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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 27

John Baugh

March, 2010

Acts 27 (New American Standard Bible)

Acts 27


Paul Is Sent to Rome


1When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius.


At his request, it has been determined that Paul will travel to Rome and stand before the Emperor Nero. Going to Rome has been probably the second greatest desire fo Paul’s life – after preaching to the Jews in Jerusalem. He knows that it is the will of his Lord that he accomplish this. So, for whatever misgivings he may have had, Paul must be excited with the prospects of what lay ahead in Rome.


The principal characters in this story will include Paul, the Centurion Julius, The captain and pilot of the Alexandrian grain ship, the crew of that ship, Luke and Aristarchus, a friend and traveling companion of Paul’s from Thessalonica in Macedonia. Paul met Aristarchus there during his second missionary journey so at this point they have known each other for many years. The plot of this story will revolve around a desire by the Centurion, ship’s captain and pilot to get to Rome before winter arrives and a sudden violent early winter storm in the 476 mile stretch of water between the island of Cyprus and Italy. The controlling force in this story is God and the completion of his will that Paul reach Rome in spite of whatever the storm throws at the ship, crew, soldiers, their prisoners and the passengers.


One obvious thing to glean from verse one is that Luke is back with Paul (he uses the word “we” in his report).  Luke tells us that the solders assigned to escort Paul to Rome belonged to the Augustan Cohort. This would have been the cohort (600 men), who belonged to the emperor. In this capacity, they were “The troop of the Emperor”. The designation “Augustan” was an honorary title for the cohort to which the Centurion belonged and the centurion could have been an officer charged with the transport of prisoners to Rome.


Two possibilities exist for Luke to be on the ship with Paul:


1 – If it were a commercial vessel, he could have purchased a ticket.


2 – However there is an equally likely reason that Luke and Aristarchus could have been given permission to accompany Paul. As a Roman citizen, Paul would have been permitted to bring along his slaves. For Luke and Aristarchus to accompany Paul, they could have claimed to be his slaves. Would they have assumed the role of slave in order to accompany Paul and not just be passengers on the ship?


2And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. 3The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care. 4From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary.


Luke tells us that in addition to him, a man from Thessalonica named Aristarchus accompanied Paul.


Aristarchus has been mentioned two other times in Acts (19:29, 20:4) as one of the men from Thessalonica who accompanied Paul. He is also mentioned in Colossians 4:10 as a “Fellow prisoner” of Paul and also in Philemon 1:24 as a fellow worker of Paul’s. Evidently this was a man who cared for Paul and was willing to take the risk of accompanying his to Rome. 


The distance between Caesarea and Sidon is about 67 land miles, a journey of one day if there is a leading wind. The prevailing wind in the early fall (Acts 27:9) would be from the west. The westward wind would have allowed them to cover the distance in the time Luke records.


Luke next records that the prevailing wind forced the ship to pass east and north of the island of Cyprus. Given the westward wind, they would have had to pass above (north of the island) to continue their westward voyage.


Only after the ship reached the Cilician coast could they make headway against the wind. At that point, they would be aided by currents running along the coast, as well as by land breezes from Turkey. Other writings of those times indicate a similar east to west route toward Myra.


The fact that the Centurion allowed Paul to see his friends at Sidon indicates that he was being treated with respect and not simply as a common criminal.


 5When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and he put us aboard it.


The Adramyttian ship was never intended to be the sole transport to Rome. Evidently it was simply headed from port to port along the coastline toward the port of Myra in Lycia. However, once n Myra, the Centurion was able to quickly book passage on an Alexandrian ship that was sailing for Italy. Egypt was one of the granaries of Rome; and the corn trade between Egypt and Rome was significant. There is, therefore, a reasonable probability that the ship the Centurion found headed toward Rome was carrying corn there. This inference is confirmed by Luke himself, who mentions in verse 38 that the cargo carried by the vessel was grain.


Luke says that the Centurion “Put us aboard it”. This indicates that he and Aristarchus were not simply paying passengers, but were considered a part of Paul’s group, giving more evidence to indicate that he and Aristarchus were traveling as Paul’s slaves.


7When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone;


Evidently contrary winds slowed the voyage considerable for the next few days and little progress was made.


8and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 9When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, 10and said to them, "Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives."


The great Fast that Luke mentions fell in the year 59 on (our calendar) October 5, and Luke uses it as an indication of the date, since he and Paul and Aristarchus would have observed it. The dangerous season for navigation lasted from Sept. 14 to Nov. 11. During the dangerous season, all navigation on the open sea was discontinued because of the danger of violent storms. Evidently Paul knew about the dangers of sea travel so late in the season because he shares his worry about losing the ship with the travelers. Of course, in addition to loss of ship and cargo, he was also worried about loss of life and he said so.


11But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. 12Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.


Evidently the Centurion had the authority to determine if and when the ship would sail and, being persuaded by the pilot and Captain that the harbor in Phoenix would be a better place for over-wintering than Fair Havens, the decision was made to continue on toward the west and increased danger of loss of ship in a fall storm. Evidently the second week of November was seen as a “drop dead” date for traveling on that part of the Mediterranean Sea and the Captain, Pilot and Centurion wanted to be as far west as possible by that date.


The harbor Phoenix is the modern day port of Lutro and is known to be a protected port. In all fairness to the Centurion, ship’s Captain and pilot, the port at Fair Havens was not known to be a good port for overwintering. Phoenix would have been a better place to stop, but not if a severe Mediterranean fall storm lay between where a ship was located and the entrance to the harbor at Phoenix.


The decision to attempt to make the run from Fair Havens to Phoenix would prove to be a poor decision.


13When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.


In the opinion of the Captain and pilot, the winds were now favorable for the run to Phoenix, they weighed anchor and began the sail along the shore line toward the port they believed would provide the best protection over the winter months when the sailing conditions were so bad that no ships of the design of those days dared attempt a crossing in that part of the Mediterranean.


It is interesting to note that, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, the city of Rome faced severe shortages of food during the winter months during this time. In response to this, the Emperor Claudius had offered substantial bonuses to ship owners who took the chance of sailing late in the season. This may have been the reason for the captain’s willingness to try to make the harbor at Phoenix. From Phoenix, it would have been possible to make the crossing to Rome, assuming good weather held. It is interesting to see that greed may have played a part in this bad decision. IT is obvious why the pilot agreed. If his master made money, he did too and so his greed probably colored his opinion as much as the Captain’s.




14But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. 16Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship's boat under control.


Map of Paul's Voyage to Rome




The trip across to Phoenix was probably only about 30-40 miles (one day’s sail), but before they had gone very far, a sudden change in the sailing winds came upon the craft. This was so characteristic of that crossing at that time of the year that sailors had given the storm wind a name combining Greek and Latin into the slang word Euraquilo which means a strong northeast winter wind. The name does little in providing an explanation. What hit the ship was a gale coming down off of Crete’s seven thousand foot mountains. Modern day Captains in that part of the Mediterranean say that winds off of these mountains in that time of the year are “strong enough to blow a ship out of the water.”


In Luke’s words, they ran before the wind to avoid being capsized until they found temporary shelter behind the Island Clauda. Even with the island blocking the wind, the velocity was so strong that Luke reports the crew was scarcely able to get the ship’s boat (a small craft, like a row boat that all ships of those days pulled behind, on a rope) under control.


17After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. 18The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19and on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands.


 20Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.


In his description of the storm on the craft, Luke leaves no doubt that the conditions the crew and passengers were facing were grim. In an effort to control the craft and hold it into the wind so that it would not turn broadside and be turned over, the crew rigged the craft in a harness and the deployed their sea anchor in an attempt to slow down the craft and hold it into the wind.


Although the American Standard translation used here does not indicate it, the literal translation of Luke’s Greek words indicate that at this point the crew lowered the mail sail of the craft, which indicates that they had given up any hope of attempting to sail the craft through the storm. At that point they allowed the gale force wind to drive the craft along toward the south. This was a crew that had lost control of their ship. Their only hope at this point was to do enough to keep the craft form sinking. To help lighten the vessel, they tossed the cargo overboard, then (on the third day of the storm) they made the decision to throw the ship’s tackle over the side. This was probably the last hope for keeping the craft (which was likely filling with water) light enough to stay afloat. In verse 20, Luke reports that the crew, after many days of fighting the storm, gave up hope. 


21When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 22"Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23"For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' 25"Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26"But we must run aground on a certain island."


Paul certainly would have been worried, but in spite of whatever concern he has, he addresses the crew. Perhaps to get them to have faith in his opinion, he reminds them that he did not want to attempt the crossing that has placed them in this peril. Evidently he has been visited by an Angel of God who has assured him a that no lives will be lost, only the ship, that it is God’s will that he will survive the journey to Rome and would eventually stand before Caesar. Although everyone else in laboring with no knowledge of the eventual outcome, Paul knows that the ship will run aground on an island and no lives will be lost. The angel has told him that it is God’s will to give him safety for everyone in the boat. 


27But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. 28They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak.


Fourteen days in the storm is almost too much to imagine. Then the crew realizes that the water is growing shallower and they are likely approaching land, where the craft would certainly break apart on a rocky shoreline. They drop additional anchors from the back of the craft, and (Luke uses words that cause me to think of the fear that the crew must have been feeling) they wished for daybreak.


Daybreak would have provided no relief from the storm, or the danger, it would have only allowed the crew to see what they believed would kill them as it came on.


30But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow,


 31Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved."


It would be easy to talk about rats deserting a sinking ship, but the men serving on this craft weren’t rats. They had been fighting this storm for over fourteen days. They must have been very tired and certainly knew the chances of surviving a ship’s breaking up on the rocks of an island in a storm were very slight. Their fear was real. The way they were seeking to save themselves while leaving everyone else to face the shore with no sailors on board was less then noble.


When Paul sees what they intend to do (escape in the small ship’s boat) he goes to the Centurion and tells him that the crew is about to desert the craft.


32Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it fall away.


The Centurion does what he can to stop the desertion. He gets rid of the ship’s boat. With no boat, no one will leave the ship.


33Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34"Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish."


35Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. 36All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. 37All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons.


These are words of encouragement from Paul to the crew. He knew that they had to be very weak after fourteen days of constant fighting to keep the craft afloat. The worse might well be ahead, but Paul knew that no one would die in the wrecking of the ship that would soon happen. Knowing this, he urges everyone to eat what they can and takes bread and gives thanks to God for food. This act (witness of faith) encouraged the crew and they also took food and ate. At this point, Luke reports the number of people n board the craft as being 276. Suddenly it is apparent that this is no small ship. Historians say it may have been as large as 120 feet long. If Paul is not right, many lives will be lost.


38When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea.


 A lighter ship will ride higher in the water and will get closer to shore before it strikes bottom and begins to break up. At this point the cargo means little and so the crew begins throwing the wheat they have been transporting into the sea.


 39When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could.


Now the crew has a plan. They will do whatever they can to reach the harbor and hope the beach is clear enough to drive the craft onto the bottom without breaking it apart.


 40And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach.41But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves.


Any plan is better than no plan, but the plan did not accomplish all that the crew wanted. The ship struck a reef in at the opening of the harbor and ran aground. At that point, the front of the ship stuck fast on the bottom and the craft began to break apart at the rear.


42The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; 43but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.


Regardless of whatever conditions the ship and passengers were experiencing, the Roman soldiers were still in control of the vessel and its passengers. They knew that for a Roman soldier to lose his prisoner meant that he must suffer their punishment. There were likely prisoners on board who had been sentenced to death in Rome and losing them would have meant that the soldiers would be put to death. Knowing those circumstances, the soldiers decided to kill the prisoners, rather than lose them in the shipwreck. However the Centurion decided that he would do all he could to see everyone to land. Some jumped over the side f the sinking ship and swam, others floated across to land on planks or whatever they could find on board that floated.


Any plan is better than no plan, but in this case, it was God’s plan that all would be safe at the end of the ordeal. Luke reports that everyone made it safely to the beach.


In fourteen days the ship has drifted 476 miles in a westward direction from Claudia to Malta where it floundered on the rocks of that island. A total of 276 people were on board and all survived the shipwreck. Reading Luke's account is interesting. Luke was not a sailor; he was a Doctor. In spite of this we have an excellent account of the ship wreck and the problems that led to it.


This ends Acts Chapter 27.


Copyright © 2010, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries


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