Paul, Apostle of Christ – Movie Review

Some claim he was a charlatan and a fraud who distorted Judaism. There are those who say he was a rogue, misogynistic, anti-semitic, lone ranger who rebelled against the early church. Others assert he was the inventor of Christianity as we know it. Then, there are those who rightly believe his claim that he was a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. Whatever our view of Paul of Tarsus is, we must admit that there are few figures in history who have been more influential. Affirm Films’ Paul, Apostle of Christ sets out to tell part of this influential man’s story. While much of it is rather familiar, as about two-thirds of the book of Acts is a biography of Paul’s life, this movie focuses on a section we know little about.

Synopsis

Paul, Apostle of Christ begins after the book of Acts ends. The year is A.D. 67, and Roman Emperor Nero has accused Christians, with Paul (James Faulkner) as their ringleader, of setting fire to half of Rome. This is a charge of which Nero himself is guilty. Paul is being held in Mamertine Prison awaiting execution when Luke (Jim Caviezel) travels to Rome to find Paul. Luke visits Paul in prison with the objective of documenting his life as an encouraging story for Christians across the Roman empire. This document is today known as Acts of the Apostles.

Meanwhile, Aquila (John Lynch) and Priscilla (Joanne Whalley) are leading a secluded community of Roman Christians who are debating whether to flee Rome, remain in the city despite persecution, or start a revolution against the Roman government. Another subplot runs throughout the film as Paul’s Roman jailer tries to appease the gods in order to save his dying daughter.

Despite the title, Paul is hardly the main character of the movie. Luke receives the more prominent role while Paul is somewhat hidden in the background. This is perhaps fitting, as Luke often seems to be the one who is overlooked. Many Christians know that Paul wrote roughly half of the books in the New Testament; however, few realize that Luke wrote significantly more than Paul in volume. Jim Caviezel does an excellent job of playing Luke, and he will be a familiar face for many viewers – he played Jesus in The Passion of Christ.

Rating

Due to some violent and disturbing images, the film is rated PG-13. We see Christians being burned as torches and hear the screams of one man as he is lit on fire. In other scenes, numerous people are splattered in blood. Throughout the story, Paul has several brief flashbacks to his days as “Saul of Tarsus.” In these scenes, we see Stephen being stoned and Saul beating and killing other Christians. While this violence isn’t intense or glorified, discretion should be used – especially for young viewers.

As far as cinematography goes, Paul, Apostle of Christ is moderately well done. The acting of all the main characters is surprisingly good. However, the scripting and filming leave a little more to be desired. The film is decorated with many cliché lines whispered dramatically in dark, shadowy scenes. Paul quotes one-liners from his epistles that are not stitched naturally into normal conversation. Overall, it isn’t terrible – especially when compared to many other films in the “Christian movie” genre.

The Verdict

Now we come to the question which after watching the movie several times, I still struggle to answer. Should you watch Paul, Apostle of Christ? I think it depends on who you are and what you are expecting. Instead of giving you a “yes” or a “no,” I will lay out some pros and cons, then let you decide.

Pros:

Paul, Apostle of Christ provides us with a detailed picture of several days rather than a rushed snapshot of a long period of time which only highlights the good points. The entire plot covers only the last few days of Paul’s life.

It does a good job of portraying persecution without making it seem either glamorous or unbearable. The Christians face persecution with boldness, but there is still mourning for the deaths of those whom they love.

The most significant theme throughout the movie is that of suffering love and nonresistance. Aquila, Priscilla, and Paul all vehemently oppose the idea of fighting back against the corrupt Roman government, even though refusing to do so may cost both their lives and the lives of other innocent people. They clearly hold this life in perspective of the next life.

Another strong point is that the movie doesn’t have an unrealistic happy ending. In the end, Paul is dead, Christians are fleeing for their lives, and unknown to them, three years later Jerusalem will fall. This echoes Paul’s remark in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that “if in Christ we [Christians] have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”[1]

Cons:

If you are like me, there are unsupported claims in this movie that will annoy you. The mention of Peter, Paul, and Luke traveling together, the portrayal of Aquila and Priscilla living in Rome over the time of Paul’s second imprisonment (they were likely in Ephesus at the time[2]), and the idea that Luke wrote Acts at the time of Paul’s second imprisonment and martyrdom yet didn’t include these major events in his biography of Paul seem highly unlikely.

On top of this, there is one detail which seems to go directly against what Scripture records. Saul is shown viciously killing Christians rather than bringing them bound to Jerusalem to be put in prison and tried as recorded in Acts.[3]

Another shortcoming is that when Paul is told about the jailer’s sick daughter, he doesn’t pray for her or heal her. Instead, he says that Luke is the best physician he knows. This seems to imply that the miraculous events seen earlier in Paul’s life are out of the question now that Paul is an old, weak man who can’t even stand up straight. Meanwhile, we know that these miracles were a result of God’s power, not of Paul’s strength.

If you are hoping to watch a movie that brings the book of Acts to life or gives a complete, historically accurate synopsis of Paul’s life, you will be disappointed. The premise for the movie is built off of one sentence in 2 Timothy 4:11 which reads, “Luke alone is with me.”[4] Aside from Paul and Luke, Aquila and Priscilla are the only main characters mentioned in Scripture. Since the entire plot covers only the last few days of Paul’s life, the character sketch of Paul seems incomplete. We see Paul as a young persecutor (in flashbacks) and as an old weak man in prison, but we see nothing of the Paul many of us envision in our minds when we hear his name.

Conclusion

In conclusion, don’t let your opinion of the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ affect your opinions of the actual man. If you decide to watch the movie, watch it in light of the Bible, don’t read the Bible in light of the movie. If you decide not to watch Paul, Apostle of Christ, I encourage you to use the extra 108 minutes you gain to read or listen to the entire book of Acts.[5] This, I can promise, will be worth your time.

 

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset Matt Jantzi grew up in rural Ontario, Canada. He is passionate about discipleship, personal evangelism, apologetics, and global missions. Matt loves encouraging other young Christians to radically follow Jesus, regardless of the cost. In his spare time, you can find him watching debates, studying systematic theology, or using sleight of hand magic tricks to share the Gospel with strangers.

 

[1] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007, 2011.

[2] 2 Timothy 4:19

[3] Acts 8:3; Acts 9:14; Acts 22:4; Acts 26:10

[4] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007, 2011.

[5] I encourage you to do this regardless of whether or not you watch Paul, Apostle of Christ. Depending on your reading speed, you may need to allow for some additional time.

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