Is the History Channel's "The Bible" mini-series biblically accurate?

Part 5: Passion

By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries

The fifth episode of the History Channel's "The Bible" television mini-series first aired Sunday, March 31, 2013. It covered the time period of Jesus' trial before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:66) to Jesus appearing to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos (Revelation 1).

Just like Episode 4, virtually everything said by the actor portraying Jesus was a direct quote from Scripture. I really appreciated that. I was pleased to hear all seven of Jesus' sayings from the cross (Luke 23:34; Luke 23:43; John 19:26-27; Mark 15:34; John 19:28; John 19:30; Luke 23:46). The portrayal of the apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts was well done. But, as with the other episodes, it was frustrating how much the producers had to cut out in order to fit within the 2-hour window.

There were several aspects of the episode that departed from the biblical account and are worth noting:

The Temple Veil

At the death of Christ, the episode shows the temple veil falling instead of tearing (Matthew 27:51). This crucially-important symbolic event is definitely underemphasized. The tearing of the temple veil/curtain symbolized how the death of Christ removed the barrier between us and God. Now, through Christ, we can approach the throne of grace boldly (Hebrews 4:16). In the episode, it is merely a small part of the damage from the earthquake and of little consequence.

The First Witnesses

In the episode, Mary of Bethany is the first witness of the resurrection. The Bible has Mary Magdalene and two other women being the first witnesses (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1). The episode depicts Mary of Bethany entering Jesus' tomb and seeing the burial garments. The Bible says Peter was the one to enter the tomb and find the burial garments (John 20:2-10). Even beyond this, the various resurrection appearances are confused and out of order.

Mary of Bethany

As in episode 4, Mary of Bethany's role is greatly overemphasized. The Bible never mentions her in connection to the resurrection accounts. In various scenes, she is portrayed as being essentially equal with the apostles. For example, while the Bible has Peter and John healing the crippled beggar (Acts 3:1-10), the episode has Peter performing the miracle with Mary by his side. It appears the producers decided to combine the characters of Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, then amplify the role in order to give a female a more prominent place with Jesus and the apostles.

Day of Pentecost

After Jesus' ascension, on the Day of Pentecost, the episode shows the apostles praying in the upper room when they receive the Holy Spirit. When they receive the gift of tongues and begin speaking in other languages, the episode keeps them in the upper room while the waiting crowds merely hear them from outside. However, the biblical account is that the apostles went outside, speaking with the gift of tongues among the people (Acts 2).

Additional Accounts from Acts

The episode has Stephen stoned by a mob on the street, instigated by Saul of Tarsus, while the Book of Acts records that Stephen was stoned after proclaiming his faith to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:54-60), with Saul being a spectator.

Scenes with Ananias and Saul and Peter and Cornelius depict people being baptized by the pouring of water over their heads. The meaning of the Greek word translated "baptize" is actually "to submerge," which would argue for baptism by immersion rather than pouring.

When the deaths of the apostles are reported, John is said to have been poisoned by the Romans. Church tradition seems to more strongly assert that the Romans tried to kill John by boiling him in oil. But, since neither account is biblical, the mention of poisoning is not a major concern.


Far above the problems mentioned here for episode 5, I was most disappointed that the reason for Jesus' death and the meaning of His resurrection is completely and utterly absent. The fact that Jesus' death is the atoning sacrifice for sin is not mentioned at all (1 John 2:2). The connection between the Passover sacrifice (Exodus 12) and Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) is not made. The fact that Jesus' resurrection proves His victory over death and sin and guarantees a resurrected eternal life for all who believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15) is nowhere to be found in the episode.

In the end, the History Channel's "The Bible" mini-series is no more than a reasonably accurate portrayal of some of the events recorded in the Bible. I suppose a history report is what I should have expected from the History Channel. But to me, the series ends with a dull thud. The Bible is not a history book. Yes, it contains a lot of historical facts and historical events, but the meaning behind those events is what is truly important.

We have a Jewish Messiah who is crucified, dies, comes back to life, and commissions His followers to spread the word. But why did He have to die? What is the meaning of the resurrection? What is the message the apostles were supposed to proclaim, and why was it worth the apostles dying for?

At the end of episode 3, Jesus tells Peter they are going to change the world. That is absolutely and completely true. Jesus and the apostles did change the world (Acts 17:6). The History Channel's "The Bible" mini-series ultimately falls short in that it neglects to explain why, how, and with what the world was changed.

Despite the series' shortcomings and obvious failures, God can still use this. There is nothing God cannot use for the ultimate purpose of shining His glory upon the world. The stories of the Bible have been put in front of people who may never have cracked open a Bible in the first place. It is not a perfect presentation, no, but could mankind really produce anything that is an absolutely perfect representation of God's Word?

May God use the History Channel's "The Bible" mini-series to get more people interested in God's Word, not just as a history lesson, but in order to spread the truth of the Bible and show how it applies to their lives.

The Series:

Part 1: Beginnings
Part 2: Homeland
Part 3: Hope
Part 4: Mission
Part 5: Passion


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Published 4-1-13