In 2017, an historical drama series entitled The Chosen was released. It purports itself to follow the life and ministry of Jesus and, at present, there are plans for 7 seasons to complete the work. There have been multiple media outlets, religious leaders, and well-known personalities who have sung the proverbial praises of the series. While it remains popular, especially among Christians, there have been questions about the series, and the creators, from day one. Dallas Jenkins, son of popular Christian writer Jerry Jenkins, is the creator of the series and serves in a team of three, alongside Tyler Thompson and Ryan Swanson, as the main writers. The series is distributed by Angel Studios, a company founded by two members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As noted, though some religious laypeople and leaders have praised the series, others have offered critique of the show for a number of reasons. The purpose of this article is to offer a careful biblical and theological critique of “The Chosen” and caution evangelical Christians against the series.
The first area for discussion involves the use of human created imagery in depicting Jesus Christ. Admittedly, this is a controversial topic and splits well-meaning Christians as to whether or not any member of the Trinity should be depicted, especially the Son. However, this is an important discussion and one that must be driven by the biblical text rather than by personal or cultural desires. The initial biblical text which comes to mind is Exodus 20:4–6/Deuteronomy 5:8, 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.
This text does not explicitly prohibit the depiction of any member of the Trinity (hence the disagreement), but it does explicitly prohibit the creation of a manmade image and/or the worship of that idol. There does seem, though, to be an understood twofold prohibition included within the commandment. First, no images of a member of the Trinity should be created. Second, the worship of any idol is forbidden. Commenting on Exodus 20:4, Cole notes,
This raises the question as to why such image-representation of the true God (even by human form) was forbidden. Perhaps the reason is that no likeness could possibly be adequate, and that each type of image would imprint its own misunderstandings. For instance, the young bull was a symbol of strength, but also of virility and sexual powers: such an association would be blasphemous to the Hebrew. The nations who pictured their gods in human forms imputed all too readily their own human weaknesses to the divine prototypes.1R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), 163–64.
The notion of attributing human weaknesses to an image of any member of the Trinity will resurface.
Later in the Exodus storyline, in chapter 32, the people, led by Aaron while waiting on Moses to return from Mt. Sinai, form for themselves a golden calf and claim that idol is the god who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Exodus 32:9–10 records God’s response to this idolatrous creation:
The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
Without need for any significant commentary, God is obviously incensed that His chosen people have created for themselves an image (the golden calf) of the covenant God of Israel and have made the claim a created image is the one responsible for delivering them from Egypt.
The same line of thinking (the folly of idolatry) is found in Isaiah 44:9–20. The prophet Isaiah records the words of the Lord in 44:20: “[The one who forms the image] feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” Motyer comments,
In verses 9–20, the message of 6–8, that there is one incomparable God, is justified by a searching examination of idolatry. Verse 9 sets out a basic proposition: that idolatry makes no sense (9a), brings no profit (9b) and can be commended only on the basis of blind ignorance (9cd). With this latter point verses 18–20 form an inclusio: idolaters are ignorant and blind (18); idolatry is logically indefensible (19); but at a deeper level this dead, meaningless, profitless thing grips the idolater in a hold he cannot break (20).2Alec Motyer, Isaiah (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), Logos Bible Software.
Idolatry, the making of an image of any member of the Trinity or the worship of any manmade image at all, is, as Motyer writes, blind ignorance.
Both Exodus 20 and Isaiah 44 have direct bearing on the manmade imaging of any member of the Trinity. Christian thinkers throughout the centuries have cautioned believers against the use of any image of a member of the Trinity, either for worship or for any other purpose. In his well-known work, Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes, concerning the Second Commandment,
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. The commandment thus deals not with the object of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues and pictures of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid in worshipping Him.3J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 44.
So Packer argues the second commandment applies specifically to the use of images in worship. It can be argued, however, that any representation of a member of the Trinity would come to the mind of the believer while at worship, therefore, no image of the Father, Son, or Spirit should be created by humanity.
In his work The Whole Counsel of God, Richard Gamble, commenting on the Second Commandment, writes,
There have been discussions over the years concerning the making or use of visible representations of God and even the legitimacy of the visual arts. In the second commandment, God has prohibited any visible image of him. Such an image misunderstands God’s majesty, as well as his spirituality.4Richard Gamble, The Whole Counsel of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 1:404.
Here, Gamble argues that any image of a member of the Trinity, for any purpose whatsoever, is forbidden by Exodus 20:4–6. So, whether it be for worship, entertainment, artistic expression, or any other purpose, God expressly forbids the creation of an image of the Father, Son, and/or Spirit.
Similarly, Beeke and Smalley, in Reformed Systematic Theology, argue,
God is not made of physical stuff that men can shape to their own purposes. Therefore, we should abandon idolatry, the making of a visible image of a divine being or the use of such images in our worship, which the second commandment forbids (Ex. 20:4–6).5Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1:609.
Here, Beeke and Smalley note the second commandment forbids both the making of an image of a member of the Trinity or the use of that image in worship. Hence, according to these authors, any image of the Father, Son, or Spirit, for any reason, is expressly forbidden by Exodus 20:4–6 and qualifies as idolatry.
Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck adds a fascinating perspective to this discussion. Preceding an extended historical analysis, he notes,
One finds many drawings on the walls of the catacombs in Rome and Naples, already from the second century, maybe even from the closing decades of the first century. Paintings were not tolerated in the church, however. The church fathers in those days rejected the same arguments coming from the pagans that Roman Catholics use today to defend the veneration of images. At that time pagans were also saying that they were worshiping not the images but those whom the images represented. However, church father Lactantius replied, “You fear them doubtless on this account, because you think that they are in heaven; for if they are gods, the case cannot be otherwise. Why, then, do you not raise your eyes to heaven, and, invoking their names, offer sacrifices in the open air? Why do you look to walls, and wood, and stone, rather than to the place where you believe them to be?” The Synod of Elvira in 306 specified in canon 36: “It has seemed good that images should not be in churches so that what is venerated and worshiped not be painted on the walls.” . . . [W]e see from the catacombs that the paintings and drawings in the early days of the church were all symbolic in an allegorical or typological sense. Thus, early on, people had used the sign of the cross and the symbol of a fish.6Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021), 2: 155–56.
Later in his argument, discussing the reason for images of the Trinity in Catholicism, Bavinck notes,
The Roman Catholic Church justifies this veneration of images in two ways. [First]: The veneration of images, relics, and so on, proceeds through these objects to the persons they represent and is therefore derivative; this was already established by the Councils of Nicaea II (787), Constantinople (842), and Trent. [Second]: Those images and other objects are a help, books for the laity. In the words of the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869–70): “We adore the sacred image of our Lord Jesus Christ in like honor with the book of the Holy Gospel. For as through the syllables carried in it, we all attain salvation, so through the imaginal energies of the colors both all the wise and the unwise from that which is manifest enjoy usefulness; for the things which are the sermon in syllables, those things also the writing which is in colors teaches and commands.”7Ibid., 2:161.
In a straightforward manner, Bavinck concludes,
On a par with this worship of images is the creating of mental images of God according to one’s own inclination. Rather than being according to God’s Word, these ideals and idols of God are formed according to a subject’s own ideas and according to the likeness of creatures, formed as the objects of our worship. This constitutes serving God in a manner other than he wills, a manner other than in Christ. . . . Such images, including mental images, representations, imaginations, fantasies of God, and divine matters, are prohibited!8Ibid., 164.
Finally, with reference to images of Jesus, Bavinck concludes,
Another question altogether is this matter in relation to Christ. According to Hans Martersen, “Protestant seriousness will never be able to reconcile itself to a theatrical representation of our Lord in our public worship, and least of all to its being offered to a modern audience by way of artistic enjoyment. In the first place, the Saviour of the world is a subject incommensurable with art of any kind, one utterly transcending the power and resources of art.” Portraying Christ on stage, as is done, for example, in the Passion play in Oberammergau, is absolutely impermissible. No one can express or portray him, even approximately, and by an artificial “artistic illusion” elicit from us an impression of Christ’s “perfect holiness.”9Ibid., 166. Interestingly, Bavinck allows for drawings and sculptures of Jesus because they do not attempt to depict Christ’s fullness; only one small part of his life/ministry at any given finite … Continue reading
Thus, for Bavinck, no representation of any member of the Trinity is allowed because that image breaks the prohibition given in the Second Commandment, and no representation can possibly give humanity a full picture of any of the divine Persons.
French protestant reformer John Calvin goes further still. In his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he writes,
We are forbidden every pictorial representation of God. But as Scripture speaks in the manner of the common folk, where it would distinguish the true God from the false it particularly contrasts him with idols. It does this, not to approve what is subtly and elegantly taught by the philosophers, but the better to expose the world’s folly, nay, madness, in searching for God when all the while each one clings to his own speculations. Therefore, that exclusive definition, encountered everywhere, annihilates all the divinity that men fashion for themselves out of their own opinion: for God himself is the sole and proper witness of himself.10John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1:99–100.
He goes on to argue, “. . . every statue man erects, or every image he paints to represent God, simply displeases God as something dishonorable to his majesty.”11Ibid., 101. Likewise, he notes,
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.12Ibid., 109.
Calvin concludes, “For just as soon as a visible form has been fashioned for God, his power is also bound to it. Men are so stupid that they fasten God wherever they fashion him; and hence they cannot but adore.”13Ibid. When discussing the limitations of art, Calvin argues, “We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it [Ex. 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory.”14Ibid., 112. He concludes, “Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculpted or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations.”15Ibid.
Admittedly, Calvin’s arguments are based on representations of God the Father. However, lest we separate the Father and the Son in ways unwarranted by Scripture, Calvin’s argument holds true for the Son as well. Similarly, readers may take Calvin’s note that sculptures and paintings may be created of those things which may be seen with the eyes and the Son, after the incarnation, was fully human and therefore able to be seen with the eyes, thus, likenesses of the Son are fully permissible under Exodus 20:4. However, since Christ has not been seen with earthly human eyes since the ascension, Calvin’s argument could be extended to argue against any likeness whatsoever being created by humanity of any member of the Trinity.
Yet another strongly worded evangelical Protestant position against the creation of images of any member of the Trinity is found in the Westminster Larger Catechism, written in 1647. Question 109 asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?” The catechism answers as follows: “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; 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 or image or likeness of any creature whatsoever.” Here, one of the most respected and widely used catechisms in Protestant Christianity since the mid-17th century notes, in no uncertain terms, no member of the Trinity may be represented by any physical or mental image.
Popular commentator Matthew Henry argues in similar fashion. Writing on the 2nd Commandment, he notes,
The prohibition: we are here forbidden to worship even the true God by images. The Jews (at least after the captivity) thought themselves forbidden by this commandment to make any image or picture whatsoever. Hence the very images which the Roman armies had in their ensigns are called an abomination to them (Matt. 24:15), especially when they were set up in the holy place. It is certain that it forbids making any image of God (for to whom can we liken him? Isa. 40:18, 25), or the image of any creature for a religious use. It is called the changing of the truth of God into a lie (Rom 1:25), for an image is a teacher of lies; it insinuates to us that God has a body, whereas he is an infinite spirit, Hab 2:18. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. They must not make such images or pictures as the heathen worshipped, lest they also should be tempted to worship them. Those who would be kept from sin must keep themselves from the occasions of it.16Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:283.
As previous commentators referenced have argued, Matthew Henry argues similarly: no image of any member of the Trinity is allowed for any purpose. Likewise, as Henry states, because humans are sinful by nature, in order to keep ourselves free from sin as much as possible, we must keep ourselves free from the occasion to sin. In light of our present discussion, this would preclude humanity’s depiction of any member of the Trinity for any purpose.
As can be seen, any creation of an image of any member of the Trinity for any purpose is extremely troubling and goes against 1) the teaching of Scripture and 2) what scholars across the centuries have believed concerning the creation of images for various purposes. Thus, on this first point, The Chosen is found to be lacking because it portrays, in visual form, a member of the Trinity. And it does so through created, human form. This is a clear violation of the 2nd Commandment as it substitutes a created human in place of the uncreated Christ. This reason alone disqualifies “The Chosen” as a Christian art form and moves it into the category of an unbiblical, idolatrous work.
 R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), 163-64.
 Alec Motyer, Isaiah (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), Logos Bible Software.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 44.
 Richard Gamble, The Whole Counsel of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 1:404.
 Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1:609.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021), 2: 155-56.
 Ibid., 2:161.
 Ibid., 164.
 Ibid., 166. Interestingly, Bavinck allows for drawings and sculptures of Jesus because they do not attempt to depict Christ’s fullness; only one small part of his life/ministry at any given finite point. However, he expressly says any living depiction of Christ is forbidden because that is an attempt to portray all of God in human form by a human and that, he argues, expressly breaks the prohibition in the first part of the Second Commandment.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1:99-100.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 112.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:283.
|1||R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), 163–64.|
|2||Alec Motyer, Isaiah (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), Logos Bible Software.|
|3||J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 44.|
|4||Richard Gamble, The Whole Counsel of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 1:404.|
|5||Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1:609.|
|6||Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021), 2: 155–56.|
|9||Ibid., 166. Interestingly, Bavinck allows for drawings and sculptures of Jesus because they do not attempt to depict Christ’s fullness; only one small part of his life/ministry at any given finite point. However, he expressly says any living depiction of Christ is forbidden because that is an attempt to portray all of God in human form by a human and that, he argues, expressly breaks the prohibition in the first part of the Second Commandment.|
|10||John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1:99–100.|
|16||Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:283.|