The finale of A.D. The Bible Continues, a mini-series on NBC television that supposedly traces the history of the church in the book of Acts, recently aired. Each week we’ve provided an in-depth review of the latest episode. Researchers and writers Avery Foley and Troy Lacey offer this review of the last episode:
Well, the first (and, we hope, the only) season of A.D. The Bible Continues is over. The season finale brought all of the Temple, Christian, and Roman drama to a climax as the blasphemous statue of Emperor Caligula was brought to the Temple. Of course, as we’ve pointed out each week since this contrived storyline began, the entire plot line has no basis in real history, which the unsuspecting viewer will not know and will just accept the story as part of the Bible. Pilate and Caiaphas—center stage to the events in the series—were removed from office when Caligula took the imperial throne. And the decision to put a statue in the Temple did not happen immediately following Caligula’s ascension to the throne, as portrayed in the show, but three years later. And the statue never made it to Jerusalem—Herod Agrippa and the governor of Syria were able to keep Caligula from going through with his idea. So, really, although the show claims to be historical, there is very little historical about this show except for a few names and circumstances borrowed from the Bible and the historical record.
The beginning of the episode dealt with Acts 10, the conversion of Cornelius. Cornelius has been a staple character in the show since the beginning but neither his character nor his conversion matches the details provided in Scripture. First of all, Cornelius in the show is Pilate’s right hand man in Jerusalem; Cornelius in the Bible was a centurion in the Italian Regiment who lived in Caesarea. Cornelius in the show was guilty of murdering many Jews, showed no regard for or belief in God, and whose guilt eventually drives him to the church. But the real historical Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2) and “a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews” (verse 22). This is nothing like the man portrayed in the show. In the program it is his “sorrow and repentance”* toward his previous actions that the angel mentions as being “looked kindly” on by God. But in Scripture the angel says, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” (verse 4). He is then directed in both the show and Scripture to Joppa to find Peter and he sends two servants and a solider go to fetch Peter (verse 7).
Peter’s vision of Acts 10:9–16 is condensed to just a few seconds of the episode. Contrary to Scripture, there is no sheet lowered from heaven, just pictures of several different animals, and Peter seems to “get it” right away whereas he had to be given the vision three times in Scripture and he still didn’t know what it meant (verse 17). The Holy Spirit then blows in (seemingly almost blowing Peter off the roof!) and Peter is told, “There are three men downstairs. They have come for you. Go with them. Don’t be afraid. Because I have sent them.” This loosely accords with verses 19–20. The three men then take Peter and Mary Magdalene back with them to Cornelius’ house. Now, Scripture says that Peter went back with the men from Cornelius and that “some brethren from Joppa accompanied him” (verse 23) and later we are told that it was “brethren who went with Peter (11:12). Mary Magdalene was evidently not among the men who went with Peter nor are we ever told in Scripture that she played the huge role in the early church attributed to her in A.D.
When they arrive at Cornelius’ house the centurion tells them that he had something like a dream, only he was awake, and that he heard Peter’s name. He then says, “I have been a witness and party to many terrible deeds. I saw your Jesus die. These hands have . . . my mind . . . my heart . . . screams, ‘Enough.’” Mary then finds out that he killed Joanna, a young Jewish Christian. She hugs him while he cries (a Jewish woman hugging a man who was not her husband, and a Gentile at that, is simply not historically plausible). He then falls on his knees before Peter, but Peter says, “Stand up. Don’t kneel before me. I’m just a man . . . like you.” But this is not what Scripture records: Cornelius tried to worship Peter as soon as Peter entered the house but Peter quickly ended that (10:26). Peter then explained that, although Jews do not enter the house of a Gentile, God had showed him that no man was common or unclean and therefore he had come without objection (verse 29). According to Scripture, Cornelius had “his relatives and close friends” with him when Peter spoke (verse 24) but in the show he only has his wife, children, and those who fetched Peter and Mary present with him.
A.D. then butchered what could have been a wonderful opportunity to do as Peter did: share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Instead the producers did not merely miss the chance, they utterly mutilated it! In the show, Cornelius says, “I have to know God’s plan for me. What has he told you?” Well, in the Bible Peter clearly told Cornelius that God had shown him that he wasn’t to call any man unclean and that’s why he came. He then, in verses 34–43, beautifully laid out how the gospel is for Jew and Gentile and ended with “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” But in the show Peter laughs and says, “What has God told me? I’m not sure. I’m just a fisherman. But I’ve been commanded to preach his message to the ends of the earth. And now I see that you may also find the salvation that Jesus offers. So if I am to do this, then I must welcome you and baptize you.” That’s it! That is not a proclamation of the gospel by Peter! What a missed opportunity!
The Holy Spirit then arrives as fire swirls around the room and everyone (except Peter) speaks in tongues. Now, Scripture does say the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and those gathered with him and they spoke in tongues (verses 44–46) but it doesn’t say anywhere that the fire from Pentecost was present. Cornelius is then baptized in the show in accord with verses 47–48. Later on in the program, James (Jesus’ brother) and some of the disciples find out that Cornelius was baptized and are incredulous that Peter would do such a thing. He mounts a very brief defense before he is arrested by Roman guards (leaving a cliffhanger ending). But in Acts 11, Peter presents a thorough defense of his actions that convinces the believers, especially those “of the circumcision,” that God “has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (11:18).
Cornelius is eventually called away to Jerusalem to put the statue in the Temple. He ends up not participating in the fighting, but instead kneels and recites the Lord’s prayer with his Christian brothers and sister while his soldiers fight the Jews. Of course, this is untenable historically—the Temple drama is utterly contrived.
Caiaphas’ brother-in-law, Jonathan—who at the time this show is portraying should have been the high priest—is given a golden opportunity to seize the office from Caiaphas, but refuses it, when just a few episodes before he connived to overthrow Caiaphas. So even when the show has a chance to “rectify their historical inaccuracies” they deliberately choose not to.
The disciples led by Peter and “Rabbi” James decide to oppose the statue of Caligula making its way to the Temple (which never actually happened), based on some severely misapplied sayings of Jesus. Their opposition turns out to be a sit-in in which they endlessly chant the Lord’s prayer as if it is some type of magical mantra (in direct opposition to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6:7); while the Jewish elders were chain-chanting Psalm 57. While this is going on, the Zealots attack the Roman soldiers (led by a conflicted Cornelius) and the statue gets broken, which leads to a strategic withdrawal by the Romans.
The actions of some of the main characters seem to rapidly deteriorate into almost madness. Leah (Caiaphas’ wife) lies, connives, and makes incredibly rash decisions, which eventually result in her murder. Claudia (Pilate’s wife) seems to boldly stand up to Pilate and claims she is leaving him, apparently hoping for a romantic tryst which gets rebuffed, then she goes fearfully back to Pilate. Caiaphas is completely bipolar in this episode, going from detached to raving to rational in a very short span of time. Pilate gets crueler than ever, and then appears to go through bouts of remorse and self-pity. The disciples go back to hiding in their room, wringing their hands initially, then to staunch non-violent but bold protesters at the end—and all because of their rather forced interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
There are several plot lines deliberately left unresolved and some are even “cliffhangers.” We hope this does not mean that the series will be revived after a brief hiatus. Unfortunately, with this bad of a TV episode, there can be little to look forward to in subsequent shows if there are any. Theologically and historically, the writers of this show have been sloppy at best and calculatingly agenda-driven at the expense of Scripture at worst. Indeed the “A.D.” for this 12th (and final for now) installment stands for “Absolutely Dismal.”
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.
*Quotations taken from the subtitles on NBC’s website.