Passion Evangelism

Roger Oakland and Jim Tetlow

On Ash Wednesday 2004, The Passion of the Christ premiered in North America. Never has a film on Christ's passion garnered so much attention. In its first two weeks the movie grossed well over 200 million dollars and is poised to become the highest grossing R-rated movie in history. Its subsequent release around the world has the potential to influence multiplied millions of viewers.

Though The Passion of the Christ was produced and directed by a devout Roman Catholic - Mel Gibson, Catholics are not alone in the endorsement of this monumental movie. Perhaps the greatest support for the movie comes from Evangelical Bible-believing Christians. In an effort to win souls to Christ, these Christians are sponsoring all types of evangelistic events that revolve around the movie.

Among Christians, there is great excitement about the evangelistic potential of this film. Millions of souls, who would normally never discuss Jesus Christ, are now openly talking about this movie, and about Jesus - who He was and why He died.

However, as this article will explain, endorsing the movie without explaining the gospel can be dangerous. The first reason is quite clear: The Passion of the Christ, as the name indicates, focuses mainly on the passion (the sufferings) of Christ. The movie does not adequately explain the significance of these events. Many have died for noble causes, but Christ's death is unique. As Christians, we should springboard from discussions surrounding the movie to explain the full meaning and purpose of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

Catholic Evangelism

Not surprisingly, many Catholics are also using the movie as an opportunity to evangelize. Ascension Press and Catholic Exchange have provided a Catholic guide and witnessing companion to the film entitled, "A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About 'The Passion of the Christ.'"President and author Matthew Pinto shared with ZENIT news agency how the book will help Catholics and non-Catholics understand the Eucharistic and Marian significance shown in the movie, know the case for Christ, learn about the Church Jesus instituted and respond accordingly in their faith lives.[1]In the interview, ZENIT asked author Matthew Pinto the following question - Why is a particularly Catholic guidebook important in order to understand the movie? Pinto replied:

A Catholic guide is necessary because the Gospels are completely Catholic, as is the movie. Even still, many will not see or understand the more sublime teachings that the director and writers are putting forth through this epic film.

A secular viewer, for instance, will probably not understand that the image of the serpent's head being crushed is a reference to Genesis 3:15. Likewise, the heavily Eucharistic and Marian emphasis of the film is something that a well-catechized Catholic will easily see, but many uncatechized Catholics and many Protestants will not deeply grasp.

As stated in the introduction to the book, understanding the profound Marian and Eucharistic imagery and theology really requires a deep understanding of Catholicism.

Our Protestant brothers and sisters, who are to be commended for their evangelical fervor and creativity in promoting this film, are generally not schooled in these issues.

Further, Matthew Pinto explained that this witnessing tool would provide a scene-by-scene commentary on the theological and artistic aspects of the film to help Catholics educate and evangelize non-Catholics. When asked Does the guide anticipate Protestant skepticism about the Eucharistic elements? he replied:

We simply explain the connection between the sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass.

The director uses a crosscutting technique in the movie that draws a parallel between the Last Supper and the crucifixion, and we explore this connection in the book.

The interview finished with this question - What response have you gotten from [Catholic] parishes and the faithful? Pinto concluded his interview with these words:

We were confident that the response would be strong, but it has been far stronger than we expected. People love it. Someone proposed to me that this book is likely the fastest selling book in Catholic history -- with advance sales of nearly 140,000 in two weeks -- thanks to the power of the Internet and the timeliness of the book in relation to this major Catholic cultural event.

I believe that the film presents one of the greatest watershed evangelization opportunities of our generation.

The Goal and Effect of The Passion of the Christ

Some have asked the question: was it Mel Gibson's intention for the film to focus on the Catholic Eucharist and Mary? In an interview given on EWTN, while explaining the very moving and emotional and efficacious aspects of the Catholic Latin Mass, Mr. Gibson stated his goal and intention for making this film:

The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar - which is the same thing.[5]

This interview was broadcast around the globe on EWTN - the world's largest Catholic television broadcasting organization. Of course, all Catholics are required by Rome to believe that Christ is repeatedly sacrificed on Catholic altars at every Mass. Might this movie influence others to embrace this unbiblical belief?


Though the lasting affects of this movie will not be known for some time, it has already had a profound influence on the cast and crew. Jim Cavaziel - the actor who played Jesus, explained how those involved in the film were changed. In the following statement made by Carl Limbacher taken from an article titled Mel Gibson's Christ Reveals Crucifixion, written January 25, 2004, we are told that many in the crew converted to Catholicism:


In his first media interview anywhere about his starring role in Mel Gibson's much anticipated film The Passion of the Christ, James Cavaziel - Gibson's Jesus - detailed on Friday the ordeal of filming the Crucifixion scenes, noting that the overall experience prompted many in the crew to convert to Catholicism. [6]


Further, Cavaziel stated that the filming of Christ's story really changed people's lives.[7] According to the interview, Cavaziel also told Gibson, I think it's very important that we have Mass every day - at least I need that to play this guy.[8] Then one further statement that focuses in on the heart of the issue. Cavaziel said: I felt if I was going to play him I needed the sacrament in me. Gibson provided that.[9] Of course, the sacrament Cavaziel was referring to, is the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is the heart and core of the Roman Catholic faith. As we have shown in chapter 4 of this book, the Eucharistic Christ is not the biblical Christ. We also know that having the sacrament in me is of no spiritual value. Do these men understand the biblical gospel? 

The Mary Connection


In an article written by Catherine L. Keefe called Journey of an Actor's Soul, Jim Caviezel shared how Mary prepared him to play this momentous role. Keefe, writing about Caviezel's spiritual journey stated:


[Jim's] faith has grown in fits and starts. Some of his spiritual awakenings revolve around the Blessed Mother, the Rosary, and Medjugorje, Bosnia, where many believe the Virgin Mary has been appearing since 1981. He visited the site in November 2000. [10]


The article explained what took place when Jim Caviezel prayed with Ivan Dragicevic, a visionary from Medjugorje who travels the world speaking about his encounters with Mary. At first Caviezel was doubtful about Ivan and his visions. However his prayer with Dragicevic changed the actor's mind. Quoting from the article:


I said to Ivan, Hey, I'm here, is she in this room? Dragicevic assured him that Mary was there, so Caviezel prayed, saying, I don't know if I can believe you're here, but if you are, go ahead and microwave me. Go ahead and do whatever you have to do to my soul. He felt a sudden, encompassing peace. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life, he says. [11]


Caviezel wears a gold medal of Our Lady of Medjugorje on a gold chain around his neck, one of three medals. He also has a cross-shaped scapular that declares: I am a Catholic, please call a priest. The third depicts Pope John Paul II. [12]One more statement from the actor who plays the role of Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson's The Passion fo the Christ gives more insight into what Caviezel believes:

Caviezel grows animated as he explains how Mary brings him closer to her Son Jesus, whose presence in the Eucharist is so meaningful to him. The Eucharist, he explains, inspires him to turn away from sin. That, in turn, makes his prayer life more sincere. [13]

Finally, in another interview recorded by the official Medjugorje website, Mr. Caviezel reiterates how Mary at Medjugorje prepared him to play the role of Jesus -

The catharsis for me to play this role was through Medjugorje, through Gospa. In preparation, I used all that Medjugorje taught me. Mel Gibson and I were going every day for Mass together. Some days I couldn't go for Mass, but I was receiving the Eucharist. [14]

Cavaziel also has explained the role he believes the apparition of Mary played in bringing the film to life:

This film is something I believe was made by Mary for her Son. Because it was made by her, it will be attacked by the enemy.[15]


The Catholic Mary?

By searching the Scriptures, we know that the Mary of the apparitions is of demonic origin, and that the Eucharistic Jesus is a false christ. As Bible-believing Christians we must use every opportunity to explain who Jesus is and clarify the gospel of grace to those who are confused. However, many Christians are apparently unaware that the producer of The Passion embraces a false christ and an unbiblical Mary. In fact, Mel Gibson endorses the Catholic notion that Mary is a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix. In an interview with Christianity Today, Mel told of his amazement that evangelical Christians were among the most receptive to his film depiction of Christ and Mary. Here are two excerpts from the interview:


I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has - hands down - responded to this film more than any other Christian group. What makes it so amazing, he says, is that the film is so Marian.[16]  Gibson knows that Protestants don't regard Mary in the way Catholics do. And Gibson goes beyond many when he calls her a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix.[17] 


During The Passion, we see much of Jesus's agony through Mary's eyes. The strong spiritual link between Jesus and Mary is prominent throughout the movie. Her participation, her co-redemptrix work, is also suggested in the film. Yet, many Christians do not recognize the significance. Two more quotes from the Christianity Today article show that the response to the Mary of the movie has been profound:


Gibson says, The way the film displays [Mary] has been kind of an eye opener for evangelicals who don't understand the reality of a mother and a son.[18]  And that is what I observed: After both of The Passion screenings I attended, the Protestant women talked about identifying with Mary as a mother who was watching her child suffer. From whatever point in his spirituality Gibson's treatment of Mary is springing, it is touching deeply the maternal impulse in his viewers. [19]


Of course Mary did suffer during her Son's passion. [20] However, the biblical narrative does not focus on Mary. The focus of the Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - is the Father's great love for mankind. The eternal God and Creator demonstrated His great love for the world by sending His only begotten Son to die for our sins. While Jesus does call on the Father several times in the movie, Mary is given a much more prominent role than the Bible gives her. Where did Mel receive his inspiration to include these unbiblical scenes? 

The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Mr. Gibson has publicly stated that his film is based, in part, on visions and messages received by a 19th century Catholic mystic. The revelations and visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich are contained in the book entitled - The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The book states, she was accustomed to have divine knowledge imparted to her in visions of all kinds, and was often favored by visits from the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven.[21] The back cover of the book gives this description:


The Dolorous Passion recounts with incredible precision the horrendous sufferings undergone by our Savior in His superhumanly heroic act of Redemption. Also illuminating is its description of Mary's participation in the sufferings of her Son, so that this book gives the reader a poignant understanding of why Our Lady is often called our Co-Redemptrix and Queen of Martyrs.[22]


The Dedication page reads: To the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Help of Christians, and Refuge of the Human Race.[23] Because of the tremendous interest in The Passion of the Christ, this book has become an instant best seller. Catholic bookstores rightly market it as The Book That Inspired Mel Gibson to Film The Passion Of The Christ.[24]The following quotes taken directly from Anne Catherine Emmerich's book, will confirm that Mel Gibson received much of his unbiblical Marian and eucharistic scenes from this Catholic visionary:


The Blessed Virgin was ever united to her Divine Son by interior spiritual communications; she was, therefore, fully aware of all that happened to him - she suffered with him, and joined in his continual prayer for his murderers. [25]  I soon after saw Mary and Magdalen approach the pillar where Jesus had been scourged; they knelt down on the ground near the pillar, and wiped up the sacred blood with the linen Claudia Procles [Pontius Pilate's wife] had sent. [26]  [at the foot of the cross] the Blessed Virgin, filled with intense feelings of motherly love, entreated her Son to permit her to die with him[27]  She looked once more upon her beloved Son - the flesh of her flesh, the bone of her bone, the heart of her heart. [28]


There are many other unbiblical inclusions in the film that come straight from this book. For example, in the movie, after Peter denies Jesus, he falls at Mary's feet and says, Mother, I have denied Him. (This episode is from page 174 of the book). The unbiblical character Veronica who wipes Jesus's bloody face is taken straight from the book as well (pages 258-259). The manner that Mary receives and cradles Jesus (Pieta style) is also directly from this book (page 316). 

The Eucharist in the Film and Book

Another major theme of The Dolorous Passion is its repeated references to the Eucharistic Jesus. In the book, as in the movie, Jesus refers to the cup as the chalice both in the Garden of Gethsemane and at the Last Supper. Catholics will understand this eucharistic reference. Additionally, the Last Supper reenactment also comes straight from the book:

Jesus was seated between Peter and John, the doors were closed, and everything was done in the most mysterious and imposing manner. When the chalice was taken out of its covering, Jesus prayed, and spoke to his Apostles with the utmost solemnity. I saw him giving than an explanation of the Supper, and the entire ceremony, and I was forcibly reminded of a priest teaching others to say Mass. [29]

The book is replete with references to the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Real Presence, and the Blessed Eucharist. Not surprising, during the movie, when you see the bread unwrapped, the camera flashes to a scene of Jesus being stripped. As Jesus's blood is dripping from the cross, the camera flashes to a scene where wine is being poured into a chalice during the Last Supper. In the movie, when accusations are being hurled at Jesus at his trial, John 6 is quoted by an irate Jew saying that this man said we must eat his body and drink his blood for eternal life. This scene is also straight from the book. [30] Of course, this accusation is not recorded in the Bible, but the film's implication is clear - The stubborn false accusers deny transubstantiation, while those faithful to Jesus know this is the key to eternal life. Here is one last excerpt from the book that concurs with Mel's Catholic beliefs:

It was made known to me (Emmerich) that these [evil manifestations] were all those persons who in divers ways insult and outrage Jesus, really and truly present in the Holy Sacrament. I recognized among them all those who in any way profane the Blessed Eucharist. [31]

Lasting Effects

Understandably, many Christians are unaware of the Catholic references in the movie. The extra-biblical scenes are seen as simply artistic license or harmless Catholic affinities. However, this is clearly not the case.

Mel Gibson has stated that the movie reflects my beliefs.[32] He also has said, "There is no salvation for those outside the [Catholic] Church, I believe it."[33] Though Mel has flip-flopped on this since, it is clear that Mel is a Catholic director with Catholic theological advisors, producing a Catholic movie, intended to evangelize people into the Catholic Church. According to the Catholic website, Catholic Passion Outreach:

The Passion of the Christ offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to spread, strengthen, and share the Catholic faith with your family and friends. [34]

Michael Brown, a Catholic author and provider of the website Spirit Daily, has written and reported on The Passion of the Christ extensively on his website. In his February 28th 2004 article entitled "Passion is seen as a movie with potential to cause profound and lasting effects," he explains the role the movie may have in uniting Christians.


Granted, it's only a movie, but it could help unite Christians. I have never seen a better possibility for popular ecumenical dialogue. We all have common ground - and though Gibson is Catholic (a traditionalist at that), his most fervent support so far has come from Baptists, Pentecostals, and Evangelicals. [35]

Besides the films potential for uniting Christians and spurring ecumenical dialogue, Mr. Brown notes some other potential results of the movie:

Another [effect] involves Mary. This movie presents the Blessed Mother in a way that reintroduces her to Protestants. They are able to see her as someone they can relate to. She is down to earth. They will laugh with her. They will cry with her. They'll more fully appreciate (as will everyone else) what she went through. Hopefully, they'll grow to love her.  During the Last Supper scenes, they may also gain a better understanding of the Eucharist. [36] 


Our Commission

There is no doubt that Mel Gibson is sincere. He and the multitudes of Catholics who have embraced the Catholic Mary and the Eucharistic Jesus are earnest in their desire to lead souls into the Catholic Church. However, though sincere, they are also deceived. Not all Catholics are aware of Rome's unbiblical teachings concerning Mary and the Eucharist. Nevertheless, many have embraced these deceptions. May we, as believers, heed Paul's final exhortation to Timothy:

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [37]       

As Christians, we must be equipped to present the truth in love. Often this requires that we expose deception with the light of God's Word. Remember also that there is much good resulting from this controversy. Many Christians have been given a unique platform to give public testimony of why Jesus died and rose from the dead. Many other Christians are using the movie as an opportunity to witness at theaters and other venues. People are searching for spiritual meaning, purpose, and satisfaction. May the Lord enable each one of us by His Holy Spirit to be faithful witnesses to this generation. May we testify of the Word of Truth [38] and point souls to the Word of Life - Jesus Christ. [39]

[1] February 17, 2004. Article entitled: A Guide to "The Passion of the Christ" Matthew Pinto on a Resource to Explain the Movie and Its Message. Feb. 23, 2004 (

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


[6]  Carl Limbacher,,

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Catherine L. Keefe

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] accessed March 10, 2004. Article also available at

[15] Ibid.

[16]  March 6, 2004.

[17]  Ibid.

[18]  Ibid.

[19]  Ibid.

[20] Simeon?s prophecy in Luke 2:35 anticipates this.

[21] Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, page 3.

[22] Ibid., back cover.

[23] Ibid., dedication page.

[24], March 12, 2002.

[25]  Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, p. 3, page 172.

[26] Ibid., pages 224-225.

[27] Ibid., page 283.

[28] Ibid., page 294.

[29] Ibid., page 83.

[30] Ibid., page 158.

[31] Ibid., page 114.

[32] accessed February 17, 2004

[33] The New Yorker, September 15, 2003

[34] accessed March 11, 2004


[36] Ibid.

[37] 2 Timothy 4: 2-5

[38] Ephesians 1:13

[39] 1 John 1: