Unless you have lived like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, in a shack in the woods somewhere, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming movie produced and directed by Mel Gibson. Originally titled The Passion, it is being released Wednesday, February 25 as The Passion of the Christ. While this certainly isn’t the first and won’t be the last movie about the life and death of Jesus Christ, I believe this particular film has the most press surrounding it. Yes, The Last Temptation of Christ generated a lot of press at its 1988 release, but that has been eclipsed by the international press stir of Gibson’s movie. One common complaint by various Jewish groups and organizations is that this new movie will stir up anti-Semitic feeling in the viewers, or that it is anti-Semitic by its very nature.
The Passion of the Christ tells the story of the last few hours of Christ’s life as outlined in the four Gospels of the Bible’s New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Rather than write his own spin on how things might have happened, Gibson has stated his goal was to make this movie conform as closely as possible to the text of the Gospels. This is why the actors speak in Aramaic and “street Latin,” not English. Originally Gibson didn’t want any subtitles in the movie, trusting the audience to follow along based on the actions, but I am glad he decided to release it with full subtitles. I prefer the language of the King James Version of the Bible, so the dialog seems familiar but not exactly what I’m used to. Yet not everyone is as familiar or comfortable with the archaic language of the King James Version, so I understand using a more modern version of the text.
“My intention for this film was to create a lasting work of art and to stimulate serious thought and reflection among diverse audiences of all backgrounds,” says Gibson. “My ultimate hope is that this story’s message of tremendous courage and sacrifice might inspire tolerance, love and forgiveness. We’re definitely in need of those things in today’s world.” But The Passion of the Christ has not inspired tolerance, love, and forgiveness so far. Many critics have condemned the movie as anti-Semitic, but if Gibson has followed the Gospels as closely as he claims, then so is the New Testament.
But is the New Testament really anti-Semitic? Jesus himself was a Jew, as were His apostles and His earliest disciples. So whence comes this idea that a straight retelling of the last few hours of Christ’s life is anti-Semitic? Well, in Matthew 27:24-25, Pilate declares his lack of culpability in Christ’s death, and the multitude cries out, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Certain people have used this single verse as justification for calling the Jews “Christ killers” and blaming them for His death. But the only people who can be blamed for an evil act are the people who commit it, as explained in the 18th chapter of Ezekiel in the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel uses three generations as an example. The grandfather is righteous, his son is wicked, and his grandson is righteous. Do the grandfather or grandson bear the sins of the father? Not at all! Ezekiel sums this up in verse 20: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” So how could the descendants of Jews who were present at Christ’s crucifixion be blamed for His death? They can only be blamed by people who do not understand the Bible.
But who did kill Christ? It certainly wasn’t the Jews. They didn’t have the authority to execute prisoners. That right was reserved by the Romans, which is why the Sanhedrin brought Christ before Pilate. It was Pilate, the Roman governor, who issued the command for Christ’s crucifixion. So it must have been the Romans who killed Jesus, right? Wrong! Christ himself was the only one who could decide to lay down His life. He was a deity. Had He chosen to do so, He could have hung on the cross forever or removed Himself from it, rather than dying after only a few short hours. In the 10th chapter of John, Christ explained this as he spoke of his own life in the parable of the Good Shepherd: “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” So ultimately, we cannot blame either the Jews or the Romans for the death of Christ. He chose to lay His life down for our sins, and He took it up again within three days. This was His purpose in coming to Earth, and this is why I do not mourn at His crucifixion when I can praise Him for His resurrection.
Gibson spent over $50 million of his own money to make Passion. He tried to get backing for the project, but the studios balked at the idea. Eventually, the distributors who buckled under pressure and refused to aid Gibson will see the profits pass them by, and while I am no prophet, I predict Passion will be a big money-maker for Gibson–and rightly so! Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, also predicts that this movie will make “a great deal of money” for Gibson and Icon Productions, his movie studio. He also predicts that this movie will become famous “as the most serious and substantive Biblical movie ever made” and that the faith of Christians “will become more fervent as Passion uplifts and inspires them.” I hope Rabbi Lapin is right in each regard.
So far the prediction that this movie will make money seems to be accurate. Even though the movie opens tomorrow, people have been buying tickets well in advance. Some churches have bought out whole showings so the congregations can see this film. It is rated R for graphic violence, but that hasn’t stopped many pastors from encouraging young teenagers to attend. I plan to see this movie, but before I do, I will read the final chapters of the four Gospels. Then when I see the movie, I should be able to spot if Gibson has departed from the written word.