by Brian Knowles
I haven’t done a lot of writing lately – not because there’s nothing to write about but because there’s too much. Jesus warned us about casting pearls – in other words, squandering the gifts God has given us to give to others. What a person can learn in almost seven decades of living, many of them as a Christian, is simply too precious to disseminate indiscriminately.
The other night, my wife and I viewed a movie called “The Apocalypse” starring Richard Harris as the apostle John. (Have you noticed that Biblical characters in movies often have English accents? Perhaps it creates a sense of “gravitas”?) We were able to watch thirty to forty minutes of the film before we gave up on it. It was unbearably inauthentic – like most such flicks produced either by Hollywierd or Christian television. In order to up the entertainment value, and hopefully gain back their investment plus some profit, producers and writers move steadily away from authenticity and deeper into fiction.
For us, the real story, told faithfully, is much more interesting.
A Jewish Milieu
Perhaps the most interesting and important thing I’ve learned about the early Church, and about the documents it left behind, is that they were Jewish through and through. A Jewish John would have been much different than the scraggly-haired Englishman dressed in rags as depicted by Harris.
Be that as it may; those who have the means to disseminate the Gospel and the story of Jesus and his apostles on film often squander their opportunity. They cannot, for any number of reasons, bring themselves to stick to the original narrative. The same thing is true when they depict Old Testament characters. Whether it’s Abraham, Moses, Daniel, or Jeremiah, everyone’s wearing the same raggy outfit. Everyone has a scraggly matted beard, and long equally matted hair. And that English accent appears to be ubiquitous. Old Testament characters are frequently shown holding a shepherd’s crook or a long staff with which they make dramatic gestures.
Let’s face it: the characters of the Bible were largely Israelites or Jews, and they looked and acted like Jews. Not one Biblical character spoke with an English accent. Not one of them had a King James Bible. Virtually all of them practiced Judaism. Why is that so hard for Hollywierd to grasp?
Just once, I’d like to see someone who has an understanding of the Jewish roots of the Church write a script that Hollywierd would faithfully reproduce on film. I’d like to see them hire a genuine Jewish roots scholar like Dr. Roy Blizzard or David Bivin to advise them about language, costume, housing, occupations, topography and especially about the Jewishness of the characters. Of course I realize that isn’t going to happen.
Shift away from Authenticity
Organized Christianity has move incrementally away from the thought world of the original believing community. The first apostles might find many of the doctrines, dogmas and practices of today’s church utterly unrecognizable, and perhaps unacceptable.
In the first century, as the original Jewish apostles of Jesus began to die out and new generations of gentile leadership began to emerge in the Church, the Jewish approach to the faith of Christ was steadily undercut. Toxic streams of thought – including Gnosticism and Platonism – began to flow into the Church. Dan Gruber writes: “The Council of Nicea, in 325 A.D., was a distinct turning point in the history of the church. Since that time, all accepted church theology has been built upon an anti-Judaic foundation. The theological changes embraced at Nicea made it impossible for the church to be faithful to its God-given mission,” The Church and the Jews, Introduction, p. vii.
The Church transitioned from being a movement within Judaism, to being a thoroughly Hellenized Platonic entity. Over time, the prevailing Roman/Greek culture produced a new kind of institutionalized, politicized, Church. Worse, that eventually morphed into a church/state system wielding enormous, and often deadly, power in the world.
The authentic faith of Christ and his apostles (Acts 2:42) was lost in the centuries-long political shuffle. What emerged in its place is an incredible, global, distortion. The real, Jewish Jesus has disappeared from view and in his place we have a Hollywierd character dressed in rags and speaking with an English accent.
For me, recapturing the authentic Jewish Jesus, and understanding the movement that he founded in that context, is the starting place for understanding what it means to be a Christian in today’s world. Any other approach means backing into the issue from an arbitrary starting point that hangs by a skyhook. Rather than sifting through the enormous mountain of theological debris that has accumulated down through the centuries, why not return to “the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3) and work our way forward?
When we begin to understand how Greek and Roman thinking influenced the early gentile Church, we will begin to see how the myriad of theological distortions that now characterize the Church came into being. We will witness the steady undermining of Jewish thinking and its replacement with Gnostic and Platonic thought. It’s all documented in Church history. We can know what happened, when it happened, and for the most part, why it happened.
When Hollywierd makes Biblical epics, it isn’t really casting pearls. Rather, it’s disseminating inauthentic distortions that leave audiences with erroneous impressions. When we return to the documents that constitute the “New Testament,” we will discover there the pearls that we must refrain from casting.