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The Chosen: Yes or No?

The Chosen is a crowdfunded TV series based on the life of Jesus, as seen particularly through the eyes of his followers. It is free to view through the show's app and it also features on platforms like Netflix and YouTube. From humble beginnings, The Chosen has quickly become extremely popular. The show's creators have set themselves the goal of reaching an audience of one billion viewers around the world, and they are well on the way to their objective with the work of overdubbing the show into multiple languages ongoing.

If you haven’t watched to the end of Season 4 yet, please be advised that this post will contain some spoilers.

At the time of writing, The Chosen has just concluded screening the fourth of seven planned seasons, each with eight roughly one-hour episodes. Jesus is poised to enter Jerusalem on a colt, and the city awaits, palm branches at the ready, to acclaim him as king.

I’ll put my cards on the table straightaway. I like The Chosen very much. So much so, I have watched every episode and most of the after-show interviews, and occasionally used clips from the show in my sermons. It is extremely well filmed; the cinematography, casting, acting, scriptwriting, set design, costumes and music are all first class. In fact, it’s by far the best and most professional Bible-based drama I have ever seen.

Standout scenes for me are Jesus turning water into wine, Jesus and Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the miraculous catch of fish, the calling of Matthew, the cleansing of a leper, the healing of a paralysed man, the raising of Lazarus, and Mary of Bethany pouring the jar of very expensive perfume over Jesus' feet. There are many other scenes that are extremely well done, too many to mention. Some are very moving indeed.

I do wonder, now that the show is situated at the start of Jesus' last week, whether we will see some scenes that in the Gospels are clearly set earlier in time; like the parable of the prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery, the raising of the widow of Nain's son, Zacchaeus, the rich young ruler and the transfiguration…

Perhaps they will be done later as flashbacks. Or maybe in altered sequence (the Gospel writers themselves sometimes arranged their material in non-chronological order to make a particular theological point). Perhaps they will be omitted altogether.

Of course, adapting the material we have in the Gospels for the screen absolutely requires some artistic license if it’s going to work. To simply commit to camera what we have from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with no supplementary material would come across as one-dimensional because film is a medium which requires more layers than the Gospels offer. Every cinematic adaptation of every work of literature does this - and has to.

Because of this, various backstory scenes are added in to the series, like Mary buying the aforementioned nard perfume from a high-class merchant (accepting nothing but the very best and the shop's entire stock), and James and John discussing how they are going to approach Jesus to ask him for positions of prestige in his coming reign. I think these scenes amplify the Gospel narratives in a helpful way.

Also, some characters are given textures to their personalities that spring more from a screenplay writer's creative imagination than from chapter and verse. So, for example, Matthew is a little bit autistic (which might help explain for example his slightly quirky way of grouping Jesus' genealogy into groups of 14) and James son of Alphaeus is somewhat disabled.

The result is that we develop a sympathetic bond with these characters we might not otherwise do and I think this is fine, as long as we keep in mind that The Chosen is a flawed dramatisation, and not an inspired clarification, of holy scripture.

Sometimes the scriptwriters make brilliant connections between Old Testament promise and New Testament fulfilment though introductory scenes involving the likes of Jacob and King David. These are superbly done and offer profound insight into the Bible's rich unity.

Other times though, the producers develop storylines, nowhere found or even hinted at in scripture, that I think become much too prominent. So, after his sons James and John leave their fishing nets to follow Jesus, Zebedee starts an olive oil business to help support the ministry. Did he really? No. Mary Magdalene loses the plot and regresses back into her previous darkness only to be once again restored. Did she really? No. Thomas falls in love with a young woman called Ramah who is tragically killed by a Roman official. Did any of this happen? No. I think these kinds of additions are unwarranted and distract unhelpfully from what God has chosen to reveal to us.

For newer Christians still unfamiliar with the Bible, I’m sure it might be confusing sorting out which parts of the show are fact and which are fiction. I think the creators' time would have been better spent filming some of the missing scenes I listed above rather than going down these fictional and unnecessary rabbit holes.

That cautionary note aside, I commend The Chosen as a great piece of art to enjoy as a supplement, not a replacement, for regular Bible reading, and I’m looking forward to season five, which will probably be released in early 2025.

I’d be interested to hear what you think.


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