Is it appropriate to portray Jesus in movies?

By Jim Allen

A young man wrote to Got Questions and asked if portraying Jesus in movies and television is a good or bad thing. His question was interesting because I've thought about this same question on occasion. Of course, any attempt to portray Jesus in movies and television (though in some instances masterfully done) fails to capture the essence of who they are trying to portray (Isaiah 46:9).

Jesus is God personified in flesh, having put aside his glory to redeem humanity (John 3:16). In fact, Jesus, " ...being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6-7).

The apostle Paul writes, "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him" (Colossians 1:16). Jesus created the universe including this world and all living things. The design, complexity, beauty, and wonder of his creations are breathtaking and never-ending. But sadly, this truth about Jesus' commanding power over all creation is seldom told if ever.

Instead of portraying Jesus as God who set aside his glory to become the Lamb of God, film producers portray him as a social reformer, a good teacher, and morally upright. They portray him debating and confounding the wise, speaking in parables, performing miracles, and prophesying about future events. While all these portrayals are true, they are profoundly scant and barely an accurate depiction of his true majesty.

Over the years new Bible translations and hymnals have been altered to repackage the Gospel into a seeker friendly format minus the "heavy doctrine" about man's depravity (Romans 3:23), judgment (Romans 5:18), blood atonement (Colossians 1:20), and need for salvation (Romans 10:13). Jesus as the Lamb of God and King of Kings is a fading truth in many Bible translations and hymnals and consequently seldom heard any more from pulpits.

Sweeping these crucial truths out the door is widespread in independent churches and long-standing in mainline churches. As a result, we should not be surprised to see the Lamb of God label taken away from Jesus in the movies. Portraying the Savior on the silver screen without this label denies his divine priesthood and dilutes his ministry to nothing more than another gospel (Hebrews 4:14).

One recent "sweeping" occurred in The Bible series on the History Channel in 2013 and then again in the Son of God movie in 2014. These portrayals did a great job of portraying the humanity of Jesus in a way that was believable and persuasive. But, the denial of his role as the Lamb of God was a serious lapse and proof of apostasy (John 1:29). The article about the Son of God move, written by Houdmann, speaks to sweeping this particular truth out the door.

About the same movie Shelly Gettings wrote:
The contradictions are far from being minor...they were misleading. The scene where Jesus says: "I am the way the truth and the life..." and goes on to say, "I am the alpha and the omega..." leaves out the rest of the verse.
The rest of the verse says, " man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).

The world may be willing to recognize Jesus as a prophet from God (on the same level as Mohamad) but then seem to have a problem recognizing Jesus as Savior, God personified (John 10:30).

For the producers of these films to misrepresent what the Bible clearly teaches is disturbing and more than inconsistent; it is far from imprecise and more than exercising artistic license. To purposely delete any part of a whole truth, however slight and for whatever reason, is to change truth to lie. This is deception, in play made possible through the principle of omission. Worse yet, these omissions are growing and ongoing and hardly noticed anymore by anyone.

Regardless, the true meaning of the Gospel is being changed and according to the Bible this is rank apostasy (Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Timothy 4:1).

While movie producers are free to take whatever artistic license they chose, Christian advisors partake in apostasy when they do not challenge these omissions. These producers and their advisors do not have authority to change the meaning of the Bible. Jesus said no man comes to the Father but by Him (John 6:44). Tossing aside fundamental truths is never an option and is never okay.

Shawn Abigail writes:
When it comes to the message of the Gospel, there can be no compromise and no easy pass for false teachers. The reasons why are first, the Gospel is the core of Christianity and when you change the foundational truths, cracks appear in the entire gospel structure and weakens its holy purpose. Secondly, if ministers teach another gospel, people will be confused about the path to salvation and risk an uncertain eternity. Finally and most serious, minister who knowingly compromise the Gospel are an affront to the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Should Jesus be in movies? The answer to this young man's question is YES and NO.

Portraying Christ in movies and television is good when God can use the portrayal of Jesus (however incomplete and ill-conceived) as a way of guiding searching souls to truth (John 6:44). But I hesitate to rest merely on this admission. While God can use anything to get us going in the right direction, assuredly scripture will convict the heart to see all truth, both the good and bad. The apostle John wrote, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13).

One weekend while in college I saw the movie entitled The Greatest Story Ever Told. While watching the movie, I treasured the message of Christ. I remember thinking, "Oh, how I would like to have lived then and been one of his disciples." Within three years of the movie, I had developed an intense interest in the things of God. Although I was being led to salvation, I did not know nor would have ever thought it to be true based on my conduct. Although lost, God was at work in my life revealing (through reading the Bible (1 Peter 1:23)) the truth about my lost condition and need for the Savior.

The Bible portrayed Jesus to me one truth at a time over time, in ways movies and television never could. While God can save in an instant, it takes time to convert the soul to walk in truth by faith.

This particular movie was a biblical starting point used by God to bait my interest in Christ that eventually led to my salvation. Like the Tax Collector in Luke 18:13, God opened my eyes to see my sin and His sacrifice for that sin on the cross. I was heartbroken, grieved, and humbled by the picture of it all. I prayed to receive Christ and went on to experience a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As previously cited, portraying Jesus in movies and television can be bad when charlatans and blasphemers portray Christ as a mere man, claiming he is a prophet no greater than any other of God's servants. Movies and television series omitting scripture fundamental to the Christian faith send the wrong message. To omit or change the meaning of scripture transforms the Gospel into an empty creed founded on the ideas of men (1 Corinthians 15: 1-2; Galatians 1:8).

Perhaps this is why the Bible tells us not to make any graven images of God (Exodus 20:4). Mike Bennett writes:
God commands us not to make idols or any representation of Him. Nothing we can make can compare with Almighty God—human handiwork would only give us a false image of the true God. We are not to use statues, pictures, jewelry or anything else to represent God or as a physical aid in worshipping Him.
Is producing a movie about Jesus the same as making a graven image? It could be if the producer and audience use that image to define God. The Bible says, "Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female..." (Deuteronomy 4:16-19).

In closing, movies can be an image (perhaps even an idol for some) of what Jesus might have been like as a person during his time on earth. Diogo Morgado, in the Son of God movie, does a magnificent job of capturing the compassionate side of how the Savior might have lived and mingled among the people. But, Jesus was more than a man. He was God clothed in flesh (John 1:14) and his sacrificial undertaking far greater than revealed in today's movies.

While God can use movies and television for good, Satan can use both for bad and herein the precipice upon which we walk. Even though Diogo Morgado acted magnificently to portray a made-up Jesus, we are called to portray the real Jesus on the world's stage for all to see (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Let our performance be true and our life superbly glorious in Christ (Galatians 2:20).

Published 12-31-14