Summary: Answers 3 questions; Is the film true to the gospels?, Are the gospels true to history?, What do non-Biblical sources tell us?
The Passion of the Christ; did it really happen that way?
Harrison Christian Church Sunday, March 7, 2004 Robbie Phillips
Introduction: In a film, locations can be real, but characters can be fictitious. Or characters can be real, but fictitious themes can be added.
The film Titanic contained a fictitious love story, made up for entertainment purposes. Yet, it was very true to the details of dress, dinnerware, and décor.
Or the film, JFK took the real life mystery of an American president’s assignation and mingled it with numerous half-truths, rumors and wild theories.
Movies can leave a viewer wondering how true to history the story really is.
What about the Passion of the Christ? Did it really happen like that?
Religious films in the past have combined the basic story of Jesus with extreme departures from history, like The Last Temptation of Christ or more recently pure fiction has been presented as historical, as in the book, The Da Vinci code.
There are ways of finding out about a story’s historical accuracy.
We could easily use historical research, ship records of the titanic, even photos, could confirm fictitious design and characters.
Similarly, there are ways to find out about the essential accuracy of the Passion of the Christ.
1. We can check the primary source of the script, the New Testament Gospels.
Do the details and the characters come from the gospel account?
The short answer is yes.
The criticisms of the passion of the Christ in relation to the gospels, with the exception of the images of the Satan and demons in a few brief scenes [Gibson’s attempt to portray evils involvement in this atrocious historical event], relate to minor details like Pilates pronunciation of Latin, Jesus hair length, clothing choices etc.
The question of being anti Semitic relates not to the films accuracy in relation to the gospels. The gospels do present some Jewish leaders as calling for Jesus death. The question is, “Does the presentation of some members of a race as doing evil amount to racism?”
For example, when Jewish director, Steven Spielberg presents German leaders as joyously murdering 6 million Jews in Schindler’s list, is that anti German racism? The answer is no because he is true to history, he presents Germans both in a good and bad light, and he rightly condemns raciest attitudes in the film.
The facts are that Gibson’s The passion of the Christ, is true to history. Some Jewish leaders did call for Christ death.
He presents Jews in a positive and negative light.
Jesus, Him mother and his followers are clearly Jewish [the “Why is this night like no other night?’ line by Mary is the part of the Jewish creed recited at Passover].
The Jewish leaders are made up of men who both call for his death and claim the trial is a travesty.
The Jewish crowd is made of some Jews who call for Jesus death and others who follow him along the walk to the cross, crying and morning. Some in the crowd step out to kick Jesus at one of his falls, while others shout “stop!” One Jewish woman tenderly tries to offer Jesus water and one Jewish man demands the abusers stop and continues to help Jesus carry the cross.
The Romans are presented as truly anti Semitic and are the characters the film presents as evil.
And of course, the film presents Jesus, clearly Jewish, as the greatest man, if he may be called that, who ever lived.
It is true that some non Christians and Christians alike have had anti Semitic attitudes and actions and even used the story of Christ passion to promote their cause. And they are without excuse, and will one day answer to our Jewish savior, but we can’t place on Gibson’s soldiers their sins, when they simply aren’t there.
“After watching The Passion of the Christ I feel as If I have actually been there. I was moved to tears. I doubt if there has ever been a more graphic and moving presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection—which Christians believe are the most important events in history” – Billy Graham
So, the film is true to the gospels, but we may still ask the question,
2. Are the gospels historically accurate?
Consider the last time you read a story in a newspaper, magazine or on the internet, how do you evaluate weather the story is accurate?
The author (s)/Source
The time since the event
The form of the news/story
Any personal benefit to the author/publication
Any personal bias/agenda of the author/publication
Are their other witnesses or corroborating evidence
Are the supporting details accurate?
Illus: When a recent democratic presidential candidate claimed Job was his favorite New Testament book, some of us were skeptical…