Is it idolatry to have Jesus in a movie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
My wife was recently troubled to come across some people who were telling her a movie like Alison’s Choice is wrong to see because there’s someone portraying Jesus, which is idolatry. Now to be fair, I want it to be known I’m not saying all Jesus movies are good. I’m not even saying all of them by Christians are good and all that would be by non-Christians are bad. Some Jesus movies could be wrong on different grounds. (Bad theology or history for instance.) I’m talking about movies in general.
When we go to Deuteronomy 4, we read this:
Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.
This is verse 12. Then later we read in verses 15-18 that:
15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.”
Okay. So the principle seems to be since God was not seen in a form, we should not make a form because such a form would be idolatry. It seems basic enough, but let’s ask something. Why is it that idolatry was wrong?
Idolatry was wrong because a statue wasn’t just a statue. It was a place where the deity dwelt. It was meant to be a focal point. Here’s something interesting about that. When Jesus does come down, that is the place where the deity dwelt. Here’s something else. We are also said to be the image of God, and we are to be the place where the deity dwells as well. Certainly not in the sense that we will be fully God, but that God will make us holy.
So what of Jesus movies then? Jesus movies are meant to give a representation of what Jesus looked like, but not that we look at the actor and think “That’s where God is dwelling. Let’s worship him.” We all know the actor is an actor and the actor is not playing the role (Or at least they shouldn’t be!) expecting to receive worship.
Of course, such an actor needs to treat the position with full seriousness and reverence. Writers need to take the position carefully as well. It’s always a risk to try to put some words in the mouth of Jesus. When we see a movie, we also need to remember that a movie is not Scripture. It is an interpretation many times of Scripture. The movie could fall on this area. A movie is not infallible and we should be willing to check up on it with the scholars in the field to see how it does match the historical Jesus.
If you have a problem with seeing Jesus movies and think it would negatively influence your worship, then you shouldn’t go see them. That doesn’t mean others are the same way. As Paul would say, let everyone be convinced in his or her own mind. This is what Christian freedom is about. We can be free to disagree on what should or should not be done on debatable matters that are not explicit in Scripture, but we should not question one another’s devotion.
I say all of this also as someone who is not really a fan of a lot of Jesus movies. I prefer to read a good book about the historical Jesus instead, but at least the movies can often be a starting place for discussion. I also do try to check each one to make sure they’re not something Christians should avoid seeing.