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Pilate: What is truth? in "The Passion of the Christ"


The Pontius Pilate of "The Passion of the Christ" is a more multi-dimensional man than traditionally portrayed in film.


Not just a mean-spirited bureaucrat, he is an all-too-human proxy for modern man. Sadly, we may see a little of Pilate in ourselves.

A product of the Roman military, Pilate is a "results-oriented" ruler who finds himself in a most uncomfortable situation; he must determine Christ's fate.

Should he give the enemies of Christ the blood they desire? Should he stand up for the rights of an innocent man? A pragmatic man to whom everything is relative, he simply does not know. His political skills face a moral dilemma and come up wanting.

For Pilate, the ends justify the means. He wants to keep peace, to prevent civil unrest. In his final analysis, the death of an innocent man is an acceptable price to achieve his goal.

Are there Pilates in our own time?

The film compels us to ask whether there are Pilates in our world today. We have all seen and heard politicians say and do just about anything in the hope of getting votes. In the 2004 election cycle, some candidates have openly stated that their views will reflect the wishes of the majority, even if those wishes run counter to their personal moral or religious beliefs. Like Pilate, they hope to give the people what they want.

Corporate executives face the pressure of meeting shareholder expectations, and face the personal temptation of throwing out ethics to maximize personal financial gain. Some have given into these pressures and temptations by misstating financial statements, and in some cases eliminating jobs with little consideration for the value and dignity every person deserves.

A little Pilate in all of us?

In the movie, Pilate is torn. He thinks Jesus is innocent. His wife, Claudia, tells him that Jesus is a holy man and should not be punished. Jesus has many supporters, who will be angry if he is harmed. On the other hand, the church leaders want Jesus to be crucified; if they are not placated, Pilate might have a revolt on his hands. And a revolt would displease Pilate's boss, Tiberius. How often in our lives do we place strategic objectives such as power, money, or even the desire to be popular ahead of truth and doing what is morally correct?

The Roman Governor doesn't turn to the law or a moral code of right or wrong to help him. He sits and hangs his head, asking "what is truth?" He hasn't a clue.

Pilate truly is between a rock and a hard place. And without a sense of truth, he tries everything he can think of to weasel out of a decision. He sends Christ to Herod; Herod sends him back. He scourges him; the crowd asks for more. He offers to release him; the crowd wants Barabbas freed. In our lives do we at times place too much importance on pleasing others, instead of focusing on the truth and doing what is morally correct?

Pilate washes his hands, literally, of the affair. But he looks to be a broken man. Deep within, he knows that he cannot escape his part in Jesus' fate. Washing his hands will not bring him peace, will not erase the pain he feels, will not bring him closer to the definition of truth.

He feels the emptiness we all feel when we make a decision without relying on the truth, without determining what is right and sticking with it. Like Pilate, we can decide to make a decision that seems to maintain the peace. But if it isn't based on the truth, can it really give us peace in the long run?



Truth- John 18: 37 "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice."

THE SPLENDOR OF TRUTH shines forth in the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Hence the Psalmist prays: "Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord" (Ps 4:6). Veritatis Splendor


Facilitator's Guide: Pilate: What is truth? "The Passion of the Christ"

The purpose of this unit is to:

  • Examine the evil and consequences of placing the desire to please others and to avoid difficult decisions over morality

  • Examine the evil and consequences of placing strategic interests such as power, money and popularity over morality

  • Challenge participants to use the above moral errors of Pilate as a basis for examining our own lives, and our culture.

  • Raise awareness of the importance of objective truth

Prayer: Lord, gives us the strength that Pilate lacked, the strength to seek Your truth and act in harmony with it. May we have the courage to do the right thing, even when it is not the popular thing.

Discussion Questions

  1. Pilate believes Christ is innocent, but still allows him to be tortured and killed. Why didn't he release him?
  2. Pilate tried to satisfy everyone. Did he satisfy anyone?
  3. Pilate asks, "What is truth?" What does this suggest about his decision-making process?
  4. We have witnessed major business scandals in the past several years and business schools are increasingly concerned with teaching ethics. Are there parallels between Pilate and modern corporate executives who have become embroiled in financial scandal?
  5. At times we all find ourselves between "a rock and a hard place". Let's discuss hypothetical and real-life scenarios where doing the right thing may be unpopular.

Personal Reflections/Writing

  1. Pilate joins a very select group of named personages in the Nicene Creed: The Father, the Holy Spirit, Christ, Mary and Pontius Pilate. "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate." He was one man, but was he in some ways a proxy for all men? Think about Pilate's dilemma and how it led to his infamous role in history.

  2. Review times in your life when you made a decision just to keep people happy.
  • Did it work out?

  • Would it have been better to simply play it straight?

  • What choice were you confronted with?

  • What was the motivation behind your decision? What were the ethical dimensions of the choice? (why each option is right or wrong)

Resolution Ideas

  1. I will meditate on an area of my life in which I have acted like Pilate, and take a concrete measure to correct this weakness.
  2. There are numerous university websites that offer articles and case studies on business ethics. A reading of the history around cases such as Enron can give insight to the ultimate results of executives not acting morally.
  3. Do a biographical sketch on Pilate and what happened to him after his encounter with Christ.

Resource Links

For biographical information about Pontius Pilate

Business Ethics magazine's site has numerous articles:

Loyola Marymount University's Center for Ethics and Business has a wealth of information about business ethics:

For the history and text of the Nicene Creed:


Our Faith in Action Study Guides to The Passion of Christ

Our Faith in Action: About the program
Christ Confronts Evil in The Passion of Christ
Mary Witness to Suffering in The Passion of Christ
Obedience to the Father in The Passion of Christ
What is Truth? The Passion of Christ
Christ's Self-Giving Love in The Passion of Christ



Faith in Action. "Pilate: What is truth?The Passion of the Christ." Our Faith in Action (February, 2004).

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