Several moments in The Chosen season 3 have generated a lot of online buzz ever since the biblical fiction drama began releasing new episodes in late 2022.
In season 3, episode 2, Jesus (played by Jonathan Roumie) explains why he’s chosen not to heal the disciple James (called “Little James,” played by Jordan Walker Ross). In the story, Jesus explains how the disciple’s physical disability gives him unique ways to testify about God’s goodness in the midst of suffering.
Many viewers found themselves tearing up by the speech’s end. It’s a touching scene. Yet it’s also 100 percent made-up. Jesus never said or did anything like this in the four gospels. That’s given pause to some Chosen viewers.
Is it right to make up whole speeches like this and depict Christ choosing not to heal a disabled man? Or have the filmmakers taken too much creative license?
Let’s explore defenses and cautions for discerning fictional Jesus adaptations.1
Remember, many Christians already adapt Jesus for fiction
The Chosen is far from the first story to make fictional Jesus dialogue. We can learn a lot from returning to one grandfather of modern Christian fantasy, C. S. Lewis.
Lewis may not have attempted biblical fiction. But he does portray the fictional Christlike lion Aslan, Narnia’s ruler who gives plenty of moving speeches. In Prince Caspian he encourages Lucy not to lose herself in “what if” thinking. In The Horse and His Boy, Aslan tells Shasta he’s always directed his life, even when Shasta didn’t realize Aslan was there. And, of course, near The Last Battle’s end, Aslan proclaims that “the dream is ended: this is the morning!”
One might try to differentiate Narnia from The Chosen with a defense that Aslan is just an allegory for Jesus, not the actual Jesus. On the contrary, Lewis was quite insistent in his letters that Aslan was no allegory. In Narnia, Aslan is Jesus. Lewis is not telling an allegory but a “supposal” of how the Son of God might act if there was another world in need of saving like ours.2 Since both The Chosen and Narnia are fundamentally “what if”s about Jesus, we ought to judge both by the same principles. If made-up speeches are fine for Narnia, they’re fine in The Chosen.
But why accept either approach? I’d argue it’s because we already accept nonfiction about Jesus’ teachings. Nonfiction authors regularly use the epistles to explain what Jesus would want us to believe (even if the gospels never record him saying this). And if we can dig into implications and reasonable extrapolations in nonfiction, we can do so in fiction. Both of these serve the same purpose: they argue, according to their medium, what kind of person Jesus was.
Instead of asking if we can have fictional Jesus speeches, we should ask if those speeches are biblically faithful.
Still, readers should beware some fictional dialogue risks
Stories that depict God do have a higher standard to uphold. Unlike normal human characters, God is inerrant. And just like nonfiction writers are careful in how they describe God, fiction writers face the same obligation. As readers, we ought not read stories depicting Christ without wearing our discernment goggles.
Instead, let’s ask two main questions to evaluate fictional Jesus dialogue:
- Does the Jesus character show morals and doctrines taught or clearly implied elsewhere in Scripture? If not, this is a clear red flag. But if so, the “black letters” of Scripture are no less inspired than the “red letters.” If Scripture elsewhere teaches a truth, it’s reasonable for a Jesus character to teach the same.
- Is the Jesus character consistent with how Scripture describes him? Even if he did not explicitly teach an idea, the character’s moral character should imitate—as much as humanly possible—the Christ whom Scripture describes. This includes depicting him as fully God and fully man, along with his perfect virtue.
These questions help us avoid being carried away by the emotions of fictional dialogue, and remember to discern the truth of any claims a fictional Jesus makes.
Fiction touches our emotions in unique ways. That’s why we must be even more careful when reading fiction about Christ than reading nonfiction about him. With fiction, it’s much easier for us to be drawn away by false narratives. But that doesn’t mean we must avoid fiction about Jesus if the depiction is biblically faithful.
Let’s apply these guidelines to The Chosen
By the standards I’ve drawn here, I would defend Jesus’ conversation with Little James as a faithful scene. Yes, it’s made-up. But this scene (1) does show truths the Scripture implies, specifically 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, and (2) is broadly consistent with Christ’s character.
(The gospels don’t show Christ choosing not to heal anyone, but today we see many times God chooses not to heal someone who asks him.)
You might not agree with my assessment for this scene. In that case, Christians can discuss and debate whether the show portraying Jesus reflects the true Jesus. That’s just how we might debate whether any of us acted like Jesus at a particular time.
In the hands of skilled storytellers, Christlike characters like Aslan or The Chosen’s adaptation of Jesus can help us see legitimate truths about Christ through the dialogue and action of fictional characters. Yet we must admit that for a deceiver or misinformed Christian, such characters can also readily become blasphemous.
Let’s act like the Bereans and search the Scriptures for truth claims made about Christ. That way we can better discern how to celebrate Jesus characters who point us to the true Christ, and avoid characters who obscure his true image.
- Note: I assume readers already accept biblical fiction in general. For anyone with concerns, try this Discerning Biblical Fiction series from E. Stephen Burnett. ↩
- NarniaWeb features a fantastic in-depth article with tons of primary quotes from Lewis’ letters documenting this: “Why C. S. Lewis said Narnia is Not Allegory At All.” ↩