JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 26, 2004 – The opening of The Passion of the Christ in theaters Wednesday has stirred debate among Christians about the merits and drawbacks of the movie.
The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, depicts the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Some points of contention among Christians include the accuracy of the film to the biblical accounts, the movie’s portrayal of Jews and the possible effects the film will have on the public.
“Coming from a conservative evangelical view, I would say it’s very accurate,” said Dr. Paul Jackson, associate professor of Christian studies. “I think that the Gospel of John is being followed pretty closely, but I see evidence of the peculiarities of each Gospel, and not just the peculiarities, but where the Gospels agree about the passion of Jesus.”
Gibson does take some poetic license but these instances do not contradict the biblical accounts of the Passion, Jackson said. An example is the personification of evil in the depiction of Judas’ betrayal and suicide.
“The things he (Gibson) fills in are things that the Gospel account doesn’t fill in, and I think they are respectable,” he said. “They’re believable; it’s not out of bounds. It could have happened that way.”
“It seems to be more authentic than any other Jesus films put out,” said Dr. George Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible.
Guthrie suggested two criteria for moviegoers to watch for as they determine the historical accuracy of the film. First, viewers should note the attempt to recreate the Jewish context, such as clothing and characters’ appearances. Secondly, viewers should look at the level of brutality involved in the scourging and crucifixion.
“People can be put off by the brutality, but that is the extent to which God went to deal with our sin,” Guthrie said.
“You see all this violence, ghastly, bloody beatings going on and brutalization, but the love of God is coming through,” Jackson said. “These men are punishing him, but the love of God to me is speaking more loudly than the punishment of man.”
Some critics have called the film anti-Semitic, but according to Jackson, the movie does not place blame on Jews or any specific group of people.
“To me, the amazing thing that comes through in this movie as far as culpability is not that the Jews are vilified, nor is anybody else,” Jackson said. “I would say that you walk away from that movie thinking, ‘I myself am responsible for putting Jesus on the cross. My sins put him there.’”
Some Christians have wondered whether the movie could have a lasting effect on the American public, sparking a revival.
“I think anything that gets people in touch with the gospel is a good thing,” Guthrie said. “The Lord has used various things throughout history to bring people to himself.” Jackson and Guthrie agree the film may be useful in reaching nonbelievers, but they emphasize the importance of discussing the movie with non-Christians after viewing it.
“I think it can be used, but we have to be careful not to manipulate people with it,” Jackson said. “You want to make sure they understand what the gospel is about, that there is an understanding in the mind of why they need to respond to this message.”
Jackson said he has high hopes for the film.
“It could be fantastic. It could be one of the biggest events in a long, long time for us to help people understand who Christ is,” Jackson said. “It could cause a lot of revivals to spawn throughout the country. I don’t know. The potential is there. This movie is that impacting, I think.
“It is a haunting, inspiring movie, and I mean haunting in a good way…I’ll never think about the death of Christ in the same way anymore. I walked away thinking, ‘I don’t want to sin again,’ because I’m reminded in a fresh and a very vivid way what Jesus took to win my salvation, to redeem me.”
by Katie Gould (‘04)