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“The Passion” film - helpful or harmful?

T

I went to see "The Passion" not for entertainment, but so I could say first

hand what I thought of it to the many people who were asking me about it. On

the positive side one has to say that it does quote the Gospels more or less

accurately. The words of Jesus have power regardless of the setting in which

they are spoken. Also in a society, much of which wants to rub Jesus out of

the picture altogether, it has created a talking point on the fact of His

death and resurrection.

 

On the negative side the violence of the film was overwhelming, gratuitous

and in my opinion the product of a sick mind that delights in showing sadism

and cruelty on the screen. Of course the flogging and crucifixion were

horrible in real life, but there was no spiritual purpose in having to watch

all this blood and gore for so long. There was actually far more time spent

of the flogging of Jesus than the crucifixion which is the main event in the

Gospels. In fact the Gospels do not focus on the horror but on the meaning

of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. The film had Jesus being beaten and

tortured in places where there is no mention of this happening in the

Gospels (e.g. on the way from Gethsemane to the trial before the High

Priest). It subjected Him to a level of violence which was so intense that

in real life it would have killed Him before He got to the cross.

 

It also portrayed Him as a pitiable figure, a helpless victim in the hands

of His captors. In the Gospels He voluntarily hands Himself over to the

authorities in order to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. Despite

this He remains in control of events from the moment of His arrest, through

His trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate and even on the cross as He

chooses the moment of His death once the atoning sacrifice has been

completed. There was no attempt to explain the spiritual meaning of Jesus

death and resurrection (which is hardly surprising since Mel Gibson is not a

Bible believing Christian) and a non believer seeing the film would come

away with little or no idea why Jesus endured this horrible torture and

death.

 

As well as feeding the public appetite for gratuitous violence on screen,

the film also fed the appetite for demonic manifestations with the

appearance of Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane and the demons appearing to

torment Judas Iscariot. This was totally unbiblical and another product of

the modern media’s obsession with the dark side of the supernatural. Through

much of the film, especially at the high points in the crucifixion the

background music created a spooky / spiritual atmosphere which I felt led

into a New Age occult spirit. These kind of mystical wailings are completely

at odds with music glorifying the Lord and focusing on His love revealed at

Calvary.

 

The film is highly influenced by Roman Catholicism. Mary, the mother of

Jesus, appears all over the place, despite the fact that in the Gospels she

only appears once in John 19.25-7, where she plays a very minor role. After

denying the Lord, the film has Peter kneeling down before Mary seeking

forgiveness. Mary appears strengthening Jesus through the ordeal of the

flogging, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion itself. This ties in

with the Catholic idea of Mary as being somehow involved in our redemption

which is entirely unbiblical. The film also uses the Catholic myth of

Veronicas handkerchief in which the face of Jesus is supposed to be

imprinted on a handkerchief which a woman called Veronica is supposed to

have used to wipe Jesus face on the way to the cross.

 

Apparently Gibson derived some of the source material for the film from the

work of Sister Emmerich (1774-1824), a Catholic visionary. Her writings The

Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ are the basis of some of the more

stunning, non-biblical scenes in Gibson’s movie - from Jesus confrontation

with Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane to the explicit details of His

scourging by Roman guards, to a crucifixion scene in which His arm is pulled

out of its socket and the thief on the cross has his eyes pecked out by a

raven. Emmerich’s work definitely is anti-Semitic, although the anti-Semitic

parts of it did not come into the film. In The Dolorous Passion she sees

Jewish priests passing out bribes to get people to offer false testimony

against Jesus and even tipping the Roman executioners. She also describes

seeing Jesus cross being built in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Emmerich’s 19th-century biographer, the Rev. C.E. Schmoeger, wrote about how

she had one vision of an old Jewess Meyr, who confessed to her that Jews

in our country and elsewhere strangled Christian children and used their

blood for all sorts of suspicious and diabolical practices.

 

Gibson denies any anti-Semitic motivation for producing the film, although

this has been a major concern of the Jewish community. The film does cast

the Jewish religious leadership in a bad light (as does the New Testament).

On the other hand it does show that Jesus and the disciples are Jewish,

speaking Aramaic and celebrating the Passover (admittedly with leavened

rather than unleavened bread). It is doubtful that many uninformed people

will have enough knowledge to make the connection that both the friends and

enemies of Jesus are Jewish. The film does quote the verse where Jesus says,

No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord (John 10.18).

This should show people that Jesus death was voluntary and His own decision

in order that He might be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. However I

doubt if many people will be able to make that connection without having it

spelled out to them. So the film may provoke some anti-Semitism in the kind

of people who are already hostile to Jewish people. However in my opinion

there are other forces at work in our society far more likely to create real

anti-Semitism than this film, notably the extreme hostility to Israel being

promoted by much of the media today and the growing influence of militant

Islam.

 

On this issue the challenge to believing Christians is to teach clearly the

truth that the blood of Jesus speaks of mercy not vengeance and that any

idea that Christians should hate, persecute or kill Jews because of the

crucifixion is the exact opposite of Jesus teaching and intention. The

cruelty inflicted on Jesus in the film and in the Gospels was carried out by

the Romans. Despite washing his hands of the case Pontius Pilate bore the

ultimate responsibility for Jesus death. The New Testament spells out

clearly who was responsible in Acts 4.27-8: Herod and Pontius Pilate met

together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire

against Your holy servant Jesus whom You anointed. They did what Your power

and will had decided beforehand should happen. In other words both Jews and

Gentiles were responsible but they were carrying out what was ultimately God

s purpose in order that Jesus might be the sin offering for the whole

world. Messianic Jew, Steve Maltz, has produced an excellent leaflet

answering the question Who killed Jesus? which is available for

distribution. There is also a chapter in my new book The Messiah Factor

answering this question.

 

As to the idea that many churches and Christian organisations are putting

over that this film will lead to a revival of Christianity I consider that

impossible for the following reason. Apart from having produced some

appallingly violent films, Gibson is a member of a very traditional Roman

Catholic sect. He has said contradictory things about salvation  that there

is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church and that all roads lead to

God. James Caviezel, who plays Jesus in The Passion, claims to be a devout

Roman Catholic who credited the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje in Croatia

as his inspiration for taking on the role of Jesus. In these visions Mary

is supposed to have given ten secrets, messages which purport to contain

the final chapters in the history of the world, including impending

chastisements along with their dates. Monica Belucci who plays Mary

Magdalene in the film is an Italian porn star.

 

The films endorsement by leading Christian ministries like the Billy Graham

Organisation and London Premier Radio is another step in the direction of

endorsing the Church of Rome as an authentic Christian church which, it is

claimed, is no different in essence from Protestant churches. In fact Rome

is steeped in the blood of martyrs who died for the cause of biblical

Christianity, like William Tyndale, the great translator of the Bible into

English who was burnt at the stake as a heretic. Historically Rome has

always opposed the spread of the true Gospel and remains today a powerful

opponent of authentic Christianity. The fact that so many Protestant

churches and church leaders are rushing to embrace her is a sure sign of the

apostasy of the last days of this age. The message of the Bible is Come out

of her, my people Revelation 18.4.

T