A.D. The Bible Continues: “Saul’s Return” Review

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Episode nine of A.D. The Bible Continues recently aired on NBC television in the US. As with past episodes, this one got many biblical and historical details wrong. I encourage you to read the full review, provided by two writers and researchers, Avery Foley and Troy Lacey, below:

Episode nine of A.D. The Bible Continues focuses on Acts 9:23–28. It begins with persecutors searching desperately for Saul of Tarsus all over the city of Damascus and then shows his daring escape in a basket over the wall of the city (Acts 9:25). The producers correctly showed the city gates being watched as part of the plot to kill Saul. However, Acts 9:23–24 says that it was a plot to kill Saul that he heard about, not necessarily an angry mob storming about searching for him and shouting his name.

During the entire episode, Saul is portrayed as very enthusiastic about his conversion and willing to risk anything to share Christ. However, there are hints that perhaps he is a bit too enthusiastic, to the point of reckless. In fact, the description of the episode reads “Saul's conversion puts his life—and those of his fellow apostles—at grave risk.” Of course, this is an exaggeration. While Saul was a bold preacher, Scripture does not portray him as recklessly risking his life and the lives of others. However, Saul’s enthusiasm for the gospel, something we haven’t really seen so far in the Apostles or any of the early Christians, is certainly a positive to the episode.

After Saul’s escape, he and Barnabas travel back to Jerusalem to meet with the disciples. Acts 9:26 tells us that the disciples didn’t believe that Saul was truly a disciple of Christ, and this is portrayed in the show. Now, Scripture describes the disciples’ motive for not believing Saul: “but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). However, <>i>A.D. portrays their inability to accept Saul as the result of being unforgiving and unable to live up to Christ’s teaching. They keep asking questions like “why would God choose him?” Later in the episode Peter admits to being arrogant in how he was dealing with Saul. The disciples must be scolded by Saul into obeying Christ and forgiving him. For example, Saul says he understands their caution, but “listening to you all downstairs, it was like you’d forgotten that Jesus had taught you forgiveness. I mean, you lived with him. You know his message. So, so, I’m sorry but I’m confused.” Peter then replies, “You’re right. I did live with him. So don’t start lecturing me.” Throughout Saul and Peter’s conversation, Peter is again, as in other episodes, shown as an inept leader who really doesn’t understand what is going on or what he should be doing. However, Jesus had clearly told the disciples what to do—preach the gospel (Acts 1:8)! Despite the poor portrayal of Peter, Saul’s emphasis on the importance and urgency of evangelism is certainly positive. In A.D. the preaching of the gospel has been almost nonexistent and portrayed as not as important as social work. Saul’s focus is refreshing and biblically accurate to Saul’s (later Paul’s) love for the gospel.

Eventually, Barnabas talks with Peter about Saul and convinces him that he is a brother. However, Scripture mentions that Barnabas convinced them by pointing to Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus and by his bold preaching in Christ’s name while they were in Damascus (Acts 9:27). Although Saul alludes to his testimony, his preaching in Christ’s name is not mentioned by Saul or Barnabas. At the end of the episode, Saul is caught by the Temple guards and thrown in prison. But Scripture does not record such an arrest. Rather, it states that Saul “was with [the apostles] at Jerusalem, coming in and going out” and that he boldly preached Christ and disputed with the Hellenists who tried to kill him, so he was sent to Caesarea and then to Tarsus (Acts 9:28–30).

As with most other episodes in the series, much of the show was taken up with drama involving the Romans and the Jewish Temple. One of the major themes of the episode is in regard to Caligula's self-deification and his wanting to place a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem. Through their “plant” in Pilate’s household, Mary Magdalene, the disciples learn that Caligula intends on desecrating the Temple with his image. This quickly becomes a sub-plot that pulls the Apostles back into the political and Jewish scene. Simon the Zealot, one of the Twelve, leaves the disciples and decides to join the Zealots in order to fight the Romans. Of course, such an idea is utterly foreign to Scripture. There is no hint that Simon left the disciples and the preaching Christ had commanded him to in order to fight the Romans.

Not only does this subplot take liberties with Simon, but it completely invents history. While Caligula did eventually declare himself a god, that did not occur until AD 40, almost three years after becoming Emperor. Therefore the subplot of Pilate, Caiaphas, the zealots, and the Apostles all being drawn into this "idolatrous statue" intrigue has no basis in historical fact at this point in history. Now, eventually Caligula did want to erect a statue in the Temple, but not until later, and it is highly unlikely that the disciples were at all involved in trying to stop it. Some historians have credited Herod Agrippa with dissuading Caligula from this act, while others have stated that Roman bureaucracy and the governor of Syria deliberately delayed this from ever happening until Caligula was dead, knowing that if carried out it would cause riots. In fact, it seems that the decree was made public and rioting actually did start to break out in Judea. It appears that the riots were settled with diplomacy, not force, probably again due to Herod Agrippa's influence. Again, keep in mind that Pilate had been removed from office in AD 37, so the whole historical timeline here is skewed and inaccurate.

Contrary to what is portrayed in the show, Caligula was not even in Jerusalem shortly after the death of Tiberius (if he was ever there at all). As the new emperor, he was busy consolidating power in Rome. Some of his first acts were massive pardons of those imprisoned by Tiberius, as well as gaining alliances in the Roman Senate. He also threw lavish public games and abolished many taxes to curry public favor. Then after six months in office (and while still in Rome) he fell gravely ill and almost died. It was when he came out of this sickness that most historians record his personality had changed dramatically, and he began to exhibit erratic and later mad or deliberately sadistic behavior. It seems like the producers of A.D. have invented their own historical timeline here. Perhaps the "AD" in A.D. The Bible Continues stands for “Alternate Dimension,” because it bears only a small resemblance to the one we live in.

The events of this episode seem to be bringing the show to a climax when Rome, the Jews, and the Christians violently collide. But the next few verses in Acts read, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” There is no hint in the show that the church will be at any semblance of peace for a very long time. Things seem to be going in the complete opposite direction of peace.

A.D. The Bible Continues is consistently ignoring what the Scriptures say, with the producers often inventing their own history of what was going on in Israel at the time. Although the show claims to be “an uplifting spiritual journey through the later chapters of biblical history,” what is really portrayed is not history but the writers’ and producers’ imagination and historical and biblical embellishments. Really, the show should end with a disclaimer that the events and characters portrayed in the show are not meant to be taken as literal history!”

Although we certainly cannot recommend A.D. as a TV show, I encourage you to use the series as a springboard to share the gospel. Just like Paul used a pagan altar in Acts 17 to present the gospel, so can we use a show like A.D., something that is common to the culture, to present the precious message of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
Ken

This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.

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