Revised April 2004
People have asked me about the movie, The Passion of the Christ. I have mixed feelings about it.
I know some people who were profoundly impacted, in a good way, by the movie. I'm grateful for that.
However, I have also seen some people be impacted in a way that was mixed. Some elements were good, and some were not.
I have not seen the movie, and I don't intend to watch it. It's too violent for me. But I know a backslidden young man who would probably respond well to the movie, and I'm praying that he will see it.
If you feel that you should see it, I don't want to hinder you. It may be that God is drawing you there because He wants to use that movie to do a work in your heart.
Mel Gibson had a problem when he made that movie. He wanted us to experience what Jesus went through for us. However, none of us have been crucified. We cannot comprehend the agony, the torment, and the humiliation of it. But we have been hit, whether by people, or by falling and hitting the ground. We can relate to being hit. So Gibson showed a lot of hitting and beating. We can relate to that.
Jesus was strengthened by an angel. (Luke 22:43) But we can't relate to that. I don't know any people who have had an angel show up to strengthen them. But most of us can remember being strengthened and encouraged by our mothers when we were children. We can relate to that. So Gibson shows Mary strengthening and encouraging Jesus. From the point of view of drama, and having the audience be able to identify with what Jesus went through, that works. But in the process, it lays an emotional groundwork for accepting some unbiblical Catholic doctrines about Mary.
I've heard people say that, having seen the movie, they now understand what Jesus went through for them. And it has changed them. They are different because of it. I'm grateful for that.
But we need to remember that this movie does not really show what Jesus went through. In the first place, nothing could adequately do that. The spiritual, emotional, and physical suffering that Jesus went through for us are beyond our comprehension. For example, most of us have experienced the pain of unrequited love. You give someone your heart, and they scorn you. But Jesus experienced that to a degree that is far beyond our comprehension. He was beaten and mocked and killed by people He loved, people He came to save from their sins.
Right now, there are Christians in Eritrea and Sudan and Saudi Arabia and North Korea and Indonesia and many other countries who are being tortured and killed because of their faith. For example, in Eritrea (Africa), right now — while I am writing this article — there are teenagers who are locked inside metal boxes, in painfully cramped positions, baking in the hot African sun, in stifling heat, in total darkness, without adequate air. They have no light or food or sanitation or human companionship. The only way that they can stop the agony is to sign an statement that they renounce their faith and they will return to the Eritrean Orthodox Church. [Note 1]
But even these tortured teenagers cannot understand the immensity of Christ's suffering. Even they cannot comprehend the price that Jesus Christ paid in order to save us from our sins.
There was far more involved than just the physical suffering. Jesus took our sins on Himself. He had never sinned. He is the only person who was totally pure, free from sin. We cannot comprehend how horrible it must have felt to be in close contact with all that sin. How would you feel if you fell into a cesspool? Well, for Jesus to feel all that horrible sin on Him must have been much worse than that.
Some of what the movie shows is different from what actually happened historically. For example, in the Bible, the soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus, and a cape, and a reed in His hand (a mockery of a king's scepter). Then they hit Him on the head with that reed. (Matthew 22:28-31; Mark 15:17-20) It was a reed, not a rod. And it was only one reed, not a bunch of them. And the soldiers hit Jesus on the head with the reed, rather than hitting Him all over His body.
So to show soldiers hitting Jesus all over with rods is not Biblically accurate. But it does enable the viewer to identify with the fact that Jesus suffered intensely. And with all its violence, the movie cannot adequately portray how much Jesus suffered for us. I've read about what being crucified does to a man. There is no way that the degree of pain and agony can be portrayed adequately. (And if it could be portrayed, the audience wouldn't be able to bear it.)
So in one sense, the movie does show us what Jesus suffered. It gives some idea of the immensity of it. But in order to do that, the movie adds some things that are not Biblical.
If you have seen the movie, and it changed you, be grateful to God for it. But then go back to the Bible, and read what the Gospels say. It is important to have our faith be grounded in Scripture, and not in a movie.
Please remember that there was more than the movie involved in impacting your heart. There was the grace of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Your gratitude should go to God, not Mel Gibson. God can do things in our heart that no movie can do. He can use an amazing variety of things (including movies) to change our hearts. We need to glorify God for it. Thank Gibson. And pray for him, and for the actors. But give God all the glory for the change in your heart. Your love and loyalty and emotional attachment should all go to God — not to Mel Gibson or to the movie.
In order to really understand what Jesus went through for us, we need to understand Jesus Himself. And the way to do that is to become thoroughly familiar with Scripture, and to spend regular time in prayer and worship.
We live in a microwave culture that wants to have instant results. We also live in a culture that expects the experts to take care of things for us. But when it comes to developing a personal relationship (whether it is with Jesus, or with our husband, or wife, or parents, or children, or friends), we have to do that ourselves. It takes time. It takes love. Sometimes it requires patience.
In addition to adding things to the movie for the sake of helping the audience experience the enormity of what Jesus went through, Mel Gibson also added things based on a book by Anne Emmerich (a Catholic nun who had mystical visions of the passion). These are not Biblical.
Jesus told us, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Matthew 12:34) Mel Gibson is a conservative Catholic. I have read that one of his script writers is a Jesuit priest. So it is not surprising that this movie shows the passion of Jesus Christ from a Catholic perspective. Some scenes promote Catholic doctrines. (For example, having disciples call Mary mother promotes the Catholic doctrine that Mary is the mother of the Church.) Some scenes lay an emotional groundwork for the idea that Mary is co-redemptrix. (Millions of Catholics have petitioned the Pope, asking him to declare this to be an official Catholic doctrine.)
There is a lot of graphic suffering, compared with a very brief depiction of the Resurrection. Jesus Christ is not on the cross any more. We need to think of Him as resurrected — not crucified.
In spite of all that, I have spoken with people who were profoundly impacted, in a good way, by the movie. Their love for Jesus, and their personal commitment to Him, were increased. They were able to brush aside the unbiblical things, and focus on Jesus' incredible love for us.
The way that the movie impacts people seems to depend to a large extent on what they bring to it. Some people wind up loving Jesus in a deeper, more profound way. Some people brush aside the unbiblical things and are not impacted by them. Other people absorb the unbiblical things along with the Biblical truth. People who are already anti-semitic may become more so. Some people wind up becoming fascinated with Anne Emmerich. (Since the movie came out, 17,000 copies of her book were sold in one month.) [Note 2]
For some people, the movie leads to becoming a stronger, more mature Christian. For others, it leads to ecumenism. (Please see my article, Ecumenism and the Council of Trent.) For others, it leads to Catholic mysticism. (Please see my article, Catholic Mystics.) In addition, there may be some cases where the movie results in a fascination with pain, suffering, and violence.
Some people react in a way that is similar to idolatry. Their love and loyalty for Jesus seems to have become partially transferred to the movie. With some people, there seems to be some level of confusion between the real Jesus and the character portrayed in the movie. I don't know how to explain this, but I have seen it, and it troubles me.
One man responded to the movie by going to a police station and confessing that, two months before, he had murdered his girlfriend. He said that, after watching the movie, he realized that he would not be forgiven unless he confessed his crime and served his time in jail. [Note 3]
People are talking about Jesus and thinking about Him. Some of them probably haven't thought about Jesus in years. He is probably being discussed in barbershops, beauty parlors, grocery store checkout lines, and bars. That's good.
If you are thinking about seeing the movie, I want to give you a word of caution. There is a lot of violence. It is intensely personal, because it happens to Jesus (a real person who is important to you) rather than to a fictional character. A 43-year-old pastor died of a heart attack while watching the movie. A 50-year-old woman died of a heart attack shortly after seeing it. If you have heart problems, please pray for wisdom before deciding whether to see this movie. (You might also want to consult your doctor.) [Note 4]
Some people can have flashbacks of disturbing things that they have seen. If you are susceptible to flashbacks, then please pray for wisdom before you decide whether to see this movie. It has some unnecessarily gory scenes. For example, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One of the thieves mocked Jesus. In the movie, a raven pecks out the eyes of that thief. Those gory eye sockets could cause some people to have flashbacks or nightmares. And they were unnecessary. The scene is not Biblical. It even goes against the normal behavior of ravens. (They will eat corpses, but they don't attack people who are alive. That thief was capable of yelling and thrashing his head around.)
If you decide to see the movie, please pray before seeing it. Ask God to speak to your heart through it. Also, ask Him to protect you from the unbiblical things in the movie. After you see the movie, it would be good to read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection, in order to make it clear what is from Scripture, and what is from Mel Gibson.
People are buying replicas of the nails that were used to crucify the actor who played Jesus in the movie. (It wasn't the real Jesus, and it wasn't a real crucifixion. It was an actor and a special-effects presentation that was made to look like a crucifixion.)
This is an attempt to connect with spiritual things by means of a physical object. It reminds me of the medieval desire for relics of the true cross. It seems to be a combination of the old desire for relics and the modern desire to own things related to popular movies. [Note 5]
The movie seems to be creating a movie-version of a relic. This is ironic, because Mel Gibson carries a relic of Anne Emmerich. Jim Caviezel (the actor who played Jesus) has a relic of the true cross and relics of five saints. He had a special pocket made inside his costume so that he could wear the relics while they were shooting the film. [Note 6]
People have asked who was responsible for Jesus' death. However, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus was not a victim. He voluntarily laid down His life. It was not taken from Him by anybody.
As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:15)
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:17-18)
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matthew 26:52-53)
I've heard that there have been some incidents of anti-semitism since the movie started showing. I've read that, historically, anti-semitism tends to increase when people see passion plays. So I understand the concerns of the Jewish community.
A Jewish advocacy group has stated that the movie is anti-semitic and it encourages anti-semitic acts. They have petitioned the Justice Department to consider charging the producers of the movie with hate crimes. [Note 7]
If they are successful in getting Mel Gibson charged with hate crimes, this will set a dangerous precedent. The New Testament accounts of the passion say that Jewish leaders conspired against Jesus and pressured Pontius Pilate to have him be crucified. Charging Mel Gibson with hate crimes is only a few steps away from saying that the Bible is hate literature.
According to David Limbaugh's recently published book, Persecution, some school teachers have declared that the Ten Commandments are hate literature. They have punished students for having book covers with the Ten Commandments on them. [Note 8]
So there are already people in America who consider the Bible to be hate literature. This Jewish advocacy group is providing such people with more ammunition to use against the Bible.
There are already some people who say that evangelism promotes hate crimes. An example is a Methodist bishop who said that evangelizing is arrogant because it presumes that some people are saved and other people need salvation. He said that this treats unsaved religious groups like second-class citizens, and it is dangerous because it can encourage hate crimes against them. [Note 9]
The petition to have Mel Gibson charged with hate crimes used to be online. I can't find it now. I hope that means that the advocacy group has decided not to pursue the matter. In any case, they have warned Christians that we cannot take our religious freedom for granted. We need to pray, and we need to be vigilant.
You can read some online movie reviews by Christians who are concerned about various aspects of the movie. [Note 10] However, please pray about whether or not you should read these reviews. If you are one of the people who would come closer to Jesus because of seeing the movie, reading the reviews first may make it more difficult for you to benefit from the movie.
USE OF THIS ARTICLE
I encourage you to link to this article. You have permission to quote from this article, as long as you do it fairly and accurately. You have permission to make copies of this article for friends and for use in classes.
1. Bible-believing Christian teenagers are being tortured in Eritrea (Africa) and in an effort to get them to renounce their faith.
2. In the entire year 2002, Anne Emmerich's book only sold 2,000 copies. In one month since the release of The Passion, it sold 17,000 copies. This article has several news items. Information about the book is the second item.
3. After watching The Passion, a man confessed to having murdered his girlfriend.
4. A 43-year-old pastor died of a heart attack while watching the movie.
5. People are buying replicas of the nails that were used in the movie.
6. An article about Jim Caviezel. (He played Jesus in the movie.) This is from the National Catholic Reporter. He kept a piece of the true cross with him at all times. He had a special pocket made inside his costume to hold this relic, as well as relics of Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padua, Saint Maria Goretti, and Saint Denisius (the patron saint of actors).
An interview with Jim Caviezel.
Mel Gibson carries a relic of Catherine Emmerich. (See the article by Berit Kjos in Note 10.)
7. Press Release of the Jewish advocacy group that wants to have the producers of The Passion be charged with hate crimes by the Department of Justice.
An article about it.
8. David Limbaugh, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War against Christianity (Regnery Press, 2003), page 45.
Two girls in middle school were told that their Bibles are garbage. The teacher threw the Bibles into the trash can, and took the girls to the principal's office. Three students at the same school had school books with the Ten Commandments on the covers. School officials threw the book covers into the trash, saying that the Ten Commandments are hate speech.
9. Is Christianity a Hate Crime'?
The Christian Haters
10. Some online reviews of the movie.
Ted Timmons, The Movie Is Great, But Not the Gospel.
Jackie Alnor, a review of the Catholic book A Guide to the Passion. This discusses how Catholic apologists are using the movie to try to convert Protestants to Catholicism.
Berit Kjos, Mel Gibson's Passion.' This has extensive quotations from other reviews, and gives links to them.
Paul Richard, So Much Irony in this Passion, in The Washington Post. (This takes a while to load. You may have to register in order to get the article.)
Copyright 2004 by Mary Ann Collins. All rights reserved.