The Bible TV series premiere a 'great success'

Statistics reveal that the first episode of The Bible mini-series was watched by over 1.2 million people in the UK - over 5.5 per cent of the total viewing public.

The programme has generated a significant amount of discussion and the hashtag '#TheBibleUK' trended on Twitter on Saturday night during the showing.

The executive producers of the series, husband and wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, said that they originally conceived the idea for the series with the hope that it would "affect a new generation of views and draw them back to the Bible".

It seems that this vision has been realised, and the pair have released a statement following the UK premiere, saying, "We are extremely excited by the really strong showing of the first has ignited a bigger conversation about God which we find encouraging. We know this is just the beginning".

The show is not without its controversial aspects as some have questioned the choice of an overwhelmingly white cast - with more than a few Brits - and the speed with which the series skips through epic points in the Bible.

"The book has more rich stories and characters than could ever fit into a mini-series, a fact the producers acknowledge by leaving most of it out," wrote Alan Yuhas in The Guardian when it first aired in the US.

"They jump from one famous story to another; Eden, Noah, and Moses get crammed into one episode, for example. The Ten Commandments only get a brief mention by the narrator. Characters are one-dimensionally good or evil, and the dialogue is so wooden Jesus could've carved a table out of it."

However, church leaders have responded positively to the programme for stimulating conversation and encouraging lots of people, both believers and non-believers, to get involved in a dialogue about the Bible.

Malcolm Duncan of Gold Hill Baptist church encouraged Christians to see the series as a conversation starter about the Bible regardless of their views on it.

"The Bible Series gives us a remarkable, once in a generation, chance to spark a discussion," he said. "I am having hundreds of conversations as a result of this series…We have not had an opportunity like this for years - don't blow it by being critical. Get involved, get engaged - get talking."

Krish Kandiah, of the Evangelical Alliance said: "I'm delighted that 1.2 million people across the UK watched a dramatic presentation of creation, the flood, the life and call of Abraham and the powerful Exodus story. This must be one of the biggest group Bible studies in British history."

Anne Coles, of New Wine, has also praised the show, describing it as "a unique and brilliant opportunity to help people in our culture to access the gripping stories and global themes of the Bible".

Even Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association, has said he is "looking forward to discussing [the] stories with people from all different perspectives".

To help facilitate discussion, the Evangelical Alliance is offering free online resources which provide material that is linked directly to each of the discussion questions in the Official Souvenir Guide produced by the Damaris Trust.

School resources have been developed for use in RE lessons, assemblies and choirs, along with a Souvenir Bible containing photos and extracts from the series to help people read the text alongside the TV show. The DVD or Blu-ray of the series will also be available in time to give as a Christmas gift.

Nick Pollard, co-founder of Damaris and co-leader of The Bible UK, says his team is "encouraged" by the feedback they have received thus far, and will continue "to seek to engage as many as possible in reading and talking about the Bible".

Catch the second episode this Saturday 7 December at 9pm on Channel 5.