“Hey, I didn’t realize this either when I was growing up. The full horror of what Jesus suffered for our redemption didn’t really strike me. But when you finally see it and understand what He went through, it makes you feel not only compassion, but also a debt. You want to repay Him for the enormity of His sacrifice. You want to love Him in return.”

While the film is not yet rated, the graphic realism will most likely earn an R rating for the film — a potential roadblock for pastors who are uneasy about recommending an R-rated film to their congregations.

Jack Graham, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of 21,000-member Prestonwood Baptist in Dallas, Texas, believes that the excellent quality and subject matter of the film supercedes the rating dilemma.

“It is extremely violent because the cross was violent,” he says. Others, including Gibson, have noted that based on some of its content, the Bible itself would be rated R.

Still, Gibson contends that he stayed away from any gratuitous violence. “We actually held back. If we had filmed exactly what happened, no one would’ve been able to take it,” he says, adding that children 12 and under should not see the film.

Graham plans to recommend the film to his congregation — a “rare exception” for him. “Watching this film is like being at the foot of the cross,” he says.

Ancient Language

Adding to the visual realism is the linguistic authenticity as the reverberation of ancient Aramaic and Latin transports audiences into first-century Judea.

“There is something kind of startling about watching it in the original languages,” says Gibson. He initially conceived the film with no subtitles but eventually gave in to numerous requests for them. “The reality comes out and hits you. It’s full contact.”

The unknown tongue affords audiences who have read the scriptures throughout their lives the opportunity to hear the familiar words as they were originally spoken. “That’s the first time in my life that I actually got to taste what it would’ve sounded like. It was beautiful,” says Stan Kellner, director of church relations for the International Bible Society and a Jewish believer.

Biblical Accuracy

Based on the four Gospels, “The Passion of the Christ” retells the story of Jesus’ life and death, yet adds some dramatic nuances reinforcing aspects of the biblical account. The ominous figure taunting Christ in the garden of Gethsemane shows up throughout the movie, personifying Satan and portraying the spiritual battle being waged, culminating in Christ’s last hours.

Poignant flashback scenes from Christ’s life illustrate the dichotomy of compassion and brutality, as well as Mary’s love and anguish for her son.

The film is “substantially accurate,” says Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary who saw the film last June. “I’d say that of the two hours I saw, there might be four to five minutes where it’s not accurate,” he says, adding that he always asks the question: Is the general thrust of what’s happening here accurate?

“I don’t see the general thrust being out of line here,” Bock says. “There were several times that I found myself saying things like, ‘I’m in Mark 23’ based on the dialog. Like any movie based on a book, there’s a lot of filling-in of moments, but they’re logical here. When Mary thinks back to Jesus as a child, it’s a reflection of what a parent might feel.”