CRITIQUE OF THE PASSION
Gibson's Film in the Light of Holy Scripture
Critique of the Passion is important. It raises numerous questions about the meaning of the cross.
IS THE FILM ANTISEMITIC (Inciting Hatred Toward the Jewish People)?
The Jews are portrayed in a negative way--though, under pressure, Mel Gibson removed a Bible verse from the script, so as not to offend them. When Pilate tried in vain to insist that Christ had done nothing worthy of death, the Jewish multitude cried out, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). The line was originally there, but later removed from the film script. This kind of tinkering with the account to satisfy public opinion would seem to be what the Apostle Paul spoke of when he said, "If I still pleased men, I would not be the bondservant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).
True, the Jews are not depicted favourably. But the Romans are also portrayed in a negative way in the film--as a pack of brutal sadists. Without doubt, crucifixion was cruel and brutal--designed that way to discourage law breaking! (Though it is quite possible much of the cruelty pictured in the film never happened!) And the Romans, especially the centurions, are always portrayed in Scripture as just in their dealings--and often as men of faith (e.g. Matt. 8:5-13; Acts 10:1-2; 22:25-26; 27:42-43; cf. Mk. 15:39).
The Bible is balanced with regard to who was to blame for the crucifixion of Christ--including both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 4:27). The larger truth to be kept before us is this: In the final analysis, each human being is responsible for what happened to Christ, because He died for our sins (Isa. 53:6; I Pet. 2:24). And though the antisemitism issue has often been at the forefront of discussions about the film, there are other critical issues to be considered.
I. THE FILM SUFFERS FROM A LACK OF CONTEXT
"Context" is what comes before and after. It is a crucial step in Bible interpretation to consider the context of a passage. When a sermon is presented, the preacher can cite Scripture references giving biblical authority for what he says. Listeners should always check with the inspired Word of God (Acts 17:11). With a film, that is not usually possible. (Viewers of Gibson's film would have difficulty doing that in any event, since many of the things portrayed are not found in the Bible at all.) While watching the film well taught Christians may be able to supply the needed context from what they already know. But many others will not likely be able to do so.
The Passion is almost exclusively about the 12 hours from Jesus' arrest until His death on the cross. A brief glimpse is given of the resurrection (with peculiarities of its own, to be dealt with later). There are also some flashbacks to earlier times in Jesus' life. (Some are scenes of Jesus' boyhood with His mother, Mary--events not in the Bible.) But Calvary needs to be put in a proper (and accurate) context. This is done by teaching what comes before, and after the cross in the Word of God. In the broadest sense, this includes:
1) Before: creation, and the fall of man; the Old Testament Law, and the failure of all to keep it; the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Saviour; and the account of Christ's virgin birth, His teachings, His miracles, and His sinless life, as recorded in the Gospels.
2) After: Christ's resurrection, with its "many infallible proofs" that He was truly, physically alive (Acts 1:3; I Cor. 15:3-6, etc.); the record of His ascension, and of his high priestly work at the Father's right hand; the promise of His return; the record in Acts of the formation and growth of the church, as Christ's "Great Commission" (Matt. 28:18-20) is obeyed; the commentary on the meaning of the cross given in the epistles, and how we are to respond to the work of Christ.
3) A Theological Context: To appreciate the meaning of Calvary, people need to hear: that we are all lost sinners, condemned to eternal judgment, apart from the intervention of God's grace (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Jn. 3:18, 36); that Christ is God the Son in human flesh (Jn. 1:1, 14), sent by God the Father to take the punishment for our sins upon Himself (I Cor. 15:3); that He has provided a full and free salvation for all who will trust in Him alone as Saviour (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:16); and that His resurrection demonstrates who He is, and that the Father is fully satisfied with His payment for sin (Rom. 1:3; 4:25).
II. THE FILM CONTAINS UNPARALLELED VIOLENCE
Some Christians have claimed viewing all the brutality and gore has made them love the Saviour more. But the Bible shows a holy reticence when it comes to these details. Jesus' physical suffering is described with very few words. But in the film, physical mutilation, blood and gore fill nearly all of the two hour running time. (Film critics are calling it the most violent movie they have ever seen.)
Why the emphasis on the details of the physical abuse of Christ? It seems like a throwback to the obsession with these things in the Middle Ages (ca. 500-1500). During that era, there was a growing fascination with supposed religious relics. Such relics included body parts or bones of dead saints, clothing or other personal items associated with them. Many alleged nails from the cross, and even "the Virgin's milk" (a huge quantity) were put on display. Though great claims were made, it is virtually impossible to prove whether such relics are authentic. It has been estimated that enough supposed pieces of the cross of Christ were circulated to fill a whole railway freight car with wood.
These relics stirred a deep fascination with the physical details of Christ's sufferings. The belief grew in the Middle Ages that one could best commune with Christ by meditating on His physical pains. And that one could help pay for his own sins by suffering in a similar way to Jesus (whipping one's self, being suspended for awhile on a cross, etc.).
But in contrast with this obsession, the biblical record is sparse. Mark says simply, "He [Pilate] delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him" (Mk. 15:15), whereas the whipping of Jesus takes 9 minutes in the film, with every detail shown of bloody flesh being ripped from His body.)
John says, "They crucified Him" (Jn. 19:18). That is all. The actual "blood" of Jesus is never once mentioned in the biblical account, from the time of Jesus' arrest until His death on the cross. (It is only after His death that we read, "One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out," Jn. 19:34.) Not that the shed blood of Christ was unimportant to the Bible's authors. (It is mentioned about 20x in the epistles, but mostly for its doctrinal significance, and as the fulfilment of what was pictured in the Old Testament sacrifices (Jn. 1:29; Heb. 9:11-15, 22.)
Even God the Father refused to gaze upon the cross. The scene was shrouded in supernatural darkness (Matt. 27:45). And Christ, in His agony, sensed the withdrawal of the Father's fellowship (Matt. 27:46). The Bible says God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon wickedness" (Hab. 1:13). So is it right for us to gaze with fascination upon the details of the greatest sin ever committed? How do the scenes portrayed fit the Bible's injunction, "Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-- meditate on these things" (Phil. 4:8)?
There is another reason why the Bible turns our attention away from these gory scenes of physical violence. It is because the spiritual burden Christ bore, and the torment He felt in bearing the world's sins (Isa. 53:6) was far greater than His physical pain. His heart- wrenching agony in Gethsemane (before His physical abuse) shows us that (Matt. 26:36-39; cf. Lk. 22:44). What He experienced spiritually is at the heart of what His salvation gains for us. He endured separation from the Father so that we might be delivered from that very thing (Matt. 27:46; cf. Isa. 59:2; II Thess 1:7-9).
III. THE FILM IS MARRED BY FICTIONS & FALLACIES
The claim is made that "The Passion" is an accurate and factual account of what happened to Christ. "It is as it was" (were allegedly the words of the pope, after viewing the film). Gibson says, "I wanted to be true to the Gospels. That's never been done before. I didn't want to see Jesus looking pretty. I wanted to mess up one of His eyes. Destroy it." (But where in the Gospels do we read of one of Christ's eye being destroyed?) One reviewer comments, "It was assembled from the four biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. [And] the film presents a moving and factual account..." (Greg Laurie).
But that is not so. A critique of The Passion will show that many times the film is not historically accurate or factual. Nor is it always based upon the four Gospels. The motion picture is riddled with two kinds of errors 1) Fictions: details not in the Bible--some that might have happened, but we have no way of knowing for sure. 2) Fallacies: details that actually contradict the Bible, or support false doctrine. With some research, I was able to come up with a list of about fifty things that fall into one category or the other. For a film claiming biblical accuracy, that is not a good record! Here are a few examples.
1) Jesus is played by a tall, handsome Caucasian actor, closely resembling the image on the Shroud of Turin. But in truth we do not know what Christ looked like. He may have been short and swarthy. We know He was a Jew, and that there was apparently nothing remarkable about His general appearance (cf. Matt. 1:1; Isa. 53:2). Beyond that point we must proceed with caution.
2) All the characters speak either Aramaic, or Latin. But Latin was used mainly for formal documents. The common language of conversation was Greek.
3) At the Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples sit down to eat, as is often portrayed in paintings. But the custom was to recline on couches at such meals, with each person leaning on His left elbow.
4) At the supper, Peter is seated next to Jesus. But in fact John was reclining on Jesus' right (and hence able to lean back on His bosom, Jn. 13:23, 25), and Judas Iscariot was on Jesus' left (since it was to him Jesus directly passed the food, Jn. 13:26). Peter was actually across the table, where he was able to motion to John to find out who the betrayer was (Jn. 13:24).
5) After he leaves the upper room, Judas is attacked by demons in the form of two children--who chew off his flesh! This, of course, is nowhere found in the Word of God.
6) Satan repeatedly appears to Jesus and tempts Him during His passion. (This is never mentioned in the Bible.)
7) In the film, Satan is played by a woman.
8) In Gethsemane, Jesus crushes the head of a serpent that appears from under Satan's robe. But this prophecy was fulfilled through His death, not in Gethsemane (Gen. 3:15; cf. Heb. 2:14).
9) Missing from "The Passion" is this incident: When Jesus announces Himself to the arresting party as the "I AM," they all fall backward, possibly indicating His sovereign power (Jn. 18:6).
10) The film depicts several of the disciples fighting in Gethsemane against the arresting party, but the Bible mentions only Peter doing so (Jn. 18:10).
11) The soldiers begin beating Jesus in Gethsemane. But that is nowhere found in the record.
12) The soldiers throw Jesus off a bridge, where He dangles at the end of a chain.
13) Herod calls Jesus a "Fool," and the Romans call Him "King of Worms." Neither of these appellations is recorded in Scripture.
14) Jesus is scourged twice in the film. (According to Scripture there was only one beating.)
15) Simon of Cyrene at first disdains to carry Jesus' cross. Then he has a change of heart, and appeals to the Romans on His behalf.
16) The soldiers continue to beat Christ on the way to Calvary, and a frenzied riot breaks out between the Jews and the Romans. (Not in the Bible.)
17) One of Jesus' hands is nailed to the cross. Then His body is cruelly and violently stretched, in order to reach a hole drilled for the other nail.
18) After Jesus is nailed to the cross, it is raised up, turned over, and dropped face down. (And lifted up and dropped again.) This goes far beyond the Bible.
19) The names of the two thieves crucified with Jesus are given as Gesmes and Dismas, when the Bible is silent about this.
20) A crow pecks out the eye of the unrepentant thief.
21) During the earthquake accompanying Jesus' death, the floor of the temple is cracked, and other damage done there. But the Bible mentions only the tearing of the veil before the holy of holies (Matt. 27:51).
22) Mary Magdalen is depicted as the woman taken in adultery (Jn. 8:3), but the Bible makes no such identification. They are two different people.
23) At the resurrection, an angel rolls away the stone before Jesus emerges from the tomb. But in the Bible the stone is rolled away to show His followers He has already risen (Matt. 28:1-6).
24) At the resurrection, Jesus walks out of the tomb stark naked. This bizarre portrayal is nowhere found in the Bible.
So, is it right to take "dramatic licence" with the inspired Word of God, and add to it? Some have called Gibson's additions simply "artistic embellishments." But should we do that with the Bible? In Christianity Today, Frank Schaeffer is quoted as saying, "The person I meet when I pray is not subject to negotiation or interpretation by a movie director. I want Jesus as He reveals Himself to me when I pray, not Mel Gibson's casting choice."
The practice of adding to or subtracting from the Bible is specifically condemned, in both the Old and New Testaments (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18). While the Scriptures do not tell us everything that happened, God has told us all we need to know. His purpose is not to satisfy our curiosity, but to present His Son as our Saviour and Lord, the One to be believed on and obeyed. The Bible says, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever" (Deut. 29:29).
The many inaccuracies in the film raise the question: Where did Mel Gibson (who co-authored the script) get his material? Not from the Bible. As Richard Corliss, in TIME Magazine notes, "[It was] inspired as much by Renaissance iconography [statues and paintings], the Stations of the Cross [in Catholic tradition], and [a book called] 'The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary', as by the Gospels' terse narratives." In truth, a major source for the script was the writings of Roman Catholic mystics Mary of Agreda, and Anne Emmerich.
Mary of Agreda (1602-1665) was a Franciscan nun who is alleged to have had visionary trances. She claimed the power to send a vision of herself to foreign lands to teach Christianity to the heathen. She prophesied as follows: "It was revealed to me that through the intercession of the Mother of God, all heresies will disappear. This victory over heresies has been reserved by Christ for His Blessed Mother....Before the Second Coming of Christ, Mary must, more than ever, shine in mercy, might and grace, in order to bring unbelievers into the Catholic Faith."
Mr. Gibson's main source for the film, however, is the visions of Anne Emmerich (1774-1824), as especially recorded in her book The Dolorous [Painful, Sad] Passion of Our Lord, published posthumously, in 1833. She claimed the ability to "see" a person's sins, and to actually see souls in purgatory. She is also said to have had the ability to levitate (defy gravity and float in mid-air). It is claimed she miraculously understood the Latin Mass without ever studying Latin, and was spending 4-5 hours a day in prayer, by the age of four. Says Gibson, "[She] supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of." (Almost all the extra-biblical "fictions and fallacies" in the film come from her.)
According to a vision of Emmerich's, "the complexion of our Lord was fair, like that of Mary, [and] His hair, which was far from thick was of a golden brown colour." (This accords with the European appearance of Jesus in many paintings and statues from the Middle Ages. It is not the more likely appearance of a Middle Eastern Jew.)
Emmerich describes the beatings of Jesus in gory detail. (She claims there were two beatings, where the Bible mentions only one.) "Two fresh executioners took the places of the last mentioned, who were beginning to flag; their scourges were composed of small chains, or straps covered with iron hooks, which penetrated to the bone, and tore off large pieces of flesh at every blow. What word, alas! could describe this terrible--this heartrending scene! The cruelty of these barbarians was nevertheless not yet satiated; they untied Jesus, and again fastened Him up with His back turned towards the pillar....The body of our Lord was perfectly torn to shreds."
The writings of Anne Emmerich are often anti-Jewish in tone. Many details she gives about Christ's passion focus on the Jews and amplify their involvement. For example, she claims a Pharisee sent seven slaves to get wood and prepare the cross before Jesus was arrested, and that the cross was constructed outside Caiaphas's court. She also asserts six brutal Pharisees were in charge of the arresting party, and that the high priests paid the soldiers to abuse Jesus. None of this is recorded in the Bible.
The Word of God sharply contrasts the faithful preaching of the apostles with the "fictions and fallacies" of those who distort or add to the truth of God's Word. "We are not, like so many (as hucksters, tavern keepers, making a trade of) peddling God's Word--short- measuring and adulterating the divine message; but as men of sincerity and the purest motive, commissioned and sent by God, we speak [His message]....We refuse to deal craftily (to practice trickery and cunning) or to adulterate or handle dishonestly the Word of God..." (II Cor. 2:17; 4:2, Amplified Bible).
IV. THE FILM RESTS ON A CORRUPT FOUNDATION
Presenting the truth of the Word of God is a holy calling and a sacred duty, not to be taken lightly. Even the prophet Isaiah realized he needed God's special cleansing before he could do it (Isa. 6:5-7). But compare the people who created The Passion of the Christ:
One of the main actresses is famous in Italy for her hard core pornographic movies. Three prominent actresses have repeatedly posed nude for various pornographic publications. The actress who plays Mary appeared in a Hungarian film which one critic calls "vile and sexually provocative." The actor who plays Jesus has appeared recently in films with restricted viewing because of their nudity, graphic sex, foul language, and violence.
According to a transcript of some "out-takes," the actor who plays Jesus took the Lord's name in vain on the set of The Passion, and made silly jokes while he was hanging on the cross ("Hey! I can see my house from here!"). Mel Gibson himself has recently appeared in movies notorious for their extreme violence and profanity. (In one film alone there were 94 examples of vile language--16 of these involved taking the Lord's name in vain.) Surely, "By their fruits you will know them" (Matt. 7:20).
Also significant is the film's ROMAN CATHOLIC ROOTS.
Mel Gibson has stated publicly that he believes no one can be saved outside the Church of Rome. ("There is no salvation for those outside the Church.") He also believes that only a Mass delivered in Latin can have saving benefit (the Tridentine Latin Mass). When asked if he was born again, Mel Gibson replied, "No, I'm not born again, I'm a Catholic."
Gibson has repeatedly added things to the film, or departed from the facts, in order to support Catholic tradition. For example: A battered and gore-covered Jesus appears weak and helpless, on the way to Calvary. He falls several times (based on the Catholic "Stations of the Cross," not the Bible). A woman offers Jesus a drink (of water or wine) along the route. When she wipes His face with a cloth, the image of His face is miraculously imprinted on the cloth. (This is the Catholic legend of St. Veronica, and not biblical.) As Jesus collapses repeatedly under the burden of the cross, Simon helps Him up, saying things like "You're almost there." (But it was Simon who was bearing the cross, according to God's Word--almost from the start, Matt. 27:31-32.) At one point, Jesus falls and seems unable to continue, until He looks at Mary, and gains strength from her.
None of this is biblical. Jesus on the way to the cross exhibited strength and full control of Himself. He was even able to do some teaching (Lk. 23:27-31).
In The Passion, the nails are driven into Jesus' palms. But we know from history and from medical science that is not how it was done. (A nail through the palm could not support the weight of the body.) In fact, the nails were driven through the wrists, crushing the median nerve and causing terrible pain. (In the language of the day, the wrist was considered part of the hand.) This raises the question of why a man, committed to getting his facts straight, deliberately did it wrong. It is possibly because, in portraying this correctly, Mel Gibson would have contradicted the view of Christ on the cross in the countless crucifixes of Romanism displayed around the world. That he was not willing to do.
FIVE BASIC ERRORS OF ROMANISM
The truth about the church of Jesus Christ comes to us from the inspired revelations given through the apostles, and from that alone. Some of these teachings we hold in common with the Church of Rome (a belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, His second coming, etc.). However, Rome has added much tradition and many papal decrees, which often distort or contradict God's Word.
1) Rome gives human tradition the authority of Holy Scripture. It places later tradition and papal decrees on a level with the inspired Scriptures, or even above them. Rome receives the Sacred Scriptures and "the unwritten traditions...preserved in continuous succession in the Catholic Church, with equal affection of piety and reverence....No one may dare to interpret the Sacred Scriptures in a manner contrary to that Church" (The Council of Trent--hereafter abbreviated CT).
In stark contrast, the Christian faith is based upon the revealed Word of God (Rom. 10:17; I Pet. 1:23--2:2; II Pet. 3:15-16), and on that alone (Jude 1:3; cf. Isa. 8:20; Gal. 1:6-9).
2) Rome attempts to keep on crucifying Christ, over and over. Romanism declares that Christ's sacrifice is renewed and repeated, each time the Mass is celebrated. It teaches that the communion wafer is miraculously turned into the actual body of Christ at that time (a doctrine called transubstantiation). "The Mass permits us to have a part in the redemptive work of Christ....God is pleased that we are doing our share in making up for sin" (Monsignor J. D. Conway). "The Lord, appeased by the oblation thereof, and granting the grace and gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins" (CT). Rome also teaches that Masses can also be said for the saving benefit of the dead, completely contradicting Scripture (Heb. 9:27).
Mel Gibson says, "The sacrifice of the cross, and the sacrifice of the altar [meaning the Mass] are the same thing." He uses a clever technique to show this in the film. Instead of putting the Last Supper in its chronological place, he waits until the crucifixion is in progress, then inter-cuts scenes of the cross and the Last Supper. This is to emphasize that the Mass carries on the sacrifice of the cross.
Gibson had a Mass conducted on the film set every day. His reason? "We have to be squeaky clean just working on this." But is the latter how we are to get cleansed of our sin, according to God's Word? (It is not.) In addition, the Bible teaches that Christ was offered, once for all, to pay the price of our sins (I Pet. 3:18; Heb. 9:28; 10:10, 14), and that, having risen from the dead, He dies no more (Rom. 6:9-10; Heb. 7:25).
3) Rome has a false view of justification. The Catholic Church says that justification is received "by the sacrament of baptism...without which no one was ever justified" (CT--and by which they mean, only a baptism sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church--normally infant baptism). In fact, Rome says, "If anyone say that...good works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof, let him be anathema [cursed]" (CT).
But the Bible says a sinner is justified (pronounced righteous by a holy God) by grace, through simple faith in Christ, apart from any works (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5; cf. II Cor. 5:21).
4) Rome has a weak and inadequate view of grace. Catholicism says to the saving merit of works like baptism and the Mass, is added that of penance. Penance is an attempt by the sinner to help pay for his own sins. "We deny ourselves, accept sufferings, and perform strenuous works in an effort to expiate [pay the penalty of] our guilt" (Conway). Such intense labour and physical suffering "restores sanctifying grace....forgives our sins....[and] the eternal punishments of hell are taken away" (Conway).
But the Bible says salvation is NOT by works, but by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Isa. 64:6). God's Word emphasizes that grace that's mixed with works ceases to be grace (Rom. 4:4-5). Rome claims to believe Christ died for our sins. But for them that is not enough. The church, and the priest, and various human works are needed. And by this heresy the principle of grace is destroyed.
5) Rome blasphemously exalts Mary to a level with Christ (or above). Catholicism teaches that Mary is a "co-redemptrix" with Christ (a belief Mel Gibson himself asserts). Rome teaches that Mary shared in Christ's sufferings and had a part in His saving work. "At Calvary, she united herself with the sacrifice of her Son that led to the foundation of the church..." (Pope John Paul II). "Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us gifts of eternal salvation." (the New Catholic Catechism, published in 1992).
Rome says, "Great is the need you have of Mary in order to be saved....For a rosary, for a fast, she has sometimes conferred signal graces upon the greatest of sinners" (from a Catholic devotional book). "We do pray to the Mother of Jesus; she has influence with her Divine Son. And we do honour the saints; they are the closest friends God ever had on earth....The priest, the Pope, the saints, the Blessed Virgin, and Jesus Christ: all steps on the way to God" (Conway).
The Catholic rosary consists of a string of beads, ending in a crucifix. Catholics are taught to recite a series of ritual prayers, counting off the beads, one by one. The actor who plays Jesus in Gibson's film, himself a Catholic, prayed through the rosary during each day's filming. Below is a recommended prayer that concludes the ritual of the rosary. Note how, time after time, Mary is given exalted titles and ministries the Bible reserves for Christ. Check the contents of the prayer against the Scripture passages inserted and see for yourself how it contradicts the Bible.
"Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our LIFE [cf. Jn. 14:6], our sweetness and our HOPE [cf. I Tim. 1:1]! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious ADVOCATE [cf. I Jn. 2:1-2], thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! PRAY FOR US [cf. Heb. 7:25], O Holy Mother of God. That we may be MADE WORTHY [cf. I Cor. 1:30-31; Col. 1:12-14] of the promises of Christ."
In contrast to Rome's teachings, the Bible honours Mary for her faith in God (Lk. 1:45), but Mary herself recognizes she is a sinner in need of a Saviour (Lk. 1:46-47). Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus call Mary "Mother" (but rather "Woman"--a more polite form of address than it appears in English, Jn. 2:4; 19:26). Twice the Lord diverts attention away from Mary (Lk. 8:19-21; 11:27-28). Further, believers have the right and liberty to approach the throne of God directly in prayer through our heavenly Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 4:15-16; 7:25). The Bible declares Christ to be the one and only Mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5; cf. Jn. 14:6).
But Mel Gibson supports his heretical view of Mary in his film. Mary appears in scene after scene (incidentally, portrayed by an actress only 8 years older than the man who plays Jesus). When Jesus is tormented by the devil in Gethsemane, Mary awakens from sleep and begins to suffer with Him. Mary is the only person, other than Jesus, who can actually see the devil. Mary is pictured as being near to Christ all through His suffering. Mary appeals to Pilate's wife to protect Jesus. She talks to Jesus while He is being scourged. Mary, and Mary Magdalene, use some cloths given to them by Pilate's wife to soak up the pools of blood Jesus sheds while He is being whipped.
When Jesus prays to His heavenly Father, He says, "I am Your Servant and the Son of Your handmaid." While Jesus is hanging on the cross, Mary comes up and kisses His feet, and Jesus' blood runs into her mouth, and she backs away, with blood all over her face. Mary helps to take Jesus down from the cross, and holds the dead Jesus in her arms, at the foot of the cross. (Where are Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea, Jn. 19:38-42?)
Both Peter and John call Mary "Mother"--and the word is capitalized in the subtitles of the movie. After Peter denies Jesus, he kneels before Mary, and calls her "Mother," confessing his sin to her. (Sensing his guilt, twice he tells Mary not to touch him.)
So, what has led to the transformation of the "maidservant of the Lord" (Lk. 1:38) into "the Queen of Heaven"? In his book Miriam, the Virgin of Nazareth, scholar Victor Buksbazen gives some of the historical background for the growing emphasis on Mary in early Christianity.
"The ancient world of the Semitic, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations abounded in gods and goddesses which personified the forces of fertility, of spring and awakening new life. To the Semitic peoples the goddess of fertility was known as Ishtar or Astarte; the Egyptians worshiped her has Isis, the spouse of Osiris; the Greeks worshiped her as Athena, Demeter, Cybele or Diana. To the Romans she was known as Juno or Minerva. To all of them she was familiar as the Great Mother or Queen of Heaven.
Even the Israelites, in spite of their strong monotheistic heritage, succumbed to this all-pervading and insidious cult, apparently brought by them from Egypt. This cult was especially popular among the women (Jer. 44:17, 25). If this cult was able to exert such a potent influence on monotheistic Jews, how much more pervasive must its impact have been upon newly baptized and only superficially converted pagans.
When Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire around the shores of the Mediterranean, the forces of paganism were still very strong. Under this influence a gradual and subtle transformation took place, whereby Mary replaced the old goddesses in the devotion of the new converts. At the same time, shrines dedicated to Mary began to replace the ancient temples of her former pagan rivals....Although the tree of paganism was cut down, the roots remained deep in the soil and helped transform Miriam of the Gospel into Mary of popular piety--later into Mariological dogma."
In the Bible, Jesus cries from the cross, "It is finished [literally paid in full]" (Jn. 19:30). Now He is the "one Mediator between God and men" (I Tim. 2:5; cf. Heb. 7:25). "If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). From the evidence given above, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Rome presents a different "gospel" from what is found in the Bible.
Kenneth Samples (himself a former Catholic), summarized the problem with Romish teaching as follows. "Catholicism possesses a foundational orthodoxy reflected in its affirmation of the crucial doctrines expressed in the ancient ecumenical creeds. Nevertheless, Protestants detect serious problems in Catholic theology in that the church affirms teachings that are extraneous, and inconsistent with its orthodox (Christian) foundation. These doctrinal errors are of such a serious nature that aspects of orthodoxy are undermined, thus warranting the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, and the continued separation of present-day Protestantism from Catholicism.....The doctrinal disputes of the Reformation era remain substantially unchanged today."
In summary, Mel Gibson's film is not recommended: Because it fails to put the cross in a proper context; because of its unparalleled and unwholesome violence; because of its many fictional additions and errors; because it rests upon a corrupt foundation.
Some Christians may have been led to support it because of all the clever promotion ("private showings," meetings with Gibson). Some have jumped to endorse it after seeing a preview, and making a quick judgment call--perhaps emotionally influenced. Some have supported it because they've heard that others did (a kind of snowball effect). And some have supported it out of a legitimate desire to see others saved. (But the end does not justify the means.)
It has been claimed Gibson's movie is the greatest evangelistic tool of our time. But how can a film do that, when it lacks a proper context and needed foundational teaching? How can it do that when it is loaded with errors? How can it do that when it is blighted by corruption? The answer is, it can't. And a recent polling by the Barna research organization indicates that it has not.
Barna found "Less than one-tenth of one percent of those who saw the film stated that they made a profession of faith or accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior in reaction to the film's content. Equally surprising was the lack of impact on people's determination to engage in evangelism. Less than one-half of one percent of the audience said they were motivated to be more active in sharing their faith in Christ with others as a result of having seen the movie."
Meanwhile, in contrast to this limited effect, how many have been misled and disillusioned by what is portrayed in the film? How many have been led into serious error? It is difficult to say, but the numbers may well be far greater than those for whom the film provided a positive impact.
The danger is clearly described in Scripture: "I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it!" (II Cor. 11:3-4, NKJV).
Though this motion picture has been lauded by many, there is another point of view to be considered. This critique of The Passion is intended to balance the sometimes naive and ill-informed commendations that have been given to Gibson's dramatic and colourful distortion of the truth.
The material for this presentation came from a multitude of sources. Following is a partial list of sources use.
Buksbazen, Victor. Miriam, the Virgin of Nazareth. Philadelphia: Spearhead Press, 1963.
Conway, Monsignor J. D. Facts of the Faith. New York: All Saints Press, 1961. (A detailed explanation of Catholic teaching for the layman.)
Lloyd-Jones, Martin. Roman Catholicism. London: The Evangelical Press, (undated).
McGuire, John P. The Mass Presented to Non-Catholics. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1958. (An illustrated book explaining the Mass from a Catholic viewpoint.)
McIlwain, Trevor. Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ. Sanford, FL: New Tribes Mission, 1998.
Showers, Renald E. What on Earth Is God Doing? Woodbury, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 2003.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.
Walton, Robert C. Chronological and Background Charts of Church History. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986.
Warfield, Benjemin B. Counterfeit Miracles. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962.
Used as well were numerous articles from magazines, and downloaded from the Web, (some written from a secular point of view, as well as those by both Catholics and Protestants). Among them are the following.
Van Biema, David. "Why It's So Bloody." Time Magazine, March 1, 2004.
Corliss, Richard. "The Goriest Story Ever Told." Time Magazine, Mar. 1, 2004.
Cottrill, James. "The Passion After." A paper written by my son, downloaded Feb. 28, 2004.
Fischer, John. "On a Hill Too Far Away." Servant Magazine, Issue #69.
Giesler, Norman L. and Ralph E. MacKenzie. "What Think Ye of Rome? (Part 5)." Christian Research Journal, Winter 1995.
Greydanus, Steven D. "Will Mel Evangelize Evangelicals?" An article downloaded from the Net March, 2004.
Johnson, Brian D. "The Power and the Gory." Macleans Magazine, posted on the Net Mar. 8, 2004.
McAdam, Claudia Cangilla. "The Passion of James Caviezel." Living Light News, Mar./Apr. 2004.
Laurie, Greg. "The Passion of the Christ." A tract published by the American Tract Society, 2004.
McBrien, Richard P. "Mel Gibson's Catholicism." Downloaded from the Net Mar. 12, 2004.
Miller, Elliot. "The Mary of Roman Catholicism." Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990.
Neff, David. "The Passion of Mel Gibson." Christianity Today, posted on the Net Feb. 20, 2004.
Samples, Kenneth R. "What Think Ye of Rome? (Part 2)." Christian Research Journal, Spring 1993.
Wierenga, Emily T. "Hollywood Jesus." Living Light News, Mar./Apr. 2004.
Concerning Mary of Agreda (one of Gibson's sources for his film), an article was downloaded from the Web on Feb. 23, 2004, from Rome's Patron Saints Index, called "Venerable Mary of Agreda."
Concerning Anne Catherine Emmerich (Gibson's major source) an article was downloaded from the Web on Feb. 23, 2004, from Rome's Patron Saints Index, called Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich. Also another article, "Problematic Elements from Emmerich," critical of her (and citing many quotations from her writings), was downloaded Feb. 23, 2004.
Various interviews with Gibson and others were broadcast on television and radio (for example, Gibson's one-hour interview by Dianne Sawyer). Some material was drawn from these, too.