James E. Finley

very year as we draw near to Easter it is the practice of the television channels to air programs dealing with subjects derived from the Bible. This year was no exception. It is interesting to me to watch some of these movies so that I may see how various Bible accounts will be portrayed and especially how some of the characters will be portrayed. I have often wished that some of the teaching of our Lord could have been preserved on tape so that I might hear His tone of voice when He spoke certain things. We are all aware that tone of voice can materially alter the meaning of a statement.

This year, I became interested in a movie titled "Jesus of Nazareth". I watched (between many commercials) as the story of Jesus progressed from His birth to His death and resurrection and I found it interesting but certainly not always true to the story as told in the Bible. It is not my intention to give a review of the film or to identify all areas where the film departed from the record as we have it in the Bible, but I will point to a few things that were interesting to me.

One thing that rather forcefully caught my attention was the scene where John was baptizing people. As pictured in the movie, people wishing to be baptized would wade through the water until they stood before John. John would then dip up some of the water in his hands and pour it on the head of the subject. This, then was baptism as far as the producers of the movie were concerned. Much of the world agrees with such a notion, but it cannot be substantiated in the Bible. A few minutes study with some reference material on the Greek language would convince any open-minded person the Greek word should have been translated "immerse" instead of baptize. Man wanted it his way, so he discarded God's way and rewrote the record to please himself. Most of the religious world believes the error.

In the movie, John baptized Jesus this same way by pouring a few drops of water over His head. The gospel writers, however, tell us that John immersed Jesus. The Greek word baptizo clearly means immerse. Afterward, (in the movie) John looked up at the sky and saw a white dove flying overhead and then he (John) said, "1 heard a voice say this is My beloved Son". Matthew, however, tells us that "Jesus, when He was baptized (immersed), went up straitway out of the water: and Io, the heavens were opened unto Him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him"(Matt 3:16). Please notice that the Spirit descended like a dove and lighted upon Jesus. That is far different from a dove flying overhead. The gospel written by John, gives us more information on this matter. "Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God" (John 1:33-34). So we can see that the Spirit remained on Jesus and didn't just fly over. In addition, all four gospels state that a voice from heaven said "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased". The movie depicted this as an inner voice of some kind that only John heard. It seems that the movie makers just could not bring themselves to recognize the power of God to do these things, so they "watered down" the account by having a bird fly over and an "inner voice" speak to John.

Judas who betrayed the Lord was pictured by the movie makers as a well intentioned but mistaken man who was merely trying to arrange a situation where Jesus would be forced to speak to the Sanhedrin and thereby convince them of His authenticity. The Gospel accounts, however, make it clear that Judas went to the Jewish leaders to see what they would give him in payment for betraying the Lord. The leaders promised to pay Judas "thirty pieces of silver" (Matt. 26:15). Why anyone would want to "whitewash" the sin of Judas, I do not know. The record clearly states that he did what he did for money.

Then Barabbas was depicted as a patriot and not a criminal. This would seem to make the choice between the release of Jesus or Barabbas not so obvious and therefore to an extent lessen the guilt of the Jews who cried "give us Barabbas". In contrast to the message in the movie, the Bible accounts tell us that Barabbas was guilty of insurrection, murder, and robbery (Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19, John 18:40). In scripture we are told that Jesus was clearly innocent and Barabbas was clearly a criminal. The Jews had no excuse! The movie seemed to defend those who cried "give us Barabbas" by attempting to decriminalize Barabbas.

One of the most interesting parts of the movie for me was the way in which the Jewish leaders were pictured. The members of the San-hedrin wore distinctive clothes that set them apart from the common people and it was clear that they saw themselves as rulers or a special class of people. Most of these men were motivated primarily by a desire to maintain their own dignity, rank, position, and authority. These people had their own idea of what a Messiah should be and they would not be convinced otherwise no matter what happened. They were willing to stoop to most anything to maintain their own status, to deny the validity of the Lord's claims, and to keep the people from knowing the real truth. As sad as it is, I believe that is a fairly accurate portrayal of those leaders.

A smaller group of the leaders were honest enough with themselves to recognize that Jesus was being treated unfairly and that the behavior of the Sanhedrin was improper. Their problem was that they just didn't have the courage to "stand up and be counted", so they cowered in the background trying not to antagonize either side of the dispute.

A third group of leaders that I identified in the movie were the people who listened with an open mind and therefore believed. These, of course, were an extremely small minority and therefore could have little effect on what happened within the ranks of the leaders.

As I listen to the experiences of people today who are trying to teach the truth about the institutional church system, it strikes me that the reaction they receive from those within the institution fits very well into the same three categories described above. The larger and most vociferous group will protect the status quo any way possible. They commonly misstate issues, hide the real issues by bringing up spurious arguments, and circulate incorrect information while refusing open and fair discussions. A second and smaller group see the inequities but try to ride the fence and keep both sides happy, thereby contributing nothing to the advancement of truth. A third and even smaller group take a stand and are quickly in disfavor with those in authority. Because of the treatment they receive, they usually are forced out or leave in disgust. It is a very sad commentary but there is nothing new under the sun. Human nature is still exactly what it was when our Savior was here in the flesh.

I understand that there are problems with transferring the written record to the medium of a movie and the producers and directors must have some freedom to depart from the exact text at times. In my opinion, the "Bible movies" I see always contain unnecessary errors. Some of the errors are significant and some are not. Most of the movies, however, present some truth in a very powerful manner. To my mind, the movie under discussion gave a very clear and true picture of religious leaders and taught a powerful lesson in that regard.