The Gospel of John:
The Greatest Story Ever Toldby Dr. Ted Baehr Chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission and publisher of MOVIEGUIDE(r) magazine.
The movie, The Gospel of John, is the greatest story ever told in the most powerful language of the 21st century. It is an inspired presentation of the Truth that will delight people of all ages.
Several years ago, the Visual Bible undertook the task of translating the Bible word for word, book for book, into the movie idiom of Hollywood. The first attempt was the Gospel of Matthew, which was a worthwhile production, though produced on a low budget. The next was Acts of the Apostles, which was again hobbled by a low budget.
Now, Visual Bible has been refinanced and has produced a spectacular, well-directed, well-acted, word for word version of The Gospel of John. In fact, the movie was so good that the Toronto International Film Festival selected The Gospel of John to have its world premiere at its event last fall.
Although nothing is added to the Biblical text or taken away from it, the scriptwriter, John Goldsmith, a committed Christian, has done a superb job of staging and setting the story in a way that is constantly compelling. The lead is a Shakespearean actor, Henry Ian Cusick, who gives an authoritative and yet warm and endearing portrayal of our Lord Jesus. The casting is much more Middle Eastern than any of the movies that have gone before, although not all the actors are Semitic. The historical details are accurate and faithful. In places where there could be debates, the filmmakers have wisely chosen to go with the authoritative and more literal and orthodox interpretation.
The Gospel of John brings John's Gospel alive in a powerful, profound way. For the first time in this reviewer's memory, it becomes clear why Jesus and his Jewish followers were at odds with the Jewish establishment. Watching Jesus throw down the gauntlet of His Messianic claims in the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees will clearly call people into the Kingdom of God. There is no ambiguity here. This is Jesus, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, who is the Messiah.
There are several other Jesus films out. They all have their wonderful strengths, but what The Gospel of John does is portray the Gospel in an unadulterated fashion and in the process clearly shows the victory of the Resurrection. For the first 300 years of the Church, all the pictures of Jesus were of the resurrected Christ. Most recent movies have concentrated on the cross. Some, like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar don't even have a resurrection, while, with Franco Zeffirelli's wonderful Jesus of Nazareth , the resurrection is an afterthought. Here, at last, is the full Gospel account, with Jesus appearing before the disciples, showing his wounds to Thomas, eating bread and fish with the disciples, and sending them into all the world to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
All this being said, it is important to recognize that this is the full Gospel and, therefore, it does not follow the dramatic formula of Hollywood. It is powerful and dramatic, but not structured in an Aristotelian fashion. Furthermore, as with any rendition of the life of Christ, there will be people who see Jesus differently, or have different images of the disciples. This is a tour de force of casting, but there are those who would have cast it differently, especially some of the minor roles. Actually, the only real negative is the opening legend which includes a reference to the date of the writing of The Gospel of John in a way that might alienate knowledgeable scholars and Christians. This should be reconsidered.
Also, as with any portrayal of Christ, one's image from reading the book will be different from what one sees on the screen. For one, I was enthralled by the cleansing of the Temple. It was totally different than I had expected. Jesus' first challenge to the Pharisees is extremely intense and not as sugarcoated as is normally the case.
Finally, the intensity and the pacing in The Gospel of John works extremely well. A movie is the sum of its parts, and all of the parts come together to produce a magnificent whole. There is no doubt that this movie will stand the test of time, and all those involved are to be commended: Bravo!