Going straight to the Cross

Greg's Review

The Passion of the Christ begins with a black screen containing the simple statement: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and by his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53." At this central point, Mel Gibson got it right. Whatever else I may say about the film pales into insignificance next to this one vital point. The Passion of the Christ unapologetically tells its viewers that Jesus died to take our place. In comparison with this truth, other observations about the brutal artistry, the historical accuracy, or even the doctrinal assertions of the movie are mere details.

The Passion of the Christ is a violent film; undoubtedly the most violent I have ever seen. The beating, flagellation, and crucifixion of Jesus are presented with harsh realism. This film is inappropriate for young children, and even many adults will find the violence difficult to handle.

Looking beyond the violence, The Passion of the Christ is an artistic triumph. Gibson's selection of talented actors was superb, as was the performance each brought to the work. In particular, the reserved dignity of James Caviezel as Jesus and the maternal devotion of Maia Morgenstern as Mary counterbalance the turbulent action of the film, providing a measure of security for the viewer. Beyond these central figures, all of the characters from the biblical narrative - the apostles, the Sanhedrin, the Romans - are conveyed compellingly in the film. An interesting addition to the biblical account is a personification of Satan who interacts with Christ throughout the ordeal.

The script for the film is drawn from the four Gospels, artistically edited to provide a dramatic understanding of the Lord's death. Presented in Aramaic and Latin with subtitles, the dialogue progressively reveals the characters and serves to move the story along with clarity.

From a visual standpoint, the Mediterranean location in which the work was filmed enhances the extreme sense of realism, as do the elaborately authentic sets and costumes constructed for the movie. The cinematography of the film is outstanding, with careful use of lighting, camera placement, and visual sequencing to produce a work of profound emotional effect.

Beyond the movie's artistic merit, two issues surround the film with emotional debate: the extreme violence, previously mentioned, and the charge of anti-Semitism.

The violence of the movie is undeniable, and is a matter of concern for secular reviewers. As Joe Morgenstern wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "I found myself stunned, then horrified, then defensively benumbed, by a level of violence that, in another context, would be branded as pornographic." Richard Corliss, writing in Time concurs: "The audience profile for The Passion of the Christ is fairly narrow: true believers with cast-iron stomachs; people who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified." And William Safire in The New York Times writes tersely: "Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen."

While this secular hand-wringing over violence would be more compelling if such outrage were typically seen in the popular press over violence throughout the media, still there is something for us to consider. The church, as a whole, has been rather outspoken against "R" rated movies, without differentiating among the various reasons why a movie might be inappropriate for younger viewers. The Passion of the Christ presents a challenge for Christians to reconsider our position, without diluting our standards.

As to the question of anti-Semitism, Gibson's presentation of the Gospel record takes pains to avoid offending Jewish sensitivities. While most Jewish critics now admit that the film itself is not anti-Semitic, they continue to lament that The Passion of the Christ will promote anti-Semitism by focusing on the central event of the Christian faith. Their thinking seems to be that anything which leads Christians to be more devout in their religion is a bad thing for Jews.

A dissenting view is taken by some Jews, such as orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who writes: "In America...if there are illiterate and dangerous thugs, Christianity is a cure not the cause. In America, few Jews have ever been murdered, mugged, robbed, or raped by Christians returning home from church on Sunday morning....Suggesting equivalency between American Christians today and those of European history is to be offensive and ungrateful. Quite frankly, if it is appropriate to blame today's American Christians for the sins of past Europeans, why isn't it okay to blame today's Jews for things that our ancestors may have done? Clearly both are wrong and doing so harms our relationships with one of the few groups still friendly toward us today. Jewish groups that fracture friendship between Christians and Jews are performing no valuable service to American Jews."

The Passion of the Christ neither promotes anti-Semitism nor avoids the Jewish context of the crucifixion. Caiphas and Judas were Jews, as were Jesus and Mary. No attempt is made by the movie to establish more than the historical record on the point of ethnicity.

Viewed from the standpoint of historical accuracy, The Passion of the Christ raises only a few questions. It is, for example, an open issue as to the extent the dialogue should have been presented in Greek rather than in Latin and Aramaic, as Greek was the common language of the eastern Mediterranean at that time.

Another minor detail was the omission of the robe mentioned in the Gospel accounts. Jesus had one fine article of clothing, a robe woven from one piece of fabric. Perhaps an artistic desire to display the mangled torso of Christ eliminated the robe from the film.

As I mentioned in the beginning, The Passion of the Christ is on target as to the meaning of the Lord's death. Throughout the film Jesus is shown to be suffering in our place. The sacrificial motif comes through in the repeated references to the Passover and to the institution of the Lord's Supper. After the initial Scripture reference from Isaiah opens the film, the screen is filled with the image of the full moon, the paschal moon. This lunar reference recurs as a reminder of the sacred festival which occasioned and foretold the death of Christ.

As Jesus was arrested in the garden, Mary - having a premonition, although not present - asked the question: "Why is tonight different from every other night?" This is a question taken directly from the Passover Seder. The answer is that Passover night is different because God's people were helplessly enslaved until delivered by God's grace.

The paschal imagery was picked up when Pilate washed his hands, declaring his innocence of Christ's death, prompting a flashback scene of Jesus and the disciples ceremonially washing their hands in preparation for the Passover. In a similar way, throughout the suffering of Jesus flashbacks provide an explanatory tie in with the institution of the Lord's Supper.

A subtle doctrinal point is made even in the title of the film, The Passion of the Christ. The definite article before the word Christ reminds us that, more than just a surname, Christ is a title describing a sacred office.

This central doctrinal truth of the atonement overshadows the relatively minor doctrinal reservations I do have. The film is, for example, clearly Catholic in its orientation. Mary is given an elevated, and at times supernatural, role that goes far beyond the text of Scripture. The legend of Veronica and the identification of Mary Magdalene with the woman taken in adultery are further examples of Catholic myths incorporated as facts.

Another, relatively minor, doctrinal point is the depiction of Satan as a participant in dialogue with Jesus. The Bible puts forward that the atonement was a mystery "into which angels longed to look" (1 Pet. 1:12.) Satan in The Passion of the Christ is presented as understanding, throughout, the importance of the sacrifice Jesus was about to make. The Gospel account tells us that it was Satan who entered into Judas, leading him to precipitate the crucifixion (John 13:27). We must question why Satan would prompt an action which would result in the atonement, if he understood the full importance of the event.

What, then, are the implications of The Passion of the Christ for the Lord's church? Largely positive, I think. The death of Christ has received more serious consideration through this media event than it has in modern history. This is a good thing. While the buzz of popular interest may quickly fade, it has presented an opportunity for the biblical account to have a place at the table.

We need to strike while the iron is hot and make the most of this opportunity to share our faith with the world around us.

Remembering that no movie can ever fully do justice to the "greatest story ever told," our exuberance over The Passion of the Christ must never serve as a substitution for faithful obedience to Christ as revealed in Scripture. Yet this film can provide useful points of contact to introduce our associates in the world to the truth about Jesus.

For Christians to take advantage of this opportunity for outreach, we must refresh our understanding and appreciation of the messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament. These provide an essential background for understanding God's way of salvation. We must reacquaint ourselves with the meaning of the atonement, the vicarious death of the Savior. We must, perhaps most importantly, reassess our response to this gospel. We need to see how the death of Christ changes our lives as Christians. As the apostle Paul wrote: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20 ESV).

Reinforcing our emphasis on the person and work of Christ, the dialogue prompted by The Passion of the Christ provides the church with opportunities to share the gospel with the world and to edify Christians in God's truth.

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A Review of "The Passion of the Christ"

By Emmett Smith

My wife, 15-year-old daughter and I went to see “The Passion of the Christ” yesterday afternoon. Overall we found it to be a faithful account of the Biblical narratives. It was very moving and I would encourage anyone who is interested to go and see this film.

As always when viewing a movie based on the Bible, I was concerned with the inevitable “creative license” that appears in any such endeavor. I left the theater with an appreciation for Mel Gibson’s faithfulness to the Biblical text. Below are my notes as to some of the more “creative” scenes.

  • Satan tempts Jesus in the garden as He prays. Luke 22:43 says an angel appeared, strengthening Him, not Satan, tempting Him. However, this sets up the scene where Jesus stomps the serpent’s head, which I thought was powerful. And I don’t suppose the fact that an angel was sent to strengthen Him necessarily precludes Satan’s presence.
  • Following Peter’s denial of his Lord I kept waiting for the cock to crow. The cock didn’t crow. A very moving scene, nonetheless.
  • Judas. Well, what can you say about Judas? The evil one is portrayed as harassing Judas to hang himself. We do know that Satan entered Judas (Luke 22:3).
  • Mary Magdalene is portrayed as the woman taken in adultery. Mark and Luke both tell us Jesus had cast out seven devils from her. Was she also the woman taken in adultery? The Bible doesn’t say so.
  • Mary mother of Jesus is prominent throughout. Who’s surprised, Gibson is, after all, a Catholic.
  • Some have said that Pilate is portrayed too flatteringly. I thought the portrayal was precisely as depicted in the Gospels: A typical politician.
  • The debauchery of Herod’s court was well portrayed.
  • Claudia, Pilate’s wife, gives cloths to Mary, with which she and Mary Magdala wipe up Christ’s blood after his scourging. I have read from other sources that this scene derives from the Apocrypha.
  • The scene in which the Jewish woman offers Jesus a drink and He wipes his face with a cloth she offered seems to depict Roman Catholic Saint Veronica (also Apocryphal). The bloody image of his face remains visible on the cloth. A "relic" is born.
  • I have no reservations about recommending this movie. I’m sure any Christian will be moved by this interpretation of His passion. We did not take our 10-year-old daughter, and in retrospect I’m glad we didn’t. But anyone mature enough to understand the gospels from an adult perspective should be able to appreciate this film.

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    The Passion of the Christ: A Review

    by Mitchell Skelton

    Walking into the theatre to view this long-awaited film, I had several preconceived notions. I was prepared to see inflammatory scenes that made Jews seem like "Christ killers", gratuitous violence and an obvious Catholic viewpoint. Much to my surprise, I found none of these to be true. Overall, I found this movie to be both balanced and biblical.

    Before anyone gets too critical, let us remember that this is a film we are talking about and not a translation of the New Testament. One should anticipate some "literary license". It goes without saying that there are scenes in this movie that one cannot find in any of the gospel accounts. However, none of these scenes takes away from or changes the overall biblical account, which is always in full view. A few moments in the film do have a perceptible Catholic slant. (i.e. Those other than her children call Mary the mother of Jesus simply "mother" several times throughout the film, and there is the scene where Jesus falls while carrying the cross and a woman close by gives him a scarf with which he wipes his face, leaving on it the bloody imprint of his face.)

    Concerning the violence, it was admittedly disconcerting but not unwarranted. Anything less would have been sugar—coating what actually took place during the last hours of Jesus' life. That being said, this is not a film for children. Teach your children about Jesus and the crucifixion but wait until they are able to process what is happening before showing them this movie.

    The one thing about this film that really pricked my heart was the subtle way the blame for Jesus' death was placed exactly where it belonged. The Jewish priests were in the forefront pressing for crucifixion, and Pilate's role was not diminished. However, as you watch the film you realize that the Jew's are not to blame and neither is Pilate. Sin is the culprit and I am the one to blame!

    At the risk of sounding like a bandwagon cheerleader, I am willing to stand up and say, Go see this film! Enjoy it for what it is, The Passion of the Christ.

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    Topic for articles and commentaries on societal concerns

    So here's the place to put columnists reviews on Mel Gibson's "Passion" movie and other burning items of the day.

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