For: extreme falsification of biblical-historical events, strong promotion of christological heresy, pervasive mysticism, de-supernaturalization of scripture, and a twisted view of justice and tolerance
The Greatest Story Ever Told, so called, is a perverse retelling of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, replete with errors, additions and heresies too twisted and too diverse for any sane human being to maintain them all. The movie is so aggressively anti-biblical that a nonconforming encounter with it could be nausea-inducing, and knowingly submitting to it would border on mental and spiritual assisted suicide.
Note: The main character in this film is referred to in this review strictly as “the main character”. In the movie he is called Jesus of Nazareth.
Extreme Falsification of Biblical-Historical Events
The movie is full, from beginning to end, of both subtle and obvious rejections of the biblical account, some of them potentially accidental, most of them clearly intentional.
The main character is “charged with sedition, sorcery and blasphemy.” Sorcery was not among the charges brought against Christ, and in the movie the insinuation that the main character was practicing sorcery is never resolved. Also, in the movie there are no false witnesses against the main character.1
Only a small group of people go out to John the Baptist in the movie. Biblically, “all Judea” went out to him2—an intentionally hyperbolic statement that does, significantly, imply more than a tiny percentage. The movie’s deviation from scripture on this point implies, falsely, that Christianity was a margin religion with relatively few followers.
John the Baptist talks excitedly about the main character’s army, which does not exist. Biblically, John the Baptist was never confused about Christ’s mission or methods.
Scenes portraying Herod and the slaughter of the innocents3, the baptism of the main character4, his temptation5, the calling of the disciples6, the woman caught in adultery7, the woman with the issue of blood8, the raising of Lazarus9, and the main character’s arrest and execution10, are filled with significant deviations from the biblical accounts, too numerous to mention individually in this context.
For more serious examples of the falsification of events in this film, see Strong Promotion of Christological Heresy, Pervasive Mysticism, De-Supernaturalization of Scripture, and Severe Moral and Theological Confusion, below.
Strong Promotion of Christological Heresy
The movie’s portrayal of the crucifixion and of the third day following leave alarmingly comfortable room for several heretical alternatives to a literal resurrection. It is, in fact, impossible to establish the resurrection, or even the main character’s death, from the movie’s portrayal of events.
The heresy of the Swoon Theory, which suggests that Jesus did not die on the cross but merely swooned, is thoroughly accommodated in the movie in the unbiblical representation of the crucifixion. In clear rejection of the scriptural account, the main character does not cry with a loud voice11, is never stabbed with a spear to verify his death12, and, incidentally, has his eyes only half closed when he appears to die. The main character’s physical state is also unbiblically healthy prior to the crucifixion, with no sweat like blood to indicate severe mental and physical anguish13, and with the main character only needing some assistance carrying the cross14.
The heresy of the Stolen Body Theory is sanctioned in the movie’s anti-biblical assertion that the guards at the tomb claimed they saw nothing unusual at all. Biblically and historically, the guards not only saw the angel rolling away the stone and heard his statements to the women seeking Jesus’ body, but told the chief priests privately what they had seen and heard. Biblically and historically, the priests then asked the guards to lie and claim publicly that they were sleeping and that someone stole Jesus’ body.15 In the movie, the guards tell the priests that nothing unusual happened, and the priests are portrayed as legitimately inferring that the guards were actually asleep on their watch, giving an opportunity for the main character’s body to have been stolen. In the movie, the priests do not bribe the guards, because the guards’ claims were already contrary to the disciples’.
The third heresy for which the movie was well adapted is the Mistaken Tomb Theory, which suggests that the early Christians based their belief in the resurrection of Jesus on nothing more than an empty tomb, and that the tomb was actually the wrong one. The first part of the scenario is completely contrary to scripture,16 but is precisely what the movie portrays as having happened. The disciples and Mary Magdalene are portrayed as rushing to the tomb expecting to find it empty,17 and, free from even momentary doubt, proclaiming the resurrection without any further evidence or encounter. The movie leaves it to personal conjecture whether they had the correct tomb or not.
Fourthly, the movie accommodates the heretical Hallucination Theory, which posits that any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were merely individual or mass hallucinations. There are no post-resurrection appearances of the main character. The nearest approximation to a physical appearance accorded by the movie is a larger-than-life image of the main character superimposed on the clouds. A handful of gazing believers are below, looking like they might very well be hallucinating, or even just fondly reminiscing.18
The character in the movie who raises Lazarus from the dead is not a miracle worker, biblically defined. He is a mystic. The power does not come through him, but from around him. The character prays to the four winds to come and breathe on Lazarus, and this is what restores his life. The level and kind of power portrayed in this scene in no way agree with the biblical account.19
The movie privatizes and personalizes the kingdom of God, and God himself.
The main character says, “The kingdom of God is here within you,” and points to Peter’s heart, twisting the quote and taking it out of context.20 The main character uses the statement, “My kingdom is not of this world,” as a retreating defense of the legality of his teaching and practice, not (as it is, biblically) as an explanation of his rejection of the use of “this world” force to prevent his arrest.21
When a doubting Matthew asks where the main character’s father (God) is, the main character replies, “In my heart.” The context and tone suggest, not that God is very near to us, but that his reality to us is limited by our perception of or belief in him. The main character tells Pilate that God “loves you no less than he loves the others.” Pilate asks, “Then why have I not known him?” and is answered, “You have not looked for him.”
The main character tells Pilate, “I came into this world to give witness to what is true,” not, as in scripture, “to the truth” as an objective reality.22
De-Supernaturalization of Scripture
Despite their prominence throughout the biblical accounts, angels, demons, the voice of God and the Holy Spirit are conspicuously absent from the movie. The role of Satan is replaced by a distinctly human old man who comes at multiple points to tempt the main character, and who is referred to merely as “The Old Hermit” in the end credits. The transfiguration is also, notably, omitted.
Any unusual events surrounding the crucifixion are either de-supernaturalized or eliminated. The supernatural darkness described in scripture23 is replaced by a natural thunderstorm, and the tearing of the veil of the temple24 is accomplished by a natural gust of wind. There is no earthquake.25
Unmistakably supernatural miracles connected to Christ’s own power within himself, such as the walking on and calming of the sea, restoring of limbs, and healing people who are physically absent, are also conspicuously absent. Similarly, the feeding of the thousands is mentioned only as a rumor in the movie, leaving room for the interpretation that it never actually happened. The main character does not heal anyone actively but passively, and he does not heal all.
Twice, when people who have been healed say that the main character healed them, he responds with a firm, “No. It is your faith that has made you well.” Once, he adds, “There are many who cannot walk. There are many more who can, but will not.” This absolute denial that anything but the crippled man’s or sick woman’s personal faith was involved in their healings, and the addition of unbiblical statements implying that healing is a matter of human will, replaces Christ’s objective supernatural power with individual, subjective belief in one’s own abilities.
Any significant prophecies are left out, twisted, or portrayed as contradicting one another. Herod the Great’s advisors claim that scripture gives different, mutually-exclusive prophecies about Christ’s origin, and their view is portrayed as correct. The movie has Herod ordering the slaughter of the innocents because he is inspired by the Old Testament prophecy, and deliberately putting himself in a position to fulfill it,26 giving more than a nod to the idea that prophecies about Christ could be, and were, fulfilled by human determination taking advantage of natural circumstances. No cock crows after Peter’s betrayal, despite the emphasis scripture gives it as a fulfillment of prophecy.27 The fulfilling of the significant Old Testament prophecy of the parting of Christ’s garments is removed from the story.
Herod the Great strongly implies that the infant main character has no inherent significance, though he may be perceived as significant and become “the child of imagination” for restless or discontented people. Also, in the movie Herod gives no attention to the time the star appeared,28 implying that the star does not have objective import.
People whom scripture specifically describes as responding to Jesus’ presence with an attitude of worship and fear,29 treat the main character as merely a good but mysterious man. Jesus’ supernatural knowledge that Lazarus had died, in the biblical account,30 is replaced by other people with natural knowledge revealing this to the disciples.
A Twisted View of Justice and Tolerance
A significant scene involves this conversation between the main character and Peter:
Peter - “A thief has stolen my coat.”
Main Character - “Is that all?”
Peter - “Is that all! It was the only coat I had.”
Main Character - “Of what value is a thing which can be stolen by a thief? Go and find that thief, give him your cloak also, and give him anything else he wishes within your power to give him, for he is poor in spirit, and in need.”
Peter - “But if everyone did what you say, thieves would soon take over the world.”
Main Character - “Thieves and murderers walk in darkness. You must be their light, Peter, not their judge.”
Peter - “All I’m saying is someone has taken my coat, and I think he was wrong to take it.”
Main Character - “All I’m saying, Peter, is that as you have been judging, you will be judged, and with your measure it will be measured to you.”
Most of these statements are obviously twisted and altered quotes from scripture taken out of context.
The passage in scripture about giving your cloak to someone who took your coat (by means of lawsuit, not larceny, incidentally), is clearly about submitting to injustice and indignity, not seeking them out. The command about the coat and cloak immediately follows the command to turn the other cheek to someone who strikes you. Twisting the first part of the passage in the same way the movie twists the second one would result in a command to go seek out the person who struck you on one cheek and then left, and ask them to beat you up.31
The movie also attempts to justify theft through socialism, the origin of the idea that criminals commit crimes out of necessity, not innate moral depravity (“he is... in need”); that criminal non-property-owners are better off, spiritually, than non-criminal property owners (“he is poor in spirit”); and that material goods should be equally and, if necessary, forcefully redistributed (“give him anything else he wishes within your power to give him”). Scripture nowhere supports these views.32
The main character tells Peter to practice tolerance toward thieves and murderers, and not to judge them, and when Peter responds that he merely thinks theft is wrong, the main character tells him that this is exactly how he is being judgmental. The “thieves and murderers” could logically be replaced by any combination of people whose behavior (adultery, homosexuality, idolatry, extortion, etc.33) is condemned in scripture, with the main character claiming that to say they are wrong is to be judgmental and intolerant. Also, given the flow of the conversation, the logical conclusion is that the main character also believes it is being judgmental to say that murder is wrong.34
The movie has the Pharisees and scribes quoting judgment passages from the Old Testament and then transitioning seamlessly into their own warped philosophies, so that when the philosophies are condemned the scripture is condemned along with them.
The main character states, “Our God is a God of salvation, not of revenge.” This is both unbiblical35 and a false dichotomy.
1 Matthew 26:59-61
2 Matthew 3:5; Mark 1:5
3 Matthew 2:1-8,16-18
4 Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11
5 Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
6 Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9; Mark 1:16-20; Mark 2:14; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 5:27
7 John 8:1-11
8 Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48
9 John 11:1-44
10 Matthew 26:14-16, 26:47-27:56; Mark 14:10-11, 14:43-15:41; Luke 22:3-23:49; John 18:1-19:37
11 Matthew 27:50
12 John 19:34
13 Luke 22:44
14 Matthew 27:32
15 Matthew 28:1-15
16 See Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-18
17 See Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1-4
18 See Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:13-30, 36-42; and John 20:22, 21:9-13 for biblical passages about Jesus’ post-resurrection physical interaction with the disciples. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 describes the number of witnesses who saw the post-resurrection Christ at the same time as over five hundred.
19 John 11:38-44
20 Luke 17:21, often translated “The kingdom of God is in your midst,” or “The kingdom of God is among you.”
21 John 18:36
22 John 18:37
23 Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45. Jesus did not die in the rain, but in darkness.
24 Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:44-45
25 Matthew 27:51-54
26 Matthew 2:16-18
27 See Matthew 26:34, 74-75
28 See Matthew 2:7, 16
29 Matthew 9:33; Luke 8:47; John 11:32
30 John 11:1-14
31 Matthew 5:39-42; Luke 6:29-30. Note that in these passages it is the bad guy asking to take your stuff, not you asking for the bad guy to take your stuff.
32 See Exodus 22:1-3 and 22:7 for God’s own definition of justice in cases of theft.
33 See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
34 See Deuteronomy 19:11-13
35 See Psalm 94:1; Romans 12:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8; and Hebrews 10:30