Questions and Answers: The Passion of the Christ--Biblically Accurate?
Is the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ, biblically accurate?
Hollywood rarely, if ever, represents the Bible accurately when it ventures into the arena of biblical history. Its depictions of Bible events usually are adjusted and supplemented with extrabiblical details. Nevertheless, Mel Gibson’s blockbuster recreation of the final hours of Jesus’ life on Earth depicts the major events quite credibly. The movie is particularly accurate in its cinematic portrayal of the attitude and actions of Pilate, the Jewish hierarchy, and the Jewish mob. Both the scourging scene and the actual crucifixion match substantially the extant historical reports of these Roman forms of punishment and execution—with perhaps one exception, i.e., the placement of the nails in Jesus’ hands (cf. Harrub and Thompson, 2002).
However, the movie does contain several nonbiblical allusions. For example, a single squadron of Jewish guards arrests Jesus in the garden, whereas the gospel accounts include a large angry mob with the Jewish officers (Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:47). After His arrest, Jesus is shoved off a bridge to dangle from a chain. As He is hoisted upward, He sees one of the disciples (Judas) hiding beneath the bridge. Mary Magdalene is linked with the adulterous woman of John 8. After Christ’s scourging, women sop up Jesus’ blood with towels provided by Pilate’s wife. Mary, experiencing a flashback to Christ’s childhood, comforts Jesus as He transports the cross to Golgotha. Simon of Cyrene, the man chosen by the Romans to assist Jesus with the cross, is given considerable dialogue. Mary is given an exaggerated role, and frequently is addressed as “mother,” in keeping with Catholic tradition (Gibson is Catholic). A raven pecks the eye of one of the thieves hanging beside Jesus. Yet the Bible says nothing of these details. Perhaps a more serious deviation is Satan’s attempt to discourage Jesus from subjecting Himself to the ordeal. In contrast, the New Testament depicts Satan as a central instigator of the event, apparently unaware of the ultimate spiritual and eternal implications for atonement (Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 12:1-5).
Despite such alterations to the biblical record, Gibson is to be commended for achieving his primary purpose: to give the viewer a deeper awareness of the suffering of Christ.
Harrub, Brad and Bert Thompson (2002), “An Examination of the Medical Evidence for the Physical Death of Christ,” Reason & Revelation, 22:1-7, January.