I have long been skeptical of “The Chosen.” At first, the idea of a show about the life of Jesus sounds like a great idea, and one as popular as The Chosen has the potential to do a lot of good. If it was Biblically sound, it would be able to bring the story of Christ to people who never understood it before. Unfortunately, a show of this nature cannot be based purely on scripture—in order to create multiple seasons worth of content, you have to add things to fill in the gaps. That realization was the first of many concerns I had about the show.
Though I hadn’t watched the show, I constantly heard people singing its praises, so I was optimistic. Eventually, I learned that the show was not being created by theologically sound Christians. The studio that produces it, Angel Studios, is founded by Mormons. There are also Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and others working as advisors. Johnathan Roumie, the actor portraying Jesus, is a Roman Catholic. These things do not instill confidence.
On top of these things, I heard about historical inaccuracies, I heard it was unfaithful to the Bible, and I heard various other discussions. Because of these things, I decided not to watch the show. As far as I was concerned, other people were free to enjoy it (provided they kept in mind that it isn’t scripture), but I didn’t personally think it was worth my time. I was very skeptical of the show, but overall I was fairly indifferent on the subject.
All of this has changed in the past month or two.
Before I start discussing the show, I will say that I still have not watched it in its entirety. I have seen all of episode one, and I have seen various scenes and trailers from the rest. I have seen enough to notice common patterns and problems. I will also be touching on the theology surrounding a project like this. Should we depict Jesus in visual form? What does a show like this mean for the sufficiency of scripture? How does it impact our view of Jesus?
You have the liberty to decide whether you will watch the show; it would not be sin to do so. But after thinking through these questions, I think it becomes clear that watching The Chosen is not a wise decision.
If you want to read more, I suggest reading Gabe Hughes’ review of season 1. This article runs through the first season, explaining what they did right and what they did wrong, as well as covering any doctrinal issues.
The Second Commandment
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.”Exodus 20:4-6
The creation of idols is a despicable practice to God (See Exodus 32:9-10). As creator of all things, He alone deserves glory and worship. Creating an image and worshiping it is absolutely sinful—that is obvious from this commandment. However, scholars from across Church history agreed that this prohibition against creating idols also includes creating images of all three members of the Trinity.
Question 109 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?” The first part of the answer says this:
“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself; the making any representation of God, of all, or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it…”(Emphasis Added)
In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer writes:
“In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship.”
In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin writes that “every statue man erects, or every image he paints to represent God, simply displeases God as something dishonorable to his majesty.”
Creating an image of God requires human imagination—an imagination which cannot possibly comprehend, nor depict, the glory and majesty of God. Even Jesus, who took on a visual form, completely transcends the power of art. Because any depiction of God requires human imagination, it shapes Him to our liking—the very definition of idolatry.
I used to think that, because Jesus took on a visible human form, it’s okay to create images of Him. However, Jesus has not been seen by anyone since He ascended to heaven, so it still requires that sinful human imagination.
You will notice that J.I. Packer specifies that we cannot use images for the purposes of worship. A common objection is that images are fine as long as we are not worshiping them. However, any image is bound to come to mind when worshiping God. The human mind wants to latch onto those images; they will influence your view of God. So even if there was no problem with creating images outside the purpose of worship, it would still be very unwise to do so. Calvin commented on this human tendency in the Institutes:
“Adoration promptly follows upon this sort of fancy: for when men thought they gazed upon God in images, they also worshiped him in them. Finally, all men, having fixed their minds and eyes upon them, began to grow more brutish and to be overwhelmed with admiration for them, as if something of divinity inhered there.”
On top of the problems with creating an image of Jesus, I would argue that portraying him as an actor—pretending to be Jesus—is bordering on blasphemy. We do not have the capacity to portray the sinless savior, and we should not attempt to do so.
Warping our Perceptions of Jesus
Let’s return to something I said in the last section: images of God will influence your view of Him. Unless you are very careful, your view of Jesus will start to look like Johnathan Roumie’s poor portrayal of Him.
When Jesus spoke, He spoke as one with authority. Crowds were astonished at what He had to say, as no one had ever spoken like He did (See Matthew 7:28-29). He rebuked the scribes and pharisees (Matthew 23), chased money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12), and boldly preached about sin (Matthew 5-7).
Roumie’s Jesus is soft-spoken and watered-down. He is a symptom of the culture that tries to make Jesus into your “best friend.” Jesus isn’t our best friend. He is our Lord; the Lamb of God who came to defeat sin, and He will judge the world in righteousness. We should have a reverent view of Him, and The Chosen doesn’t cultivate that view.
To demonstrate what I mean, let’s look at the scene from season 1, episode 7, in which Nicodemus visits Jesus. The Nicodemus of the Chosen is portrayed as a truth-seeker on some sort of journey to find out what Jesus is all about, while in Scripture, he is investigating as a member of the Sanhedrin. In their discussion in The Chosen, they sit down, Jesus listens to Nicodemus’ questions, and gently answers in an effort to guide Nicodemus to understanding.
In scripture, this is not at all how the conversation goes. Jesus ignores what Nicodemus says and tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus doesn’t sit down and listen to Nicodemus’ question, He steers the conversation and says something that confuses him. In John 3:10, we even see Jesus rebuking Nicodemus by saying, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” In the Chosen, when Nicodemus says he is trying to understand, Jesus smiles and says, “I know.” Quite a difference.
Later in the scene, Nicodemus asks Jesus if the kingdom of God is really coming (something he never asks in Scripture). How does Roumie’s Jesus respond? “What does your heart tell you?”
When in scripture are we ever told to consider what our hearts tell us? Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Proverbs 3:5 tells us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” When Jesus is speaking to people, He doesn’t tell them to consider what their hearts tell them, He tells them to consider what scripture says. This is a terrible portrayal of Jesus, but unfortunately it isn’t the worst line in the scene.
Near the end, Nicodemus kneels before Jesus. As he does so, Roumie’s Jesus says, “You don’t need to do that.”
This line is blasphemy. Jesus never tells people not to kneel before Him. Angels do (See Revelation 22:8-9), but Jesus always accepts the worship. As Philippians 2:9-11 says:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This scene is a horrible re-writing of the account in scripture. It is completely unfaithful, and even blasphemous. Watching this scene is going to shape your view of Jesus in a very negative way. Jesus is not our buddy who tells us not to kneel before Him; He is Lord of Lords, and one day every knee will bow before Him.
By the end of the scene, Nicodemus is crying on Jesus’ shoulder. Once again, the writers are making this up. This twisting of scripture leads us into my next point.
(As I was editing this article, Gabe Hughes released another article diving deeper into this scene. It is a long one, but it is worth reading.)
The Sufficiency of Scripture
Everything we need to know about God has been provided for us in the 66 books of the Bible. God providentially worked throughout history to inspire its writing, preserve it, translate it, and put it into our hands. If something isn’t in scripture, it’s because God decided it wasn’t necessary.
The creators of The Chosen have decided, however, that the Bible isn’t enough. They have taken the Bible, changed it, and attempted to fill in the gaps with 7 seasons of a TV show. Once again, I would argue that this is blasphemous.
Question 2 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?” states, “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him” (Emphasis added).
At the end of the Revelation, John issues the following warning to those who attempt to add to scripture:
“I bear witness to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”Revelation 22:18–19
The creators of the show aren’t claiming that their rendition is actually what happened, nor are they claiming that it’s on par with scripture. Right before the first episode starts, they add a disclaimer encouraging viewers to read the Gospels. However, they also say in that very disclaimer that their show is intended to “support the truth and intention of Scriptures.”
I believe I have already shown that the writers are willing to stray far from scripture, but even if every scene was taken straight from the Bible, why does the Bible need to be supported with a show? What gives them the right to create something new in order to “support the truth and intention of Scriptures?”
The word of God is the only rule to direct us. We do not need more. With every episode, the creators of the show are placing words into the mouth of Jesus—and I will say this once more: those words originated from human minds, not from the mind of God. That is blasphemy.
In an article for G3 on this very subject, Travis Kerns had this to say:
“We know, from these passages in John’s Gospel, that Jesus did indeed do and say things not recorded in the New Testament. That does not, however, give humanity the artistic license to create the hypothetical actions or statements of Jesus and portray those human-created actions or statements as biblically faithful. As we have seen, adding to or taking away from Scripture is expressly forbidden, so in creating the “what if” actions or statements of Jesus and arguing those are faithful to the text is the opposite of biblical fidelity. It is, in fact, expressly unbiblical, blasphemous, and heretical.”
A few months ago, a friend asked me if he should watch The Chosen. Because this was before I looked too far into it, I told him that if he wanted to watch it, there is no problem with doing so, as long as he was very aware that it has unbiblical influences and deviates from scripture. Obviously my opinion has changed since then.
It is not sinful to watch The Chosen; it may be unwise, but I would not call it sin. That being said, if someone asked me now if they should watch The Chosen, I would say no. On their website, the show claims that it is “telling the story of Jesus,” but that was already done 2000 years ago by people who saw Jesus in the flesh. Why would we not look to those accounts instead of a modern retelling by people who fail to understand what the original stories are truly about?
An objection I hear to criticism of The Chosen is that it is “better than secular television.” But is that really true? I will give credit to the show where it is due: some of the scenes are pretty good (though those scenes are still subject to the second commandment). The popularity of the show has undoubtedly gotten some people to think about Jesus, and it may have opened doors for conversation; those are very good things.
However, God uses bad things for good all the time. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, which eventually led to Joseph being able to save his brothers. Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). But just because God can use something for good doesn’t mean the thing He is using is good. Are a few good scenes enough to justify the heresy, the twisting of people’s perceptions of Jesus, the breaking of the second commandment, and all the show’s other offenses? Is the show really better than secular television, or is it just committing different, more difficult to spot sins.
As for the possibility of starting conversations due to The Chosen, that is a good thing, but we do not need the show to do that. We are commanded to share the Gospel, so faithful Christians will find a way to start conversations with or without The Chosen.
There is a lot of passion for the show; its fans will fiercely defend it. When looking through the comments of one of the episodes, I saw someone excitedly claiming that it should be translated into every language and spread around the world. Why do we not have this level of passion for scripture? How much could we change the culture if we fought to defend scripture the way many will fight to defend The Chosen? How many souls could be reached if we had the same level of passion for translating and sending Bibles throughout the world as many have for translating The Chosen? How much would the local Church thrive if we had such passion for strong, faithful preaching? We must not forget that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God—that should make us excited.
I think a large part of the passion for The Chosen stems from a longing to see something Biblical in our deprived culture. Christians are constantly made out to be the enemy, and everything the world produces is very much antithetical to the gospel. Because of this, the popularity of a show like The Chosen is exciting, but we Christians should have more discernment. It’s not bad to be excited about something, but we should not latch onto the first new thing that claims to “tell the story of Jesus.”
So, believers, let us seek to think more critically on matters such as these. Let us funnel our passion into faithful preaching and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Instead of watching The Chosen, I encourage you to spend your time reading through the Gospels. They are the eye-witness accounts of the work of Christ, divinely inspired by God, and they will instill a proper understanding of our savior.