On Good Friday, my brother and I went to see the new movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. I had wanted to see it since it coincided with us finishing up our study of Acts and the end of Paul’s life the upcoming Sunday in church. I was interested in seeing how accurate it was going to be, and, honestly, my expectations were not very high. As I’m sure you know, Hollywood doesn’t exactly have the best track record in producing Biblically accurate movies (see Russell Crowe’s Noah, for example). To my surprise, however, I thought Paul, Apostle of Christ was astonishingly accurate, with a few minor exceptions, which I will address. But I did appreciate the consideration for Biblical accuracy. I will also discuss what I did like and what I did not. (Potential spoilers!)
First, I liked that it was well-made with good acting, and excellent production value, in my opinion. Despite having a relatively small budget, they managed to construct a believable first century Rome. We saw tender moments, conflict and conflict resolution both between individuals and among groups, and emotional, gut-wrenching moments. When the movie ended, no one in the theatre moved. It was that powerful.
I did not like the few (relatively minor) Scriptural/chronological inaccuracies that I noticed.
- The first is that the setting of the movie had Luke writing Acts during Paul’s second imprisonment, when I believe the evidence favors Luke writing it during his first.
- The movie script has Paul saying, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” To which Luke responds, “That’s brilliant!” Then Paul urges him to “write it down.” You’ll recognize the quote from Philippians 1:21, which Paul had written from Rome during his first imprisonment with the pen of Epaphroditus – not Luke (according to an endnote in the KJV). It was already written down.
- Near the end of the movie, as Paul is about to be beheaded, Luke is portrayed giving Paul’s last letter, 2 Timothy, to Aquila for him to deliver to Timothy. However, it’s unlikely that Aquila delivered the letter to Timothy, since Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:19, “Salute…Aquila.” So Aquila was probably already with Timothy, rather than delivering the letter to him.
But for me, these inconsequential nitpicks did not take away from the film, or my enjoyment of it. Overall, I liked the amount of Scripture referenced either directly or indirectly in the movie.
I liked that it actually depicted persecution for the cause of Christ (a few scenes may not be suitable for young children, but there’s nothing too graphic). I would recommend American Christians see this movie for this reason alone! Because it takes us back to a time when it actually cost something to be a Christian: your life! Today, in many other countries, it still costs Believers their lives. But in America, where the prosperity gospel is ubiquitous, many professing Christians have forgotten this. I liked that the makers of the film dedicated it to persecuted Christians throughout the world. May we never forget them.
I did not like that it actually depicted Christ. We see an actor portraying Christ on two occasions. After one of the Christians was burned, the scene cuts to the face of who I can only assume is Jesus with a tear running down his face. The second instance is also in conjunction with persecution. After Paul is beheaded, the next scene depicts him in heaven being lovingly greeted by those he had persecuted in his former life. (I liked that!) Off in the distance, we see a person coming towards him. We do not see the person’s face, but again, we are left to assume that it is Jesus. I didn’t like this because one could construe this as a violation of the Second Commandment, a visible, tangible, physical representation of God.
Speaking of the final scene in heaven, I liked that heaven actually looked like a real place. This may sound trivial, but the popular modern conception of heaven is of spirits on an ethereal plane and baby angels sitting on clouds playing harps. But I liked that they depicted heaven as a real, physical place with real, recognizable people.
Of my dislikes, this one might be the most significant (along with the potential Second Commandment violation). I did not like that we never hear the Gospel from Paul’s mouth. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Paul has several conversations with the prefect of the Mamertine Prison, and not once does he preach the Gospel to him. The prefect asks, “And what if I don’t believe in your Christ?” Paul responds, “I’m not trying to convince you.” I think the Paul who wrote, “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11), and “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) would not have shied away from sharing the reality of an eternity in hell for rejecting Jesus. A second opportunity arose when the prefect marvelled that Paul endured such suffering without taking a salary and remarks, “Sounds like a slave.” Paul bows his head and almost whispers, “Every man is a slave to something.” What is that something? In his epistles Paul constantly referred to himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ,” so the script writers could have had him respond with something like, “Prefect, I am a slave, a slave to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You too are a slave – to your sin, just like everyone else. You need to repent of your sin and trust in Christ, because no one can be a slave to two masters.” I think something along those lines would be a more realistic response by the Apostle Paul.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend American Christians to go see it. I only wish there were more than six total people were in the theatre when we went. I did not like that.