Thanks to the History channel, The Bible is now prime-time viewing on Sunday evenings during March, and lots of people are tuning in to watch it. So for this installment of
The Wired Word, we're going to use this news as an opportunity to think about the role of Scripture and biblical literacy in the life of faith.
If you'd prefer a different lesson, look at the material under "Other News This Week," which examines the story of a woman who disappeared 11 years ago, leaving her family to fear the worst, and who has now turned herself in to police. Her story raises questions about forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation and other topics.
Remember, if you wish to provide your class members with an abbreviated copy of the lesson, click here, and you can send them a copy via email today.
May God bless you as you the teach the Scriptures this week.
The Editorial Team of The Wired Word.
THE BIBLE Premieres on the History Channel
The Wired Word for
March 17, 2013
In the News
When the History channel's miniseries The Bible aired its first episode on Sunday, March 3, it drew that network's biggest audience of the year -- some 13.1 million viewers. For perspective, this is roughly the same number of viewers as the Fox hit series American Idol received recently
Created by Mark Burnett, who also produces reality shows including The Apprentice, The Voice and Shark Tank, The Bible series will air in five two-hour episodes, with the final one on Easter Sunday.
Burnett, an avowed Christian, and his wife, Roma Downey, star of the former TV series Touched by an Angel, shot The Bible in Morocco over six months.
"We believe our Bible series has the potential to reach not only those who already go to church but could reach a whole new generation of people who have never been to church," Burnett said in a YouTube video. "People that may never have read the Bible will get to see those Bible stories in this series."
In a webcast to pastors, Burnett explained that his success with the reality shows opened the door with "powers within Hollywood" to "make a faithful Bible miniseries."
In the same video, Downey said, "We've told the stories of the Bible in a way to grab viewers' attention and draw them in to want to know more."
While the miniseries has been praised by many viewers and some high-profile figures in the Christian world, including Rick Warren and Jim Wallis, some readers of the Bible have pointed out that in places, the Bible stories are conflated or miss an important point. At least one scholar, Joel Hoffman, argues in a Huff Post Religion blog that biblical stories intended as fiction and those intended as history are treated in the miniseries as the same, "thereby misrepresenting the nature of the Bible to its viewers." (Some other scholars would disagree with Hoffman's fiction/history split of the biblical material.)
Many viewers had a positive overall impression of the series. Jim Wallis, a Christian leader in the field of social change, also wrote in the Huff Post Religion blog, but he told of watching the first episode with his young sons, who were excited to see dramatizations of Bible stories they already knew and to learn ones they didn't know.
TWW team member Stan Purdum commented, "On balance, would I prefer that a TV network do a series on the Bible versus not mentioning the Bible? Yes! Frankly, I'm glad the Bible is getting the exposure, even if it's not perfectly done. The series may teach a little 'what's in the Bible' to some who would never read it, and that's a good thing."
TWW team member Frank Ramirez commented, "There was a time when believers and nonbelievers in America were familiar with the Bible, whether as literature or as the Word of God. Biblical stories and phrases were part of everyday currency. That cannot be said to be the case today. A television show may be one way to raise the level of biblical literacy."
More on this story may be found at these links:
"Bible" Opens Big on Cable TV. News Max
Series: An Invitation to "Change the World." Huffington Post
God's Word, the
Greatly Abridged Version. New York Times
The Bible Isn't
the History You Think It Is. Huffington Post
The Big Questions
How important is knowing what's in the Bible to living a Christian life? Why? How important is it to know the whole Bible as opposed to "favorite" stories and passages? Why? Are some messages of the Bible more important than others? Which ones, and why?
Burnett states that it was his success with "general market" TV shows that paved the way for network executives to be open to his producing The Bible. Could that route be considered God's plan? Why or why not? Do you consider the making of this series a work of mission by Burnett and Downey? Why or why not?
To what degree is exposure to bits and pieces of the Bible preferable to no exposure at all? To what degree is exposure to Bible stories without someone to explain their application to one's spiritual life preferable to no exposure at all? Is the Bible a spiritual smorgasbord from which we can pick and choose what we wish to live by? Why or why not?
What things do you do to grow in biblical knowledge? The TV series emphasizes the stories in the Bible, but there are other types of literature in it as well, including worship and meditation (e.g., Psalms) and doctrine (e.g., the Pauline epistles). How important are these other literature type in the Bible, and why?
5. Is it possible that The Bible miniseries could have any negative effect on viewers? If so, in what way, and how should the church address that?
Confronting the News with Scripture
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (For context, read 119:97-112.)
The psalmist uses many different Hebrew words in this portion of the psalm to indicate the guidance provided by God. We translate these words as "law," "testimony," "mandate," "rules" and others, and sometimes are content with the bare translation "word." Perhaps this indicates that "the whole counsel of God" is what provides light: not merely the laws ("Thou shalt!") but also the testimonies ("God did this!").
In what specific ways is the Bible a "lamp to your feet"? When has the Bible served as a light in a dark place? How were you able to better navigate through a crisis because of God's word? Were there occasions when it seemed as if this light either did not help or did not apply?
Nehemiah 8:1, 3
... all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. ... He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate early morning until midday, ... and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. (For context, read 7:73b--8:12.)
The "people" in this scene are Jews living in Judah several years after the end of the Babylonian exile. They were descendants of those who had been in exile. We don't have a lot of information about what life in exile was like, but at least some students of the Bible contend that under the Babylonians, public worship of Israel's God and a practicing priesthood were not permitted. If that is so, then presumably the only religious instruction the people of Judah had was what they got from their parents or in "house churches." And of course, in those days, people didn't have Scripture scrolls in their homes. So the exile and post-exile generations probably had little knowledge of the Scriptures.
And so, for those standing in the rebuilt Jerusalem, the reading of "the law of Moses," which they had not heard before, was a call for them to adopt the Scriptures as their own. Nehemiah 8:1 indicates that the Lord had given the Scripture to Israel, the community in covenant with God. Thus, in effect, if the people standing now hearing them read wanted to be part of the covenant community, they had to place themselves under the Book of the covenant, and live by it.
The people of this new generation did just that. The words they heard first placed them under conviction, and they wept (8:9). Then, as they continued to hear the words, they began to rejoice (8:12). In those moments, the Scriptures, written during previous generations, became the word of God to them. It became the basis of their community's existence and the rule of their lives from that time forward. Their faith and practice were to be dominated by it.
In what ways have you put yourself "under" the Bible and made it your book? Do you tend to view scripture as a watchdog, a guardian, a book that scolds or condemns, a book that redeems and sets free? A combination of some or all of these? When have you felt particularly convicted by what you read or heard? When you rejoice?
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (For context, read 15:1-6.)
Paul here says that the Christian fellowship should be shaped by the study of Scripture, and from that study, we draw instruction, encouragement and hope.
Questions: How well do you have to know what's in the Bible to draw ongoing instruction, encouragement and hope from it? Why?
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith -- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. (No additional context needed.)
In this doxology at the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul mentions the "prophetic writings," by which he means the Old Testament (the New Testament hadn't been written yet). Note that he says that those Scriptures can disclose "the proclamation of Jesus Christ ... known to all the Gentiles."
Questions: Do you believe the Scriptures still have that kind of power? How are we to make the Scriptures known today to those not inclined to read them?
2 Peter 1:19
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (For context, read 1:16-21.)
Remember when the author of Psalm 119 called God's word "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"? Here Peter says something similar, referring to Scripture as "a lamp shining in a dark place," and he urges his audience to "be attentive" to it. The Greek translated here as "prophetic message" is literally "prophetic word."
Question: Assume you are talking to someone mostly unfamiliar with the contents of the Bible but who has just seen and liked The Bible miniseries. What might you say to that person to encourage him or her to continue learning by actually reading the Bible?
For Further Discussion
1. If you viewed any of the miniseries, what was your reaction? Do you feel the TV stories were faithful to the biblical account? Did you think any of the stories missed the point or glossed over elements of prime importance? What parts did you really like?
2. What role did the Bible play in your coming to faith to begin with? What role does it play in your ongoing Christian journey?
3. Respond to this, from a sermon by Ellsworth Kalas: "You see, the Bible comes to us out of human experience, and thus it speaks to experience. It is not a systematic theological document; far from it. It is ... a magnificent hodge-podge of experiences, and responses to experiences. And all of these experiences, of course, have to do with the ultimate experience of our human relationship to Almighty God. It may be the story of a brother killing his brother, or a woman seducing her father-in-law, but the stories will be to the same point, the human soul and its God. The lead character may be a king, a shepherd boy, a buffoon, a wise man, a harlot, a homemaker or a saint; but the point at issue for that lead character will always, eventually, be the matter of his relationship to the Lord of the universe. And in some strange and wonderful way, this potpourri all comes together in a remarkable unity."
4. While a television series on the Bible involves some measure of interpretation (one has to choose which stories to tell and what emphasis to place on them), doesn't even the act of reading involve interpretation? All interpretation involves some filters -- that is to say, our life experiences, our preferences, our faith background all influence the way we receive stories, whether we read them or they are interpreted for us from the pulpit or in Sunday school. What biblical filters are brought to the table in your TWW group? Talk about the way different members of the group receive and interpret Scripture.
5. For most of history, Bible reading was Bible
listening (since many people could not read). Does a television program serve as a means of Bible listening? How is a program similar to or different than other familiar interpretative materials, such as hymns, stained glass windows, artwork, church plays, etc?
6. Comment on this: J.B. Phillips, a British scholar and Bible translator, once said that while paraphrasing some Old Testament books, it sometimes seemed to him as if he were working with bare wires without the electricity being turned off!
Responding to the News
This is a good time to review your own Bible-reading plan and decide how you are going to continue to learn what's in the Bible, and what version works best for you.
The ancient church has a specific prayer concerning the Scriptures, which may be a fitting closing to this lesson: "Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may therefore hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, forever and ever."
For a shorter prayer, you may use: Thank you for all the ways you speak to us through your word, O Lord. Help us to be faithful and ongoing students of the Scriptures. In Jesus' name. Amen.
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