The film Paul The Emissary portrays the story of the apostle Paul, closely following the scriptural account in the book of Acts. This impressive drama starring Garry Cooper depicts the transformation of Saul the angry zealot, determined to destroy the fledgling Christian Church, to Paul the servant of Christ, who will pay any price to bring the message of the gospel of Christ to the world. Today, Paul is recognized by historians as one of the most important men in all of world history, as it was largely through his ministry that the message of Christianity was spread throughout the Roman Empire.

What can we learn from Paul’s ministry about the nature of the Church? What lessons from Paul’s life can we apply to our own lives as Christians? Join us at Fr. Kraft’s Film Forum on Friday, October 30th in Ede Hall. Dinner will be served at 6:00 pm, followed by a 7:00 pm viewing of Paul The Emissary. This free event is sure to deepen your appreciation of Paul’s impact on the history of Christendom. Click here to RSVP!

The following background information was prepared in part by Dr. Diana Severance of Gateway Films Vision Video, excerpted from a film companion guide.

Jewish Beginnings

The early first century followers of Jesus were a small, struggling group within Judaism who seemingly posed no threat to anyone, certainly not to the mighty Roman Empire. Paul, whose birth name was Saul, was also Jewish, and his Jewish background is important in understanding his future missionary work and the spread of the early Christian Church.

Though there were many Jews living in Palestine, there were also Jewish settlements located throughout the Roman Empire. Saul himself was born in Tarsus, a city in the southeastern part of modern Turkey. As a boy, Saul was sent to Jerusalem to study the law. He became a Pharisee–a scribe and student of the law–as his father before him had been (Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5-6). The Pharisees were respected by the people and were the religious leaders of the land. The Sadducees were the aristocratic, priestly party that firmly followed the written law while rejecting the traditional interpretations which had grown up around the law. Annas and Caiphas, shown in the opening scene of the film, were leaders of this priestly party. That Saul was sent to Jerusalem for his education shows the deep respect the scattered Jewish people had for their religion and culture centered in the temple and Jerusalem.

Paul’s Conversion

Deeply committed to Judaism, Saul was determined to see this fledging faith of Christianity exterminated, soon becoming the greatest persecutor of the early Church. But the Lord worked a miracle. Struck down by a powerful conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Saul–his name now changed to Paul–was transformed to become the greatest missionary in the history of Christianity, authoring more of the New Testament books than any other.

Roman Background

The Roman empire formed an important background to Christianity’s beginnings and the life of Paul. Jesus’ life itself was bound by Roman politics. It was the Roman census which had brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. It was the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate who finally brought about Jesus’ crucifixion.

Historians have often called this period of history the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, for Rome had brought peace to the lands under its sway. From England to Persia and from Germany to the Sahara, the Roman legions kept order. The Roman roads, originally built for the Roman legions, provided ease of communications throughout the empire, enabling Paul to travel freely throughout the empire spreading the gospel of Christ.

Apostle to the Gentiles

After Paul became a Christian and an emissary of the gospel, when he first visited a city he always first preached the gospel in the Jewish synagogue. If the Jewish people rejected the gospel, he then took his message to the Gentiles of the city. As a result, Paul became known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:16). Some of the Jewish Christians opposed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles; they wanted Gentile Christians to become Jews and follow Jewish ceremonies and traditions while also following Christian teaching. These “Judaizers” followed Paul throughout his missionary activities and challenged his ministry (Gal. 1:7; 2:3-5, 12; 6:12,13; Acts 15:1; 21:20,21; Phil. 3:2,3).

Paul’s Writings

Paul’s eventual execution did not mean the end of his influence. The book of Acts is largely a narrative of his ministry, and he is credited with thirteen of the New Testament books–mostly letters (epistles) to fledgling Christian congregations throughout the Roman Empire. Paul’s epistles continue to preach the gospel today as he did during his lifetime, and so he truly has become an emissary to the world for the gospel of Christ.