My all-time favorite “Jesus” movie is undoubtedly Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 Jesus of Nazareth. A close runner-up would be the Campus Crusade for Christ 1979 movie, the “JESUS” film, which is probably the most widely viewed film in all of human history, translated into literally hundreds of languages. Not too shabby.
In recent years, there has been Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ. Now, this year there is Mark Burnett’s and Roma Downey’s Son of God, adapted from 2013’s miniseries, The Bible.
Jesus movies are never without criticism. Zeffirelli’s ancient Palestine Jesus had baby blue-eyes and a British accent, not something necessarily in the Gospel narratives. Zeffirelli was upset with Gibson’s portrayal of the Jews as being the primary party responsible for the death of Jesus. The JESUS film, perhaps the most “literal” of them all, was based on the Gospel of Luke, but the story did not always flow well together at times. I have a few friends that refuse to go to see Jesus films because in their view these films violate the Second Commandment by portraying an image of God that could easily be mistaken for the real Biblical Jesus.
But I like the Jesus film genre mainly for one reason… it is a great opportunity to talk with friends and neighbors who have seen the film about the Jesus of the Bible. If God can use these films to encourage people to dig into the Scriptures themselves, then despite their faults, I think they are worth it. So, if you are thinking of going to see Son of God, consider taking a friend or neighbor, and then go grab some coffee or ice cream afterwards and ask them what they thought about the movie. But do not just stop at that: then ask them if the movie lines up with what is found in the Bible. You never know how God might use that conversation.
Ben Witherington is one of evangelicalism’s finest New Testament scholars, and he his written a very helpful review of the new Son of God movie from the viewpoint of someone with exceptional expertise in New Testament scholarship. Witherington teaches at Asbury Seminary, a Wesleyan school in Kentucky. If you are unfamiliar with Witherington, you might want to glance at his approach to studying the Bible: “A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.”
Words of wisdom indeed.
What do you think?