Over the weekend the latest “larger-than-life story of The New Testament” received a “larger-than-life treatment in the stand-along feature SON OF GOD.” At least that’s what the blurb on the official website said. But, after sitting and watching this “epic” movie about Jesus for over two hours, twice, larger-than-life actually means convoluted, with an extraordinary twisting of the New Testament to create a Jesus that he warned against.
The movie itself is produced by the husband and wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the latter of which also cast herself as Jesus’ mother, Mary. Roma was also instrumental in producing The Bible television series, which, depending on who one talked to, also depended on whether it was loved or hated. From my perspective, although I did not view the series, anytime someone is endorsed by Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and/or T. D. Jakes, then that ought to send up red flags of warning that deception abounds.
I had originally critiqued this movie once, but chose to see the movie a second time, simply because the movie is so disorderly that it took me two viewings to try and make sense of it. Call me slow in the uplink, but it was just that hard for me to wrap my mind around.
After the second trip to the theater, though, I am persuaded that the Jesus portrayed in this movie is not about the Son of God, but about the figment of another lost person’s imagination, who selectively borrowed a wide range of themes from the Bible and then imposed an aberrant theology upon it. In other words, one ends up with “another Jesus,” as the Apostle Paul wrote about in his warning to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:4), when others were doing the same thing at that time, with the exception that there were no cameras and special effects around to help them.
The problem with a linear critique of this movie begins by noting that there is nothing linear about the movie in the first place. That is why I labeled it “convoluted” above, since there are so many anachronisms, embellishments, and outright distortions of Scripture. To try and straighten it all out would require a small book in itself. At best all one can hopefully do is point out a few examples of just how twisted the movie is, and then leave it up to whomever to see it themselves, hopefully with some advanced warning.
The opening scene begins with John the Beloved isolated in a cave. Only those familiar with the Bible, and particularly the Gospel of John (since John 1:1 is quoted) and the Book of Revelation, would know this, since nothing is stated at the outset who the character is. The knowledgeable viewer is left with the assumption that the Son of God story is going to be told from John’s perspective, but as already noted, there are so many conflicting scenes throughout that such an assumption is completely dashed shortly after the opening shifts to another scene.
The first error occurs early on, shortly after Jesus’ birth, when he is in the manger and the three wise men show up to pay homage to him. Not only is Jesus’ birth not recorded in John’s Gospel, this a common error that many Christians make, especially around Christmas time.
As is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 2:11 cf. 2:16), the wise men do no show up until Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have left the manger and are living in a house—two years later! While such a scene tugs at the emotions and garners favor during the Christmas presentation at church, it is erroneous in terms of what the Bible has revealed about Jesus’ birth and those men from the east who come to acknowledge him.
A faulty theme is also seen toward the beginning of the movie, and is repeated throughout, when Jesus meets Peter for the first time. As a work of fiction Jesus offers to help Peter in his fishing effort, since Peter had been unable that day to catch any fish. Peter at first resists, but when Jesus says to him, “Peter; just give me an hour, and I will give you a whole new life,” Peter changes his tune. Eventually they end up out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus stirs the water with his hand and Peter begins to catch fish by the net-full. After asking Jesus what he did, Jesus responds by saying, “I’m giving you the chance to change your life.” It is the faulty concept of chance, that is later repeated when Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector, that plays itself out time and again.
Changing one’s life or attaining salvation have absolutely nothing to do with chance. They occur according to God’s purpose, plan, and design. Chance, though, has everything to do with an equally fallacious assumption about humans, which is that they are free to do whatever they will, including either the acceptance of God’s redemption or the denial thereof.
If chance and human autonomy were true, then not only was the Son of God’s appearance in the world vain (Gal. 2:21), but so was the production of this movie. Men and women could simply earn their way back to God with a little luck. Yet, Jesus’ coming was not in vain, meaning that this movie only served to undermine his coming, not accentuate it.
Another error in the Jesus-Peter exchange happened in response to Peter’s question, after Jesus invites him to follow him. Peter asks, “What are we going to do?” Jesus asserts, “Change the world.” That is an abject lie. It is was never Jesus’ mission to “change the world,” but as the Gospel of Luke records, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:10). John, who was alluded to earlier, also wrote that, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). So, right out of the gates we have another Jesus whose mission is contrary to the one stated in Scripture. We have a self-help “Son of God,” rather than a savior who will give the devil his due reward by undoing his diabolical works to destroy man and mock God.
Aside from taking the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13) and conflating it with Jesus’ healing of the paralytic that had been lowered through the roof (Mk. 2), as well as the conflation of Matthew’s call to follow him (Matt. 9) with the lowly sinner (Lk. 18) in contrast with the Pharisees, all of which occur before Jesus Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), among other twists and turns, there was the blatant misquote of Jesus which is found in John 14:6.
John 14:6 reads, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’” Jesus had just got done predicting his future demise to his disciples, but also promised his return. That where he was going was to prepare a place for his followers in his Father’s house. Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question is one of exclusiveness. There are no other ways into God’s kingdom except through Jesus. It is the latter part of Jesus’ assertion that the producers leave out, twice, that serve to expose this Jesus created by Burnett and Downey as the son of someone other than God.
Another bogus recounting of events occurs during the raising of Lazarus from the tomb (Jn. 11). In the movie revision Jesus enters the tomb, after being only confronted by Martha, and then speaks with Lazarus while Martha looks on. Jesus, while standing at the head of Lazarus’s body, bows down and appears to kiss him on the top or his head and voila! His eyes open, he recognizes Martha, he gets up and walks out of the tomb. Forget the burial wrappings. Forget the biblical account of Jesus standing outside the tomb and calling out, “Lazarus, come forth.” Forget the shortest verse in the Bible where it says, “Jesus wept,” in reference to Lazarus. With so much forgetting going on, who needs the Bible?
One particularly curious scene occurs when Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Great jubilation abounds everywhere. The people of the city are ecstatic to see him, laying palm branches in his path as he rides in on a donkey. So far, so good. Then, out of the blue, and not recorded in the Bible, Barabbas confronts Jesus, demanding that he set the Jews free from Roman oppression. Jesus silences Barabbas by holding out his hand and then proceeds to enter the Temple. In essence, we have another bogus scene that has nothing to do with the Son of God and everything to do with highlighting a person (i.e. Barabbas) who had minimal exposure in the Bible.
Added to the embellishment of Barabbas is the embellishment of Pilate’s wife, and perhaps even Pilate himself. Both receive an inordinate amount of attention in this movie, which is interesting given that Downey, herself, had said elsewhere that she intentionally left the devil out of the movie so that Jesus would receive all the attention.
Well, Pilate’s wife becomes a veritable sage herself, as well as an attention-getter, since she has a dream (Matt. 27:19) and then confronts Pilate more than once concerning his handling of Jesus. Even Pilate is a focal point throughout the movie with his harsh treatment of the Jewish people, Jewish authorities, and then Jesus himself. While the devil may have lost some formal attention himself, he makes up for it in an indirect supporting role.
Then there’s the betrayal of Jesus scene. Up to this point Judas Iscariot had been colluding with the Jews to have Jesus arrested and tried, but it is at the Last Supper that things get a little weird. Not only do the producers put words in the mouths of the disciples that were spoken in another context (Jn. 14:1-6), Jesus says and does something that is not recorded in the Bible when he identifies his betrayer. When asked who it is that will betray him, Jesus says, “Whoever eats this,” and then turns to Judas and sticks a piece of bread in his mouth. Judas jumps up and leaves, and then later regurgitates the force-fed morsel. All I could do was laugh, although quietly, while shaking my head.
Then, when Jesus is confronted by the Jewish and Roman authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane, a riot nearly breaks about as instigated by Peter. After Judas comes and kisses Jesus, Peter delivers a “kiss” of his own by running up and slugging Judas, calling him a “Traitor!” Of course, Malchus’s ear is then cut off and healed. But the whole scene, which is clearly an embellishment of what is recorded in Scripture, is wild to say the least. Additionally, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden is enhanced by the bogus accounts of the Jewish and Roman officials praying at the same time in their respective sanctuary’s. What one has is a tiny nugget of truth combined with a heavy overdose of Hollywood nonsense.
At Jesus’ kangaroo court hearing, Burnett and Downey revised it to exclude the false witnesses and then conflated it to include false testimony—yet not all of it—and then also left out the question about Jesus as the Christ. Given Downey’s New Age background, that is probably typical, since most New Agers do not see Christ as a person, but as a principle. And in Jesus’ case, the Christ principle simply rested on him for a while and then departed at his death. In this case, they had the Jewish authorities asking about his Sonship and left the Messiah part out, and then condemned him accordingly for blasphemy.
The scourging and crucifixion of Jesus in this movie are graphic, but do not approach the level of blood and guts that Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ did. That said, however, the imagery is pretty brutal and hard to watch. Of course, the storyline is severely abbreviated and Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Mary Magdalene, along with John, stand nearby (where was Mary, the wife of Cleopas? cf. Jn. 19:26) throughout the ordeal, which is contrary to the biblical record (see Jn. 19:27). Moreover, Jesus is not nearly as physically obliterated as either the Passion or the Bible depict him to be. In fact, toward the end he’s looking around as if he’s admiring the darkened clouds rolling in.
An interesting omission occurs shortly after Jesus announces that he’s giving up his spirit on the cross. The Bible records that because the Sabbath was about to commence, it was against Jewish custom to leave dead bodies on the cross. Therefore, the Roman guard would come along and break the legs of the victims to hasten death, and then they could be taken down. Although Jesus had already expired, neither of the two prisoners crucified with him had. Yet, their legs were not broken. Jesus, however, was pierced with the Roman’s spear, but only a little blood was found on the end of it, not blood and water as John records (19:34).
Another revision of Jesus’ crucifixion occurred right after his death. In the movie the two Marys and John receive Jesus’ body for preparation for burial, while the Bible tells us that it was Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who performed the preparation! Now, Nicodemus does show up and eulogize Jesus at the dwelling where apparently Mary lived. That said, we simply have another biblical error to go along with a boatload of others.
Several glaring problems are evident with Jesus’ return after three days in the tomb. First, Burnett and Downey have Mary Magdalene arrive at the tomb in broad daylight, rather than early in the morning “while it was still dark” (Jn. 20:1). Second, she is by herself, rather than with “the other Mary” (Mt. 28:1). Third, she finds the stone rolled away, but there is no earthquake nor an angel perched atop the stone that had covered the tomb (Mt. 28:2). Fourth, there was no Roman or Temple guard present, even though surely one must have been appointed after the Jewish officials confronted Pilate (Mt. 28:4 cf. 27: 64-66). Sixth, Jesus, in the movie, tells Mary not to be afraid, rather than the angel (Mt. 28:5). Seventh, Jesus tells Mary to go inform the disciples, rather than the angel (Mt. 28:7). Eighth, there is no mention in the movie of Jesus having the appearance of the gardener which contributed to Mary’s momentary confusion. Ninth, Mary clings to Jesus in the biblical account, but he suddenly disappears after giving her the order to go tell the rest about him. Finally, only Peter shows up to investigate Mary’s claim, while there is no mention of “the other disciple” (most likely John) who accompanies him in the Bible.
In short, the post-resurrection movie account of Jesus is a complete mess of conflicted story-telling that has very little to do with the biblical account. The same conflict carries over in a highly revised great commission statement by Jesus. Rather than simply tell his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of the age” the movie version has Jesus telling them, “The Holy Spirit can be with you wherever you are. Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Peace be with you.” Then, poof. He disappears, though not on a cloud, as is recorded in Scripture (Acts 1:9)
As the movie began, so it ends, in the cave with John. With some extraneous commentary attributed to John, he tells the audience that all died for their testimony, except him. He is living out his life in exile. Then guess who shows up? Why, it’s none other than Jesus! After recounting the misquote of John 14:6, Jesus asserts that he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). He then promises John that there will be no more death, crying, pain, etc., and that he is making all things new. An emotional John can hardly control himself, as Jesus appeals to the “grace of the Lord be with all,” which is nothing more than another embellishment not found in Scripture.
Now you know, at least in part, why this movie about the Son of God is such a convoluted mess. Was it better than a diabolical slasher film or maybe even a skin-flick? That’s a tough question to answer, since the motive behind slasher films and skin-flicks is to horrify, shock, or titillate the movie-goer. In most instances the audience wants the bad guy, so to speak, to die or be captured and punished, or, the movie-goer just wants to be left alone to drool. Such is not the case here, since most people’s conception of Jesus is that he is a good guy that ought to be followed.
The problem, though, with this particular portrayal of Jesus is that by biblical standards, he IS a bad guy wearing sheep’s clothing, a Hollywood smile, and speaking soft, soothing words. Very few people are biblically literate enough to discern that they are being duped. So, the majority will walk away thinking that they have learned something about Jesus, when the reality is, they have learned about an imposter. Worse yet, they will have learned nothing about what the Bible says about him, and will end up following the imposter!
So, is a slasher or skin film better? Probably, since a Trojan Horse to the mind is ultimately going to be more devastating to the person than a frontal, open attack that temporarily shocks or stimulates the senses. The Son of God in this movie is a psycho-spiritual Trojan Horse!
This movie about the Son of God, therefore, should not be attended by anyone who does not have a firm grasp on the Bible. It is twisted (convoluted), is filled with endless distortions of events, including conflations of Scriptural passages that add to the distortions, and in the end presents a false gospel of human self-governance. What one has here is not the Son of God, but simply another Jesus, among many, who in the latter days were to proliferate.
Jesus warned, “For many will come in My name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:5). “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, there is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is, do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance” (Matt. 24:23-25).
May the prudent beware.