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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Acts 27

 

 


Verse 1

V. PAUL'S VOYAGE TO ROME

This great chapter is an immortal work of the inspired Luke, worthy in every way as one of the great narrations in all literature, giving, as Dummelow said, "The most detailed account of an ancient voyage which we possess, and is our principal source of knowledge of the ancient art of navigation."[1] Even scholars inclined to be critical here confess that "Luke's whole account may be assumed to be accurate and entirely trustworthy."[2]

The occasion of the voyage recounted here was the transfer of the apostle Paul to Rome, pursuant to his appeal to Caesar. God's angel had assured him that he would testify in Rome (Acts 23:11); and now that was to be accomplished. Paul did not come to Rome, however, in any manner that might have been anticipated by him, multiple providences having worked together in fulfilling the prophecy. As McGarvey said:

The machinations of the Jews, the avarice of Felix, the indecision of Festus, the prudence of Paul, and the Roman statute for the protection of its citizens, very strangely but very naturally combined to fulfill a promise of God made in answer to prayer.[3]

Still other providences are visible throughout the voyage itself.

Regarding the issue of the voyage in the fulfillment of its purpose, Ramsay was doubtless correct in the affirmation that "The result of his trial before the supreme court of the empire was that he was acquitted, and a decisive verdict was thus pronounced in favor of the free teaching of the Christian faith."[4] This was one of the key victories in the early propagation of Christianity. Later, the situation was to change; but this initial victory was decisive.

The intriguing story of this voyage and shipwreck is that of an eyewitness, its vividness, wealth of detail, and vocabulary making this certain. It may be demonstrated that the narrative is produced by one in possession of a medical vocabulary, unfamiliar with nautical terms, describing every maneuver of the whole voyage in such a manner as to require the conclusion that the narrator saw what he related. This is "almost universally recognized."[5]

Boles has given an excellent outline of this chapter thus: (1) aboard the ship of Adramyttium (Acts 27:1-5), (2) aboard the ship of Alexandria (Acts 27:6-12), (3) the storm (Acts 27:13-29), and (4) the shipwreck (Acts 27:30-44).

We shall avoid presenting this chapter as a travelogue, interesting as that would be, and refrain from proving that Luke is accurate and his critics wrong on every point of geography and navigation that we find. Whole volumes are available on both subjects. This writer's experience with water transportation includes a day or two as the "crew" on J. Lewis Foster's SNIPE, two weeks aboard the battle carrier USS MIDWAY (CVB 41), a week on the USS WISCONSIN, a channel crossing on the DUKE OF YORK, an overnight crossing of the Bay of Fundy on the BLUE NOSE, and two North Atlantic crossings on the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN (accompanied by "Sissy" on the latter three). Our "seamanship" is therefore insufficient to justify any other approach to this chapter. However, for the sheer delight of it, we shall depart from this rule two or three times.

[1] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 851.

[2] G. H. C. MacGreggor, The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), Vol. IX, p. 331.

[3] J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company), 2p. 260.

[4] Sir William M. Ramsay, Pictures of the Apostolic Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 310.

[5] Ibid., p. 309.

And when it was determined that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan band. (Acts 27:1)

They delivered ... The antecedent of this pronoun is Festus and Agrippa and Bernice, indicating that Luke construed Agrippa's outspoken verdict of innocence as a contributing factor in Paul's being sent to Rome. Of course, Festus alone "delivered" Paul in the sense of issuing the necessary orders.

Sail for Italy ... has the same meaning today as then.

Certain other prisoners ... Ramsay believed these to have been:

Criminals, who were being taken to Rome to amuse by their death in the arena the idle populace, habituated to enjoy such cruel sights. Few people, like Paul, had the distinction of being remitted for trial before the highest court of the Empire.[6]

Julius ... For a list of centurions mentioned in the New Testament, see my Commentary on Luke, Luke 7:2. Invariably, these Roman officers are presented by the sacred authors in a favorable light.

The Augustan band ... This was the title of a cohort, just as "The Rainbow Division" is the title of a unit in the US Army. "Augustus" by this time had become a title of the emperor, and thus the meaning is similar to that of the "Queen's Lancers" in British terminology.

ENDNOTE:

[6] Ibid., p. 302.


Verse 2

And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium which was about to sail unto the places on the coast of Asia, we put to sea, Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.

This was a tramp vessel making all ports along the coast of Asia Minor, that being the meaning of "Asia" as used by Luke. Paul and company had already traveled on a ship making this same run in the opposite direction (Acts 20:6-21:1).

Aristarchus ... with us ... It is not certain if Aristarchus was a prisoner or not. De Welt thought he was;[7] but the text in this place represents him apart from "other prisoners" in Acts 27:1. Paul's reference to Aristarchus as "my fellow-prisoner" (Colossians 4:10) may refer to the fact that Aristarchus was "Paul's voluntary companion in Rome."[8]

In Romans 16:7, Paul calls Andronicus and Junius his "fellow-prisoners," though he was not then in prison himself; and in Philemon 1:1:23 he gives this epithet to Epaphras with the added words "in Christ Jesus" (my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus), and does not give it to Aristarchus who is named in the same sentence.Acts 2p. 291.">[9]

Regarding the relationship between Paul, Luke and Aristarchus, the speculation of Ramsay to the effect that Paul had by inheritance, or some other providence, received a large sum of money about this time, cannot be set aside. It would appear that Luke attended Paul as his personal physician for a period of years, and that he and also Aristarchus attended Paul constantly. Such services were paid for, either by Luke and Aristarchus, or by Paul, or by the churches; and it would seem to be most likely that Paul was the paymaster. Earlier, Paul had worked with his hands as a tent-maker to support himself; but there is no mention of any such thing here, nor was it even possible. He was a prisoner.

Ramsay believed that Luke and Aristarchus carefully attended Paul, "even passing as slaves" in order to be constantly with him, arguing that the respect paid Paul by Junius would never have been given "to a penniless traveler without a servant, in either the first century or the nineteenth."[10] As Bruce said, "Ramsay's argument merits respect due to his great knowledge of social history in the Roman Empire of the first century A.D."[11]

We put to sea ... Here is resumed the "we narrative" which was broken off at Acts 21:18, indicating that Luke had been with Paul throughout his detention in Caesarea.

Although the port of embarkation is not specified, it was in all probability Caesarea.

[7] Don DeWelt, Acts Made Actual (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1958), p. 324.

[8] Orrin Root, Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1966), p. 193.

Acts 2p. 291.">[9] A. C. Hervey, Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publisher, 1950), Acts 2p. 291.

[10] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publisher, 1954), p. 501.

[11] Ibid.


Verse 3

And the next day we touched at Sidon: and Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go unto his friends and refresh himself.

Treated Paul kindly ... The respect and deference to Paul are remarkable, as shown throughout the voyage.

His friends ... Paul was widely known among the Christians, as well as among the Jewish opposition; and this reference shows that nearly anywhere Paul might have stopped, there were Christians there to welcome and encourage him.


Verse 4

And putting to sea from thence, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. And when we had sailed across the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.

The winds were contrary ... The route to Rome lay in a westerly direction, but the winds coming from almost exactly the direction they wished to go forced them to sail northward. It was late August or early September, approaching the time when navigation of the Mediterranean would no longer have been safe for ancient sailing vessels. It was urgency from this consideration that probably influenced Julius to take passage with his company on a ship going only part of the way.

Myra ... was "important as one of the great harbors in the corn (wheat) trade between Egypt and Rome,"[12] and Julius' probable anticipation of finding a ship sailing directly to Rome was quickly fulfilled at Myra.

ENDNOTE:

[12] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 851.


Verse 6

And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy; and he put us therein. And when we had sailed slowly, many days, and were coming with difficulty over against Cnidus, the wind not further suffering us, we sailed under the lee of Crete, over against Salmone; and with difficulty coasting along it we came unto a certain place called Fair Havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.

A NEW SHIP; BUT THE SAME OLD PROBLEM

Like many things that occur in every life, a different ship did not solve the problem, which was not the ship, but the wind. Many a marriage partner has tried "a new ship" with the same results. Many an employee has changed to "a new company" with no better luck!

Ship of Alexandria ... This was a great vessel for those times, carrying a cargo of wheat and 276 passengers and crew, estimated by Boles as a vessel of "ten or eleven tons."[13] Josephus tells of one such ship on which he took passage, that carried 600 passengers. Josephus' ship, like Paul's, sank![14] As De Welt noted, wheat is always a dangerous cargo, due to the possibility of shifting; and he went on to relate how in very recent days, he narrowly escaped shipwreck "between the Dardanelles and Malta," due to the shifting of a cargo of wheat in rough weather.[15]

The plan was to sail north of Crete, the great island lying south of Greece and a little east; but the wind would not permit it, so they sailed southward around the eastern extremity of that island with the intention of creeping along just off its southern shore, leaving it on their right instead of their left.

Fair Havens ... Here they took "a breather" from the contrary winds and held a conference on the advisability of continuing the voyage at that time of the year. This place is now called Kalolomonia. "It lies about halfway along the southern coast of Crete, near Lasea, the ruins of which have been identified."[16]

[13] H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Acts (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1953), p. 415.

[14] Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 326.

[15] Ibid.

[16] G. H. C. MacGreggor, The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), Vol. IX, p. 334.


Verse 9

And when much time was spent, and the voyage was now dangerous, because the Fast was now already gone by, Paul admonished them, and said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the lading and the ship, but also of our lives.

It is altogether possible that Paul was invited to give his opinion; and so we reject the notion that "this prisoner was out of place" in making such remarks. Paul was a man of wide experience, having already suffered shipwreck three times (2 Corinthians 11:25); and the respect in which Julius held Paul makes it nearly certain that Paul's opinion had been asked.

The Fast was gone by ... is a reference to the Jewish Day of Atonement, usually occurring about the time of the autumnal equinox, and thus setting the time here as about October 1. The Mediterranean was not safe for ancient vessels after September 15 until about March 15.

I perceive ... These words suggest that Paul was not speaking in this instance from any inspiration and that he was only giving a personal opinion based upon experience. Even at that, it came frightfully close to being the exact prophecy of what happened, being wrong only in this, that no lives were lost.


Verse 11

But the centurion gave more heed to the master and to the owner of the ship, than to those things which were spoken by Paul. And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to put to sea from thence, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, and winter there; which is a haven of Crete, looking northeast and southeast.

The centurion ... appears in this passage as being in full command of the vessel, his authority being even greater than that of the ship's owner and the captain. This was probably due to the vessel's being a government chartered carrier in the wheat trade supplying the imperial city with grain. The captain and the owner gave the green light to proceed to Phoenix, a much more comfortable place to spend the winter; and, despite the fact of a general appeal for the opinion of the passengers, Paul's voice seems to have been about the only one raised against it.

The more part ... indicates that many participated in the discussions of whether or not to proceed. There comes into evidence here the fact that where the convenience of people is concerned, almost any danger will be risked by some in order to attain some more desirable or comfortable situation. The sailors, if wintered at Fair Havens, in all probability would have spent a sober and chaste sojourn, there having been very little chance of anything else!

Added to the desire to find what most of them considered a more "suitable place" to winter was the fact that Phoenix was only a few short hours away, lying northward around the great Cape Matala, which with the westerly winds could have been reached quickly enough, and which with a good south wind they could have reached in less than a day. Sure enough, they got the south wind!

Northeast and southeast ... The Greek words here are "down the southwest wind and down the northwest wind"; and scholars do not know what Luke meant by this (see English Revised Version (1885) margin). If it applies to the layout of the harbor, either expression could be correct, depending upon the viewpoint, whether that of one at sea or one in the city itself. We simply do not know.


Verse 13

And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to shore. But after no long time there beat down from it a tempestuous wind, which is called Euraquilo.

The allegorical possibilities of a passage like this are not to be despised, although there is no allegation here that Luke intended this as an allegory. He only reported what happened; but what happened here is much like what happens in the lives of many who, being tempted into some wrong move by enticing opportunities, find at last devastation and shipwreck. Like the boxer who feints with the right, then blasts with the left, life often tempts with the soft and beautiful winds of temptation, only to overwhelm the unwary with the storms of destruction. "The south wind blew softly ... the tempestuous Eraquilo beat down upon them!"

Close to shore ... indicates that the south wind was a little too good; they had difficulty keeping their distance from the shore. Many a temptation carries this quality of being just a little too convenient! This very south wind was related to the storm that wrecked them.


Verse 15

And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it, and were driven.

And when the ship was caught ... Alas, some situations must be guarded against before they occur, not after they have developed; and so it was here. They had already passed the point of no return to the Fair Havens they had just left. Many wayward souls have discovered that some decisions admit of no correction. They like the ship are "caught."

And driven ... The ship and all on board were now at the mercy of the winds and waves.


Verse 16

And running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were able, with difficulty; to secure the boat.

To secure the boat ... has reference to the dinghy which they had trailed along behind the vessel, anticipatory to landing in Phoenix. They were so sure they had obtained their purpose, that they had not even taken the trouble to hoist it aboard before sailing. It was now waterlogged, but it might be needed; and so they labored with great difficulty to bring it aboard and secure it.

We ... Some of the passengers, including Luke, had been required to aid in rescuing the boat, the sailors alone not being able to do it.


Verse 17

And when they had hoisted it up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and fearing lest they should be cast upon the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and so were driven.

Undergirding the ship ... Luke's medical word "bandaging" the ship describes accurately what they did. In modern times this is called "frapping" a vessel, referring to the passing of cables around the exterior of the hull to give it greater strength and keep it from breaking up during a storm. All ancient sailing vessels carried supplies for such a purpose. Howson, as quoted by Hervey, tells how "The ship ALBION was frapped with iron chains after the battle of Navarino."[17]

The Syrtis ... These were the great African quicksands. "The greater and lesser `Syrtis' were on the north coast of Africa, one west of Cyrene, the other near Carthage."[18]

They lowered the gear ... Most commentators suppose that this refers to lowering sails and spars; but it is possible that the mast also was lowered. Susan and Michael Katzev, writing of the recovery of a ship of that same vintage from the sea off Cyprus in 1969, detailed the construction of the mast, observing that:

The mast step allowed the mast to pivot backward for easy lowering. When upright, small wedges locked the mast's heel in position.[19]

In all probability, the mast also was lowered to prevent top-heaviness.

[17] A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 295.

[18] H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 419.

[19] Susan W. and Michael L. Katzev, "Last Harbor for the Oldest Ship," National Geographic Magazine (Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society), November, 1974, p. 623.


Verse 18

And as we labored exceedingly with the storm, the next day they began to throw the freight overboard; and the third day they cast out with their own hands the tackling of the ship.

All thought of profit had vanished. It was a survival situation, and everything that could be spared was cast overboard. Even some of the precious cargo went into the sea; but it appears from Acts 27:38 that some of it was retained at this stage.


Verse 20

And when neither sun nor stars shone upon us for many days, and no small tempest lay upon us, all hope that we should be saved was now taken away.

Despair seems to have enveloped all on board. The ship, driven mercilessly before the savage Northeaster (the meaning of Euraquilo), had only two prospects, that of being driven onto the coast of Africa, or of being shattered upon some island in the Mediterranean.


Verse 21

And when they had been long without food, then Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have set sail from Crete, and have gotten this injury and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must stand before Caesar: and lo, God hath granted thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even so as it hath been spoken unto me. But we must be cast upon a certain island.

There are a number of similarities in this narrative to what is said in Jonah. In that storm, the sailors threw the ship's wares overboard (Jonah 1:5), and Jonah confessed that he feared God (Jonah 1:9).

Paul's mention of what he had predicted was not in a spiteful attitude of "I told you so," but was for the purpose of inducing a more ready belief of what he was then about to say.

See under Acts 26:16 for other visions of Paul. Here it was reaffirmed by the Lord's angel that Paul would stand before Caesar; and the message of cheer which Paul here delivered was significant, not as his opinion, but as a clear word from the Almighty. The whole episode was calculated to inspire faith in Paul's word among the ship's passengers and crew.

Lo, God hath granted thee all them that sail with thee ... reveals that Paul had been praying for the lives of all on board, and not merely for himself alone, and that God had answered his prayers by granting that the entire company should not lose their lives. This is a truly magnificent glimpse of the character and spiritual life of the great apostle.

We shall be cast upon a certain island ... This meant they would not be cast upon the coast of Africa.

Before leaving this record of Paul's reassurance of those aboard the ship of Alexandria, it should be noted that many times wicked people are benefited marvelously by the mere fact of being in the company of the righteous. The sailors of this ship were selfish, and the soldiers cruel, but their lives were saved because of Paul. Likewise the prisoners would most certainly have been slaughtered except for the centurion's desire to spare Paul.


Verse 27

But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven to and fro in the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors surmised that they were drawing near to some country.

Driven to and fro ... Some commentators have accused Luke of error here; but any person who has ever been in a hurricane knows that winds come from opposite directions, depending upon the location of the eye of the storm. Without further comment, we are staying with Luke on this, as always. The sea of Adria is the Mediterranean Sea.

Drawing near to some country ... They may have surmised this from the sound of breakers crashing on a distant shore. Their surmise was quickly confirmed by the soundings mentioned in the next verse.


Verse 28

And they sounded, and found twenty fathoms; and after a little space, they sounded again, and found fifteen fathoms.

Fathoms ... This measurement was about six feet; thus the water's depth was decreasing from 120 feet to 90 feet rather quickly. Howson tells us that the British Admiralty charts provide accurate soundings off Malta and most other places in the Mediterranean;[20] and that the water depth is the same now as then. Well, what if it were not? The thesis maintained in this work is that Luke needs no confirmation, not even from the British Admiralty; and if the aforementioned charts showed a discrepancy as regards the figures given in this chapter, it would mean only that the depth has changed in the intervening centuries.

WHY PEOPLE HUNT FOR MISTAKES IN ACTS

It suddenly came to this student, not long ago, that the reason why men are so anxious to find mistakes in the Bible lies in their secret hope that a mistake, in some infinitesimal area like the depth of the water off Malta, would also give them grounds for hope that Luke was wrong when he recorded that "God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness" by Jesus Christ our Lord (Acts 17:31).

ENDNOTE:

[20] J. S. Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publisher, 1966), p. 113.


Verse 29

And fearing lest haply we should be cast ashore on rocky ground, they let go four anchors from the stern, and wished for the day.

We cast anchor, and wished for the day ... This paraphrase of the last clause suggests many a time in life when there is hardly anything to do except to cast anchor and wait for day, filling the hours with prayer, even as Paul did. The moment of truth was about to come to those tortured, bone-tired occupants of the doomed ship. It was a moment to try the hearts of men; and, from what happened immediately, some miserably failed the test.


Verse 30

And as the sailors were seeking to flee out of the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under color as though they would lay out anchors from the foreship.

Flee the ship ... This the sailors would have done, leaving all on board to perish; for without them, the passengers could not have beached the ship. In this sad moment of fear and apprehension, they forgot the high and unselfish code of the seas, cravenly thinking to save their own lives, no matter what happened to others.

They seemed to know that if their purpose was discovered, they would not have been allowed to do such a thing, hence their pretending to be putting out anchors at the bow of the vessel.


Verse 31

Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.

The unbelief of the sailors is seen in their refusal to accept Paul's assurance that no lives would be lost; but, by this time, the centurion and the soldiers had far too much respect for Paul's words to ignore the warning given here. They promptly cut the ropes, setting the dinghy free in the raging sea.

A glimpse of the working of Providence is seen in this episode. Although Paul had been assured by an angel of the Highest that no lives would be lost, he nevertheless, did not understand such a promise as releasing him from the necessity of due caution and prudence to be exercised by himself. God requires of all men that they themselves should do everything possible to reach desired ends, understanding that the providence of the Father begins where the ability of men leaves off.


Verse 33

And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take some food, saying, This is the fourteenth day that ye wait and continue fasting, having taken nothing.

Fourteenth day ... This would have been reckoned from the onset of the storm shortly after sailing from Fair Havens in Crete.

Having taken nothing ... has reference to having had no "meal" in the usual sense. What eating they had done was by a mouthful here and there as chance afforded. As Milligan said, "All such expressions are, of course, hyperbole."[21]

ENDNOTE:

[21] Robert Milligan, Analysis of the New Testament (Cincinnati, Ohio: Bosworth, Chase and Hall), p. 410.


Verse 34

Wherefore I beseech you to take some food: for this is for your safety: for there shall not a hair perish from the head of any of you.

Note the natural leadership of a man like Paul, who by the sheer weight of his moral authority and courage rises to the place of command in the hour of life's great emergencies. We may believe that one of the purposes of Luke in relating all the details of this great maritime disaster lies on the surface in what took place here. It is the prisoner who rallied all on board, compelled them to eat, emphatically assured them that they would not die, and, a moment later, solemnly gave thanks before them all! There are no greater examples of moral courage and authority than that which is visible here. The centurion saw this; and a bit later when the soldiers would have killed the prisoners, he too exhibited a similar courage by denying their request.


Verse 35

And when he had said this, and had taken bread, he gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he brake it, and began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and themselves also took food. And we were all in the ship two hundred three score and sixteen souls.

The solemnity and overpowering wonder of that priceless moment in Paul's life were so awesomely beautiful that the words Luke used to describe it take on something of the sanctity associated with the Lord's supper; although, of course, this was only a case of ordinary eating in most extraordinary circumstances.

Gave thanks to God ... This thanks was not merely for the food, but for the promise that all should live. What an impression must have been etched forever into the minds of those who saw this prince among men, pausing in such circumstances to offer praise and thanksgiving to the Father in heaven!

It is the extreme emergency that calls forth the true leader. A friend of this author, Pfc. Hicklin A. Harrel, Jr., was a member of a military detail in World War II sent on an excursion into enemy territory. All of the officers were killed, but Private Harrel rallied the company, discharged their assignment, and returned; whereupon he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the United States Army, receiving the new rank on the field of battle.


Verse 38

And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

The purpose of throwing out the balance of the cargo was to reduce the ship's draught in order to make it possible to sail it closer to the shore.


Verse 39

And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they perceived a certain bay with a beach, and they took counsel whether they could drive the ship upon it.

Here the necessity of the sailors continuing with the ship was apparent to all. Without their skilled hands, all would have been lost.


Verse 40

And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosing the bands of the rudders; and hoisting up the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach.

Loosing the bands of the rudders ... The English Revised Version (1885) properly translated the term "rudders" here, contrasting with "the rudder" bands as in KJV. This was a statement once branded as one of Luke's mistakes, as it was alleged that "every fool knows a ship has only one rudder"; but here, as in all similar instances, Luke's absolute accuracy has been proved. Mention has already been made of the ancient ship raised from the depths of the Mediterranean off the coast of Cyprus, by means of funds provided by Oberlin College, and which is dated about 300 B.C. It is of a vintage like ships still plying the seas in Luke's day. See under Acts 27:17.

See the picture in the National Geographic Magazine, Nov., 1974, page 622. It depicts a ship with dual steering oars to keep the ship on course. Though more efficient than a single rudder, the exposed oars were more vulnerable to damage.

Root said:

The rudder bands had secured the rudder, so it would not be beaten about by the waves during the night. Now they were loosed so the rudder could be used in steering.[22]

All such comments should be revised in the light of the above depicted certainty that ancient vessels had more than one rudder, proving again the remarkable accuracy of the sacred author Luke.

ENDNOTE:

[22] Orrin Root, op. cit., p. 198.


Verse 41

But lighting upon a place where two seas meet, they ran the vessel aground; and the foreship struck and remained unmovable, but the stern began to break up by the violence of the waves.

Where two seas meet ... This was a barely submerged shoal, the sands of which had been piled together by water action on both sides. It was invisible; therefore they plowed the ship into it, with the result given in this verse. Fortunately, or providentially, this was near enough to the beach that all the passengers and crew could make it to land.


Verse 42

And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out and escape.

This was the old Roman code, that the custodian of a prisoner should answer with his life for any who escaped; and the present emergency suggested to the soldiers that it would be better to kill the prisoners than to risk any of them getting away. Their heartless suggestion shows how little they regarded the providential escape from death which had already come to themselves.


Verse 43

But the centurion, desiring to save Paul, stayed them from their purpose; and commanded that they who could swim should cast themselves overboard, and get first to land.

Stayed them from their purpose ... Only a command from the centurion was sufficient to do this, and he promptly gave it. The actual danger of prisoners escaping was genuine; and, accordingly, he commanded the soldiers who could swim to go overboard at once, thus getting to land first, and thereby being able to keep sharp watch on all of the prisoners.


Verse 44

And the rest, some on planks, and some on other things from the ship. And so it came to pass, that they all escaped safe to land.

And on other things from the ship ... Bruce thought that these words "might conceivably mean `and some on some of the (people) from' the ship."[23]

The journey to Rome was thus interrupted by a disastrous shipwreck, Paul's fourth; but Luke would at once (in the next chapter) recount the resumption of the trip, reporting what happened during the delay on the island of Malta. In it all the "finger of God" is clearly visible.

ENDNOTE:

[23] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 519.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/acts-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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