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It Is Wrong or Foolish To Portray Jesus on TV? John Piper Weighs In

the life of jesus
Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) in Episode 5 of "The Chosen." The Chosen press photos (press.thechosen.tv), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Should Christians avoid dramatizations of the life of Jesus? Do fictional depictions of Jesus’ life violate the Bible’s commands? Pastor and theologian John Piper recently addressed these questions, which he said were personal for him.

On Monday’s episode of “Ask Pastor John,” Piper explained that when he was pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, during Advent he would create and perform poems that dramatized a biblical account. He would write “a story built around a biblical character or biblical situation in which I invented persons, dialogue, and circumstances that were not in the Bible but were intended to clarify and confirm and intensify realities that are in the Bible, that the Bible itself teaches.”

“The question is,” said Piper, “was I doing something sinful? Was it wrong to create those poetic, imaginative expressions?”

The Life of Jesus: Should We Portray It in Film?

People have been depicting Jesus in art, as well as dramatizing his life, for thousands of years—and even the early church had concern that pictures of Jesus could be venerated so highly as to be a form of idolatry. 

The earliest signs of a liturgical dramatization of Jesus’ life date back to the 10th century. Later examples include the “mystery plays” of the 15th and 16th centuries and passion plays, which date back to the Middle Ages. Passion plays, which portray Jesus’ death and resurrection, are now a common feature in the Easter services of many modern churches. And of course, there have been a number of film adaptations of the life of Jesus, the most recent of which is the popular series, “The Chosen.” 

There are likely plenty of people who are not concerned about whether they should watch “The Chosen” or similar productions. Yet Piper says, “Our inbox is full of emails asking whether or not it’s a good idea to dramatize Christ’s life for television.” One church leader wanted to know if these dramatizations break the second of the 10 Commandments, which says

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

One “Ask Pastor John” listener said she believes that dramatizations of the life of Jesus go against commands in Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18, which say not to add to God’s words.