Monday, February 26, 2024

The Call of the Disciples in The Chosen

Aaron S. Robertson

Author's note

What follows is a recent assignment (February 2024) for my New Testament class in pursuit of a master's degree in theology from Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. For the assignment, we were to pretend a friend had e-mailed us after watching an episode of The Chosen (specifically Season 1, Episode 4), wanting to know what really happened when Jesus called His disciples and asking how we should account for differences in the story line among the four gospel accounts. Trying to be somewhat humorous with my love for Roman names, my imaginary friend here is named Sixtus, after five popes with that name. For reference, The Call of the Disciples is found in Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11; and John 1:35-51.


It’s wonderful to hear from you. It’s been a little while – I hope you’re doing well. I’d be more than happy to try to help you understand what may be going on between the four gospels and what you saw play out in the episode of The Chosen you referenced. I know one of the big questions on your mind is whether Peter really dropped to his knees crying and telling Jesus to depart from him for being such a sinful man. There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’ll certainly do my best.

Episode 4 of season 1 of The Chosen, called “The Rock On Which It Was Built,” portrays the calling of the first disciples. This event is portrayed differently in each of the four gospel accounts; in some cases, very differently. It appears that The Chosen episode attempts to blend all four accounts into one, cohesive narrative. Let’s explore this further.

To begin, Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, while largely the same and the two that are most identical out of the four, have some subtle differences. For example, in Matthew 4:22, there is no mention of hired servants in the boat with James, John, and Zebedee. Mark 1:20 mentions the presence of hired servants. In Matthew 4:18, Simon is also called Peter. Mark 1:16 has no mention that Simon is also called Peter.

Now, Luke’s and John’s accounts are very different from Matthew’s and Mark’s, and contrast sharply from one another. Let’s begin with Luke and some of the more minor nuances within Luke as compared to Matthew and Mark. In Luke 5:1-11, Simon is referred to as or called “Simon” three times before arriving to verse 8, which then calls Simon “Simon Peter.” This may lead to some confusion for those reading this gospel account for the first time without knowing that Simon and Peter are the same person. Additionally, rather than the Sea of Galilee being the setting (as in Matthew and Mark), the setting in Luke is the “lake of Gennesaret.”

Let’s now turn our attention to the major differences in Luke compared to Matthew and Mark. Luke has Jesus teaching a crowd from the boat; instructing Simon to attempt one more catch, which, as we know, produces an overly-abundant yield of fish; dialogue from Simon that is exclusive to Luke’s telling of the account (This is where your question about Peter falling to his knees comes in); and has James and John with Simon in the same setting (instead of Jesus approaching them a little further down the road as in Matthew and Mark), specifically naming James and John as fishing partners of Simon. There is no mention of Simon’s brother, Andrew, in Luke’s account! Also, Luke mentions that James and John are sons of Zebedee, but he does not place Zebedee at the scene fishing with his sons.

John’s account (1:35-51) begins by mentioning John the Baptist and how he pointed out the Messiah to Andrew, who is a disciple of John the Baptist, along with another one of his disciples. Andrew, excited about seeing and recognizing the Messiah (Jesus), goes to tell his brother Simon all about it. This is conducive to what happens in The Chosen episode, where Andrew excitedly shares with Simon that he came across the Messiah while he was with John the Baptist. The episode does not have Simon responding enthusiastically, as we know. Simon is too focused on what he feels are bigger issues at that moment, while Andrew, filled with joy and hope, is trying to tell Simon that none of it matters – the Romans, none of it. For the Messiah has come!

Wow, hey? This is certainly a lot to take in, I know. All four gospels have differences. Some, as we see, are very different. As I said a while ago, it looks like The Chosen episode attempts to skillfully blend all four accounts into a unified, cohesive narrative. In the episode, we get Andrew joyfully sharing the good news with Simon after Andrew spots the Messiah while with John the Baptist (John’s gospel). From there, we see the major elements of Luke’s gospel play out – we see Jesus teaching a crowd from the boat; Jesus instructing Simon to attempt that one last catch; there’s the dialogue from Simon, which, again, is exclusive to Luke’s account; and James and John are with Simon in the same setting. We then turn to Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts – Andrew is in the scene, along with Zebedee, but there doesn’t appear to be the hired servants specific to Mark’s (1:20) account.

How can all this be, you’re wondering? How can there be four different versions of the calling of the first disciples, and what amounts to essentially a fifth account created for television? What really happened? Are we getting the truth? Did Simon really fall to his knees, crying and asking Jesus to depart from him for being such a sinful man? We need not fear any of the answers to these and similar questions, and here’s why.

According to the Historicity of the Gospels, a document published in 1964 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC), “The truth of the Gospel account is not compromised because the Evangelists report the Lord’s words and deeds in different order. Nor is it hurt because they report His words, not literally but in a variety of ways, while retaining the same meaning” (II. The Elaboration of the Gospel Message: Order of Treatment). Ultimately, what we must remember here, Sixtus, is that accounts of the life of Jesus, His teachings, the works of the Apostles, and so on, were originally handed down orally. It wasn’t until later that,
…many attempted “to draw up a narrative” of the events connected with the Lord Jesus. The sacred authors, each using all approach suited to his specific purpose, recorded this primitive teaching in the four Gospels for the benefit of the churches. Of the many elements at hand they reported some, summarized others, and developed still others in accordance with the needs of the various churches. They used every possible means to ensure that their readers would come to know the validity of the things they had been taught. From the material available to them the Evangelists selected those items most suited to their specific purpose and to the condition of a particular audience. And they narrated these events in the manner most suited to satisfy their purpose and their audience’s condition. (II. The Elaboration of the Gospel Message: The Four Evangelists)
Finally, I direct you to paragraph 19 of Dei Verbum, a dogmatic constitution approved and published in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council, which reads, in part:
Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven. (Chapter V: The New Testament, para. 19)
In short, my friend, the fact that the four gospel accounts have at times very noticeable differences in details, the ordering of events, etc., is nothing to fear. We trust that the Holy Spirit guided each of the evangelists in writing down these accounts faithfully and with specific churches, audiences, and other relevant circumstances in mind. None of this detracts from the truth. The Chosen does a wonderful job of combining multiple gospel accounts into one, easy-to-understand narrative for a mass audience.

I hope this all helps, Sixtus! Great to hear from you, my friend. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any additional questions or concerns you may have, and I’ll certainly do my best to address them.

All the Best,


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