By Tyson Thorne

March 16, 2021

GMM Large

The Chosen is a highly polished dramatization of the Gospel story told in a modern television style complete with episodes and seasons. The most direct comparison would be the network television miniseries A.D. The Bible Continues, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. In comparison, The Chosen is a better series; the quality of the acting is superior, and the scene direction and production mechanics appear to be of a higher quality. If The Chosen had ended up with even half as many viewers it would be a success, but at over 50 million views as of August 2020, it has already vastly exceeded the network television show’s numbers (13.1 million).

Why has it done so much better? For two reasons. First, it really is that good, and second, the episodes are made available using 21st century technology. The Chosen is available to view for free by using an app, an app that is available not only on iPhone and Android, but also on Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and more. Their dedication to providing production information and behind-the-scenes footage on social media has helped them keep in touch with fans. Season one is available on DVD for those with older home entertainment tech or those too impatient (or old) to figure out the “newfangled smart TV” options.

The series is directed by Dallas Jenkins, the son of author Jerry B. Jenkins of Left Behind fame. As such, Dallas is no stranger to storytelling and has many other film projects under his belt before the making of The Chosen. This early experience shows, as his directing and leadership of the series is on par with other highly rated productions. Of course, being the highest crowd-funded film project ever doesn’t hurt, either. Talent and funding are equally important for a project of this scope.

Before watching the series, the viewer should set some expectations. One of those expectations is that this is a dramatization, not an attempt at a strict representation of one of the Gospels. The Biblical writers are sparse in their descriptions of events, preferring instead on a more textbook representation of the facts regarding the life of Jesus. As such, expanding the Biblical narrative into hour-long episodes necessitates playing around in the grey areas a little and, in some cases, making things up completely. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation.

As an example, we do not know much about the backgrounds of most of the apostles. In fact, surveys show that most Christians cannot even name all 12 disciples, and there is a reason for that – not all of them play an important role. We know, for example, that Matthew was a tax collector, Simon Peter a hot-head, and John a quiet and relational man, but otherwise little is known about each of them. We don’t need to know much about them, because the Bible isn’t telling their story it is telling Jesus’ story. As a result, in a multi-season series (and the expectation is for eight seasons) the background story of the characters is important.

I would caution the writers and director for future episodes, however, to take fewer liberties with primary characters. I understand making Peter the security guard on the team, his temperament – and a few of his actions -- certainly lends some authenticity to the idea. Making Matthew autistic, however entertaining and interesting a choice, could lead some viewers to wrong conclusions. People well versed in the Gospels will find this idea somewhat humorous and entertaining (as I do) but be careful. The more central the person is in Jesus’ life, the fewer the liberties taken with his (or her) character should be. I’d say one of the Gospel writers is a pretty central character.

Despite these “color” choices for the characters, each episode reveals a very deep understanding of the New Testament text. There is one scene that is sure to put a smile on the face of those familiar with the ancient Greek language. In the scene, Jesus is talking to someone familiar with his family and is asked if he is a carpenter. Jesus responds, “My father is a carpenter, I am a craftsman.” Early Bible translations describe Joseph as a carpenter, later translations use the word “craftsman” or something similar. As scholars studied Greek vocabulary over the last few centuries, they came to realize that “carpenter” was too precise. The Greek word, tekton, can mean everything from a carpenter to a ship builder, so a more generic term is used today.

The second expectation one should have is that the book is always better than the movie. As with any film adaptation of a favorite book, there will be some scenes that are not represented the way they play out in your head while reading them. This is a simple fact of life.

For me, such a scene was the episode Jesus turns water into wine at a Jewish wedding feast. John’s narrative portrays a very terse discussion between Jesus and his mother. Mary tells Jesus the hosts are out of wine and Jesus replies, “Woman, why are you telling me this? My time has not yet come.” That should have settled the matter, but Mary (in very Jewish fashion) doesn’t argue with her son. Instead, she turns on her heel and tells the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.” Mama ends the discussion, not the Messiah. I always found it a humorous anecdote. In the episode this dialogue is extended. Mary comes to Jesus, Jesus replies in the same fashion, ending with “My time has not yet come”. Mary asks him, “If not now, when?” then there is a dramatic pause as the two look into each other’s eyes. Mary pleads, “please”, and Jesus relents. The scene is powerful but loses its Jewish flavor and, I think, intended humor.

Overall, the series makes a delightful first impression. It is more entertaining than preachy and something I think anyone interested in history would enjoy. The quality of the work, the availability on multiple platforms, and the fact it is free to view, ought to guarantee its success and funding for the next season. highly recommends The Chosen and eagerly anticipates the next instalment.

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