Last week I posted an article on The Chosen in which I wrote,
I was tempted to supplement these (brief) comments with some specific examples of where The Chosen strays from the Biblical text and puts words in Jesus’ mouth which are either non-biblical or even un-biblical. But therein lies the issue itself: the fact that I’d even need to to that. Should not God’s people know the Bible well enough that they could spot these examples themselves?
In response, I had a couple of people email me to ask, “Couldn’t you give just one example?” And I do see their point. So, what follows are some comments about one particular moment from season 1, episode 8. You can watch the brief scene at this link if you’d like to.
The background to this scene comes from episode 5, where Simon Peter is shown telling his wife about his first encounter with Jesus, and how he had been called to become a disciple. His wife is emotional as she responds, “This is the man I married… of course He chose you… someone finally sees in you what I’ve always seen. You’re more than a fisherman.”
Three episodes later, Jesus meets Peter’s wife and says, “You saw it first, you know.” She replies, “What do you mean?” And he says, “What I see in Simon. You were the first person to notice, when no one else did. That connects us.”
Most careful readers of Scripture don’t find it too difficult to identify quite a progression in Simon Peter. In the four gospels, he’s portrayed as impetuous and impatient. But then we read his sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2, see him in action throughout the next several chapters in Acts, and then finally read the two letters he authored, we we witness a man who became a powerful, mature, and stable leader.
His growth certainly didn’t progress in a straight line. He was at his worst the night Jesus was betrayed: refusing foot washing, loudly proclaiming his faithfulness to Jesus unto death, and then denying Him, publicly, three times.
This makes his actions in Acts 2, a mere seven weeks later, all the more surprising. Which is why Christians have traditionally attributed this change to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost and made him someone whom he had not been before. This is a wonderful theme we see many times in Scripture, and which is described in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”1 Corinthians 1:26–31.
God does not choose us because of how great or gifted we are; more often, He chooses us because of how weak we are in order that He might receive all of the glory when He uses us.
What Gets Missed in The Chosen
The Chosen‘s treatment of Simon Peter doesn’t just get this wrong, it turns it completely on its head. Jesus calls Simon because he “sees” something in him. Simon had potential; he was already destined for greatness; he already was “more than a fisherman.” All it took was someone to see what was there all along.
As a result, Jesus is not pictured as the sovereign one who choses “even things that are not.” Rather, he’s reduced to the level of a talent scout who simply had the eyes to see Simon’s inherent greatness. Except that he’s actually a step behind Simon’s wife, who saw it first. (Like, before Jesus?) And this “connects” them? That’s a wonderful sounding 21st century catchphrase (just like “I see you” in the same scene), but are these fitting words in the mouth of the Son of God, especially given the subject matter? Is this remotely the kind of thing Jesus ever says to anybody at any place in the Bible?
Then there’s this whole idea of “seeing something” in someone, of just “knowing” that they are “more than a fisherman.” This fits with many of our modern assumptions about personhood and ambition and the “true self” we’ve been told is hidden inside each of us. We’ve been raised on movies and talent shows and fairy tales which celebrate the ones who break out of their ho-hum existence to embrace their true destiny which had been buried deep inside them all along.
The problem? This is not what the Bible teaches, and it’s certainly not at all how people in the 1st century thought. Simon Peter was a fisherman in all likelihood because his father was a fisherman and his sons were going to be fishermen and there’s very, very little chance that he—or anyone else around him—ever had a whiff of ambition for anything else. That’s how we think, but historians can point out how these ideas were developed and came into our Western cultural awareness over the last few hundred years. Before then, that’s simply not how people thought.
And so this scene in The Chosen exemplifies what I’d suggest are the two major errors of the series. First, Jesus’ divinity is minimized for the sake of his relatability. He’s made to say or do things (like “that connects us”) which make him feel compelling to us as a man, but are simply not an accurate portrayal of who He is as the Son of God. Second, the characters—including “Jesus”—speak and act in a way that fits with our 21st century Western assumptions, but which are totally out of sync with the actual culture and worldview in which the Gospels first took place.
Why Does This Matter?
Maybe this second point doesn’t feel important to you. Why not “modernize” the story to help us connect with it better? My answer begins with the fact that, as a pastor, I have a huge burden to help my church understand the Bible accurately. I see, up close and personal, all of the damage that comes into people’s lives when they don’t understand God’s word properly. I’ve also seen, up close and personal, all of the growth and richness that come into people’s lives when they do begin to receive the Lord’s word with understanding.
An important step to properly understand the Bible is to recognize the cultural differences between us and the original audience. God’s word was written for us, but not to us. It was written to people in a very different cultural setting than us. And, in a great many cases, we need to understand those cultural differences in order to really get what the Bible is saying to us, today.
This is why I’m such a big fan of good study Bibles. And careful preaching. And anything that helps God’s people better grasp He was really saying to His people back then, so that we can understand what He’s really saying to us today.
And this is why I’m not a fan of anything which reinforces our tendency to misread the Bible, which I think The Chosen does. By minimizing the cultural differences between us and its first recipients, and portraying the characters in very modern, Western ways, it reinforces our tendency to misread the Bible in very modern, Western ways. It might feel great in the short term, but in the long term it sets us back from really understanding what God has to say to us in His word.
So, let’s wrap up with the example of Peter. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Jesus chose Peter because He “saw” something in Him. Instead, Jesus chose Peter and then made him into who he became. And you? Maybe you don’t feel like there’s anything special in you. Maybe nobody has ever looked at you and said “I’ve always known you were more than a (fill in the blank).” And guess what? That’s ok. God loves to work with those who know that they are nothing. Follow Jesus, and let Him make you into who He wants to make you. Often, this will involve dying to your idea of your “true self,” but the rewards are so, so worth it (Matthew 16:24-25).