Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures
Today’s Prayer Focus

Journey to Bethlehem

also known as “Camino a Belén,” “Camino a Belen”
MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Charity Bishop

Moral Rating: Average (somethat offensive) — Caution
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Teens Adults
Genre: Christmas Musical Fantasy
Length: 1 hr. 38 min.
Year of Release: 2023
USA Release: November 10, 2023 (wide release—1800 screens)
DVD: January 16, 2024
Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Picturesclick photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures

What and who is Messiah?

How do we know that Jesus was the Messiah? Answer

List of Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ

THE FEAR OF THE LORD— What is it? Why is it very important? Answer

What is the true meaning of CHRISTMAS?

Jesus Christ: His Identity, Life, Death and Resurrection
About JESUS CHRIST—Answers to frequently-asked-questions

Is Jesus Christ just a legend? Answer

Is Jesus Christ a man, or is he God? Answer

Was Jesus Christ God, manifest in human form? Answer

Is Jesus Christ really God? Answer

Who is Mary, mother of Jesus?

Who is Joseph, adoptive father of Jesus Christ?

Who is Herod the Great?

Who is Herod Antipas?


TRINITY—How can one God be three persons? Answer

Christmas movies
REVIEWS of “Christmas” movies

Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures
Featuring Fiona PalomoMary
Milo ManheimJoseph
Antonio BanderasHerod the Great
Joel Smallbone … Antipater
Geno SegersBalthazar
See all »
Director Adam Anders
Producer Affirm Films
Anders Media
Alan Powell
See all »
Distributor: Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures. Trademark logo.
Affirm Films
, a division of Sony Pictures

I am a huge fan of musicals. I grew up listening to and watching classics from the past, such as “The Sound of Music,” then graduated to Broadway shows as a teenager… and “Journey to Bethlehem” fits squarely into the latter category, with its catchy songs, likable characters, and meaningful character arcs. It’s a film made more for unbelievers who might use this story to launch their interest in faith than purely for Christian audiences, but as a believer and a musical fan, I enjoyed it.

When a star appears in the heavens, the three wise men rouse themselves to travel to Judea in search of a prophesied future king, to be born of a humble virgin. As they make their way hundreds of miles, the audience is transported to meet Mary (Fiona Palamo), a hopeful would-be teacher who is disappointed to learn her father has chosen a husband for her, a man she has never met named Joseph (Milo Manheim), who has just moved to Nazareth from the little town of Bethlehem. After an adorable cute meet between them, the two hit it off on the wrong foot at their betrothal ceremony, but decide to try and make their marriage work, for the sake of their families (and, let’s face it, they like each other).

Then an angel appears to Mary in the middle of the night and tells her she has been chosen to carry the future Messiah. People don’t believe her when she tells them this, and Joseph feels torn over what to do about it, to reject her quietly or marry her anyway to provide a home and protection for her unborn child.

While he deliberates on this, King Herod (Antonio Banderas) suffers from sleepless nights and nightmares that coincide with the return of his eldest son, Antipater (Joel Smallbone). And when he learns they may be tied to a future king about to be born in his realm… well, he smirks at the wise men, they should find this baby so all four kings can worship him together.

Making a successful musical is a whole different ball of wax than your typical film; music is a powerful medium that reaches into your soul, and you can express ten times as much character development in a three minute song than you can in an hour of dialog, and that’s what this film does best. Its terrific numbers show us the internal wrestling (sometimes literally) of its characters.

Mary has to ponder how she can be the mother of a divine child, when she feels as if she needs God to carry her instead. Joseph goes to battle against his own doubts, as he argues back and forth over whether to believe in her incredible story. And Antipater has perhaps the most profound, touching song, as he deliberates within himself whether having his father’s blood in him condemns him to be evil, or if he has a choice. (This song also speaks to every child who has ever tried to please a father who did not deserve their admiration.)

There are other songs as well, some of them preppy and fun (the initial “get married” song, and the “Three Wise Guys”), and others more serious and contemplative; Banderas’ number tells you in two minutes that Herod is a psychopath and a narcissist, who thinks he is God (“Mine is the power… Mine is the glory…”).

All of the music is so catchy, I’ve been replaying it and singing it ever since seeing the film (which I watched twice in twenty-four hours, I enjoyed it so much).

The production is top-notch; the director/producer said a lot of prayer went into each day of filming, and he felt a spiritual pushback that made the entire process challenging but also deepened his own faith.

An array of talent is involved, with incredible singing voices, but the standout performances belong to Palomo and Manheim as the charismatic young couple at the center of the drama, and Banderas, who smirks and simpers and glowers his way through a prime role as King Herod. You can tell how much fun he had being deranged.

The costumes are all lovely, and it’s a colorful experience from start to finish, with bits of humor thrown into the mix. I’ve seen it compared to a “Christian version of The Greatest Showman” and there’s some truth to that, in its larger-than-life approach to storytelling.

Issues of Concern

But this movie doesn’t come without some caveats; where is the problem with it, from a believer’s perspective rather than just as a musical fan? It’s not Scripture and doesn’t try to be. The characters are modernized and given arcs to overcome; Mary wants a career rather than a husband at first, but becomes wholly devoted to taking care of this child. She is a strong female who reminds Joseph he was also “Chosen” for this task, giving him the courage to step up and protect her when it counts.

Things are left out that could have been included (I expected Elizabeth to give some sign that “her child leapt within her womb” when Mary approached).

It deviates from Scripture in omitting certain conversations and details, and rearranging other events. It adds humor (Gabriel practices his speech before he wakes Mary, and even bonks his head into a low beam, to show he isn’t used to having a human-like form) and uses the three wise men as comic relief. They are not as funny as the script tries to make them be, and at times their dialog is cringe.

It’s not a reverent take on these events, but a “musical” take, which means a lot of comedy, romance, and angst. Beyond that, the ending is a little contrived (I can think of a better way to do it, but given the history of Antipater, I know why they made the creative choices they did, and it makes it bittersweet if you know anything about what happened to him later).

I saw it with three other people over the Christmas holidays; one of them felt concerned that it deviated so much from scripture, and wished it had not made so many changes, but the rest of us enjoyed it.

It’s a film to make up your own mind about, based on what you feel comfortable with and what is appropriate for your personal faith. If you do not like anything “added to or taken away from” the nativity story, this isn’t the movie for you; but if you are looking for a musical with songs that stick in your head for days as an escape from most of the filth Hollywood churns out these days, or a film to share with your unbeliever friends that might pique their interest in the greatest story ever told, give it a chance.

  • Violence: Minor
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Minor
  • Wokeism: Mild
  • Profane language: None
  • Vulgar/Crude language: None
  • Nudity: None
  • Sex: None
  • Occult: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Streaming video— 
“A Review of Journey to Bethlehem: What Did They Get Wrong?”
Very short explanation
Video by When We Understand The Text (WWUTT)
Also see longer printed review
Length: 1¾ minutes
Streaming video— 
“Watch this before you go see this movie”
Todd Friel gives helpful frameworks for how Christians should think through artistic portrayals of biblical concepts, including “Journey to Bethlehem.”
Video by Wretched
Length: 9 minutes

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—I have watched Journey to Bethlehem and found that the copied and pasted “review” that people are passing around to be an overaction to a beautiful, well made film that the makers explicitly say is not meant to be added to the Scriptures.

Here’s my response to the false review that has been passed around the Internet (warning spoilers)

1. Mary is not rebellious, but reluctant. Mary does say twice that she wants to be a teacher instead of being married. However, this is because her father inspired such a dream by teaching her the Scriptures. Ultimately she submits to both her parents and God’s will. (Spoiler) The film ends with her dream coming true with her and Joseph teaching Jesus the Scriptures during his childhood.See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
C.W., age 36 (USA)
Positive—The movie states they took some license with the story, but the essence of the gospel is still in the story. The music is fabulous! Adam Anders who directed the movie was part of Steven Curtis Chapman’s band in the late 1990’s. His wife Niki was part of Avalon for their first album which featured their biggest hit, “Testify To Love”. The acting is excellent and the pace of the movie is spot on. Who knew that Antonio Banderas could sing? He does a great job as Herod and Joel Smalbone as Anti-Pater does a good job as well as his son. The choreography is excellent as well. All in all a great movie (and I do not care for musicals)!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Wayne, age 68 (USA)
Positive—Having viewed this movie, the information about it spread on the Internet to 45,000 people is not true, and therefore becomes misinformation. Points have been adressed by previous reviewers here and I agree. Those who wrote on the Internet, repeated what one person said, who had not seen the movie when it was finished, only at one of the very first test showings, which were done so people can express their opinions and the filmmakers can address a possible problem and adjust. She wrote her post two months after the test showing! Then the other 44,000 jumped on the bandwagon and 99% had not seen it themselves but were warning people to go and see it. What do they let their kids watch without objections, I wonder?See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Anette, age 75 (USA)
Positive—This movie is GREAT! I am a very strong Christian and serious about the Bible and movies I watch, and yes there were things that were not the biblical story, that is true. However, overall, I thought this was a great movie and was really well made. And I am sure hundreds of thousands saw it and were impacted by it, it reached them even if the story wasn’t totally lined up with everything that happened the way it did.See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Stephanie, age 49 (USA)
Neutral—Missed opportunity, sadly. “Based on a true story’ and “Creative license was used’ should be in bold. To clarify, in this version:

1) Mary is portrayed as wanting a career and upset about having an arranged marriage.
2) Joseph says he, too, “doesn’t have a choice’ regarding the betrothal.
3) The angel Gabriel is portrayed as bumbling and rehearsing his message from God to Mary.
4) The conversation between Gabriel and Mary leaves out Mary replying “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” or anything along those lines.
5) When Elizabeth and Mary meet, nothing about their conversation (as reported by Matthew) is portrayed.
6) Herod’s son Antipater is shown personally trying to track down Mary and Joseph.
7) Female Roman soldiers = historically accurate or just “woke”?
8) Joseph comes to Mary at Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s home and they have Zacharias the priest to marry them (because the Romans are searching for an unmarried pregnant girl).
9) The Magi are portrayed for comic effect and the Magi (not shepherds) hear the angel’s announcement.
10) The Magi arrive at the stable in Bethlehem precisely after Jesus’ birth (again, no shepherds) followed by Antipater and his soldiers.
11) Mary stands up to Antipater and his soldiers.
12) Antipater spares Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus and gives them safe passage. (As we know, this is the same heir who becomes Herod Antipas, the one who marries Herodias, his brother’s wife, and has Elizabeth’s son, John (the Baptist), beheaded.)

I did like some aspects of the film. Joseph’s dream with him fighting himself to symbolically show his conflict over Mary. Antonio Banderas as Herod the Great—how he shifts from agreeable host to paranoid, dangerous psychopath with a look in the eyes and subtle expressions. The marriage of Mary and Joseph was beautiful. The incorporation of traditional Christmas carols. Symbolism touches, such as the lamb leading the Magi into the stable.

I understand reasonable creative license (such as in “The Chosen”), but why does “Journey to Bethlehem” completely change events and dialogue clearly depicted in the Gospels? It comes across as injecting 21st century “values’ into ancient Judea and misrepresenting the Biblical account.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Tori, age 50+ (USA)
Negative—Ho boy, here I thought this was going to be a good movie, but was I ever disappointed. I love musicals and so was really looking forward to it. First of all, it is a modern and loose interpretation of the story, probably thinking they are appealing to teen viewers. There are so many Biblical inaccuracies that I don’t know where to begin. The one that was particularly disturbing was Herod’s son trying to find Mary to kill her instead of the slaying of the innocents like Scripture chronicles. I was a bit shocked as I thought Affirm pictures was a Christian company, and some of the scenes seemed to be mocking the story, particularly at the end. The “sheep dung” comment and also the wisemen saying no one cares about Myrrh. Well, as we know Myrrh is symbolic of Christ’s later sacrifice.

Some of the songs were nice, particularly those sung by Mary, but that was the only positive for me. Was this supposed to be a comedy? I sort of got that impression, but the majority of the jokes fell flat. Also, did anyone else think the Magi were purposely made to be rather effeminate? Anyway, I rented this for $7 and was sorry I did. The previews looked good, but the movie itself cheated the viewers.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2
Kathy Pj, age 63 (Canada)
Negative—This movie is not scriptural. Joseph was a carpenter not an inventor. Mary did not protest being the mother of Jesus. Joseph accepted his role. Gabriel did not have trouble thinking what to say to Mary. There were other instances too numerous to mention. Not recommended as a movie for anyone to see especially Christians.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: no opinion
Diane, age 68 (USA)
Negative—Today my husband and I went to see “Journey to Bethlehem.” We were excited by the Trailer and knowing of several actors in the film. This past year we were happy to see so many Christian films coming out in the theaters, we have wanted to support them.

Not a film critic. We did enjoy the acting, the music and the sets were beautiful! It was entertaining, but it was not Biblical. Mary was not portrayed as God-fearing or humble. Her answer to the angel was not the one in the Bible. Joseph is said to be an inventor??? The ending was totally unscriptural! I felt they presented it in a fairy tale manner.

Proverbs 30:6 — Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.

The movie was offensive in it’s distortion of Scripture. It did not come across as respectful of our LORD and Savior. There was no Gospel given at the end, only a disclaimer that they took creative license. I would not recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Vickie Matthews, age 72 (USA)
Negative—This movie borders on blasphemous. It was an absolute disgrace. It is fine, even needed, to give a modern-day version of the biblical tale—no problem there. But there is not ONE shred of evidence in scripture that 1) one of the wise men was a a pink-robed, wig-wearing effeminate homosexual, 2) that Mary was a rebellious feminist with a bad attitude, who wanted a career over marriage, 3) that there were women soldiers guarding Herod, or 4) that Herod’s son wore an alien-like earpiece.

Of course one must be creative bringing any book to the big screen. But bizarre, outright inventions so as to be PC and acceptable to our sick culture are not necessary or acceptable to serious Christians.

This movie obviously had no direction, no agreed sense of how it should play out, what kind of film it would end up being, etc. I was embarrassed to admit I attended it, and will not be telling anyone at church as I am ashamed to have economically supported this hot mess. Again, it was a disgrace of a movie by every measure imaginable and a terrible waste of.

Christian movies have come a LONG way since Bob Jones University tried making them, but as bad as those were, at least they were faithful to the Bible. “Journey to Bethlehem” takes this genre back to BJU days. It is so bad it could only be described as sadly hilarious.

What a wasted chance to present the story seriously and accurately! These people will stand before God and give account of this terrible waste of time, talent, work, and opportunity. There were unsaved people who could have been reached had this been a serious project.

I can readily understand atheists and enemies of Christ who do this kind of thing to the Holy Bible, but it is unimaginable to me that Christians would do this! Hopefully, JTB will die a well-earned quick death and the world will be spared more of this nonsense. There are times I am ashamed to be called a Christian. Sadly, this is one of them. Why would we do this to ourselves?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Oscar (USA)

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