New Film Examines Early Christian Controversy

Oct 11, 2012

LEXINGTON, KY- While Danville plays host to Thursday's Vice-Presidential debate, Lexingtonians can glimpse a far older and fiercer conflict tonight. 

The conflict in question is one of the oldest in the early Christian Church, and is examined in “A Polite Bribe,” a new documentary film making a one night screening in Lexington. 

The documentary, directed by independent filmmaker Robert Orlando, tells the story of two sets of early Christians; Jews based in Jerusalem, and the various Gentile communities set up by the apostle Paul, centered in areas such as Ephesus, Phillipi, and Corinth.  The two communities were in conflict because they were at an impasse over membership of the early Church. 

According to Dr. Ben Witherington, a New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and a contributor to the film, the crux of the issue was “on what basis could Gentiles be part of the Jesus Movement.” Specifically, did they need to get circumcised and follow all of the normal procedures of being a Jew, or was there a different basis?  Paul’s view was that since Jesus had proclaimed a new covenant, Christians were not required to follow the mosaic laws, whereas more conservative authorities in Jerusalem believed that following Mosaic Law was necessary. 

The central focus of the film is Paul taking up a collection from the Gentiles  and giving it to the Judean church to promote unity between the two communities.  The title “A Polite Bribe,” according to director Orlando, alludes to perceptions that the money collected was a bribe to accept Gentiles into the Church.  Dr. Witherington disagrees, saying that Paul was responding to a request from James to aid with famine relief in Jerusalem, and that Paul thought he could further the acceptance of Gentiles in the process.  However, Paul was viewed by several of his brothers in the faith as a threat to Judaism and Jewish Christianity, so he was nonetheless under threat.  The film is unique in that it does not rely upon historical images and reenactments.  Instead, Orlando commissioned original graphics to depict Paul’s struggle, interspersing the images with interviews from a variety of Pauline scholars, including Dr. Witherington. 

Thursday’s screening represent's the director's effort to secure wider distribution for his film and he hopes to sell a book about it at a later date.  However, the film may face a timing issue in Lexington.   Witherington said that he told Orlando they were “swimming against a very busy tide, including the Vice-Presidential debate."

The screening of “A Polite Bribe” will take place tonight at 7:00 PM in Regal Cinemas at Hamburg Pavilion.  Following the film, Orlando and Witherington will host a Q&A session with the audience.