I managed to see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ” last night and, guess what? —I have an opinion on it!
Overall, the best word I can come up with to describe it is “powerful”. It was extremely moving (even though one of those “moving” feelings was nausea). I sit in amazement as I ponder how someone like Mel Gibson, who is (or rather was) such a big part of the Hollywood establishment, could do a film that openly approaches the Foundation of the Christian Faith.
WARNING: If you’re a perfectionist like me, go see the movie before reading my review because I don’t want to spoil it for ya.
- Is It Too Gory?
One common criticism I have heard is that it is excessively gory. How someone could go to a movie about crucifixion and then use that as a complaint is beyond me!
Even more, this was not your every-day crucifixion. There were spiritual forces at work—something Mel implied poignantly with a creepy-looking “satan” overseeing much of what Jesus (Yeshua) went through.
Before the movie even begins, we see a quote from the Prophet Isaiah taken from the astounding passage that predicts a Messiah that would suffer for His people and we are reminded that it was written 700 years before Yeshua was even born. Great touch, Mel! No wonder so many rabbis are gnashing their teeth over this movie. More on that shortly.
In that same passage, Isaiah tells us this:
Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His Appearance was marred more than any man and His Form more than the sons of men. ~ Isaiah 52:14, New American Standard Update
This was not just any execution. It was punishment for the sins of the entire world:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the Righteousness of G-d in Him. ~ II Corinthians 5:21, NASU
With more artistic license Gibson brings this home as his movie opens in the garden of Gethsemane where satan attempts to convince Jesus that one man can not atone for the sins of the world.
- Is it Inaccurate?
There is some controversy over just how Roman crucifixion took place, in particular, where the nails were put; in the hands or in the wrists? Traditional Christian artwork depicts the nails as being put through Yeshua’s Hands. This was doubtlessly caused by many passages which state the same:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called “Didymus”, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the L-rd!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His Hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His Side, I will not believe.” ~ John 20:24-25, NASU
However, it has been proven that a body’s weight can not be born on the hands alone and it is thought that the nails were driven through the victim’s wrists. Does this contradict the Bible? No. Remember that the Gospels were written almost 2000 years ago by men who never went to Harvard. It’s entirely possible that “hand” was being used euphemistically to include that general area of the body.
Mel got around the issue by showing the Romans first tying Yeshua down, then putting the nails in his hands—a very graphic scene (I must admit to a little eye-shutting there).
Was the devil really that prominent during the events of Jesus’ last 12 hours? —Can you think of anything more important for him to do at the time? You can’t get to any higher priority for the enemy than the salvation of every living soul.
Now, of course the dialogue and physical presence of the devil are all Mel’s artistic license, but there is some precedent for much of what was depicted.
During the opening scene in the garden of Gethsemane I was about to say “Oh this is over the top” when the devil produced a scary-looking albino python to slither up to a prone, praying Jesus. This turned into an awesome scene as Jesus looked into the devil’s eyes with defiance and stomped the serpent’s head. As well-researched as the movie seemed to be, I wondered if Mel had a particular passage in mind for that scene:
The L-RD G-d said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” ~ Genesis 3:14-15, NASU
There is no “seed” of the woman, this is a prophecy of the Virgin Birth [Chuck Missler]. It was a great scene.
Mel took artistic license with another aspect of the crucifixion that I thought actually was over the top but in a precious-if-spiritually-inexperienced way. Jesus was crucified with 2 thieves. Just as the Gospels state, the movie depicts how one mocked Him while the other asked to be remembered when Jesus entered His Kingdom. The first thief continues to mock until a raven pecks out one of his eyes. If only justice were so swift for all who mock Jesus! Alas, the Wisdom of G-d is patient and many must wait until their deathbed to be judged but it is always rewarding to see it done instantly (if brutally).
Given the extent that some have gone to attack this movie, we could do with a few more eye patches out there. Internet topical website NewsMax reported that CBS 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney responded to being asked if he was going to go see The Passion with, “I don’t want to pay $9 just for a few laughs.”
Then there’s the issue of Judas’ suicide:
Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. ~ Matthew 27:3-5, NASU
This was portrayed perfectly in the movie.
But Luke tells us:
…this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out… ~ Acts 1:18, NASU
This was not depicted in the movie.
One of the best explanations I have seen explaining the different accounts is that Matthew gives us what happened first and Peter gives us what happened afterwards. Judas, in his haste to pay for what he had done, hung himself with either weak rope or weak foundation (thin tree branch, etc.) and perhaps fell over a cliff or onto sharp rocks. Given the fact that no one is born an expert at suicide and the Bible states that Judas was obviously extremely upset, the “contradiction” disappears rapidly.
- Mel’s Catholic Influence
It has been said that Mel Gibson is part of a “break-away” sect of “ultra-conservative” Catholics. This may explain the prominent role Mary plays in the movie and why the apostles call her “mother” with reverent familiarity (in fairness this does not necessarily imply that the apostles thought her the mother of mankind, only that they revered her).
And yet, none of the more controversial and unBiblical traditions amongst some Catholics (like considering Mary of equal importance to Jesus in the Saving of souls) were evident in the film. It accents what Mary must have gone through to see her Child so terribly treated. As some Catholics go to the unBiblical extreme of praying to Mary (Scripture states there is only One Intercessor for our souls, I John 2:1), many Protestants go to the opposite extreme and forget that Mary (Miriam) was indeed a special woman. Scripture says that Miriam watched Jesus grow up and treasured the moments where it was obvious that He was special (Luke 2:19, 51). The father of John the Baptist refused to believe Gabriel’s message that his barren wife will have a special son, filled with the Holy Spirit, so he spent the next 9 months unable to speak. Mary, however, accepted an even more unbelievable message without question in humble, precious faith.
One of the most powerful moments in the entire movie was a flashback in which Mary runs to Jesus as a child because he has fallen and skinned his knee, flashing forward to Jesus falling under the weight of his cross and the effects of his terrible wounds. Mary runs to him again and Jesus (played with award-winning sensitivity by actor James Caviezel) says (forgive me if I miss the exact quote), “See mother, I make all things new”. Then with renewed strength he rises up again under the burden of his cross. Masterfully done. Plus, it shows an expert knowledge of Scripture because that quote is not normally associated with the crucifixion:
And G-d will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the Throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” ~ Revelation 21:4-5, New King James Version
Last but certainly not least, many have accused Mel and the influence of his Catholic faith of being “anti-semitic”. I can’t speak for what is in Mel Gibson’s heart but I can address what I saw on the screen.
- Is The Passion “Anti-Semitic”?
Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.
So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.
But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “ Crucify Him!” And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “ Crucify Him!”
When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” And all the people said, “His Blood shall be on us and on our children!” ~Matthew 27:13-25, NASU
Is Mel Gibson an anti-semite? Although he originally quoted Scripture stating the Jewish crowd before Pilate invoked a blood curse upon themselves, he edited that out of the movie in an attempt to soften that aspect. It has also been stated that the only time Mel went in front of the camera was to film his hand as the one driving the nails into Jesus, symbolizing that it is our sin that He died for.
In fact, some extremely important Scriptures were quoted in flashbacks. One, in particular, clearly addressed who was responsible for the Death of Jesus:
“I Am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My Life for the sheep…For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My Life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My Own Initiative. I have Authority to lay it down, and I have Authority to take it up again. This Commandment I received from My Father.”~ John 10:14-15, 17-18, NASU
Mel did catch some flak from the other side of the debate. He was recently interviewed by Diane Sawyer for the ABC News program “Primetime”. Predictably, Sawyer hit Gibson with the age-old accusation, can you go to Heaven if you aren’t a Christian to which Gibson responded that you could.
It is foundational to the Christian Faith that Jesus Christ is the only Way to the Father and to Paradise. Why would G-d send His Son to undergo something as horrific as what The Passion portrays if there was another way?! How could you make such a movie then get corralled into making such a statement? Even more, one of the flashback scenes gave that very passage of Scripture:
Jesus said to him, “I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” ~ John 14:6, NASU
It’s been suggested that Mel meant anyone can come to Jesus. Perhaps he was caught off guard. We’ll have to wait for further clarification.
Jesus—Yeshua—is a Jew. His family, friends, apostles and early disciples were all Jews. The movie portrays women who wept for him and Pharisees who objected to the unfair and high-handed trials. Yet, the outcry is overwhelming. Why?
I believe a big part of the reason is that the Truth hurts when you are in the wrong. The Children of Israel have been in the wrong for nearly 2000 years (Messianic Jews not withstanding) as is evidenced by their reaction to the first martyr, Stephen:
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into Heaven and saw the Glory of G-d, and Jesus standing at the Right Hand of G-d; and he said, “Behold, I see the Heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the Right Hand of G-d.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him… ~Acts 7:51-58, NASU
Jesus is on every page of the Old Testament, in every part of the Hebrew Faith, yet they refuse(d) to acknowledge Him. Jews are not responsible for Jesus’ Death, but they are accountable for the role they played in it—
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the Time of your Visitation.” ~Luke 19:41-44, NASU
It was the Father’s Plan for Jesus to be our Sacrifice, but that doesn’t let anyone off the hook for their own personal behavior, from Israel in general right down to Judas:
As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” And He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” ~Mark 14:18-21, NASU
And yet, we are all forgiven of everything we’ve ever done…if we only acknowledge Him and ask.
UPDATE: Saturday, 6 March 2004; 10:20 PM, EST
I love educational TV like the “History” Channel and the “Discovery” Channel…except when they dissect my Faith.
Tonight on the History Channel (“History vs. Hollywood: The Passion Of The Christ”) there was a panel of “experts” discussing Mel’s movie. Of the 3 experts and 1 moderator, there wasn’t a single well-known Christian scholar. Secular television does it every time: they attack faith-based subjects and load their panels completely against taking the tenets of Christianity seriously. Before the show even got started I was told that there are “contradictions” amongst the 4 Gospels.
Gotta love the secular media.
Something I forgot to address in my previous critique; more excellent scholarship by Gibson and his crew. As Christ undergoes interrogation, the Apostle John races back to alert his mother and Mary Magdalene. They are alone, in a dark room, reciting parts of the Passover Seder; “Why is this night not like any other?” —Masterfully done.
Did you know that Jesus was killed on Passover? What a coincidence.
Mel ended his movie in a great place: Christ emerging from His Tomb.
This begs a controversial question that no one can answer: How did Jesus look after He was raised from the dead? Mel had actor James Caviezel remove the make-up from scourging and accented the wounds in the hands (and feet).
However, this may be an over-simplification. There are several Scriptures that imply something different—
And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. ~ Luke 24:13-16, NASU
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. ~ John 21:4, NASU
Jesus Provides Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the L-rd. ~ John 21:12, NASU
Is it more likely that our Savior carries the scars of our Redemption upon His Body…forever?
And I saw between the Throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain… ~ Revelation 5:6, NASU
I heard you on podcast recently and enjoyed your conviction and stance in life. So I’m reading every article from past to present. So far so good.
Thanks Henry. I’ve changed a lot over the years so you’ll have to contrast the older articles with the new. ~ Johnny