Updated: Apr 7
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Adapting biblical stories is a powerful spiritual discipline that enables you to enter into the Bible in a new way. It's also a great form of project-based learning to help youth connect to God's Word in a unique way.
In addition to this introduction to adaptation, I've included a sample activity exploring how The Chosen adapts John 3:16. Before creating your own adaptation, it's important to make observations about how other successful adaptations (like The Chosen) work. It's not as in depth as my other activities exploring each episode of The Chosen, because it's meant to be just one small segment in a much larger project.
A World of Stories
Have you ever considered how important stories are in your everyday life? Think about it. How much time do you spend watching Netflix, reading comics, playing video games, and going to the movies? And those are just the stories we entertain ourselves with! But you also meet stories every time you go to history class, whenever you check your social media feed, and even when you simply ask you friend, “How was your weekend?” Stories are everywhere – they’re the air we breathe.
Like air, stories aren’t just everywhere – they’re important. They make life worth living. Just try to imagine living in a world without books, games, movies, or TV! Can you imagine how boring it would be? And not just boring – stories aren’t just for entertainment. When we read a good story, it helps us make sense of our own lives. Our hopes and dreams and imaginations are shaped by the stories we read and watch and share with others.
Of course, God is aware of how important stories are for us – he made us this way! So when God decided to reveal himself to his people, he didn’t send down an inspired textbook. He gave us stories – lot’s of them. And the stories that he gave us aren’t boring. They’re full of war and adventure, sex and scandal, friendship and betrayal. Netflix has nothing on the Book of Judges. If you take the time to picture what’s going on, the Bible’s stories will capture your imagination. More than that, they will capture your heart. The Bible’s stories will shape your hopes and dreams and the way that you think about yourself.
Retelling Biblical Stories
Since the days of Moses, believers have been taking the stories found in the Bible and retelling them in new forms (compare Exodus 14 and Exodus 15). This process of transferring a story from one genre or medium to another is known as adaptation. Of course, you’re very familiar with adaptation. The most popular shows and movies of our day are, in large part, adaptations of pre-existing comic books, novels, video games, or even amusement park rides. You have probably also seen several adaptations of the Bible – whether in the form of a silly animation for kids like Veggie Tales or a feature length movie like The Ten Commandments. Perhaps the most ambitious and popular Bible adaptation in recent memory is a multi-season streaming show known as The Chosen.
If you’ve ever taken the time to compare a favorite book or comic to the movie based on it, you’ve probably noticed a number of differences between the original story (the source) and the new version of the story (the adaptation). It’s important to realize that these differences are not defects. In order to retell a story in a new form and a new context, you need to make changes. While it’s important to honor the overall shape and purpose of the original story, an adaptation does not need to be a slavish copy of its source. Consider how many differences there are between the narrative of Israel crossing the Red Sea in Exodus 14, the original poetic version of the story in Exodus 15, and later poetic adaptations like Psalm 78, 106, 114, 136.
Keep in mind, an adaptation does not replace the original source. For the creator, an adaptation is a way to enter into a favorite story imaginatively. For audiences familiar with the source, an adaptation can provide a unique perspective on a story that has grown too familiar. And an adaptation can also bring a story in contact with new audiences, enticing them to check out its source. In this way, retelling biblical stories through adaptation is a multidimensional spiritual discipline. The work of adaptation itself is a way to enter into biblical stories imaginatively. Christian audiences can use adaptations like The Chosen to give them a fresh perspective on stories they’ve read a dozen times. But adaptations also bring biblical stories into contact with new audiences – young Christians who are unacquainted with the Bible or even non-Christians – inviting them to explore its source.
Learning Adaptation from The Chosen
The Chosen is the most ambitious and successful adaptation of a biblical story in recent memory. It casts new perspective on well-worn stories from the Gospels by diving deep into the lives of men and women who encountered Jesus. As an adaptation produced by Bible-believing Christians, The Chosen seeks to be faithful to the message and historical claims of the Gospels, while at the same time making significant changes to the details of biblical stories for the sake of the medium and form of storytelling. Before you begin your own attempt at making a Gospel Adaptation, it’ll help to observe how a successful adaptation like The Chosen works.
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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 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