The Passion of The Christ
What does AiG think of Mel Gibson’s film? Answers in Genesis, as a Bible-upholding and evangelistic ministry, has been asked many times for comment on the controversial film now being released, The Passion of The Christ. While The Passion is based on the four Gospels of the New Testament (the accounts of the life of Christ as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the film and some of the issues surrounding it have close connections to the very first book of the Old Testament, Genesis.1
The word “Passion” (derived from the Latin word for “suffering”) is a term that describes the last hours of Christ’s ministry on earth—including periods of horrific scourging and beatings—and His ultimately being nailed to the Cross. This is all graphically portrayed in this film by producer/director/co-writer Mel Gibson.2
The movie is absolutely gripping. It has the added benefit that it is apparently true to Scripture, although some poetic license was used (for example, there is a scene where Christ is flung off a bridge, which can not be found in the Gospels—that account may have its origin in a book written by a nineteenth-century mystic). The second half of the movie, though, is, in a word, “torture.” Not only does the movie graphically depict the torture of Christ, from His scourging to the Crucifixion, I found it to be also torturous to watch. The “R” rating in the US (meaning “Restricted”—young people under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to enter the theater) is merited because of how vividly it reconstructs Christ’s brutal, bloody torture. Some have argued that, in a culture that is so desensitized to screen violence, The Passion had to be so graphic to make its point about His immense suffering. I will not, however, be taking my 11- and 13-year-old sons to see it.
The Passion of The Christ
Others have commented that these incredibly horrific ordeals shown in the second hour of the movie could have been done in 15–20 minutes and still convey something of the immense suffering that our Savior must have experienced. (And, of course, no movie could ever depict the internal/spiritual suffering of our Lord as He bore the sins of the world while on the Cross.) Such shortening could, in turn, have left more time at the movie’s end to present the glory of His Resurrection three days later (which the film presents very briefly). After all, the validity of the Christian faith is based on the Resurrection, the most important event in history: “
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). In the film preview shown to the media, the depiction of the Resurrection was maybe a minute in length. This parallels the emphasis that some non-Protestant religions (that generally accept the Bible) place: i.e., a focus on Christ still on the Cross as opposed to Christ off the Cross … as a risen Savior.
After such a remarkable build-up, I believe the film lost an opportunity to proclaim something quite glorous when it glossed over the Resurrection. It was like listening to Handel’s magnificent Messiah and then hearing only one bar of the ‘Hallelujah chorus’. But this drawback is not why the movie is so controversial.
Who Killed Christ?
Most of the current controversy surrounds the question of whether or not the movie is anti-Semitic.
Of the four Gospels, the movie apparently draws mostly from the Book of John. In this Gospel, the Apostle John describes Jewish religious leaders who conspired—along with Judas—to have Jesus condemned. In John 5:16, John recorded that the Jews persecuted Him. For centuries, this verse has been taken by many as an excuse for persecuting the Jewish people. But the notion of collective ethnic guilt is irrational and unbiblical: do Nazi crimes justify the persecution of all Germans for the next 2,000 years? Should Americans feel justified in killing all Arabs for centuries because Bin Laden masterminded 9/11?
In any case, if one reads all four Gospels in context, Christian doctrine pins the blame for Christ’s death on all mankind (more to follow; and see footnote below).3
Another reason that Jews are concerned about The Passion is the inflammatory way that previous movies and famous plays have portrayed the last hours of Christ’s life. For example, there is the famous “Passion Play” performed in Oberammergau, Germany, held during summer months every ten years before hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world. This reviewer has seen that play (and followed along using an English libretto during this German-language performance), and from this perspective, did not find the magnificent play to be anti-Semitic. At the same time, however, it should be noted that in 1930s Germany the evolutionist Adolph Hitler cynically used that same “Passion Play” to provoke some Christians to hate Jews and thus become his ally for their extermination. His message was something to the effect: “Look what the Jews did to your Savior. They are a dangerous group, and we must do something about them.” Because of centuries of vicious persecution suffered by the Jews (perhaps no other ethnic group has experienced as much), this is an understandably sensitive area for them.
It should be pointed out that the just-released movie depicts the leaders of the Roman government, who were Gentiles, as equally guilty for Christ’s death—perhaps even more so (they were, after all, the rulers of the land). In fact, the Romans are shown in the most unflattering light, especially in the scenes showing the glee of the Roman soldiers as they scourged Jesus and then nailed Him to the Cross.
So who is “responsible” for the Crucifixion? Christ Himself said that He had come to earth to die as a part of a great plan: “
No man takes it [Christ’s life]
from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18). Centuries before in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
God Himself had planned the Crucifixion from before the foundations of the earth, using evil men to bring His plan to fruition. And yet a great good has come to both Jews and Gentiles. To paraphrase Genesis 50:20, those responsible for killing Jesus meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In fact, why should we even be concentrating today on who did the deed?4 The more important question concerns the purpose of Christ’s death.
One reason that the “who” question arouses so much passion is the powerful “lens” through which people view central events in history. It’s easy to “see” things that are not there, if we expect to see them (see Creation: “Where’s the Proof?”). In fact, it’s akin to the debate between creation and evolution. The scientific evidence available to both evolutionists and creationists can be interpreted completely differently depending on the starting point they already hold (i.e. their biases or presuppositions).
The Passion of The Christ
It’s clear that the filmmakers were not trying to blame any one person or an entire group.5 At the same time, however, we should add what the film does not really mention: God the Father is the One responsible for planning and allowing the Crucifixion of His Son, Jesus. This was prophesied all the way back in Genesis 3:156 and also Isaiah 53 … and many other places in the Old Testament.
So, Jesus was crucified because of all of us. We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23), and the wages of that sin is death—separation from God through eternity. But because God has a “passion” for His people, He sent His Son to die on the Cross for our sins.
Will the Movie Lead People to Christ?
Within certain evangelical circles, that question is being bandied about with some fervor.
How effective will this movie be in conveying biblical truths to non-Christians? First, we need to recognize that today’s generation is biblically illiterate. They don’t know what the Bible says about the origin of sin (in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:1–8), God’s judgment for sin (the Curse in Genesis 3:9–24) and His promise of a Savior (Genesis 3:15). While many people growing up in Western nations during the first half of the 20th century were familiar with these teachings, they will be lost on newer generations. Some people don’t even know how Christ Himself fits into world history—or even what that true history is. In the common understanding, Christ must have evolved from pond scum over millions of years, along with the rest of us. How could an evolved, mortal animal have the ability to rise from the dead?
As an example, most viewers will probably miss the main point in the highly moving scene where a snake (representing Satan) slithers through the Garden of Gethsemane and Christ crushes it under His heel. Most viewers will not see its connection to Genesis 3:15 and the gospel message presented there.
As Ken Ham of AiG says in his book on how to witness effectively in today’s world, Why Won’t They Listen?, we have to define what sin is (Genesis 3 is a great place to begin) as well as share how the Cross is related to our sin. The Apostle Paul used this approach when he preached to the Greeks in Athens almost 2,000 years ago. Unlike Peter, who preached the gospel to Jews who already had the background from Genesis and responded in large numbers, Paul was preaching to Greeks who didn’t have a basic understanding of Genesis and the origin of sin. Paul had to start with the “big picture,” based on the Book of Beginnings, to present an effective gospel message to a secular society. (To find out more about faith in Christ and living with Him forever, click here.)