Rev. Mark Buetow
When Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” movie came out, a group of us from our congregation decided to go see it. I asked one lady why she wasn’t going. Her reply: “No thanks, I read the book.” In the past month, we have seen two big movies (“The Son of God” and “Noah”) released supposedly based on the Bible. There are other movies, too, such as “God is Not Dead” that are exploring Christian themes and attempting to make a defense of the Christian faith.
The interwebs are full of people saying these movies are great! They’re awesome witnesses to the truth of God’s Word. They are important for giving voice to religious themes. And so on. Others have thrashed them as completely unscriptural, a horrible representation of God’s Word and not worth the time or money to watch. So what should you do? See these movies or not see them? I probably won’t see them only because if I am spending money to watch a movie, I want to see action stuff like car chases, explosions, spaceships, or Lego people. After all, I’m a pastor. I spend my week writing and speaking about Jesus and the Bible. Movie time is downtime for escaping from the world for a bit.
My advice to you is not to get worked up about these movies if you go see them and realize that they are not showing what’s in the Bible. Aside from the fact that no movie perfectly duplicates the story in any book, movies based on the Bible are always full of the writer’s own interpretation of things. The movie will always reflect the writer’s and director’s particular imagining of what they have read. Even “The Passion of the Christ,” which is, in my opinion, one of the most accurate retellings of the Gospel story, takes certain artistic liberties which betray Mel Gibson’s Roman Catholic theology and vision about what the movie should portray. If anything, these movies ought to make you ask your pastor questions and hear the answers from God’s Word.
Christians really don’t need to get upset that movies don’t accurately reflect the Word of God as written in the Bible. Art is like that. It interprets. But it is the Word of God that actually says what it says. An example: A lady told me once she was upset because she had seen on TV that Leonardo DaVinci’s painting “The Last Supper” probably showed Mary Magdalene in it. “That’s not in the Bible,” she said. “So what’s the problem?” I replied. “We don’t learn about the Lord’s Supper from Leonardo DaVinci but from the Scriptures.”
And that, ultimately, is the point. What we believe as Christians isn’t based on what we watch in a movie or see in a painting or read in some commentary. It’s based on what the Holy Spirit has delivered in the Bible through the writings of the apostles and prophets. In the movies, details are there to help us visualize and make real what’s in our imaginations. In the Bible, however, details are written to point us to Christ. Another example: In Mel Gibson’s movie, one of the hardest scenes to watch is Jesus being whipped by the Roman soldier. There was hardly a dry eye in the theater when audiences watched that for several minutes. But, remarkably, all the Gospels say is that Pontius Pilate had Jesus “scourged.” The point is that the Gospels record this detail so that we might know the suffering our Lord endured (a Roman scourging was awful) for our sakes but it’s not presented in a way that the purpose is to make us cry or elicit some reaction of sorrow or guilt.
And that leads me to this final consideration about the Bible versus Hollywood’s versions. Almost always the movie version of Biblical events is done to bring about some emotional reaction. That’s what a good movie does. It draws you in and you feel the struggles and triumphs of the characters. The Bible, on the other hand, was written so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you have life in His name.” (John 20:31). The Bible is more than just about telling WHAT happened. What is missing from so many of the movies about these things is the WHY it happened. The Word of God reminds us that everything that happened, all that Jesus did—His life, cross, death, resurrection, and ascension— He did to save sinners. To save you and me. To reconcile us to God. The faith that receives and believes that Good News doesn’t come from a movie that leaves us in doubt as to why we are watching. Faith is given by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Good News in Christ’s own church.
So go watch the Bible movies if you feel like it. Don’t expect them to be a faithful rendition of what’s in the Bible. Sure, it’s good that these sorts of movies get us talking. But if anyone asks me, I’ll probably say, “No thanks. I read the book.” And the Book is about Jesus. And now we have something real to talk about.