The Visual Bible: MATTHEW (1993)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Reghardt van den Bergh
Run Time
4 hours and 18 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Not Rated. Approximate running time: 4 hours 18 min.

Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

This is not a re-issue of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s masterpiece The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Instead, it is a sumptuous visualization of the entire text of The Gospel According to Matthew produced by a group using the name The Visual Bible. If you are old enough to remember The Genesis Project’s “New Media Bible” back in 1979, a group that planned to film the entire Bible, but succeeded only in finishing Genesis and Luke before they ran out of money, then you will welcome this new venture. The Visual Bible began as a South African venture that had the ambitious goal of filming the entire Bible in fifteen years. Unfortunately, they also ran out of money, but not before producing three filmed Bible texts that ought to be in the library of every minister or church. (More on the other two later.)

Matthew is a big budget production, in terms of costumes and settings, as well as in “a cast of thousands.” Cecil B. DeMille could not have handled the crowd scenes better than Director Reghardt van den Bergh and Producer Robert Marcarelli. But the producers do not try to awe us with huge special effects, as Mr. DeMille so often did — a wise move, I believe, when dealing with faith events such as the appearance of angels and miracles.

Richard Kiley plays Matthew, an old man in the early 60’s A.D. recalling for friends the events he witnessed as a young man. As a scribe writes down his account, the gospel events unfold before us. The text of the N.I.V. Bible is used, so there is no wandering away from the recorded events, after the manner of such extravaganzas as The Greatest Story Ever Told or King of Kings. The camera switches back and forth between Matthew dictating and the acted out scenes, the actors speaking the dialogue. You might think that this would be awkward, but it really isn’t. The Visual Bible includes even the genealogy of Chapter One in an entertaining way — and that takes some doing! I wonder how the producers would have handled Numbers and Leviticus?!

Key to the whole enterprise, of course, is the actor portraying Jesus, and this Bruce Marchiano handles very well. His voice is not as stately as Max von Sydow’s in The Greatest Story…” or of Robert Powell’s in Jesus of Nazareth. It is so ordinary sounding, and as the story unfolds, this becomes a strength, adding to the believability that Christ, the Son of God, really did become one of us. There is a youthful, playful side to this Jesus that has not been shown before, making me wonder if the actor, or rather the director or producer, were familiar with Elton Trueblood’s ground-breaking book of a number of decades ago, THE HUMOR OF CHRIST. For this is a Jesus that not only smiles (a nice touch to the often dour-faced revolutionary Jesus of Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Saint Matthew), but who smiles, jokes, and laughs.

He even pulls off a practical joke. The latter is during his delivery, of all things, the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of sitting down, this Jesus moves about among his listeners. He takes a goatskin of water from a man, sips a drink, walks on, and then dumps the water over the head of a startled listener. Everyone laughs with him. Then Jesus tousles the man’s hair, as if to reassure him that no malice was intended. This may shock some straight-laced purists, but I thought it was a wonderful touch, following up a funny rendering of the parables of the man with a board in his own eye trying to take a splinter out of his neighbor’s — Jesus picks up a board and holds it so that it appears to be sticking out of his eye, evoking guffaws from his listeners. No wonder “they heard him gladly.”

I love comparing the various Jesus films, to see how different directors handle the same incident. I’ve noticed that directors influenced by the Roman Catholic Church show John baptizing Jesus by sprinkling or pouring, whereas Protestant oriented directors choose immersion. When people come to John the Baptist in this film, there is no mistaking that this is filmed by a Protestant.

Like all Jesus films, this one is not perfect: the angels are a bit hokey. Several sections could have been staged and/or edited more creatively, especially in the last half (where it seems that the filmmakers ran short of ideas, time or money). Even so, Matthew is a fine visual interpretation of the text, one that can be used in a variety of ways.

Individuals could use it for personal study, the chapter and verse numbers appearing at the bottom of the screen making it easy to fast forward to the verse you want. You might think the chapter and verse listings would be distracting, like those pesky date and time numbers embedded in some home videos, but they are not; I soon got used to them and took them for granted, until I wanted to find a particular passage. (A good feature of the DVD menu is that there is an Index for an incident and another one for chapter and verse.)

Also a good feature, one favoring group use — the video works better with groups than a book. Ever try having more than two people read from just one copy of a book? Still another possibility for churches that use projectors in their sanctuaries: you could substitute a DVD scene for the Gospel Reading in the worship service. If you do so, then the subtitles should be turned on, which reinforces the oral presentation.

Vision Video offers a one-disc and a two-disc set, the second one at $19.99 being just $4 more than the one-disc version. Plusthe latter’s Bonus Materials include: Historical Background; Production Design; About the Cast; About the Filmmakers; Academic Advisory Committee; Interactive Bible Map; Glossary of Historical Terms; Bibliography; and Filmography. I have not seen this particular set, but think that these must be worth the extra $4. Indeed, I marvel at this price, because when I first reviewed this film 10 years ago, the price for the set of 4 VHS tapes was a whopping $99.95! Affordable then only by large churches and resource centers, now even those of modest means can own a copy. Oh yes, I almost forgot—the other two fine productions this fine company produced are The Gospel of John and Acts, each of which I reviewed in Visual Parables a few years ago. These also are great tools for Bible study and worship, with John being even a better production than Matthew.
Order from: Vision Video, P.O. Box 540 | Worcester, PA 19490. (800) 523-0226 or (610) 584-3500. Customer Service Hours 8:00 am – 6:00 pm EST. [email protected]

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9 Replies to “The Visual Bible: MATTHEW (1993)”

  1. This movie is the most beautifully put together movie of how Jesus really is. Bruce plays the role of Jesus perfectly. I am so glad that I finally found it on line. I owned the ‘ video’s ‘. There were three of them when the movie came out. I loaned them to a co-worker, of course wanting everyone to see how my sweet Jesus really is. I ended up leaving that telemarketing job and never saw the tapes again. I just hope that they are still blessing someone somewhere. Now I need to find out how to get the DVD. As far as I’m concerned it should have ten stars for the editor rating. Who ever the editor is, must not have seen the movie.

    1. Thanks for your comments on this film, Catherine. I have also found it invaluable as a study aid, as well as entertaining. You should be able to order the set of DVDs from Vision Video, a good source of all kinds of fine religious DVDs (excepting the Fundamentalist apocalyptic End Times stuff). Also, are you familiar with the other Visual Bible productions, that also should be in every believer’s collection. They have produced ACTS and THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, both of them using the Biblical text as the script. JOHN is masterfully done and was even shown in theaters for a brief time. Unfortunately is was during the same period that Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was released, and so was overshadowed by all of the attention it received. VV offers both of these. JOHN is available on a 1 & a 3-disc set–I defintely recommend the 3-disc one because of so many good extra features.

    2. Catherine, Sorry to be so late replying. Just now figured that I needed to click onto a number to get your reply to my reply. If you haven’t already discovered where you can but The GOJ, go to Vision Video’s website, & you’ll see they offer it for sale–as a one and a 3-disc set. Also, if you don’t have Visual Bible’s Matthew and Acts, they sell it too.

  2. This is certainly not my Jesus. I had to stop watching before the end. I found the portrayal of True God and True Man so offensive. In your attempt to “lighten up” the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity you have made him into the class clown. I watched it last night and I’m still shaken by what, to me, verges on blasphemy.

    1. Sorry you feel this way. I thought the use of humor in the film was very humanizing, and not at all an attempt to make Jesus “the class clown.” I can understand you feeling this if the film were GODSPELL. Were there other aspects of the portrayal that you found offensive? Thanks for taking the time to share your feeling.

  3. When my children were small oh, I was a single mother, and I would put these VHS tapes in every night. And we would sleep to it and listen to it all night long. I pray my children this will come back to them in their time of need in these perilous times. And they find salvation the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve been so blessed are these videos. And I loved her laughing Jesus. Because I believe he did smile much even with the great burden he carried.

    1. Yes, Heather, I agree “he did smile”–and also laughed, smiles & humor being an important part of our human condition. Your children were fortunate to have a mother who shared this tape with them because she believed in a warm and loving Christ. May your hope for your children in the future come about. Thank you for sharing your experience with this wonderful film.

  4. I found this film on YouTube and am moved to purchase it for my collection. It can be used in concurrence with the bible to help new believers. I use the KJV but find that pausing the movie to read is a wonderful study tool! To God be the glory, thank you and blessings!

    1. You’re welcome, Monica. Glad you are finding this a useful tool, as so many have. Thank you for letting us know. I hope you have discovered the other Visual Bible disks that are also excellent–The Gospel of John and ACTS.

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