History of the film
Since 1950, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, dreamed of developing an appealing biblically accurate film about the life of Christ. He saw how the life-changing message of Jesus Christ could reach the world's millions—especially the illiterate—with greater impact through the medium of film. A film utilizing both sight and sound to deliver the message of Christ could provide a powerful evangelistic tool that would bring the gospel message alive.
Done accurately, adhering faithfully to Scripture, Dr. Bright foresaw a film that could be translated and re-recorded into the languages of the world.
A team of 500 scholars and leaders from a variety of secular and Christian organizations began a five-year program in the mid-1970s to determine how to best portray Jesus on the motion picture screen. The team agreed that the film must meet five important criteria:
- The film must be as archaeologically, historically and theologically accurate as humanly possible.
- The presentation must be unbiased, acceptable to all as a true depiction of Christ's life.
- The film story must appeal to all ages.
- The script must be easily translatable into virtually any language on earth.
- The film must be of theatre-viewing quality, and effective with both urban and rural audiences worldwide.
In 1978, JESUS was produced at a cost of $6 million, primarily funded by a businessman and long-time friend of Campus Crusade for Christ International.
In the film, virtually every word spoken by Jesus is taken directly from the Gospel according to Luke. The action and most of the words spoken by actors and narrator alike were recorded in Scripture.
Before its release, the film changed the lives of many who were involved. A college dropout who worked with props on the film received Christ as Saviour and Lord. A Warner Bros. executive also asked Christ to come into his life after a distribution planning meeting.
Warner Brothers distributed the completed film, and JESUS opened in U.S. theaters in late 1979. Within a year, millions of Americans in 2,000 theaters had seen the JESUS film, inspiring many decisions by viewers across the country to accept Christ into their lives.
But, as already stated, from its inception the JESUS film was envisioned as an evangelistic tool to be used worldwide. The film was produced to fully support that vision. The simple narrative taken straight from the Gospel of Luke made it easily adaptable for translation into any language.