Question: I just went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ, and I thought it was the best biblical movie I’ve seen so far. I heard that the Berean Call does not approve of biblical movies, so I’d like to hear your criticisms.
Response: I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ the day it opened and I would agree that it was an excellent presentation in terms of its movie qualities, specifically the directing, acting, art production, cinematography, storyline, and the musical score. The writer/director, Andrew Hyatt, dealt with the Christian content in the production that in many ways seemed consistent with the Scriptures, a feature blatantly missing to the level of caricature in movies such as Noah; Exodus: Gods and Kings; A.D. The Bible Continues, and Son of God.
Yet Paul, Apostle of Christ flunks right alongside the terribly inferior attempts at bringing the Bible to the screen. Why? Because any attempt at translating the Bible into a visual medium is condemned by the Bible itself. But before I get to that, consider this:
A major problem in discussing movies is that the conversation almost immediately enters the subjective arena. This Q&A began with the questioner’s thinking that the movie “was the best biblical movie I’ve seen so far.” That’s what he felt. Do I, on the other hand, with my graduate school major in film and more than a decade as a Hollywood screenwriter, have a more objective perspective about movies? No! Forget the credentials—it all comes down to what we either like or dislike about the movie we’re discussing. We may have different gauges for evaluating a film, but in the end it still comes down to personal, subjective, and experiential criteria, i.e., the way we each feel about Paul, Apostle of Christ.
When feelings become the main criterion of evaluation, there can be no satisfactory conclusion as to who’s right or who’s wrong. In fact, I’ve seen marriages break up because of heated differences over movies. That could also apply to some readers being upset with me based upon my response in this Q&A, so, I’m going to attempt to remove myself from any potential skirmish by deferring to the Scriptures. I simply want to ask some questions of those who consider themselves to be biblical Christians and desire to submit to God’s Word.
Do you believe in the Bible’s claim of inerrancy (i.e., that it is without error in the original communication to the writers and their recording—Psalm:19:7; John:17:17; Galatians:1:11-12), its claim of authority in all matters of faith and practice (1 Thessalonians:2:13; 2 Timothy:3:16-17), and its claim of sufficiency? If yes, then you take it as God’s perfect communication to mankind, the content to which believers must submit, and believe that it is sufficient for all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter:1:3). If no, then your problem is with God’s Word, not with me.
The claim of the Bible is that it is absolutely sufficient and will not tolerate any additions or subtractions from mankind. Obviously, that would make the Bible the product (even in part) of fallen, sinful humanity—which would render it worthless.
Scripture declares: “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs:30:5-6).
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter:1:19-21).
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation:22:18-19).
Starting with the first frame of a “biblical” movie and ending with the last, and every frame in between, additions to and subtractions from Scripture fill the screen. Here’s a quote from actor Russell Crowe when he was questioned as to why so much was added to the biblical story of Noah: “There are very few lines in the Bible, few specific lines that tell the story. So if you are going to make that tale into a narrative for a feature film, you’ve got to fill in some of those gaps.”
Filling in “those gaps” subjects an audience (perhaps millions of people) to man-supplied content that pretends to be Scripture. I could stop right there and confidently rest upon what the Bible clearly says, certainly in the verses mentioned above and others that could be given. Yet I will add this additional consequence for believers, as well as unbelievers.
When The Passion of the Christ had its theatrical release, I wrote a book addressing my concerns titled Showtime for the Sheep. It includes a personal example of a survey in which I interviewed some biblically astute young adults who were enamored with the movie. I described a number of scenes from the film and asked them to tell me which scenes that I mentioned were “accurate” to the Bible and which had been added by the screenwriter. They believed that five were true to the Scriptures and three were added. Wrong. All eight were made up by Mel Gibson, the writer/director. Tragically, viewers now have scenes in their minds that they believe are scriptural. Even worse, how sad for the millions of lost souls whose only “biblical insights” have come from a Hollywood production of God’s Word.