As a parish pastor and now as a religious studies professor, I have often employed film versions of the gospels or portions of the gospels when teaching about the life of Christ, especially His Passion. For the most part, these have been word-for-word adaptations, such as the Visual Bible: Matthew, the Visual Bible: John, and the Jesus Film, based on Luke. The Passion of the Christ and The Nativity Story would be notable exceptions, with some added dialogue and scenes not directly from Scripture. Likewise, in its disclaimer at the beginning of the first episode, The Chosen writers acknowledge that it is "based on the true stories of gospels of Jesus Christ." While some characters, locations, and events are combined, the purpose of "any artistic imagination" is "designed to support the text and interpretation of the Scriptures." Rather than claiming authority for itself, "Viewers are encouraged to read the Gospels." (Season 1, Ep. 1)
The Authority Principle
While The Chosen is not a word-for-word presentation of Scripture, it points us to the Scripture, and in its use, displays a high view of Scripture. Often a verse from the Old Testament serves as a theme for an episode, such as season 1, episode 1, centered around Isaiah 43, "I have called you by name; You are mine." Throughout the series, several characters are reading Scripture aloud, learning to read Scripture, and writing Scripture. Several episodes feature Jesus and His disciples and others praying the psalms. Jesus pronounces the Aaronic benediction on His disciples.
The Chosen portrays the reliability of the Gospels as eyewitness accounts of the life of Christ. Matthew is in the background of several scenes, taking detailed notes. He says of his account, "Mine will be precise." In preparation for the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has Matthew take notes as He develops and organizes His sermon. Likewise, John is writing down what he observes as Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda. In another scene John is talking to disciples about the first time they met Jesus. The gospel writer Luke is seen interviewing witnesses of Jesus' life and receiving from Mary Magdalene an account from Mary the mother of Jesus of Jesus' birth, including her song The Magnificat. These scenes depicting eyewitness accounts and the evangelists writing down Jesus' words goes against commonly held views of an oral stage of development for the gospel accounts or that there was some oral tradition, such as the so-called "Q," upon which Luke and Matthew based the teachings of Jesus recorded in their Gospels.
The Chosen gives us visual examples of the hermeneutical principal of the unity of Scripture, that the New Testament is veiled in the Old and the Old revealed in the New. There are examples of rectilinear prophecy, such as John the Baptist quoting Isaiah 40, which finds fulfillment in his preparatory ministry for the coming Messiah, and Isaiah 9 the promised birth of Immanuel, "God with us." There are also typological connections made with Old Testament events that foreshadow Jesus' ministry. The episode where Jesus and His disciples are confronted as Sabbath breakers for gleaning heads of wheat on the Sabbath, begins with King David and his men eating the showbread from the temple. Jesus refers to this event in His discussion with the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath in the Gospels. The episode featuring the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar is introduced with a scene from Genesis involving Jacob's well.
The basic problem of the human condition
Several times throughout the series, it is made clear that that Jesus came to save us from sin and its effects. Jesus comes preaching the message, "All must repent or perish." As Zach Cole, a writer for 1517 put it in a summary of the themes of The Chosen, "Jesus did not come because we had our act together. He came because we couldn't get our act together." Mary Magdalene's character puts it this way, in words not found in Scripture, "I don't think He's waiting for us to be holy. I think He's here because we can't be holy without Him." Peter acknowledges his sinfulness at the miraculous catch of fish, "Depart from me! I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8).
One of the effects of sin is that it separates us from God and from each other. We see that as Matthew is separated from his parents by his decision to become a tax collector. In another scene, a tax collector tells Jesus, "I don't get invited to dinner parties." Jesus replies, "That will be no problem. Tonight, you're the host."
Even after they are brought to faith, the characters in The Chosen continue to struggle with their problem of sin. Believers are saints and sinners at the same time. Mary Magdalene and Peter especially have scenes in which they struggle with sin and temptation, and fall back into old habits. When they stumble and fall, Jesus does not leave them. It is especially comforting to see Jesus tell Mary, "I forgive you."
Like the Gospel of Mark, The Chosen jumps into the story at the start of Jesus' ministry and the ministry of John the Baptist to prepare for His coming. In the Nicodemus episode John 3:16 quoted literally, "God loves the world in this way…," then the familiar "He gave His one and only Son." Several times it is shown that the reason Jesus has come is "to take away the sin of the world" (cf. John 1:29). Jesus says to the woman at the well, "I'm not here to condemn you." Rather, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34). Jesus has come to save those who cannot save themselves, which is all of us by nature. Preaching on the text from Isaiah 61 at His hometown synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus declares, "I'm not here for vengeance. I am here for salvation," to "release from spiritual debt." In words that paraphrase verses in the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as saying "I'm here to preach the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven." As result, others observe of Him, "He's been changing many hearts."
Jesus: True God and True Man
Who is Jesus, according to The Chosen? Jesus is fully God and fully man. There are flashback scenes to the twelve-year old Jesus in the temple and to Jesus' birth that point out the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The twelve-year old Jesus knows He is God's Son and says, "I was supposed to be with My Father. Did you not know I must be in My Father's house?" Jesus' divine nature is on full display as He displays His omniscience, knowing Nathaniel when seeing him under the fig tree and calling him "a true Israelite" upon meeting him. Jesus performs miraculous signs, turns water into wine, supplies a miraculous catch of fish, and multiplies the loaves and fish to feed five thousand families. Jesus displays His divine power by casting out demons, healing diseases, and raising Jairus' daughter from the dead.
Arguably, Jesus' human nature has never been portrayed in such depth on screen as it is in The Chosen. Jesus takes time away to rest and pray. After a long day of healing, His breathing is slow and painful and He says, "I'm so tired." Before He goes to bed, He says bedtime prayers. He also says to Mary his mother that He misses Joseph, who raised him as a father. Jesus shares laughter and tears with His disciples.
Often we hear it asserted that Jesus did not claim to be God or that the divinity of Christ was something that was later attributed to Him or decided at a church council centuries after Jesus' life and ministry. The Chosen has many scenes in which Jesus gives to Himself the supernatural title "The Son of Man" from the book of the prophet Daniel. Jesus claims for Himself the divine authority to forgive sin. He claims to the be the "Lord of the Sabbath." When the woman uses the expression "until the Messiah comes," Jesus says, "I am He." One assertion Jesus makes on The Chosen as He preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth is, "I am the Law of Moses." This is not found in the Bible or the Gospels but in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 15:9, Jesus says, "I am the law." This statement is similar to ones Jesus makes about the Scriptures testifying of Him (John 5:49) and John chapter 1, that Jesus is "the Word made flesh" (John 1). However, "I am the Law" is not a statement we can attribute to Jesus according to Scripture.
Jesus' followers also make clear declarations of Jesus' divinity and Messiahship in The Chosen. John the Baptizer calls Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Already in episode 3, Andrew tells his brother Simon, "It's happened. I saw Him! The Lamb of God! This is the Messiah." The woman at the well says of Jesus, "He is the Christ." Nathaniel says to Jesus, "You are the Son of God, the King of Israel." When Andrew visits John the Baptizer in prison, John explains to Him, "You've got a new Rabbi. The Rabbi." When Judas Iscariot leaves home to follow Jesus, he says to his sister, "I think He's the Messiah." Other scenes portray characters with misunderstandings about the role of the Messiah. Some think Jesus might be the Messiah but wonder why He isn't trying to overthrow the Romans and set the Jews free.
Chosen by Jesus
The title The Chosen points to another of the series' main theological themes: that God chooses us, not the other way around. The episodes are all told from the point of view of those whom Jesus has chosen to be His disciples. Those who are judged and condemned by others, cut off from the worshipping community or from their family because of sin or its effects, are called to follow Jesus. Jesus gives them release from their sin and guilt, forgiveness, and healing. His message is for all, not just for religious "insiders." As the episode "Jesus Loves the Little Children" teaches, adults need faith like that of children, and faith comes first, then understanding.
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