"The Passion of the Christ"
February, 2004

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In the midst of the furor that has arisen surrounding Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, there is an important theological issue at stake that is surprisingly being overlooked by most Christians and critics of the film. The issue is this. If Jesus Christ is truly God, as Christians claim Him to be, how can He be portrayed in a motion picture when He expressly forbids the MAKING of material representations of His person in the second commandment contained in Exodus 20:4?


God reiterates this warning to Israel, in Deuteronomy 4:12-16, by reminding them that since they had heard only a voice, but saw no form when He spoke to them from the mountain, they were not to corrupt themselves and make a material representation of Him in the likeness of a male or female. As God is a Triune Being, it was God the Father, together with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all speaking together as the Godhead in Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 4:12-16.


In 1John 5:7, the apostle John writes " For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost and these three are one."   Jesus Christ says in John 10:30 that "I and My Father are One." In Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let us make man in our image. The Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit are all equally GOD, who speak and act in perfect unity.          


 In Romans 1:22-23, Paul states that idolatry involves the exchanging of the glory of the incorruptible God for an image made like corruptible man. And, in Acts 17:29, Paul speaking to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers of his day, had this to say, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the GODHEAD is like unto gold, silver, or stone, graven by art or man’s device."


Jesus told the religious leaders of his day in John 8:24 "I said therefore unto you, that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I AM he, you shall die in your sins." Jesus, by using the expression “I AM” in this verse and later in verse 58 is identifying himself as Yahweh of the Old Testament, The I AM THAT I AM, The Self-Existing, Eternal God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 and gave the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel from Mt. Sinai prohibiting the making of material representations of His person in Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 4:12-16.


Furthermore, where in the Scriptures is there a written record of Jesus’ physical appearance while he walked the earth? Although the apostles, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, (2 Peter 1:20-21) claimed to have heard, seen, looked upon and handled that which was from the beginning, THE WORD OF LIFE, they left behind no written record of what Jesus looked like. (1 John 1:1-2) Yet, the Scriptures declare that Jesus Christ is the image of God. (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3) and that in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9) How then can a picture or image capture the essence of the divine and human natures of the God-man? Those who have truly come to know Jesus Christ through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit as He is revealed in the written Word of God, need no images to convey to them who God is since they have come to know that Jesus Christ himself as He is revealed in Scripture without the use of pictorial images is the express image of the invisible God. (Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 3:18) Jesus said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” When Philip asked Jesus, “Lord show us the Father and it will satisfy us?” Jesus answered, “Have I been so long with you and you have not known me, Philip? He that has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9a)


By creating pictures and images of Christ in books, videotapes, films, and upon the stained glass windows of churches, men have gone beyond Scripture and added to the biblical revelation of Christ. Did not God warn against adding to His Word in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18? Wouldn’t then an image claiming to represent Jesus, therefore, be by definition, “another Jesus” just as the apostle Paul warns the Corinthian house assemblies about in 2 Corinthians 11:4?


Tragically, centuries of religious tradition have so corrupted the minds of many within Christendom to the extent that when people speak, and think, of Jesus, they think of Him in terms of these false images and pictures that have been deeply engrained on their subconscious minds from their youth. That is why Mel Gibson’s upcoming film can be so widely embraced by so many without even the slightest discomfort. When children grow up being told by their Sunday school teachers and other religious authority figures that the pictures they see displayed in instructional materials, books, videotapes and on the stained glass windows of their churches are “Jesus Christ,” who just happens to be white skinned with blue eyes and long flowing hair, then they begin to subconsciously identify God as a white since these are the predominate images that they see reinforced around them. And tragically, it is all based upon a lie that many subconsciously have come to embrace as the truth. 


 The early Christians, however, in obedience to God’s commandments, created no pictures or images of Christ.  Philip Schaff in his eight volume series The History of The Christian Church, under the title Images of Christ, points this out when he writes, “The primitive church...had no images of Christ, since most Christians at that time still adhered to the commandment of Moses (Ex.xx.4); In addition, the church was obliged for her own honor, to abstain from images, particularly from any representation of the Lord, lest she should be regarded by unbelievers as merely a new kind and special sort of heathenism and creature-worship…. The first representations of Christ are of heretical and pagan origin.”


 Everett Ferguson, in his book Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd Edition, reemphasizes when he writes, “Asclepius was presented as the most human-loving of the gods.. His influence is seen in certain features of the Sarapis cult, and his portraiture influenced artists in depicting Sarapis and Christ.” [Emphasis mine]  


In his thought-provoking book, The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World, Arthur Hunt further explains how the images of pagan gods came to be incorporated into the worship of the church. “Pagan idols were also rechristened. Of course, images have always been a staple of paganism…Jesus and John the Baptist were the first to appear over the church altar, then Mary (Queen of Heaven and Earth), the saints and the angels. The pictures and statuettes were all too familiar with the older system. Jesus looked like Horus, the Egyptian sky god; and Mary bore an uncanny resemblance to Isis, the goddess of royalty…The unlearned received their ideas about religion from the mosaics, paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows adoring the churches. It was here that paganism and Christianity were visually reconciled.” It is indeed a frightening prospect to consider that some of the pictures that are widely used in Christian circles to represent “Christ” may, in fact, be depictions of the Roman god Asclepius or Horus, the Egyptian sky god!!


So if God expressly forbid the making of images to represent Him, and Christians in the early church did not create images and pictures of Jesus Christ, who authorized the use of such images in direct violation of God's Word? History records that it was the Roman Catholic Church, who at the Second ecumenical council of Nicaea in 787 AD, legitimized the use of images of Christ. "We decree with full precision and care that…the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways. These are the images of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.. The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. . Indeed, the honor paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image."


The Council further pronounced anathemas upon the iconoclasts who were opposed to the use of deity images. "If anyone does not confess that Christ our GOD can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema. If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord...let him be anathema." Could this have been a precursor for the widespread worship of the IMAGE OF THE BEAST prior to the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? 


It is indeed ironic that Mel Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic, has produced this film with a false image of “Christ” that is based on the apparitions of the Catholic mystic, Anne Emmerich, who claimed to have seen visions of the passion, death and resurrection of “Christ” which were recorded in her book The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And for Mr. Gibson to claim that he was lead by the Holy Spirit to make this movie, I would say this. The subjective witness of the Holy Spirit can NEVER lead anyone to do anything that is contrary, or opposed, to the objective truth of Scripture.


Interestingly, a new Catholic website Catholic Passion Outreach has this to say about the film. “Mel Gibson’s forthcoming epic film, The Passion of the Christ, will soon hit movie theatres around the country. Evangelical Christian churches are viewing this movie as the greatest opportunity for evangelization in centuries. Until now, the Catholic Church has been slow to respond. The question that needs to be asked is will a Catholic movie created by a Catholic director result in Catholics leaving the Church due to proselytizing by other churches?”’

It is obvious that Mel Gibson sees this film as an excellent vehicle to “spread, strengthen and share the Catholic faith.” In an interview with Peter Boyer, published in The New Yorker, September 15, 2003, Gibson is quoted as saying that “there is no salvation for those outside of the (Roman Catholic) Church.. I believe it…that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.” 

Yet, it is absolutely amazing to see how Gibson has garnered the support and endorsement of so many evangelical leaders who are enthusiastically embracing this film that will further solidify the image of a counterfeit Christ upon the minds of millions of moviegoers. If these evangelical leaders truly believed that Jesus Christ is God, the I AM who spoke from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20:4, then they would know that He cannot be pictured – films are simply moving pictures - and they would not be widely endorsing a film that promotes this idolatry. As Tupper Saussy points out in his book Rulers of Evil: Useful Knowledge About Governing Bodies, “What more damnable heresy could there be than depicting a God who condemns images, with an image? Wouldn’t an image purporting to be Him have to be in reality, by sheer force of logic, the image of another God?”


The Passion of the Christ, therefore, undermines the biblical teaching of the deity of Christ, presenting another Jesus than the Jesus of biblical revelation. Truly we are living in the days foretold by true Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 24:4-5.

Lorin Smith

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