Review – In the Footsteps of St. Paul

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, June 26. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A mainstream documentary that does justice to a towering biblical figure.

CLIP: He was a hugely controversial figure in his own time and he still is today. To some he’s a man who did more than anyone else to transform Christianity from a small Jewish sect into the most powerful religion on earth. to others he’s a preacher of prejudices that have echo down throughout history.

There’s something quintessentially British about the BBC documentary In the Footsteps of St. Paul, available on Amazon Prime. It’s hosted by actor David Suchet, who will be best known to mystery-lovers as Hercule Poirot. The two-part series tends toward a chipper, well-mannered tone. While acknowledging hotly contested controversies surrounding the apostle, the film shunts them away with a quick question or two and a polite, “Well, there you are, cheerio!”

For example, Suchet deals with arguably the most contentious issue contemporary society has with Paul’s writings—his directives that women are not to serve as pastors or preachers—by speaking to a single authority. After she puts forward the view that Paul was simply making allowances for the male-dominated culture of his time, Suchet thanks her warmly and moves on without challenging her assertions. 

CLIP: So was Paul a misogynist? How should we read his letters? Paul of course is a man of his world. He knows very well with the place of women in society is he of course takes into consideration these ideas.

Likewise, the film accepts as fact the supposition that Paul believed Christ would return in his lifetime—which may or may not have been the case.

Suchet may not exhibit the investigatory powers of his iconic Agatha Christie character. But he makes an amiable guide as we follow Paul’s journeys, sometimes seeing the remains of the roads he traveled. 

CLIP: This is the only known archaeological remain we have from the time. Paul has lived here in the city. This is a Roman road? This is a Roman road. It is dated to the first century BC or A.D. We are not yet sure but there is a very similar example for this road in Pompeii. Which is dated to the first century BC. With Paul have actually walked along this road we think so. Because it is the time period he has lived here, so he must have walked here.

Much of this won’t be new information to Christian audiences, yet Suchet’s charisma and winning personality infuse it with new interest. Especially when we contrast the man who wrote most of the books of the New Testament against the other disciples.

CLIP: And Paul was an urban man, wasn’t he? He was a city man. He would’ve worked here and would have been comfortable? I think he would, I think he would’ve been right at home in a place like Antioch. It was very similar in many ways to Tarsus, where he was from and very different, I think, to the kinds of places Jesus and the disciples were used to. You know they were much more rural than Paul. He’s part of this establishment. He can talk to anybody in the city, he’s perfectly at home here, whereas I think it would be much more difficult for the first followers of Jesus.

What is new is an exploration of the early parts of Paul’s life. Experts here theorize that Paul was the son of a freed Jewish slave. And this may have driven his early zealotry.

CLIP: He was, I believe, the son of slaves. But I think he became a Roman citizen when his parents were set free. No one kept a slave into his 40s it was non-productive economically and and the children of slaves of a Roman citizen automatically became a Roman citizen.

Perhaps becoming a Pharisee answered some need in Paul to belong. And he threw himself into a zealous defense of the Jewish law.

One particularly poignant moment comes when Suchet points out that while Paul’s beliefs and life purpose changed immeasurably after his encounter with Jesus, his essential personality did not. Saul of Tarsus was an intense, passionate, deeply driven man. Paul the slave of Christ remained all this, yet became much more.

CLIP: Something I’ve got no doubt about at all, is that he was a man of total extremes. There was no gray area about Paul. It was either black or white. Whatever happened to him on the road to Damascus was extreme. It changed his worldview forever. But what’s really interesting for me is that it didn’t change his personality or character. He was a man of total conviction and extremes of behavior. He could be very angry, imperious, proud.

There is something wonderfully comforting in the fact that God saved the soul of the man but then worked through his existing personality, molding and harnessing it for His own means. It brings to mind C.S. Lewis’ observation that no real personalities exist apart from God who frees us from bondage to sin to be our truest selves.

In the Footsteps of St. Paul demonstrates how this truth operated in the life of Saul of Tarsus and, by extension, all Christ’s followers.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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