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Home: Questions and Answers: The Passion of the Christ

What are your thoughts and feelings on this upcoming movie, "The Passion of the Christ"?


Mel Gibson, popular star of such action films as The Road Warrior and the Lethal Weapon series, as well as Academy Award winning director of Braveheart (one of my personal favorites), has released a movie entitled, The Passion of the Christ. The film basically covers the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ, beginning with his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then moving to his trial and crucifixion by the Jewish and Roman authorities.

There have been dozens of critiques of the film both positive and negative, so for me to offer up my own would not add much to the discussion. However, I do have a handful of concerns that I believe Christians should be alerted to before they watch the film.

1) Though Gibson bases his film upon the gospels of Matthew and John, he does draw from the writings of an 18th century nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich. Emmerich was a mystic who claimed to have received many visions from God over the course of her life. Her supporters also claimed she bore the stigmata, the visible wounds that Jesus bore, the pierced hands and feet, in her own body. Some of the visions Emmerich claimed to had received was of the final hours of Christ's death, and those supposed visions were written down in a diary that was entitled "The Dolorous Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ." The book has gone through many printings, but was relatively obscure until Gibson told how Emmerich was the major inspiration for his film. The back cover of her book reads:

"THE DOLOROUS PASSION has been inspiring thousands since it first appeared in 1833-being based on the detailed visions of Our Lordís Passion and Death as seen by Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), a German Augustinian nun, and recorded by Clemens Brentano, a prominent literary figure of the day. A saintly person from her youth and a great mystic and victim soul, Sister Emmerich was privileged by God during almost a lifetime of ecstatic visions to see all the events of Our Lordís suffering and death, which visions we can now understand in hindsight were a great gift from God to the world. Her account of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, while faithful to the Bible, is heart-rending, edifying and surprising-because of its intimate detail. THE DOLOROUS PASSION recounts with incredible precision the horrendous sufferings undergone by our Saviour in His superhumanly heroic act of Redemption. Also illuminating is its description of Maryís participation in the sufferings of her Son, so that this book gives the reader a poignant understanding of why Our Lady is often called our "CoRedemptrix" and "Queen of Martyrs." THE DOLOROUS PASSION is a singular book that conveys a lasting impression of the terrible Agony of Our Lord, of His infinite love for us that motivated His Agony, and how his Passion and Death were brought on by each personís sins. Here is a book that gives one a holy feeling just to read it. Here is a book that will melt a heart of stone!"

Gibson is a big follower of Emmerich, to the point that he carries a relic of hers; a piece of cloth cut from her nunís habit. The fact that Gibson uses Emmerichís visions, as an inspiring influence upon his film, is troubling, because he is in essence adding to the gospel narrative with her supposed visions, and that is adding to Godís Word. It would be a similar situation if Mr. Gibson had used the extra biblical writings of Ellen G. White, the founder of Seventh Day Adventism, as an interpretative source of making a movie about Jesus Christ, or perhaps the writings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon cult.

2) A second concern with this film is that Mr. Gibson is a staunch, Roman Catholic. In fact, Mr. Gibson is so staunch, that he believes the Mass is to be spoken in Latin, and does not respect the authority of the current Pope because he is too ecumenical for his tastes. Various aspects of Mr. Gibsonís Roman Catholic beliefs are prominently featured in his film. For instance, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has a heavy presence in Mr. Gibsonís movie, and it is implied that she is there, sharing as a co-redeemer with Christ as he suffers the tortures from the Roman authorities. Moreover, in a few instances in the film, the apostles call Mary, "mother," implying the Roman Catholic understanding of her place among the disciples of Christ, and all Christians. And most significant is how Mr. Gibson inter-cuts flash back scenes to the Last Supper while Christ is being crucified. This is done for a reason, because as Mr. Gibson has stated in several interviews, he wanted to show that what happens during Mass is the same thing that happened on the Cross. In other words, Mr. Gibson believes, as all Roman Catholics believe, that the Mass is a re-crucifixion of Christ, because what Christ did on the cross was not a final, propitiatory sacrifice for sins as the Bible teaches. There are several other Roman Catholic nuances displayed through the film, but space does not permit me to discuss them here. It is sufficient, however, to let the reader beware of these nuances and be prepared to answer them if discussions with others about the film take place.

3) A third concern I have is with the unquestioned acceptance many unwitting Christians have toward this movie. Sadly, most Christians are untaught concerning the theology of the gospel message, let alone untaught about the Roman Catholicism that is featured in film. They see this movie as some evangelistic tool that will bring, as one Christian talk show host proclaimed, "literally millions to Christ." Additionally, they would never question Mel Gibsonís Roman Catholic theology he places onto the gospel narratives and is played out during the course of the film. In the opinion of the masses of American evangelicals, Gibson believes in Jesus and that is enough to count him as a "brother in Christ" and know he has made this movie to serve the Christian Church. His views of the Mass being a perpetual re-sacrifice of Christ and Mary being the co-redemptrix of the saints does not matter to them, because those are really secondary issues and doctrine should never divide "Christians." This attitude of indifference to what is really a false gospel disturbs me, for the simple fact that it is an attitude that could be exploited by teachers of bad doctrine, because it leaves the Christian open with out any ability to discern truth.

4) A final concern that I have with the movie is the lack of an explanation as to why Jesus Christ died. The movie only covers the last 12 hours of Christís life upon the earth. It does not provide a theological context for the reason why he was betrayed, tried and crucified. To summarize the words of one secular, non-Christian movie critic, the audience is going to see the graphic torture and murder of a man that provides no reason as to why. The only people who have any context will be Christians, but any person unfamiliar with Christianity will basically be left traumatized by the blood-splattered images of the film. My hope is that Bible believing Christians will be prepared to place the events portrayed in Mr. Gibsonís in their proper biblical and theological context.

In conclusion, I am not going to say whether it is sinful for Christians to see the movie; I will let that remain between the believer and the Lord. However, I do hope that Christians will be alert to some of these concerns that I have raised, and will be prepared to be a biblical witness for the true, Gospel of saving grace.

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