Movie Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

Who else has seen the new movie Paul, Apostle of Christ yet? My wife and I saw it last Saturday morning (but still had to pay $9, ggrrrrrrhh). I was more impressed than I thought I would be. This is not a biography of Paul, but him in a particular time and place: Rome after the fire of 67 AD, during Nero’s persecution, in prison. They show occasional flashbacks to earlier parts of Paul’s life. The movie was definitely more intense than I expected, but not as intense as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004). In this movie, Christians are being sent into the Coliseum to be martyred (which you don’t see directly) and being used as Roman torches (which you do see, hence the PG-13 rating…probably too intense for many preteens). Ironically, we sat watching it in lounge seating—maybe I shouldn’t complain about $9. The writer/director is Andrew Hyatt (b. 1982) who has done a few other faith-centered movies, but none that I have seen. I found no evidence that the Roma Downey & Mark Burnett group that produced The Bible TV mini-series (2013) had anything to do with the production of Paul, Apostle of Christ.

I did wish the movie focused more intently on justification—on Christ crucified for us. It leaned a bit more generically to spreading the love of Christ. Christ’s resurrection was definitely portrayed, but could have been emphasized more. The movie was peppered with Pauline quotes. The historical fiction specifics of Mamertine prison, Paul, Luke, Aquila, Priscilla, and the Christian “community” living in their home in Rome all seemed plausible to me, but I’m not a professional early church historian (I teach pastoral counseling at Concordia Seminary). Jim Caviezel and the other cast members seemed believable in their parts. I did like that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is portrayed as lingering PTSD issues from killing Christians prior to his conversion, and that the “community” living and hiding under this persecution was torn by whether or not they should retaliate.

If you’ve not seen it yet, you might have to wait until it comes out on video. According to the website, it is still in a few theaters around St. Louis. If you’ve seen it, what was your assessment? I write this blog not so much as a review, but as a place on Concordiatheology.org to discuss in what ways (or not) we might be able to use this movie in our congregations to help people talk about Jesus, and his apostle Paul, and Christ’s body, the church. The movie’s website does have downloadable discussion guides and church leader packets. What do you think? Chime in below!

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10 Comments

  1. Jacob Mueller May 3, 2018
    Reply

    I agree with what you said. They could have done a better job emphasizing Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. But I did appreciate their references to baptism (2 I think) and the Lord’s Supper (just one shot of it near the end) and the Lord’s Prayer in a fitting context. It was a good idea to showcase Luke’s skills as a physician to show that we both pray for people and encourage them to get medical help. They made it a point to show that Christians are not anti-science.

  2. Rick Marrs May 3, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you Pastor Mueller. I would like to see it again with an ability to pause it and take notes about the number of Scripture references we hear, but you remember about what I do. I guess that is what DVD’s are for. Any one else seen the movie?

  3. Tim Roggow May 3, 2018
    Reply

    This was an enjoyable movie to watch and visually see what the Christians at that time went through. As you said, it will be good to have as a DVD to be able to use it in discussions. I also agree that it would have been better to have more focus of what Christ does for us. As I have read in the message points on the movie’s website, “the two themes found in this movie that are relevant to today are:
    First, we are surrounded by evil, which can strike suddenly and without cause.
    Second, we can all learn from Paul and Luke: Love is the only answer.”
    And…it needs to share, as Paul did, where that love that we share comes from…Christ. If you’re still interested in seeing it on the big screen, I feel it is still worth it.

  4. Rick Marrs May 4, 2018
    Reply

    Thanks Tim. Glad to see our seminarians are out there and chiming in on CT.org

  5. Timothy Norton May 10, 2018
    Reply

    Hi, I am a recent CMC (and by extension CSL) grad. I serve on a Native American Reservation in New Mexico. The week following Easter I took a group of 6 adults and 7 teens to see the film. Although far more verbal than “The Passion of Christ” (which relied almost entirely on the visual narrative) this film was able to communicate the essential message of the gospel and the “theologia crucis” to an audience who has less familiarity with the Biblical narrative than people who were raised in the Christian faith. Most of the Scripture passages quoted in the film went over their heads, but the ideas of not repaying evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), and dying with Christ to be raised with him (Rom. 6:5) were portrayed in a eloquent and compelling way and they all “got it”. Also, unlike many Christian films which have poor production, acting, and cringe worthy dialogue, this one suffered from none of that, and did not shy away from the more thorny questions of redemption, suffering and evil that usually receive a gloss in 21st century Christian films. Thanks for initiating this discussion. I hope more people see the film and contribute their thoughts.

    • Rick Marrs May 10, 2018

      Thank you Pastor Norton. Good to hear of the possible cross-cultural opportunities, and with newer Christians, for this movie. Has this group seen the Passion of the Christ as well? If yes, did its less verbal drama communicate the Gospel to them, or was it too much drama? I’ve been a fan of that movie in general, and tend to watch it every Lenten season, but on video I fast forward through the scourging scene because I think Gibson went beyond what was necessary there. The Roman torches scenes in the Paul movie were difficult to watch as well, but didn’t go over the top like the Passion’s scourging scene, in my opinion.

  6. Timothy Norton May 12, 2018
    Reply

    Hi Pr. Marrs,
    Although I did not see “The Passion of Christ” with the exact same group I have talked to certain people in my congregation and community who have seen it. “The Passion of Christ” did clearly communicate the message of Christ’s sacrifice with those people and many of them revisit the film at least annually. The one image in “The Passion of Christ” that was important but did not communicate to this audience, was when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and Satan lets out a snake, and Jesus crushes it’s head. I personally thought that was a great picture of Gen. 3:15 and the proto-evangelion, but if you’re not familiar with the story it seems a strange thing to see Jesus killing snakes. Sadly I think most people here are inured to violence, and so they did not fast forward the scourging scene, nor were they shocked by the bloodshed. I am thankful for both of these films though, in that all things that reinforce the Scriptural narrative to people who are learning it, are very helpful for the missionary/proclaimer of the Gospel.

  7. Rick Marrs May 15, 2018
    Reply

    Pastor Norton:
    Thank you for those insights into “The Passion of the Christ.” I completely agree with your assessment of the Garden and snake scene: very powerful for those who understand Gen. 3:15, but probably quite strange for those not in that know.
    An aside: My wife and I saw the 2016 movie The Promise on DVD last weekend. It is a very powerful narrative about the 1st holocaust of the 20th century, that of the Turks slaughtering 1.5 million Christian Armenians village-by-village during and after WWI. The focus is on a conflicted love triangle between three well-intentioned (fictional) characters. The movie did not have very much explicit Christ-centeredness in its story, although the importance of their faith was implied in several scenes. It is heart-wrenching though, and we had a hard time going to sleep right after finishing the movie. Don’t watch it too late into the evening if you need to go to work the next morning.

  8. Rick Marrs August 13, 2018
    Reply

    In case you have not noticed, Paul the Apostle is now out on DVD. I’ve seen it at Redbox. If you didn’t get to see it in a theater, I think it is well worth watching. Do remember that it is PG-13 and has several scenes that would be too intense for preteens. But this could be used for adult Bible study, if your people can handle some violence.

  9. Rev. Paul Wheelhouse September 27, 2018
    Reply

    I saw the movie: “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” when it was in the theaters in Gainesville, FL Palm Sunday weekend of this year.
    I was very impressed with the film and consider it fairly well rooted biblically. But it is a movie for “entertainment” purposes, and we all should assume that some aspects are taken ‘overboard,’ too far for entertaining purposes. In this case, while it is quite plausible, humanly speaking, that Paul deep down still carried some guilt for killing Christians in his earlier unconverted life, the movie I belief does go a bit ‘overboard’ with these flashbacks. The movie begins on a graphic flashback of Paul’s participating in killing Christians. We need to keep in mind that this is still a movie for entertainment. Paul because such a strong Christian and he would have immediately placed any flashbacks under the blood of Christ and be reminded of forgiveness he received from the Lord Jesus. Another example of a religious movie going ‘overboard’ in my view, for entertainment purposes, is in the 2004 Luther movie, the depicting of Luther as going schizophrenic in the monk’s cell, wrestling with devils, before his appearance of the Diet of Worms, went ‘overboard’ in regard to his MENTAL state. But it made for an “entertaining” scene.
    With the Apostle of Christ movie, I was most impressed with the living word of God coming through Paul, actual quotes from Scripture, inter-twined in conversations throughout the movie, particularly in the end as Paul was witnessing to the Roman governor. This, in my view, is the best ‘redeeming’ value of this movie, and what should be the goal of every biblically-based movie, is to portray the word of God enfleshed, living through the characters, in the life contexts (Ger. sitz em leben), strengthening faith and giving hope, comfort, and encouragement.
    My final point is a careful observation I made from the movie. If my observation is correct, not once is “Jesus” ever used in this film. Only “Christ” is used, which opens up the prospect of the Gnostic influence of separating the human Jesus from the divine Logos. “Christ” is often used in our modern/post-modern times by gnostically and New Age-influenced Christians or other religious/spiritual people. So I wondered if the writer was influenced by or was even reflecting this view. The writer could be inquired as to his perspective on this. The Divine-Human doctrine of Christ Jesus is no secondary matter, but one of the chief doctrines of the Christian church.

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