to the 2015 Easter season, television viewers have been bombarded
with commercials and advertisements for programming with religious
themes - nothing unusual as broadcasters hope to capitalize on the
heightened interest in Jesus that occurs during the season. One
program receiving a significant amount of "prime time"
attention is A.D. The Bible Continues. This twelve-part
miniseries, which begins airing on NBC on April 5, is produced by
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. It is the follow up to their highly
successful series, The Bible, which also aired at prime time
on the History Channel during the Easter season of 2013 and broke all
the records for cable broadcast viewing.
A.D. continues the
story where The Bible series ended. The producers have said it
will cover the first ten chapters of the Book of Acts which
anticipates additional installments. In fact, reviewers such as TV Guide and Rotten Tomatoes have already
listed this airing as "Season 1".
Making it a multi-seasonal series has been in the
producers plans from its inception. In an interview with TV Guide in July of 2013
Burnett said, "It could run
in the same way as Game of Thrones, 12 hours
year after year. I don't think for a minute that A.D.lasts
for just a season."
Further making this connection during promotional
interviews, Burnett has repeatedly referred to A.D. as House
of Cards meets Game of Thrones. Of course, in making this
comparison he is alluding to the elements of intrigue, excitement,
and danger; however, based on the success of The Bible, he is
no doubt making a connection to the success of those series, as well.
Rather than continuing where The Bible ended,
the first two episodes are actually a remake of the final episodes of
The Bible. The first episode of A.D. is the
crucifixion of Jesus (this was most likely a calculated decision to
draw in high ratings for the Easter premiere, despite one
interviewers' expression of how fortunate it was that the premiere
coincided with Easter) and the second is about the empty tomb and
Jesus' ascension - both of which were covered in The Bible.
The remaining ten episodes will deal with the
foundation and growth of the early Church which was also covered in
the last episode of The Bible - along with the
ministry of Paul and the traditional accounts of the deaths of the
Apostles. Obviously, much of the story had to be left out in order to
cover so much in a single one hour episode; so, it will be good to
see how they handle it with ten hours of film.
For Burnett and Downey, who profess to be Christians
(See our article, The Bible Comes to Prime Time),
telling the story of A.D. is about more than just ratings - it
is also about communicating a message. During an appearance on the WSJ Cafe (The Wall Street
Journal's online video) Downey was asked. "When you do
these kinds of faith-based projects is your first aim to evangelize
or to entertain?"
guess our aim is to tell the story in a relatable way so that it
touches people's heart. I think our job is to clear the pathway that
we have told the story in an exciting and engaging way creating a
humanity to these characters, remembering that they did not know they
were in the Bible, they don't know the outcome, and often times these
people are flawed in the Bible. And, so I think that the way we have
presented A.D. The Bible Continues will resonate and get
the country in conversation about faith."
answer, one might conclude the short answer is both - to entertain
and to be a means to express their faith. Without question, the
success of The Bible has confirmed there is an audience
for these productions whatever the intent.
Downey acknowledged as much during an appearance on Fox News' The Kelly File,
stating, "Our experience has been that we have felt a tremendous
hunger for this kind of material. That People are hungry for hope,
they're hungry for story, they're hungry for connection. I think
they're hungry for God and we certainly - as we have traveled across
the country - have felt a great wave of enthusiasm for the program
Burnett agrees. When asked what is different in the
creative process of producing a show which has a "strong
message" like A.D. and that of his other successful programming
(he also produces Survivor, The Apprentice, Shark
Tank, and The Voice) Burnett replied, "This nation
was built on two things really, free enterprise and the Bible - this
[the message of A.D] is the Bible, this is the nation. It's the
majority. We [Christians] may act like a minority but we are the
While Burnett has clearly stated it is not their
mission to preach to people with the series, he adds, "We have
reached multi-millions who have now turned back to church, opened the
Bible - this is doing God's work, there is no question it's a calling."
When asked how important it is to
stay as close to the biblical account, as possible, Downey replied,
"I think that bringing both The Bible series and A.D.
The Bible Continues to the screen is a big responsibility; one
that we took very seriously. We worked with scholars and theologians
and pastors to make sure that when we deal with scripture we do so
accurately and authentically". It should be mentioned that those
who endorse the series includes a number of highly respected
Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders. (View a listing of endorsements)
As with The Bible series, Burnett and Downey
have expressed a desire to remain true to the Biblical accounts. They
obviously do not mean 100% accurate, as in word for word; for, A.D.
is a "historical" adaptation - as was The Bible which
included a graphic at the beginning of each episode to remind
viewers: "This program is an adaptation of Bible stories. It
endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book."
The same message will most likely appear with each
episode of A.D. This is not necessarily a reason for concern.
As I stated in a review prior to the release of The Bible,
"the viewer should keep in mind it is a docudrama, which means
that "artistic" liberties will surely be taken in the
telling of the story. In fairness, that is not unusual in historical
documentaries and should not be a reason for Christians to become
These "artistic liberties"
are often necessary when adapting any book to screen; particularly
one with a storyline as massive as that of the Bible. Such changes
are generally made in order to help move the story along or for
increased dramatic effect. Following are some adaptations made to the
New Testament storyline of The Bible which illustrate this point.
In the first
episode of the New Testament, a scene is added in which Roman
soldiers enter a synagogue and grab a man to exert taxes. Joseph
happens to be in the synagogue and opposes the soldiers and causes a
riot. Mary is also present and flees the synagogue. As she stand
outside watching the chaos unfolding around her, an angel dressed as
a soldier appears and tells her she will have a son.
The story of Joseph starting a riot is not in the
Bible and was clearly added for dramatic effect. However, even though
not in the Bible, it is not outside the realm of possibility since
the Bible does not disclose where Mary was when the angel came to
her. The important event is not where Mary was or the circumstances
going on around her when visited by an angel - what is important is
that an angel visited her and told her she will have a son - on this
point the adaptation is true to the "spirit of the book".
Another example is in the very next scene when Mary is
shown to be with child and Joseph confronts her about being pregnant.
She responds by telling him the child is of God and she needs him to
be the father of this child and to trust her. Joseph tells her God
does not do such things and leaves. Though not found in the Bible, it
is not hard to imagine such a conversation taking place. Such an
insertion into the storyline doesn't obscure the truth of Scripture.
The story continues with Joseph going off by himself
and asking God to help them if the child is of Him. The same angel
that appeared to Mary comes to him and says the child is of God.
Joseph then seeks Mary out and finds her surrounded by a mob shouting
derogatory remarks about her condition. Breaking through the crowd,
he stops them by saying he will take Mary as his wife.
Again, these events are not presented in the Gospels
of Matthew and Luke; however, they are true to the "spirit"
of the storyline. The biblical account clearly indicates that Joseph
initially struggled with Mary being pregnant but changed his position
after being visited by an angel. (Matthew 1:19-25)
An illustration of combining events to help move the
story along is found in the calling of Matthew. The writers merge
Matthew's calling with the story Jesus told of a Pharisee and
tax-collector praying. The scene shows a Pharisee thanking God he is
not like a sinful tax-collector who is standing nearby praying that
God would have mercy on him because he is a sinner (Luke 18:10-14).
The scene cuts to Matthew mouthing the words of the sinner as he is
embraced by and called by Jesus.
Obviously, the writers merged these two stories to
show Matthew's calling bore witness to the reality of the story Jesus
had told about the two men praying. It also helps to move the story
along without having to explain how the Jewish people generally
regarded tax-collectors, like Matthew. It is not how the stories are
presented in the Bible but it is true to the "spirit" of
the message of God's forgiveness being available to all.
What should cause the viewer to be
wary are changes which alter the intended message of the Scriptures
or added needlessly and not "true to the spirit of the
book". For example, in the story of the woman caught in
adultery (John 8:3-9) the Bible says Jesus stooped and wrote on the
ground as the religious men called for the woman to be stoned. When
Jesus finally stands, he tells them, "He who is without sin
among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
In The Bible series, Jesus is shown
picking up a stone as if he is about to stone the woman, before turning
to the crowd and saying, "I'll give my stone to the first man
who tells me he has never sinned." This is a case of a change
made simply to make a change. It does not move the story along and it
certainly is not any more dramatic than the story in the Bible. While
some might argue it is true to the "spirit" of the story,
it is difficult to imagine Jesus ever holding a rock intended to
stone someone, whether in jest, or not.
One other illustration of this is The Bible series'
depiction of the raising of Lazarus. In it, Jesus is shown entering
the tomb of Lazarus rather than remaining outside the tomb. And,
instead of calling Lazarus to come forth from the tomb (clearly
indicating Jesus was outside the tomb) as in the Gospel account (John
11:38-44), the miniseries depicts Jesus kneeling beside the body of
Lazarus and kissing the top of his head as he tells him to rise. The
original story seems much more dramatic and compelling - so, why the
Another reason a change might be made
is to insert one's particular theological perspective or perhaps to
promote a view that is popular in culture even though it is not
necessarily supported by the biblical account. In The
Bible series it seems there is a calculated elevation of the role
that Mary Magdalene played in the life and ministry of Jesus. This is
probably due to the interest in Mary Magdalene that has been promoted
in the past few decades by popular films and books, such as the Da
Vinci Code, which present her as the wife of Jesus and/or the
leader of the Church. (Read Our review of the Da Vinci Code - fourth
article on page)
While, The Bible does not make such claims
nor infer she and Jesus were married, it does seem to give her
Apostle-like status as she appears prominently in many scenes with
the Apostles. For example, prior to the feeding of the 5,000 Mary
Magdalene is depicted as being in the boat with the Apostles.
However, in Mark's account we find only the Apostles were in the boat
as following the instruction of Jesus, "they went away in the
boat to a lonely place by themselves." (MK 6:32) "They",
according to Mark 6:30-31, specifically refers to the Apostles.
Also on this point, The Bible shows Mary
Magdalene exiting the boat with the disciples; and, upon seeing the
great crowd of people who have gathered to hear Jesus, she asks him
to send the crowd away to find food. However, according to Matthew
14, Mark 6 and Luke 9, it was the "disciples" who
encouraged Jesus to send the people away to find food. And, in John
6, the only conversation about getting food for the people is between
Jesus and Philip. All of these accounts are in conflict with that
depicted in The Bible. Additionally, The Bible depicts
Mary Magdalene as one of those distributing the food Jesus provides
by multiplying the loaves and fishes - something also not found in
Interjecting Mary Magdalene into portions of the
biblical record neither advances the story nor adds dramatic effect;
therefore, it must be intended to promote some other agenda. She will
likely have an elevated role in A.D., as well. This is
unfortunate as she was obviously an important figure in the ministry
of Jesus, as were many other women, and this could easily have been
evidenced by staying true to the accounts found in Scripture.
Even with these concerns raised by The Bible -
and those that are significant are relatively few in number - A.D.
should be worth watching. The clips found on the film's website are
very encouraging. The production value far exceeds that of The
Bible, as does the acting. Ths same should hold true of the
scripting, as well. And, based on the huge ratings garnered by The
Bible, the A.D. team undoubtedly realizes the incredible
market value of this production among Christians. As such, it should
be safe to conclude that even greater effort has been made to ensure A.D.
stays "true to the spirit of the book".
Whether A.D. gets it all right or mostly
right, it will provide an opportunity for conversation with those we
connect to in culture. Mark Burnett is correct when he states,
"This is beyond a show, this is a movement."
As members of the body of Christ, we are part of that
movement. Let us be resolved to share the hope that is offered by the
one who founded that movement - let us seize the moment to share the
good news of Jesus Christ.
Visit the official site of A.D. The Bible