By Steven Bancarz| I saw Paul, Apostle of Christ recently, and I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I think most Christians will like the film. I liked the actors, I liked the storyline, and I liked the movie theater chair I was sitting in. It reclined. Overall, it was well-made and Biblical. Paul spoke in Scripture often, splicing in verses from his epistles into ordinary conversation with Christian and non-Christian alike.
Here is a official synopsis as given by the movie website: “PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is the story of two men. Luke, as a friend and physician, risks his life when he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul, who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell.
But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to Zwrite another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church.
Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much—floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure—yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten . . . and if he has the strength to finish well.
Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spread their message to the world.”
So let’s assess a few things. This film is centered around the last few months of Paul’s life and displays the suffering and persecution the early church went through while living in Rome. As you can tell by the official synopsis, the film attempts to portray the humanity of Paul. “Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten, and if he has the strength to finish well.” One time in the film, Paul looks up to the sky and asks, “is this all there is?”.
Personally, this caught me off guard. Is this really the Paul we see in the New Testament? Sure, Paul was human, but what we see from Scripture is someone who was perfectly confident of his identity, his ministry, the hand of God on His life, and his future with the Lord:
“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 5:4-8
The Paul of the film doesn’t act as one who is “always of good courage” like he says he is. But perhaps I am being a tad idealist. Nonetheless, I would like to address three instances in the film which could potentially give the wrong impression to the viewers if they don’t have a sound understanding of the New Testament.
1. Paul is not trying to persuade people.
There is a scene where Paul is talking to the prison gaurd about Jesus, and he gives a clever analogy using a sail-boat and an ocean to articulate why he is so Christ-centered and focused on what lies beyond the grave.
He asks him to imagine he was sailing on a boat, and that he was reaching over the side of the boat trying to cup water in his hand. “The water you try to pick up in your hand represents your life, and the ocean in front of you represents eternity.” After he gives this analogy, the gaurd asks “What if after this is all done, I do not end up believing in your Lord?”
Rather than to continue to try to convince him to believe in Jesus or warn him of the penalty of rejecting the Gospel, Paul says:
“I’m not trying to persuade you.”
And then they both laugh. It was kind of a funny moment, but it makes him seem as though he had a passive attitude toward ministry and speaking with unbelievers.
It’s more of a “I’ll just share my worldview with you, but I’m not going to offend you or step on your toes by trying to convince you. I’ll just gracefully speak the truth of Christ with you and leave it at that”, versus the historical Paul who was constantly in the business of trying to persuade people.
“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” – 2 Corinthians 5:11
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.” – Acts 18:4
“And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” – Acts 19:26
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am” – Acts 26:27-29
“From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” – Acts 28:23
Paul conducted his ministry with a sense of urgency, recognizing that the eternity of each soul depends upon how we relate to the person of Jesus.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore (beg, plead with) you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,” – 2 Corinthians 10:5
The Paul of the Bible persuaded people, pleaded with people, and engaged in argument to lead people to Jesus. It was a little surprising to see Paul’s response to the guards question. I would have expected Paul to warn him of the coming judgment or quote more Scripture to him, not laugh it off. This does not seem to accurately represent the character of Paul or set a good example of Biblical evangelism to the viewers.
2. Paul says he preached the Gospel freely, when in reality, he took money from churches for ministry.
While in conversation, Paul hints at the idea that he does believe it’s appropriate to receive money from preaching the Gospel.
“The Gospel was given to me freely and so I preach it freely”.
It seemed to play on the idea that the work of the Lord should be done freely without charge, and that Paul would have been in error if he would have expected or wanted financial compensation for preaching the Gospel in ministry. This flavour came through pretty clearly in the scene, but it goes directly against what Paul himself said and did in the Bible:
“This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit?
Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake?
It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” – 1 Corinthians 9:3-14
Paul actually received financial support for ministry at least two different times according to the New Testament, the first coming from the church at Phillipi:
“And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” – Phillipians 4:15-16
Using hyperbole, Paul tells the church in Corinth that he collected money from other churches so that he wouldn’t have to burden them beyond what they could repay him.
“I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.” – 2 Corinthians 11:8-9
In the film, Paul comes across as though he is opposed to the idea that someone would receive money or expect money for being in ministry, but in the Bible Paul says he had a right to ask for material blessing, that those who preach should make their living from preaching the Gospel, and he himself took financial compensation from churches in Macedonia and received more from Philippi. He says elsewhere that the “labourer is worthy of his wagers” referring to financial support given to elders in the church for their ministry.
This line in the movie, while seemingly innocent, is an unbiblical philosophy of ministry and finance that plays on the common idea that preachers don’t have a right to ask for tithe money, and ministries shouldn’t be asking for donations.
One of the biggest complaints people have to the Christian faith is the idea that pastors ask for a tithe offering each service, and this comment Paul makes in the film seems to fan the wrong flame and give people the impression that wanting finance for ministry goes against the Christian ethic.
This does not send the right kind of message to those on the outside looking for an excuse to reject the church, or to those who are in the church who are already resistant to tithing or supporting ministries financially. It puts ammunition in the wrong gun and stands opposed to the ministry of Paul and the example we see laid out in Scripture.
3. Luke is brainstorming with Paul what to write next in the book of Acts.
He is uncertain about how to organize his story of Paul’s conversion, so he passes some ideas by Paul and ask what he thinks. This happens two different times in the film. In the second instance. Luke approaches Paul with what he believes will be a great way to cap off that section of his letter. He passes his freshly construed idea by Paul, and Paul looks at him and says “Yeah, that would be good” and they both laugh.
Aside from the admittedly tasteful comedic relief, the message given here is that Scripture is a product of human will and human reasoning. That it was generated by the creativity of uncertain, uninspired, unguided men who needed to sit on passages for weeks at a time as they ask around to see if their ideas sound good enough to write down. After all, this is precisely what Luke did in the film.
To be blunt, this is a heretical view of the inspiration of Scripture. Let’s look at what Peter and Paul have to say about the books in the canon:
“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:20-21
No part of Scripture originates from someones own personal understanding and will, but it was breathed out by God as Paul tells Timothy:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” – 2 Timothy 3:16
The word of Greek used here is “theopneustos, which means comes from two different words in Greek: Theos, which means God, and “empneu” meaning “to breathe”.
“The term stresses the divine origin and thus the authority of Scripture. Paul does not point to the human authors of Scripture as inspired people but says that the writings themselves (“Scripture,” Gk. graphē, “writing,” which in the NT always refers to biblical writings) are the words spoken (“breathed out”) by God.” (1)
How could a thought that Luke brainstormed for days at a time asking around for input be “God-breathed”? It was extremely concerning to see multiple scenes where Luke is puzzled about what to write next, finally deciding upon his next section after fleshing out his ideas with those around him. It encourages viewers to take low view of Scripture.
The film was slightly slow-pace and a tad boring at times, but I believe a good job was done recapturing the life and struggles of the early church during their era of persecution in Rome. I left the theater feeling inspired and encouraged spiritually, seeing the brutality that Christian martyrs had to endure and their steadfastness in the Gospel.
Paul was wonderful man of God who we all long to be like (at least in some areas of our life). I just wish they would have portrayed him as the unapologetic, uncompromising, heavy-hitting powerhouse of an apostle that he was for the early church. Where is the Paul who writes entire epistles as rebuttals to false gospels, debates with people all day trying to win them for Christ, and warns those of the coming judgement?
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” – 2 Thessalonians 1:9
Maybe he was just a little tired and worn out by the end of his life. Either way, it was a good film that was necessary for the body of Christ and should be seen by every Christian.
- Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2342). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.