Strongly centered in a biblical worldview
|Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations|
|Family Viewing Suitability|
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Set in the context of brutal Christian persecution under the rule of Roman Emperor Nero in 67 A.D., PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST tells the story of Gospel author Luke’s visits to Mamertine Prison in Rome, where Paul is imprisoned and awaiting execution. Here, Luke convinces Paul to tell his story so that he can write it down and encourage the followers of “The Way” in the early Christian church. It is from the conversations between Luke and Paul that the biblical book of Acts is born—a text that profoundly impacts history by paving the way for the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.
Produced by Affirm Films—the faith-driven outreach of Sony Pictures Entertainment—and distributed by Columbia Pictures, PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is both directed and written by Andrew Hyatt (FULL OF GRACE). It features Jim Caviezel (PASSION OF THE CHRIST, WHEN THE GAMES STANDS TALL) as Luke; James Faulkner (“Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones”) as Paul; Olivier Martinez (“Mars,” Texas Rising”) as Roman jailer Mauritius; Joanne Whalley (A.D., THE BIBLE CONTINUES, “The Borgias”) as Priscilla; John Lynch (THE SECRET GARDEN, “The Nativity,” “Killing Jesus”) as Aquila; and Alessandro Sperduti (HEAVEN, I AM DAVID) as Cassius.
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
Overall, PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is a powerful proclamation of the Gospel. Indeed, as Paul tells his story to Luke, the book of Acts practically spills out of his mouth. And while the set-up for Luke’s desire to capture Paul’s experiences is extra-biblical, the film takes audiences on an engaging and realistic journey through the Acts of the Apostles—bringing the biblical narrative to life.
In terms of biblical relevance, PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST realistically portrays the graphic reality of Christian persecution and martyrdom in Nero’s Rome. And given the increasing number of Christians being martyred around the world today—and, to a much lesser degree, the very real threats to religious liberty experienced by twenty-first century American Christians—this film accurately reminds believers to rejoice in tribulations and boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus no matter the cost.
On the down side, the motivation for Luke’s request to write down Paul’s story in this film seems to come more from a human desire to leave a legacy than from the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And while Paul repeatedly asserts that Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, the role of the Holy Spirit in the writing of not only this book but other writings by both Paul and Luke is not clearly acknowledged in this film.
Positively, one of the main themes of PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is forgiveness. Paul is clearly depicted as a radically transformed man whose life is characterized by forgiveness following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He goes from persecuting Christians to becoming their unlikely leader—preaching the message of loving one another and forgiving enemies. Here, temptations to wage war the way the world does in the political realm must be avoided at all costs—and Christians are admonished to care for the world, not rule it.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
The primary relationship depicted in PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is that of Luke and Paul. As the vehicle for propelling the story forward, their friendship provides the basis for Paul to recount his life before and after conversion and sets the stage for Luke to interact with the Christians hiding with Priscilla and Aquila—and for Paul to engage with his Roman jailer, Mauritius. As friends with very human doubts, fears and questions, Luke and Paul clearly love and enjoy each other deeply—and reminisce about the old days together on the road preaching the Gospel.
Beyond Luke, Paul’s other primary relationship as depicted in this film is with Mauritius. Here, the skeptical Mauritius is increasingly curious about Paul’s faith—to the point that he takes risks to engage with Paul in extended worldview conversations that challenge him and shake his belief in the Roman pantheon of gods. Even Mauritius’ wife sees the danger of Mauritius’ openness to both Paul and Luke—warning him that he is risking his family’s lives by angering Nero, who considers Paul and the Christians to be the cause of the great fire that destroyed much of Rome three years earlier. But as their daughter becomes increasingly sick with a mysterious illness that none of the Roman doctors can cure, Mauritius ultimately allows Luke, who is a physician, to treat her. This forces Mauritius to seriously consider Paul’s truth claims about Jesus and the Gospel.
The other major relationships in PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST center around the home of Priscilla and Aquila, a wealthy couple who care for a large number of Christians who have taken refuge in their expansive compound. As a couple, Priscilla and Aquila are loving are respectful to one another—even though they come to disagree on whether they should stay in Rome or leave and seek safety in Ephesus. Despite the danger, Priscilla wants to stay and be the remaining light of Christ in the city. In contrast, and after prayer and consideration, Aquila thinks they should go. Here—rather unbelievably, given the gender-based roles in the cultural context of the day—they agree to take separate paths.
Similarly, the Body of Christ in Rome is increasingly torn about whether to leave or stay. And there are increasing levels of distrust and dissention among members over how to deal with the Roman persecution. Even when Luke first arrives in Rome, he openly questions if everyone who claims to be a Christian can be trusted. Eventually, a group under the impatient leadership of Cassius decides to take matters into their own hands and rescue both Paul and Luke from their imprisonment. However, Paul refuses to leave his cell and rebukes them for taking the worldly way of violence over Christ’s example of love—saying that evil cannot be overcome with evil, but only by good.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
While some situations depicted in PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST are graphic and hard to watch, they are appropriate to the story line and realistic to the time and place in first-century A.D. Rome. For example, the film is set during a period of intense persecution and scapegoating of Christians under Nero. Here, scenes depict Christians being burned alive on platforms as torches to light the city streets at night. There is also a human slave auction as well as some very poignant and powerful scenes involving Luke ministering to and a group of Christians facing death in the arena as entertainment for the bloodthirsty Roman masses. Although shocking, these scenes are handled well and—thankfully—not gratuitous.
Similarly, there is a beauty and dignity to the events leading up to Paul’s execution that boldly proclaim his strong faith in Jesus and his love for those who persecute him—as well as the comfort and joy that comes from his certain knowledge that to be apart from the body is to be with Christ. Here, the final scene as Paul is welcomed into eternity—and forgiven for his sins—is nothing short of glorious.
Another beautiful scene in PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST centers on the Christians in Priscilla and Aquila’s compound praying for Mauritius’ daughter as she is at the point of death—followed by her healing at the hands of Luke at daybreak at the very moment the Christians in the arena are fed to the lions.
Finally, in a series of wonderful scenes, Paul recounts through flashbacks his road to Damascus experience—saying that he’s a wretched man who deserves death. While Ananias agrees that all deserve death, he tells Paul that Jesus has set us free and then takes off Paul’s blindfold and heals him—to Paul’s shock and amazement. Soon, Paul is baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit—and then led into Arabia for three years to spend time with Jesus and learn to be a disciple. Later, when the devil taunts Paul about the thorn in his flesh—and he continues to be haunted by the memories of those he persecuted before his conversion, including the stoning of Stephen—he receives the revelation that God’s grace is sufficient.
Family Viewing Suitability
At 106 minutes in length, PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images, including Paul receiving a beating in prison and Christians being burned alive on the streets of Rome. There is also a quick glimpse of humans being sold at a slave auction, and a scene in which Mauritius makes a bloody sacrifice to a Roman god. Given these considerations, this film is likely not suitable for younger children, and parental discretion is needed for teens older than 13.
PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is a very good movie. It creates a believable and thought-provoking story line that generally follows the biblical narrative and church traditions concerning Paul's time as a prisoner in Rome during an era of horrifying Christian persecution. Admirably, the writers keep the story moving forward at a suspenseful and satisfying pace—culminating in powerful scenes that flesh out the development of each major character in realistic and emotionally powerful ways. Here, the acting overall is very high quality—with particular props to Olivier Martinez for his strong performance as the skeptic Mauritius, and Joanne Whalley for her steady and convincing turn as Priscilla.
In the final analysis, PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST does a great job of incorporating recognizable biblical material from Paul's writings into the story that will encourage and inspire both faith-driven and secular audiences alike. And the Christian themes of love, forbearance and forgiveness are on full display—setting an important example that calls followers of “The Way” to be very distinct from the surrounding culture, no matter the cost.