Paul—Apostle of Christ

Film review by Jiggs Gallagher  |  2 April 2018  |  

A new Hollywood film, “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” has been released in selected theaters across the nation. It was produced by Affirm Films, one of several in a new wave of faith-based filmmakers intent on marketing to religiously motivated moviegoers looking for quality productions and uplifting moral content.

The film stars actor Jim Caviezel, who takes a demotion this time (he portrayed Christ more than a decade ago in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”). In this movie he is Luke, the Greek-born physician, missionary and titled author of one of the four Gospels. James Faulkner portrays Paul.

The action takes place in A.D. 67 in Rome, shortly after the great fire, which evil Emperor Nero seeks to blame on the city’s Christian community. The Apostle Paul, in his old age, has come to Rome and is imprisoned in a filthy prison. Luke travels to Rome where he meets up with a clandestine Christian community led by Aquila and Priscilla, the traveling tent-makers long associated with Paul on his three missionary journeys around the Mediterranean world. (There is biblical evidence that they once did live in Rome and were expelled with other Jewish Christians in A.D. 49 by Emperor Claudius, but that may be a bit of literary license in the script.)

Luke plots to sneak into Paul’s prison cell, courtesy of some sympathetic jailers, in order to encourage Paul—and to interview him in order to write a narrative of early church history (they call it “The Way,” not the church). Of course, that book eventually becomes the Acts of the Apostles.

In the film, Paul is quite naturally depressed by his dismal circumstances and thoughts of his impending execution. The script does a decent job of showing how he battles his demons, including memories of his persecution of Christ’s followers before his own Damascus Road conversion. 

Meanwhile, back at the Aquila/Priscilla extended Christian community, the big question is whether to persevere in Rome, where Nero is feeding their kind to the lions in the circus and setting many of them aflame as nighttime torches on the streets of the city. Aquila leans toward fleeing to another, less threatening place, but Priscilla urges that they stay and minister to the poor, sick and orphans suffering under Nero’s despotism. 

The young bucks in the Christian community grow restless with Jesus’ pacifist teaching, and they keep threatening to start a revolt in Rome to unseat the emperor and his henchmen. It takes all of Luke’s and Aquila’s (and Paul’s) efforts to keep them in line and observant of the Lord’s teaching of turning the other cheek.

“Paul, Apostle of Christ” is a pretty good drama when compared to old-style biblical epics like “The Ten Commandments” and “King of Kings.” The characters, while speaking deliberately and often quoting scripture directly, make a good effort at using natural American rhythms of speech and the director keeps the action moving forward in a good story arc.  At one point, Paul says, “Everything I have done, I have done for Christ.”

A sub-plot is the jailer’s young daughter, who is dying from a mysterious (and undefined) illness. At first he refuses Paul’s suggestion that Luke visit her and try to treat her ailment. But as she hovers over imminent death, he relents and lets Luke treat her with his physician’s skill and prayer. Of course, she is healed, and the jailer’s family happiness is restored. However, it doesn’t stop the jailer from delivering Paul over to the executioner.

There seems to be a growing audience for faith-based films in America. One tally of the top-grossing such movies of the past 20 years lists Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” as far and away Number One, bringing in more than $600 million. Interestingly, Gibson’s 2016 “Hacksaw Ridge,” the story of Seventh-day Adventist non-combatant medic Desmond Doss, was Number Two, with receipts of about $175 million. Other such recent films include “Heaven is For Real” and “Miracles from Heaven.”

Spoiler alert—Paul’s story doesn’t end well (you already knew that!), as far as his earthly journey goes. But we do get to see him meeting up with long-dead friends, relatives and associates after his grisly demise, and, as the light seems to emanate from behind his back, You-Know-Who walks slowly up to welcome him to heaven. As Shakespeare once wrote, All’s Well that Ends Well.

Jiggs Gallagher is an adjunct professor of journalism at California State University. He has served as a communication officer for a number of Adventist institutions and worked for the GC as well as in secular news media.

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