Updated: Jun 19
I've produced Bible study and discussion questions for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, but it's been a little while since I explained why.
To some, it might seem obvious. The Chosen has become wildly popular and people want to talk about it. To some pastors and ministry leaders, that's a sufficient justification. "There go the people, and I must follow them, for I am their leader."
To others, it seems equally obvious why Christians shouldn't study The Chosen. It takes liberties with the details of Scripture and adds its own stories and characters. Worse: it is created by a team that includes people from a wide range of theological backgrounds.
Contribute to The Bible Artist
Have my resources helped you explore the Bible and biblical adaptations, either on your own or with your ministry, church, or family? I offer most* of my work for free and rely on the generous support of readers like you. Your contributions mean so much. Thank you!
*Members who contribute $5/monthly or $50/annually receive access to exclusive content, including monthly blogs and pdf versions of my Bible study/discussion guides, as well as free gifts and other perks.
There are flaws in both mindsets. On the one hand, I think it's a mistake to allow hype and the latest fads to dictate the direction of a church or Christian community. God knows that there have been plenty of examples of books and other Christian media that have been wildly popular among laypeople even though they were wildly unbiblical and unhealthy. On the other hand, I'm also wary of the theologically elitist attitude that delights in nitpicking and expects a popular creative work like The Chosen to display the precision of a theological treatise or biblical commentary.
Churches shouldn't study The Chosen simply because it is popular. Churches also shouldn't avoid or be suspicious of The Chosen simply because it's popular. Instead, I would like to propose five solid reasons why you should take the time to study and discuss The Chosen with your church, small group, youth ministry, or Bible study. Of course, if you're reading this post, there's a good chance that you're already doing so, but hopefully this will provide you with a clearer understanding of why you're doing what you're doing.
Reason 1: The Chosen points people toward Scripture, not away from it
In the comments or via email, people often complain about how The Chosen is adding to Scripture by including storylines, characterization, and speeches that are invented and not found in the Bible. My standard response to such critics is to remind them that The Chosen is not Scripture. Its creators have never suggested that it is divine revelation. The disclaimer at the start of the first episode clearly indicates that the show is a work of fiction based on the Gospels and explicitly encourages viewers to read the original biblical accounts. Those who claim that The Chosen adds to Scripture are making a category error.
Historically, Christians have believed that the Canon of Scripture is complete. Most of us agree that we should not attempt to take away from or add to the Bible or ascribe authoritative inspiration to new teachings (Revelation 22:18-19). That is not what The Chosen is doing. Creating that is explicitly a fictional elaboration on the stories of Scripture is very different from adding to Scripture itself. Christians have always created extra-biblical stories and it's never been looked down upon, as long as the stories didn't assert that they were inspired and weren't a vehicle for heresy.
Now, some worry that even if The Chosen isn't attempting to add to Scripture, practically-speaking it may function as a replacement for Scripture in the lives of some Christians. That's a more reasonable concern. I suspect there are Christians out there who think watching an episode of The Chosen is a replacement for more traditional spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible and listening to biblical preaching. Watching The Chosen can be spiritually nourishing, but it's like eating a granola bar. To be spiritually healthy, that can't be the only form of nourishment that you're getting. In promoting The Chosen, Christian leaders should make it clear that the show should be consumed as part of a balanced spiritual diet that includes more important sources of nourishment like Scripture, preaching, and community.
That being said, as someone who runs a site frequented by fans of The Chosen, I'm pretty confident that the typical viewer isn't treating The Chosen as a replacement for reading Scripture. Fans of The Chosen are intensely interested in comparing the show to the original biblical texts in order to discern the differences and understand what elements the show has added and what is present in Scripture. As a result, most viewers end up engaging with Scripture more closely - and come to know the stories of Scripture at a much more detailed level. Before The Chosen came out, what percent of contemporary Christians could have named all twelve Apostles? Or how many knew that many of the Apostles had wives? If you're well-acquainted with Scripture, these may seem like no-brainers, but the average church-goer is far less biblically literate.
Instead of worrying about whether The Chosen will replace Scripture, churches and faith communities need to focus on being proactive. By creating spaces to study and discuss the show and its relationship to Scripture, ministry leaders can shape the way that members understand and engage with biblical adaptations. Such spaces also have the added benefit of potentially capturing the interest of people who would normally not have been interested in a traditional Bible study and can function as on-ramp to further biblical engagement.
Reason 2: The Chosen communicates biblical stories and truth to the visually-oriented
Ministry leaders often express concern over how their members aren't reading Scripture enough. While I agree that the decline of biblical engagement and biblical literacy is a matter of concern, it's important to put that decline in its proper context. It's not like the average person reads a ton of books but just doesn't want to read the Bible. The average person just doesn't read many books in general. Book reading is becoming a much less prevalent practice. For most people, reading Scripture is a double-ask: first, it involves doing a type of activity that is rare (book reading) and, second, it involves reading a type of book that is culturally-distant and often difficult to interpret. That doesn't mean we should give up on encouraging people to read Scripture. Still, it's worth considering how the Church has spread biblical stories and truth in previous eras in which literacy was relatively limited.
It's easy for us to forget that the idea of everyone owning a Bible (or multiple Bibles) and reading the Bible in a private "quiet time" is very modern. Before the development of the printing press (well over half of Christian history), books were very rare and extremely expensive. This is why very few people were taught to read or write. After all, why would you invest all the time it takes to learn a specialized skill like reading when you're hardly ever going to have the opportunity to use it?
Because having people read the Bible for themselves just wasn't an option in pre-literate eras, the Church had to find other ways to spread biblical ideas, narratives, and tropes. And this is one reason why so much money was invested in the arts in past eras. By creating paintings, statues, stained glass, and other forms of art, the Church was able to spread biblical concepts and stories to the unlearned and visually-oriented.
Today, The Chosen and other biblical adaptations can serve the same function as stained glass did in Medieval Europe. They provide a medium to communicate biblical truths and stories to people who simply can't - or don't - read. Of course, churches should also seek to do what they can to promote literacy so that people aren't left completely dependent on secondary sources like The Chosen. But promoting literacy is a long-term project. In the short term, we need ways to spread biblical narratives that aren't bound by literacy level. This is why the Jesus Film is a tool used by missionaries all over the world. The Chosen is like a Jesus film for the contemporary Western world. It provides churches and ministry leaders with a valuable tool for spreading biblical stories, characters, and ideas to a culture that increasingly relies on visual storytelling instead traditional reading.
Reason 3: The Chosen helps humanize the characters and stories of Scripture
I love biblical narrative. It's a form of literature that I find intensely interesting to study. But reading biblical narrative can also be very difficult, because the cultural and literary expectations that shape it are very different from those of today. In modern stories (especially books - but also shows and films), character is a primary value. Almost all contemporary stories are about how a person (or group) changes and grows (or fails to change and grow) in response to a crisis. Because of this, modern narratives give a lot of attention to the thoughts, feelings, internal struggles, and deep-seated trauma of various characters. Biblical stories are also interested in character growth and change, and they do engage in characterization. But character simply wasn't as central to literature in the biblical era as it is today, and so we don't get nearly as much insight into the thoughts and motivations of biblical characters, even when they are relatively important.
This is one of the dynamics that makes the Bible a difficult book for modern readers to engage with. It simply doesn't deliver the degree of character depth that we've been trained to expect from a story. As a result, it's harder for us to feel drawn into biblical stories in the same way that we are drawn into The Lord of the Rings or The Wingfeather Saga. It's also easy for us to forget that the people in biblical stories were like us: complex humans with a full range of thoughts and emotions and inner demons.
What distinguishes The Chosen as a biblical adaptation is that it injects the degree of complex and detailed characterization that we've come to expect from modern stories back into the Gospel narrative. We meet a version of Matthew who is autistic and struggles with rejection, a version of James who has a disability and who struggles to understand why Jesus hasn't healed it, and a version of Mary who struggles with a sense of inadequacy because of her dark past. By backfilling all this information, The Chosen invites us to see the humanity of biblical figures. Even if the specific character details invented by the creators of The Chosen are not true in a literal sense, they point to a greater truth, namely, that biblical stories happened to real, authentic people like us - and thus, they are still relevant to our lives today.
When churches and faith communities view and discuss The Chosen, the complex, human depiction of various biblical characters can lead to important conversations about the nature of biblical stories in general. The Chosen can become a model for how to imaginatively engage with Scripture and approach it as an account about real humans and not merely as a collection of illustrations designed to teach timeless truths. That's an important paradigm shift that can lead to deeper engagement with Scripture in the long run.
Reason 4: The Chosen functions as a narrative apologetic
I grew up in a time in which apologetic arguments - that is, logical defenses of the faith on the basis of philosophy, history, and science - were quite popular. The thinking was that some non-Christians would take the faith more seriously and be open to the Gospel if they saw that Christianity was a coherent worldview that was supported by reason, history, and science. I think traditional apologetics certainly have helped many people - and still do help certain types of seekers. But I don't think there are nearly as many people today who reject Christianity because they think it's false, illogical, or unscientific. In a post-truth world like ours, the average person rejects Christianity because they think it's unjust, cruel, and ugly. Here's the problem: it's hard to convince people that Christianity is beautiful or good purely on the basis of rationale arguments. Our sense of what is good and beautiful is shaped much more by art and narrative than it is by reason and logic.
Consider one of the most prevalent moral sensibilities of our time: be true to yourself. How have so many people been won over by this moral vision? Is it because the defenders of expressive individualism have spread a bunch of logically-sound and scientifically-backed arguments? Or is it because this view of life is the thematic core of so many modern kids films and pop songs? Art and story are uniquely effective at shaping and orienting our moral and aesthetic imagination. Perhaps that's why the most influential book in history (the Bible) is 43% narrative and 33% poetry (and only 24% prose discourse) and why Jesus was known for telling stories - while professional philosophers, who rely so heavily on logical argumentation, have had a much more limited influence.
If churches and faith communities want to address the concerns of contemporary skeptics, they can't just make the case that the Bible is true; they also need to show that it is beautiful and good. And the most effective (and most biblical) way to do that is by sharing stories that illustrate the beauty and goodness of God and his work in the world. And this is what makes The Chosen such an effective resource. Instead of offering rationale arguments, the show presents a picture of who Jesus is and what it looks like to follow him that is innately compelling. By watching and reflecting on The Chosen in community, ministry leaders can shape the imaginative horizons of their people and orients them around a more biblical vision of what of beauty and human flourishing.
Reason 5: The Chosen is open-ended and authentic
Too often in Christian films, a pre-determined message controls the shape of the story and the actions of the characters. This is what makes faith-based films feel preachy, heavy-handed, or moralistic. Of course, almost all films have some sort of theme or message, but that message should feel like an organic outgrowth of the story and the characters, not an artificial imposition upon them. A story shouldn't be a mere vehicle for a true message; the story itself should feel true.
This is another sense in which The Chosen distinguishes itself. Unlike many inferior Christian films, the story feels authentic and internally coherent. Characters make decisions that make emotional sense and they have genuine flaws that can't fixed in a single moment. Themes are present, but they don't dominate and dictate what happens. Moreover, the show raises difficult questions and situations and doesn't always offer a clear answer or solution.
The open-ended and authentic nature of The Chosen also makes it a useful starting point for conversations about what it's actually like to follow Jesus. Like bad Christian films, poorly-designed Bible studies or small group discussion guides have a tendency to be so focused on delivering the right message that they avoid messy realities of life. By contrast, viewing The Chosen together is a great way to encourage members to be open and honest about their real struggles and questions. Instead of offering a closed and overly-didactic experience, churches and faith communities that view and discuss The Chosen together can foster a culture of honesty, vulnerability, and intellectual/spiritual modesty.
So, what do you think? Are these compelling reasons for studying and discussing The Chosen in your community? Are there other reasons I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
An adaptation like The Chosen isn't meant to replace the Bible; it's meant to drive us deeper into the Bible and spiritual reflection. The creators of The Chosen have published interactive Bible Studies that are meant to explore some of the Scripture and biblical themes that inspired the show and help viewers apply them to everyday life.
FYI: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Click here for my affiliation policy.
If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
Artist Interviews (The Bible Artist Podcast)
The Chosen Season 4
The Chosen Season 3
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Thomas & Ramah in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Yussif, Jairus, & Shmuel in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Quintus, Gaius, Atticus, and the Romans in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Pontius Pilate & his Wife in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]
How to Discuss The Chosen - and Why
Episode 1 Guide: Homecoming
Episode 2 Guide: Two by Two
Episode 3 Guide: Physician, Heal Thyself
Episode 4 Guide: Clean Part 1
Episode 5 Guide: Clean Part 2
Episode 6 Guide: Intensity in Tent City
Episode 7 Guide: Ears to Hear
Episode 8 Guide: The Feeding of the 5,000
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
The Chosen Controversies Series
Themes & Theology of The Chosen [Exclusive for BMC Members]
Episode 1: What do we do when we are scared?
Episode 2: What is Shabbat for?
Episode 3: Who is Jesus?
Episode 4: What kind of man are you?
Beyond The Chosen
The Chosen: 9 Good Friday & Easter Episodes ***Season 3 Update***
Other Bible Adaptations
Recap & Review: His Only Son