The 2018 film Paul, Apostle of Christ is set in 67 A.D. during Paul’s final year of incarceration in a Roman prison. Charged with treason by Roman Emperor Nero, Paul has been sentenced to death, ending his 30 years of traveling all over Europe and Asia Minor, preaching, and establishing new Christian churches. Now awaiting his execution, Paul is visited in his dungeon by a former traveling companion, Greek physician and gospel author Luke, who has come to capture Paul’s wisdom in what will become the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles.
Some reviewers have criticized the film for a few minor flaws. The dialogue is clunky in a few scenes. The timeline may suffer from some historical inaccuracies; for instance, Luke may have written the Acts of the Apostles much later than the year of Paul’s death. Also, the film isn’t “Catholic enough” for some critics. For example, there’s no evidence that the Christian community-in-hiding led by Aquila and Priscilla has any connection to Saint Peter, the first Bishop of Rome who was martyred about the same time that Paul was, or Pope Linus, Peter’s successor. Luke and Paul’s celebration of the Eucharist appears only briefly in one montage.
Despite these issues, though, I found this film to be visually striking, suspenseful, and inspiring.
To me, its greatest value is bringing to life two exemplary Christians – Paul and Luke – who risked their lives and made huge personal sacrifices to follow Christ. Although theirs was an era of horrific persecution, with Christians being burned alive and fed to lions in the Colosseum, these men committed themselves to adhering to the letter of Christ’s law. Because they cannot condone violent retribution for any reason, they even refuse to flee the prison when an armed posse of young men try to release them.
With a deep, authoritative voice and piercing eyes that radiate his fervor, the talented actor who plays Paul (James Faulker) brilliantly conveys Paul’s deep conviction, dedication, and courage. With his every word and deed, Paul reminds us how to live. He asserts, for example, that the only way to combat evil is with good and with love. He serves as a shining example of a Christian life, yet the film also humanizes him by showing how much he suffers from his memories of the Christians he himself persecuted prior to his own conversion.
Paul’s example urges me to ask myself: How can I – a western Christian who does not face any of the dangers that confronted Paul, Luke, and other early Christians – do more of what Jesus asks of me?
Paul also eloquently reminds us what we’re living for. In my favorite scene of the movie, Paul asks Roman Prefect Mauritius Gallus, “Have you ever been sailing?” When the prefect answers yes, Paul goes on to say:
Imagine yourself looking out at the vast sea before you. You reach down, and you put a hand into the water, and you scoop it up towards you. Immediately, the water starts leaking through your fingers until your hand is empty. That water is a man’s life. From birth to death, it is always slipping through our hands until it is gone, along with all that you hold dear in this world. And yet the Kingdom I speak of — and I live for — is like the rest of the water out in the sea. Man lives for that cup of water that slips through his fingers, but those who follow Jesus Christ live for that endless expanse of sea.