Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
scene from The Chosen series

The Keys to the Kingdom: A Gentle But Firm Correction to “The Chosen”

March 6, 2024


The Chosen has become a hit series. It “is the first multi-season television series about the life of Christ” and “the largest crowdfunded TV series of all time.”1 Produced by Angel Studios (together with Loaves & Fishes Productions and Out of Order Studios), it has released episodes and a Christmas special in theaters and not just online.

The Chosen has received a great deal of praise from noteworthy Catholics. Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem, who belongs to a solidly orthodox religious community, has written about how the positive reactions of his fellow Norbertine priests led him to watch the series, which he has enthusiastically supported (at least at the time of publication of his article in May, 2021).2 The faithful Catholic organization The Augustine Institute even acquired rights to broadcast the first season, and they have developed a series on the Formed app called “Catholic Commentary on The Chosen.” Word on Fire itself has published multiple positive articles about The Chosen, and Bishop Barron himself has interviewed Jonathan Roumie, a fellow Catholic, who plays the role of Jesus in the series.

Other Catholics have been more critical. Some writers have noted certain points of conflict between the series and Catholic theology. For instance, Fr. Brian Graebe, who wrote his doctoral dissertation about Jesus’ birth, has challenged the series’ portrayal of Mary experiencing labor pains, which is not unique to The Chosen in bible-based dramas.3 Others are skeptical and opposed to the show because the show’s creator, Dallas Jenkins, is a Protestant. Their fear is that Catholics watching the series may unwittingly imbibe Protestant notions that are incompatible with the Catholic faith.

One can be a fan without thinking every decision is impeccable.

I do not wish to dismiss all such concerns outright, since I have no doubt that they come from a place of genuine concern. Furthermore, the series is still in development, so we do not yet have a full picture of its overall portrayal of the Gospel. As a Catholic theologian who has watched every episode released thus far, there are certain aspects that I could nitpick about here and there. It is a dramatic presentation, after all, and it takes artistic license that I do not always agree with. 

Nevertheless, I have a generally positive view of the series. I think it does more good than harm. Of course, one needs to recognize it for what it is: a drama series and not a doctrinal exposition of the Gospels. One ought not to look to The Chosen for intricate theology or sufficient catechesis. I have, though, found certain scenes to be conducive to meditative prayer.

I felt the need to preface the main thrust of this article with the above caveats. I do not want people to get the false impression that I am absolutely against The Chosen. Quite the contrary, I have thoroughly enjoyed the series, and I look forward to future seasons. I am not among the naysayers who think it is absolutely spiritually dangerous for every individual to watch. In fact, I think for many people, it could be helpful, the way that The Passion of the Christ (which also took artistic licenses) has helped some people pray the Rosary better, because they have a better image of the brutality that our dear Lord suffered. Certainly, among the vast array of options for movies and shows on offer, The Chosen is one of the best choices one could make for wholesome viewing.

Yet I think it is still fair to offer pushback when the series gets things wrong. One can be a fan without thinking every decision is impeccable. In fact, it is largely because I am a fan of the series that I lament when certain aspects of the show misrepresent the Gospel, which leads me—finally—to the main point of this article: The Chosen’s portrayal of Matthew 16:19.

After accurately portraying Jesus giving Simon a new name, Peter (Rock), the rest of the scene gives a false impression. The false impression is made possible by the ambiguity of the English word “you,” which is the same in its singular and plural forms. After bestowing the name “Peter,” in The Chosen’s rendition, Jesus then turns to the whole crowd of disciples (and not even just to the Apostles) and, while moving his eyes around to address them all, he proclaims: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”4 This naturally leads the audience to assume that Jesus is using “you” in the plural. This assumption is supported in a subsequent scene in which the character of Matthew (whose Gospel contains the passage we are discussing) is speaking alone with Jesus around a fire. Matthew makes a comment about Jesus having given the keys to the community. (I cannot give a verbatim quote, because I saw the episode in the theater and do not have access to the script.)

This presentation of Matthew 16:19 is erroneous. The Gospel according to St. Matthew was written in Greek. Unlike English, the singular and plural forms of the second person dative case (“to/for you” and “to/for you [all]”) are different. The singular “you” is transliterated as “soi,” while the plural “you [all]” is transliterated as “humin.” They are very clearly differentiated in the original language. Matthew 16:19 uses the singular “you,” indicating that Jesus is giving the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, not to everyone present. The same is true in the following two clauses of the same verse: “and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The verb tenses for bind and loose are in the second person singular form. He is saying that whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever Peter looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Jesus is not speaking to the whole crowd of disciples in this pericope.

Undoubtedly, there are some Catholics who will argue that a single instance like this is enough to condemn the show wholesale. What could be worse than misrepresenting the Gospel? I concur that this is a very disappointing choice for the show’s creators to make. It is problematic, and I lament their decision. I therefore think it is completely justifiable to offer this pointed criticism and to encourage the show’s producers to be more careful, especially when the Gospel itself is quite clear.

I will still watch the show. I still think there is value in it. But this instance does lend credence to the need for caution. One needs to be informed about the Gospel to avoid coming to erroneous conclusions based on a dramatized representation. Individuals—especially parents—will ultimately need to decide whether they or their children will watch. There are various factors to consider, and I do not presume to be able to give a blanket recommendation that covers every particular circumstance. I merely wish to help viewers become informed about this specific matter. Perhaps it can be a starting point for discussion with one’s family and friends as well as for the purpose of evangelization. The fact that Jesus gave Simon the new name “Peter” and gave him the keys to the kingdom is an important part of Catholic theology, and it deserves defending against misrepresentations.

1 Jodi Stauffer and the St. Leo E-Team, “A Catholic Reflection Guide for The Chosen,” CatholicLink,
2 Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., “A Catholic priest Reviews The Chosen,” Catholic Answers (May 14, 2021).
3 Fr. Brian Graebe, “Does ‘The Chosen’ Get It Right About Our Lady,” National Catholic Register (March 25, 2022). He points out that Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Nativity Story (2006) likewise portray Mary as suffering labor pains.
I am quoting from the NRSV as found in The Word on Fire Bible, not from the show itself, which may or may not contain the exact same phrasing.