Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
This film is dedicated to Christians who are suffering persecution in our day. Why and how should we pray for suffering Christians? Answer
Normally, people do not willingly die for things they doubt
Who is SAUL of Tarsus? Answer
Who is PAUL? Answer
Paul considered himself a willing slave of Jesus Christ
How did Jesus greatly humble himself for us? Answer
Who is LUKE? Answer
What is a disciple and who were the 12 chosen DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ? Answer
What is an APOSTLE? Answer
What is the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES? Answer
What is GRACE? Answer
Who is PRISCIlLA? Answer
Who is AQUILA? Answer
Who is GAMALIEL? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
How good is good enough? Answer
Will all mankind eventually be saved? Answer
|Featuring:||James Faulkner … Paul
James Caviezel … Luke
Joanne Whalley … Priscilla
Olivier Martinez … Mauritius, prefect of Mamertine Prison
John Lynch … Aquila
Antonia Campbell-Hughes … Irenica
Noah Huntley … Publius
Alexandra Vino … Octavia
Yorgos Karamihos … Saul of Tarsus
Alessandro Sperduti … Cassius
Manuel Cauchi … Ananias
Christopher Dingli … Roman Doctor
Joe Azzopardi … Roman Thug
Mario Opinato … Balbus
Husam Chadat … Gamaliel
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|Director:||Andrew Hyatt—“Full of Grace” (2016), a drama about Mary, the mother of Jesus during her last days on Earth
He is a Roman Catholic who attended Catholic schools from kindergaren and is an alumnist of Loyola Marymount University. He also wrote the script for both films.
|Producer:||Outside Da Box (OBD Films—a Catholic ministry)
Affirm Films, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment
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Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
a fictional drama about Paul and the early Church
The story itself is a fictional, weaved around the last days of the Apostle Paul. The structure allows them to tell the story of Paul in a few flashbacks, while following the lives of a few fictional characters and the effect that Paul has on their lives.
As one would expect from a Biblical based film, there are many expectations and criteria which viewers may not have for other films. The most obvious of which is… is it Biblical? Let us begin then with the historical and Biblical issues before addressing the artistic vision of the film.
As an author of Biblical textbooks, I am harder to please than many, but I also understand the sensibilities of film and its restrictions. I appreciate their attempt to weave a story around flashbacks, rather than creating a cumbersome sweeping epic of Paul’s life which would have required a vastly larger budget than this film (allegedly $5,000,000). I am therefore forgiving of some of the minor historical errors. For example, scholars continue to debate whether or not Paul died in 65 A.D. or 67 A.D. (or even 68 A.D.). Of slightly higher importance, but no major significance, is the false assumption that Luke wrote the book of Acts while Paul was in prison awaiting execution, although it is likely Acts was finished in Paul’s first imprisonment around 63 A.D. Nevertheless, such issues are of no real importance to the story.
One issue which deserves mention is the idea of Christians arguing among themselves about whether or not to rebel against Rome, including a scene where some Christians raid the prison, killing guards, in an attempt to rescue Paul, only to find him rebuke their actions. It is natural that the writers should assume that the Christians of Rome were no different than those of today, but the student of Biblical history knows that Rome changed precisely because the early church had a unique view of the world that has perhaps been shared by no generation since. They welcomed martyrdom. Some even sought it out. True, most were doubtless afraid, but there was no hint of armed rebellion by the Christians in antiquity. Even the enemies of Christ acknowledged the passivity of the early Church.
Consequently, the rebellion scene was a little hard for me to swallow, but I cannot fault the authors on this completely, for their purpose was to show Paul’s unwavering belief that Christ is victorious in all things. He does not need our help.
In most other respects, the film was true to history. Christians are shown being used as human torches, persecuted, and martyred. Paul is not exactly as I would have envisioned him, but I saw only one real theological issue which was subtle, but not carried through. In the opening scene of the movie, Paul looks toward heaven and asks, “Is this all there is?” This attempt to portray Paul with doubts may stem from the Catholic roots of the writer/director, or it may simply be a poor attempt to show Paul’s struggles in the midst of persecution and to set the stage for the rest of the film.
Nevertheless, I am happy to say that from that moment on Paul is never shown in this light. On the contrary, he affirms time and time again that “Christ’s grace is sufficient.”
Another possible issue is the subtle notion of Paul being idolized by the early Church. Certainly he was looked up to as one of the Apostles, and there is no hint of worship or deification, but Luke is depicted as wanting to insure that Paul left a legacy in writing, as if Paul needed encouragement to write to his churches. Having noted these two points, I did not see any attempt to read salvation by works or sacraments into the story and thus can support the theology of the film with these small reservations.
So what of the actual film itself? Let me begin by saying that the cinematography and acting was superb. The only hint that this was not a big budget film was the obvious omission of elaborate sets and/or depictions of the circus maximus. The narrative itself was not only about Luke and Paul, but the Roman prefect Mauritius (Olivier Martinez) who is fascinated by Paul and his convictions. The story seems to imply that Mauritius may have converted to Christ, although it is not clear, since he was present at Paul’s execution and issued the formal orders. The film lacks an enthralling narrative that draws the viewer into the story. Some may find it depressing and even boring, but it does a good job of presenting its subject matter in an interesting way. I, therefore, give it a moderate thumbs up.
In regard to the subject matter, this film is PG-13 and deservedly so. In fact, it might have flirted with an R rating were it not for the Biblical context. I cannot fault the violence in the film, for it is more than accurate, but those wanting to bring small children should be aware that people are shown being burned alive and there are many scenes with large amounts of blood. Hands are dipped in blood, bodies lie in pools of blood, and there is even a scene where a Roman is shown pouring sacrificial blood over his head, as was the custom in those days. One scene even shows an artistic depiction of blood dropping on the flood in slow motion. So those with small children should be aware that there is no shortage of blood for a PG-13 film. In all other matters, I saw nothing objectionable—no sex, nudity, or foul language.
Overall, I recommend “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” It is not a completely enthralling film, but it is endearing and poignant. Made on a relatively small budget by Hollywood standards, the film rises above its roots to depict Paul in his dying days declaring, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Note on Catholicism: Some evangelicals have expressed concern about the Catholic roots of the filmmakers (produced by a Catholic ministry) and Jim Caviezel. Caviezel stated how he prepared for the role of Luke: “I read the Acts of the Apostles and started lifting little clues here and there, and I went to Mass and prayed on them. And then we see how he wrote, how Paul sees [Luke], and I started cross-examining him—and there is a lot of cross-examining and asking him about it—and, slowly, it starts to all come together.”
Now there are some fundamental differences which divide Catholic and evangelical theology. However, the Apostle Paul should not be one of them. I did have concern when Paul asked, “Is this all there is?” but the rest of the film maintained the depiction of Paul as the man who firmly believed “His grace is sufficient.” I therefore do not see any problems with seeing the film, other than the few reservations noted above.
What is GRACE? Answer
Followers of Christ are saved by grace alone, not on account of any of their own works or personal righteousness—as we are all inherently sinners and no man or woman is ever good enough to meet God’s standards. Eternal salvation follows personal confession of our sinful, lost condition and personal failures and genuine repentance—acknowledging and trusting God as our true Lord. Salvation is purely a GIFT of God and can never be earned by any human being.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
The film’s basic story is mostly fictional, as Paul’s final days are not recorded in Scripture. The film’s view of Paul and the early Church is not surprising, considering it was produced by devout and well-meaning Roman Catholics, not Bible-believing Protestant Christians. Readers can discover the sometimes subtle, but important, differences, by taking our eye-opening QUIZ: ➤ “Are you THINKING like a Catholic or a Bible-believing Protestant?”
“…you all are partakers of grace with me… rejoice in the Lord… our citizenship is in heaven… Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! …Be anxious for nothing… the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —from Philippians NASB