Produced twenty years ago by the Genesis Film Project, Jesus: The Gospel According to Luke saw limited success in movie theaters, being patronized primarily by Christians. It is enjoying much greater success today as part of Campus Crusade for Christ's Jesus Film Project.
As movies about the Lord's life go, this is one of the least offensive. It does affirm His death as atonement for our sins, and His bodily resurrection. The producers went to some lengths to stay within the boundaries of Luke's Gospel. While this may appear a noble effort, the result is a story lacking in many important details.
There is a reason God gave us the four Gospels, each being an account of the Lord's ministry from a different perspective. No doubt any one of the Gospels can stand alone in leading someone to salvation. God may offer us the different Gospels which may be read separately, but when we teach about Jesus, we of necessity reference all the Gospels as well as other Scriptures in order to get the whole counsel of God on the subject. But this film is not at all complete, even according to Luke's Gospel.
Even if it were complete, the portrayal of a single Gospel narrative cannot do justice to the whole truth of Jesus' life and ministry. And although I may be placing myself in a precarious position with those who believe any exposure to the Gospel is acceptable, even if that exposure is mediocre, I nonetheless feel justified in saying that this Jesus is disappointing at best.
A major weak point is the foundation upon which the narrative is based, which is, for the most part, Good News for Modern Man -- a paraphrased version of the New Testament rather than a direct translation from the Greek. Some portions of the film utilize the King James English, particularly in familiar passages such as the "Lord's Prayer." Switching back and forth between King James English and modern English tends to give an impression of inconsistency.
The artistic and technical aspects of Jesus are not without merit. However, it is not these that concern me as much as portraying an image of Jesus that is not really Him. Also of concern is the manner in which the film jumbles up Luke's Gospel, as well as the manner in which it was promoted upon its release and its failure to live up to that promotion. When Jesus was released in 1979 the promotional material stated:
"Taken entirely from the Gospel of Luke. It has not been revised, fictionalized, expanded or altered. Its historical accuracy has been checked by more than 200 biblical scholars."
Is this true? Let's look at each claim.
What does it mean to revise something? It means to make it different from its original condition. This movie does indeed revise the Gospel of Luke. For one thing, most of Jesus' miracles are left out. We are fully one-half-hour into the film before we see Jesus perform a healing by touching anyone or saying anything. In a number of instances, Jesus merely stands mute while healings take place in His presence.
At least half the narrative of the Gospel is omitted. Given the mere two-hour running time of the film, it would be impossible to include the entire narrative, but some very important parts are missing. And when something is left out, the original is altered, the producers' claims not withstanding.
Especially missing are the numerous warnings of pronouncements of condemnation or mention of sin, such as in Luke 13:2-5 and 14:26. Most of Jesus' words are "affirming," promising the blessings of God. His only pronouncements against anyone are against the rich, the scribes, and the Pharisees. Important Scriptures that lead to repentance from sin are omitted. Consider this change in Jesus' own words from the original:
(Luke 5:32 KJV)
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The Jesus movie has Him saying:
I have not come to call the respectable to repentance, but the outcasts.
Does that count as revising or altering anything? There's a significant difference between "sinners" and "outcasts."
In addition, Luke 3:17 is chopped in half, allowing for the wheat to be gathered into the barn, but omitting the chaff being burned with unquenchable fire. Also, the word "sin" is only found when it is being forgiven, such as Jesus forgiving the woman of sin at the Pharisee's house (Luke 7:48), never when it is being condemned. In short, Jesus offers the viewer a Jesus that is forgiving and affirmative. Areas that truly convict of sin are omitted.
Much license is taken with Luke's Gospel. Words are taken out of one person's mouth and put into another's. In Scripture, when a certain lawyer tested Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, he asked, "And who is my neighbor?" In the movie, a woman asks the question. After Jesus gave the example of the Good Samaritan and asked, "Which now of these three thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves," the lawyer answered, "He that shewed mercy on him." In the movie, a little girl gives the answer.
In Luke 9:12-13, where the twelve told Jesus to send the multitude away so they could get something to eat, verse 13 states, "And they said, We have no more but five loves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people." In the movie, a woman says, "But we only have five loaves and two fish."
Is this nit-picking? Not at all. There is no justification for altering Scripture. What is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not open to change. Why was it necessary to take the apostle's words and put them in the mouth of a woman?
Neither is the order in which what is written open to change. Yet the film weaves together verses that are, in the Bible, several chapters apart from one another.
The integrity of God's Word is not open to man's whims. When teaching Scripture, we may reference different parts at any time. But the purpose is to show the corresponding verses that agree with the verses being taught. A running narrative is another matter. Jesus' life was not lived out in the manner presented in this film; it had a continuity that was ordained by God for good reason. The problem with virtually all films about the life of Jesus is that they bend Scripture to fit their scripts. This is no less true of the Jesus film.
FICTIONALIZEDThis is probably the one area in which the Jesus film doesn't offend too much. However, there are some fictional characters added to the story. People say things that are not in Scripture. Even the narration adds to the Scriptural account. Good News for Modern Man is, in itself, a paraphrase. If the promoters were saying that the movie is not fictionalized based upon Good News for Modern Man, they may be correct. But in comparison with a reliable translation from Greek, the movie is at least somewhat fictionalized.
To expand on Luke's Gospel would be to add something to it. One example is the putting of words in Jesus' mouth. When James and John saw how Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans and asked if they should command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, Luke 9:55-56 says:
For the son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of Spirit ye are of.
The movie places these words of Luke 9:55-56 immediately after Luke 5:10, and then expands upon Jesus' words:
You know not what manner of spirit you are, for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives but to save them. He shall prosper in His purpose on Babylon, and His arm will be against the Chaldean. I, even I, have spoken and called Him. I have brought Him and He will prosper in His way. Who among them have declared these things?
These added words are from Isaiah 48:14-15; they are not in Luke's Gospel.
Now, it isn't that one may not legitimately reference other verses in conjunction with teaching a specific Scriptural passage. But this film is a dramatization that was billed as not expanded.
There are other areas where the Gospel of Luke is expanded in this film, but space doesn't allow for a full treatment of this any more than the other areas of departure from the Biblical text. A legitimate question arises: if the producers could expand upon selected areas of Luke's Gospel, why could they not allow for some important aspects found in the other Gospels, but not found in Luke? For example, there is no earthquake upon Jesus' death in Luke, but it is found Matthew 27:51.
The most glaring omission is the crown of thorns. Since it isn't mentioned in Luke it isn't in the film. But neither is it mentioned in Luke that a Roman soldier climbed a ladder against the cross and squeezed vinegar over His head. (Scripture merely says that the soldiers mocked Him and offered Him vinegar.) One might rightly ask, "why the vinegar on His head, and not the crown of thorns?"
CONCLUSIONIn the Prolog to the film, the statement is made that today Jesus has over one billion followers. This, in itself should be a clue that the Jesus film is non-threatening to the nominal Christian.
Contrary to the claims of the producers of Jesus, there are many instances where the Gospel of Luke has been revised, fictionalized, expanded and altered. This raises the question why such a claim was made in the first place. Should not honesty in marketing be the hallmark of Christian media? If we cannot trust the simple statements so openly professed by those who claim to know the Lord, how can we trust their motives? Any ministry, or professed ministry, must be 100% above reproach in all actions and in what is claimed as truth. Allowing for human failure is one thing; to blatantly misrepresent one's product is another.
Since being taken up by Campus Crusade For Christ as the basis for the Jesus Film Project, there has been an important addition to the film. At the conclusion, a salvation message is given and the viewer is invited to recite a generic "sinner's prayer." Like most invitations these days, there is no mention of the need for repentance from sin; the viewer is merely told that if he prays this prayer his sins will be forgiven him. But forgiven sin does not mean repentance from sin. Nor is the viewer cautioned to count the cost of following Jesus (which is rarely stated even from today's pulpits).
The Jesus Film Project is being used to further a globalist religious-political agenda. Those who use this film as an evangelistic tool report thousands if not millions of conversions among those who have seen it. But how firm are those conversions? No one can really say.
* This report has been adapted from an article by the same name written by Al Dager of Media Spotlight (Vol.23-No.1, pp.6-7). See further analysis of this film through two other reports posted on the BDM website.
The following is a letter from a Media
During my stay at the JESUS Film Project I met many sincere people who were genuinely devoted to sharing the gospel. Unfortunately, false doctrine (Kingdom Now theology) has crept in over the years and caused many such organizations to believe that they are called to set up God’s kingdom on the earth. What grieves me is that many people who work for or support these organizations are unaware of this heresy. They believe that they are helping spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have no idea these organizations are working towards a goal that is unbiblical, and even antichrist in nature.
Several months ago I was amazed at your article, “The Gospel According to Luke (warmness).” Your insights about the Jesus film were stunningly accurate but I fear that you do not even know half of the liberties that are being taken with this film. Are you aware that there are numerous other versions? There is even a Catholic Jesus film in the works, and possibly even finished.
While working for the JESUS Film Project, I came across a disturbing memo concerning the Tunisian Arabic version of the Jesus film. The Summer Institute of Linguistics Bible translators who work with the JESUS Film Project to translate the film into thousands of languages felt that it would be “culturally sensitive” to change the term “Son of God” to “Messiah of God.” When it was discovered this change was made, certain people (I don’t know who) demanded that it be changed back to “Son of God.” Unfortunately, several hundred of the “Messiah of God” tapes were distributed.
If this was where the issue ended, I would not bother writing this letter. Unfortunately, the rewording of the Jesus film has not stopped with the Tunisian Arabic version. During one of our staff meetings Director Paul Eshleman officially explained that he was considering changing the term “Son of God” to “Messiah of God,” or “Messenger of God,” because Wycliffe Bible translators felt that it was a better translation. He went on to say that if this change was approved then all previous versions would be changed as well.
Our precious Savior is being stripped of His deity to accommodate a world system that will succumb to Satan Himself. People and churches gladly support this organization and have no idea what is truly happening. They believe they are sending their money to help spread Christ’s light to those perishing in spiritual darkness.
The time I spent at The JESUS Film Project was some of the strangest of my life. It was odd to feel like a misfit among other Christians.