"MEL GIBSON'S SLAUGHTER OF CHRIST"
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
Retired Professor of Theology and Church History
Several readers of my last newsletter (No. 111) felt that my
comments on Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ," lacked
credibility because I had not seen the movie. The criticism has some
validity, though reading penetrating reviews of a book, or of any
artistic production, often provide valuable insights overlooked by
the casual reader or viewer. In fact, if we were to ask 100 viewers
of the movie: What biblical errors and Catholic heresies did you
detect in the film, chances are that 95% would reply "None." The
reason is that the average person lacks both the biblical and
historical knowledge needed to evaluate its accuracy.
A proof is the comments of those who saw the movie, including
Catholic and Protestant church leaders. The vast majority acclaim the
movie as the most accurate reenactment of Christ's Passion. The truth
is that the movie is a gross misrepresentation of Christ's Passion
because it contains many glaring and the traditional Catholic view of
the atonement. Gibson himself admits that his movie is largely based,
not on the Gospels, but on the visions of two Roman Catholic
nun-mystics St. Anne Catherene Emmerich and Mary of Agreda. My point
is that viewing a religious movie, without knowing the biblical and
historical facts, can lead uninformed people to accept as fact what
in reality is fiction.
To silence the criticism and to do justice to the review you
are about to read, I decided to make time in my busy schedule to view
the movie. Thus, on Catholic Ash Wednesday, February 25, I went to
see the film at the Celebration Theater in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
This was the first time in my life (66 years old) that I stepped in a
movie theater. I would have prefer to rent the movie and view it in
my home. This would have made it possible for me to stop the movie
whenever I needed to jot down some observations. Unfortunately, at
this time the movie is not available at video stores.
The best word that I can think of to describe the impact of
the movie on myself is: "Shocking." What I saw is hundred times
worse than the most negative reviews I read. From a biblical
perspective, the movie contains numerous glaring errors designed to
promote the Catholic view of the Passion and of the redemptive role
of Mary, as co-redeemer with Christ. What shocked me most is the
relentless torture of Christ's body. The brutality of flogging with
switches and cat-o-nine-tails, blows out of proportions the physical
suffering of Christ in order to promote the Catholic imitation of His
suffering as a way of salvation.
The movie is truly a blood bath, where Jesus body is
constantly beaten, wipped, kicked, spit on, and slapped. Christ's
flesh is literally flayed with metal-tipped whips by sadistic Roman
soldiers who compete among themselves for inflicting the most
devastating blows. In fact, after the first flogging, Mary attempts
to clean the flesh and blood lying on the pavement of Pilate's
courtyard. By the time Christ reaches Golgotha, his body is so
mangled, bruised, and disfigured that it looks like a sausage coming
out of a meat grinder.
While the Romans and Jews killed Jesus once, Gibson in his
movie succeeds in killing Jesus hundred times over. In view of its
sadistic content, the movie can rightly be titled: "Mel Gibson's
Slaughter of Christ." No SUPER MAN could have endured the blows
inflicted to Christ in the movie, including being thrown off a bridge
while bound to a huge 3 inch thick chain, strong enough to pull a
train. It surprises me that Gibson never went to see the Church of
St. Peter in Chain in Rome, where the alleged chain of Peter's
imprisonment are displayed. Those chains are four times smaller than
the ones used in the movie.
The movie raises important questions that I will attempt to
address in this review. What led Gibson to produce such a bloody and
gruesome Passion of Christ that blatantly misrepresents the
Evangelists account of His trial and execution? Since the blood
factor is minimal in the Gospel, where did Gibson get his information
and inspiration? Can such a bloody, gruesome, and gory
misrepresentation of Christ's suffering and death be biblically
justified and shown to young people? Is it not idolatrous to portray
the Divine Son of God in a way that will distort the worship
experience of millions of Christians for generations to come?
Billy Graham himself acknowledges that "Every time I preach
or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on
my heart and mind." ("What Others Are Saying"
http://www.passionchrist.org). If a preacher like Billy Graham will
be permanently influenced by Gibson's distorted portrayal of Christ's
Passion, will not millions of average Christians unfamiliar with the
Gospels' narrative "exchange the glory of the immortal God for
images resembling mortal man" (Rom 1:23)?
The fact that some Protestant church leaders accept Gibson's
Catholic view of Christ's Passion, causes one to wonder: What impact
will the film have on the future relationship between Catholic and
Protestants? Will Protestant gradually adopt the Catholic devotion
and imitation of the Passion as a way of salvation? Will Protestants
unconsciously come to view Mary in the role portrayed in the film as
a partner in Christ's redemption? Moreover, how will the movie affect
the Christian attitude toward the Jews, in view of the fact all the
Jewish people shown in the film, including the children who tried to
stone Judah, are portrayed as angry, mean and demonic? These are some
of the questions that I will attempt to address in the following
THE SOURCES OF THE PASSION
SOME GLARING ERRORS OF THE PASSION
THE PROMINENT ROLE OF MARY IN THE PASSION
THE RELENTLESS BRUTALITY OF THE PASSION
THE THEOLOGY OF THE PASSION
DOES THE PASSION OFFER A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR SPREADING THE GOSPEL?
THE POTENTIAL OF THE PASSION FOR CATHOLIC EVANGELISM
Permission to Distribute this Review
THE SOURCES OF THE PASSION
The Passion of the Christ is heralded as the most authentic
reenactment of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. To add historical
credibility to the movie, Gibson has the characters speak Aramaic and
Latin. The Pope himself is reported to have said: "It is as it was,"
that is, the movie is a factual representation of the events leading
to the Crucifixion. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls
confirmed the Pope's view, describing the movie as "a cinematographic
transposition of the historical events of the Passion of Jesus Christ
according to the Gospel." In fact, the film was shown to members of
the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Council for Social
Communications, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
All of them expressed unanimous approval, praising it as the most
accurate reenactment of Christ's Passion ever produced.
The same view is shared by many Protestant leaders who are
enthusiastically promoting the film, to use the words of Ted
Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals,
as "the Michelangelo of this generation." Rick Warren's Saddleback
Church in southern California purchased 18,000 tickets. A host of
Protestant churches, including several Adventist Churches, have
sponsored the film in rented theaters. At the Loma Linda University
Church, Pastor Roberts and staff have rented a theater in Redlands
for a showing of The Passion on Thursday evening before Easter. An
announcement I received indicates that a special showing has been
arranged for the General Conference workers.
Bill Hybels of Willow Creeek, Robert Schuller of Crystal
Cathedral, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Paul Harvey, just
to name a few, are all eagerly promoting the film as an unprecedented
truthful reenactment of Christ's Passion which is supposed to bring
about massive conversions to Christianity.
In view of the extraordinary ecumenical endorsement and
promotion of the movie as an authentic portrayal of Christ's Passion,
we need to ask at the outset: Does the movie truly reflect the
Biblical account of the last 12 hours of Jesus life? What are the
major sources of the film, the Gospels or the Catholic mystical
literature? The answer is readily available, because Gibson himself
openly admits that the movie is based not only on the Gospels, but
also on the visions of two Catholic nun-mystics St. Anne Catherine
Emmerich and Mary of Agreda.
Referring to the visions of Emmerich, Gibson said, "She
supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of" (The New
Yorker, 9/15/03). This is evident, because, as we shall see, many of
the details of the movie are foreign to the Gospels. Emmerich
(1774-1824) was a German nun who allegedly had the stigmata or wounds
of Christ in her hands. The stigmata (bleeding hands) are the
ultimate proof of sainthood for Catholics, because the focus of their
devotion is imitating the suffering of Jesus. Any believer with the
wounds of Christ in the hands, becomes as it were a little christ.
During the last 12 years of her life, she allegedly ate only the body
and blood of Jesus contained the wafer of the Catholic mass. It is
evident that she had serious mental problems which for Catholics are
evidence of sainthood.
Emmerich's visions on the life of Christ were published in
1824 under the title The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ. The book is advertized in a website as "filled with
unusual, saintly descriptions that are not recorded in the Gospel
story." Her deceptive visions describe Christ's scourging and
crucifixion in the gruesome details shown in the movie-details which
are absent in the Gospels. The same is true of the key role Emmerich
attributes Mary as co-Redemptor with Christ. The partnership of Mary
in Christ redemptive mission is evident in the movie, but absent in
the Gospels. In her visions she saw that Protestants suffer more
than Catholics in Purgatory because no one offers masses for them or
prays for them.
Gibson was also influenced by Mary of Agreda (1602-1665), a
Catholic nun and visionary mystic. Her entire family entered
monasteries and convents in 1618. She was often taken in trances
which carried away to teach people in foreign lands. In her book The
Mystical City of God, Agreda offers many details about Mary and
Christ's Passion, which are not in the Bible.
In spite of the groundswell Evangelical support for The
Passion of the Christ, the movie is not Evangelical or biblical for
that matter. It is a Roman Catholic movie, made by a traditional
Roman Catholic director, with Roman Catholic theological advisers who
sought approval from the Pope himself. As Gibson well puts it, "It
reflects my beliefs." His beliefs are rooted in the traditional
Catholic beliefs and practices that preceded Vatican II (1962-1965).
While Vatican II offered the possibility to non-Catholics to
be saved by following the lesser light they have, Gibson is on record
in affirming that he believes that "there is no salvation for those
outside the Catholic Church" (The New Yorker, September 15, 2003).
Indeed, this has been the historical Catholic position until Vatican
II: "No salus extra ecclesia-so salvation outside the church." In an
interview with the Eternal Word Television Network, Gibson said: "I
don't go to any other [Catholic] services. I go to the Old Tridentine
[Latin] Rite." To be able to practice his traditional Catholic faith,
he built his own Catholic chapel, called Holy Family, near his home
in California. During the filming, he attended Catholic Mass every
morning with the misguided hope "to be squeaky clean."
A major problem with the movie is Gibson's ulterior motive to
portray the Passion according to the understanding of the Old Roman
Catholic Church. As Robert Tippie points out in his insightful
review, "No longer is he [Gibson] attempting to take facts from the
scriptures and 'enhance' them to get across the scriptural feelings
and meanings, but he switches to old Catholic dogma that is
attempting to 'teach' us something, rather than make us feel
something from the scene. It is the latter form of poetic license
that I disagree with in The Passion. The movie became so dogmatically
heavy with Romanism that it was ridiculous. If Mel would have stuck
to the striking embellishments as seen in the first scene in the
Garden, the movie would have been much more impacting on me" ("The
Passion: A Review After Seeing the Movie").
The fact that The Passion is produced by a staunch,
traditional Catholic who is eager to win people to his Catholic faith
through his movie, should be of concern to Evangelicals who wish to
protect their members from Catholic heresies. It is hopelessly
inconsistent for Evangelicals to endorse a movie that says and shows
things that are unbiblical, while committed to uphold the integrity
and authority of the Bible.
SOME GLARING ERRORS OF THE PASSION
Few viewers will note the glaring errors which are
strategically located throughout the film. Most viewers come out
thinking that they have seen an accurate portrayal of the last 12
hours of Christ's life. The truth is far from it. The truth and
errors are so intricately interwoven that the average viewer who
knows little about Gospels' account of the Passion may not notice the
Catholic interpolations designed to promote their historical
teachings. Let me mention some of the errors and inaccuracies that
have caught my attention.
The movie opens with Christ praying in the Garden of
Gethsemane. Both the garden and Jesus look awful. The garden looks
like an abandoned field in Southern Italy, with dry high grass and
without the millenarian olive trees that are so characteristic of the
Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.
Jesus looks frightening, covered with mud or grease over his
hair and face. He looks as if He just came out of a mud pit. Why
should Christ look so dirty and greasy when He had just finished
eating the Passover meal with His disciples? The Gospels tells that
three times Jesus fell on His face and prayed to His Father if it
were possible to let the cup of suffering pass from Him, but such
prayer could hardly have made Him look so dirty. It is evident that
Gibson wants to make Christ look shocking from the beginning to the
end of the movie. Such picture promotes the Catholic devotion to the
Passion as a way of salvation.
As soon as the soldiers and priests capture Christ in the
Garden, they bound Him with a heavy duty chain suitable for anchoring
sea vessels, and start beating on Him. But in the Gospels there is no
reference to the beating of Jesus in the Garden. We are simply told:
"And they laid hands on him and seized him. . . . And they led Jesus
to the high priest; and all the chief priests and elders were
assembled" (Mark 14:46, 53; cf. Matt 26:50, 57). "Then they seized
him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest house" (Luke
22:54; cf. John 18:12-13). What in the Gospels is presented as a
simple arrest and escort of Jesus to the high priest house, in the
movie becomes a plot to lynch Jesus even before he gets a chance to
appear before the high priest.
Physical Appearance of Satan
Satan, with his black cloak and mime-white face appears
various times in the movie, inciting everyone against Christ. In the
Garden a serpent crawls out of the nose of Satan . Slowly the serpent
creeps toward Christ and is almost ready to bite His head bowed low
in prayer. But Christ stands and crushes the serpent head. There is
no question that Satan was hard at work in the final hours of
Christ's life, hoping to defeat His redemptive mission. But there are
no allusions in the Gospels regarding any physical appearances of
Satan during the Passion to incite Jews and Romans against Christ.
There are no satanic snakes attempting to bite Christ.
Riot Between Jews and Romans
A frenzied riot brakes out around Jesus as he drags the Cross
to Calvary. Romans and Jews fight wildly, with Christ being
brutalized by all. A reviewer perceptively comments: "Wild riots
happened a lot in Mad Max movies [by Mel Gibson], but not in the
Gospels. Christ is depicted as falling at three points, but otherwise
the carrying of the cross is presented as a solemn event. Here S is
how the Gospel writer Luke, a deeply ardent believer, presents the
scene: 'As they led him away S A great number of the people followed
him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and
wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, 'daughters of
Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your
children.' This doesn't sound like the depiction of a crazy riot,
nor does Christ's injunction sound like the sort of thing shouted
over a melee."
It is unfortunate that Gibson is more concerned to shock
people by using the typical Hollywood audio-visual portrayal of
violence and bloodshed, than to capture the solemnity and dignity of
the Gospel story. The fact that the episode of the riot and the
ensuing beating of Jesus is foreign to the Gospels, shows again that
Gibson uses the Gospels as a pretext for his violent and shocking
movie. The beating of Christ is relentless throughout the movie, even
while falling under the weight of the Cross. It is evident that
Gibson is determined to blow out of proportion Christ's sufferings in
accordance with the Catholic devotion to the Passion.
Christ Thrown Off of a Bridge
While taking Christ to Pilate, the Pharisees throw Him off
of a bridge together with the huge chain and thick rope that bound
him. One would expect that a fall from a bridge into a rocky ground
below with the weight of a heavy chain, would result in broken bones
and emergency assistance. But in the film Christ is portrayed like a
zombie Super Man who can withstand any fall or beating. They pull
Him up with the chain bound around his waist like a sack of potato,
and then they continue to beat Him all the way to Pilate's judgment
hall. Common sense precludes the possibility of a normal human being
able to walk normally after a hard fall from a bridge. But the movie
shows that common sense is no so common after all.
Since there is no mention in the Gospels of Christ being
thrown off of a bridge by the Pharisees on the way to Pilate, where
di Gibson get the information from? Most likely from Catholic
mystical literature that exaggerates the physical suffering of Christ
in order to promote the devotion to the Passion as a way of salvation.
Wicked Children Throw Stones to Judas
I was shocked by the totally unexpected brief episode of
children playing on the street and then being suddenly transformed
into demons throwing stones to Judas while he was walking outside the
city to hang himself. For few second I could not understand what was
This episode is foreign to the Gospels, but reflects
Gibson's intent to portray the Jews as people, including their
children as wicked, demonic individuals, responsible for the death of
Jesus. Vatican II and the Pope himself have apologized for the
historical Catholic position against the Jews as the murderers of
Christ, but Mel Gibson does not accept the new Catholic admission.
His movie show that all the Jews, including their children are a
sadistic, demonic people, guilty of Christ's death. Gibson denies
this charge, but the actions of his movie speak louder than his words.
Unfair Portrayal of Jews and Romans
Throughout his movie Gibson portrays both the Jews and the
Romans as mean, sadistic, with angry looks and bad teeths. The Jewish
leaders always stand in the front row of the crowd with their evil
look and sinister faces. They show no compassion toward the
lacerated body of Jesus made worse at every passing moment by the
relentless blows. The only time they express grief is when they see
their Temple collapsing as a result of the earthquake that
accompanied Christ's death. This is another unbiblical and
unhistorical episode, because there are no indications that the
Temple collapsed at the death of Jesus.
Similarly the Roman soldiers are portrayed as sadistic and
sarcastic. They joke among themselves on who can dig deeper into
Christ's flesh with their metal-tipped whips. They look like hardened
executioners with no empathy toward their helpless victim.
There is no question that there were sadistic and
bloodthirsty Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers who played a major
role in the torture and crucifixion of Jesus. But the question is:
Can such a characterization be applied to all the Jews and to all the
Romans? Gibson makes no effort in his movie to acknowledge the
presence of Jews and Romans who believed in Christ and supported Him.
Yet a balanced reading of the Gospels shows that there were both
Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers that accepted Christ and were
gracious toward Him.
For example, the Gospels tells that Joseph of Arimathea and
Nicodemus, both of whom were members of the Sanhedrin and secret
followers of Jesus. They arranged with Pilate for taking down Jesus'
body from the Cross, treating it with myrrh and aloes, and placing it
in a brand new garden tomb (John 19:38-41; Luke 23:50-53; Mark
15:43-46; Matt 27:57-61). Later on Luke informs us that "the number
of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of
the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:6). Note that not
only the common Jewish people, but also "many of the priests were
obedient to the faith." In Acts 21:20 James tells Paul that "myriads
of Jews have believed and they are all zealous for the law."
On the basis of the figures provided by Acts, it is estimated
that about half of the Jewish population living in Jerusalem accepted
Jesus of Nazareth as their expected Messiah. Thus, it is inaccurate
and misleading for Gibson to make the Jewish people as a whole guilty
of Christ's death. To bring this point home, I might mention the
prevailing belief among Europeans that American are obsessed with
guns which they use freely to settle disputes. The like to speak of
President Bush as a Texan cowboy who wanted to take on Saddam
Hussein. This stereotyped image of Americans is hardly true.
During the 30 years I have lived in the USA, I have found
that the vast majority of Americans do not have guns and do not use
them to settle disputes. To stereotype all Americans as gangsters,
is inaccurate and offensive. The same is true of Gibson's portrayal
of the Jews. To the extent that he portrays the Jews as a sadistic
people, responsible for Christ's death, he perpetrates the historical
Catholic anti-Jewish teachings and policies that have done
incalculable damage to the cause of Christianity.
The same is true of the Roman soldiers. The Gospels tell us
of a centurion who beseeched Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus
acknowledged his faith and performed the miracle (Matt 8:5-8; Luke
7:2-6). Even more telling is the reaction of the centurion who most
likely was in charge of the soldiers at the crucifixion of Jesus. We
read: "And when the centurion, who stood facing him [Christ], saw
that he thus breathed his last, he said, 'Truly this man was the Son
of God" (Marl 15:39; cf. Matt 27:54). In Acts time and again Roman
soldiers delivered and protected Paul from popular lynching (Acts
21:32; 23:10; 23:27). There is ample evidence that many soldiers were
decent men who accepted the Gospel. In fact the evangelized such
countries like Great Britain is attributed to Roman soldiers
stationed in that country.
It is unfortunate that Gibson makes no attempt to portray a
balanced picture the good and bad people among the Jews and Romans.
In stead he chooses to portray the Jewish people and the Roman
soldiers in a negative light. The reason is his aim to promote the
historical Catholic bloody view of the Passion as well as
traditional Catholic anti-semitism. There is reason to fear that the
movie, by portraying the Jewish leaders angry, ugly, and demonic, may
refuel historic antisemitism, which many thought-leaders have worked
so hard to overcome in recent years.
The Final Earthquake
Another glaring error that caught my attention is the
devastating impact of the earthquake that accompanied Christ's death.
In the movie the whole Temple is split apart in two, with sections
collapsing. Again this is pure fiction, not a biblical fact. The
earthquake is mentioned only in Matthew 27:51. Luke speaks of the
darkness that encompassed the land from noon to 3:00 p.m. There is no
mention of the Temple sustaining any damage from the earthquake. The
only thing that happened inside the Temple was the splitting of the
curtain that divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy. "And behold,
the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and
the earth shook and the rocks were split" (Matt 27:51).
Had the Temple collapsed at Christ's crucifixion, there would
be historical accounts of its reconstruction as it happened in A. D.
70 when the Romans destroyed the Temple. But there are no indications
that the Temple was rebuilt or repaired because of the earthquake
that occurred at the Crucifixion. Gibson ignores biblical and
historical facts, because for him fiction offers more shocking images
The Carrying of the Cross
The episode of the carrying of the Cross contains a glaring
error, because Gibson has both Simon of Cyrene and Jesus carrying the
cross together. I could not believe what I saw because this openly
contradicts the Gospels account which reads: "And as they led him
away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the
country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus" (Luke
23:26; cf. Mark 15:21; Matt 27:32).
In the Gospels it is clear that Simon carries the Cross for
Jesus by himself, while following Jesus who by now was totally
exhausted. One wonders, Why does Gibson misrepresents the Gospel
story by having both Jesus and Simon carry the Cross together? Most
likely to suit his purpose to intensify the suffering of Jesus in
order to promote more effectively the Catholic devotion and imitation
of the Passion. Had Christ been relieved altogether from carrying the
Cross, then His sufferings would have been reduced. This would run
contrary to Gibson's strategy to shock people by making the agony of
Christ stretch beyond the limits of human imagination.
It was shocking for me to see people beating on Christ, not
only while carrying the Cross, but also while collapsed under its
weight. It is hard to believe that people can be so sadistic by
relentlessly beating on a bloody victim fallen under the weight of a
heavy Cross. But for Gibson, religious and commercial considerations
demand that the beating of Christ must go on non-stop, even when
fallen under the weight of the Cross.
Religiously, the Catholic devotion to the Passion entails
that Christ's sufferings must surpass human limitations.
Commercially, relentless brutality sells movies. Gibson knows it too
well. His earlier best selling movies The Patriot and Pulp Fiction,
are described by New York Times as "two of the most gory and violent
artistic works of the modern era."
THE PROMINENT ROLE OF MARY IN THE PASSION
The most glaring heresy of The Passion is the prominent role
that Mary plays throughout the film as a partner with Christ in the
redemption of mankind. She lends vital support to her Son
throughout the whole ordeal. In accordance with Catholic belief, had
she been absent, Christ would not have been able to offer Himself as
the sacrifice for mankind. This heresy is taught especially by Ann
Catherine Emmerich who presents Mary as co-redemptrix, that is,
co-redeemer. At the time of the crucifixion Mary actually utters the
words: "Le me die with you."
While in the Bible Mary appears only once in the Gospel of
John when Jesus on the Cross pointing to John says to His mother:
"Woman, behold your son!" (John 19:26), in the movie Mary is present
in all the major episodes. She is dressed like a Medieval nun, rather
than a first century Jewish woman. She is present in the Garden to
comfort her Son. She meets Peter on the streets after his denial of
Christ. Peter in distress looks Mary on her face and falls on his
knees, confessing his sin and asking for her forgiveness. Mary is
ready to absolve Peter for his sin, but he jumps up and says, "No, I
am not worthy." The Catholic intercessory role of Mary is loud and
Mary appeals to Pilate's wife, Claudia, urging her to
pressure the Roman soldiers to protect her son against the angry
Jewish crowd. Claudia aligns herself with Mary by influencing her
husband on behalf of Christ. But Pilate's efforts are too little and
too late. Again, the interaction between Mary and Claudia is foreign
to the Bible, deriving instead from Gibson's fertile imagination.
Christ's journey along the Via Dolorosa on the way to
Golgotha is inspired not by the Gospels, but by the medieval Catholic
devotional ritual , known as the 14 "Stations of the Cross." During
this journey Christ stops several times because he has no strength
left to go on. At those point, Mary is always near Christ and acts
as His comforter and coach. Through their eyes contact, Mary infuses
mystical power on her Son.
The notion of Mary participating with Christ in our
redemption, is a long-standing Catholic heresy that Protestant have
strongly rejected. But, I dare to predict that the subtle and
deceptive role of Mary in the movie will influence many uninformed
Evangelicals to embrace her as their co-redeemer. This deception is
fostered by the powerful role Mary plays in the movie, especially in
the last scenes.
Mary and Jesus at the Cross
When Jesus hangs on the Cross with His lacerated body covered
with blood, Mary embraces His bloody feet and her face is splattered
with blood. What a powerful Catholic message in showing not only
Jesus bleeding on the Cross, but also Mary standing besides Him,
covered with blood! The message is clear. Both of them have paid the
price of our redemption.
Even more telling is the picture of Mary cradling the bloody
body of Jesus in the same position as Michelangelo's pietà, when the
Roman centurion took the body down from the Cross. That picture has a
powerful message. It shows not only the importance of Christ's death,
but also the sacrifice of Mary in offering her Son for our salvation.
In an interview with Zenit, the Roman Catholic News Service,
Thomas Rosica, the Catholic priest who oversaw World Youth Day 2002
and its Way of the Cross through the streets of Toronto, acknowledges
how The Passion of the Christ highlights 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." (Father
Thomas Rosica on Mel Gibson's "The Passion," National Director of
World Youth Day 2002 Weighs in on Film, 2004-02-06).
Mary in the Gospels
The exaggerated role of Mary in the movie is totally
unbiblical. Contrary to Catholic fiction, what is conspicuous in the
Gospels' narrative is the absence of Mary. She appears only once at
the Cross when Christ entrusts her to the care of John, saying:
"Woman, behold your son!" (John 19:26). Such an impersonal address
hardly supports the interaction between Jesus and Mary present
throughout the movie.
The Gospels clearly and plainly tells us that Joseph of
Arimathea and Nicodemus took down the body of Jesus from the Cross
and "bound it in linen cloths with spices, as it the burial custom of
the Jews" (John 19:40). There is no allusion to Mary or the other
devout women handling the body of Jesus. The exalted role of Mary in
the Passion is a pure fabrication of Catholic teachings designed to
exalt the intercessory role of Mary at the expenses of the centrality
of Christ's atoning sacrifice.
The danger is that both believers and unbelievers are
accepting Gibson's fictitious and heretical reenactment of The
Passions, as the authentic biblical teaching. It is a fact that
Americans talk far more about what they have seen in the movies than
in what they have read in their Bible. A religious movie like The
Passion will soon becomes for many Americans their Bible. A lady
wrote in an email that she was grateful for understanding now the
"facts" of the Passion, missed by the Gospels. She felt that the
Gospels' account were too shallow and was glad that Catholic
visionaries were finally presenting the "whole truth" of the Passion.
The danger of exchanging Bible truths for movie fiction is
highlighted by a reviewer, who says: "Because of Gibson's Roman
Catholic background, Mary has a major role in the film. Gibson puts
Mary at nearly all of the events of his trial, torture and
crucifixion, and even has Mary kissing Jesus feet when he is on the
cross. There are many scenes like that one-not Biblical, but based
upon mystic and apocryphal writings and Roman Catholic tradition. I
took notes of the non-Biblical scenes, events and characters and had
a full page of them. The danger is that this film will become the
Oliver Stone's JFK of the crucifixion-that is, the public will only
'know' the crucifixion story as it is depicted here with all the
non-Biblical material assumed to be Biblical or historical. This is
the only way, I'm told, that many now 'know' the details of the
assassination of John F. Kennedy-through Oliver Stone's fictional
THE RELENTLESS BRUTALITY OF THE PASSION
What shocked me most is the relentless brutality of the
torture inflicted on Christ's body throughout the movie. The
brutality is designed, not to inspire, but to leave people shocked
and emotionally drained. Gibson achieves this objective with
unsurpassed artistry and deserved my personal oscar for brilliant
Apparently brutality is Mel Gibson's hallmark. Being
unfamiliar with his films (my time is too valuable to be wasted
watching fiction), I cannot speak first hand. But critics point out
this fact in their reviews. For example, Newsday says that "the film
shows that the Braveheart star and director is skilled at depicting
violence . . . with grisly, horrific details of Christ's physical
mutilation and torment."
Referring to the bloodiness of The Passion, Eugene Habecker,
President of the American Bible Society, said: "It's Mel Gibson. If
you watch Braveheart, that's Mel Gibson." Jeff Strickler writes in
Star Tribune: " As much as 'The Passion of the Christ' has been
ballyhooed as a religious film, it is, above all, a Mel Gibson movie.
Sure, the Oscar-winning director of Braveheart slips in a little
dogma [much in my view], but what he really lays on your face is
brutality. Blood splatters. Skin rips open. Eyes swell shut. Gibson's
thesis is that Jesus suffered for people's sins, and his focus is on
"The relentless brutality is likely to put off many viewers,
but it also gives the film a haunting power. The images are difficult
to get out of your mind. You will leave the theater feeling
emotionally exhausted and probably will spend the next few hours
processing what you've witnessed" (Star Tribune February 25, 2004).
Indeed, I spent the night wondering how can any sane person produce
such a gory, gruesome, and bloody exaggeration of Christ's Passion. I
could not help but question Gibson's mental sanity.
Relentless Brutality of the Movie
In his review published in the Tri-City Herald, Christy
Lemire writes: " The film is frightening - not for its dogma [in my
view the dogma is equally frightening], but for the relentlessness of
its brutality. Gibson, as director, producer and co-writer, is
fetishistic in his depiction of the pain Jesus suffered during the
last 12 hours of his life. The beating and whipping and ripping of
skin become so repetitive, they'll leave the audience emotionally
drained and stunned. . . . Roman soldiers, speaking Latin, strip him
down to practically nothing, chain him to a rock and scourge him
until he collapses in a bloody heap of shredded flesh" (Tri-City
Herald, February 24, 2004).
Lemire continues noting that "the idea that children should
see The Passion as a learning device-that churches are organizing
screenings and theater trips for their parishioners and catechism
classes-is truly shocking. Grown-ups-even true believers-will have
difficulty sitting through the film. Just think of the trauma it will
inflict on kids." Shocking as it may sound, this is exactly what some
preachers, parents, and teachers are doing, without considering the
emotional and spiritual trauma the film will cause on young minds.
In the review published in the New Yorker, David Denby calls
The Passion "a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating
procession of treachery, beatings, blood and agony . . . How will
parents deal with the pain, terror and anger that children will
doubtless feel as they watch a man flayed and pierced until dead?"
On a similar vein, Ty Burr writes on the Boston Globe: "A
profoundly medieval movie, Yes. Brutal almost beyond powers of
description, Yes. More obsessed with capturing every holy drop of
martyr's blood and sacred gobbet of flesh than with any message of
Christian love, Yes. More than anything, The Passion of the Christ
seems to be exactly the movie Mel Gibson wanted to make as an abiding
profession of his traditionalist Catholic faith. On that score it is
a success" (February 24-2004). I fully agree with Burr. Gibson has
done a masterful job in producing a brutal and gory reenactment of
Christ's Passion in full accordance with his traditional Catholic
Burr describes in a vivid way what is perhaps the most
gruesome scene of The Passion: "In the film's present-tense scenes,
Christ has already had his face smashed in, but that's just an
entr'acte [interval, introduction]. Now he is tied to a post in a
Roman courtyard, and the camera lovingly pans the tray of
instruments: the scourge, the spikes. There follows a 10-minute
sequence in which, first, the Savior is whipped with a stick until
his back is raw. Then he is whipped with a cat-o'-nine-tails that has
metal barbs at the end of each tether; in one shot we see the hooks
dig deep and tear out his flesh. Then Christ is rolled over and he is
flayed from the front. Later, after the long march to Golgotha, he is
nailed to the cross in slo-mo close-ups in which each hammer stroke
brings forth a fresh gout of blood. . . . To Gibson, each drop is
holy, so the more of it the better. Each chunk of flesh dug out by
the lash is Christ's sacrifice in all its beauty, so bring it on. The
cumulative effect, however, brings only numbness" (Globe, February
Should Young People See The Passion?
Should parents or teachers take young people to see this
shocking, frightening movie? Burr's answer is unequivocal: "Any
parent-no matter how devout and well-intentioned-who takes a child to
this movie is guilty of abuse. Period." I fully concur with Burr's
verdict and I would add that even adults who are emotionally weak
should not see the movie.
Several reports indicate that some viewers were hospitalized
after viewing the film. For example, Peggy Law Scott, a 57-years old
woman in Wichita, Kansas collapsed during the film's final, bloody
crucifixion scene. While people were helping the woman, the lights
were turned on and the people were ushered out. She later died at a
In view of its brutality and devastating effects on viewers,
it came as a surprise to learn that some Adventist churches and
schools are promoting the film, even among young people. A
professional Adventist lady emailed me this message: " I was
especially interested in your comments on the movie The Passion of
the Christ. I will not see this movie, but I have a 16 year old
daughter who attends Loma Linda Academy. Her Bible teacher has
offered extra credit to anyone in his class who sees the movie. He
himself took a carload of students to see it this week. My daughter
listened to him and has expressed an interest in seeing the movie
with her class. I had her go back and read the accounts of Jesus'
death in the four gospels and now I am having her read your
newsletter as well. I think she will see things in a different
light. I am also forwarding your newsletter to both the Bible
teacher and the principal of Loma Linda Academy."
How can some Adventist preachers and teachers promote a movie
that contains glaring errors, relentless brutality, and such Catholic
heresies as the prominent the role of Mary in our redemption? I can
think of two possible answers. First, some of them have not seen the
movie and thus they base their promotion on the glowing reports they
have heard or read. One pastor who arranged for his congregation and
community people to view The Passion at a local theater, told me in a
telephone conversation that he never thought the movie would be so
bad. Had he seen the movie before, he would not have organized the
Will the Shocking Brutality of The Passion Lead people to Christ?
Second, some pastors, teachers, and parents believe that
shocking violence, vivid gore, and repulsive brutality can be
legitimately used to help people see how much Christ suffered for
them. Bob Lepine of Family Life makes this point saying: "The
Passion may be Gibson's most violent film to date, and it deserves
its R rating. On more than one occasion as I watched this movie, I
had to turn away from the screen. I remember thinking at one point,
'Enough. This is over the top.' And almost immediately I had a second
thought. 'That's right,' I thought. 'This is over the top, because
the death of Christ was, in reality, barbaric and violent.' Maybe
what we all need to see is not a cleaned up, sanitized Hollywood
version of His death, but a more accurate and graphic look at how He
suffered for us. (February, 2004 website article; emphasis added).
Does Gibson's shocking brutality of Christ's suffering and
death provide "a more accurate" and effective portrayal of the
Passion than the one we find in the Gospels? Is such a shocking
portrayal needed to convert people today? Lepine and others like
him, seem to forget that the Gospels were written at a time when
dramatic plays with shocking brutality were the order of the day. We
are told that when the Colosseum was inaugurated in Rome (about A. D.
80), 9000 beasts and 3000 gladiators lost their lives during the
first 100 days to give a continuous bloody spectacle to the Romans.
Shocking brutality was the hallmark of the Broadway Shows of
ancient Rome. Certainly God knows how powerful and effective it would
have been to spread the Gospel through graphic descriptions and
dramatization of the events leading to the Crucifixion. We would
think that Passion Plays presented in the amphitheaters scattered
throughout all the major cities of the Roman world, could have led
many Gentiles to accept Christ as their personal Savior.
Is the Gospel to be Proclaimed through Drama?
But God chose to proclaim the Good News of salvation, not
through drama, but through the foolishness of preaching (Cor 1:21).
He chose to include in the Gospels, not graphic, gory details of
Christ's trial and crucifixion, but a sober account of how He offered
Himself up as a sacrifice for our salvation. The reason is that
faith comes, not by seeing drama, but "by hearing, and hearing by the
word of God" (Rom 10:17). Tom Holts perceptively observes that " Man
can use shock and violence to evoke extreme empathy and emotion and
bind viewers together in a 'shared experience' of grief, horror, and
outrage, but this is not God's pathway to saving faith revealed in
the New Testament, nor is it a means to greater devotion and intimacy
with God among God's people" (Bible Discernment Ministries 2/2004).
Evangelical leaders supporting Gibson believe that his brutal
reenactment of the Passion is true to the Gospels and will lead many
people in our generation to accept Christ as their personal Savior.
In an interview with the New Yorker magazine, Gibson said: "I wanted
to be true to the Gospels. That has never been done before. I didn't
want to see Jesus looking really pretty. I wanted to mess-up one of
his eyes, destroy it" (September, 2003).
Is this what being true to the Gospels means to Gibson? Does
any of the Gospels portray Christ with a "destroyed eye" and with
his body skinned alive as shown in The Passion? The biblical accounts
of Jesus' flogging and crucifixion are as minimal as they could be.
The Synoptic Gospels tells us essentially the same thing: "Having
scourged Jesus, [Pilate] delivered him to be crucified," . . . "And
when they came to a place which is called The Skull, there they
crucified him" (see Matt 27:26, 33; Mark 15:20, 22; Luke 23:25, 33).
Few verses later Jesus is dead. This is the brief, sober, and cryptic
account of Jesus sufferings and death.
The Gospel writers did not linger over the details of
Christ's suffering to stir emotions and promote the Catholic
imitation of His Passion as a way of salvation. The Evangelists were
not mentally unbalanced Catholic mystics obsessed with imitating
Christ's suffering as a way of salvation, but practically minded men
who learned at Jesus' feet how to imitate the beauty of His
character in their daily life. They report Jesus' suffering in the
briefest terms, because they understood that what is important for
our salvation, is not to focus on Christ's SUFFERING, but on the fact
that JESUS offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our redemption.
Meditation on the Humility and Nobility of Christ's Character
Nowhere the New Testament suggests that we should meditate on
the gory details of Christ's flogging and the brutal treatment he
received along the 14 stations leading to Calvary. The reason is
that, contrary to Catholic teachings, we are saved, not by imitating
in a small scale the suffering that Christ experienced on a larger
scale, but by accepting His gracious provision for our salvation
through His atoning sacrifice.
The New Testament invites to focus on Christ's life of
obedience, His atoning death, His glorious Resurrection, His constant
intercession, His victorious Return as King of Kings and Lord of
Lords. In the classic text of Philippians 2:5-9, Paul exhorts the
believers to focus, not on the gory details of Christ's suffering,
but on the totality of His redemptive mission: incarnation,
humiliation, suffering, and glorification.
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ
Jesus, who, thou he was in the form of God, did not count equality
with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form
of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in
human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even
the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and
bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:5-9).
Paul knew what sufferings was all about because he was
flogged five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned once,
shipwrecked three times, etc. (2 Cor 11:24-29), yet he lifts up for
the Christian meditation, not the gory details of Christ's torture
and execution, but the nobility of Christ's character as revealed in
His incarnation, humiliation, suffering, and subsequent exaltation.
These are the themes that can fire our imagination, without having to
recur to graphic and gory details of His suffering.
THE THEOLOGY OF THE PASSION
The average viewer of The Passion may not realize that the
movie is not a mere reenactment of the last 12 hours of Christ's
death, but a powerful promotion of the focal point of Catholic
worship: THE MASS. Catholics go to church, not to hear the
proclamation of the Word of God, but to witness the reenactment of
Christ's sacrifice. The short homily that priests deliver after the
Mass, has been largely influenced by Protestant preaching. The few
Masses that I attended as a boy growing up in Rome, Italy, and later
as a doctoral student at the Pontifical Gregorian University, usually
had no homilies. At the Mass, Catholic believers watch the priest
reenact Christ's sacrifice, just like moviegoers watch it in Gibson's
Why is Christ's sacrifice repeated at the Mass? Because the
Catholic that every time Christ is offered at the altar the benefits
of His sacrifice are renewed to the believer. Such benefits can be
applied not only to living believers but also to the souls of loved
ones in Purgatory. I vividly recall the visit of priests or nuns to
our home in Rome, to invite us to pay for perpetual Masses on behalf
of our loved ones in Purgatory. Such Masses are supposed reduce the
time of suffering in Purgatory and hasten their transition to
The Catholic view of the Mass as a reenactment of Christ's
sacrifice as a way of salvation, helps us understand why Gibson, a
very devout Catholic, has invested 25 millions dollars to produce
The Passion. His movie is designed to help modern audiences
understand, as Gibson stated in an interview with the Eternal Word
Television Network, "the juxtaposition between the sacrifice of the
cross and the sacrifice of the altar [Mass]-which is the same thing."
Gibson's Passion and the Catholic Mass
Gibson's movie is a large scale reenactment of the Passion
that takes place in a small scale at every celebration of the Mass.
At the Mass Catholics look for Christ, not in heaven above, but in
the ostensorium, the box containing the host that is elevated during
the Mass for the consecration of the host. In a similar fashion, at
the movie box people will see Christ, not in heaven above, but in a
bloody reenactment of His Passion.
The script of The Passion of the Christ was specifically
written to highlight the link between Christ's suffering and death on
the Cross, and the reenactment of His sacrifice at the altar during
the Mass celebration. Gibson's intent is to show that the sacrifice
of the Cross and the sacrifice at the altar (Mass) are the same thing.
The Catholic belief that Christ can be sacrificed time and
again and each time benefits accrue from His fresh atonement, is
openly contradicted by Scripture. Hebrews teaches that Christ, our
High Priest, does not need to repeat His sacrifice, because "he did
this once for all when he offered up himself" (Heb 7:27). Protestants
have historically rejected as "abominable" the idea that the priest
at the altar has the power to sacrifice Christ again and again. But
the widespread acceptance of The Passion by Evangelical Christians
is a clear indication that the gulf between Catholicism and
Protestantism is being bridged, at the expenses of the latter.
The Gulf is Being Bridged
In his review of The Passion, Andrews J. Webb perceptively
observes that "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. This emphasis on Christ's physical agony is repeated in
Roman Catholic devotional material, prayers, and, of course, in 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)."
By focusing exclusively on the brutality of Christ's physical
sufferings, Gibson ignores the far greater pain of the mental anguish
experienced by Christ for having the sins of the world placed upon
Him. Even the worst physical torments inflicted upon Christ by Jews
and Romans, did not compare with the anguish of feeling separated
from God while dying to pay the full penalty of our sins. Satisfying
Roman justice on a cross was comparatively easy, as thousands of men
and women, including some of the Apostles, did that. But it was far
more difficult to satisfy the justice of God by offering Himself as a
perfect sacrifice for our salvation.
Christ the Survivor
The fundamental importance of Christ's Resurrection for the
Christian faith, is largely ignored in The Passion. At the end of
the movie Christ is seen in profile for few seconds when the stone of
the tomb is rolled back. Gibson minimizes the Resurrection because
the focus of the movie is on Christ's capacity to survive the most
brutal torture. He can take it all and we can become survivors like
In his review published in the Boston Globe, James Carroll
notes: "There is no resurrection in this film. A stone is rolled
back, a zombie-Jesus is seen in profile for a second or two, and
that's it. But there is a reason for this. In Gibson's theology, the
resurrection has been rendered unnecessary by the infinite capacity
of Jesus to withstand pain. Not the Risen Jesus, but the Survivor
Jesus. Gibson's violence fantasies, as ingenious as perverse, are, at
bottom, a fantasy of infinite male toughness" (Globe, February 24,
The biblical Christ is not an invincible Super Man, but the
Divine Son of God, who took upon Himself our limitations of human
nature and was "made like his brethren in every respect, so that he
might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of
God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).
DOES THE PASSION OFFER A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR SPREADING THE GOSPEL?
Does The Passion of the Christ provide a unique opportunity
for spreading the Gospel? This is the feeling of many evangelical
leaders. "'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, Montana. '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" ("Churches Make 'Stunning' Show of Support for Gibson's
'Passion,'" Newsmax, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004).
It is true that we live in a highly visual and anti-literate
society where people rather watch a movie than read a book. But does
this mean that she should replace preaching with movies or dramatic
plays? We need to remember that during the Middle Ages religious
teachings were communicated by visual presentations such as Passion
Plays, statues, icons, and relics. They took the place of the Bible
which the Catholic church refused to have it translated into the
common languages of the people. These things were designed to
stimulate an emotional response. The result was the gradual decadence
of the church that sank into deep superstition.
The ability of images, statues, relics, and drama to evoke an
emotional response, does not guarantee an accurate transmission of
the Gospel. They often lead to idolatry. In fact religious souvenirs
of The Passion are already for sale on websites. People can already
buy reproduction of the nails or of the cross of The Passion and wear
them as earrings or necklaces. Devout Catholic wear what they
worship and worship and they wear. This is why God ordained the
communication of the Gospel through preaching, rather than through
visual presentations like drama, Passions Plays, and imageries. The
latter can lead to idolatry.
Drama options were readily available to the Apostles as the
brought the Gospel to cities equipped with amphitheaters and actors
trained to portray religious and moral themes to the people. But the
Lord instructed the Apostles to proclaim the Good News of salvation
through the medium of preaching: "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 Tim. 4:2-4).
No Drama, Passion Plays or Pictures in the Early Church
During the first four centuries Christians did not use
picture of Jesus or Passion Plays for their evangelistic outreach,
despite the fact that they lived in highly visual cultures. Pagan
temples were littered with statues of gods. Mystery religions like
Mithraism, Cybele, and Isis, had their own Passion Play. A popular
one was known as the taurobolium (blood-bath)-that is, the imitation
of the death and resurrection of the god Attis by killing a bull and
covering a new believer with his blood.
God's people did not adopt pagan religious visual practices
for communicating the Gospel. In accordance with the Second
Commandment, no pictorial representation of God was ever allowed in
the Temple, Synagogues, or Early Christian Churches. Even the name of
YHWH was not pronounced out of respect for the holiness of God. The
result is that we do not know how to read the four Hebrew letters of
the name of God, because they were substituted by the generic name
ADONAI, which means "Lord."
There were no pictures of the Godhead in the Temple,
Synagogue or Early Christian Churches. In the catacombs Christ is
represented not by pictures, but by symbols like the fish, the
anchor, or the Good Shepherd. The reason is that early Christians
understood that no human being can bring God down to the human level
without violating His transcendent majesty and purity. This is a
simple biblical truth, which many today find it difficult to accept.
PLAYING GOD OR WITH GOD IS SACRILEGIOUS. God is not a consumer
product for our society to use and enjoy.
The situation gradually changed as Gentile Christians brought
into the church their pagan beliefs and practices. Soon pictures,
statues, and Passion Plays became common place. During the Middle
Ages Passion Plays were staged first in churches, then in church
yards, and finally in special outdoor amphitheaters. Passion Plays
have become an important tourist attractions in different countries.
The Oberammergau Passion Play in upper Bavaria, Germany, draws
tourists every years from many parts of the world. In America also
there are popular Passion Plays in such places as Eureka Springs,
Arkansas, Black Hills, South Dakota, and Lake Wales, Florida.
The Temptation to Worship a Visible Christ
At the time of the Reformation, Protestants overwhelmingly
rejected the use of images, statues, relics, Passion Plays, as a
violation of the Second Commandment. Rather than visual imagery,
they relied on the preaching of the Word to save souls and the Gospel
made significant advances.
I am not proposing the eliminations of all pictures of
Christ. Plain pictures of Christ can be a source of inspiration,
without becoming an object of worship. The problem arises when
pictures are designed and used to portray and foster unbiblical
teachings such as the devotion to Christ's Passion or to the Sacred
Heart of Mary. In these instances pictures encourage an idolatrous
form of worship.
The temptation to worship a visible and tangible Christ can
be seen in dominant Catholic countries, where the only Christ devout
Catholics know and worship is the One they touch, see, and often wear
as jewelry. Statues, crucifixes and pictures of the bleeding Savior,
abound in devout Catholic homes. Instead of worshipping the invisible
Lord in Spirit and Truth, they worship an idol that they can see,
touch and feel.
The sad reality is that many Christians have become so
conditioned by the entertainment industry, that playing God or with
God through drama, pictures, movies, and rock music has become an
accepted form of worship. By accepting these things and endorsing
movies like The Passion of the Christ, we run the risk today of
returning to the Medieval false worship which the Protestants
struggled and died to reform.
Does The Passion Provide a Witnessing Opportunity?
Does The Passion provide a unique witnessing opportunity to
those who view the movie? My answer is "YES." The fact that the
movie shocks people with a brutal Catholic portrayal of Christ's
Passion, offers a unique opportunity to help people appreciate the
true biblical version of Christ's atoning sacrifice for our
We can help people understand that the relentless brutality
of the beating and whipping and ripping of Christ's skin as shown in
the movie, is foreign to the Gospels. It is inspired by Catholic
mystical literature designed to promote the imitation of Christ
suffering as a way of salvation.
We can explain to people that there are no gory details in
the biblical accounts of Jesus' flogging and crucifixion . The
Synoptic Gospels simply tell us: "Having scourged Jesus, [Pilate]
delivered him to be crucified," . . . "And when they came to a place
which is called The Skull, there they crucified him" (see Matt 27:26,
33; Mark 15:20, 22; Luke 23:25, 33). The reason for such brevity is
because we are saved by Christ's perfect life and atoning death for
our sins, and not by the intensity of His suffering.
More important still, we can point out that the prominent
role of Mary in the movie is totally unbiblical. It is inspired by
the Catholic belief that Mary is a partner with Christ in our
salvation. In the Bible Mary appears only once at the Cross when
Christ entrusts her to the care of John, saying: "Woman, behold your
son!" (John 19:26). Such an impersonal address hardly supports the
Catholic view of Mary as co-redeemer of mankind.
Finally, we can share the Good News that we do not need to
repeat Christ sacrifice again and again as the Catholic priest do at
the altar, in order to ensure our salvation, because "He did this
once for all when he offered up himself" for our eternal salvation
(Heb 7:27). We can experience every day the benefits of Christ's
sacrifice because our Savior is working hard in the heavenly
sanctuary to bring to consummation His redemptive mission on the
glorious Day of His Return.
THE POTENTIAL OF THE PASSION FOR CATHOLIC EVANGELISM
The Catholic Church badly needed a boost to polish her image
which had been tarnished by sexual scandals. Mel Gibson's The Passion
of the Christ provides the much needed boost. The movie will prove to
be a powerful evangelistic tool for the Catholic Church. Many
Evangelical leaders support Mel Gibson, but they do not control him.
He is under the grip of the Roman Catholic Church that he is serving
as a true apostle. He may well prove to be the most influential
Catholic evangelist of our times.
The Daily Catholic, openly acknowledges the evangelistic role
of Gibson, saying: "Many see Gibson as a Hollywood movie star, but
True Catholics see him as an evangelist in the purist sense. A true
Apostle for the Truths and Traditions of the Church Christ founded.
Mel has set on film what has always been set in stone: the
everlasting reminder of why Christ died for each and every one of us.
We have that reminder daily in the Latin Mass in the Alter
Christus-the priest offers Him up daily as a propitiatory sacrifice
in an unbloody manner to the Father for us. Prayerfully this movie
will move the hearts and souls of millions to return to the Truths
and Traditions of Christ's True Church. (Daily Catholic, January 17,
2004; emphasis added).
It is not surprising that the international magazine Inside
the Vatican has chosen Mel Gibson as its "Man of the Year" for 2003.
Why Not? The million of non-Catholics that are viewing The Passion in
many countries, will be introduced in a compelling way to the
Catholic faith of its producer, Mel Gibson.
Evangelical leaders who are enthusiastically promoting The
Passion, may not realize that the ultimate beneficiary is the
Catholic Church. Those who like the film may be attracted to
Gibson's Catholic faith, reflected throughout the film.
The clasping of the hands between Catholicism and Protestantism
is taking place in many ways today. The mutual endorsement and promotion
of The Passion-a
powerful portrayal of the Catholic view of Christ's sacrifice-serves
as a compelling reminder that the gulf is being bridged and the hands
are being clasped and the Protestants are drawn into the Catholic web