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Authenticity of Scripture Paramount to 'The Chosen’s' Success

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

I think people are reading the Bible in standard definition. They don't see the meaning and the detail. The Chosen makes passages of Scripture come alive for people and helps them to see it in high definition. – Rabbi Jason Sobel

Fueled by the generous investment of more than 19,000 people less than two years ago to become the largest independently crowdfunded film/TV project in history, The Chosen television series went on to experience critical acclaim in its debut season.

A television drama based on the life of Jesus Christ, season one featured eight episodes that were designed for viewers to see Christ through the eyes of those who encountered Him on a daily basis.  Different in its approach from previous productions focused on the life of Jesus, series director Dallas Jenkins believes that telling the greatest story ever told from fresh perspectives  has enhanced viewers' love for the Gospels.

“Every single day we hear from dozens, if not hundreds of people who say this show has re-ignited my passion for Scripture,” says Jenkins, who was a Biblical Studies major in college. “(They say) this show has re-ignited my passion for Jesus. Ninety-nine percent of viewers say that they are more passionate about Scripture and that they're reading the Bible more because of this show than ever before.”

But it is that one percent that has caused a few critics to take pause when it comes to The Chosen.  They contend the series is not being true to the Bible because there are fictional characters being featured in each episode who are the creation of Jenkins and his writing team.

While a major motion picture depicting the life of Christ has traditionally been conveyed on screen in roughly two hours or less, Jenkins and company are planning an eight-season arc that will cover more than 50 hours.  It is because of this large disparity in show length that he has opted to go with a style that fills in around the basic framework of the four Gospels.  Nonetheless, the series has been scrutinized.

“There will be times when you can't necessarily tell the difference between what came from the Bible and what came from our creation,” explains Jenkins, who has also directed several faith-based films including What If ... and The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.  “In my opinion, that's actually a testament to how much we love the Bible and how faithful we are in not only trying to capture what is in the Bible, but trying to capture the intention of the Bible.”

The creation of each episode is a painstaking process, one that always begins with an intense season of prayer, followed by the writing team’s comprehensive deep dive into the four Gospels. Their goal is to find moments that will serve as the foundation of an episode.  Finally, Jenkins has recently spent a fair amount of time in Israel to learn more about as well as to reflect upon Jesus’ Jewish roots and the Jewish culture.

“We look at what's historical context, cultural context, looking deeply into the Jewish culture, looking deeply into the historicity of First Century Galilee.” Jenkins points out. “What does it look like? What did it feel like? What were the people struggling with? What were some of the historical events and some of the Jewish cultures that aren't explicitly outlined in Scripture that we can use to add framework and color to these stories.”

“One of the things he (Jenkins) wanted to make sure was that it was number one, Biblically accurate,” echoes Rabbi Sobel, a messianic Jew, who has co-authored a bestselling book with Kathie Lee Gifford titled The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi. “But number two, he really wanted it to reflect the Jewish roots and the Jewish culture in a way that was accurate because so many other projects based on the life of Jesus is really so disconnected from the Jewish roots.”

Very early in the production process, Jenkins saw the critical need and value of having an ecumenical group of pastors, professors, and theologians to dissect and analyze each episode of the series for theological accuracy and cultural relevance.  Among that group are Rabbi Sobel, Father David Guffey, a Catholic priest, and Dr. Doug Huffman, an evangelical college professor who specializes in Old and New Testament.

“There's been a very conscious attempt to authentically represent Jesus Christ and to authentically represent the stories that are in the Bible,” points out Father Guffey, who serves as national director of Family Theater Productions. “(This series) should not replace Bible study. This should not replace a person's own reading of Holy Scripture, prayer, meditation or study. This is to help people. It's a work of art. It's a work of art through which somebody can gain insight, but obviously it has to be discerned.”

“The Gospel writers didn't write screenplays. They wrote Gospels,” echoes Dr. Huffman, who is the associate dean of Biblical and Theological studies at Biola University. “This production does use artistic license. It is trying to offer plausibility. The Chosen is trying to take these real-life people from history and portray them as three dimensional figures.

All too often people who read their Bibles are so familiar with these characters in a flat way that they forget these were real people who had real families.  Dallas is not trying to write Scripture here. He's just trying to portray these real-life people from history in a plausible video format. The license that he's taking is not to change Scripture or not add to Scripture, but to put it in a setting that would help people make better sense of it.”

The evangelical impact of The Chosen has been undeniable as it has been viewed in 180 countries and is in the process of being translated into 52 languages.  Viewers far and wide have used the series as a tool to minister to others and to further enhance their own faith.  A common thread through all the feedback that the show has received is that it has made Scripture come alive for people in a way they have never experienced before.  Among them is Grammy Award-winning vocalist Mandisa (“Overcomer”), who wholeheartedly supports the series and attests it has helped her grow in her spiritual walk. 

“Watching The Chosen has not replaced Scripture for me. It has caused it to jump off the page for me,” Mandisa shares with CBN.com. “It is an art form that has enhanced my relationship with Jesus because it allows me to vividly see Him as a living, breathing, man with a personality and emotions. I feel like I have gone from reading in black and white, to seeing in color in my relationship with Jesus.”

"The Chosen is revolutionary," agrees Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, founder and pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center in California. "It offers viewers a glimpse into what the daily and extraordinary life of Jesus Christ and his disciples might have looked like 2,000 years ago and invites the viewer into His story. As a producer myself, I’ve seen the power film can have to promote the Lamb’s agenda of love, truth and justice. The Chosen does that in an incredibly compelling way."

From the very beginning, Jenkins made it clear that no television series about the life of Jesus Christ would succeed without a concerted prayer effort.  To that end, each morning on the set begins with Bible study and prayer as well as numerous breaks for intercession throughout the day. 

“I need to be reliant on daily manna and not think that it's going to come any more than what I need for that day,” Jenkins says. “To do that I have no choice but to come to God each day and each time that I'm writing with a, ‘Okay God, this show so far has been better than I am. There are some things that I'm not capable of doing. If you don't mind, it'd be great if that continued because I'm not as good as you are and I'm not as good as this show can be.’”

Adds Father Guffey, “It's a project that was conceived out of prayer, that has been nurtured in prayer, and has been evaluated and assessed in prayer. I think any great religious art has to have that component to it. There have been Biblical stories that have come to the big screen in the last 10 years and it was really people trying to capitalize on a Christian audience. But you can tell there wasn’t prayer, there's not the discernment that comes with prayer behind it. And so, they fell flat. This has not fallen flat.”

As the show moves into production for season two, Jenkins and his team remain fastidious in their desire to produce quality programming that will utilize the life-impacting events found in Scripture and capture the hearts of those watching.  While season one centered on establishing who Jesus is, season two will introduce His ministry to the world.

“We'll see the arrival of and the calling of the majority of the disciples,” says Jenkins excitedly. “We are going to be spending a lot time just like we did in season one on the building of the team. Jesus and His ministry is now going public. We are going to see what the effect that has as word starts to spread.”

To ensure that seasons two through eight come together as planned, The Chosen team will need to raise approximately $100 million over the next few years to sustain the project.  This is undoubtedly a mission critical task, but one that takes a backseat to the series ultimate goal … to turn as many hearts to Christ as possible and to galvanize the faith of those who already believe.

“With any season that we're allowed to do, I want people to be drawn closer to God's Word and to be closer to Jesus,” says Jenkins simply.

Currently in the pre-production phase, season two of The Chosen will relaunch early next year.

Watch a trailer for The Chosen television series:

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