to arrest any men and women who followed Christ and bring them back to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2).
This episode spent more time dealing with events in the book of Acts than previous episodes did, which was a positive change, but a large part of the episode was still spent on extra-biblical events that may or may not have happened. And, again, the gospel was not presented despite numerous opportunities for it to be shared. It was certainly disappointing, though not unexpected, to see that Phillip’s teaching ministry was completely left out as well. This has been a theme throughout the show and likely will remain so.
It is disappointing that the A.D. writers left out so much of what Scripture says and instead chose to take so much artistic license with secular history. But, as I have said every week, I encourage you to use this show as a door to present the gospel to the culture. A.D. may be missing the gospel, but we aren’t! We can use this show (though not to promote it as a viewing experience) to tell others about the only one who can save them, Jesus Christ.
Stayed tuned for a review of episode eight.
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 its website.