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Politics, persecution and ‘ardent love’: New movie aims to show why Paul is still relevant

Paul (James Faulkner), left, reminds Luke (Jim Caviezel) that love is the only way in “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” Photo by Mark Cassar, courtesy of CTMG

(RNS) — It’s been 14 years since Jim Caviezel played the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.”

The actor, who previously starred in the 1998 war movie “The Thin Red Line,” said he didn’t know then how Mel Gibson’s 2004 film would break him, how it would haunt him.

He told Religion News Service he didn’t know “it was going to be my path.”

But now that path has led him back to a story straight from the Scriptures, playing Luke, one of Christianity’s four evangelists, in the new film “Paul, Apostle of Christ.”

So did the film’s message of forgiveness and what Caviezel calls “ardent love.”

“It’s a very arduous task to treat someone with polar opposite views with the same dignity and respect that you would treat a friend. That is the core message of the film, and it’s what makes this film,” he said.

“Even though it was a couple thousand years ago, it’s very relevant today.”

Luke (Jim Caviezel) enters Rome in secret to find Paul in “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” Photo by Mark Cassar, courtesy of CTMG

“Paul, Apostle of Christ” opened in the top 10 at the box office last weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

It’s one of several movies aimed at Christian audiences releasing around Sunday’s Easter holiday (April 1). “I Can Only Imagine,” the story behind the popular Christian song of the same name, finished third for the second straight week at the box office, and “Mary Magdalene,” about one of Jesus’ most prominent female followers, releases this weekend (March 30).

The movie about Paul comes as the apostle is having something of a moment with a number of new books published about him in the past few years. They include “Paul: A Biography” by N.T. Wright and “Paul: An Apostle’s Journey” by Douglas A. Campbell, both released earlier this year, and “Reading Paul with the Reformers: Reconciling Old and New Perspectives” by Stephen J. Chester and “Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ” by Cynthia Long Westfall, both recognized in Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards.

I don’t know if it’s Providence that is directing us to refocus on the teachings of Paul, but it’s quite a wonderful experience to see it all come together,” said Rich Peluso, senior vice president of Affirm Films, part of Sony Pictures.

Paul resonates, not only because he dominates so much of the New Testament, but because he’s a familiar figure in our current media landscape — the type to say “‘boo’ to every goose and then say ‘boo’ to all the swans as well, just in case,” according to author and biblical scholar Wright, who said before the film’s release he hadn’t seen it but was “intrigued.”

RELATED: N.T. Wright on the Apostle Paul’s sudden popularity

That makes Paul unlike many of history’s great thinkers — and also presented some difficulty bringing his story to the screen, Peluso said. It spans 60 years and 10,000 miles, a blinding encounter with Jesus, a shipwreck, imprisonments, miracles, feuds and more.

That’s why filmmakers decided to focus on Paul’s last days in prison before his execution, though a TV miniseries is a possibility depending on the success of “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” Peluso said.

In the film, Luke (Caviezel) meets with Paul (James Faulkner) in prison to record his dramatic conversion and other reflections into what would become the Book of Acts.

Meantime, the early church struggles against persecution by the Roman government — and how to respond to it. “Christ called us to care for the world, not rule it,” one character protests when others discuss breaking into the prison to free Paul and overthrow the government.

Director Andrew Hyatt, left with actor Jim Caviezel on set of “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” Photo by Mark Cassar, courtesy of CTMG

“At this moment in our culture and in our world I think we really are starting to doubt this idea of grace and mercy and forgiveness and love, and Paul’s story is such a strong example of just the enormity of God’s grace and love, and I think it’s something that’s so needed right now,” writer-director Andrew Hyatt said.

Hyatt said he hoped the film would help viewers see biblical figures like Paul as real people, “not beautiful statues with halos on their heads” and books like Acts and Paul’s letters as “lived experience,” not something that came from a “preachy, heady space.”

He added that he hopes the movie appeals to both Christian and non-Christian audiences — that it’s not too “preachy,” while also respecting the concern some Christians have about Scripture in the hands of Hollywood filmmakers.

“I think there’s a big hesitancy when it comes to Hollywood Bible movies, and I think there’s kind of a nervousness and a fear: ‘Oh no, did they screw it up again?’” Hyatt said.

“I just want to encourage the audience this is a film by people (for whom) the story is as important to them as it is to the audience. We want people to get excited and be encouraged.”

Faithful Viewer logo. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.


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  • Yet another a win-win-for-Catholicism movie, this, according to National Catholic Register, March 23, 2018, “Interview: ‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’ Writer-Director Andrew Hyatt”, by Steven D. Greydanus:

    “We had just come off Full of Grace, which was about Peter and our Blessed Mother’s final days. We spent so much time with Peter in that film that in this one we really just wanted to focus on Paul and the Christian community at large. … I did want the film to be as ecumenical as possible. I think it’s important to reach across the aisle on both sides and find common ground. I never wanted the film to feel like it had a Catholic or Protestant agenda. … I certainly didn’t go into it thinking, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this because I have this Catholic perspective.’ But I don’t think I could ever say that those things didn’t shape me or form me, growing up in the Catholic tradition. … Honestly, I can’t not be me; I can’t not look at the world a certain way based on my spiritual formation and my upbringing. I wonder if that ecumenical impulse had anything to do with the absence in the story, even in dialogue, of the other big apostle who was imprisoned and martyred in Rome around the same time as Paul, namely Peter. The Christian community in Rome is obviously concerned about Paul, but I’m thinking: What about Peter, whose martyrdom in Rome forms the foundation for the papacy?”

  • Brother Jim Caviezel is Reason #2 why what we’re watching on the silver screen is definitely a VERY CATHOLIC flick. I say this on account of his own admission that, and I quote:

    (1) “I dedicate my work to Her Son, I dedicate all that I do to Her Son. I ask Mary to guide me and my career. … This film [The Passion of the Christ] is something that I believe was made by Mary for her Son. … I also had relics of Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padoua, Ste Maria Goretti, and saint Denisius, the Patron saint of Actors. Another thing was … every day everyone could see me with the rosary in my hands.”

    (2) “For me, the Catholic Mass is the source of constant empowerment. That’s where I can meet Jesus. And it’s not simply about having the symbolic wafer. It’s about an actual transformation. Bread and wine? No, it’s the body and blood of the Christ.”

    Source: (1) “Interview: Jim and Kerri Caviezel, and Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ'”, Medjugorje, December 10, 2003 and July 27, 2005. (2) “Jim Caviezel talks about his Catholic faith and John Paul II”, Catholic News Agency, May 1, 2017.

  • Peter probably never made it to Rome…It would have been better if the RC had built its papacy around Paul, who was, in fact, executed in Rome…and who wrote most of the NT…

  • You would’ve been a better film director with that angle than this guy, who, all the while filming about “Paul … [was constantly distracted by] thinking: What about Peter, whose martyrdom in Rome forms the foundation for the papacy?”


  • From that famous passage:

    In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

    “Heaven is a Spirit state” as per JPII and Aquinas i.e. there can be no bodies. i.e. there was and never will be any physical resurrection/ascension of human bodies.”

    And is it not ironical that JPII along with Aquinas are the ones who put meaning to the words “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless.”

    Added commentary on the Easter/Resurrection and Post-resurrection cons are available upon request.

  • today if some one fell off a donkey and heard voices speaking to him all the while murdering a new sect they would not be highly regarded,i would say saul is not and he took over the budding growing xians and decided to lead it rather than kill it. a true jew.

  • But those “voices speaking to him … a true jew”, actually said in response to his “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”

    You take that to mean, “Saul, Saul, … lead [My church] rather than kill it”?

    You’re clueless, aren’t you?

    Source: Acts 9:1, 4-6.

    (By the way, why do you make yourself look like the rocker, Little Steven, in your avatar?)