0 Out of Context: Matthew 10:35 and The Trial of the Chicago 7

Posted: Sunday 05 May 2024 ( 4 weeks ago )

Out of Context: Matthew 10:35 and The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a Netflix film based on the trial of seven anti-war protesters who were arrested during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I very much enjoyed the movie, but I was especially struck by its portrayal of Abbie Hoffman's testimony, in which he quotes a verse from the Gospel of Matthew.

Here's the portion of the script from the movie, where the prosecuting attorney, Richard Schultz, is questioning Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) about something his fellow defendant, Tom Hayden, had said.

SCHULTZ: Did you hear the tape that was played in court of Mr. Hayden at the bandshell?


SCHULTZ: You heard the tape?


SCHULTZ: Did you hear Mr. Hayden give an instruction to his people to take to the streets?

ABBIE: His people. Hayden’s not a mafia Don and neither am I.

SCHULTZ: Did you hear him say, “If blood is gonna flow, let it flow all over the city”?

ABBIE: The beginning of the sentence was supposed to be-- (beat--forget it)

Yes. Yes I did.

SCHULTZ: What do you think of that?

ABBIE: I think Tom Hayden’s a badass of an American patriot.

SCHULTZ: I didn’t ask what you thought of the man, I asked what you thought of his instruction to the crowd.

ABBIE: You know, I’ve heard Tom Hayden say, “Let’s end the war” too but nobody stopped shooting.

You can do anything to anything by taking it out of context, Mr. Schultz.

SCHULTZ: Is that right?

ABBIE: A guy once said, “I am come to set a man at variance with his father. And the daughter against her mother.”

You know who said it?

SCHULTZ: Jerry Rubin?

ABBIE (laughing a little): Yeah. No. It was Jesus Christ. Matthew 10:34.

And it sure sounds like he’s telling kids to kill their parents.

Until you read Matthew 10:33 and 10:35.

Of course, in the actual court transcript, Abbie Hoffman didn't quote this Bible verse during the trial. Hoffman was a rather irreverent Jew, and he probably wouldn't quote Jesus in his testimony. But Aaron Sorkin had Sacha Baron Cohen do it for him anyway.

But at least the movie script quoted Matthew 10:35 correctly, using the King James Version.

The problem is that that verse says exactly what it sounds like it says. And the previous and following verses don't make it any better.

Here are the verses that are supposed to put Jesus's words in context.

Matthew 10:34: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

Matthew 10:36: And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

Apparently Aaron Sorkin didn't bother to read these two verses. He just figured that context would make Jesus's words say something acceptable, rather than what they so clearly actually say.

The Jesus in Matthew's gospel came to break families apart, to set fathers against their sons, and daughters against their mothers. To make enemies within families. And, unfortunately, Jesus achieved his mission.

In this case, as in almost all cases when it comes to the Bible, context only makes it worse.

Bible in Fewer Words: Matthew 10-11 | Not peace, but a sword

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