Their faith challenged an empire. Their words changed the world.
I was blessed to see an early screening of the new Christian movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ last week. It stars James Faulkner as Paul and Jim Caviezel as Luke and recounts the last days of Paul’s life during the persecutions of Emperor Nero. It was a wonderful movie. I loved it. While watching, I could not stop thinking that I need to see this movie again to catch all that was occurring. It was visually appealing, Biblically sound, and told a compelling story. It is an instant classic in the Christian film world.
I highly recommend seeing it. I have added a Free Ticket Giveaway to the blog as well. If you would like 2 free tickets to see Paul, Apostle of Christ in theaters compliments of Affirm Films, the details are HERE. As I specified in the Contest, I wrote this review before I was contacted about the giveaway and received nothing to do so.
The Apostle Paul is a giant of the Christian faith. He wrote a good portion of the New Testament. He is one of the greatest missionaries in history. It is telling that commentators were comparing Billy Graham’s impact on his passing to Paul’s. Even after 2000 years, Paul’s life is still the benchmark for working for Jesus. He was an amazing man of God. Despite this, the man has received very little attention in Christian film. The news that a new film Paul, Apostle of Christ was coming out and that it was starring Jim Caviezel was exciting as a result. There are few actors with the stature of Caviezel in the Christian movie world.
The movie does not disappoint. It does a wonderful job of humanizing Paul, Luke and the early believers of the church. It presents them in a light that we often miss when reading the Bible. Yes, they were amazing men and women of God who did enormous works for the Lord under terrible circumstances but they were not caricatures. They were not just flannel graph figures or ornate statues. They were people who were filled with the power and redeeming love of Jesus, but they were also human. They had doubts, fears, and frailties. They worried, failed and made mistakes while learning to follow Jesus. Understanding the humanity of the early church is a blessing when reading the accounts of their lives in the Bible.
The movie also presents Paul as not simply a man facing down an empire. He was every bit that man, surely. He was also as a mentor, beloved friend, and simple man defined by and filled with the love of Jesus. We tend to focus on his fearlessness and determination in the church but can miss his gentle loving heart.
The movie is able to bring these great Biblical heroes to life and make them relatable while crucially staying true to the Word of God. It shows their hearts and their humanity without diminishing them in any way. It is really well done.
The filmmakers made an interesting choice and set the movie in the last days of Paul’s life as he languished in a Roman prison. Nero has just burned down a good portion of the city and uses the new faith called “The Way” as scapegoats for the crime. The city and Nero’s government are seething with anger and they are taking it out on the Christians. Paul is thrown in prison while other Christians are being murdered throughout the city in terrible ways. This is the time of Nero’s Torches that history documents. Christians are used as torches to light the streets of Rome. These scenes are the cause of the PG-13 rating but were not gratuitous. They are despicable but not needless. The Romans really did burn Christians alive and killed them in droves during this period. The pressure is terrible on the believers outside of jail as well as on Paul as he waits for his execution. This extremely intense time is the backdrop for the story that unfolds.
As an aside, this movie stands in wonderful contrast to another recent movie dealing with persecution, Silence. I reviewed Silence previously HERE and found it to be totally lacking in understanding of Christian faith. It was also historically misleading. The blood of an estimated 3 million people during the early Christian persecutions as well as the 900,000 over the last 10 years testifies to just how bankrupt Silence is as a statement on Christian persecution.
In the midst of the chaos, Luke, the long time friend and traveling companion of Paul sees an opportunity to encourage the church. He risks his own safety to repeatedly visit Paul in prison to record what would become the book of Acts. The movie documents Paul and Luke’s fellowship during this process as well as their interactions with the Roman prison warden. At the same time, the church that is underground in Rome is shown as they struggle with the great challenges before them. They grapple with the desire to flee or fight the Romans or follow the teachings of Jesus to love their enemies, even to the death.
“Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica – Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.”
James Faulkner is wonderful as Paul. This was no small challenge as Paul is a man whose words most believers have read and spent hours meditating over. At the outset of the movie, we see how 30 years of ministry, thousands of miles of travel and physical suffering have taken a toll. He is tired and seems somewhat defeated at times. The temptation to despair is pulling at him. He also is visited by dreams of his prior life as Saul the Pharisee during which he killed the beloved children God. These scenes are some of the hardest to watch but are consistent with the Bible. Paul is described in Acts as tearing at the church like a wild animal attacking its prey. It does not diminish Paul’s greatness to show these struggles. They serve to show the true extent of his awesome faith in Jesus. One of my favorite moments of the movie is when Paul is in his dank, dark prison cell having a dream about when he killed Christians in his ignorant zeal. It is a scene that is repeated throughout the movie as Paul chases down a little Christian girl as she prays after her family has been killed. Paul approaches with great malice in his eyes and we see a club being raised and then Paul awakens from the dream repeating to himself:
“Your grace is sufficient for me, Your grace is sufficient for me”
The words we know are written by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. I have goosebumps as I write this thinking about the scene.
Jesus’ grace is bigger than anything Paul has ever done. How many time must have Paul reminded himself of that fact? How many times do we do the same?
The dialogue brilliantly weaves Scripture into the movie in a way that seems natural. Faulkner and Caviezel, in particular, seem so full of the love of what Jesus has taught them that the words of faith just naturally come out of their mouths. They do not awkwardly quote thees and thous, Scripture just flows from them like streams of living water. Watching them reminisce about their years of ministry together, their loving friendship and their facing hardship together while credibly speaking Scripture was a delight. Rather than being figures in a stained glass window, we get to see them as beloved co-workers in the Gospel, even joking with one another as they sit in the dark prison. As a pastor who goes through the ups and downs of ministry, I enjoyed watching the kinship between the men who have shared so much for the Lord together.
Another standout moment in the movie was their shared reaction to the martyrdom of a group of believers by the Romans. Their mixture of sadness, resignation at the evil in this world and joyous understanding was sweet to behold.
Their relationship is put under scrutiny by the Roman warden played by Oliver Martinez. He grows suspicious of the time spent together by Paul and Luke. He begins interrogating the two disciples leading to an open door for a discussion of the Way. The casual abuse he doles out to Caviezel in one scene set against the love and grace of the two characters was touching. When his daughter is near death, we see the strain that places upon Martinez’ character and wife do its work. Their desperation leads to the beginnings of a willingness to listen to what Paul and Luke. It was the age-old story of life forcing someone to come to the end of themselves and consider Jesus.
I appreciated watching the patient love with which Faulkner’s Paul explains Jesus to the initially scoffing Roman. One moment that was particularly poignant was when Paul compares the life of a non-believer as scooping a handful of water out of the ocean and frantically holding on as the water leaks out. In contrast, Christians are focused on the ocean. Faulkner’s Paul and Caviezel’s Luke really shine during these conversations. They are theologically rich but simple enough for anyone to follow. In word and deed, the characters live out Jesus’ call to choose love even in the worst of circumstances. For a further discussion of the importance of Love in the Christian faith, you may like Christianity Without Love?
One Caveat – The makers of the movie do use plot devices to tell Paul’s story. There is no mention of a specific jailer or his daughter in the Bible, the dialogue is obviously filled in by the writers and it is questionable whether Aquila and Priscilla are in Rome during this period, for a couple of examples. As the fictional portions of the film are credibly based upon events, cencepts and people in the Bible, I was not alarmed by it. I did not think it took away from the movie.
Paul, Apostle of Christ is a wonderful movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to seeing it a second time upon its release. It brings the Book of Acts to life while staying true to the Word of God. I hope you enjoy it as well.
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For an example of the issues of the Christian faith discuss, here is one of my favorite posts to consider. Our Identity in Christ
God Bless You.