A.D. The Bible Continues, an NBC TV mini-series supposedly based on the book of Acts, moves closer toward the season finale with the latest, episode 10. Each week we’ve been providing you with a detailed review to help you use the program as an opportunity to share the gospel with others and to encourage you to handle the Bible's text with great care. Researchers and writers Avery Foley and Troy Lacey provide the following helpful review:
As with past episodes of this series, this episode was riddled with an overwhelming number of both glaring biblical and historical errors. It begins with James, the brother of Jesus, having a dream of 12-year-old Jesus sitting at the feet of the priests in the temple and quoting from Psalm 18:30. James rushes up to Jesus and says, “Jesus, we’ve been looking everywhere!” Jesus replies, “Didn’t you know I would be in my father’s house? You’ll always know where to find me, James.” James then smiles and nods, seemingly understanding what Jesus means by what He was saying. But Scripture records that Jesus’ parents, not His brother, found Him and He replied to them with “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). But his parents did not understand what he meant by this (verse 50). Later, when James is recounting his dream to the disciples, he does correctly state that Jesus was missing for three days (verse 46) and that he was easily debating with the priests (verses 46–47). A.D. introduced James as a rabbi, though Scripture makes absolutely no reference to James’ being a rabbi. He is also shown to be a great friend of Peter and a life-long admirer of Jesus. But Scripture records that Jesus’ brothers did not believe Him (John 7:5). It likely wasn’t until James saw Jesus after His Resurrection that he believed (1 Corinthians 15:7). But, in the episode, James does not mention his former skepticism or Christ’s post-Resurrection appearance to him.
At the end of last week’s episode, Saul arrived in Jerusalem and was eventually jailed by the Temple guard. Now, no record of this arrest is mentioned in Scripture but, oddly and rather unbelievably, in this episode Caiaphas, after briefly talking with Saul, decides to let him go. While they are talking, Caiaphas asks Saul, “What would your teacher, Gamaliel, make of your new understanding?” Instead of pointing to the Old Testament to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies and the fulfillment of the old covenant, Saul simply says, “What do you want from me?” This is a disappointing and rather pathetic reply from someone who could honestly boast, “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today” (Acts 22:3). Such a man could surely defend his views to the high priest, given a captive audience! Later, when Saul is before Caiaphas and several others, he lays out what is probably the closest to the gospel message that has been presented in the series. He says, “Isaiah’s prophecy has been completed. Our Messiah is Jesus. He rose from the dead, and I have been born again in his name. I have repented. And he has forgiven me. And my sins are forever washed away.” We also see Saul open-air preaching, which is something that Acts makes it clear that the Apostles frequently engaged in but that has been largely lacking in this program. However, this brief presentation of the gospel and Saul’s public preaching are rather marred by his constant degradation of the Temple, the priesthood, and the high priest himself. He says things such as, “So, it seems to me that there is no need for your endless search for ritual purity, nor your mikvahs, nor any of your temple customs . . . no need for the temple. No need for you.” But nowhere in Scripture does Saul show such disrespect for the Temple and the priesthood. While he certainly recognized that they were fulfilled and that they pointed ultimately to Jesus, he still had respect for the Temple. Indeed, in Acts 21 Saul (now going by his Roman name of Paul) visits the Temple to pray and consecrate men to God’s service. And in his defense before Festus in Acts 25:8, Paul says, "Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.” Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 9:13, Paul still speaks respectfully of those ministering in the Temple. The portrayal of Saul as dangerously anti-Temple is simply not an accurate depiction of the biblical Saul.
Saul’s attitude continues to get worse in this series. He is depicted as arrogant, prideful, pig-headed, and stubborn. However, the Paul of the epistles and Acts is humble, writing such things as the book of Acts records, “to me, who am less than the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8), “for I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 5:9), and “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). These are not the writings of an arrogant man intent on doing whatever he wants. Actually, in this episode of A.D. Saul’s teachings are so “radical” and his bashing of the Temple is so strong that the disciples conspire together to kick him out of Jerusalem and send him to Tarsus! They do this to save their own skins, as well as Saul’s, because the Zealots and Caiaphas’ wife all want him dead. So, arguably the greatest missionary and evangelist of all time, the author of at least 13 of the New Testament books (out of 27), and the person hand-picked by Christ to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) had to be sent away by the disciples because he was too much trouble? What an insult to the Apostle Paul and to the discernment and wisdom of the disciples! Perhaps this ridiculous turn of events is the producers’ erroneous interpretation of Acts 9:29–30, “And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.”
Now, not only is A.D.’s portrayal of Saul completely wrong, but they have also ignored other passages of Scripture in writing their timeline of events. While Acts does not record it, Galatians says that Saul first went to Arabia, then returned to Damascus. Then, three years later, Saul finally went to Jerusalem and saw only Peter and James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:17–18). It appears that it wasn’t until 14 years later that Saul appeared before all of the Apostles and taught in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–30; Galatians 2:2). So in portraying Saul as returning immediately to Jerusalem after his conversion, A.D. has skewed the biblical timeline for Saul’s ministry.
One of the very few positive things about this episode was the portrayal of Mary Magdalene and Joanna teaching a young woman, Tabitha, in Pilate’s palace, about Christ and His teachings. Eventually, they lead her to the Lord. Since A.D. has so far put little emphasis on the preaching of the Word, it was encouraging to see these women sharing their faith. However, they get caught by Herodias and Pilate’s wife, Claudia. In a bizarre plot twist, Pilate decides to have the new believer, Tabitha, publicly flogged before Herod, his wife, and the Ethiopian eunuch (more on him below) as a show of his strength. Of course, this is simply ridiculous. For starters, Pilate had been removed from office by this point in history, so there was no Pilate to punish a young Jewish housemaid. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that an important Roman official such as Pilate would care about the conversion of a young Jewish girl to (in his mind) another sect of Judaism. It is unlikely that he would use her as an example to others.
Much of the episode revolves around drama with Simon the Zealot, one of the Twelve, and the zealot leaders. In the previous episode, Simon went to tell them that Caligula’s statue was on its way from Rome to be set up in the Temple. In this episode Simon begins to deal with the fallout as the Zealots pressure him to do things for them, such as hand Saul over to be killed. Of course, all of this drama is completely unbiblical and portrays the disciples as a divided lot. Actually, as we’ve frequently pointed out, the portrayal of the disciples has been quite terrible the entire series. Now, the disciples were human, and they all failed at some points, but the program has shown them to be weak-willed, freaking out at the first sign of adversity, and rather spineless. They rarely do anything, but are usually just gathered in a room sitting around talking. Where are the busy Apostles of the book of Acts that were constantly traveling and preaching? The portrayal of the Apostles is so poor that, at one point in the episode, Simon tells the disciples that he went to an inn, had a few drinks, then a few more, and ended up in a horse trough. Simon’s drunken behavior—not fitting for anyone in the church (Ephesians 5:18), let alone a church leader (Titus 1:7)—is passed over with merely a chuckle by the gathered Apostles.
At one point during the episode, in order to unite Jerusalem in preparation for the arrival of the blasphemous statue, Caiaphas offers the disciples freedom to come to the Temple and pray and have sanctuary (all but Saul that is). Of course, there is no record of such an offer in Scripture, where we instead read that Caiaphas and his associates “were filled with indignation” and rebuked the Apostles by saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” (Acts 5:17, 28).
Now, this episode is rather anachronistic in that it brings the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8 into the program. But the narrative of Phillip and the Ethiopian occurs before Saul’s conversion, not after as is shown in the episode. As stated in Scripture, the program has the eunuch visiting the Temple to worship God (Acts 8:27). He also gives gifts and receives a copy of Isaiah in return. Presumably this will set the scene for Phillip’s encounter with him on the desert road. Now, Pilate forces the eunuch to come and have supper with him and other guests because he is suspicious of the man’s true motive for visiting Jerusalem. Apparently in this bizarre world that bears little resemblance to the actual world, Caiaphas remains high priest, even though he was deposed in late AD 36 and replaced with his brother-in-law Jonathan, and Pilate stays on as prefect of Judea even after Caligula assumes the Imperial throne; something which did not happen in the historical timeline. Pilate could not have had the eunuch over for dinner because he wasn’t the governor anymore! Caiaphas could not have had Saul arrested, nor offered the Apostles a “truce.” Both Pilate and Caiphas were removed from office by Lucius Vitellius, governor of Syria, before Caligula became Emperor. So the rest of the palace and Temple intrigue of this episode is bogus, and not just artistic license, but historically inaccurate.
In another inane twist of events, Leah, the high priest’s wife, gets angry with her husband for releasing Saul, saying that his preaching is a stain on Caiaphas’ reputation. So she decides to take matters into her own hands. She seeks out Eva, a leader in the zealot movement, which in and of itself is historically untenable, and says that she needs the help of Eva’s contacts to get a man killed. This leads to the intrigue around Saul. Now, the zealots joining in common cause with the high priest's wife is extremely doubtful, even apart from the social customs of the day regarding men and women. The wife of the high priest going behind her husband's back would have been absolutely scandalous in and of itself. Plus the zealots had no love for the Sadducees (the party of Caiaphas according to Acts 5:17), because of their favor-currying with the Romans. Of course, sometimes there were some strange bedfellows caused by the political or religious situation (like the Pharisees and the Herodians, who hated each other, teaming up in Mark 3:6 and 12:13 against Jesus). But the plot of the zealots conspiring with a “rogue” wife to kill a Jew who studied under Gamaliel against the wishes of the high priest of Israel is outrageous.
This whole egregious episode seems to deliberately skew or alter known biblical and historical facts for the sole purpose of forced intrigue. The looming "elephant in the room" of Caligula's statue which he wants placed in the Temple is also historically inaccurate, as it was another three years before such a statue was ordered by the Emperor. So, really, this episode, like the others, is a piece of imaginative fiction that borrows the names of a few biblical and historical characters and maybe a little bit of the biblical plot when it suits them.
While there is very little to redeem this episode from a host of biblical and historical errors, it can hopefully still be used by Christians to point people toward Christ and the salvation that He offers. Perhaps the very brief gospel message that Saul mentions to Caiaphas when he shares his testimony can be a springboard to talking about what Christ has done in your life and what His death and Resurrection really means.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.