Updated: Aug 14
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Circling back to my series exploring how VidAngel's The Chosen adapts biblical characters from the Gospels, I wanted to take a moment to look at how this popular Bible show depicts its Roman characters. In particular, we'll be looking at the two Romans who get real character development: Quintus, one of the show's main villains, and Gaius, who plays an important role in Matthew's story. Although "Quintus" and Gaius" are not names found within the Gospel accounts, as we analyze their depiction in light of relevant Gospel stories, we'll see that there is good reason to think that The Chosen is nevertheless adapting Roman figures found within the biblical narratives.
Quintus, the Narcissistic Roman Praetor
Quintus is one of the very first characters The Chosen introduces to us, and he is also, hands down, the most over the top villain of the show. I was watching the show with a few of my youth ministry students and almost as soon as he arrived on screen, they immediately started commenting on how obvious it was that he was the villain. From his bald head (nothing personal against bald people - it's just a trope), to his sneering expression, to his arrogant drawl, to the almost flippant way he flaunts his ability to kill others - the show is at great pains to telegraph to us that Quintus is bad news.
Yet despite how over the top Quintus' villainy in The Chosen initially appears, if you pay close attention to his actions, you may notice that he actually isn't quite as irredeemable as he is presented. Quintus may make other Romans like Gaius tremble in fear, but, throughout the entire first season of The Chosen, do we ever actually see him engage in serious violence? As far as I can recall, other than being a jerk, the only morally dubious enterprise that Quintus is responsible for is the exorbitant taxation of the Jewish people - and in that regard he's really just as much of a pawn as the soldiers that he commands.
Although Quintus is generally depicted as proud and ruthless, The Chosen gives viewers a couple of subtle hints that we should sympathize with him. Most importantly, Quintus is the first character in the show to appreciate Matthew's quirky personality and unique talents. While this appreciation is colored by cynicism and arrogant condescension, it still suggests that his character has a degree of humanity. The other hint The Chosen gives us comes through one of Quintus' interactions with Matthew. Given his pomposity, we might have assumed that Quintus was completely confident in himself, but in a moment of limited but surprising vulnerability he reveals to Matthew a lifelong rivalry with another Roman official. True, Quintus only reveals this so he can get Matthew's advice on how to flex on his rival, but, even so, it suggests a degree of humanity that we may not have initially expected from the cackling sociopath that Quintus first appeared to be.
Gaius, the Gruff and Practical Centurion
While The Chosen presents Quintus as an outright villain with just the slightest hints of humanity, the characterization of Gaius, Matthew's Roman handler, is much more balanced. On the one hand, Gaius is gruff and shows bewilderment and contempt toward Matthew for his personal eccentricities and toward the Jews for their very different way of living. On the other hand, the bond that develops between him and Matthew over the course of The Chosen's first season makes it clear that Gaius has not only humanity but also genuine compassion. I'm thinking particularly of the scene when Gaius discovers that Matthew is a permanent outcast from his family because of his role as tax collector. The way that Gaius responds - decrying the way Matthew is being treated by his family and asserting that they should feel the honor instead - communicates a genuine care for Matthew's self-esteem.
Even when Gaius urges Matthew to not leave his tax booth and follow Jesus, The Chosen seeks to make his character balanced. We know that his advice is wrong; obviously if Matthew continued serving as a tax collector and didn't follow Jesus, he would be missing out. But Gaius isn't a villainous tempter who is holding Matthew back from salvation just because. He's a practical man who knows that, from an economic standpoint, Matthew has an amazing gig - his job as a tax collector is lucrative and fits perfectly with his talents. Giving it up is foolish from within Gaius' framework, and so when he urges Matthew not to, he thinks he is being caring, even if the audience knows that he's wrong.
Roman Officials & Centurions in the Gospels
As I noted above, there are good reasons to think that Quintus and Gaius are The Chosen's adaptation of biblical characters, even if their names aren't found in the Gospel accounts. Here are a few of the Gospel stories that we can expect to see tied to their characters:
After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. -Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.”This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.)So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” - John 18:1-11 (ESV)
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. -John 19:23-34 (ESV)
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”-Matthew 27:54 (ESV)
Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. - Mark 15:43-45 (ESV)
Adaptations often consolidate the Roman soldiers interacting with Jesus in these stories into a single character and I wouldn't be surprised to see The Chosen do the same. Given how Gaius has been presented a flawed but sympathetic figure, I wouldn't be surprised if he plays this role. He's been close enough to the stories of Jesus to reach out for help in a moment of desperate faith if someone he cares about is hurting. But we have also seen that Gaius is a very pragmatic character. In the face of a clear miracle, it's still unlikely that he will abandon Roman service. Even if service to Rome means participating in the torture and crucifixion of the man who helped him, he will keep serving - until, of course, the crucifixion makes him realize that Jesus was indeed the son of God.
Quintus doesn't fit into these stories quite so obviously. It's possible that he is the official who has his son healed (John 4:46-54), but that would make his story too close to Gaius'. More importantly, The Chosen has spent too much energy building Quintus up as a villain to have him converted this quickly. What seems more likely is that he will continue to be a villain for most of the series, pursuing Jesus and persecuting his followers. That said, I still think Quintus will undergo a heel-face turn, revealing the power of grace. My guess is that he will be the officer in charge of the group of Roman and Jewish soldiers that Judas leads to Jesus (John 18:1-11). In this scenario, the impetus of his conversion would probably come when Jesus lays the whammy on the soldiers by declaring "I am." Quintus won't immediately turn - he'll still finish the job and probably be present with Pilate during Jesus' trial. But the power of the moment will shake his self confidence. The little hints of humanity that the show has been planting will pay off when he finally puts his faith in the Chosen.
So, those are my predictions for the biblical roles that are being played by Quintus and Gaius. Like Matthew, they will end up mostly being misunderstood and hurt people who just need acceptance. Even Quintus, the show's villain, will be easy for viewers to forgive if his misdeeds continue to be constrained to general jerkiness and economic extortion. But I could definitely be wrong there. I could also see a version of this story where Quintus doubles down in his wickedness as the season goes along and is never redeemed. I guess we'll have to wait for The Chosen season two to find out more about what trajectory his character will take!
Have these posts about The Chosen helped you understand The Chosen or explore it with your ministry or family? Would you consider giving a few bucks to support my work as a writer? It's really simple to do using my account on Buy Me a Coffee. Thanks so much!
If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Mary Magdalene in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
Posts on the Nature of Adaptation
Youth Ministry and the Arts