Last night, I saw the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ at a local movie theater. Heading in, I was curious to see how my favorite character in the Bible would be portrayed. I also paired my curiosity with caution.
When it comes to big screen movies that involve Bible stories and characters, previous disappointments have influenced me to lower my expectations regarding cinematic quality and biblical accuracy. Going into Bible movies with modest hopes has helped me to enjoy most Bible-related movies on their own terms, as opposed to seeing them through a critical grid. But when it comes to Paul, since he is so important to me personally and professionally, I approached this movie with more attention to detail than usual.
Overall, I enjoyed Paul, Apostle of Christ. The acting and the production side of the movie were well done. Jim Caviezel’s part as Luke was heartfelt. And I enjoyed the redemptive theme that was associated with the Roman prefect in charge of Paul’s prison. I thought they way overdid it with the amount of blood that was splattered across the screen from start to finish. But the vivid images did capture the historical reality that many early Christians suffered immensely for their faith.
If I could have processed this movie outside of historical and biblical realities, I would let my final word on this movie be “satisfied” and move on. But, there is a problem. The problem is that this movie was clearly seeking to present a biblical and historical portrait of Paul and the church in Rome (and thus the numerous direct biblical quotations). Knowing that this was what the producers were aiming for leads me to note the following objections.
- I did not detect any references in the entire movie to the fact that Paul was Jewish. The only implied reference to Paul’s Jewish identity was a brief, negative portrayal when he was lined up next to men who were obviously Pharisees and about to stone Stephen (as described in Acts 7).
- Not only was Paul Jewish, but he was a devoted, Torah-observant Jew as a follower of Yeshua until the day of his death. This was completely absent from the movie.
- The Messianic/Christian community in Rome was presented in the movie as an entirely Christian community with no association with Judaism or Jewish elements whatsoever. That is an unlikely scenario. The church at Rome, while Paul was alive, was likely a sub-group within Judaism with strong Jewish connections and associations.
Unfortunately, Paul, Apostle of Christ affirms stereotypes that most Christians and Jews have about Paul and his relationship to Judaism. In the eyes of the masses, Paul started a movement that was completely divorced and disconnected from anything Jewish. Paul’s religion, according to the prevailing viewpoint, was Christianity. And Christianity was a religion of love and grace, which superseded the legalistic and merciless Judaism.
The movie theater I attended was half full. I could tell that most of the people there were Christians. I left burdened that the movie we had just watched did not give them a more accurate picture of the real Paul. The real Paul was no doubt a man who preached a message of love and grace. But he was a man who did that as a Jew who loved and lived out the Torah within Judaism.