Over the past few weeks we have received a number of emails and there has been some discussion on our forum concerning Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ.” The film will be officially released in Britain on 26 March 2004 but some areas will have special previews on the 24 and 25. Should you go to see it? You will receive specific and indeed conflicting advice on that, but I feel you must make your own decision before the Lord. You should not go just because the rest of your fellowship is going, especially if you have doubts. However, seek to find out some facts and make an intelligent decision before the Lord.
As I said, I will not give you specific advice but I do want to share my feelings on the subject. So far I have refrained from commenting because I felt that I needed to see the film before doing so. This morning (Thursday 18 March 2004) I was invited by Premier Radio to a preview and so now I feel I can comment.
I have to say, having seen the film, I wonder if some of those sending comments have taken the trouble to actually go to a viewing, or whether they have simply gone on what others have said. Before I, therefore, share my own feelings I want to address some of the criticisms that have been sent to me about the film. There may be others but I feel the six headings below sum up most of the main ones.
1. Extra-Biblical Material
I would not try to defend this claim as there is, as in any Hollywood Film, extra material. I am told that some of this comes from a Catholic book and this may be so. I would certainly say that this is one of the real drawbacks of the film to me. I found myself again and again thinking – that is not in the Bible!
Of course, we need to say that not everything that happened to Jesus in these hours is recorded in the Scripture, but surely the question one needs to ask in the end, is, “Do these ‘extra’ events, that are not recorded in the Bible, cut across and deny Scripture?” On the whole I think not, but for serious Bible Students I would suggest that this is one factor that they need to seriously take into consideration before going to see the film. I will also take up later the question of whether those who know the Bible and those who do not will look at this film in different ways.
The film begins with a clear quotation from Isaiah 53 and during the film there are a number of clear, Biblically accurate, quotations concerning Christ and His ministry. I didn’t feel that the extra-Biblical material drowns out this message.
2. Portrayal of Jesus like this is wrong
I will deal with the performance aspect of this later but I find it difficult to make a clear Biblical presentation of why it is wrong. Each one of us, as we read the Bible, puts our own graphics on what we read. Here we have the graphics of Mel Gibson. Not always true to Scripture but I did find that one or two scenes gave me a fresh insight into what happened. The opening scene with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a case in point. The Saviour is burdened almost to crushing when a snake slithers across the ground from Satan to Jesus, who is bowed in prayer on the floor. As Jesus stands up, the battle over, the snake cannot bite and Jesus stamps on it. That, to me, showed the triumph of Calvary there in the Garden.
I believe the graphic incidents in the film are made even more powerful because of having to read the sub titles as it is translated into English.
3. It is Anti-Semitic
Having seen the film I can understand why some Jewish communities might be concerned but as far as the part played by the Jewish leaders is concerned it is no different in the Bible from how it is portrayed in the film.
However, I believe to answer this issue I will quote from a Jew, Cheryl Hauer who puts a different perspective on things:
“Is the movie anti-Semitic? Will it engender hatred and destroy all of the work Jews and Christians have done in recent years to build bridges of understanding? Might it foment violence against Jews in other less secure parts of the world? Here, I begin to feel sad for Mel Gibson. I don’t believe he is an anti-Semite, nor do I believe there was any malevolent intent in the making of the film. I believe he is a victim, as is much of the Church today, of an overriding ignorance of history and a non-scriptural, and certainly unrecognized, arrogance that somehow makes it all right to ignore two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism because we’ve got the ‘real scoop.’ If the movie had been made two years after the incident, this would have been an in-house discussion, and it may well have gotten the award for best picture. But it wasn’t. It was made two thousand years after the incident, and as such, there is a responsibility to tell the story honestly yet with sensitivity to what has happened to Jesus’ descendants, the Jews, during the ensuing centuries. I don’t think Mel Gibson understood the history or the responsibility.”
4. Mel Gibson’s beliefs and life
No one is perfect in this life and Mel Gibson may well have appeared in violent films and, indeed, his theology may not be that of evangelical Christianity. However, I don’t think that should automatically make us react against the film and not watch it. To me there are weightier matters that should be brought into focus to decide what we do with this film.
5. It is a money spinner
Well so is the Bible! The fact that something makes money, and is popular, does not make it either right or wrong. Mel Gibson will make much money out of this film, the most successful film in history so far, when measured by box office receipts, and the amounts have probably been increased because of the way so many have reacted to the film.
Again, I do not believe that is a basis for not seeing the film.
6. Catholic Propaganda
I just did not come away with that impression by looking at the film. Yes, the man who made it is a Catholic, and there are aspects of tradition added. Teachings from some of the Stations of the Cross are shown in the way Jesus climbs up to Calvary; Mary does keep appearing, although there is no attempt to give her a place above Jesus.
It seems to me that anyone seriously affected by this film would not immediately feel they need to go to a Catholic Church, they would probably go to whatever church they had had links with in the past. I happen to know some of the teachings of the Stations of the Cross because of previous research but there will be many a ‘man-in-the-street’ who would not associate the events of the film with Catholicism.
One area, that has been claimed is Catholic inspired is where the nails are put in Jesus’ hands. Is the fact that the nails were hammered in to the centre of the palms inspired by the stigmata experience of some Catholics? I cannot say what the basis is for this portrayal but I know when Thomas and Jesus were talking about the nails in John 20 the phrase used is “in my hands” and so this seems Biblical to me.
Apart from the constant nagging I have talked about – that’s not in the Bible – there was one other main issue that concerned me. My overall impression was not of the greatest film I had ever seen but of the impossibility of portraying what Mel Gibson was trying to bring to the screen. I talked earlier on about criticism and the question of whether or not anyone should play such a role, but whether they should or not, the one playing the role will be a human being and that to me is the biggest problem.
All the way through I was conscious of a human Jesus. Yes, Jesus was human, but the Bible clearly portrays Jesus as both man and God. The way Jesus acted in the film was the only way it could be written and directed by human beings – the human Jesus. This I feel leads to a misunderstanding of Jesus and who He really was. Maybe, for that reason, people are right when they say that no one should play such a part.
Nowhere in the film, as far as I could detect, was there any attempt to show that Jesus was not just man, and a human Jesus is just not sufficient. This human Jesus actually leads on to my second great problem, that of the resurrection.
The Bible, again, shows that unless there was a glorious resurrection then all the suffering of the past hours and final death on the cross would have been a waste. If the last enemy, death, could have at that point swallowed Jesus, then it was all null and void. If Satan could have stopped Jesus rising from the dead, he would have won! The resurrection is, therefore, vital. Here, apart from the soundtrack that built to the usual crescendo for the end of a Hollywood film, I felt deflated.
Jesus is seen still in the tomb, with the grave clothes in the background, simply walking out of shot – and roll titles. What happened to the disciples who ran away? What happened to the soldiers who saw the events? We are not even given a small glimpse.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Ben Hur in ‘Cinemascope’. With the blood and the water running down through the street and the leper who was desperate to see Jesus, but had come too late, healed; you knew the Cross was a triumph. Not, unfortunately, in Mel Gibson’s film – Jesus is very much the one on the cross not the one rising from the dead and able to change lives.
Already my phone has been going and I am being asked what I thought of the film. Let me then try to share in closing my personal thoughts and seek to bring a balanced perspective to what is being said.
Did it personally change my life? No – although how can you not be affected emotionally by the scenes of the flogging, etc? The fact that, as the film ended, everyone sat quietly watching 3 minutes of credits is witness to the fact that this film has an emotional effect and you do not want quickly to move and start conversations.
Would I recommend everyone to see it? As I said, I think that is up to you and the Lord and, of course, the censors who have said, because of the violence, only those over 18 can see it. However, I would have to say that I feel some would not react well to the graphic content of the whipping, etc, and this is a point you should take into consideration when deciding if you are going to see it.
However, when all is said and done, I am left with the distinct feeling that the film will be watched very differently by those who already are Christians and know Christ as their Saviour and those who at present have no allegiance to Christ at all. That is why I do not feel we should be totally against it.
Yes, let us be aware of the failings Biblically of the film, and you may feel that this will cause you to come to the conclusion not to see it. However, the ‘man-in-the-street’ is not going to use theology to decide whether they are going to watch it or not.
Many non-believers are going to watch this film and, whatever our feelings may be, it does give us the opportunity to talk about Christ. If your next-door neighbour sees the film and wants to start talking about it, the last thing to do is to tell them all the things wrong with it – start talking about what is right with Jesus!