Christians are anticipating The Da Vinci Code movie with a mix of expectation and dread. The expectation is based on knowing that Jesus’ name will be, at least for a short time, on many tongues. This may create opportunities to discuss Him with friends, family neighbors and co-workers. The dread is based on the knowledge that Dan Brown, in his book, and thus in the film, took great liberties with history, presenting as factual a mix of fact, fiction and fantasy. He does not help the reader or watcher to know what is true and what is not, what is factual and what is only the product of his imagination. Brown is far from honest when he declares in the opening pages of his novel that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” It has been shown by men far more knowledgeable and capable than I am that this is, plain and simply, nonsense.
It was only two years ago that another film exploded into the box office, causing people to consider Jesus as perhaps they had not considered Him before. Christians heralded the arrival of this movie, defending the film and its creator from charges of being outrageously violent and being anti-semitic. They lauded the film–praised it–as being a beautiful, accurate, stunning portrayal of the last hours of Jesus’ life. Yet in many ways this film, The Passion of the Christ, took as many liberties with the truth as does The Da Vinci Code. Just as Dan Brown has an agenda that he seeks to further in the work of fiction he declares to be fact, so Mel Gibson, who wrote, produced and championed The Passion of the Christ wished to further an agenda in mixing truth with error, fact with fiction.
This time, though, Christians are not embracing the film. Nor should they. Yet there is no small amount of hypocrisy in overlooking the unbiblical agenda of one man, celebrating his film, while criticizing another and lamenting his film.
I posted an early review of The Passion of the Christ and followed this review with several articles dealing with topics ranging from the inaccuracies of the film to my reflections on how God might use it nevertheless. I received no small amount of grief for criticizing the film and questioning the discernment of those who gave it a blanket endorsement. My review was read by tens of thousands of people and I received countless comments and emails questioning my motives, exhorting me to repent for posting it and occasionally even encouraging me to persevere. I argued in the subsequent series of articles that The Passion of the Christ presented a distinctly Roman Catholic version of the events surrounding Jesus’ life. I showed that Mel Gibson, while faithful to the text of Scripture in some areas, was willing to part from historical fact when his Roman Catholic faith required that he do so. Gibson could have created a film that was simply accurate to the Scriptures. Had he done so, it would have been consistent with what Protestants believe about Jesus’ life and death. Alas, he did not. Rather, Gibson created a film that portrayed Jesus in a manner that is consistent with Roman Catholicism and thus is, in many important ways, inconsistent with Scripture.
It was disturbing to see how many prominent Christian leaders voiced their support for this film and what terms they used to do so. They described the movie as being “factually accurate,” “very accurate [in the details],” “realistic,” “biblical,” “an accurate account,” “a true representation of Jesus” and “close to the Scriptures.” In certain aspects of the film this was true. Yet in many cases it could not have been further from the truth.
Before I proceed, allow me to grant that there is a difference in scope and seriousness between the inaccuracies found in Gibson’s film and those found in The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown goes so far as to suggest that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, fathered a child with her, and intended for her to be his successor as head of the church. When we compare what Gibson presented in The Passion of the Christ to these claims, Gibson’s errors may seem trifling. Yet the errors the The Da Vinci Code do not come with the endorsement, recommendation and praise of a multitude of prominent Christian teachers and leaders! Neither will pastors encourage Christians to attend this movie as an act of devotion.
Allow me to present just two of the more serious errors, or series of errors, that clearly show that Mel Gibson was attempting to portray Jesus in a way that was consistent not with Scripture, but with his own agenda of furthering his Catholic understanding of the Christian faith.
The first concerns Mary, whose role in Christianity is an obvious and well-documented point of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. Mary was presented in a light far different than what we find in Scripture. Gibson, consistent with Catholic theology, showed her taking a role as a suffering servant, suffering along with Jesus. This is necessary for her to assume her role as “co-Mediatrix.” She is presented as being Jesus’ support and strength during His trials; many times Jesus falls and is unable to get up, but after looking at His mother He finds the strength to carry on; the disciples all call Mary “mother”; Mary is shown submitting her will to God’s, saying “so be it” as if her consent was necessary for God’s plan to proceed (in the same way that Jesus’ consent was necessary). This is clearly not the Mary of the Bible, but the Mary of the Roman Catholic Church who reigns beside Jesus as Queen of Heaven.
The second error concerns the source for much of Gibson’s material. As I proved conclusively in an article entitled The Gospel According to Emmerich, Gibson drew heavily from Sister Anne Emmerich’s devotional book entitled The Dolorous Passion of Christ. Emmerich is known to some as being a mystic, stigmatist, visionary, and prophet who supposedly received visions from God in which He provided to her details about Jesus’ last days that are not contained in the Bible. This extra-Biblical account of Jesus’ suffering provided many of the intricate but important details in the movie. Among these are some fairly innocuous details such as Simon and Jesus linking arms as they held the cross and Pilate’s wife providing a cloth to Mary which she used to wipe Jesus’ blood from the floor. But it also provided inspiration for some of the more pivotal details. Gibson put Emmerich’s words in the mouth of Peter in an expression of unworthiness before Mary. “0, Mother,” Peter said, “speak not to me-thy Son is suffering more than words can express: speak not to me!” Most troubling, though, is that The Dolorous Passion of Christ provided many of the words Jesus spoke. A great number of Jesus’ words from the movie are drawn not from the Bible but from Emmerich. The movie makes no attempt to show what was drawn directly from the Bible and what was drawn from extra-Biblical writing.
Christians were willing and eager to tolerate the abuse of Scripture when it suited their purposes. Churches around the globe (though mostly around the North American continent) mobilized to take advantage of the opportunity to reach people through The Passion of the Christ. Marketing companies proclaimed it the greatest evangelistic opportunity since Pentecost. Thousands of churches encouraged their members to attend. Millions did. Many churches bought thousands of tickets and gave them to members of the local communities. Mel Gibson made hundreds of millions of dollars, largely through the efforts of Protestants (money he has since used, in part, to build a largely private Roman Catholic church where he can celebrate his Pre-Tridentine brand of Catholicism). Evangelicals were only too pleased to part with their money to support this film. It was disturbing, tragic even, to see Protestants commit themselves so fully to a film that was, in so many ways, inaccurate and unbiblical.
The Da Vinci Code, when examined objectively, may well be less harmful than The Passion of the Christ. Most Christians know that it contains error and takes great liberties with historical fact. The lines have been firmly drawn. But in The Passion of the Christ Christians were told they were watching fact when much of what they were watching was mere fiction, fiction that would seek to draw them not to the Christ of the Bible, but to the Christ of Rome and to His mother. They were told that Mel Gibson was a brother in Christ, when in fact his Pre-Tridentine Catholicism rejects the faith of Protestants. Just like Dan Brown, Mel Gibson brought his movie before the public as part of a wider agenda. And like Brown, this agenda was distinctly anti-biblical. Is it consistent then, or is it hypocritical that evangelicals were willing to embrace The Passion of the Christ but are so dead-set against The Da Vinci Code?