March 1st, 2004
Back to Opinion page.
Is watching "The Passion" a sin?
There is a growing concern that Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ", has an anti-Semitic tone or nurtures seeds of hatred against Jews, or both. Not having seen the movie, I cannot comment on whether it carries an anti-Semitic message. However, I do have a few generic comments on the matter.
I think concerns about this movie generating anti-Semitism are overblown. It is true that the Jewish leaders of the day wanted to see Jesus Christ murdered, and while a mob consisting mainly of Jews called for His death. But for clear-thinking individuals not already predisposed to hate Jews, depicting Christ's death should not incite hatred. The Jews of today have no guilt over what their ancestors did 2000 years ago. I don't doubt that some will use this film to further demonize Jews as "Christ killers". That is unfortunate, but it is the price we pay for free speech. It is important to remember that we, in a free society, have the opportunity to refute this hate.
A bigger concern for me is the attitude some Christians have toward this movie, not in regards to anti-Semitism but as it pertains to the second of the Ten Commandments. Specifically, God's Word commands us that:
There are some who are concerned that making an image of Jesus Christ on film violates the Second Commandment.
I do not believe watching "The Passion" is a violation of the Second Commandment. I think when God refers to "graven images" He clearly means graven images meant for worship. The second part of the Second Commandment makes this clear:
A Commandment making it a sin to make any image of something in Heaven or on earth would be so restrictive as to eliminate art, paintings, sculpture, etc.
In fact, the Bible contains examples of where God commands the use of images. Someone on my church's Yahoo Group made the point that, in Numbers 21:8-9, God commands Moses to make a brass serpent which the Isrealites would look upon and be healed. However, when the Israelites sinned before God by burning incense to the serpent, King Hezekiah destroyed it.
My concern with Christians going to see "The Passion" is that they will do so not to see a well-made movie, but as an act of worship. This is where I am concerned that Christians come dangerously close to violating the Second Commandment. The actor on the screen is not Jesus, but a representation of Him. Revering a film depiction of Christ's crucifixion is dangerously close to worshiping the depiction rather than worshiping God.
With the above in mind, I feel that I must make it clear that Christians are not under the Law, but under Grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this very clear.
We are not obligated to follow the Law as a condition of salvation. In fact, those who emphasize works are seriously insulting God, as if to say His death on the cross was great but not quite enough to save us. I am in no way suggesting that following the Second Commandment is a requirement for salvation. But while we are not under the law, Christians can still sin, and must guard against sin in our lives. I am concerned that the attitude some Christians have toward "The Passion" will lead them into the very serious sin of idolatry.
Christian worship must be centered on Christ and the study of His Word, not on a theatrical depiction of Christ's death. If someone wants to go see the movie, that is fine. If some are inspired by the movie to delve deeper into study of the Word and to get more involved in their church, that is certainly a good thing. But this is only a movie, not a message from God, and Christians must keep that in mind.