The Passions Of The Christ -- By: Jeff Cate

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 02:2 (Fall 2004)
Article: The Passions Of The Christ
Author: Jeff Cate

The Passions Of The Christ

Jeff Cate

Associate Professor of Christian Studies
California Baptist University
8432 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, California

Even before Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” hit the theaters in Spring 2004, the question was repeatedly posed, “Is this film true to the Bible or not?” The question can be answered with a decisive “Yes and No.” Gibson’s film is definitely based on the Bible, but many casual viewers and even careful readers of the New Testament are unaware of the great amount of editing it takes to combine the story of Jesus’ death from the four canonical Gospels into one single narrative. The fact that the Christian New Testament contains four Gospels and not just one creates a difficult and complex situation when discussing the singular event of the life of Jesus. Important differences of expression and leitmotifs in each of these Gospels are often easily set aside for what is considered to be the more important theological goal of harmonizing the life of Christ. The end product, however, is not a reconstruction of the historical Jesus but a Jesus created in one’s own image. Details from the four Gospels which seem distracting, inappropriate, or unnecessary are left on the cutting room floor as the “The Gospel According to Ourselves” enters the production stage.

In many ways, such a subjective description of Jesus is inevitable. Albert Schweitzer recognized this a century ago when he wrote his epoch-making book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. After surveying two centuries of Jesus research he concluded that all, whether the rationalists who created a David Copperfield-Jesus with slight-of-hand nature tricks or the liberal

theologians who created a social-gospel Jesus, had simply made a Jesus in their own image and the historical Jesus had escaped them. This fate continues today when minimalists working under the guise of historical objectivity end up producing “Jesuses” who are philosophical sages, social prophets, political revolutionaries, or helpless martyrs. While some of these aspects might be true in part of Jesus of Nazareth, not all of them can be true at the same time. N. T. Wright argues that the outcome of such dissimilar results is like children arriving at a Christmas party to find two dads dressed as Santa Claus. The children quickly realize that both cannot be Santa and soon they suspect that neither of them must be Santa.1 So many disparate descriptions of Jesus have been published in recent years that Jesus of Nazareth again seems to be lost among the religious teachers.

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