By Kevin Price, National News Editor, USADC
I want to preface by noting I have several biases as I write a review about the new — and compelling film — “Paul, an Apostle of Christ.”
- I’m a stickler for accuracy, and the most important account we have about the final days of the very influential Apostle Paul, is the Bible itself. Thus, I will judge its accuracy by the Bible.
- I am a huge fan of Paul. He is, without a doubt, my favorite Human in the Scripture.
- I am always suspicious of hidden agendas that might exist in a film of this nature.
An excellent summary of the film can be found at ChristianAnswers.net:
“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.”
What is key in the above summary is that the movie is largely fictional. One gets the impression that the movie is an interesting take on the unique relationship between Luke (the physician who wrote the Book of Acts, which was the inspiration of the movie) and of Paul, rather than the Apostle’s story. Again, just a “take,” there is not much history to back up a great deal of the story. Very little was told of the Apostle’s compelling story, which is what made me interested. His incredibly rich background, his absolute love of Judaism, how he was compelled to serve the gentiles, even while wanting to give his own life for his fellow Jews to be saved. The Paul who wrote in Romans 9:3 that, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race” (NIV). I would have loved to have heard more of that. The sanctification process of Paul is one of the most compelling stories in the Bible.
Most of the story circled around events that there is virtually no documentation to support. True, it was interesting that a man perceived by the Romans as dangerous as Paul was allowed to have a guest, like Luke, make regular visits and write documents that could be disbursed to Christians throughout the known world. We know it happened (several of his letters are called the Prison Epistles), but we do not know how it happened. In my opinion, the movie devoted too much time speculating about that and not enough time on the story of the Apostle himself.
Then there are issues of accuracy:
- The implying there was a significant number in the church that wanted to militarily rebel against the Roman empire is not supported by scripture or other historical accounts. If anything, the church at this point was passionate about the acceptance of martyrdom.
- The exchange between Paul and Luke about excerpts of their conversations that should be used in the scriptures brings in the Catholic view of inspiration (not surprisingly, knowing the Director is from that faith). Among Catholics, “Scripture Only” is not the sole basis of inspiration, and places the Catholic Church’s interpretation of the Bible as equal to the verses they are viewing. In the movie, you get the idea that “inspiration” is like the type Shakespeare received in writing great literature, not “men moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God,” which is what the Bible argues (II Pet. 1.21).
- It is unlikely that Luke wrote the book of Acts during this visits, but a few years earlier during Paul’s first years in prison. However, that has little impact on the message of the story itself. Again, I am a stickler.
One thing that I was concerned about, but did not happen, is that the movie did not develop a “performance gospel,” which can happen in Catholic based film, in my opinion. Repeatedly Paul says “God’s grace is sufficient.” What a powerful — and arguably — the most important message in the film.
Also, I love the ownership attitude that is displayed in the movie. The movie argues we are the products of God — his creation — we serve as He allows us. We see it when Paul uses the “slave language” to describe himself. He had no doubt of who owned him. In addition, it was a powerful — if not disturbing — view of what first century believers suffered under Nero (as well as other rulers) and intentionally reminds us that believers around the world suffer from a similar fate today. It enforces my desire to support those brethren both in prayer and financially.
I suggest seeing the film. It is well done and well acted, the message (and thus the spirit) is very accurate, if not all the details. If you are worried about what is true, I suggest reading the Book of Acts and the Book of Romans (because it provides a great deal of the theological backdrop of the times.) I would also suggest reading Paul’s Prison Epistles, which were written during his first prison stint.
I’m glad I saw it and suggest others to see it too, but do so with eyes wide open. I suggest seeing it as inspirational fiction that can help empower believers today.