By Richard Bennett and J. Virgil Dunbar
There seldom had been a movie that had created such favorable publicity and anticipation in the Evangelical community than The Passion of Christ. A tidal wave of excitement swept the church and the movie world. On Catholic Ash Wednesday, 2004, the film appeared in theaters across America. Evangelical churches were buying huge blocks of tickets, and reserving theaters. An endless list of endorsements from church leaders publicly promoting the film was paraded. Names such as Billy Graham, Jack Graham (President of the Southern Baptist Convention), Rick Warren, Jack Hayford, names of Catholic leaders, and an endless list of celebrities were presented to the public as endorsing the film. It was promoted as one of the greatest evangelistic opportunities in history, a concept dear to the heart of every Evangelical. Even the secular media, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and the Internet fed the frenzy. There was a fawning adulation of the film. The Evangelical church’s acceptance of Gibson’s movie gave shocking – maybe apocalyptic – insight into the state of popular Christianity today. Will history reveal that day as the time when Evangelicalism, on a popular level, merged with the Roman Catholic Church?
The Church of Rome has done much to lead modern Evangelicalism into making images of the Lord. Like the Catholics, many Evangelicals today seem not even to be aware that such activity is idolatrous. The Apostle Paul emphasized the fact that idolatry involves exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image made like corruptible man. And as he also stated to the Athenians, “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.”
Christ Jesus is a member of that Godhead. He told the religious leaders, “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.” The word “he” after the “I am” has been added to the text. It does not appear in the earlier manuscripts. By using the expression “I AM,” the Lord identifies Himself as the God revealed in the Old Testament, the “I AM THAT I AM,” the self-existing, eternal God who spoke to Moses and gave the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. The Second Commandment totally prohibits making material representations of His person. In creating images of Christ in books, videotapes, films, stained glass windows, and other artistic mediums – all things of “man’s devise” – men have gone beyond Scripture in their attempt to add to the biblical revelation of who Christ is. The Lord God explicitly warned against adding to His written Word, and He warns just as explicitly against creating visual images of the Godhead.
Creating a visual representation of the Lord Jesus, by definition, is to portray “another Jesus.” The Lord Jesus in His Person, character, and work is divine and perfect. No Savior other than the one proclaimed in Scripture is permissible. Those who claim they are only depicting the humanity of Jesus Christ fall into the grievous heresy of Nestorianism, as they wrongly attempt to divide the humanity from the deity of Christ, ending up with idols produced by the imaginations of their own hearts.
The Lord God gave believers the Word book, not a picture book. The Gospel is at stake—for the Scripture states that “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” The Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” as it is written, read, preached, and spoken one to another. The power of the Word is that it is God’s revealed propositional truth. Rather than subjective imaginations created by man,
“The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
It is God’s revealed and propositional truth that has the power to change the hearts and minds of those who live in the darkness of their own imaginations; for His light—through the written Word—will shine on their evil hearts and the thoughts and deeds that flow from them. It is through this method that they will be convicted of their need for a true Savior and ready for the Gospel of God’s grace alone in which to trust by faith alone. The visual works of a man’s devising, for all their emotional power, are too dull a tool to bring to the individual conviction of sin and the explicit Gospel of grace that the written Word and the truth preached bring.
However, this fact, notwithstanding, of a three–dimensional image of Christ is not only allowed by official Catholic teaching, but it is also to be venerated. The Vatican states, “Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified…the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints.” The temptation to replace the biblical Lord with a visible Christ dominates Catholic nations across the world. Men calling themselves Christian are now beginning to accept it. A figure one can touch, see, wear on jewelry, and is visible in statues and on a crucifix, is identified as an object through which one can approach God and learn of Him. Yet, the Scripture clearly states that “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The Lord God is approachable only through the Lord Jesus Christ. But as the bleeding Savior of Gibson’s Passion is presented to the world, this fact seems thrown aside. We ask, then, what worse blasphemy could there be than depicting, with an image, the Lord God who condemns images? By endorsing this Catholic film, Evangelical leaders further solidifird the image of the counterfeit Christ upon the minds of many.
As we have seen, the Catholic Church claims authority to make images of the Lord. Since the Bible absolutely forbids this practice, where shall Evangelicals find authority for using such images? Under what handier shelter can they hide than the umbrella of the Catholic Church? Cut adrift from biblical authority, Evangelicals seem to be drifting more and more under the Catholic system of authority. Once they have, in practice, surrendered biblical authority and accepted the papal system of authority regarding the use of images of the Lord, where will Evangelicals draw the line on papal authority? This is only one of the unforeseen consequences that started when Evangelicals accepted forbidden pictures to represent the Lord and entered into dialogue with the Catholic Church.
True Meaning of the Cross as Revealed in God’s Written Word
Scripture makes clear that the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion lay not in His physical suffering, but in His propitiation of the wrath of God. God’s wrath was utterly placed on Christ Jesus, who suffered the full extent of its unabated curse for the sins for His people. The fullness of divine wrath that Christ suffered was like that fire from heaven, recorded in the Old Testament, which consumed the sacrifices. The wrath that should have fallen upon the sinner, had God not been appeased, fell upon Him. He uttered the loud cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The representative relationship of Christ to His people is a real and necessary one. The All Holy God deemed it just to punish Christ for the sins of His people, and to credit them with His righteousness, and thus completely satisfy all the demands of His law upon them. Why was Christ’s perfect life followed by the most terrible punishment? Strict substitution demanded it—so that real imputation of His righteousness to His own people could follow. Rather than the physical torture He suffered, the absolute horror that Christ endured was separation from His Father. In His spirit, He felt the full wrath of God. The Apostle Paul explained it precisely, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Christ Jesus was “made sin” for His people. The wrath of God’s holiness flamed against Him. He was the sin offering, the sacrifice for sin. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him; He hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” He was personally All Holy; yet as the substitute for His own, He rendered Himself legally responsible before the judgment of God. The consequence of Christ’s faithfulness in all that He did culminated in His death on the cross and in His resurrection that followed. His righteousness is credited to the believer, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” It was God who legally constituted Christ to be “sin for us.” He was “made sin” because the sins of His people were transferred to Him, and in like manner, the believer is made “the righteousness of God in Him” by God’s reckoning to the believer Christ’s faithfulness to the precepts of the law. Quite clearly, justification, which is part of the Gospel message, is the gracious act of God whereby a believing sinner has forgiveness of sin and legal right standing in Christ. As Christ, who knew no sin of His own was made sin for believers, those who have no righteousness of their own are made the righteousness of God in Him. It is of extreme importance that this entirely biblical Gospel message is missing from the movie, and that in its place is given the traditional Catholic faith of Mel Gibson, and Jim Caviezel, who plays the role of Christ.
A Catholic Film With a Catholic Message
Mel Gibson is a traditionalist Catholic. He has produced this film with an image of “Christ” that is based on the apparitions of the Catholic mystic, Anne Catherine 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. She narrated in incredible detail her understanding of the horrendous sufferings undergone in His heroic act of Redemption.
“It is crucial to realize that the images and language at the heart of ‘The Passion of the Christ’ flow directly out of Gibson’s personal dedication to Catholicism in one of its most traditional and mysterious forms – the 16th–century Latin Mass. ‘I don’t go to any other services,’ the director told the Eternal Word Television Network. ‘I go to the old Tridentine Rite. That’s the way that I first saw it when I was a kid. So I think that that informs one’s understanding of how to transcend language. Now, initially, I didn’t understand the Latin....But I understood the meaning and the message and what they were doing. I understood it very fully, and it was very moving and emotional and efficacious, if I may say so.’ The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the ‘sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar – which is the same thing,’ said Gibson. This ancient union of symbols and sounds has never lost its hold on him. There is, he stressed, ‘a lot of power in these dead languages.’”
The Church of Rome likewise juxtaposes the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the Mass, to which Mel Gibson has given clear testimony. She teaches that Mass and Christ’s sacrifice are “one single sacrifice.” Thus, she declares,
“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same… ‘This divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.’”
Blending images together with the sacrifice of the Cross, and with the sacrifice of the Mass, is extremely dangerous to the state of one’s soul. Divine perfection is seen in the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was one sacrifice, once offered. To put forward a reenactment of the one offering, once offered, is to replace the truth with a falsehood implying that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient and, therefore, imperfect or incomplete. This is an utter blasphemy against the All Holy God. In Catholicism, and in the Passion movie, willfully joining the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the Mass produces a dramatic and theatrical lie that serves only to deceive the very ones it is supposedly meant to help.
Concerning the film, Gibson has declared, “It reflects my beliefs.” He also has stated, “There is no salvation for those outside the [Catholic] Church…I believe it.” Clearly, before the public eye, here is a Catholic movie, made by a Catholic director, with Catholic theological advisers and a Catholic message. According to a Catholic website, Catholic Passion Outreach, “The Passion of The Christ offers a once–in–a–lifetime opportunity for you to spread, strengthen, and share the Catholic faith with your family and friends.” It is obvious from this and other Catholic sources that Catholics see this film as an excellent way to convey the Catholic Christ.
Relationship of Christ to the Father: Replaced With “Mary” Offering Her Son
Christ’s willing sacrifice of Himself on the cross and His subsequent resurrection is the greatest event in history, the culminating achievement of God in securing the salvation of His elect. As given in Scripture, the sacrifice shows forth the unique relationship of Christ to the Father. Christ’s readiness to fulfill His Father’s will is seen in His words, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” The Father’s “will” focused in Christ’s sacrifice to satisfy His divine justice through the atonement of Christ, which was the propitiation of His just wrath. It was an act of His will, and most profitable for His people. The priceless, double empowerment of Christ’s perfect sacrifice is proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, “by the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ’s sacrifice originated in the will of God the Father. It was essential that the Father should be willing to call His Son to this work, for He was the Person unto whom the satisfaction was to be made. The sacrifice was the Father’s plan and purpose.
“Him [Christ Jesus] being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God. For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
The one offering of Christ, willed by the Father, was offered once. In view of His perfect sacrifice, to dare to propose a relationship of Christ to Mary is to denigrate the very will and purpose of the Father. This profane sacrilege is portrayed in the Catholic movie. Andrew J. Webb notes,
“‘The Passion of Christ’ leaves us with a vision of the sacrifice of Christ that is only dolorous and which puts into sharp relief the Roman Catholic notion not only of the importance of Christ’s agony, but that of Mary in ‘offering her Son’. In an interview with Zenit, the Roman Catholic News Service, Father Thomas Rosica, the priest who oversaw World Youth Day 2002 and its Way of the Cross through the streets of Toronto, illustrated how ‘The Passion of Christ’, in keeping with Roman Catholic theology, uses extra–biblical content to massively exaggerate the role of Mary: ‘One scene, in particular, was very moving. As Jesus falls on the Way of the Cross, there is a flashback to his falling on a Jerusalem street as a child, and his mother running out of the house to pick him up. The interplay of Mary and Jesus in this film is moving, and reaches its apex in the scene of the Pietà. The Mother of the Lord is inviting each of us to share her grief and behold her Son.’ This use of extra–biblical material, emphasis on physical suffering, exaggeration of the role of Mary, and explicitly Roman Catholic theology should not surprise us, however, as these are all hallmarks of the primary inspiration for this movie: [Anne Catherine Emmerich’s] The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Fruitfulness of Interaction Between the Father and the Son
Christ Jesus has triumphed in His sacrifice, and He will perfectly give to all those that come to Him freedom from the guilt of, the power of, and the punishment of sin. He will put them into the sure possession of perfect holiness and joy of fellowship with Himself and the Father. “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” The true believer’s sins and iniquities the Father will remember no more! This shows the riches of divine grace, and the sufficiency of Christ’s relationship with His Father in the satisfaction of the cross, “where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” Nothing can ever separate the perfection of the accord between the Father and the Son.
One cannot question Gibson’s sincerity. Yet, the utterly evil deceit of his purpose—to portray his classic Catholic understanding of the crucifixion of Christ—coupled with a very effective medium of communication—reaches new heights in promoting blasphemy and contempt for the All Holy God and His Word! This is undoubtedly the exact opposite of what Gibson had hoped to achieve. Clearly then, Gibson and Jim Caviezel are two of those most deceived by the Catholic message. On the authority of Scripture alone, may the All Holy God in His mercy pour forth mercy on these two poor men to the saving of their souls through faith in Christ alone.
Influence of the Apparitions of “Mary” in Medjugorje on the Film
The apparitions of “Mary” in Medjugorje in Bosnia, Herzegovina, have had a huge impact on this film. The Catholic Church rationalizes acceptance of other sources of extra-biblical revelation by stating that the ordinary, faithful Catholics welcome whatever the “magisterium” guides them into accepting. She consolidates her power over the rank and file Catholics by denying in practice that revelation is complete and definitive. “The last century–and–a–half has seen numerous accounts of appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus, Himself, is said to speak to a few of the seers. Some of the apparitions have received official approval by the Roman Catholic Church.” “Our Lady continues to give messages to six young people from the village of Medjugorje: Ivan, Jakov, Marija, Mirjana, Vicka, and Ivanka. These six young people (referred to as “visionaries”) have had apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary since June 24, 1981…” The influence of “Mary” of Medjugorje has been documented in the case of Jim Caviezel. In an interview with Fr. Mario Knezovic in Medjugorje on December 6, 2003, Caviezel said,
“I was in seventh grade and our priest showed us a film of the children during an apparition. We were told that it was true. We were from a mixed catholic community – mostly Croatians and Italians. My grandmother is a 100% Croatian. It didn’t seem hard to believe. Ittook me 15 years to come. When I came, I knew immediately – from what I was feeling in my heart – that it was real. I haven’t seen signs or anything, but – I have been a Catholic for my whole life and I had never felt in confession as I felt when I was here. It was a tremendous healing.”
Fr. Mario Knezovic said to him,
“‘The Passion of the Christ’ movie, in which you are playing Jesus Christ, is almost finished. What was it like to play Jesus? How did you adjust your body and your soul to the body and the soul of Jesus? How was it to be Jesus? Jim Caviezel [replied]: The catharsis for me to play this role was through Medjugorje, through Gospa. In preparation, I used all that Medjugorje taught me. Mel Gibson and I were going every day for Mass together. Some days I couldn’t go for Mass, but I was receiving the Eucharist. Somewhere along the line, I heard that the Pope was going for confession every day, so I thought that I should go for confession as often as possible…So, the confession was the preparation for the Eucharist. Ivan Dragicevic and his wife Lorraine gave me a piece of the true cross. I kept this on me all the time. They made a special pocket in my clothes for it. I also had relics of Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padoua, Ste Maria Goretti, and saint Denisius, the Patron saint of Actors. Another thing was fasting. I read many of the messages continuously. Every day everyone could see me with the rosary in my hands.
The fact that the message of “Mary” in Medjugorje so deeply influenced Jim Caviezel shows his point of view, and that of the movie in which he has the main role. Medjugorje teaches that the sufferings of Christ are the offense, or the great sin against God: “Make reparation for the wound inflicted on the Heart of My Son.” The truth is that the wounds inflicted on Christ are the very reason we do not need to make reparations, but solely to believe the Gospel. The message of Medjugorje shows contempt for the sanctity and purpose of the Cross of Christ. The blasphemy of Medjugorje has had its influence on the film. The authority of Scripture weighs in on the matter, “and no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” Such things as pieces of bones carried around as relics in a pocket of Jim Caviezel’s clothes may seem like occult practices, but for a Catholic it is official teaching. Papal Rome also encourages people to contact the dead.
A Defining Moment of the Present Time
As visual images form the foundation for learning in our modern world, so images, movies, and videos of Christ have been accepted in Evangelical circles. This idolatry has reached new heights in the highly Catholic portrayal of the sufferings of Christ in the Passion movie. The Christ portrayed, however, is not the Christ of the Bible. The sufferings are not those of the One who was “made sin” for the sins of His people. It does depict horrendous sufferings undergone in a heroic manner, and these are juxtaposed with the Catholic sacrifice of the Mass. This heavy manipulation of people’s emotions is promoted through enticing images and strange sounding words in Aramaic; the sum of which is to collectively establish both a blasphemy against God and a deceit against man. This high point of idolatry is evidence of a real turning point in our day. It is very much like the idolatry of Jeroboam who sinned and caused Israel to sin. Individuals, families, and kingdoms were ruined by Jeroboam’s idolatry. Once influential men do wickedly, they involve many others, both in their guilt and in their snare. Multitudes follow after their pernicious ways. The Lord God gave Israel up to their wickedness because they followed after the sin of Jeroboam.
In all seriousness, it appears that in our own day the Lord God could hand over the Evangelical world to the deceit into which they are running headlong with eyes opened, but which have been blinded by deceit. They may very well go to hell with a long procession following them, and their condemnation will be intolerable. They will have to answer—not only for their own sins—but for the sins which others have been drawn into by their influence. In the Old Testament, judgment came upon the people of Israel for conforming to the idolatry of Jeroboam. In our own day, both blind leaders and their blind followers look ready to fall into the ditch. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” It is the duty of churches, pastors, elders, and Evangelical leaders who have sinned in this tidal wave of idolatry in the use of images, videos, and movies of Christ to publicly repent. It is the duty of Christian people to repent of these sins, in so far as by involvement they have been accessory to them. When God comes to punish the corrupt members of His people, His rebuke will be most sore. No sword cuts so deeply, nor causes so grievous pain, as the sword of Christ Jesus’ mouth. We truly pray that the truth of the Word of God touches the conscience of those who have sinned, are sinning, and leading others into sin. If the Lord’s threats are executed, sinners will be utterly cut off. We truly pray that the Word of God will take hold of sinners, including ourselves, so that we all,
“hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised.” “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” ♦
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 Romans 1:22-23 “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” Vv. 24-25, which follow, are instructive, especially in light of the scandals that have rocked the RCC in the past several years, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator…”
 Acts 17:29
 John 8:24
 Exodus 3:14
 Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 4:12-16
 Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:1
 Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:5-28
 II Corinthians 11:4
 Romans 10:17
 Romans 1:16
 Hebrews 4:12
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) Para 2131
 Code of Canon Law, Latin-Eng. ed. (1983) Can. 1188, “The practice of displaying sacred images in the churches for the veneration of the faithful is to remain in force….” See also Catechism, #2132“The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype, and whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” This is the very idea that Aaron had when he constructed the golden calf through which the children of Israel were to worship Holy God, Exodus 32:4-5. For fuller explanation, see J. Virgil Dunbar, Christ Can’t Be Pictured—God is not like Art, (available from Richard Bennett, P. O. Box 192, Del Valle, TX78617. $7.00 incl. postage in USA).
 I Timothy 2:5
 Hebrews 8:6, 9:15
 Romans 3:25“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” See also I John 4:10 “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”, and elsewhere.
 Matthew 27:46
 II Corinthians 5:21
 Isaiah 53:10
 Romans 3:22
 Juxtaposes means to put side by side.
 Catechism, Para. 1367
 The New Yorker, September 15, 2003
 Hebrews 10:9
 Hebrews 10:10
 Acts 2:23
 Hebrews 10:12,14
 Dolorous: Full of grief; sad; sorrowful; doleful; dismal (Removed from quote for ease of reading)
 Father Thomas Rosica on Mel Gibson's "The Passion", National Director of World Youth Day 2002 Weighs in on Film (2004-02-06)
 Andrew J. Webb’s excellent article: http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:E3yWWAGCuC8J:forums.5solas.org/showthread.php%3Fgoto%3Dlastpost%26t%3D1518+%22s 2/19/04
 Hebrews 10:17-18
 Hebrews 10:18
 Teaching power of the Roman Church
 Catechism of the Catholic Church Para 67
 “Dear children, this evening I pray that you especially venerate the Heart of my Son, Jesus. Make reparation for the wound inflicted on the Heart of My Son. That Heart is offended by all kinds of sin.” Words From Heaven: Messages of Our Lady from Medjugorje, 5th ed., (Birmingham, AL: St. James Publishing Company, 1991) Message of April 5, 1985, p. 162.
 II Corinthians 11:14
 Catechism, Para # 1674“Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc.” That such practices are wide spread in the Catholic world, see news item, “Replicas of the nails used to hang Jesus on the cross have become the red-hot official merchandise linked to Mel Gibson's controversial new movie, ‘The Passion of the Christ.’”
 Cathecism, Para # 958
 I Kings 14:7-20
 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch (Matthew 15:14).
 Revelation 2:16
 Hebrews 10:23
 I John 5:20-21