Reel Presence: How Friendship is a Synonym for Salvation

Paul, Apostle of Christ made me aware, for the first time, of something that should have been obvious to me

Jim Caviezel (l) portrays St. Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ, which also stars James Faulkner (r) in the title role. (Affirm Films)
Jim Caviezel (l) portrays St. Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ, which also stars James Faulkner (r) in the title role. (Affirm Films) (photo: Screenshot)

What I know about film can fit comfortably in a single frame. I am neither Siskel nor Ebert, nor even the little robot characters on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

But I know a thing or two about the New Testament, and I know what I like in a movie, and I was deeply moved by the film Paul, Apostle of Christ. It made me aware, for the first time, of something that should have been obvious to me — something hidden in plain sight in every Bible.

The movie made me see the colossal importance of Paul’s friendship with Luke — not only for the Apostle, and not only in his generation, but in God’s providential plan for the Christian Church.

Their relationship is different. It first appears in the New Testament in Chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles, and it emerges in a subtle way. Luke, the author of Acts, simply begins to use the first-person plural pronoun, we, in his narration, because now he’s traveling with Paul. It’s subtle, but stunning in its subtlety. It’s the clear marker of the beginning of a friendship.

Paul, for his part, mentions Luke often. Perhaps the earliest mention, chronologically, is in the Apostle’s Letter to Philemon, which ends with a mention of Luke among Paul’s “fellow workers.”

In his Letter to the Colossians Paul takes it up a notch, referring to Luke alone as his “dear friend” and “doctor.”

In the second of Paul’s great pastoral letters to Timothy, after naming those who have deserted him, he says poignantly: “Luke alone is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Only Luke indeed.

Paul’s relationship with Luke was unique. He refers to Timothy and Titus as his sons, his children (1 Timothy 1:18; Titus 1:4). Luke is a friend, beloved and loyal. He is the other half of “we.” He alone remains.

Together they accomplished what no man could do alone. Luke wrote the two longest books in the New Testament, the third Gospel and the history of the newborn Church, the Acts of the Apostles. Paul wrote more New Testament books than anyone else — thirteen or fourteen, depending on how you count.

Luke’s Gospel weighs in at 19,482 words, and Acts at 18,451 words, for a total of 37,933 words. Paul's thirteen letters total 32,407 words (if you add Hebrews, the count goes up to 37,460).

Thus, Paul and Luke together wrote at least 70,340 out of the 138,020 words in the New Testament.

Together they wrote more than half of the book that the Church has designated to be inspired by God.

And we should never doubt that theirs was a true collaboration. They traveled together. They influenced one another. Since the early Church Fathers, readers have referred to Luke’s Gospel as “Paul’s,” because the narrative so perfectly enacts the theology we find in his letters.

The friendship of Luke and Paul was the dynamo that powered the Church’s growth in its first generation. That was God’s providential purpose in bringing them together. As the movie makes clear, their lives changed from that very moment.

So did your life and mine. Because Paul and Luke together accomplished what they could never have done separately.

This is the power of friendship in God’s plan. This is why Jesus called his Apostles “friends” (John 15:15).  This is why the early Christians used “the friends” as a synonym for the Church (3 John 1:15).

Friendship is a synonym for salvation. Paul knew this. Luke knew this. Their friendship was a divine grace that enabled them to work wonders.

It’s so obvious. Yet I never saw this clearly till I saw Paul, Apostle of Christ.

What apostolic wonders is God waiting to work through your friendships and mine?


Dr. Scott Hahn holds the Father Michael Scanlan, T.O.R., Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and president of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology.