"The Gospel of John" Film

Andy Naselli —  April 9, 2007

gospelofjohn.jpgThis weekend my wife and I watched The Gospel of John film on DVD again, and I’m glad we did. I think we’ll make this an Easter weekend tradition. We watched this film for the first time in January 2006 after Phil Gons tipped me off to it, and we enjoy it so much that we’ve watched it about ten times.

About The Gospel of John film:

  • It is a three-hour presentation of the Gospel of John in the Bible. (The 2-DVD set also comes with an abridged two-hour version, but I much prefer the three-hour version.)
  • It was produced by Visual Bible International, Inc.
  • It was released in some movie theaters in fall 2003.
  • More details and links are available at Wikipedia. See also the Plugged In review.
  • It included Bruce Waltke on its board. He is one of the scholars featured in the interviews in a supplemental DVD about the movie (included in the 2-DVD set).

The Gospel of John is the best Bible film that I’ve ever seen. I enthusiastically recommend it for several reasons:

  1. The film has an inspired script. The script is verbatim from the Good New Translation and it follows it unwaveringly. (This is not among my most preferred translations, but I agree with what the KJV translators wrote in the preface to the KJV: “the very meanest [i.e., poorest] translation of the Bible in English . . . containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.”) Except for occasionally excluding some narrative discourse indicators like “he said” or “she said,” the film script does not add or remove a single word, nor does it skip around or rearrange the material. It takes a little over two hours to read the Gospel of John straight through, so the other hour in this three-hour film is due to dramatic factors like pauses and setting the scene. Every other Bible film that I’ve seen irritates me in this regard by rearranging events, adding dialogue that is not in the text, and emphasizing themes that are not proportional to those that the text emphasizes (Cf. my review of One Night with the King.) The passion scenes, for example, include relatively little violence, which is in sharp contrast to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
  2. The film is classy. The actors, film angles, picture clarity, and soundtrack are first-class. It is evident that professionals, not amateurs, produced this.
  3. The film is tasteful and modest, not offensive or flashy.
  4. The film is creative and thought-provoking. The interpretive ways it portrays the scenes and dialogue is mind-stimulating. (This is not to say that I agree with every last detail of the film.) One creative feature is the use of black-and-white flashbacks during narratives that reference previous events in the book.
  5. The film is instructional and edifying. A film cannot replace the written word, and it can even be detrimental. This film is valuable, however, because it makes you think more about the text in its historical context. (Aside: When we watch this DVD, we often turn on the closed captioning feature.) The film has provoked me to reread and re-listen to the text of the Gospel of John and check out commentaries (like this one, my favorite) on various passages. For example:
    • Every time my wife and I have watched the film, we have been struck with how arrogant Jesus’ statements must have sounded to other people. It is easy to read the Gospel of John today and forget about the context in which Jesus uttered his statements. Seeing someone speak those same words reminds us that a human being claimed to be Yahweh. Staggering.
    • Jesus’ healing of the man born blind is vivid (John 9).
    • Perhaps the most moving part of the film is when Thomas sees the risen Lord and declares, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.
  6. The film is reverent. I dislike paintings of “God” because of their historical association with veneration and because they don’t help me worship God (not to mention how they relate to the second commandment). While watching this film, it has never crossed my mind that the actors were actually the real Gospel characters; I know that because I’ve never felt like worshiping the person acting out Jesus! But the film has compelled me to worship Jesus for His perfect obedience in life and death.
  7. The film is affordable and accessible. (This reason isolated from the others is weightless!)

Other reviews:

  1. Ben Witherington, “The Gospel of John” (with other reviews after Witherington’s). Witherington later noted this sad news on his blog: “The makers of the wonderful verbatim version of the Gospel of John which had a terrific cast, after intending to also film the Gospel of Mark are bankrupt. They had worked through three scripts and planned to film, but the Gospel of John did not do well enough either in the theaters or on DVD.”
  2. Ted Baehr, “The Best Retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told: The Gospel of John
  3. S. T. Karnick, “The Word, According to John: A Gospel on the Silver Screen

Updates:

  1. Randy Alcorn, “The Gospel of John DVD
  2. “The Gospel of John, the Film” blog