Errors in Mel Gibson’s Movie: Do We Have Artistic License?

Updated March 8, 2004 (first published March 7, 2004) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -

The Baptist Press for March 4 ran an article “'The Passion': Assessing its accuracy” by James R. Wicker, associate professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is one of the seven seminaries funded by the Southern Baptist Convention. Professor Wicker admits that Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ contains many inaccuracies, many things added that have no scriptural support and many other things that are openly contrary to the biblical account. He admits that Mary is exalted in the movie in a fashion that conforms to Roman Catholic doctrine and that Gibson inserts several scenes from the visions of Catholic mystics.

Even so, he says, “We ought to give Mel Gibson some leeway for ARTISTIC LICENSE in The Passion of The Christ.”

He says further, “Do not let the inaccuracies or artistic license scenes overshadow the fine ways in which the movie portrays the beatings and crucifixion of Jesus in a vivid and mostly accurate manner. [Note from Brother Cloud: We do not agree on the “mostly accurate” part of that statement] Both evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics alike can embrace this film as a powerful tool for getting the message of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection to the masses.”

Artistic license? Inaccuracies should not overshadow the “good.” Where does the Bible tells us that God accepts “artistic license” on the part of those who write or otherwise portray Biblical scenes and truths?

If a pastor stood up on Sunday morning and Sunday evening and preached two one-hour sermons that contained as many inaccuracies and heresies in his sermons as Mel Gibson has in his movie, (we would hope that) the professor would not take such a flippant attitude. But when it comes to movies, we suddenly have lots of license.

Show me that in the Bible. I am curious to see the authority for such a philosophy. Of course, the Bible can be made to support anything if texts are lifted from their context, but I have been studying the Bible for these past 30 years and what I have found there directly contradicts what this professor is saying.

What about the following verse: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that A LITTLE leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Why did Paul warn the Corinthians that even a small amount of error is dangerous, that the little, in fact, leavens the whole? Why didn’t he tell them, rather, to weigh the good against the bad and if the good is preponderant, they should not worry so much about the little leaven?

Why did the Psalmist say, “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate EVERY false way” (Psalm 119:128)? Why did he not say, rather, that he hated false ways only when there isn’t enough good to outweigh them? Why was he so narrow in his testimony and strict in his judgments? Why didn’t the Psalmist recognize the need for “artistic license”?

And why did Paul instruct Timothy in the following manner? “That thou keep this commandment WITHOUT SPOT, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). Why did he not rather instruct Timothy to keep the truth of God in a more general and less strict manner, granting “artistic license” as the case may require?

And why did Paul instruct the believers at Thessalonica as follows? “Prove ALL things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from ALL appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Why didn’t he tell them to prove only some things and to abstain only from some evil while making certain that they granted plenty of “artistic license” for the rest?

Why did Paul instruct the believers at Ephesus in this fashion? “And have NO fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). Why did he say, rather, that they should avoid most or many works of darkness but that they should, at the same time, not be overly strict and always be ready to grant artistic license?

As you can see, I am having a difficult time finding this “artistic license” doctrine in the Bible.

By the way, we have dealt with this in other articles, but the very fact that this movie is being used by evangelicals and Roman Catholics alike as “a tool” for anything is a loud warning to those who have ears to hear.

(I have another question for Professor Wicker. You say, “Both evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics alike can embrace this film as a powerful tool for getting the message of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection to the masses.” Do you believe that Roman Catholics preach a message that will result in help to the masses?)

The enthusiastic and almost entirely uncritical support of this Roman Catholicized Hollywood movie and this uncritical statement about Roman Catholics using it by a professor at a Southern Baptist seminary demonstrates that all is not well in that convention, that, in fact, the spiritual compromise is exceedingly deep.

The following list of inaccuracies and extra-biblical things in The Passion of Christ are gathered from published reviews on the web as well as from e-mails I have received personally from people who have seen the movie.

SOME THINGS IN MEL GIBSON’S MOVIE THAT ARE ADDED TO THE BIBLE ACCOUNT

* Jesus is imprisoned in a room under the temple.
* Jesus confronts Judas after his arrest. (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.)
* As they are escorting Jesus after his arrest, the soldiers hang Jesus off of a bridge by chains and then brutally yank him back up again. (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.)
* Roman soldiers are depicted as being extremely vindictive toward Christ; they refuse even to stop whipping him until forced to do so by their commander, and they continue to beat him along the way to the cross. One reviewer rightly observes: “The Roman government had no qualms with Christ. Pilate said so. The soldiers thought it was a big joke, and they mocked him and put the crown of thorns upon His head. They dressed Him in a purple robe and mocked Him, but there is no indication that they had any vindictive spirit toward Him that would lead to beating Him along the way.”
* The Roman soldiers call Jesus “King of worms” and “wormy king.”
* The soldiers hammer the crown down on Jesus’ head, but the Bible says nothing about this.
* Mary is near Jesus all during His suffering. The Bible says nothing about this.
* Pontius Pilate’s wife gives some cloths to Mary. (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.)
* Mary and Mary Magdalene wipe up Jesus’ blood after He is whipped.
* A young woman tries to give Jesus a drink of water on the way to the cross, but a Roman soldier stops her. Before she tries to give him a drink, she wipes his face with her cloth and the image of his bloody face is imprinted on the cloth. She is shown cherishing the cloth close to her body as she watches Jesus continue his way toward the cross. This is based on the Catholic legend about Veronica, which claims that Jesus rewarded Veronica’s charity in wiping the sweat from his brow by imprinting his image into the cloth. There is no evidence of this myth prior to the 4th or 5th century. The alleged Veronica image of Jesus’ face, which began to appear perhaps in the 8th century, shows the typical longhaired Catholic Jesus. Reproductions of the image have long been used as “healing relics.” The legend became one of the Roman Catholic Church’s 14 Stations of the Cross.
* Simon, who carries Jesus’ cross, confronts the Romans in Jesus’ defense.
* After Jesus is nailed to the cross, it is raised, turned over and dropped face down. One person who saw the movie observed: “They lift the cross up, turn it over and drop in on him! That would have killed him. Then they turn it over and drop it back down again. This would have likely broken the back of a healthy man, let alone one who had his back flailed with that cat.”
* A crow pokes out the eye of the unrepentant thief on the cross. (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.)
* Blood gushes out of Jesus’ side like a waterfall after the soldier thrusts in his spear. (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.)
* The names of the thieves on the cross are said to be Gesmes and Dismas.


Many argue, “While these things are not in the Bible, they also are not contrary to the Bible. Who is to say, though, that these things do not somehow change the message of Scripture? The scene of the crow picking out the eye of the unrepentant thief, for example -- who can say that this extra-scriptural scene might not leave in the heart of a viewer some type of lasting but wrong impression about God and the Bible? The same is true for every type of addition that is made to the Bible narrative. We simply have no authority for such additions.

SOME THINGS IN MEL GIBSON’S MOVIE THAT ARE CONTRARY TO THE BIBLE ACCOUNT

* In Gibson’s movie the characters speak Aramaic and Latin. The descriptions of these things in the New Testament, on the other hand, are written in Greek.
* Jesus is depicted as wearing long hair, which is contrary to His own standards for men in 1 Corinthians 11. The only men of God in the Bible who wore long hair were the Nazarites, such as Samson. The Lord Jesus was not a Nazarite; He was a Nazarene, meaning that He grew up in the town of Nazareth. In The Passion of the Christ most of the men, such as the soldiers and Pilate, have short hair, which is historically accurate. Yet there is “Jesus” with the long, stringy, hippyish hair!
* Mary Magdalene is depicted as the woman caught in adultery in Jn. 7:53 - 8:11, whereas there is no biblical evidence for that.
* Satan is depicted as a woman with a man’s voice.
* Satan tempts Jesus in Gethsemane. The devil offers many temptations. In one of those the devil asks Jesus, “Do you take this sin upon yourself? Are you prepared to die for all these sins?” (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.) According to the Bible, the only time that Jesus was tempted by the devil was at the beginning of his ministry.
* Satan also appears to Jesus at various times during His suffering.
* Jesus and the disciples are seated at the Last Supper instead of reclining. (Actually John leaned on Jesus’ breast Jn. 13:23)
* Peter is depicted as seated beside Jesus at the Last Supper, but actually he had to motion to John to have him ask Jesus a question (see Jn. 13:24-25).
* After Judas betrays Jesus, he goes out into the streets of Jerusalem. As he is sitting alone, two children come to ask him if he is okay. He tells them to go away. They start mocking him, and their faces turn into hideous demon-like faces. They start tormenting and biting him. One of them tears flesh from Judas' hand with his teeth! Judas is pursued to his death by demonic children!
* When Jesus is arrested, the movie depicts several disciples fighting, but the Bible mentions only Peter.
* During an earthquake the floor of the temple’s Holy of Holies is cracked and the temple otherwise damaged and “a flimsy veil-like thing falls down in front of the altar.” The Bible and history tell us that the temple was not damaged in the earthquake; rather the heavy veil between the holy place and the holy of holies was rent in two, thus showing that Christ has opened the way to God through His death and blood. This happened when Jesus cried, “It is finished” (Matt. 27:50-51; Jn. 19:30).
* At one point as the female Satan is watching Jesus suffer, she is holding a baby, which is supposed to be an evil parody of the Madonna and Child. The baby turns its head and reveals a demonic face.
* The whipping depicted in the movie is contrary to the Bible. In the movie Jesus is beaten two separate times with 39 lashes each, and the soldiers continue to beat him as they walk to the cross. The Bible says only that he was scourged one time. (The visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich contain lengthy detailed descriptions of Jesus’ whippings.) One person who saw the movie observed: “The flogging scene is over exaggerated. The cat-o'-nine-tails with the stones/bones would do much more damage than they showed for all the flogging they showed; I doubt if anyone could have survived it. The whole thing [the punishment that Jesus endured prior to the cross] was just too unbelievable for anyone not biased. This creates a loss of credibility for the story and I see it as very harmful for trying to get unbelievers to accept it.”
* While Jesus is on the cross, Mary comes up and kisses his foot. The blood runs down into her mouth, and she backs away “almost licking her lips with blood all over her face.”
* In the resurrection scene the angel rolled away the stone before Jesus comes out. Contrariwise, in Scripture the stone was rolled away so that the disciples could see that Christ was not there; He had arisen and left the tomb before that (Matt. 28:1-6).
* In the resurrection scene, when Jesus starts to walk out, you get a shot of actor Jim Caviezel's naked buttocks! One reviewer said, “Thus the last impression you get of the movie is this thought of a naked 'Jesus' walking around.”


SOME THINGS IN MEL GIBSON’S MOVIE THAT ARE HERETICAL

* In the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus said, “I am he,” nobody falls over backward (contrast John 18:6).
* In the Garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus is tempted by the devil, a snake slithers from underneath the female “devil’s” robe. And Jesus crushes its head beneath his foot. This is a reference to the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, but the Bible does not say that any of these things actually occurred. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus destroyed the devil by His death, not in the Garden (Heb. 2:14).
* Peter and John call Mary “Mother” and the word “Mother” is capitalized in the subtitles.
* After Peter denies Jesus, he is leaving the courtyard and sees Mary, Mary Magdalene, and John. He gets on his knees before Mary, calls her “Mother,” and confesses his denial to her. She holds out her hand to him (as if she is going to forgive him), and he runs away saying that he isn't worthy. Peter twice tells Mary not to touch him after he denied Jesus. (Gibson got this from the visions of Catholic mystic Anne-Catherine Emmerich.) This is rank heresy. It was Jesus against whom Peter sinned that night, not Mary!
* Mary is the only person other than Jesus who can see Satan. This gives her supernatural abilities akin to those of Christ.
* Mary goes to a specific place in the temple and lays down on the floor with her head on the stones because she sensed the presence of Jesus chained underneath the floor. She knew where he was. The camera pans through the floor and shows Jesus hanging from shackles and looking up into the stone ceiling toward Mary.
* Jesus falls six times on the way to the cross, whereas the Bible mentions no falls. Further, Simeon had to repeatedly help Jesus up when he fell, saying things like, “You are almost there,” helping the weak Jesus to the cross. I believe this shows a weakness in Christ during His suffering that is not only contrary to what the Scriptures teach but is heretical in regard to His person.
* Once when Jesus falls down, he is depicted as not having the strength to rise until he looks at Mary and gains strength from her. He is depicted as receiving strength from her at other times as well.
* Once Mary runs up to Jesus when he falls and there is a flashback at that point showing the child Jesus falling and hurting himself and being comforted by Mary, thus directly associating Mary’s aid with Jesus’ sufferings.
* On the way to the cross, Jesus tells Mary, “Behold, I make all things new.” Actually, that is not spoken until about 50 years later when John writes the book of Revelation.
* The movie portrays Jesus as somewhat bewildered at times as he is being beaten and hung on the cross.
* As she is looking up at the cross, Mary asks Jesus if she can die with him. One reviewer admits, “There is that identity of Mary with the death of Christ as well; not just in mourning His death but in wanting to participate in it.” The Bible says that Jesus Christ BY HIMSELF bore our sins (Heb. 1:3), and the reason why the Bible has none of these depictions is because Mary had nothing to do with Christ’s suffering for our sins. The way that Mary is placed everywhere with Jesus in His suffering is blasphemous.
* Mary is depicted as holding the dead Jesus at the foot of the Cross, which is a reenactment of the unscriptural Roman Catholic Pieta. It was not the women who took Jesus down from the cross and buried him. It was Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-42).
* At the end of the movie Lucifer appears in “a desolate wasteland reminiscent of Hell,” but the Bible is clear that Satan will not be banished anywhere until after the return of Christ and will not be cast into the lake of fire until after the final rebellion at the end of the Millennium.
* There is also heresy in what is left out of the movie. The Passion of the Christ focuses on Christ’s physical suffering, but the Bible focuses on His spiritual suffering. The greatest suffering that Jesus endured that day was being made sin, was being abandoned by the Father because of sin. The darkness covered the earth for three hours and in that impenetrable darkness the mysteries of redemption were acted out between God the Father and God the Son. This is the focus of the prophecies such as Isaiah 53, but a movie that focuses on Jesus’ physical sufferings misses the main point of the whole affair.

It is obvious that this movie is full of errors and outright demonic lies (see 1 Timothy 4:1-4, where God’s Word warns us that devils teach doctrines).

Even if the movie did not contain all of these heretical things and things contrary to the Scriptures, where does God give us permission to add our human imaginations to the Gospel story? The Bible warns, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

It is not our business to try to delve beyond the pages of Scripture with our uninspired, easily-deceived imaginations. We have no divine authority to do such a thing.

While it is true that the Bible does not tell us everything that happened that day, IT DOES TELL US EVERYTHING GOD WANTS US TO KNOW THAT HAPPENED THAT DAY!

The Bible is the infallible and complete Revelation of God, and it is able to make the man of God “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17).

Everything about the Bible is an important part of God’s message, not only what it says but also what it does not say, the smallest details, even the repetition.

Unsaved men are not afraid of adding to and modifying the Bible. They think that they can make it better. While it is obvious that God did not want to focus on the details of Christ’s suffering, the makers of this movie imagined that they could better amplify the message by doing exactly what God did not do. This is the sin of presumption.

This movie takes the Roman Catholic approach to the Bible and Christianity by allowing the addition of uninspired, man-made tradition. The concept of “artistic license” in regard to biblical things is a Roman Catholic concept.

The Bible-believing Christian has no need for any of these truth-intermingled-with-error-and-extra-scriptural-tradition things. The Bible believer has the infallible Truth in ALL of its pure loveliness and glory in the Scriptures. Why should he be satisfied in any sense with some incredibly shallow, vague, distorted Hollywood shadow of the truth?

Wake up, my dear friends in Christ.

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

I cannot be emphatic enough about the danger of this Hollywood movie. It is causing a great stir and a lot of conversation, and that can surely be used as an evangelistic opportunity, but there are many serious warnings that church leaders need to be giving their people about this issue.

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