The Passion of the Christ - The Movie
A Review by Tony Capoccia and Others
Each day I receive numerous emails asking about the new movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson. I write and compose this response for true believers in Christ. I do not expect unbelievers to understand nor accept much of what is said in this review.
Here are a few of the questions I have received about the movie:
"I would like to ask you a question...do you have any resources (articles, etc.) that give fair warning about the new Mel Gibson Passion Movie that will be released in a couple of weeks. I have great concerns about evangelical churches and pastors giving endorsement to view this movie. I am not endorsing it much to the disappointment of some in my church, and I wish I had some resources to further articulate my hesitancy."
"What are your thoughts and feelings on this upcoming Catholic movie? Isn't
it just another step towards one world religion? The signs and wonders that have
been happening on the set and many people turning to Catholicism. Why would a
discerning Christian want to see this movie and why are so many churches and
prominent Christian leaders promoting this catholic movie? How confused could a
lost person be after viewing this and then be susceptible to apostate teaching?"
"What are you thoughts about this movie and its use as a tool for outreach through our local churches?"
What follows are my comments about this movie and other comments that I have found recently that express concerns about the movie. In some cases I have removed the names from the comments to protect their privacy. Trust me I do not sit around and make up comments, for I serve the Lord of the Universe, a God of truth. I plan to add more comments to this file. All new comments will appear at the end of the file with the date added.
Thoughts from Tony Capoccia.....
I don't believe we need movies, plays, and concerts for outreach. The Bible
never calls us to do that but rather to preach the Gospel. Where in the Bible do
we ever see the Apostles using a play or a concert to reach the lost? We
need to confront our unbelieving friends and relatives with their sin and
the consequences of them (eternal wrath and torment) and then to give them the
solution which is Our Lord Jesus Christ--The Only Savior.
The movie takes liberty with the Word of God and the Life of Christ showing and stating things that He did but are simply not true. I think that violates a clear scripture: Revelation 22:18-19 "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."
By having scenes of Jesus as a young child or teasing and playing with His mother (splashing water at her, which is in the movie) is simply adding to the Word. Nowhere is it ever recorded in the Scriptures what Jesus did as a baby, a child, nor as a young man, except for the time at the temple when He "was about His Father's business." The Bible says, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" [John 21:25]. It is implied that God chose exactly what He wanted written about Christ and His life and Passion. Only what is written in the Holy Bible is God's inspired Word and we are to add nothing to it. It is interesting that Mel Gibson claims that the Holy Spirit has led him in the making of this film, and yet when the final copy was produced and approved, they (Gibson and SONY) deleted this line from the movie: "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" [Matthew 27:25] for this was offensive to the Jews. The gospel message is offensive and the Holy Spirit would not have made it less offensive by deleting convicting verses.
Why are we so afraid to trust the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God that we share with the unsaved to wake them up and save them. We are led to believe that it is easier to invite an unsaved person to see a movie or a concert rather than ask them about their spiritual condition and their need of Christ. We need to be prepared with a holy life, a good knowledge of the Scriptures, with the love of Christ, prayer, and then seek to share the Good News.
The movie is "R" rated because of extreme violence. When God wrote the
Bible through the Holy Spirit, by the hands of men, He had the choice on what
and how He would display Christ's passion. God did not focus on the
violent side of it, but rather on the purpose of the death of Jesus, which was
the salvation of all who come to Christ by Repenting of their sins; Believing
that Jesus was who He claimed to be; and by Submitting to His Lordship.
Mel Gibson intentionally has made the movie as violent as he can:
"He [Gibson] added that 'the film is very violent, and if you don't like it, don't go, you know? That's it. If you want to leave halfway through, go ahead. You know, there's nothing that says you have to stay there. I wanted it to be shocking. And I also wanted it to be extreme. I wanted it to push the viewer over the edge. And it does that. I think it pushes one over the edge...'" [CNN interview Sunday, February 15, 2004 Posted: 8:52 AM EST (1352 GMT].
In the movie industry today many of the more popular movies are ones with "extreme violence" which seems to satisfy the heart of man in our society. I believe that Mel Gibson is using the suffering of Jesus Christ as entertainment for movie goers and intends for it to make a profit, which is a sort of blasphemy in itself. I have received comments from some who profess to be believers, that said, that although they believe the movie is not right yet they plan to see it anyway. One said, "I plan on seeing it just like I went to see The Lord of the Rings"--for people like this Gibson's movie is just another movie with extreme violence that will entertain them, but this time at the expense of the Holy Son of God.
One of the things that those who are promoting the movie are pushing is for believers to invite their unsaved friends and neighbors to go see the movie. The danger is that this is a Hollywood production, like many in our day, designed to entertain (even at the expense of the Son of God!) with violent scenes and action. Many of the unsaved people may become offended that they were subjected to such vivid violence and actually be turned off by such an approach. Mel Gibson is hoping that they will become emotionally involved after seeing the violence and then seek Jesus, but using the emotions to stir someone to seek and accept Christ. This is the same faulty logic of "Altar calls" with 14 chorus of "Just as I am" or "I Surrender All".
Another point about the violence portrayed in the movie: This does not even come close to the suffering that Christ truly endured. It was not so much the outward physical violence, but rather the inner anguish of paying the price for sins and being separated from the sweet fellowship of The Father. The true suffering of Jesus was in the three hours of darkness on the cross when God would not let the world see the anguish of Jesus. Yet, Mel Gibson claims to portray "The Passion of the Christ"--he ends up majoring on the minor.
Added comment by Tony Capoccia on 2/17/04
I saw the interview (Diane Sawyer's interview with Mel Gibson last night (ABC-10:00 pm EST) and overall felt that Gibson is very lost, confused, and still very troubled in his mind. He has grabbed onto Roman Catholicism as his only hope, and what a false hope it really is. My heart aches at the whole approach of the movie, in that it focuses for two hours on the violent physical sufferings of Christ. As Gibson said last night, (not an exact quote), "The movie focuses on the 12 hours of Christ's suffering and gives 12 seconds on the resurrection." The one comment by another individual, during the interview, about the movie's lack of context was revealing, since Gibson never really explains in the movie, with any detail, why Jesus was suffering; why the Jews wanted Him dead, and what was the eventual glorious result. It is, in my mind, an extreme and gruesome focus on the physical suffering with a total disregard to the true inner anguish that occurred for the three hours of total darkness on the cross (Matthew 27:45). The actual physical suffering that Gibson focuses on is what, I would guess, the Jews and many in the crowd that day rejoiced to see, along with the demons and Satan, believing they were finally destroying Jesus Christ. I wonder if the demons and Satan again are rejoicing that their greatest moment has finally made it to the big screen?
Added comment by Tony Capoccia on 2/24/04
Charles Spurgeon once said, "If you have to give a carnival to get people to come to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back." If we have to produce an action thriller with two hours of gore and "R" rated violence to get the unsaved to seek Christ, then what will be the encore so we can keep them seeking? When God is going to create a revival, as many believe this movie will trigger, then God always uses godly and saved men with a pure Gospel message.
For those Christians who plan to see the movie, let me ask you, "If you had a loved one who died a violent death at the hands of a serial killer, would you pay money to watch a two hour reenactment of the actual brutal killing, and even have parts of it in slow motion, as Mel did with Christ?
Comments by Others...
This film is a "docudrama", not an authentic historical presentation of the Gospels, but it is presented as if it were the truth. It’s made by a spiritually dead person (Catholic) who is darkened in his understanding of the Scriptures, the nature of sin, and the work of the Savior. It adds to the Word of God, treating the Holy Scriptures as if they are not the Spirit controlled holy writings they are, but as merely material for a scriptwriter and editors. As a Catholic, Mel Gibson only understands Catholic dogma and interpretation of the Gospels, and presents a Catholic view of sin, the Savior and salvation.
As a filmmaker of the 21st century Gibson has tailored his film in the genre of the times—with extreme and graphic violence (something the Bible never emphasizes). The film is an R rated feature—if Gibson’s purpose in making the film was to give the world a visual aid, so to speak, in understanding the atonement, why would he choose to exclude [by the R rating] everyone under the age of 17 (the most impressionable group) from seeing it? What are his credentials for making a religious film anyway?
By Jeannette Walls with Ashley Pearson, MSNBC, Updated: 12:35 p.m. ET Feb. 10, 2004,
"Mel Gibson has come under fire for being hard on Jews in his film “The
Passion of the Christ” — but apparently, he feels that Protestants are also
doomed to damnation. In fact, it looks like Gibson, a conservative Catholic,
believes that his Episcopalian wife could be going to hell. Gibson was
interviewed by the Herald Sun in Australia, and the reporter asked the star if
Protestants are denied eternal salvation. “There is no salvation for those
outside the Church [Roman Catholic Church],” Gibson replied. “I believe it.”
He elaborated: “Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.”
Gibson also said in the interview that he was nearly suicidal before he made his controversial film. “I got to a very desperate place. Very desperate. Kind of jump-out-of-a-window kind of desperate,” he said in the interview. “And I didn’t want to hang around here, but I didn’t want to check out. The other side was kind of scary. And I don’t like heights, anyway. But when you get to that point where you don’t want to live, and you don’t want to die, it’s a desperate, horrible place to be. And I just hit my knees. And I had to use ‘The Passion of the Christ’ to heal my wounds.”
Gibson's movie legit? 1/16/2004 10:54:32 AM
I have advised the young people and others at our church that the movie should be avoided. It is devoid of any theological distinctions that so separate us from Roman Catholic doctrine (since Mel himself has made such an issue of his faith) and belief. With all the attendant "false miracle" statements that surround this film, it will only serve to propagate more of this emotional hodge-podge. I believe that it sets a precedent of giving the impression "we" all believe the same, which is far from the truth. Instead of taking a friend to an "emotionalfest"- take the time to take them the gospel directly from the Word of God.
Some "Passion" info 1/21/2004 10:27:13 AM
I heard about some preliminary screenings in the fall that helped to generate some of the controversy, but I wouldn't expect a true "review" to be available until the final cut of the film is released. Those earlier screenings were even before Gibson had decided whether or not to add English subtitles to the film. I wonder how many believers will go to the film expecting to "hear" scripture and be surprised by the ancient languages instead.
By no means do I recommend "Worship Leader" magazine, a longtime promoter of confused theology and extra-Biblical pop trends, but you might be interested to know that the Jan/Feb '04 issue (theme: visual arts in worship) features a two-page interview with Gibson and a pullout section coordinated by Chuck Smith designed to help church leaders make strategic use of the "Passion" film. I didn't read it, but I don't see evidence of caution anywhere about the fact that the film is basically God's word handled by non-believers. As much as I'd like to give Gibson credit for his desire to impact the non-churched with this film, and to get across what Christ did for us, I'm still longing to see evidence that Gibson truly knows the fruit of repentance through salvation.
The Passion of the Christ 2/1/2004 5:10:23 AM
Is anyone concerned with some of the statements coming out of interviews promoting the film? During the filming, Gibson, a devout Catholic, attended Mass every morning because "we had to be squeaky clean just working on this." "To atone for the sins of everybody, it boggles the mind," said Mr. Gibson, "[Christ] could have done it by pricking His finger and shedding His blood. He didn't choose to do that. He went all the way." In an interview about his starring role in “The Passion of the Christ,” James Cavaziel – Gibson’s Jesus – detailed the ordeal of filming the Crucifixion scenes, noting that the overall experience prompted many in the crew to convert to Catholicism. Cavaziel also told Gibson, “I think it’s very important that we have mass every day – at least I need that to play this guy. If I was going to play him I needed the sacrament in me."
[Comment by Tony Capoccia: What Gibson just said is false. Christ could not have atoned for sins by "pricking his finger and shedding His blood"--no, Christ had to die for our sins. In the Old Testament when animals were sacrificed for the sins of the people, the animals did not just bleed a little--they had to die. "Christ died for the ungodly" [Romans 5:6]. "Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8]. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3].
Theological Issues Surrounding Gibson's Film 12/10/2003 8:31:23 AM
Mel Gibson's Icon Productions will be releasing "The Passion of the Christ" in theaters February. Here are couple of issues I've been pondering regarding the film.
First, is such an endeavor a violation of the second commandment? Billy Graham was one of several Christian leaders who was able to preview the movie. He said, "Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind." Is he now limiting his view of the cross to one actor's portrayal rather than four gospel writer's account? Is there danger of placing more faith in the images than the written word?
Second, Gibson has "buddied up" to evangelical leaders in the past several months. He speaks of miracles on the set and being led by the Holy Spirit in the entire endeavor. This whole thing is beginning to look to me like the first major cultural phenomena of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together [ECT]." I'm picturing leaders from the ECT celebrating this as a major breakthrough in bringing Evangelicals and Catholics together. As pastors, if we promote the movie to our people or endorse it, are we de facto endorsing Gibson's personal theology?
RE: Theological Issues Surrounding Gibson's Film 2/10/2003 3:42:00 PM
Not being able to vouch for the content of the movie I would have a hard time
saying that the endeavor to make a movie of Christ's life on earth constitutes a
violation of the second commandment. If such an endeavor was a violation of the
second commandment then every church that has ever put on an Easter drama is
guilty of violating the second commandment. With that said I do think that it is
possible for people to respond to movies and dramas about Christ in ways that
would violate the second commandment because it is possible to idolize such
productions by allowing them to limit one's view of God, placing them above the
Word of God, and treating them in many other ways that would cause them to
become idols in one's life.
I am skeptical about this particular movie because it is being made by unbelievers. As far as this movie being used as a vehicle to bring Catholics and Evangelical together, that definitely seems like a potential outcome.
Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, had this to say about
The Passion of the Christ. [Comment added 2/13/04]
While I have not yet seen the film, I'm troubled by two things about it:
In the providence of God, however, the movie will focus attention on the crucifixion and raise questions about the meaning of it. Since the movie itself is merely a portrayal of the event with no explanation of its meaning, I expect it will provide Christians with many opportunities to explain the meaning of Christ's death to those who will inevitably want to understand more than the movie spells out.
For that reason, I think much good may come out of it, and my public comments about it won't focus exclusively on the things I dislike about it, but on the truth that underlies the event it attempts to portray. That's the message I hope unbelievers get from the Christian public's response to the film.
For a detailed biblical examination of the crucifixion I recommend John MacArthur's book The Murder of Jesus.
Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of the Christ by Andrew J. Webb [Added 2/13/04]
"On February 25, 2004 Icon films, will be releasing Mel
Gibson's much anticipated film The Passion of the Christ. The date of the release
was deliberately chosen to coincide with the Roman Catholic holy day of Ash
Wednesday, and is indicative of the fact that for Gibson, his film was more of
a work of devotion than a money making enterprise. In an interview on the
Roman Catholic Television Network EWTN, Gibson candidly stated why this movie
is so different from all his others, "It reflects my beliefs--I've never done
that before." He is also quite open about his desire to see his movie used for
worldwide evangelism. Many noted Evangelicals including James Dobson and Billy
Graham have also come forward to endorse The Passion of the Christ and recommend
its use as a teaching tool. Currently, The Passion of the Christ is riding a
groundswell of nationwide support from both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics,
with many well-known Evangelical congregations, such as best selling author
and Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church which purchased 18,000 tickets at
seven theatres, doing everything they can to ensure that The Passion of the
will be a smash hit amongst Christians and "seekers". Expressing a widely held
view amongst the film's supporters, Lisa Wheeler, associate editor of Catholic
Exchange, a Web portal dedicated to Catholic evangelism, told the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution "It's the best evangelization opportunity we've had since
the actual death of Jesus."
But should Evangelicals be supporting The Passion of the Christ and endorsing its use as an Evangelism tool? Is this really the best evangelization opportunity we've had since the actual death of Jesus? After careful consideration my conclusion is an unequivocal "No." Here then are five reasons why I believe Evangelicals should not see or recommend The Passion of the Christ.
1) Its Origins: Even though Evangelicals are promoting The Passion of the Christ, it is not an Evangelical movie. As Mel Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic put it so well; "It reflects my beliefs." The Passion of the Christ is a Roman Catholic movie, made by a Roman Catholic director, with Roman Catholic theological advisers, and which gained the endorsement of Pope John Paul II who said after viewing it "It is as it was." This is in marked contrast to the Jesus film, which is unabashedly Protestant and Evangelical in its production and message and which has been widely used in evangelizing Roman Catholics. It is largely for this reason that the Jesus film has not been utilized or endorsed by Roman Catholics. By contrast, The Passion of the Christ has already proven its effectiveness as an evangelism tool in producing Catholic conversions and encouraging Catholic devotion:
"In his first nationally broadcast interview about his starring role in Mel Gibson's much-anticipated film "The Passion of the Christ," James Caviezel - Gibson's Jesus - detailed on Friday the ordeal of filming the Crucifixion scenes, noting that the overall experience prompted many in the crew to convert to Catholicism."
"Noting "the amount of conversions on the movie," he said the experience of filming Christ's story "really changed people's lives."
"Caviezel recalled telling Gibson, "I think it's very important that we have mass every day - at least I need that to play this guy."
"I felt if I was going to play him I needed [the sacrament] in me. So [Gibson] provided that."
2) Its Script: Although it is widely thought that the script for the movie is based entirely on the gospel according to John, this is not the case. The script for The Passion of the Christ contains much extrabiblical material, and is based in part on a mystical Roman Catholic devotional work by an 18th century German Nun (Sister Anne Emmerich) entitled The Dolorous Passion of Christ. Gibson stated on EWTN that reading Emmerich's book was his primary inspiration for making the movie. By introducing extrabiblical elements, not only does The Passion of the Christ change some of the theological emphases of the Biblical account of Christ's crucifixion, but it will also create a false impression amongst the very "seekers" that Evangelicals are trying to reach, that things were said and done at the crucifixion that did not actually happen. For Evangelicals, who would feel very uncomfortable with a version of the Bible that put words into the mouth of Christ that he never spoke, to endorse a movie that does the very same thing seems hopelessly inconsistent. Protestants traditionally rejected the Apocrypha precisely because these books were fabricated and contained inauthentic material, despite the fact that these books might have been useful for evangelism. For modern evangelicals to embrace a vehicle that is inauthentic in order to achieve evangelistic ends indicates a serious decline in faithfulness.
The script for The Passion of the Christ not only adds things that didn't occur in the Bible, it cuts out other things that did. The most widely known example of this being the important declaration: "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25)
The script for The Passion of the Christ was translated into Aramaic and Latin by Father William Fulco, an old friend of Mel Gibson's. This was not done for reasons of making it more authentic. The language decisions in The Passion of the Christ were made for theological reasons:
"It is crucial to realize that the images and language at the heart of "The Passion of the Christ" flow directly out of Gibson's personal dedication to Catholicism in one of its most traditional and mysterious forms - the 16th-century Latin Mass.
"I don't go to any other services," the director told the Eternal Word Television Network. "I go to the old Tridentine Rite. That's the way that I first saw it when I was a kid. So I think that that informs one's understanding of how to transcend language. Now, initially, I didn't understand the Latin. ... But I understood the meaning and the message and what they were doing. I understood it very fully and it was very moving and emotional and efficacious, if I may say so."
The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the "sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar - which is the same thing," said Gibson. This ancient union of symbols and sounds has never lost its hold on him. There is, he stressed, "a lot of power in these dead languages."
Thus, the seemingly bizarre choice of Latin and Aramaic was actually part of the message."
The script of The Passion of the Christ was specifically intended to link the crucifixion of Christ with what Roman Catholics believe is the re-sacrificing of Christ that occurs in the mass. Gibson's intent is to show us that the sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the altar (the mass) are the same thing. Protestant Evangelicals have historically rejected the idea that Christ can be sacrificed again and declared it "abominable." Speaking of the concept that the Crucifixion and the mass is the same thing, the Protestant Westminster Confession declares:
"In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to his Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of his elect."
3) Its Theology: Gibson's comment about the sacrifice of the altar and the sacrifice of the cross shows the indispensable link in this movie between the Catholic view of Christ's sacrifice and the portrayal of the Crucifixion in The Passion of the Christ. The fact that Evangelicals have uncritically endorsed it speaks volumes about how far the Evangelical Protestant understanding of Christ's death and the related subject of Justification have slipped since the Reformation. In Roman Catholic theology the intense physical suffering of Christ's Crucifixion is the focus along with the emphasis on physical sacrifice. This is one of the reasons why in Roman Catholic iconography we have so much imagery related to Christ's physical pain and that crucifixes show him still suffering on the cross (the sacrifice of the mass means that Christ's declaration that his once for all sacrifice is completed "it is finished" (John 19:30) never actually comes, and that his suffering has to be constantly repeated). This emphasis on Christ's physical agony is repeated in Roman Catholic devotional material, prayers, and of course The Passion of the Christ. The theology of the bible however points out to us that the grand importance of Christ's crucifixion lay not in his physical suffering, but in his once for all propitiation of God's wrath (1 John 4:10). Lest we forget, the greatest torment that Christ experienced on the cross was not caused by the nails driven into his flesh, but in his being made "sin for us" and vicariously suffering the righteous punishment of the Father in our place. Even the worst physical torments inflicted by the Sanhedrin and the Romans upon Jesus were nothing by comparison to the anguish of having the sins of all the elect imputed to Him and making full satisfaction for them. Satisfying the justice of the Romans on a cross was comparatively easy, thousands of condemned men and women including Spartacus and several of the Apostles did that, but only Christ could satisfy the justice of God.
"Also central to the Christian Gospel, but missing from The Passion of the Christ, is the concept of Christ's active obedience. Christ not only died for the sins of His sheep on the Cross but he established their righteousness through His perfect obedience to God's Law. It is only if His passive obedience in dying on the cross and His active obedience in keeping the law are imputed to believers per 2 Cor. 5:21 that believers will be justified before almighty God. The Passion of the Christ does not even make any pretence of teaching the active obedience of Christ, the entire notion of which is alien to Roman Catholic theology. Therefore if Evangelicals intend to use this as a Gospel teaching tool, they must understand that at best they are teaching only half a gospel, and that the half they are teaching is defectively presented.
The sacrifice of Christ was a glorious event in which, in accordance with God's plan, full satisfaction for sin was procured by Christ on behalf of His people (Acts 2:43). The Passion of the Christ leaves us with a vision of the sacrifice of Christ that is only dolorous (Dolorous: Full of grief; sad; sorrowful; doleful; dismal) and which puts into sharp relief the Roman Catholic notion not only of the importance of Christ's agony, but that of Mary in "offering her Son." In an interview with Zenit, the Roman Catholic News Service, Father Thomas Rosica, the priest who oversaw World Youth Day 2002 and its Way of the Cross through the streets of Toronto, illustrated how The Passion of the Christ, in keeping with Roman Catholic theology, uses extrabiblical content to massively exaggerate the role of Mary:
"One scene, in particular, was very moving. As Jesus falls on the Way of the Cross, there is a flashback to his falling on a Jerusalem street as a child, and his mother running out of the house to pick him up. The interplay of Mary and Jesus in this film is moving, and reaches its apex in the scene of the Pietà.
The Mother of the Lord is inviting each of us to share her grief and behold her Son."
This use of extra-biblical material, emphasis on physical suffering, exaggeration of the role of Mary, and explicitly Roman Catholic theology should not surprise us however as these are all hallmarks of the primary inspiration for this movie: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me give two examples of what I mean especially as concerns the replacement of physical pain for the far greater agony of sin bearing:
"He will not stretch himself out, but we will help him;’ they accompanied these words with the most fearful oaths and imprecations, and having fastened a rope to his right leg, dragged it violently until it reached the wood, and then tied it down as tightly as possible. The agony which Jesus suffered from this violent tension was indescribable; the words ‘My God, my God,’ escaped his lips, and the executioners increased his pain by tying his chest and arms to the cross, lest the hands should be torn from the nails."
"The hour of our Lord was at last come; his death-struggle had commenced; a cold sweat overspread every limb. John stood at the foot of the Cross, and wiped the feet of Jesus with his scapular. Magdalen was crouched to the ground in a perfect frenzy of grief behind the Cross. The Blessed Virgin stood between Jesus and the good thief, supported by Salome and Mary of Cleophas, with her eyes riveted on the countenance of her dying Son. Jesus then said: 'It is consummated;’ and, raising his head, cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ These words, which he uttered in a clear and thrilling tone, resounded through heaven and earth; and a moment after, he bowed down his head and gave up the ghost. I saw his soul, under the appearance of a bright meteor, penetrate the earth at the foot of the Cross. John and the holy women fell prostrate on the ground."
Emmerich's book is literally filled with scenes like those above, and includes many extra-biblical sayings of Jesus which Sister Anne say she personally heard in her visions.
4) Its Medium: Many Evangelical Pastors are hailing movies like The Passion of the Christ as part of a new and better way of spreading the Gospel:
"This is a window of opportunity we have. Here's a guy who's putting his money into a movie that has everything to do with what we do," said pastor Cory Engel of Harvest Springs Community Church in Great Falls, Mont.
"Churches used to communicate by having a little lecture time on Sunday morning. People don't interact that way anymore. Here's a chance for us to use a modern-day technique to communicate the truth of the Bible," the Rev. Engel said."
It is indeed true that we live in a highly visual and increasingly anti-literate society that places a premium on sound bites and easily assimilated visual imagery, but does this mean that we should abandon preaching in favor of using movies or dramatic presentations? We need to remember that the last time dramatic presentations replaced preaching as the main vehicle by which the truth of the Bible was communicated was during the middle-ages when the church refused to allow the translation of the Bible into common languages and when in place of the preaching and teaching of God's word, the common people were given visual presentations such as Passion Plays, statues, relics, and icons. These things were designed, like most visual imagery, to play upon the emotions and stimulate a response; but the ability to evoke an emotional response via imagery or drama is not the same as successfully transmitting the Gospel. The means that God has ordained for the transmission of the Gospel, was neither drama, imagery, nor even "lectures" it is preaching. Preaching involves the communication of the Gospel in a way that patiently convinces, rebukes, exhorts, and teaches (2 Timothy 4:2-4). The bible teaches us the awesome importance of preaching and why it cannot be replaced by another medium:
We must preach God's Word regardless of how unpopular it is because we are commanded to do so: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
We must preach God's Word because it always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isa.55:9-11)
God does not command us to produce dramatic presentations of Gospel themes, He commands us to preach. Though this option was freely available to the Apostles as they brought the Gospel to cities with amphitheaters and a long tradition of using the dramatic arts to convey religious and moral themes to the populace they did not do so. The wisdom of the Apostolic methodology has been borne out by the fact that it was when the Gospel was being transmitted primarily by Plays and Symbolism that true Christianity began to sink under the weight of superstition. We are in danger of returning to precisely that state of affairs by reviving the teaching methodology of the medieval church. Even though it was produced in the 21st century, The Passion of the Christ is identical in all critical aspects to the Passion Plays of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.
5) Its Main Character: Billy Graham in his endorsement of The Passion of the Christ said, "Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind." This is unfortunately part of the problem with all visual representations of Jesus. Although we may intend for them only to have a role in teaching, they inevitably become part of our worship and adoration. As a result of seeing this film James Caviezel, the "Jesus" of The Passion of the Christ, will become the figure countless thousands if not millions of people think of when they worship Jesus Christ. To do this is to fall into the trap of changing "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man" (Romans 1:23) and to violate the Second Commandment.
Every visual representation of Jesus is inevitably a lie. There are two main reasons for this.
The first reason why all visual representations of Jesus are lies is because the only wise God went to great lengths not to leave us with any physical description of the physical appearance of His Son lest we fall into the sin of image making. Therefore all of our representations of Jesus are inevitably speculations usually based upon our own desires. We create an image of Jesus that says more about the Jesus we want than the Jesus whom God sent.
For instance, isn't it remarkable that the Jesus of The Passion of the Christ, as in almost all physical representations of Christ, is tall, slim, and handsome? Why should not The Son of David (Luke 18:38) have been a relatively small man like his great ancestor? It never seems to have occurred to most image-makers that Jesus could be relatively short, or stout, or even have had a receding hairline. This is in spite of the fact that one of the few details the Bible does give us about Christ's appearance is that "He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him." (Is. 53:2b) The fact that we have any concept of what Jesus looks like and that Gibson's Jesus looks like the traditional Jesus, is a testament to the abiding impact of past iconography. While the Gospels, purposely leave out any description of Jesus that we might use to construct an idol, people have created an image of Jesus that has become almost an industry standard, and it is solely for that reason rather than any basis in fact that audiences would have been outraged had Gibson cast Danny DeVito and not James Caviezel in the leading role.
The Second reason why all visual representations of Jesus are lies is that they can never hope to represent the glory of Christ in His true nature. The best an image of Jesus can do is to represent him as a man, and while Jesus was truly a man, he was not merely a man. Jesus was also God, and no artist or filmmaker who has ever lived could hope to create an image that captures the true Glory of Jesus as God. While this may not appear to be a problem to us, the separation of Christ's manhood from his deity is actually a grave heresy called Nestorianism. We must not therefore attempt to separate what God has forever joined together.
For the first four centuries of its existence the church did not use pictures of Jesus as an aid to evangelism. This was despite the fact that they were bringing the gospel to highly visual cultures that had always used imagery to convey religious ideas. The initial movements towards making pictures of Christ were initially strongly opposed, and the practice was formally condemned by the church as late as 753 AD. Unfortunately, once they had taken hold of the public imagination, the practice of making visible representations of Christ proved difficult if not impossible to eradicate and gradually, pictures and dramatic representations of Jesus became quite commonplace in the church. At the time of the Reformation, Protestants overwhelmingly rejected the practice of making images of Jesus as a clear violation of the Second Commandment. They also rejected the notion that such images had a necessary role as "textbooks for the laity" and then proved that notion false by producing generations of other Protestants well versed in the word and familiar with their Savior although they had never once owned or seen a representation of him.
Rather than visual imagery, they relied on the preaching of the Word to save souls, and the gospel made great advances. If we return to the use of imagery and begin endorsing movies like The Passion of the Christ, we will be returning to the very state of affairs the first Protestants struggled and died to reform. We must not think that merely endorsing one form of visible representation of Christ will not lead inevitably to others. For instance, it is impossible to make a coherent argument against the use of the crucifix in teaching the Gospel if we have already endorsed the use of a movie that portrays the crucifixion. Merely because one display is static and the other moving does not change their essential nature at all. The Passion of the Christ is in essence, an animated Crucifix.
In closing, let me address a common objection, namely that we must use tools like The Passion of the Christ in order to reach the lost and that if we don't we are "missing a great opportunity."
Are we really missing an opportunity though? If we are convinced that using a Roman Catholic movie to present the Gospel is in essence a violation of God's law, how could we possibly use it? Should we sin that grace may abound?
Also, are we really certain that this will be as effective as we think in saving souls? J. Marcellus Kik in his Pictures of Christ addressed that very question and gave us some wise advice, which I think all Christians would do well to heed:
"But can it not help in the saving of souls, it is asked. But how? Looking at a picture of Christ hanging upon the cross tells me nothing. It does not tell me that He hung there for sin. It does not tell me that He hung there for my sin. It does not tell me that He is the Son of God. Only the Word of God does that. And it is the Word of God that has been given us to tell the story of salvation through the blood of Christ. It is not through the foolishness of pictures that sinners are converted but through the foolishness of preaching.
It is amazing how slowly unscriptural practices enter the Christian Church. We must at all times go back to the Scriptures. The Bible is our infallible guide. And if our practices and doctrines do not conform with the teachings of the Scriptures then we must eliminate them. The Bible instructs the Church not to make any likeness of Christ. The present day pictures of Christ are false and no one would make a serious claim that they resemble Christ upon earth. They separate His humanity from His deity. They do not at all give us a glimpse of His present glory. They are not condoned by the inspired apostles.
God has ordained the foolishness of preaching to evangelize the world. He has promised to attend the preaching of the Word with the power of the Holy Spirit. The so-called pictures of Christ are a hindrance and a temptation to idolatry. Let us cleanse the Temple of God from them."
Perhaps The Passion of the Christ will provide Evangelicals with a great opportunity after all. They are being given a rare opportunity to reject the world's methods and to recommit themselves to fulfilling God's commission to preach the Gospel and to trust that that preaching will always accomplish what He pleases. Let us hope that they will seize it."
The Passion of the Christ versus The Lamb's Book of Life [Comment added 2/16/04]
A reminder to true believers that neither Mel Gibson's movie nor any other thing in the world can change the eternal destiny of any person. Salvation is of God. Mel Gibson's movie will neither add nor subtract any names written in the Book of Life (that's one of the things Gibson said in an EWTN interview, that he wanted this movie to cause "more names to be written in the Book of Life," as if it is still a work in progress). We true believers who know the Gospel SHOULD be upset when we see an inaccurate portrayal of the truth of the Gospel, a slandering of God's Word. We should NOT be upset that anyone's eternal destiny is at stake. God has already predestined those who will receive the faith to believe in Christ.
An ex-Catholic view of The Passion of the Christ [Comment added 2/16/04]
As an ex-catholic it blows my mind to see well known "evangelicals" bowing
at Mel's altar. It doesn't appear to upset them that Mel believes they are
going to hell because he believes only Catholics can be saved. Evangelism just
got easier for Catholics because of the "miracles" connected to the movie and
the millions of dollars "evangelicals" are pouring into tickets for the movie
telling/demonstrating to the world they love the movie and they love Mel. What
ever happened to applying:
2 Cor 6:14-18, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you...."
2 Cor 11:13-15, "Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
Mat 7:15-20, " "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves..."
And for Mel - Mat 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
Is it possible that Dobson, Graham and the rest see the film as a better teaching tool that God's very own Word? Shame on them.
Thoughts on The Passion of the Christ [Comment added
I have to admit that when I first heard about the movie I felt the same way so many other evangelicals felt. I was excited about a movie that would tell everyone about Jesus dying for us. After some time though I started to become very uncomfortable about this film.
I've been studying 2 Corinthians this month and chapter 4:1-9 really stands out when we're talking about this subject:
"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose
heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use
deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting
forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the
sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are
perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that
they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the
image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and
ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light
shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have
this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from
God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but
God has been laying this on my heart as of late. As Paul expresses here--we do not need to create "new and improved" ways of presenting the Gospel to the lost. God's Word is sufficient for this task. As a matter of fact, when we try to add to this we are no longer seeking glory for God but ourselves. Notice that Paul says in verses 3-4 that if a person doesn't grasp the Gospel it's not because of the way we presented it to them or because we offended them too little or too much, or because we didn't use a colorful enough presentation or whatever--but rather it's veiled because they are perishing, their minds having been blinded by the devil. Paul was being accused of not being dramatic or charismatic like some of the "super-apostles" (chaps. 11 and 12) that were infiltrating the church and causing divisions. He responded to the critics by saying that the power rested in the Word of God not man. We carry this treasure is "jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
Basically, let the Holy Spirit do the working and convincing of the heart, all we need to do is present what the Bible says. It's not like we could improve on what God has already said!
One person's response to the gore in "The Passion of the Christ"..... [2/19/04]
"The only thing I will say about this film is that from what my cousin told me (she saw the first 20 minutes of it already), it's extremely gory. She saw pieces of flesh being ripped from Christ's back during the flogging. She had to leave the theatre to throw up....and she said she doesn't have a weak stomach.....
One Christian's letter to their pastor in response to the pastor's support of "The Passion of the Christ"..... [2/24/04]
grief-stricken about how my church leadership has handled the Mel Gibson
phenomena. Our sanctuary was literally defiled Sunday as elders praised the
God of heaven for sending Mel to us in these days! Euphoria. Hysteria. I
wondered if any of them had consulted the Lord before inviting Mel to speak to
the congregation via a video promotional clip Mr. Gibson had provided them to
use--much less to test the spirits. I left the sanctuary.
I'm enclosing a copy of a letter I faxed to our pastor & his staff Sunday afternoon. I have never felt so alone--until I happened upon your website just moments ago. Thank you for standing firm.
February 22, 2004
I am writing to convey my concern and grave alarm over your enthusiastic endorsement of Mel Gibson's The Passion. I was led to believe by many well-intentioned evangelicals, including our leadership, that this movie is biblically accurate--solely based on the Gospel record and that the movie star behind this mega-production is indeed a converted believer. Neither of these is true--as admitted by Mr. Gibson himself in several media interviews and articles I've read over the past several days.
Mr. Gibson was quoted in a New Yorker Magazine article entitled "The Jesus War" by Peter J. Boyer on September 22, 2003, that he produced the screenplay for the movie--drawing not only on the Gospel record--but also from the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich, a Catholic mystic, stigmatist and visionary. Mr. Gibson told the reporter that while doing research for the accuracy of his film, he ended up in the library of a defunct nunnery when a copy of The Dolorous Passion [a book of Emmerich's extra-biblical visions compiled by German poet Clemens Brentano], tumbled out of the shelf and into his hands. As Mr. Gibson sat down to read it, he was apparently awestruck by the vivid imagery of the mystic's visions. "Amazing images," he said. "She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of." The most notable image in the movie, as described by the author, is a scene after Jesus' scourging, when a grief-stricken Mary gets down on her knees to mop up His blood. Gibson, so enamored by the 19th century visionary, admitted in the article to carrying a relic of hers in his pocket--a piece of cloth once belonging to her habit. Does this sound like the testimony of a converted believer? Isn't the Gospel record enough?
An added bit of important information is given in the February 16, Newsweek article written by Jon Meacham entitled "Who Killed Jesus?" "To tell his story, Gibson has amalgamated the four Gospel accounts and was reportedly inspired by the visions of two nuns: Mary of Agreda (1602-1665) of Spain and Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) of France…" As a former Roman Catholic, I can offer you many false prophesies made by [The Venerable] Mary [Jesus] Agreda, but one will suffice. "It was revealed to me that through the intercession of the Mother of God all heresies will disappear…in the last times the Lord will especially spread the renown of His Mother. Mary began salvation, and by her intercession it will be concluded…Mary will extend the reign of Christ over the heathens…and it will be a time of great joy when Mary, as Mistress and Queen of Hearts, is enthroned." The Roman Catholic church fully supports them--and their demonic activity and is in the process of canonizing both of them. [See: http://www.newadvent.org, an online Catholic Encyclopedia for further information on these two visionaries].
The actor playing the role of Jesus, Jim Caviezel, arranged a private presentation of the movie at "The Mother's village" in Medjugorje--the Marian apparition site in Bosnia-Hercegovina--later giving an interview to Fr. Mario Knezovic for Radio "Mir" Medjugorje. Mr. Caviezel explained that he had made several pilgrimages to Medjugorje, hoping to experience the presence of the Catholic Mary. He told Fr. Knezovic that while meeting there in the village with seer Ivan Dragicevic, he "felt a physical presence…The catharsis for me to play this role was through Medjugorje, through Gospa [the personage posing as "Mary"]. In preparation, I used all that Medjugorje taught me. Mel Gibson and I were going every day for Mass together…" Caviezel shared that Dragicevic "gave him a piece of the true cross. I kept this on me all the time. They made me a special pocket in my clothes for it. I also had relics of St. Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Maria Goretti, and St. Denisius, the Patron saint of actors…Every day everyone could see me with the rosary in my hands." When Fr. Knezovic asked how he would bring "Our Lady's message to today's world," Caviezel responded: "…I dedicate my work to her Son, I dedicate all I do to her Son. I ask Mary to guide me and my career…This film is something that I believe was made by Mary for her Son. Because it was made by her, it will be attacked by the enemy…" Does this man sound like a converted believer?
This is the reality of Roman Catholicism. The "sacrifice" of the Mass is an affront to the God of Heaven. Catholics are taught to believe that Christ offers Himself to the Father through the hands of a human priest--in the form of a wafer. They are taught that the sacrifice of Christ AND the sacrifice of the Eucharist (the wafer) ARE THE SAME--only offered in AN UNBLOODY MANNER. Without blood, how can it then be propitiatory (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22)? Imagine the Lord Jesus being reduced to a literal piece of man-made bread. Thousands of times a day on Roman Catholic altars around the world, Jesus' sacrifice is put to open shame as He is supposedly re-sacrificed again and again in order to appease God (Heb. 6:6). Is this movie merely a virtual crucifix that perpetually displays our Lord shamelessly stuck on the Cross? In all the crafted images of blood and violence, will anyone remember that He didn't stay on that Cross--but that He triumphantly conquered death and lives forevermore? Roman Catholicism promotes a false gospel, as Hebrews teaches us, yet it is the faith of both Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel as reported in media articles too numerous to mention. The question then becomes: What are true believers doing by publicly teaming up with people supporting a false gospel--and a false Jesus--for the purpose of promoting THE Gospel? Is the God of the Bible pleased? Do the ends justify the means?
Leaders of the flock, does it not disturb you that the writer, producer, director and financier of The Passion, as well as the actor presenting himself to the world as Jesus [See: Deut. 4: 2, 15-16, 23], could be so heavily involved in false worship; admittedly influenced by mystics, stigmatists, and false prophets? Is this truly the work of the "Holy Ghost", as Mr. Gibson contends--or another spirit? Could this movie in fact be a masterful deception that will put our Lord to open shame as He is repeatedly nailed to the cross in theaters around the world--as part of Mr. Gibson's global celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass [See: "The Passion: For Its Author, Is A Mass," by Vittorio Messori, Zenit News @ http://seethepassion.com]? Could this multi-million dollar media event in fact be teaming up two very different Gospels? Could this enthusiastic public partnership end up duping many unsuspecting evangelicals into endorsing Roman Catholicism--as well as confusing nonbelievers into thinking they are the same?
In our zeal to promote the true Gospel, may we be vigilant to hold fast to the Scripture--it is enough as we have been repeatedly taught. No movie made by human hands can even compare to the awesome depths of His Word. Leaders publicly endorsing this Hollywood production should seriously consider the consequences of compromising the written Word of the living God--with a man-made movie replete with problems. May we love Mel and Jim enough to pray for them--that God might remove the blinding veil from their eyes so that can come to fully know and obey the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we as believers also be separate from any semblance of idolatry and compromise. Let us instead stand like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in these last days when others are wholeheartedly bowing. Please consider what I've said. Stand firm.
A Christian's response to Pastor Hartland of Baltimore concerning the
"Passion" Movie..... [2/24/04]
Last night we heard the most fantastic sermon by Pastor Hartland--about the Passion movie--Pastor Hartland really showed to us from Scripture why this movie is so wrong and why Christians should not be seeing it--he showed how the movie has an inordinate fixation on the physical details of the Crucifixion, how it is unable to present the message of the gospel, how it denigrates the exclusive role of the preaching of God's word in evangelism, and how, most importantly, it is idolatrous (the people, saved and unsaved, who see this self-described "powerful" movie can't deny that the images of Jesus are going to be burned into their psyches, and they'll be seeing those images when they think of our Lord instead of the biblical image of our risen Lord as he really is, in Revelation 1).
A Christian's response after having seen "The
Passion" movie.....She didn't say, but I would suspect that she is from a
Catholic background, for she could picked up on the many "Catholic"
innuendos in the movie [3/1/04]:
I am sorry to say that I have just seen the movie. I was deceived from the endorsements of other Christian pastors that this was a biblical movie. My pastor on Sabbath however, did NOT recommend that we see the movie, fearing that the true message of God's sacrifice would be lost through all the violence, and also because that this comes from a devil-indorsed industry.
However, I and my husband still, yet repentantly, viewed the film. I was in shock at the false doctrines being portrayed in the movie. The "Marian" themes portrayed were so incredibly obvious. The characters in the movie kept calling Mary, "Mother." I was furious. Blasphemy I say !!!!!!!! Catholic mysticism also played a primarily role in the form of relics. At one point in particular, when Christ falls with the cross, a women goes to give him water and wipes his face with her tunic. The supposed "image" of Christ's face is then revealed on the cloth. This is the cloth that is supposedly kept at the Vatican. I am so thankful that my pastor did not indorse the film, but am shocked that other evangelical Christian leaders have not exposed the film for what it truly is, false catholic dogma. This is not a film for believers and now that I know the truth I will try my best to discourage it to others, believers and nonbelievers alike.
Another Christian's response after having seen "The Passion" movie. [3/2/04]:
I saw the movie in a private screening at Mr. Gibson's production company back before Christmas. It was two of the most disturbing hours in my memory. The movie is graphic, stunning, shocking, and relentless in its portrayal of the sufferings of the Jesus. All who see it are sure to be emotionally impacted by it. Covering the final twelve hours of Christ's life, Gibson has painted a masterpiece with the camera of what happened to Jesus from Gethsemane to the cross.
But that is part my concern with the film. Because it covers only the final twelve hours of Christ's life (with a few flashbacks), it is much like making a movie on the last chapter of a book. These hours are theological culmination of the gospel narrative. But taken by itself, this snapshot of Jesus' life includes little context for His sufferings. What this does is leave the events open to the interpretation of the viewer. Absent of any theological explanation for the sufferings and death of Jesus, the movie allows for those bloody twelve hours to mean whatever the viewer wants them to mean. Postmodernism at its finest!
Don't misunderstand. As a believer with a thorough understanding of the historical and theological nuances of the Passion narrative, I was able to contextualize the movie by putting it through a Reformed, Protestant, theological grid. Verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21—“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”—were given a visual link in my mind. Knowing, understanding, and believing the gospel brought significance to what I saw. But without such a preconception, it is not clear what this story will mean to its viewers. I heard a man interviewed who said that if an alien came to earth and was taken to see this movie, he would have no idea why this happened to Jesus. The film is generic enough in its presentation of the events that a Catholic could put it through his sacramental grid and be just as pleased as a Protestant with the film's contents. Perhaps that is part of Gibson's "genius."
The question that keeps coming to my mind is whether or not there is enough gospel truth in the film for a person to be truly saved. I am not certain that there is. When providing the salient historical and theological data for understanding salvation, the Holy Spirit chose to present more than the final hours of Jesus life. Further, He used twenty-three more biblical books to explain the meaning and implications of faith in the sacrificed Son of God. It is more than the facts of Christ's death that are the means of converting a soul; it is the meaning of those facts. There are many who believe in the historicity of the cross, who are no more saved than someone who has never heard of Jesus. What is needed is theological context.
Gibson has produced a movie that accurately conveys the events during Christ's final twelve hours leading up to His death. But to explain the meaning of His infinitely precious sacrifice, we need to fill in the blanks with the insight of His substitutionary atonement.
Pastors, church leaders, and teachers should take extra time to equip people to be knowledgeable and clear about what the cross means. The goal should be to engage in conversations about the movie in the coming weeks, making every effort to move beyond the film to the enormity of the meaning of Christ's vicarious sacrifice for the sins of all those who would believe. Christ will be most glorified from this if we can shift these conversations from the film to the gospel.
Should you see the movie? That is up to your conscience. But we all have the opportunity to use any discussions about it to introduce people to the gospel. The Passion of the Christ does not answer the right questions, but it does raise them. I look forward to talking about my Lord with those who see the film. I trust you do as well.
And now for some of the confusion the Passion Movie causes by adding fiction to the crucifixion account [3/11/04]:
Question received from a person who saw Mel's Passion movie....
I do have a question pertaining to the crucifixion. Perhaps you may be able to help me. Can you tell me where, if in fact there is such a place, in the Bible, may I find scripture reference to the bird that encircled the non-repentant thief's head on the cross, ultimately plucking (out) both his eyes?
Only in the movie, The Passion of The Christ by Mel Gibson, will you find a bird plucking out the eyes of the thief on the cross. There is absolutely no reference in the Bible about any bird plucking out the eyes of the non-repentant thief...that was added by Mel Gibson for effect, which he got from the writings of the Roman Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich. This is one of the serious problems with the movie, in that Mel Gibson has added things that are simply not in the Bible. Another example is the "Satan figure" that follows Jesus around in the movie--also a figment of Mel Gibson's mind that he got from the Roman Catholic mystic Emmerich . I suppose in Gibson's mind these additions make the movie more entertaining and exciting.
Other links about the movie:
The Passion of The Christ - Mike Gendron
John MacArthur comments on "The Passion" movie
Menace of the Religious Movie by A. W. Tozer
The Passion of The Christ - A Film by Mel Gibson
A Christian's Response after Seeing "The Passion"
Pastor's Letter to His Flock about "The Passion"
World's View of "The Passion of The Christ" -- Time Magazine
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