Season 1, Episode 4 — ‘The Rock on Which It Is Built’
Mark 1; Matthew 3-4; Luke 3, 5; John 1
Synopsis. Simon is guiding the Romans in a boat at night, looking for fishermen who are working on the Sabbath to avoid paying their taxes, but he steers the Romans into a sandbar when he realizes they are on the verge of catching Zebedee and his sons, James and John. The Romans suspect that Simon has double-crossed them, so Matthew tells him to pay his taxes now. Simon goes fishing at night, hoping to catch enough fish to cover his debts, and he is joined by Andrew and the Zebedees — but they don’t catch anything. In the morning, they see Jesus, who joins them in one of the boats and gives them a miraculous catch of fish, after which he tells them to follow him. Meanwhile, the Pharisees debate what to do about John the Baptist. John is thrown into prison by the Romans, and Nicodemus, who is still looking for the person who cast the demons out of Mary Magdalene, pays John a visit and says he has a question about miracles.
Gospels. This is the first episode to dramatize an actual story from the gospels. Indeed, it dramatizes two such stories — maybe even three, depending on how you count them!
The main story is the miracle of the catching of the fish, after which the fishermen leave their nets to follow Jesus, as per Luke 5:1-11. (The story about the fishermen following Jesus is also told in Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22, but without the miracle.)
The secondary story concerns John the Baptist, whose ministry functions as a prologue to the ministry of Jesus in all four gospels. John is kept offscreen until the very last scene, but his actions and teachings are described by the Pharisees as they debate what to do about him, and those details are taken primarily from the three Synoptic gospels.
This episode also touches on the fact that Simon’s brother Andrew first met Jesus through John the Baptist and then tried to introduce Simon to Jesus, as per John 1:35-42.
Even when the gospels tell the same stories, they don’t always tell them the same way or in the same order — so The Chosen, which combines all four of the gospels, has to pick and choose which version of each story to tell at any given point, and which chronology to follow at any given point. And in doing so, it creates its own chronology.
For example, how and when did Jesus meet the fishermen and tell them to follow him?
Mark and Matthew both say Jesus was walking along the edge of the Sea of Galilee when he called Simon and Andrew, and then he walked “a little farther” before seeing and calling James and John, the sons of Zebedee — and then, maybe a few days after that, he healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:16-20, 29-31; Matthew 4:18-22, 8:14-15).
But Luke says Jesus was teaching a crowd by the edge of the lake when he saw all four fishermen working together — and, what’s more, by this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus had already visited Simon’s home and healed his mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39, 5:1-11).
Matters are even more complicated when you add John’s gospel to the mix. John has no story about fishermen abandoning their nets — but he does tell us that Simon’s brother Andrew met Jesus through John the Baptist and then introduced Jesus to Simon.
This episode uses bits and pieces from all three stories, but it does not follow any of them completely. Instead, it uses those bits and pieces to tell its own story.
First, this episode follows Mark and Matthew in setting the calling of the fishermen before the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, which won’t happen until Episode 8. (Indeed, by putting such a large gap between these two stories, the series may be closest to Matthew’s chronology on this point.) However, this episode does not follow Mark and Matthew, insofar as it shows the Zebedee family working with Simon and Andrew, not apart from them, so that Jesus does not have to walk any farther to see or speak to them.
Second, this episode follows Luke by showing all four of the disciples-to-be working together, by having Jesus ask Simon to let him use one of the boats so that he can speak to the crowd, and by associating the calling of the fishermen with the miraculous catch of fish. But it does not follow Luke, insofar as Jesus and Simon have not even met each other yet, and thus the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law has not happened yet.
And third, this episode follows John in showing Andrew try to tell Simon about Jesus. But it does not follow John, insofar as Simon does not want to hear about Andrew’s messiah, so Andrew never gets to make the introduction. (This episode also situates the first meeting between Jesus and the Simon-Andrew pair in Galilee, whereas John’s gospel situates it in Peraea, at or near “Bethany on the other side of the Jordan”.)
Incidentally, Luke’s is not the only gospel that says Jesus got into a boat to teach.
Mark 4:1 and Matthew 13:1-2 both introduce a series of parables by saying that Jesus got into a boat (they don’t say whose) to teach a crowd that stood on the shore. But in those gospels, the teaching takes place quite some time after the disciples are called.
As for John the Baptist, most of what we hear about him comes from the Pharisees in this episode, and most of what they say comes straight from the gospels:
- He baptizes people in the Jordan River (Mark 1:5, Matthew 3:5-6, Luke 3:3, John 1:28 — but see the geographical note below).
- He wears “camel skin” (the biblical John wore clothes made of “camel’s hair”, as per Mark 1:6 and Matthew 3:4; cf. Elijah’s “garment of hair” in II Kings 1:8).
- John’s baptism is “a baptism of repentance, a forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3; cf. Matthew 3:3, 11).
- John calls the Pharisees “snakes” (the biblical John says “You brood of vipers!” to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:7 and to “the crowds” in Luke 3:7).
- John tells tax collectors and soldiers not to extort money or to collect more than they are authorized to (Luke 3:12-14).
- John tells “the commoners” to share food and clothing with those who have none (Luke 3:10-11).
- Nicodemus says he heard in Jerusalem that John entered the king’s court with a list of evils done by Herod Antipas and his family (Luke 3:19-20 says John “rebuked Herod … because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done,” but does not say where this took place).
This episode also reminds us that Andrew is a follower of John’s, so we hear about John through Andrew, too. Andrew calls Jesus “the Lamb of God, he who takes away the sin of the world,” which is what John the Baptist calls Jesus in John 1:29; John also calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” in Andrew’s presence on a separate occasion in John 1:35-36.
Interestingly, the episode never mentions that Jesus himself was baptized by John. Jesus’ baptism is mentioned in the three Synoptic gospels but not in John’s gospel.
John the Baptist is thrown in prison before Jesus calls the fishermen in this episode. That matches the chronology of the Synoptic gospels but not John’s gospel.
Mark 1:14 and Matthew 4:12 both say that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee after John was imprisoned, and Luke 3:20-21 — which mentions John’s imprisonment before it even mentions that Jesus was baptized! — implicitly agrees with this sequence, too.
But John’s gospel indicates that Jesus and John the Baptist had overlapping ministries, and that both movements were baptizing people simultaneously (John 3:22-4:3).
Nicodemus, who is still wondering how Mary Magdalene was exorcised, hears about John the Baptist and wonders if John might be the miracle-worker he’s looking for, so he visits John in prison and says he has questions about miracles — which makes John smile.
It’s not entirely clear why Nicodemus would think that John was a miracle worker at this point in the story, as John “never performed a sign” the way Jesus did (John 10:41). But when word of Jesus’ miracles began to spread, some people — such as Herod Antipas, who had executed John by that point — assumed that John had risen from the dead and performed those miracles (Mark 6:14-16, 8:27-28; Matthew 14:1-2, 16:13-14; Luke 9:7-9, 18-19). So Nicodemus’s interest in John prefigures the assumptions those people made.
It is also interesting how John the Baptist smiles when Nicodemus comes to him with his question about miracles. The biblical John seems to have had doubts when he heard about Jesus’ miracles, and he sent his followers to ask if Jesus was truly the Messiah that they had been waiting for; Jesus told the followers to go back and tell John about the miracles that they had seen him perform (Matthew 11:2-6, Luke 7:18-23). The gospels do not tell us if John was reassured by this reply, but in some ways what happens in that story is the opposite of what happens in this episode, where the person who visits John is the one who has the questions and John, to judge from his smile, will probably have the answers.
Previous episodes introduced Simon, Andrew, Matthew, Thaddeus and James, the son of Alphaeus. This episode adds James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to the mix.
James and John are mentioned in all four gospels — though John’s gospel, the only one that is credited to one of them, never mentions either of them by name. Instead, it refers to “the sons of Zebedee” in 21:2, and it is often assumed that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, and 21:7 & 20 is a coded reference to John as well.
James and John are also mentioned in the book of Acts, starting with the list of disciples in 1:13. Acts goes on to say that James was killed by Herod Agrippa I (12:2), while John is paired with Peter as one of the key leaders of the early church (3:1-4:31, 8:14-25).
Beyond that, Paul says John is “esteemed as [a] pillar” of the church in Galatians 2:9, and John is credited with the authorship of the gospel that bears his name as well as at least one of the epistles. (Two more epistles are sometimes attributed to him as well, as is the book of Revelation, but those books might have been written by other Johns.)
Jesus is telling parables to a crowd by the beach when the fishermen first see him.
From a distance, we hear a bit of the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23, Luke 8:4-15) — which Mark and Matthew do specify was told to a crowd by the lake, though they say he told the parable after getting into someone’s boat, not before!
Then, when Jesus gets into Simon’s boat, he tells the crowd the parable of the fishing net (Matthew 13:47-52), which describes the Day of Judgment, when angels will separate the wicked from the righteous and throw the wicked into a “fiery furnace”, the same way fishermen keep the good fish they have caught and throw away the bad fish.
The telling of this parable right before the calling of the fishermen gives the calling an eschatological edge that is not found in the gospels and may be unique to this series. When Jesus tells the fishermen to follow him, he says, “I will make you fishers of men,” just as he does in the gospels (Mark 1:17, Matthew 4:19, Luke 5:10) — but then he adds, “You are to gather as many as possible. All kinds. I will sort them out later.”
That last line in particular suggests two things that have not yet been mentioned in this series: one, that Jesus will play a special role on the Day of Judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31-46); and two, that it is Jesus and not the fishermen he is calling who will separate the good fish from the bad. However, the Jesus of the gospels does say that the Twelve will “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” with him (Matthew 19:28).
The title of this episode (‘The Rock on Which It Is Built’) comes from Matthew 16:18.
In the passage from which that verse comes, Simon declares that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus replies:
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The word “Peter” is Greek for “rock”, and there has been a lot of discussion over the years as to what Jesus meant when he said “on this rock I will build my church”. Did he mean the church would be built on Simon specifically? Or did he mean it would be built on professions of faith like the one Simon made? Or did he mean something else?
There’s no room to get into that discussion here, but suffice it to say it is interesting that this episode would be named after that passage for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Jesus has not yet called Simon “Peter” within this series!
Incidentally, John’s gospel says Jesus gave Simon the nickname “Peter” — or, rather, its Aramaic equivalent, “Cephas” — when they met for the very first time (John 1:42). There is no such exchange when Jesus and Simon meet for the first time in this episode.
The other gospels do not say when Jesus gave Simon this nickname. Mark 3:16 and Luke 6:14 both say Simon got the nickname from Jesus and leave it at that, while Matthew doesn’t even go that far — though if it weren’t for John’s gospel, one could infer that Jesus gave Simon the nickname after his confession of faith in Matthew 16:15-20.
Interestingly, while the narrators of the gospels usually call this disciple “Peter” or “Simon Peter”, the characters within the gospels keep calling him “Simon” for the most part.
The contrast is most striking on the three occasions when Jesus calls the disciple “Simon” in the very same verse where the narrator calls him “Peter” (Mark 14:37, Matthew 17:25, John 21:15-17). Jesus himself addresses Simon as “Peter” only twice, not counting the passage in which he gives Simon that nickname — and on both occasions, he does this after he has already called him “Simon” (Matthew 16:17-18, Luke 22:31-34). There are simply no passages in which Jesus uses Simon’s nickname and nothing but.
The other characters in the New Testament use “Simon” more often than “Peter”, too. The apostles call him “Simon” in Luke 24:34 and its variant “Simeon” in Acts 15:14, and the Holy Spirit calls him “Simon” in Acts 10:19. Meanwhile, Rhoda calls him “Peter” in Acts 12:14, and so does the voice that speaks to him in a vision in Acts 10:13. The names are combined in the phrase “Simon who is called Peter” by the angel who visits Cornelius in Acts 10:5, and that same combination is used by Cornelius’s servants in Acts 10:18.
A Roman soldier cuts Simon’s ear and addresses him as “Simon, son of Jonah”.
The biblical Simon is called “son of Jonah” in Matthew 16:17. However, in John’s gospel he is called “son of John” four times (John 1:42, 21:15-17). The names may sound similar but they mean different things. “Jonah” is from the Hebrew word for “dove”, while “John” is derived from “Jehohanan”, which means “YHWH has been gracious”.
The cutting of Simon’s ear, of course, foreshadows how Simon himself will cut the ear of the high priest’s servant on the night that Jesus is arrested (John 18:10; the other gospels mention the ear-cutting too, but they do not say which of Jesus’ disciples did it).
Old Testament. Simon begins his prayer of frustration by summing up the history of the Jewish people, and he alludes to several Old Testament passages along the way:
“And I will make your descendants as many as the stars in the heavens.” [Genesis 22:17, 26:4; Exodus 32:13; cf. Genesis 15:5, etc.] And then what, huh? Make the chosen as many as the stars, only to let Egypt enslave us for generations. [Genesis 15:13, Exodus 1:8-14] Bring us out of Egypt, part the Red Sea, [Exodus 14-15, etc.] only to let us wander in the desert for 40 years. [Numbers 14:26-35, etc.] Give us the land, [Joshua 1:1-6, etc.] only to let us be exiled in Babylon. [II Kings 24-25, etc.] Bring us back, [Ezra 1, etc.] only to be crushed by Rome. This is the God I’ve served faithfully my entire life. You’re the God I’m supposed to thank.
Themes. Just as the first two episodes put an unusually evangelical spin on the exorcism of Mary Magdalene (unusually evangelical for a Bible movie, that is), so too this episode frames the calling of Simon as the climax in a story of backsliding and repentance.
Throughout this episode, Simon is engaged in questionable behaviour: He nearly betrays his fellow Jews to the Romans to get out from under a crushing tax debt, and then he betrays the Romans’ trust; and he does all this while keeping his schemes secret from his wife Eden, who is already upset that he left her in the middle of Shabbat dinner.
In evangelical movies, like the ones produced by Billy Graham, the male protagonist often reaches a point where he realizes that he cannot save himself through his own efforts. He also often has a wife or girlfriend who acts as his conscience or nudges him towards faith — and so it is here, when Simon finally confesses his situation to Eden, and she tells him, “You haven’t pursued the Lord lately, not like the man I married.”
She then tells him, “No more talking. Maybe God can get your attention now.”
So when the Simon of this episode tells Jesus, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man,” he is not simply recognizing that he falls short of Jesus’ holiness (as seems to be the case in Luke 5:8). Instead, he is repenting of specific actions that he has committed — a point that is underlined by his next few lines of dialogue and the emotion with which he delivers those lines: “You don’t know who I am, and the things I’ve done. . . . I’m sorry.”
The series’ evangelical sensibilities are also evident in the way Nicodemus says that John the Baptist “seems to relish rejecting anything with tradition.”
Historical quibbles. The miraculous catch of fish happens in very shallow water, at the edge of the lake. The biblical Jesus told Simon to “put out into deep water” (Luke 5:4).
The Pharisees say that John the Baptist has been taken into custody by the Romans. The John of the gospels was imprisoned by Herod the tetrarch, who certainly collaborated with the Romans as a sort of client-king, but was not technically Roman, per se.
The Zebedees float the possibility that Simon can flee to Egypt if he cannot pay his taxes, and Andrew says Egypt is “a Roman province now” as if this would make escape impossible. But Egypt had been a Roman province since 30 BC — decades before most of these characters were born — and Mary and Joseph certainly fled there all right.
Geography. Capernaum, the town where Simon and the others live, is on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Simon says Zebedee was fishing on the Gergasa shore, which is on the eastern edge of the lake. The region of the Gergesenes is where Jesus will eventually cast some demons out of two men and into some pigs (Matthew 8:28-34).
This episode seems to indicate that John the Baptist is baptizing people in Galilee.
Andrew sees Jesus “by the Jordan” and runs home to tell Simon. It must have been quite a run, as Google Maps indicates that the part of the Jordan River that is closest to Capernaum, on the northern edge of the lake, is about an hour’s walk from Capernaum.
But the gospels say John did his baptizing well south of that, “at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan” (John 1:28), near the northern tip of the Dead Sea. (This is also where Andrew first met Jesus according to John 1:35-42.) And John’s audience consisted of “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” (Mark 1:5; cf. Matthew 3:5).
Flavius Josephus also tells us that John the Baptist was executed in Machaerus, a fortress on the far side of the Dead Sea in a region called Peraea. Peraea was ruled by the same tetrarch as Galilee, i.e. Herod Antipas, but geographically it was closer to Judea.
So it’s not impossible that John the Baptist went to Galilee at some point. But there is no record of him going to Galilee in either the gospels or in secular history.
Miracles. As noted above, this episode climaxes with the miraculous catch of the fish.
There are actually two miraculous catches of fish in the gospels. The first one happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in Luke 5. The other one happens after the Resurrection, in John 21. Off the top of my head, I can think of only one film that has depicted some version of both miraculous catches, i.e. the TV-movie Killing Jesus (2015).
Humanization. Jesus gets noticeably, if subtly, emotional when he sees the fishermen’s joyful response to the miraculous catch of fish.
Timeline. The episode begins mere hours, if not minutes, after the Shabbat dinners that we saw in Episode 2, but the bulk of it takes place a few days later. At one point Simon says the next Shabbat is three days away — so that scene is presumably taking place on a Tuesday — and the miraculous catch of fish takes place the next day.
Language issues. When Simon wants the Romans to turn their boat to the left, he says, “Hard to port!” This is not necessarily an anachronism the way that “Hard to starboard!” would be, as the word “port” refers to the fact that most people are right-handed, so most people, when they are docking their boats, tend to do so with the left side facing the port. (“Starboard”, meaning the right side of a boat, comes from the Old English term stéor bord, meaning the “steering side of a boat”.) But it feels like an anachronism.
Similarly, Nicodemus says he will stay in Capernaum for another “fortnight”, a word that comes from the Old English term fēowertyne niht, meaning “fourteen nights”.
The dialogue continues to use casual colloquialisms, like when Simon addresses his wife as “honey”, calls his brothers-in-law “guys”, and says they “sucker-punched” him.
Simon tells Matthew, “You use a lot of big words.” It’s not hard to imagine that big words would be associated with intelligence in most languages, but I wonder, now.
Miscellaneous. John 1:39 says Jesus invited Andrew and another follower of John the Baptist’s to come and see where he was staying, and they spent the day with him. The text doesn’t say what sort of building or shelter Jesus was staying in, but, given that the previous episode showed Jesus living in a tent, it might have been interesting if the series had shown Andrew and someone else just hanging out with him there for a while.
The catch of fish, and the spiritual catharsis that follows it, are followed by a humorous aside when Simon asks, “You sure you don’t want to do this just a few more times?”
It occurs to me that we don’t often see films in which people respond to the miracles by hoping — in a humorously opportunistic way — that the miracles can be repeated.
One significant exception is Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings (1927), where a couple of soldiers see Jesus get a coin from a fish (à la Matthew 17:24-27), so they grab another fish and shake it next to their ears, hoping to hear the rattling of even more coins.
Clip: Where is Simon’s faith?:
Clip: Simon yells at God:
Clip: The miracle of the fish:
The entire episode was also livestreamed on April 1, followed by a chat between director Dallas Jenkins and co-star Shahar Isaac, who plays Simon: