Mel Gibson’s “How” in the Passion of the Christ: And the Why?

Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” presented Mel Gibson’s view on how Christ died, but said nothing about why He died. The film, though, was indeed meant to be about the physical suffering of Christ, and not about why he suffered physically – and spiritually. His spiritual suffering, Christians believe, was far greater than his physical suffering, which itself was unique in the history of a crucifixion. This was so was because of the appalling treatment he received before the crucifixion.

A non-Christian may think that here was a good man who went through much suffering with dignity and steadfastness. This description would appeal to a wider audience than if it were purely a Christian story. One member of such an audience would probably be the conductor of Bach’s “Passion,” whom I described in “The Passion of Bach: The Heart of Tragedy.” He believed that the person being crucified was nothing but a man, but it didn’t matter because he (the conductor) didn’t “have to be a Christian to feel the pain and the tragedy of such suffering.”

The conductor sees just a man, perhaps a very good man, crucified on a cross. Others see much more than an ordinary man; they see someone who sacrificed his life for us because he loved us. His sacrifice encourages us to love others. God will help us, change us, make us the people we really are deep down. When God sees the change in us, he forgives us.  This view has some truth, but mixed with much error. It also misses the main point of the Passion of Christ. Here is the Biblical view:

We, in our natural state, are sinners standing under God’s divine judgement.  God’s justice requires punishment. Instead of punishing sinners with eternal punishment, God the Father sent His Son into the world to suffer and die on their behalf.  Whereas in the view (above), the most important point is the change Christ’s Passion has wrought in sinners, the more important point is what Christ’s Passion has wrought in His Father, namely, the Father’s wrath has been “propitiated” (expiated, satisfied). The effect was the overthrow of the powers of darkness (the devil and his angels) and the granting of God’s totally unmerited love. By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the price for the sins of his “sheep” (John 10:3), turning the Father’s ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. Jesus Christ became the sinner’s substitute for the punishment sinners deserved. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

He grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected
by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and
we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions

he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53).

The Passion of Christ is not a human story about a good person being steadfast and dignified. The Bible (and other historical records) tell us why Jesus was crucified: He claimed to be God in the flesh. His claim to be God in the flesh is only one side of the story – man’s side of the story. The other side – the infinitely more important side, God’s side – is that God the Son came to shed His blood. He shed His blood to reconcile those from every race and tongue (that is, all the “world”) to the Father; those whom the Father chose before the creation of the world:

“Now all these things are from God, (who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

11 thoughts on “Mel Gibson’s “How” in the Passion of the Christ: And the Why?

  1. I thought it was fairly obvious why that drunken, wife-beating anti-Semite Gibson thought Jesus died. Don’t you remember? The Jews, the cause of all war, they were evil, and they wanted to murder G-d. How did you miss that, bog? Don’t you remember the mascot character who personified our miscreant-ness, that devil lady carrying around an adult midget like a baby as a prop to overstate the general depraved perversity that you and I inherently, inheretedly represent?

    Sure, it was the leader whom we didn’t choose, the Roman governor, who actually had his henchmen nail Jesus up in the film. But true to the Christian bible Gibson portrayed the leaders the Jews did select for themselves, the rabbis, exerting power over their conquerors and compelling the brutal Romans to exact deicide against their apparently noble (according to Gibson) inclinations.

    That storyline is ridiculous, for reasons I suspect you are intelligent enough to ascertain, but beyond that it’s a very stark example of violent irrational hatred for the Jews that has come to unfortunately characterize Christendom across its history and geographical footprint. I also suspect you have difficulty acknowledging this given your early Catholic indoctrination, and I further suspect this is at the heart of a basic discomfort with self that you appear to suffer if I may speak to you that directly. I wish you didn’t believe these awful things about the Jews, not only for the rest of us but for you. You didn’t kill G-d; that’s impossible to do. And you have no ancestral guilt for doing it either, since you are descended from holy Jews who, far from being “christ killers”, were actually G-d’s beloved chosen people. So stop beating up on yourself! Anyone who tells you that your great grandparents murdered G-d and then gave gentiles license to inflict unmentionable suffering on you by uttering the words “our guilt be on us and our children forever” is dangerously moronic and you need to expunge such people from your life if you’re to actualize the purpose of your existence and rise to the level of greatness you were put here to attain.

  2. Anon

    Gibson may be guilty of some of the things you say, but as far as the Jewish leaders’ participation in the execution of Jesus, the Bible is very clear that they were very deeply implicated in the deed.

    You don’t believe anything the NT says, even to the extent that you don’t believe any of the main persons it describes even existed. “Messianic Jews” like some (many?) on the RoshPinaProject deny that the Jewish leaders had anything to do with the crucifixion – perhaps as a sop to Jews. The NT is crystal clear on the matter. As you know, Christian history (I suppose you accept that particular history, if not the history in the Book of Acts of the NT, not so?) is replete with unjust anti-Jewish violence. That doesn’t change the NT record. But you will say the NT is all made up anyhow, and one of the reasons why it was made up was to persecute Jews. Anyhow here is what the Gospels say. I quote from John’s Gospel (which Jews hate the most, because of its central focus on Jesus as divine) and Luke’s Gospel:

    John 18

    28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

    30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

    31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

    “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

    33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

    34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

    35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

    Liuke 22-23

    Jesus Before Pilate and Herod

    66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67″If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.”

    Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

    70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
    He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

    71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

    Luke 23

    1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”

    3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
    “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

    4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

    5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea[m]by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

    With regard to the Jewish leader’s involvement in the death of jesus, Gibson’s movie follows the Gospel narrative

    • bography,

      I appreciate your straightforward honesty on the matter that the Christian bible does in fact paint the Jews’ beloved leaders of blessed memory in the blackest darkness, portraying them as improbably exerting control over their conquerors, and more, impossibly, over G-d Himself, lethally. You’re right that the “new testament” repeatedly emphasizes that it was the Jews who murdered G-d.

      I understand that you would like to erase the line between the Christian bible’s narrative in which the evil Jews defiantly claim perpetual culpability for their own progeny over G-d’s murder, and the millennia of torment Christians have so piously visited on the Jews. I know you would like to deny a causal relationship between these separate revolting phenomena. Alas, your denial is shattered by the declarations of the Christian tormentors themselves, announcing as they did while in flagrante delicto their religious righteousness as they pillaged Jewry. Understand that the stripes these gentile barbarians laid on Israel, which in their own minds justified them or made them righteous–this is the topic of Isaiah 53 and the gentile recognition of the error in their calculations in their abuse of righteous Israel. Isaiah didn’t come out of your Catholic Sunday school with its made-up Bible replacement. The proper understanding of Isaiah is necessarily the Jewish one, and you can see well how the “new testament” and its followers have set the stage for a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. May it be soon, in our day.

  3. In the light of your last response, in the Tanakh, what part did God play in the terrible sufferings and decimations of the Jews? “Decimation” etymologically means one tenth destruction, but in fact it was – in the case of Assyrian and Babylonian destructions of the Jews – about one tenth remaining (remnant).

    • bography,

      Let’s sharpen your question. Going back to the beginning, to the forefathers, G-d challenged Abraham and Sarah with a rough life. How do you think they felt throughout their adult lives, going to their friends’ celebrations when they had children, to their coming-of-age parties, graduation ceremonies and marriages? Moving from country to country, dealing with kidnappings. When Abraham finally had a child, G-d ordered him to send him away to the wilderness. Isaac had a wicked son in Esau to break his heart, and Jacob thought for 20 years that his son Joseph was dead. All this was an important enough component of G-d’s plan that He saw fit to remind Moses and the Jews about it at Sinai. And what of Moses? He ran away from Egypt a young man. The next chapter picks up when he was 80 years old! What about those intervening six decades of separation from his family and his people? G-d let very righteous people suffer. A lot. And in Egypt, the Jews were tortured for 210 years. They were forced into labor day and night, and their children were slaughtered. 210 years. The Nazi Holocaust was kids play compared to what happened in Egypt. So, to your question, what’s going on here–is G-d an anti-Semite?

      Rather, our tradition from Sinai is that these difficulties were part of the tests through which the Jewish forebears developed themselves to a level of righteousness that qualified them to give rise to G-d’s chosen people. And the crucible of Egypt was the refinery through which their Jewish descendants needed to be processed to become G-d’s servant. Indeed, Jewish tradition records that G-d killed 80% of the Jewish people, the ones who were not ready to be His devoted servants, in Egypt. Only the finest 20% emerged to Sinai. And still we see that their observance was imperfect, punishably so.

      …more on this later if time permits, I have to run right now….

      • …continued from above…

        Of course, all of the punishment recorded in the Jewish Bible that the Jews incurred was deserved. We know that because [A] G-d inflicted it, and we know that he’s perfectly fair, and [B] G-d explained that the punishments he handed down were in response to to sins.

        But the “new testament” was written by Paul, not G-d. And in it we don’t read about G-d handing down the punishment of 2,000 years of Christians persecuting Israel. Rather, Paul wrote a viciously anti-Semitic and preposterous fiction in which the Jews murdered G-d, and then issued a statement essentially inviting good and decent lovers of G-d to hold future generations of Israel perpetually guilty. And, Christians have gotten that message loud and clear from Paul’s Christian bible.

        If you’ll notice, the devout Christian persecutors of Israel never, by and large, declared that their bloodlust was motivated by events in the Jewish Bible. No pogrom was ever stirred up by a local bishop reminding the illiterate hoards that the Jews had complained to Moses about a lack of poultry in their Sinaitic diet. The anti-Semitic violence has always traced from a direct line out of the “new testament” deicide narrative. The imaginary passion of Jesus is what has led to so much real suffering of innocent Jewish people at the hands of religious Christians.

        I hope this answers your question about the dichotomy of harm that has befallen the Jews, and why Christian religiously inspired violence against the Jews is neither fair nor appropriate nor in accordance with G-d’s will, while that which happened to the Jews at G-d’s hand, as recorded in the Jewish Bible, was proper.

  4. Anon, what is your view of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the the destruction and exile of the Jewish people by the Romans?

    You speak of the “imaginary passion of Jesus.” I find your view that gentiles invented the condemning to death of Jesus in order to kill Jews very bizarre. Even stranger is your view (expressed elsewhere) that Jesus didn’t exist. As for Paul inventing the NT, c’mon Anon, get real. Much of the NT was written after Paul had died.

    A far more cogent Jewish view would be if Jews accepted the historical record of Jesus’ life and death, and had the courage to say what the Jewish leaders said: “He is a false prophet and deserved to die.” But hardly a Jew will take that route. The reason is clear to me. If they accept only the existence of Jesus, it would open a giant can of worms.

    • The softness of your scholarship on Jesus’ existence is surprising to me. Given that you feel Jesus was a god, I would think you’d be tremendously interested in proving that he existed.

      You should have noted, but did not, that I have not denied Jesus’ existence. He may well have existed. I happen to believe that Jesus did exist, but that’s only because I have a scrupulously redacted and transmitted rabbinic oral tradition to that effect. I know that type of evidence is irrelevant and meaningless to you, so I don’t engage in discussion with you about the tradition’s content. As far as the evidence you are willing to consider, it doesn’t afford you a basis to make an informed conclusion one way or the other as to whether or not Jesus ever existed. The “new testament” itself is a zero credibility document; there is no more reason to accept it’s reports as there is to reject them. It was written by a daydreamer decades after the subject reports and is not backed up by witnesses or agreed to by contemporary historians.

      Now let’s get to separating fact from myth. Jewish history and Christian theology by record that Jesus existed. From that point forward, though, there’s little agreement. The Jewish tradition notes Jesus was the heretical product of a sinful relationship. The Christian religion casts Jesus as a miracle-working demi-god. One of these narratives derives from a carefully protected truth transmission system, and the other from a zero credibility dream book. Jews have no problem “accepting”, as you put it, the truth about Jesus’ existence. His existence does not mean that G-d is a man, since Jesus is not G-d.

      To maintain the integrity of our discourse, though, we need to exclude the Oral Tradition, which thoroughly undercuts Christian claims about Jesus’ messiahship and godship, and which you in turn refuse to accept. Since you do not accept the Talmud, I again ask you to demonstrate rationally that Jesus existed. Or is that just another leap of faith for you?

  5. Anon

    I’m glad that you believe that Jesus really existed, because the other Jews I have engaged with like Yash613, Eli and Rabbi Blumenthal find the issue of his existence irrelevant,
    I might have been confusing you with another Anonymous, or with what I thought another Anonymous believed, or I might have forgotten that somewhere on the RoshPinaProject you (?) said that you did believe that Jesus existed. Could you please cite the Jewish sources for your description of Jesus?

    As to the rest of your comment, allow me to quote a comment by PraetorDrew from the RoshPinaProject.

    “A lot of antimissionary arguments confuse epistemic priority with chronological priority. Just because one event precedes another does not mean belief in the first event justifies belief in the second event. Historians of ancient Greece believe in the existence of Zeno because they trust in the writings of Aristotle. Even though Aristotle came after Zeno, belief in Aristotle justifies belief in Zeno.

    Similarly, my belief in the New Testament justifies my belief in Tanakh, not the other way around. In debating atheists, I have found the Tanakh in general and the Pentatuch in particular by far the hardest part of the Bible to defend.

    You say that many liberal scholars have doubts about the authorship of certain parts of the New Testament. They sure do. Yet still they believe in the minimal facts that Dr. Craig laid out (radical self-image, crucifixion, entombment, empty tomb, disciples’ belief in the resurrection, conversion of Paul) because they have independent reasons for doing so. In fact, the evidence was so strong that the late Pinchas Lapide was convinced that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.

    I have yet to find a single secular historian who was convinced of the historicity of the Mosaic revelation based on the Kuzari Principle argument

    The fact that much of the world believes in the Mosaic revelation is not evidence of its truth. Once upon a time, everyone thought the Earth was the center of the Solar System.

    My skepticism toward oral tradition doesn’t really cut both ways. I am just as skeptical about oral traditions about Jesus which were not written down within the first two generations (like the Gospel of Peter) as I am about other oral traditions, such as ones not written down for over 40 generations. My methodology is consistent.”

    • Given our agreement that you reject the Oral Tradition, I’m not going to invest any time at all teaching and discussing it with you. Suffice it to say, though, that I’m entirely in agreement with with the other Jews you mentioned that the fact of Jesus’ existence is a trifling irrelevancy. The propriety of worshiping Jesus does not turn on whether or not he once lived, but on whether or not he is G-d. Similarly, the correctness of asserting Jesus was the messiah does not turn on whether or not he once lived, but on whether or not he fulfilled the Jewish Bible’s messianic prophecies. Since “G-d is not a man” (Num. 23:19), Jesus is not G-d; and since Jesus did not establish everlasting world peace (Is. 2:4), we know that Jesus could not have been the messiah.

      You said a lot in your last comment to me, and I’m not going to be able to respond to all of it. I will address one very important concession you made that bears repeating: “my belief in the New Testament justifies my belief in Tanakh, not the other way around”. That is very important.

      Most missionaries sell” their religion to Jews as a natural outgrowth of Judaism, often actually calling it the natural “completion” or “fulfillment” of the Jewish Bible. Missionaries I’ve encountered have uniformly insisted that their straight reading of the Jewish Bible, without any preconceptions from the Christian “new testament”, convinced them that Jesus had been the messiah, and a god too. They’ve told me that it was their reading of the Jewish Bible that proved to them that the Christian bible must be true. Those missionaries’ claims are obviously deeply problematic, since Jesus didn’t merit a single mention throughout the entire Jewish Bible.

      But I think your confession that you only accept the Jewish Bible on the condition that you interpret it through the prism of the Christian bible is a much more honest statement of the position of really all missionaries, and probably all Christians as well. (I hate using the word all–maybe most, just to be safe.) And it’s easy to see how Christians can get to their misreadings of the Jewish Bible once we understand that their starting point is their “sequel”. Beholden to the “new testament”, one can sense the imperative to project Jesus onto, say, Is. 53, even though G-d cast the Jews in the suffering servant role if we stop to read the credits in Isaiah. But if we’re reading the credits in another book, by another author, and watching the prequel through that limited lens, of course we’ll come up with totally different ideas about who was in the cast. Thank you for sharing.

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