The Passion

 by Matt Slick


The movie "The Passion" by Mel Gibson is an account of 12 hours of Christ's ministry dealing with His trial and crucifixion.  It is a violent and graphic depiction that displays with great detail the painful ordeal of Christ.  For this reason the movie is rated R.

If an R rated movie about Jesus weren't enough in itself to cause controversy, fuel has been added to the fire by a host of disparate critics.  Some Jewish leaders worry that the film might incite anti-Semitism.  Segments of Hollywood have decried the movie as a waste of time and nothing more than a religious self-cathartic effort of Mr. Gibson.  And, of course, let's not leave out Protestants.  Some Christians are complaining that we should avoid the movie because it was made by a Roman Catholic who, I have heard, stated he wants it to help promote Roman Catholicism.  This latter complaint is known as the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy is the error of argumentation that attempts to endorse or disqualify a claim (or movie) because of the origin of the claim.  Some Christians have fallen into this error because Mel Gibson is a Roman Catholic and they decry the movie for that reason.  To my shock, I have even heard more than one Christian say the film is a tool of the devil, corrupted, and promotes Roman Catholicism . . . . and they hadn't even seen it!  The content of the film is what needs to be examined to see if the film has merit or not.  It isn't the author that is in question.  Let me illustrate.

If an atheist made a biblically accurate movie of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, and did so for the sole purpose of making money, does that mean the movie is bad?  Of course not.  I would recommend the movie whole-heartedly.  In fact, I would rejoice that such a movie had been made, regardless of who made it, and I would pray that the Lord would use the film for His glory--even though a "godless atheist" made it for the purpose of profit.

Okay, so what of the content of The Passion?  Does it promote Roman Catholicism?

Unfortunately, at the time of this article (2-18-2004), I have not seen the film so I cannot comment about the content.  However, a CARM Board of Directors member has seen it and he told me it is excellent with no overtones of Roman Catholic theology, except maybe a prolonged shot of Mary in anguish.  He also said you don't watch the movie.  You experience it.

CARM does encourage examining the movie critically.  We Christians need to do that, especially since official Roman Catholic theology has so many serious problems (Mariolatry, denial of justification by faith alone, purgatory, penance, etc.).  CARM opposes such heresies, but from what I have heard of the movie, these things are not in it.  What is in it is a brutally detailed depiction of Christ's suffering, apparently, just as it really was.

Therefore, I am glad the movie is out because it depicts very accurately the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  Also, it is causing people to speak of Jesus and what He did.  The power of seeing the depiction of the crucifixion will burn into the hearts and minds of countless people.  For this I rejoice.  I rejoice that Jesus is proclaimed, even if the motives of Mel Gibson are not pure.

"Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice," (Phil. 1:12-18).

Notice the underlined words in the verses above.  The NIV says "...whether from false motives or true..."  The RSV, KJV, and NKJV say, "whether in pretense or in truth."  Pretense means the act of pretending, a false show, false outward appearance, etc.  Paul was rejoicing that even those who had wrong motives for proclaiming Christ were at least proclaiming Him.  This is profoundly important because it recognizes the power of the person of Jesus.  The movie isn't even out as I write this article, and it has already caused all sorts of discussion about it and about Jesus.  Praise God!

Of course, CARM does not advocate making any movie of Jesus.  They should be done as close to the Bible as possible.  CARM does not advocate the cults preaching Jesus because they preach a false Jesus, but "The Passion" does not.  It teaches a biblically accurate account of Christ's passion, though with a little cinematic license.

Perhaps Mel Gibson, a dedicated Roman Catholic, is not Christian.  Perhaps it is true that Mel Gibson has stated his purpose for making the movie was to promote Roman Catholicism.  Okay, maybe his motives aren't pure, maybe they are done "in pretense."  Maybe the movie doesn't present the defined gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone who is also God in flesh, as we Protestants so adamantly proclaim.  Maybe it doesn't focus on the resurrection of Christ -- though the movie's last 12 seconds show the risen Lord.  To me, it matters not about the motives of Mr. Gibson.  It matters not if justification by faith is not explicitly presented (is it presented in the gospel accounts of the passion, or even in the pastoral epistles?).  Instead, I rejoice that Christ is proclaimed--at least He is proclaimed!  I rejoice that millions of people, believers and unbelievers alike, will go see the movie and be forced to deal with the issue of that horrible event where the Son of God was crucified.  Countless people will ponder its purpose and ask Christians about it.  I rejoice that millions of Christians will have the opportunity to share the gospel.  I rejoice that the Lord has ordained that this movie come forth.  Praise God!

Does the movie violate Exodus 20:4-5?

"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me," (Exodus 20:4-5).

Debate will always rage in the Christian church as to whether or not this includes making a film about Jesus.  I do not condemn those who feel The Passion violates this commandment.  They must be true to their own consciences.  But, I do not believe the movie violates the commandment.  Here are some commentaries on these verses in Exodus 20.

  • Thou shalt not make any graven image thou shalt not bow down thyself to them that is, make in order to bow. Under the auspices of Moses himself, figures of cherubim, brazen serpents, oxen, and many other things in the earth beneath, were made and never condemned. The mere making was no sin--it was the making with the intent to give idolatrous worship.1
  • "The worship of God was to be spiritual, not material. Israel was forbidden from worshiping idols (v. 3) and also from making images of God.  Idol is pesel, carved wood or stone, from pasal, to carve. Later (34:17) cast idols made from molten metal were forbidden too. Since God is spiritual no material representation can possibly resemble Him. To make an idol of God like something in the sky (sun, moon, stars), or on the earth (animals), or in the waters below (fish, crocodiles, or other sea life) was forbidden because God is a jealous God (cf. 34:14; Deut. 5:9; 6:15; 32:16, 21; Josh. 24:19), that is, He is zealous that devotion be given exclusively to Him."2

At the risk of offending people, I do not see making a movie that portrays Christ, in biblical fashion, to be a violation of the commandment to not make idols and graven images of God because we are not bowing before the image on the screen and it is not meant for worship.  But, even if some erringly do idolize the movie, it does not mean that the movie itself is sinful.

But some might say that the image is then in the mind, and people might look to it and mentally form an image of Jesus and that violates the commandment.  First of all, I do not believe that is what the commandment means.  It is dealing with graven images used in worship, not about a movie used to promote Christ.  Second, did not God Himself produce an image of Himself when He became man?  Did God then violate the commandment?  Of course not.  Therefore, we can see that making an image of God is biblical: "And He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation," (Col. 1:15).  Third, were the disciples breaking the commandment when they remembered what Christ looked like as they went about preaching and teaching?  Fourth, have you ever drawn a picture of a triangle as you have tried to represent the Trinity?  If we are to be literal about the commandment, then does this mean that all who have made such triangles have sinned because they have dared to make an image of God?

It is the spirit of the Law that is meant here, not the letter of the law.  We are free to draw triangles to illustrate the truth of God.  We are free to see movies that depict Christ as crucified and risen.

"Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life," (2 Cor. 3:5-6).

What should Christians do?

I believe the Christian should thank the Lord that such a powerful movie has been made which has provided us with a great opportunity to promote Christ.  We need to get off our duffs, stop whining, pray, and get ready to present the gospel.  Ask for doors to be opened.  Ask to be used of God.  Also, for those who are complaining about this movie, go support "real" Christian movies.  Support "real" Christian media, missionaries, and efforts.  Put your money where your mouth is.

Christians need to realize that the gospel is very powerful and even though a Roman Catholic made the movie, and whether or not it is tainted by Rome's heresies, we should be prayed-up and ready to present the true gospel to those who ask about the movie.  The fact is that The Passion will generate a lot of conversation about Jesus!  Praise God!  Christians should be rejoicing in that.

I hope that no Christian foolishly refuses to speak to someone about Jesus because his/her "principles" are such that he would not participate in an opportunity generated out of a movie he disagrees with.

Finally, the gospel is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16).  It is more powerful than a movie potentially tainted by Roman Catholic theology, that is authored by a Roman Catholic, and that hasn't presented justification by faith.  We need to focus on the gospel.  Preach it.  Teach it.  Live it.  And, thank God for the opportunities to be used by Him to present it to the lost.  It is important!!

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith,'" (Rom. 1:16-17).

(P.S.  If you want to know how to present the gospel, please see Jesus saves).

I saw the movie

Last night (2/23/04) I saw the movie, The Passion.  It was and wasn't what I expected.

I expected to see a gripping depiction of the passion of Christ filled with blood, anguish, and cruelty.  I expected to be compelled to contemplate His agony.  That was certainly what I saw, and that was certainly what happened.  But I was not prepared for what it did to me.

Through all the years of studying Christianity, teaching on the crucifixion and describing the torturous process of its agony, I was left with the sensation that my own heart and soul had been beaten and afflicted.  I do not think I will watch the movie ever again.  It is graphic.  You do not watch the movie.  You experience it.

Most every Christian should see this film.  It is vivid and memory-searing.  It shows Jesus suffering at the hands of cruel and arrogant oppressors.  It reveals their depraved pleasure at inflicting pain upon a man who was innocent.  The movie forces your mind to remember.  It draws you to participate.  It compels you to watch a beaten and bloodied body whipped into submission.  You cannot help wonder what you would have done if you were there.  Would you have denied Christ as Peter did?  Would you have wept as the women did?  Or would you have thrown stones at Jesus and hurled insults at Him?  How humble and righteous are you?  What would you have done?  Whose side would you have really been on?

The first time I cried in the movie was when they arrested Jesus and were interrogating Him in the synagogue.  The corrupt Jewish leaders were looking for anything they could find to condemn Him.  The false witnesses contradicted each other so the Sanhedrin asked Jesus if He was the messiah.  Jesus said that He was and that they would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great glory.  This was all they needed to condemn Jesus and carry Him off to the Roman officials to have Him executed.  As they were pushing and shoving Jesus out of the room and screaming insults at Him, I realized that I would have been in that crowd yelling at Jesus.  I would have been yelling along with them.  I buried my face in my hands and wept as I said, "That is me.  I would be in that crowd.  I would be condemning Him."

The movie went on and on.  It showed Jesus being beaten, whipped, scourged, mocked, and crucified.  It was horrible.  It was graphic.  It was bloody.

During the ordeal, various scenes were interspersed of His life and teaching.  It was well done, but it was hard to watch.  The movie is hard to watch.

I did not expect to find myself so emotionally gripped by this film.  Of course, I am extra-sensitive about the issue of Christ's crucifixion and I fully expected to cry during the movie.  But I wept more than I expected, and after the movie was over I broke down twice more.  I simply could not help myself.  I know where I would have been back in those ancient days.  I would not have been the humble and wise follower of Christ.  I know my own heart too well to make such a conceited boast.  Instead, I would have been a self-righteous, legalistic Pharisee pronouncing judgment upon Jesus.  I would have spit, yelled, and thrown stones.

I can only thank my Lord Jesus that He has saved me in spite of my sinfulness.  I deserve nothing but judgment.  He has given me everything in Him.

In my opinion, Christians need to see this film.  It will give them a far greater appreciation for what Christ went through, and how much His love carried Him through this incredible ordeal as well has kept Him there to endure it on our behalf.  Also, it will help prepare them to speak to any unbelievers who may have seen this movie and might have questions about the full meaning of Christ's sacrifice that took away the sins of the world.

A wake up call for the Christian Church

Though the movie was superbly delivered, there were, unfortunately, catholic traditions interspersed throughout it.  I can see why some Christians would complain, but if they are going to complain then they should also support Christian film makers.  It is far easier to point fingers than to do something about it.  Nevertheless, it was disturbing to me to see Madonna poses, and "nods" given to Mary adoration, and Catholic traditions.  I did not like that.  But what do you expect from a Catholic authored movie?  I would say that if we want it done right, the Christian church needs to unite (instead of fracturing into self-absorbed, bickering denominations) and pool their efforts to produce movies on superb levels of quality and not the mediocre stuff so often offered by the Christian community.

Do the Catholic traditions ruin the power of the movie?  In my opinion, no they do not.  The fact of Christ's crucifixion is far too powerful a reality to be undermined by Catholic traditions.

Finally, may the Lord use this movie to bring many into His kingdom.

The Gospel

The gospel is that Jesus died for sinners on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4).  His death was a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God (1 John 2:2).  This is the only way to be saved.

Jesus is the one who died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).  He is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6).  He alone reveals God (Matt. 11:27).  He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18).  It is only through Him that you can be saved from God's wrath (Eph. 2:3).  He can forgive you of your sins (Luke 5:20; Matt. 9:2).  He can remove the guilt that is upon your soul.  Jesus can set you free from the bondage of sin that blinds your eyes, weakens your soul, and brings you to despair.  He can do this because He bore sin in His body on the cross (1 Peter. 2:24) so that those who trust in Him would be saved.

If you are not a Christian but want to be delivered from the righteous judgment of God upon you due to your sin against Him, then come to the One who died for the sins of the world.  Come to the One who died for sinners (Matt. 11:28).  Turn from your sins.  Believe and trust in Jesus.  Receive Jesus, who is God in flesh, who died and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4) as your Lord and Savior.  Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins.  Receive Christ (John 1:12).  Only He can wash you clean from your sins, and only Jesus can deliver you from the righteous judgment of a holy and infinite God.  Pray to Jesus.  Seek Him.  Ask Him to save you.

He will.

  • 1. Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A.R.; and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1998.)
  • 2. (Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1983, 1985.)

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.