John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible and considered by many to be a one-verse summary of the gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is understood to have been said by Jesus to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus by night.
When director Dallas Jenkins wrote and filmed this scene for his show The Chosen, a retelling of the gospel accounts of Jesus and his disciples, Jenkins said he understood the seriousness of what they were doing: “We are indeed shooting the gospel,” he said. “This is the scene and the moment that changed the world.”
Jenkins continued: “This conversation between these two men in the cover of night literally has impacted millions and millions of people over the course of two thousand years. And there’s a great weight and responsibility when it comes to shooting this scene, almost more than any other scene we shoot, and so we really wanted to get it right—not only to make it live up to its promise and make it look and sound and feel as good as this scene deserves, but to not forget we are capturing the essence of the gospel.”
Did Jenkins, the actors, and the other creators of The Chosen succeed? Did they accurately depict this exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus as recorded in John 3? If you’ve read my review of season 1 of The Chosen, then you already know my answer—I think this scene is a great example of all of the problems with the show overall.
In order to test the accuracy, let’s go back to the source material and do a brief exposition of John 3:1-18 (the exchange in the show references only as far as midway through verse 18), then we’ll go to the scene in The Chosen and examine the dialogue line by line. This is about as long as most sermons I’ve preached, so strap in, or mark this review and finish it later.
PART ONE: An Exposition of John 3:1-18
John chapter 3 begins like this: “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
But before getting to Jesus’ response, let’s establish a little more context. Keep in mind that chapter and verse numbers are not divinely inspired. John did not write his gospel divided up by chapters and verses. Chapters were numbered by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1227. The Wycliffe Bible was the first English Bible to use this chapter pattern; then the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, was the first to include verse markers.
Pretend for a moment the chapter markers aren’t there. Right before Nicodemus comes to meet Jesus, John records, “Now when He,” Jesus, “was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, when they saw His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He had no need that anyone bear witness concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
So even though there were people who said they believed, they were not genuine. Jesus “was not entrusting Himself to them for He knew all men.” He knew their fickleness. He was not going to give credit to their belief just because they loved the miracles. That’s important to underscore the tone of the conversation that follows.
Nicodemus was not coming to Jesus in good faith. In fact, that John records he “came to Jesus by night” is also significant. John regularly used light and darkness to denote the contrast between good and evil (consider John 1:5 and 3:19-21). Darkness may represent ignorance, guilt, misery, or straight-down sin. Nicodemus, a teacher and member of the ruling class, is in spiritual darkness, a condition of unbelief. His intentions are not well-meaning.
The conversation in John 3 between Jesus and Nicodemus is divided into three parts, with a statement from Nicodemus followed by a response from Jesus. The first exchange is in verses 2-3, the second in verses 4-8, and the third in verses 9-15 (I’ll explain where John 3:16 sits in a moment). In these three exchanges, listen for the three proclamations where Jesus declares with the authority of God, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” This will be lengthy, but it will be for our good.
The First Exchange: “Unless one is born again…”
Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” acknowledging Jesus was a teacher, “we know that You have come from God as a teacher.” Who are “we”? Nicodemus came to Jesus not on his own accord or to satisfy some personal curiosity. He represented a council, and they sent their best. Verse 1 called him “a ruler of the Jews,” meaning he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and not every Pharisee was of the Sanhedrin.
So far in John’s gospel, the Pharisees have been mentioned only twice—here and in chapter 1. In both instances, they were feeling things out. In chapter 1, they sent messengers to ask questions of John the Baptist: Who are you? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? In chapter 3, they sent a teacher of Israel to inquire of this teacher who had cleansed the temple, spoke with authority, and performed signs and wonders, and many in Jerusalem were believing in Him.
Nicodemus said, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Now that’s certainly true, but did Nicodemus really believe this or was he just trying to butter Jesus up? We don’t know. But all indications are that Nicodemus did not believe.
Jesus did not congratulate nor thank Nicodemus for his observation. In fact, Jesus’ response sounded like He ignored Nicodemus’ comment altogether. He wasn’t there to talk about what Nicodemus wanted to talk about. Jesus was interested in only redemption and truth.
Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In starting His answer, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus took a decisive tone of authority and strong affirmation, denoting the importance of what He was about to say. “Truly, truly” is, in the original Greek, “Amen, amen,” a word that means to be in agreement with. In this case, Jesus was establishing that He was in agreement with God.
Remember, Nicodemus had just said, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” So how did Jesus respond to that? He spoke to Nicodemus with the authority of God, that one must be “born again” (which may also be rendered “born from above”) in order to see, or in verse 5 enter, God’s kingdom. As Jesus would go on to explain, one must receive a spiritual birth.
John had teased this concept at the beginning of his gospel when he wrote, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). This is not by man’s will but God’s will that one would be born from above. As 1 Peter 1:3 says to the church, God “has caused us to be born again.”
The Second Exchange: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit…”
Whatever Nicodemus’s game was, Jesus had just put him off of it. In verse 4, he replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he henter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Often, this question is conveyed as Nicodemus wanting more explanation. But does that response sound like Nicodemus said, “Tell me more”? Does it not sound like he was being condescending? Nicodemus thought the whole “born again” thing was absurd, so he gave an absurd response.
Verse 5 says, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” How was this different than the first statement Jesus made? Rather than saying “unless one is born again,” this time He said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit.” He helped Nicodemus understand the concept of being born again by giving a reference to something Nicodemus should have recognized. What does it mean to be born of water and the spirit?
In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Yahweh said the following to Israel through Ezekiel the prophet:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to do My judgments.”
Jesus’ reference to water and the spirit is a reference back to Ezekiel. This is what it means to be born again or born from above—to be born of water and the Spirit by the will of God, not by the will of man. (By the way, John referenced Ezekiel often in all five of his New Testament writings. There are at lest two dozen references to Ezekiel in the gospel of John, and perhaps more than that inferred.)
In verse 6, continuing His answer, Jesus said, “That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit.” So it wouldn’t matter if a man could crawl up into his mother and be “born again” in that way. He would still be the same man. No one can cause himself to be born again—only God can make that happen.
Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another.” Whatever one does in the flesh or in his carnal nature, the results are of the flesh. Man cannot bring about spiritual things. Only by the work of the Spirit can a man be made spiritual.
Still continuing His response, Jesus said in verses 7-8, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.”
That was a reference to Ezekiel 37, the next chapter in Ezekiel—the account of the valley of dry bones. Yahweh told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and they stood up and sinews and flesh came upon them, “but there was no breath in them” (v.8). So Yaweh said to prophesy to the breath, and the wind came and filled the bodies and they were brought to life. “So is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.”
The Third Exchange: “We speak of what we know.”
In verses 9-10, “Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?'” This was a rebuke. Jesus just made reference to Ezekiel 36 and 37, and yet Nicodemus still didn’t understand. Jesus called him “the teacher of Israel,” having used the definite article, which meant Nicodemus had perhaps the highest rank among the Pharisees. He should have understood how Ezekiel had already spoken of what Jesus told him.
In verses 11-12, Jesus made His third proclamation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness of what we have seen, and you do not accept our witness. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Jesus gave Nicodemus examples derived from human experience and nature (birth and wind), and Nicodemus didn’t understand. How could he understand if Jesus had spoken from heavenly experience? As we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14, the naturally minded man cannot understand spiritual things.
The “we” Jesus referred to was not only to Himself and His disciples but also John the Baptist and his disciples (coming up in John 3:22-36). When Jesus said, “We speak of what we know and bear witness of what we have seen,” was in contrast to the formal teaching of Nicodemus and the Pharisees—teaching which added to the Law commands that were not of God (see Mark 7:1-13). For Jesus to say “you do not accept our witness” is evidence that Nicodemus was not a believer.
This was another rebuke of Nicodemus an a reference to the testimony of the Law. Leviticus 5:1 says, “Now if a person sins after he hears a public oath to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.” Jesus, John the Baptist, and the disciples testified to what they knew and had seen (see also John 3:32). But that is not what Nicodemus and the Pharisees had done. So Nicodemus, as the teacher of Israel, was guilty for not believing and not teaching what he should have known and should have seen from the Scriptures.
In verse 13, Jesus said, “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man,” which was a reference to Himself. This was an answer to the question asked in Proverbs 30:4, “Who has ascended into heaven and descended?” Answer: the Son of Man. If there was anyone who could tell Nicodemus of heavenly things, it was Jesus. But Nicodemus could not understand this.
In verses 14 and 15, Jesus concluded, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” This of course was in reference to the story of the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:1-9.
God gave the Canaanites into the hands of the armies of Israel. He fed the people with manna from heaven. And still the people grumbled against Him. So Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people to bite them, and whoever was bit would die. The people repented and begged that God would spare them. So Yahweh told Moses to put a bronze serpent on a standard. Whoever was bit, if they looked at the bronze serpent, they lived.
Jesus told Nicodemus here that story was in reference to Himself, though He said so in the third person, because He did not entrust Himself to Nicodemus: “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” If you’re able to connect the dots, you know this was in reference to Jesus being lifted up on the cross. Nicodemus did not understand that, but you and I understand that, “so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
So here we have seen how over and over in this exchange, Jesus kept coming back to the Scriptures: He pointed to Ezekiel, He pointed to Leviticus, He pointed to Proverbs, He pointed to Numbers—the law, the wisdom books, and the prophets all referenced in this short conversation recorded in John 3. If there was anyone who should have known who Jesus was and what He came to do, it was Nicodemus, and he did not believe.
Now, that’s really where the conversation with Jesus and Nicodemus concludes, at the end of verse 15. If you have a red letter Bible, you might be saying, “Wait, but my Bible has John 3:16 in red. In fact, Jesus’ words continue to verse 21. So it’s Jesus who says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.'”
The gospel of John was originally written in Greek. The Greek language does not use the same punctuation we use, so we really don’t know where Jesus’ quote ends and John picks up with his commentary. Most if not all English translations attribute the words from verses 16-21 to Jesus, but Jesus likely did not say that part to Nicodemus. This is a minority opinion, but greater teachers than I—such as R.C. Sproul, Brooke Foss Westcott, and Marvin Vincent—have taught the same.
Let me make two points about this, and we’ll move on. First, this is a minor disagreement. If you want to say John 3:16 are Jesus’ words, I don’t believe you’re teaching anything incorrect. Second, it’s all God’s word anyway. As I’ve said many times before, all of the Bible is in red letters. It’s all the word of Christ. We can disagree on who exactly said John 3:16 and still come to the same understanding of its meaning and significance through the context.
Right after Jesus had just said, “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life,” we read these words: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Now, I’ve heard many preachers put an emphasis on the “so,” as in, “God SO loved the world with this great and immeasurable quantity of love.” And though that is true, in context, that is not what the “so” means. The “so” is not a measure of degree but a matter of comparison: just as God had shown mercy to Israel through the bronze serpent, so He has shown mercy to the whole world through His Son. “For God so loved the world.”
“He gave His only begotten Son,” the Son begotten from the Father, as said in John 1:14; the only begotten God as said in John 1:18. Begotten simply means that He is unique—the only one. The Father gave the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And “whoever believes,” by faith in person and work of Jesus Christ—His life, death, and resurrection—”shall not perish,” under the judgment of God we all deserve for our sin, but we will be forgiven and “have eternal life” with Him.
When Moses raised up the bronze serpent, that was only for Israel. The Jews believed in Jesus’ day that the Messiah was coming only for them. In John 3:16, John showed that the Savior was not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles: “the world.” In 1 John 2:2, he wrote of Jesus, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
Verse 17 says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that world might be saved through Him.” Christ’s first coming was not in judgment. He came to save, not slay. But His second coming will be in judgment, against all who did not believe.
As verse 18 goes on to say, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” And so we have considered an exposition of John 3:1-18.
PART TWO: Examining the Scene in The Chosen
If you were to read out loud John 3:1-18, it would take about two minutes. The scene as it appears in The Chosen is about 10 minutes. There are a lot of added lines. If you watch the scene by itself, say on YouTube, director Dallas Jenkins sets it up like this:
“Hey, it’s Dallas, I’m the creator of The Chosen, and the scene you are about to see is the scene—the most famous and impactful chapter of the Bible, John chapter three, the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Now, what you are about to see will not only be the gospel captured accurately, but you’ll also see the historical context, the cultural context, and the personal human context that we added that was set up by the previous six episodes. So enjoy the scene as it is, but if you want to get the full impact as to why this scene was so powerful, be sure to watch the entire season one of The Chosen. Check this out.”
There was some interesting slight of hand you may not have caught. Dallas said the gospel has been captured accurately, and then he says, “You’ll also see the historical context, the cultural context, and the personal human context that we added.” He doesn’t say they’re accurate; he says, “that we added.” What about the biblical context—is that not important to Jenkins? Indeed, even the historical, cultural, and personal human contexts are not accurate.
First of all, where did the scene in John 3 take place? It took place in Jerusalem. In The Chosen, it takes place in Galilee. Jesus and His disciples did not go to Galilee until John 4:3. Consider what else we know in setting up the scene: we know Jesus would not entrust Himself to the Jews; that Nicodemus was an unbeliever whose heart was in spiritual darkness; and that he was speaking not on his own behalf but as a member of a council.
Let’s see just how much of that is captured in episode 7 of The Chosen. The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus begins like this:
NICODEMUS: I don’t know where to start. I have so many questions.
JESUS: Shall we sit first?
NICODEMUS: Oh, yes. Of course. (They sit down.) The eastern slums. Many wandering preachers have succeeded in gathering crowds, but their rhetoric and fiery tone…
JESUS: I’ve heard a few of them over the years myself.
NICODEMUS: So you know the type. (Jesus nods.) But I have never heard anyone tell a paralytic to get up and walk, much less it actually happens.
JESUS: So what is your conclusion?
NICODEMUS: I believe you are not acting alone. No one can do these signs you do without having God in him—only someone who is come from God.
JESUS: And how is that belief going over in the synagogue? (They both laugh.) Which is why we are here at this hour. (Indicates to their surroundings.)
So far, we’ve had only eight lines of dialogue, just a little over a minute, and I hope you can already recognize that we’re observing a different conversation than what we read in John 3. The tone of the scene, the intentions of the characters, even the dialogue are completely off. I saw this scene on YouTube before I ever saw it in the show. And seconds into watching it, I was thinking, “Did they actually read the story in the Bible?” The biblical context has been totally ignored.
As I said in the beginning and in my review, I believe this scene captures the main problems with The Chosen overall. Take all of the complications with this scene and apply them to the whole show: different tones and settings; liberties taken with the characters and their intentions; changes made to the original dialogue to fit the story the writers are telling; and ignorance to the biblical context. How can you not admit there are fundamental differences between The Chosen and the Bible?
This is why biblical exposition is so important; and why I started with exposition rather than just playing the episode and making my critique. There is only one interpretation to a text. Sometimes we must do some work in order to clearly see the point. But it’s work Jenkins and the others have not done. I hope that becomes all the more evident to you as we continue on:
JESUS: What else?
NICODEMUS: What have you come here to show us?
JESUS: A kingdom.
NICODEMUS: That is what our rulers are worried about.
JESUS: No, not that kind.
NICODEMUS: Then what?
JESUS: A sort of kingdom that a person cannot see unless he is born again.
NICODEMUS: Born again?
NICODEMUS: You mean like a new creature? A conversion from Gentile to Jewish?
JESUS: No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about.
NICODEMUS: (Vexed) Then what is “born again”? I hope you don’t mean return to the womb, because that would be a problem for me. My mother, may she rest in peace, is dead.
JESUS: Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh (grabs Nicodemus’s hand) is flesh. And that which born of the spirit (points to his heart) is spirit. That part of you—that, is what must be reborn to new life.
NICODEMUS: How can these things be?
JESUS: Ah. A teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things, hm?
NICODEMUS: I’m trying Rabbi.
JESUS: (sympathetic) I know. I know.
No, Nicodemus was not trying to believe Jesus in John 3. Jesus’ authority as the Son of God, whose word is actually God’s word, is entirely absent from the lines in this scene. Jesus and Nicodemus were not merely having a chat.
Remember that in the Bible, Nicodemus began by acknowledging that Jesus was a teacher come from God, and Jesus responded with the authority of God. His first words were, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The writers of The Chosen took out the three times Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you,” perhaps because it’s awkward—I mean, who speaks like that? Well, Jesus did. In Matthew 7:28-29 we are told that “the crowds were astonished at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” These lines in this show are not written that way, and actor Jonathan Roumie certainly doesn’t deliver them that way, because they are not the words of Christ.
When Roumie Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” he grabs Nicodemus’ hand. When he says, “That which is born of the spirit is spirit,” he points to Nicodemus’ heart, and he says, “That part of you—that, is what must be reborn to new life.” That is not what Jesus meant when He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
The flesh can only produce the works of the flesh. Only one who is born again by the Holy Spirit can produce the works that are pleasing to God. The Pharisees did not do those spiritual works. For all their religious practices, they were of the flesh, not of the Spirit, for they had not been born again of the Spirit. Their religion would not get them into the kingdom of God.
We’re not even three minutes into this dialogue in the The Chosen, and already the problems abound. Unfortunately, it only gets worse. Nicodemus has just said he’s trying to understand and Roumie Jesus sympathetically says, “I know, I know.” Then he looks around for an example to help Nicodemus understand. And here’s what he comes up with:
JESUS: (looks around) Do you hear this?
JESUS: Listen. What do you hear?
NICODEMUS: The wind?
JESUS: How do you know it’s the wind?
NICODEMUS: Because I can feel it—I hear its sound.
JESUS: Do you know where it comes from?
JESUS: Do you know where it’s going?
JESUS: That’s what it is to be born again of the Spirit. The Spirit may work in a way that is a mystery to you. And while you cannot see the Spirit, you can recognize His effect.
I will give props to the writers for using masculine pronouns to refer to the Holy Spirit, as the Bible does. The trend in recent years has been to make the Holy Spirit into a woman or something effeminate.
If you go back to John 3, you will recognize that Nicodemus said, “How can these things be?” after Jesus gave the example of the wind. Here in The Chosen, Nicodemus first says, “How can these things be,” and then to help Nicodemus understand, Jesus draws an example from the wind. But remember, Jesus’ reference to the water and the spirit and then to the wind was from Ezekiel 36 and 37, not because he felt a breeze. These biblical references were the basis for His rebuke: “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?”
But because the writers of The Chosen have moved lines around and neutered this exchange of its authority, there is no reference to Scripture, and thus no rebuke of Nicodemus—who was, at the time of that conversation with Jesus, a false teacher and an unbeliever. The writers of this show have no respect for what the Apostle wrote and why He wrote it.
The next line should be verse 11: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness of what we have seen, and you do not accept our witness.” Listen to how that comes out in this show:
NICODEMUS: My mind is consumed with what a stir these words would cause among the teachers of the law.
JESUS: Yes. And I do not expect otherwise. I speak of what I know and have seen, and it has not been received by the religious leaders.
NICODEMUS: It is hard to receive.
JESUS: So if I have told you of earthly things and you do not believe, how can I tell you heavenly things?
NICODEMUS: I believe your words.
(No, he didn’t.)
NICODEMUS: I just fear you may not have a chance to speak many more of them before you are silenced.
JESUS: I have come to do more than speak words, Nicodemus.
NICODEMUS: More miracles?
JESUS: Yes, but even more than that. Do you remember when the children of Israel complained against God and against Moses in the wilderness of Paran?
NICODEMUS: Yes. They wanted to return to Egypt and they cursed the manna that God sent them.
JESUS: And then?
NICODEMUS: They were bitten by serpents, and they were dying.
NICODEMUS: But God made a way for them to be healed.
JESUS: Moses lifted the bronze serpent in the desert, and people only needed to look at it. So will the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.
In my review of season 1, I mentioned that this episode begins with a flashback to Moses and Joshua as the people are dying of snake bites (the exchange that was scripted in the show was very dumb, but I won’t hash that out again). In the flashback, neither Moses nor Joshua say why the people are dying, nor do Jesus and Nicodemus.
To recap, in Numbers 21:1-9, God gave Israel victory over the Canaanites, whose cities Israel completely destroyed. As they ventured around the land of Edom, the people complained against God and against Moses, “There is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” Notice that they complained there was no food, but there was food. They just didn’t like the food God gave them.
Verses 6-7 say, “So Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died. Then the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned because we have spoken against Yahweh and against you; pray to Yahweh, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses prayed for the people.”
The dialogue in this episode of The Chosen leaves that out. It is never said that God sent the serpents that killed the people, nor does it say the people begged for mercy, so God gave them the bronze serpent.
Now, none of that is in John 3 either. Jesus simply made a brief reference to the bronze serpent in verse 14. But by attempting to add that in to lengthen the exposition and then changing the story and leaving out crucial details, the writers actually diminish the gospel message, which Jenkins claims to have “captured accurately.” Continuing on:
NICODEMUS: Our people are not dying from snake bites. They’re dying from taxation and oppression.
JESUS: Sorry to disappoint you, but I did not come to deliver the people from Rome.
NICODEMUS: Then from what?
JESUS: From sin. From spiritual death.
Oh, Jesus came to deliver people from actual death. That’s such an odd choice of words—why did the writers do that? Was there not one person among these writers or the film crew or the actors who stood up and said, “Uh, hey guys, Jesus saves us from death death!”
What is sin exactly? Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). It is breaking God’s law. Thinking and acting in any way contrary to God’s character and His word is sinful, and “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Sin is the reason we die. But the writers—again, attempting to lengthen the dialogue by adding in their own words—have taken away from the gospel message. So now we get to this line, and it’s lost its impact:
JESUS: God loves the world in this way, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Apparently we won’t perish in spiritual death, but what in the world is spiritual death? That could mean anything. A viewer could think depression is spiritual death or emotional abuse is spiritual death or not getting affirmation from others is spiritual death. Would anyone watching this understand that Jesus saves us from the judgment of God?
When we read, “Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life,” what that means is that by faith in Jesus, we will not perish under the wrath of God, but rather we will live forever with Him. But remember, the writers deliberately omitted that it was God who sent the serpents into the camp, and it’s God’s judgment we are under because of our sin. Jesus saves His followers from the wrath of God.
If The Chosen actually cared to give the biblical account, then immediately after this scene they would cut to John the Baptist, whose disciples reported that Jesus’ ministry was increasing. Knowing his purpose had been fulfilled, John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In John 3:36, we read these words, attributed to John the Baptist: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
In the biblical account of this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Immediately after that, we read in verse 16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” Again, the point is that through Christ, God demonstrates His love for more than just Jews—He loves Jews and Gentiles, that anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved.
In The Chosen, what is said in verses 14-15 do not immediately precede Roumie Jesus quoting John 3:16. And when he quotes it, he starts by saying, “God loves the world in this way.” That is not an accurate translation of John 3:16. When we read, “For God so loved the world,” remember that is a comparative statement. It means just as God showed mercy to the Jews by giving them the bronze serpent, so God has shown mercy to people from all over the world by giving His Son.
Can you see how much of the biblical context and the impact of the message changes when the writers of The Chosen take the liberties that they do? I hope this also reinforces for you the value of expository preaching! Just because the show uses the name of Jesus and quotes a few words from Jesus does not mean they “preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Continuing on:
NICODEMUS: So this has nothing to do with Rome? It’s all about sin.
JESUS: God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, Nicodemus. He sent him to save it, through him. It’s as simple as Moses’ serpent on the pole. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned. But whoever does not believe (cuts to a shot of John and Andrew while Jesus is heard in the distance) stands condemned already.
ANDREW: (whispers to John) Have you ever heard anything like this before?
JOHN: (writing) Shh.
That last line from Jesus was John 3:17 and part of 18: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Where Jesus says, “He who does not believe is condemned already,” Jenkins cut away from that line so that it’s heard in the distance. Then the writers left out the rest of 18, and verses 19 to 21. If Jenkins wants to write that Jesus was the one who said John 3:16, that’s fine. But then he needs to include through verse 21 which is traditionally translated as the words of Christ.
Andrew is the one who says, “Have you ever heard anything like this before?” That’s ridiculous. But remember, the writers changed the verse where Jesus said, “We speak of what we know and bear witness of what we have seen.” Of course the disciples had heard this before! Because Jesus had already told them. They bore witness to what they had heard and seen.
A few of the disciples were likely with Jesus in plain sight as He talked to Nicodemus. But John would not have been sitting there with parchment writing down everything Jesus said. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
There is more to John 3 after verse 18 that could have been included here. But the writers sacrifice all of that to tell the story they want to tell, and it’s not better than what the Bible says. Believe it or not, the dialogue gets increasingly worse from here:
NICODEMUS: When I met Lilith, Mary, that day, I told my wife and my students that she was beyond human aid. Only God could have healed her. And then I saw her, healed. And here you are, the healer. My whole life, I have wondered if I would see this day.
JESUS: Follow me, and you’ll see more.
NICODEMUS: Follow you?
JESUS: Join me and my students. In two days time, we leave Capernaum. Come see the kingdom I am bringing into this world.
Luke 17:20 says, “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or, ‘There!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Jesus would not have said to Nicodemus, “Come see the kingdom I am bringing into this world.” These writers are so terribly ignorant.
NICODEMUS: But I…
JESUS: You have a position in the Sanhedrin. You have family. You are getting advanced in years. I understand. But the invitation is still open.
NICODEMUS: The invitation to what exactly? To eternal nomadic life? To give up who I am?
JESUS: It’s true, there is a lot you would give up. But what you would gain is far greater and more lasting.
NICODEMUS: Is this another one of your born again mysteries?
JESUS: (Laughs.) Maybe. I know mysteries aren’t easy for a scholar.
We have no reason to believe that the writers of The Chosen have any idea what John 3 is talking about. They have declined to do any serious exegesis of the passage in preparation for this scene. So this line is just pretentious.
By the way, several years ago, Dallas Jenkins did a Christian film called The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, which I did a review of and Jenkins read. I said that the gospel was not in this movie, and Jenkins contacted me and argued with me about that. He insisted the gospel was in his movie. I asked him to tell me what the gospel is, and he couldn’t do it. He didn’t know what the gospel was then, and it doesn’t look like much has changed.
JESUS: Think about it. Take your time. In the morning of the fifth day, we leave, and we’ll meet by the well at the southern border at dawn.
NICODEMUS: (Jesus and Nicodemus both stand.) Is this… Is the kingdom of God really coming?
JESUS: What does your heart tell you?
Please, are you kidding me? What is this, a Disney show? Show me one place in the Bible where God said anything like, “What does your heart tell you?” Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.”
NICODEMUS: My heart is swollen with fear and… and wonder. And it can tell me nothing except that I am standing on holy ground (begins to cry, then laughs). Holy roof, anyway.
JESUS: I do hope you come with us, Nicodemus. (Nicodemus begins to bow.) You don’t have to do that. (Nicodemus kisses his hand.) What are you doing?
NICODEMUS: Kiss the Son lest he be angry and you perish in the way.
JESUS: (stands him up) Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Hugs Nicodemus and strokes his hair as Nicodeums cries into his shoulder.)
Yeah, it took everything in me not to jump up out of my chair and scream at the monitor when I first saw this scene. Nicodemus bows before Jesus, and Roumie Jesus says, “You don’t have to do that.” Have these writers not read? Everyone has to do that! Philippians 2:10-11 says, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
As I said in my review, in the gospels there are about 20 recorded instances of someone bowing before Jesus, and in not one of those instances did Jesus say anything like, “You don’t have to do that.”
Nicodemus also kisses Jesus’ hand and Jesus says, “What are you doing?” He didn’t try to discourage the woman who kissed his feet and wet them with her tears (Luke 7:38-50). A Pharisee wanted to discourage her from doing that, yet Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for not greeting Him with a kiss. Hm!
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for adding to and taking away from God’s word. So where do you think that leaves The Chosen?
So what do you think? Did Dallas Jenkins and the cast and crew of The Chosen accurately depict the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus? I hope you agree with me that the answer is a resounding, “No.” This conversation was changed so much, you would not be out of line for asking Jenkins if he actually read it before he wrote it.
As I said in the beginning, this scene I believe best encapsulates the problems with The Chosen overall. Remember, Jenkins said, “There’s a great weight and responsibility when it comes to shooting this scene, almost more than any other scene we shoot, and so we really wanted to get it right.” If this was the most important scene in The Chosen, and they were this far off, how accurate can the rest of it be?
In watering down the word, The Chosen has “a form of godliness, but having denied its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). A diluted gospel is no gospel at all. So judge for yourself—Does this scene actually give clarity to the gospel, or does the scene make things more confusing? Does it give us an accurate account of the words and work of Jesus, or is Roumie Jesus another Jesus entirely?
Every decade or so, there is another one of these Jesus movies or TV shows that becomes all the rage. But the reason why they’re so popular, my friends, is usually because the Jesus they present is not the Christ of the Bible. He’s typically some blend of happy-hippy and wandering monk. Why stomach the Scripture-twisting just to be entertained by a false Christ?
Even if these depictions of Jesus were accurate, we don’t need them. Brethren, we have the word of Christ! Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, then you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).