In a few days, a feature-length movie on the life of Paul will premiere. Paul, Apostle of Christ is a biopic of sorts, but when we come to a biblical persona, this is different than other such efforts to tell a faith-based story. The New Testament gives very little material to construct any sort of “life of Paul.” We only have the broad outlines of where he went, when he was there, and who was with him. We have his epistles, which contain his teaching, and indeed for us, are the most important part of Paul’s life and work.
I understand the desire to put together something like this, and I don’t doubt that the people behind the film are believers motivated by their faith. (This movie is a product of the Kendrick brothers, who also put out Fireproof and War Room.) But those films are different in that they are dramas telling the story of faith in contemporary life and present an application of Christianity in difficult situations.
With Paul, we enter the realm of speculation to guess at his feelings in many situations or to say what he thought at many points in his life. The effect of that is to blur the lines between revelation and reflection, between the record of Scripture, and what is not found there. Just as with The Passion of the Christ, films like this are ultimately not strengthening to faith, but subversive of it. Too many people are unaware of the details of Scripture to say, “That’s there, that isn’t.” In short, they don’t stick to the text, and in doing this, such films contain an implicit (if unintended) message that the text of the New Testament is but one avenue of knowing Christian truth.
Images are powerful enough so that when people see a depiction based on biblical events, some are unable to sort between what is interpolated and what is factual. They don’t have the grasp of the New Testament to see the differences. They can too easily think that the Paul depicted in a film like this is the same Paul we find in the New Testament. He is not.
I have quite enough material in the Acts and epistles to fuel my study of the Apostle to the Gentiles, and I’d rather keep to what the Bible does say rather than speculate on what Paul might have thought. I’ll be taking a pass on this film. I encourage believers who want to see it, or who may think it’s a good evangelistic tool to consider whether it’s a good idea to obscure the borders this way. Could it move someone to read more of the New Testament as a result of seeing this movie? Certainly, it could. But it could also lead them to believe that we know things about Paul that we don’t. The Holy Spirit has left us records from his pen. As much as we might want to know what’s behind this man, he instead wanted us to know who was behind him. The New Testament record is sufficient for this.