Paul Sails for Rome, 1-12
Ac 27:1 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment.
The great and the unknown tumbled together in a writhing heap as the bow eased deeper and the stern rose higher. The Titanic was now absolutely vertical, with her three dripping propellers glistening in the darkness. For nearly two minutes she stood poised as the noise finally stopped. Then she began sliding slowly under, until the sea closed over the flagstaff on her stern with an audible gulp.
A wreck of any kind is a terrifying experience, whether it be a train derailment, an automobile collision, or the crash of an airplane. But probably the most terrifying of all is a shipwreck, because of the prolonged agony that the passengers and crew endure. Acts 27 is the tale of one of the most famous shipwrecks in history-that of the Apostle Paul on his way to Rome. It is also one of the best-told, most-detailed shipwreck accounts in ancient history-and certainly the most profitable to the hearer.’ (Hughes)
When it was decided – by Festus, Acts 25:12.
We should sail for Italy – The ‘we’ includes Luke, the writer. He had last included himself in Acts 21:18, since when he had been separated from Paul by the latter’s imprisonment. Luke’s presence on this journey helps to account for the remarkable (and unprecedented) precision and detail of the description. He evidently kept a daily log of the voyage. As to Luke’s activities during the previous two years, it is often supposed that he stayed in Palestine, collecting materials for his gospel and the earlier part of the Acts.
It is presumed (but not actually stated) that the voyage began from Caesarea, since it was here that Paul had been held in custody for two years.
Some other prisoners – probably also being sent to Rome for a trial before the Emperor. Ramsay suggests that they were already condemned to death, and were destined to become human victims in the Roman arenas. MHC notes, ‘it is no new thing for the innocent to be numbered among the transgressors.’
Ac 27:2 we boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.
Aristarchus…was with us – ‘This man is mentioned as Paul’s companion in travel, in Acts 19:29. He afterwards attended him to Macedonia, and returned with him to Asia, Acts 20:4. He now appears to have attended him, not as a prisoner, but as a voluntary companion, choosing to share with him his dangers, and to enjoy the benefit of his society and friendship. He went with him to Rome, and was a fellow-prisoner with him there, Col 4:10 and is mentioned Phm 1:24) as Paul’s fellow-labourer. It was, doubtless, a great comfort to Paul to have with him two such valuable friends as Luke and Aristarchus; and it was an instance of great affection for him that they were not ashamed of his bonds, but were willing to share his dangers, and to expose themselves to peril for the sake of accompanying him to Rome.’ (Barnes)
Ac 27:3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.
‘Sidon had a double harbour and was about seventy miles north of Caesarea, where they had started.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
There was a Christian church at Sidon, ‘founded probably during the persecution that followed the death of Stephen, Acts 11:19.’ (Bruce)
Ac 27:4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us.
To the lee of Cyprus – The prevailing wind would have been westerly, so their course must have taken them to the north of the island.
Acts 27:5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia.
Ac 27:6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.
They probably had to changes ships because the first vessel was continuing to its home port of Adramyttium in northwest Asia Minor.
This would be a corn ship, for Egypt was the granary of Italy. ‘Rome’s grain fleet dominated Mediterranean trade; ships from Alexandria, Egypt, would travel northward and then westward to bear their cargoes to Rome. This journey took from as little as fifty days to over two months, although the reverse voyage from Rome to Alexandria could take as little as nine to twelve days. The Egyptian grain ships were about 180 feet long, 45 feet wide and (at their deepest) over 40 feet deep; the fleet may have transported some 150,000 tons of Egyptian grain to Italy each year. This was the largest mercantile fleet known to Europe before the 1700s. The Alexandrian fleet was the quickest means of transportation from Syria to Rome.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Characteristics of Mediterranean ship: ‘Warships (‘long ships’, their length being eight or ten times their width) were regularly propelled by oars and rarely went far from the coast. Merchant ships (’round ships’, their length being three or four times their width) relied on sails, but might carry some oars for emergencies. They also generally remained reasonably close to land, but under favourable conditions would cross the open sea (Patara). Most seagoing ships were of between 70 and 300 tonnes, but Pliny mentions one of apparently 1,300 tonnes.’ (NBD)
‘Such a ship would have a central mast with long yard-arms carrying a large square mainsail and possibly a small topsail, and a small foremast sloping forward almost like a bowsprit, with a foresail (Gk. artemon) which might be used to give the ship steerage way when it was not desired to take full advantage of the wind, (Ac 27:40) and to head the ship round and check drifting in a storm. (in Acts 27:17 ‘lowered the gear’ may mean ‘set the foresail’ or ‘let out a sea-anchor’ or ‘let down the mast-top gear’) By bracing the sails these ships could sail within about 7 points of the wind.’ (NBD)
Ac 27:7 we made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone.
‘The difficulty they met raises a question which we will face increasingly as we go through this chapter: Why would the apostle experience such grave difficulty from natural forces when he is obviously in the center of the will of God, on the way to Rome where the Lord wants him to be? The Lord Jesus had appeared to Paul in Jerusalem and had told him that he wanted him to go to Rome, that he would take him there, and that he must appear before the emperor. And Paul is not disobedient; he is moving right in accord with God’s purpose. Nevertheless the winds are contrary and everything else seems to go wrong on this voyage. God, who controls the winds and the waves, could surely have made it easy for Paul to get to Rome.’ (Stedman)
Acts 27:8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
Ac 27:9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them,
The Fast – Presumably, the fast the was observed in connection with the day of Atonement. This would make the time of year later September/early October – a notiously dangerous time to be navigating the Mediterranean.
‘The “fast” here refers to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which occurs in September or October. (Ramsay says that it fell on October 5 in AD 59). Sea travel became more dangerous as winter approached. (2 Tim 4:21 Tit 3:12) Shipping was completely closed down from around November 10 to as late as March 10, but September 15-November 10 and March 11-May 26 were risky periods as well.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Ac 27:10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.”
“I can see” – we assume that Paul spoke out of experience, rather than from divine revelation. Paul had great experience of sailing on the Meditteranean, and knew Crete well, for he had founded the gospel here, Tit 1:5. He had already been shipwrecked three times before this, 1 Cor 11:25.
‘Pagans undertaking sea voyages always sacrificed to the gods and sought their protection. Bad omens, astrological interpretations or dreams sometimes prevented a ship from sailing if they were taken seriously. Before going to war Romans would check the entrails of animals, the flight of birds and other forms of divination; religious advice was always important to those contemplating a potentially risky venture. Paul would sound to them like the kind of seer who could predict the future without divination. Unlike Greeks, Romans respected divination more than this kind of prophecy.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Acts 27:11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.
Acts 27:12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
The Storm, 13-26
Ac 27:13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.
In this account of the voyage and wreck, ‘the knowledge of the events does seem to be first-hand, and the language used by Luke is consistent with someone without detailed nautical knowledge reporting accurately what the sailors in a crisis situation were doing.’ (NBC)
Ac 27:14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island.
‘The peril was that if they could not control the ship they would inevitably be blown on the Syrtis Sands off North Africa which were the graveyard of many a ship.’ (DSB)
Acts 27:15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.
Ac 27:16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure.
The dingy would have been towed behind, but they now hauled it on board to prevent it from becoming waterlogged or dashing against the side of the ship.
‘A dinghy was towed astern in good weather, but hoisted on board in a storm (Ac 27:16f) to prevent its being swamped or smashed. This was for use in harbour rather than as a lifeboat: if the ship was wrecked, survivors had to rely on spars.’ (NBD)
Ac 27:17 When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along.
‘The “supporting cables” (NASB) or “ropes” (NIV) were used to undergird the hull against the raging sea in times of fierce storms; they must have been slipped around the stern or prow and worked backward to brace the whole hull. If they continued on their present course too far to the south, they would eventually be destroyed in Syrtis Major (modern Gulf of Sidra), a shoal west of Cyrenaica along the African coast. Even in good weather, Alexandrian grain ships sailed northward to Asia and then westward to Italy, rather than directly northwest, because a sudden change in winds could wreck them on this shoal.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
‘These corn ships were not small. They could be as large as 140 feet long and 36 feet wide and of 33 feet draught. But in a storm they had certain grave disadvantages. They were the same at the bow as at the stern, except that the stern was swept up like a goose’s neck. They had no rudder like a modern ship, but were steered with two great paddles coming out from the stern on each side. They were, therefore, hard to manage. Further, they had only one mast and on that mast one great square sail, made sometimes of linen and sometimes of stitched hides. With a sail like that they could not sail into the wind. Worst of all, the single mast and the great sail put such a strain on the ship’s timbers in a gale that often they started so that the ship foundered. It was to avoid this that they trapped the ship. That means that they passed hawsers under the ship and drew them tight with their winches so that they held the ship together like a tied up parcel.’ (DSB)
Acts 27:18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.
Ac 27:19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.
‘It would take most of the manpower on deck to lower the yard (“tackle”-NIV)-a spar that could be nearly the ship’s own length-down to the deck. One would secure it if possible, but in the severity of this storm, they cannot afford the encumbrance created by retaining it.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Ac 27:20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
We finally gave up all hope of being saved – And this in the light of everything they knew about God’s omnipresence and omnipotence. If it is true that every hair on our heads is numbered, Mt 10:30, why can it seen that God is nowhere to be found, that we have been forsaken, that we are doomed?
‘Those of us who have been made ill by a storm while on water can relate to this picture of abysmal misery. I once heard of a woman who became seasick while on a day-long sport fishing boat and staggered to the captain holding out the keys to her new car, saying he could have it if he would just turn around. The plight of Paul and his friends was a thousand times worse.’ (Hughes)
‘Why did not Paul, by the power of Christ, and in his name, lay this storm? Why did he not say to the winds and waves, Peace, be still, as his Master had done? Surely it was because the apostles wrought miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine, not for the serving of a turn for themselves or their friends.’ (MHC)
Ac 27:21 After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.”
Paul stood up before them and said – Imagine Paul shouting to make himself heard above the din of the wind and the waves.
According to Barclay, Paul was certainly the most experienced traveller on board the ship. Haenchen points out that Paul had completed no less eleven voyages on the Mediterranean before this one, and had travelled at least 3,500 miles by sea.
‘Paul models for us the stance of one who is convinced that God’s gracious purposes cannot be thwarted, even when outward circumstances call that conviction into question. It is not that he is simply a practical man in a critical emergency-“keeping his head when all about him are losing theirs” (contrast Bruce 1988:475). Rather, it is precisely because he is an “impractical” holy man, a Christian apostle who receives messages from angels, that he can be an encouragement in the fury of the storm. His strength comes from beyond the storm: he “believes God,” that he can accomplish what he has promised. Such faith is the foundation for a life of encouragement.’ (IVP Cmt’y)
‘The speech tells us something about the nature of accidents and tragedies. It is clear that the storm and shipwreck were not interpreted by Paul as divine judgement upon his captors but rather as the result of circumstances. It was not that God was tracking them down with storms and they could not hide. It was not that they could have avoided the storm if they had had a different attitude towards the Christians. The only way they could have avoided all of this was by not making the foolish decision to sail to Phoenix in the first place. Those critics who argue that Luke has made up this whole episode to add excitement to his story and to stress Paul’s mastery over the situation are themselves shipwrecked on the notable lack of superstition in the speech. Surely any admirer of Paul’s who would not stop short of creating such a story out of thin air would certainly have used the opportunity to portray his hero, who on occasion healed as his master did, also calming storms as his master did.’ (Lk 8:22-25) (NBC)
Acts 27:22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.
Acts 27:23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me
Ac 27:24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’
“God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you” – ‘The wicked often derive important benefits from being connected with Christians; and God often confers important favours on them in his general purposes to benefit his own people. The lives of impenitent men are often spared because God interposes to save his own people.’ (Barnes)
This revelation is a confirmation of the promise that Paul had been given in Acts 23:11. The present angelic message not only confirms Paul’s safety, but adds to this an assurance concerning all his fellow-voyagers.
‘Two years earlier (23:11) Christ had appeared in Paul’s cell in Caesarea and told him to take courage, for he would bear witness for the Savior in Rome. This was an unconditional promise. Paul would go to Rome-no doubt about it. However, God did not promise smooth sailing along the way. As we serve Christ, there will be storms, hardships, high seas, breakdowns-but also peace, assurance, fruitfulness, the sustaining presence of God.’ (Hughes)
Acts 27:25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.
Acts 27:26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
The Shipwreck, 27-44
Ac 27:27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land.
The sailors sensed they were approaching land – probably because they could hear the waves breaking on the shore.
Acts 27:28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep.
Ac 27:29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.
‘Some anchors were wholly of iron, but most had a wooden stock with lead or stone arms. They might weigh more than 600 kg, and had small marker-buoys attached. There would be three or more on board, and when anchoring off a beach one or two of them would be let down from the bows, mooring cables from the stern being attached to the shore. For manoeuvring or riding out a gale, however, anchors might be let out from the stern.’ (Ac 27:29) (NBD)
Acts 27:30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow.
Ac 27:31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
“Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved” – ‘By this point, Paul (whose advice was originally disregarded, perhaps as the impractical concerns of an eccentric Jewish teacher) is now in virtual command of the ship, because he has the centurion’s ear.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
‘The interesting thing about this is that God had promised Paul that every life would be spared. Yet Paul could say to the centurion, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you will not be saved.” God’s promise includes man’s activity. Man’s actions are the means by which God works out his promises. God’s announced purpose never cancels out man’s activity in that direction. This is very instructive to learn. The fact that God announces what the end result is going to be does not mean that men are permitted therefore to fold their hands and say, “Well, it’s all going to work out some way or another.” He intends for us to exercise considerable understanding of a situation, and to act in line with common sense to carrying out his purpose. Paul knows that he must work toward that end, and that the decisions which are taken in working toward it are part of God’s means of accomplishing it.’ (Stedman)
‘Paul speaks humanly, when he says, you cannot be saved except these abide in the ship; and he does not at all weaken the assurances he had divinely given that they should infallibly be saved. God, who appointed the end, that they should be saved, appointed the means, that they should be saved by the help of these seamen…Paul speaks as a prudent man, not as a prophet, when he says, These are necessary to your preservation. Duty is ours, events are God’s; and we do not trust God, but tempt him, when we say, “We put ourselves under his protection,” and do not use proper means, such as are within our power, for our own preservation.’ (MHC)
‘It will be remembered that Paul had been informed by the angel, and had assured then, Acts 27:22-24, that no lives should be lost. But it was only in the use of the proper means that their lives would be safe, yet this did not, in his view, prevent the use of the proper means to secure it. From this we lay learn,
1. That the certainty of an event does not render it improper to use means to obtain it.
2. That though the event may be determined, yet the use of the means may be indispensable. The event is rendered no more certain than the means requisite to accomplish it.
3. That the doctrine of the Divine purposes or decrees, making certain future events, does not make the use of man’s agency unnecessary or improper. The means are determined as well as the end; and the one will not be secured without the other.
4. The same is true in regard to the decrees respecting salvation. The end is not determined without the means; and as God has resolved that his people shall be saved, so he has also determined the means. He has ordained that they shall repent, shall believe, shall be holy, and shall thus be saved.
5. We have in this case a full answer to the objection that a belief in the decrees of God will make men neglect the means of salvation, and lead to licentiousness. It has just the contrary tendency. Here is a case in which Paul certainly believed in the purpose of God to save these men; in which he was assured that it was fully determined; and yet the effect was not to produce inattention and unconcern, but to prompt him to use strenuous efforts to accomplish the very effect which God had determined should take place. So it is always. A belief that God has purposes of mercy; that he designs, and has always designed, to save some, will prompt to the use of all proper means to secure it. If we had no evidence that God had any such purpose, effort would be vain. We should have no inducement in exertion. Where we have such evidence, it operates as it did in the case of Paul, to produce great and strenuous endeavours to secure the object.’ (Barnes)
‘Christians do not arrive at perseverance when they sit still and do nothing. It is not with us as with passengers in a ship, who are carried to the end of their voyage while they sit still in the ship; or, as it is with noblemen, who have their rents brought in without their toil or labour; but we arrive at salvation in the use of means; as a man comes to the end of a race by running, to a victory by fighting. ‘Watch and pray.’ Mt 26:41. As Paul said, ‘Except ye abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.’ Acts 27:31. Believers shall come to shore at last, arrive at heaven; but ‘except they abide in the ship,’ viz.’ in the use of ordinances, ‘they cannot be saved.’ The ordinances cherish grace; as they beget grace, so they are the breastmilk by which it is nourished and preserved to eternity.’ (Thomas Watson)
Ac 27:32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.
‘The attempt of some of the sailors to escape in this way is an indication of their desperation and perhaps also of how damaged the ship was already. Without a full complement of crew to steer the ship the safety of the rest was obviously in jeopardy, and the Roman soldiers assured themselves of the crew’s cooperation by cutting the lifeboat loose.’ (NBC)
Acts 27:33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food-you haven’t eaten anything.
Ac 27:34 “Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.”
‘”Not a hair of one’s head” was a proverbial expression in the Old Testament; (1 Sam 14:45 2 Sam 14:11 1 Kings 1:52) but it would make sense even to hearers who were not familiar with it.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Ac 27:35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.
He…gave thanks to God in front of them all – ‘Paul was among those who were not Christians. But he was not ashamed of the proper acknowledgement of God, and was not afraid to avow his dependence on him, and to express his gratitude for his mercy.’ (Barnes)
Acts 27:36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.
Ac 27:37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board.
‘Large ships frequently carried several hundred people; Josephus even claimed that he had traveled aboard a ship with six hundred people.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Ac 27:38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
‘Here then are aspects of Paul’s character which endear him to us as an integrated Christian, who combined spirituality with sanity, and faith with works. He believed that God would keep his promises and had the courage to say grace in the presence of a crowd of hard-bitten pagans. But his trust and godliness did not stop him seeing either that the ship should not take risks with the onset of winter, or that the sailors must not be allowed to escape, or that the hungry crew and passengers had to eat to survive, or (later) that he needed to gather wood to keep the beach fire burning. What a man! He was a man of God and of action, a man of the Spirit and of common sense.’ (Stott)
Ac 27:39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.
They did not recognize the land – It was Malta, Acts 28:1. ‘The traditional site of St. Paul’s Bay on northern Malta fits all the details of the narrative.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Ac 27:40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.
The rudders – or, rather, steering-paddles. ‘Two large oars in the stern served as rudders, either operated separately or rotated together by means of tiller bars or ropes attached to a central piece of gear. These could be lashed in position in bad weather.’ (cf. Acts 27:40) (NBD)
Acts 27:41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
Ac 27:42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping.
The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners – ‘Why they gave this advice is not known. It was probably, however, because the Roman military discipline was very strict, and if they escaped, it would probably be charged on them that it had been done by the negligence and unfaithfulness of the soldiers. They therefore proposed, in a most cruel and bloodthirsty manner, to kill them, though contrary to all humanity, justice, and laws; presuming probably that it would be supposed that they had perished in the wreck. This is a remarkable proof that men can be cruel even when experiencing the tender mercy of God; and that the most affecting scenes of Divine goodness will not mitigate the natural ferocity and cruelty of those who delight in blood.’ (Barnes)
‘The soldiers’ plan to kill the prisoners rather than run the risk of them escaping reflects the attitude also shown in 12:18-19 and 16:27 that the guards would be liable for the punishment due to the prisoners that they had allowed to escape.’ (NBC)
Ac 27:43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land.
‘Once again the fine character of this Roman centurion stands out. The soldiers wished to kill the prisoners to prevent possible escape. It is difficult to blame them, because it was Roman law that if a man escaped, his guard must undergo the penalty intended for the escaped prisoner. But the centurion stepped in and saved Paul’s life and the other prisoners with him.’ (DSB)
Ac 27:44 The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.
‘According to the promise which was made to Paul, Acts 27:22. This was done by the special Providence of God. It was a remarkable instance of Divine interposition to save so many through so long-continued dangers; and it shows that God can defend in any perils, and can accomplish all his purposes. On the ocean or the land, we are safe in his keeping; and he can devise ways that shall fulfil all his purposes, and that can protect his people from danger.’ (Barnes)