A Review of The Passion Of The Christ
Posted: March 17, 2004
© 2002 Contender Ministries
Over the past few weeks, many have emailed me with questions or concerns about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion Of The Christ. Several have either emailed me or linked me to an article called Five Reasons Not to Go See “The Passion of Christ”, by Andrew J. Webb. Jennifer and I have seen this movie, and I’m going to provide you with my critique, by answering each of Mr. Webb’s five objections.
First of all, Mr. Webb erroneously calls the move “The Passion of Christ”, when the actual title is “The Passion Of The Christ.” I say this not to nit-pick, but rather to make sure everything is accurate up front. Also, I do not doubt the faith or good intentions of Mr. Webb. I consider him a brother in Christ. However, I disagree strongly with his article.
Jennifer and I were in a packed cinema when we watched this movie. We went in armed with much the same information Mr. Webb has – we had read articles about the movie and seen interviews, but had not read the script or seen the movie. When the movie ended, and the credits began to roll, we sat unmoving for a few minutes, along with the rest of the hushed audience. There were a number of sniffles, as people were still weeping after this moving experience. This movie is a powerful experience, brutal in its realistic depiction of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I encourage anyone old enough to see an “R” rated movie to watch this one. This movie will present a great witnessing tool, one we cannot afford to pass up. Now let me address Mr. Webb’s specific objections.
1) Its Origins: Mr. Webb’s first objection to this movie is its origins. As Webb stated in his article, “The Passion of Christ is a Roman Catholic movie, made by a Roman Catholic director, with Roman Catholic theological advisers, which gained the endorsement of Pope John Paul II who said after viewing it, ‘It is as it was.’” I acknowledge the truthfulness of this statement, but reject its relevance. Following Mr. Webb’s logic on this point, we should reject the King James Bible, because it was translated in part from the Textus Receptus (compiled by Erasmus, a Roman Catholic Priest) and partly from the Latin Vulgate (the Roman Catholic Bible). We should also then reject many newer Bible translations, such as NIV and NASB, because they were translated – in part – from the Codex Sinaiticus (found in a monastery) and Codex Vaticanus (maintained in the Vatican library). Perhaps we should also condemn the humanitarian actions of Mother Theresa, because she was Catholic. Christians enjoy many good things that have had Roman Catholic origins or involvement, and this is not an adequate reason to reject this compelling film.
2) Its Script: The second problem Mr. Webb has with the movie is in its script. Webb condemns The Passion for containing extrabiblical material. It is true that there are scenes and dialogue in this film that are not found in the gospels. A seemingly human figure representing Satan makes several appearances throughout the movie, Judas is taunted by demonic “children” as he deals with guilt for betraying Jesus, and other extrabiblical dialogue occurs as well. However, it is difficult to make a feature length film about the last twelve hours before Jesus’ crucifixion if one relies only on the gospel record. Gibson’s extrabiblical additions do not diminish the gospel message that is prevalent throughout the movie, and Christians can use this time to explain to unbelieving film-goers what aspects in the movie were from the Bible, and what were literary license.
Webb also takes on the language of the movie. The Passion is performed in Aramaic and Latin, with English subtitles. Webb writes, “The script for The Passion of 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.” In his endnote to this line, Mr. Webb states, “This is especially true when one considers that all the Gospels were written in Koine Greek the common language of the area and not Aramaic or Latin.” While it is true that the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, it is also true that Jesus and many of the Jews at the time spoke Aramaic. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus uses the term raca, which is an Aramaic term of contempt. In Mark 14:36, Jesus used the word Abba, which was Aramaic for “Father”. In John 1:42, Jesus called Simon Cephas, which is Aramaic for stone (Peter is the Greek word for stone). Golgotha is an Aramaic word (John 19:17). When Jesus was on the cross, Mary cried out “Rabboni”, which is Aramaic for “teacher.” Finally, the sign placed on the cross above Jesus was written (in order) in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. Why would Aramaic have been placed above Latin? After all, the Romans wrote the sign and placed it on the cross. Probably because most of the Jews attending the crucifixion spoke Aramaic. I therefore reject Mr. Webb’s argument regarding the authenticity of the language.
Mr. Webb makes more arguments regarding the movie’s script. “The Passion of Christ change[s] some of the theological emphases of the Biblical account of Christ's crucifixion….” Having seen the movie, I’m not sure what changes he refers to. Perhaps he addresses this when he writes, “The script of The Passion of 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.” If that was the intention of the script, then it was unsuccessful. I’m well aware of this heretical Catholic doctrine, and did not find any support for it in the move at all!
There is one final script note that Mr. Webb misrepresents. He stated that “The script for The Passion of 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 is the important declaration, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’ (Matthew 27:25)” That scene was not cut from the movie. Rather, the English subtitle for that line was deleted to appease those who felt it would foster anti-Semitism (an allegation with which I disagree). Aramaic shares many commonalities with modern Arabic, and as someone who has studied Arabic, I heard that line loud and clear.
3) Its Theology: Mr. Webb, without having read the script or seen the movie, goes after the theology depicted in the film. He contends that the movie overemphasizes the physical suffering of Jesus, while neglecting the fact that Christ’s most unbearable moment came from taking on the sins of the world. If anything, I think Mr. Webb under-appreciates the physical suffering of Jesus. We must not forget that Jesus was fully God and fully man. As man, the physical suffering to which he was subjected was astonishing, and something Christians should not disregard. It is hard to cinematically depict Jesus taking on our sins while on the cross, but the opportunity to explain this to unbelievers is not lost. When Jesus cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me), we can explain to our unbelieving friends the reason Jesus was forsaken. It is because at that moment, He was separated from the Father by the sins of the world that He had taken upon Himself.
Another of Webb’s statements, “The Passion of 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.” The movie opens with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Praying to the Father, he utters the words of Matthew 26:39, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou [wilt].” This cup, the burden of the sacrifice he came to make, did not pass from Him, but Jesus complete His mission for us. This is not active obedience?
Webb goes on, “…The Passion of Christ, in keeping with Roman Catholic theology, uses extrabiblical content to massively exaggerate the role of Mary.” There are a couple of scenes in the movie that flashback to moments of interaction between Jesus and Mary. While these scenes are, indeed, extrabiblical, they do not tend toward Catholic Mariology. The Passion does not present Mary as co-redemptrix with Christ, and the included scenes are typical of possible interactions between mother and son. We must remember, that while Mary was not the mother of Jesus THE SON, she was mother to Jesus the man. She is present throughout the movie, as a distraught mother to Jesus the man, and distraught disciple of Jesus the Christ. John is prevalent throughout the movie too, but Webb does not object to this. Judas’ appearances go beyond the gospel account, but Webb does not take issue with this. Simply because Roman Catholic Doctrine heretically overemphasizes the role of Mary, does not mean she was not actively involved in Jesus’ life. The gospels tell us she was at the cross (John 19:25-27). Are we to presume she showed up there, but was never present when Jesus’ case was being heard by Pontius Pilate, or when Jesus was making His way to Golgotha?
4) Its Medium: Webb’s fourth argument is that a film is not an appropriate medium for showing a gospel account. He asks, “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?” I have heard no proponent of this film arguing that we should “abandon preaching”. I have never suggested such a thing, and The Passion imparts no such contention!
Webb goes on to say, “The means that God has ordained for the transmission of the Gospel, was neither drama, imagery, nor even "lectures" - it is preaching.” Once again, nobody is suggesting that we should abandon preaching. Second, Jesus Himself used “imagery” when he told parables. Weren’t His parables a use of allegory and mental imagery to deliver a message? Simply because the medium of film is not mentioned in Scripture, does not mean we should not use film as a tool to spread the gospel. Tracts are not mentioned in the Bible. Should we stop using tracts? The internet is not mentioned in the Bible. Should this ministry dry up and go away? Finally, Webb contradicts himself. He criticizes film as medium for spreading the gospel, but earlier in his article he wrote, “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.” I find Mr. Webb’s argument to be acceptable as his personal choice, but reject it as a biblical argument for not watching The Passion Of The Christ.
5) Its Main Character: In his final point, Mr. Webb objects to any visual portrayal of Jesus. “As a result of seeing this film, James Caviezel, the ‘Jesus’ of The Passion of 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.” I find it difficult to accept that Mr. Webb actually believes that people will be thinking of Jim Caviezel when they worship Jesus. The idea, to me, is ludicrous. Charlton Heston does not come to mind when I read about Moses! Speaking of Moses, does a cinematic representation of Jesus really violate the second commandment? Exodus 20:4 is the second commandment, and it reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Using an actor to portray Jesus in a film does not qualify as idolatry in my book. If that were so, then the Jesus film should also be condemned, but Mr. Webb defended that movie in his article. Many Bibles and many churches include pictures of Jesus, even though we do not know what Jesus looked like. While Roman Catholicism does engage in “iconography”, most churches do not use these images in any idolatrous fashion. Christians acknowledge the fact that we do not know what Jesus looked like, and we explain this to unbelievers who see the film.
Mr. Webb closes with his objection that those who reject this movie are “missing a great opportunity” to witness. He writes, “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?” Before I answer the first question posed by Webb, let me state that he does not adequately support his view that watching this movie is a “violation of God’s law.” I find that assertion ridiculous and without merit. I have explained why I feel that way previously in this article. Now, to answer his first question, let me share a story. A young man whom we disciple wrote to us about the movie. Andy is a high school student, and he shared that many of his friends who are unbelievers were bringing Bibles to school. They wanted to get the background story on this movie, and he was able to engage them in discussions about the gospel and the meaning behind the movie. The Passion Of The Christ opened doors of evangelism for him that didn’t exist before. If this movie is going to cause unbelievers to read the Bible and ask questions about the gospel, don’t you think we should be prepared to answer those questions? Don’t you think we should take advantage of this opportunity to share the truth of Jesus Christ with those who have resisted setting foot inside a church to hear “preaching”, but have now seen this movie and want to know more about Jesus? I think the answer is clear.
© 2002 Contender Ministries
Last updated: March 17, 2004
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