Updated: Sep 7
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The success of The Chosen and its popularity is due in large part to how the show provides a wider audience of Christians with a detailed and well-imagined picture of the biblical world. For the average Bible-reader, it is often hard to imagine what life was actually like for the people who encountered Jesus. The Chosen helps us connect to the stories of Scripture in a way that's faithful and engaging.
Of course, The Chosen isn't the only resource out there that helps us better understand and engage with the Biblical world. There are literally hundreds of resources available for those who long to enter into the world of the Gospels. For those of you who are interested in wading deeper into the world of the Bible, I'd like to share a few of the resources on the culture and context of the Bible that I've found most helpful.
The Naked Bible Podcast, Supernatural, & other resources from Dr. Michael Heiser
We live in a culture that is deeply skeptical about the presence and influence of supernatural forces. While Christians won't deny the influence of the supreme supernatural influence (God), it's surprisingly easy for us to share our culture's skepticism toward other spiritual beings. The problem is, the people in the biblical world were deeply convinced of the power and influence of a variety of spiritual beings. If we try to read the Gospels with a naturalistic lens, we're going to miss a lot of what's happening. Dr. Michael Heiser's work sheds a helpful light on the supernatural worldview of the people who wrote or were written about in the Bible. It's a great resource for understanding angels, demons, Nephilim, the sons of God, and a variety of other oddities that you might not learn about in the average sermon.
An introduction to Dr. Heiser's understanding of the Divine Council and the supernatural worldview of the biblical world:
An episode of the Naked Bible Podcast that's a good example of how cultural context can shed light on oddities in the Bible:
Dr. Heiser has written several books, but I'd particularly suggest Supernatural or (for more advanced readers) The Unseen Realm [Amazon links]. These works lay out what he often refers to as the "Deuteronomy 32 Worldview" - the idea that in addition to the Genesis 3 Fall, our broken world is also a result of God assigning the nations to rebellious spirits during the Tower of Babel event. More recently I began reading Heiser's Demons book and will probably eventually get around to reading his book on Angels [also Amazon] as well. These books come densely packed with a lot of historical and cultural context that you won't find elsewhere. I don't always find myself agreeing with all of Dr. Heiser's conclusions, but I always find myself growing in my ability to connect with the way that people in the biblical world would have thought about life.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary
I've found IVP's Bible Background Commentary to be one of the most accessible, illuminating, and comprehensive resources for grappling with the culture and context of the biblical world. Of course, because each volume is dealing with an entire testament, don't expect anything as in-depth as a book-specific commentary, but for the purposes of general understanding, this is a great place to start.
John Walton (who does the Old Testament Bible Background Commentary) and Craig Keener (who does the New Testament Bible Background Commentary) are both well-respected experts in their respective fields. If you're interested in digging a bit deeper, Walton has done some very intriguing work in his "Lost World" series exploring Genesis 1, Genesis 2-3, and The Flood. [Amazon Links] Again, I don't always find myself aligning 100% with all that Walton says, especially when he gets into more philosophical/theological territory, but his scholarship with regard to the cultural context of the Ancient Near East and the biblical world is superb. If you haven't had a chance to explore his work before, I'd strongly suggest at least dipping your toe in by watching the video below:
Studies in Culture & Worldview
It's easy for us to approach biblical texts through our modern Western worldview without even being aware of the lens that we're bringing. That's why it's so important to become more aware of the distance between our worldview and the worldview of the biblical writers and their original audience. Kenneth E. Bailey's work exploring the cultural mindset and views has been particularly insightful and helpful for many people, illuminating the parables of Jesus and other aspects of the stories of Jesus.
More recently, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien wrote an important work that highlights some of the false assumptions that we often bring to the Bible due to the way that we've been conditioned by our modern Western cultural environment. Many of the points they make inform the imagination and not just theology (for example, they argue that Mary and Joseph probably didn't make their journey to Bethlehem alone; we live in a culture where nuclear families travel by themselves according to their own schedule, whereas in the cultural of the biblical world, travel typically happened in the company of the extended family).
It's one thing to hear ideas about the Honor-Shame Culture of the biblical world. It's a very different thing to actually get a taste of how the biblical texts would have sounded and been experienced by people who lived in that environment and background. That's why I've really enjoyed and profoundly benefitted from the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series edited by Jayson Georges. These volumes not only contain a fresh reading of the specific biblical book, but also (at least in the case of epistles) a theoretical correspondence that would have preceded and followed the epistle, highlighting the issues at play. I found that I was really able to enter into the biblical text in a new and engaging way.
Do you have any other favorite resources that help modern readers explore and imaginatively enter into the biblical world? I'm always eager to discover more, so please share them in the comments below!
Have my posts about The Chosen helped you learn more about the Bible and explore it with your ministry or family? I offer my work for free and rely on the generous support of readers like you. I really appreciate any contributions you can spare. Thank you so much!
If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
The Chosen Season 3
The Chosen Controversies Series
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
The Virgin Mary in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Mary Magdalene in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
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