Biblical Perspective on the Passion

This article will evaluate in the light of God's Word, the Bible, the movie The Passion of the Christ, which some have called the "greatest phenomena of our age". The greater purpose is to evaluate the thinking of the Lord's church as to what we believe pleases God and what we are willing to accept and even promote. The Scriptures say, "prove [examine; critique; evaluate] all things - hold fast that which is good" 1Thess. 5:21.

A shorter PDF version is available for download here.

1. The focus of the church is not the Christ on the cross but the Christ in glory.

2 Cor. 5:16 States: Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

Note the following comments on this verse:

"The Christ risen and sitting on the throne as our Lord is not in the flesh, and the Christ whom the church adores is that risen Christ."

"Even his [Paul] sight of Jesus with his mortal eyes was no longer cared for, in comparison with faiths view of Him after a spiritual fashion." C.H. Spurgeon

It is appropriate that Paul has often been referred to as the apostleof the risen Christ. The focus of the church is not the Christ on the cross but the Christ in glory.

2. Christians pulling the bandwagon

Christians used to avoid the theatre and scorned or were at least highly suspicious of anything that came out of Hollywood. Now many in the name of Christ are promoting a film that demeans the Savior, venerates Mary, promotes false doctrine, and distorts and even outright denies the very gospel!

T.A McMahon asks the question: "Is this motion picture event another inducement for the rapidly developing market - oriented, entertainment - hungry, ecumenically prone evangelical church?"

A movie is a powerful media capable of evoking strong emotional feelings through visual imagery. Undoubtedly many will view this movie and leave affected emotionally perhaps in a way they never have before. Today much of the church is drawn towards such experiences. Many churches design programs and services to capitalize on this desire. Multitudes who place themselves under the banner of Christianity and for that matter, many true believers, believe that "church" should be such an experience. They desire to be emotionally stirred, visually stimulated, and delightfully entertained. The following is but one example that can be cited to illustrate this current trend.

"Churches are always asking for money. But we are going to turn it around;', said Rev. Tim Dyson of Church Alive in Tampa, FL. The church plans on giving away checks and gift certificates to newcomers-the most, a check of $2,004.00. Friday evening's event will include clowns, a light show, and music from rock musician Clint Brown. Dyson says, "It takes creativity to reach out to new members". This from a minister who roars into services on a Harley- Davidson motorcycle. He has delivered sermons from a boat hauled into the sanctuary, and. set up a 'boxing ring to fight demons of drugs and divorce."

"Church Offers Lure of Almighty Dollar!"", Tampa Tribune, Tampa, FL Jan. 21, 2004

Now while it is true that God has designed us as emotional creatures, entertainment and experiences are shallow soil in which to grow strong believers. Many people flit from one church to another seeking the best entertainment, the most electric experience, or whatever is the order of the day. And why not? If one of the main criteria for "church" is finding a place where I can feel good, where I can go to "get a lift" ? Many are only concerned with where they can get the biggest WOW!

3. The attraction of the sensational.

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Daniel 6:10

Daniel was a captive in Babylon. In Babylon there was much that was impressive. One of the so-called seven wonders of the world, the hanging gardens were there. Babylon's architecture, temples, gardens, and wealth were unequalled by earthly rivals. However there was a more powerful influence on Daniel than all that Babylon displayed. Jerusalem was the place where God had placed His name. There was nothing at that time in Jerusalem to appeal to the physical sight, even if Daniel could have seen the city, but for the "eye of faith" there was strong appeal. That city lay in desolation and disrepair. The actual temple had been burnt to the ground. But towards that city Daniel, at the risk of his life, cast his eyes and prayed. God's Word said,

That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place. {toward this place: or, in this place} And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive. 1Kings 8:29,30

When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee, and shall turn again to thee, and confess thy name, and pray, and make supplication unto thee in this house: {in: or, toward} Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again unto the land which thou gavest unto their fathers. 1Kings 8:33,34

There are certain patterns that emerge and repeat themselves in Scripture and when rightly observed and understood these help us to grasp the Lord's principles and aid us in understanding His mind and applying His Word to our present experience. One of these patterns is observed in the Lord's strategy of dwelling among His creation. When the living God first came down to dwell in the midst of a corporate group of His people He dwelt in a tent. Though there were many glorious features found in the tabernacle the structure itself was not impressive either in its size or outward appearance. The average Israelite wasn't even allowed inside the curtains to view the gold covered furniture or the intricately embroidered veil. The outside of the tabernacle proper was a covering of rough animal skins and the whole tent itself was smaller than many of the houses in which we live.

When the Son of God walked on this planet housed (tabernacled) in human flesh He had no outward form or peculiar beauty that was attractive to men. It seems the church today has missed or ignored the lesson. Today, elaborate, ornate buildings, so impressive that some of them would rival Solomon's temple, are used to appeal to the natural senses of men and women and to make them comfortable. It is not surprising then that so many would be drawn to a film that is designed to have maximum emotional effect.

4. The Bible or experience?

What Sustains You? If it is just emotions - what happens when they change? There are many people today who violate their marriage vows and forsake husband or wife because they don't "feel" towards them as the once did. It is not emotional experience or good feelings that will sustain us but the strong, solid foundation of God's Word. How many of those today rushing to see a movie actually open their Bibles daily or even regularly to feed upon the living words of the living God? How many of those who could tell you the title of every movie in which Mel Gibson ever starred could tell you the name of the twelve apostles or explain the basic great doctrines of the Bible?

5. This movie is built on the premise that God's Word is Insufficient, AND His revelation incomplete.

One woman, when interviewed after viewing the film, exclaimed, "It's the true story. It's exactly how it happened." But is it? One reviewer says,

"Another concern is that the material in the film which is not found in the historical gospel accounts was not just the product of a creative script writer who added events to make the film flow better where the gospel accounts seem vague. Most of the added materials came from Catholic tradition. The film uses the Roman Catholic meditations of the cross to frame Jesus' carrying of the cross. This dictates the number of times he falls, the wiping of his face by a woman named Veronica and a meeting with his mother Mary. This film attacks the basic Protestant doctrine of "the Bible Alone" as being authoritative in matters of doctrine. It adds to God's word with visions and traditions.

This is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that Mel Gibson states that he believes that God lead him to read the works of Anne Catherine Emmerich a late 18th century Westphalian nun who had visions of the events of the Passion of Jesus Christ. She wrote a book Dolorous Passion of Our Lord which was the source of many of the added events which he used to fill out the events of the movie. It is this book that has Pilate's wife giving linen to Mary that is used to wipe up the "the sacred blood" that was on the ground following the whipping of Christ, and the temptation of Jesus in the Garden by Satan suggesting that all the sins of humanity was presented to him so that he would see it was to much for him to bear. Belief on these events occurring is not based on the Bible but on the visions of a nun." (Source: The Men's Ministry and Christianity Today March 2004 issue)

Visions from a nun that add to the revelation of God's completed Word have to be questioned as to their source. Yet this is the stated basis for Mel Gibson's movie! For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. 2Cor.11:4 Recognizing the completed revelation and finality of the Bible - these visions are likely demonic in origin - is the source of this movie then demonic in origin?

"Protestants should be aware that from their historical faith that this film mixes truth with error in such a way that it is hard emotionally not to see all of it as true. We need to gain a clear understanding of this film's Roman Catholic structure and doctrine."(Source: The Men's Ministry and Christianity Today March 2004 issue)

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. 2Cor.11:13-15

6. Ingrained Inaccuracies

One of the unavoidable hazards of a movie is the ability to ingrain inaccuracies. People are surprised at how many commonly accepted traditions are not based on Scripture at all! For instance, what image comes to mind when you think of the physical appearance of Jesus Christ? Most people imagine a man of Gentile appearance with at least shoulder length, if not longer hair. It surprises most people to hear that Jesus Christ did not have long hair! According to the law of Moses, the Word of God, the only Jewish people instructed to grow their hair long were those who took a Nazarite vow. (See Numbers 6) The Lord Jesus was a Nazarene, that is, from Nazareth, not a Nazarite. If the Lord Jesus had been a Nazarite He would have violated the Word of God by touching dead bodies and drinking wine or even grape juice. This would have disqualified Him from being the Messiah!

Concerning the oft asked question, "How long is long?", we know that it had to be long enough to distinguish the Nazarite from everyone else. We also know that Samson, who was a Nazarite, had hair long enough to braid. (Judges 16:13,14) Among other things, long hair on a man was symbolic of willingness to bear shame (1Cor. 11:14).

Most might also be surprised to hear that the Bible nowhere says that the Lord Jesus stumbled under the weight of the cross. Why the Romans compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross is not stated. We might with equal weight and authority speculate that the Romans were infuriated that because of His determinate purpose to go to Calvary He wouldn't buckle under the weight and thus the soldiers in attempt to further humiliate Him forced another to bear His cross.

Add to this the fact that Mel Gibson's strong conservative Catholic views dominate the film and you have a mixture laced with error conveyed through a powerful visual medium. Mel Gibson told CHRISTIANITY TODAY: "I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has-hands down-responded to this film more than any other Christian group." What makes it so amazing, he says, is that "the film is so Marian." Gibson knows that Protestants don't regard Mary in the way Catholics do. And Gibson goes beyond many Catholics when he calls her "a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix." [excerpt from review by David Neff; Christianity Today; posted 02/20/04]

Throughout this movie Mary is referred to as "mother" by the disciples, following Roman Catholic tradition and heresy. On the way to Calvary Jesus always reflects back on His mother and when seeing "satan" the enemy only vanishes when Jesus sees His mother. All of this is designed to convey the false idea that the Son of God received the strength to go to the cross from His mother.

7. Eloquent Silence

There is an eloquence to the silence if Scripture. One of the evidences of Divine Inspiration is the restraint used by the writers. Listen to the Scriptural account of the crucifixion given in just three English words, ".they crucified him.". No elaboration of how they did it, of what he felt, of every agonizing detail. Perhaps many of us are guilty of going beyond what the Bible says in our attempts to reconstruct the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While we would in no way minimize even the physical sufferings of the Lord Jesus, perhaps we have dwelt too much on what we can relate to, His physical sufferings, and have not dwelt enough on what we cannot relate to, His "spiritual" sufferings. We need to understand that all of the brutalities He physically suffered at the hands of men did not atone for sin.

For he hath made him to be sin [literally, a sin offering] for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Cor.5:21

8. Dangerous Speculation

What a mistake to speculate on what emotions the Son of God might have felt on the cross. It is misguided at best and blasphemous at worst to place words in the mouth of the Son of God, either on the cross, or on the way to the cross, as does this movie.

When one comes to the New Testament letters given as instruction for the church they expound the meaning of the death of Christ not the feelings of the Lord Jesus. What really matters is not what He felt but what His death accomplished. The entire focus of this movie is an attempt to show what He went through and what He felt with no explanation of what His death meant. Even the gospel records tell us why He died.

Critics have noted: "UThe Passion is a composite of the Passion narratives in the four Gospels embroidered with nonscriptural traditions as well as the imaginative inspiration of the filmmaker. The result is a deeply personal work of devotional art-a moving Stations of the Cross, so to speak." But they, like other critics, note that the film's limited focus makes it challenging. "Gibson has, perhaps, muted Christ's teachings, making it difficult for viewers unfamiliar with the New Testament and the era's historical milieu to contextualize the circumstances leading up to Jesus' arrest. And though, for Christians, the Passion is the central event in the history of salvation, the 'how' of Christ's death is lingered on at the expense of the 'why?'" [excerpt from review by Jeffrey Overstreet | Christianity Today; Posted 03/04/04]

Another has stated: "Watching The Passion is like experiencing a woman's labor pains-but never witnessing the joy that makes the pain worth it all."[excerpt from review by Peter T. Chattaway; Christianity Today; Posted 02/25/04]

9. Crucifix or the Risen Christ?

For almost two thousand years there have been two very significant symbols connected with Christianity yet diametrically opposed in what they symbolize. One is the crucifix with a man dying on the cross. This represents the false notion that Christ's sacrifice is ongoing, that His sufferings are unending, His sacrifice continual, His work unfinished. Against this stands an empty cross - symbol of a finished work, a once for all sacrifice, (Heb.10), a risen Savior, ascended, glorified. A Christ on the cross can never give the guilty conscience peace! Only the Christ in the glory can give peace, assurance, and forgiveness. It must be made clear that we do not trust in the symbols but in what the symbol might represent and mean. These are simply given to illustrate the slant that this particular movie takes. "The Passion of the Christ" purposefully leaves one at the cross and the sufferings of Christ, or as the director calls it, "the wounds of Christ", due to a lack of understanding of the why of those wounds and a lack of belief in their finality.

In one of the most concise definitions of the gospel the Bible declares,

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 1Cor. 15;3,4

10. Poison in the mix

This article is designed to give some Biblical perspective to a current phenomenon. Of course true believers will want to take advantage of every situation that gives us opportunity to witness to the reality of Who Christ is and to introduce people to a Savior Who not only died, but rose, ascended, and is coming again. However, let us be careful to stick closely to Scripture when we approach such holy ground as the Person of the Son of God. Let us beware of any misrepresentations that would in any way detract from His glorious Person or His finished work. As far those who have said the movie contains a "few minor inaccuracies", let us take seriously the Biblical warning,

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Gal.5:9

The very gospel we preach is not based on bringing Christ down to earth or a visual representation of Christ - faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend nto the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; Romans 10:6-8

In Deut. 4:12 &15 the Lord says He intentionally concealed His image so that they wouldn't make one of Him. Heb 11:1 tells us, .faith is .evidence of things not seen. Our Lord and Savior said to Thomas after His resurrection:

".Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." [John 20:29.]

Besides - who needs to see the movie when you've read the Book!

Larry R. Price | March, 2004