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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible
Acts 27

 

 

Verse 1

"And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy" Festus made this decision and apparently arrangements were made as soon as possible. "We" Luke will travel with Paul and some feel that Aristarchus was with the group as well (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:10). Luke had come with Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-18), and "the probability is that he had been close to him during his imprisonment. This stay of more than two years in Palestine gave Luke the opportunity, if he had not enjoyed one before; to gather up all the information contained in his gospel" (McGarvey p. 261). "For Italy" "Rome, the largest and most splendid of ancient cities, acted like a magnet to its peoples. For Rome was the capital and symbol of the Roman Empire, whose founding has been called "the grandest political achievement ever accomplished. So Paul longed to visit Rome. True, Seneca had called it "a cesspool of iniquity" and Juvenal " a filthy sewer", but all the more urgently did it need the gospel. True, John in the book of Revelation portrayed Rome as a persecuting monster and as "the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth" (Revelation 13:1 ff; Revelation 17:1 ff), but he was writing at least twenty years later in Domitian"s reign; Nero at the time of Paul"s visit had not yet exposed his ugly cruelty" (Stott pp. 383-384).

"Sail" "Many readers of Acts 27:1-44 have commented on the precision, accuracy and vividness of the narrative. "There is no such detailed record of the working of an ancient ship", wrote Thomas Walker, "in the whole of classical literature". The writer who has done most to vindicate Luke"s accuracy in Acts 27:1-44 is James Smith, whose book The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul was published in 1848. He was a soldier by profession, a keen yachtsman of thirty years" experience. He spent the winter of 1844-45 in Malta while investigating Paul"s voyage. He was widely read, he familiarized himself with the weather patterns of the Mediterranean, and he made a study of navigation and seamanship in both the ancient and modern worlds" (Stott pp. 385-386).

"The chain of circumstances by which God accomplished His purpose of having Paul preach the Gospel at Rome was nearly complete. The plots of the unbelieving Jews had resulted in Paul"s arrest; the quick thinking and acting of the Roman officer, Claudius Lysias, had prevented Paul"s death. The avarice of Felix, the indecision of Festus, the prudence of Paul, and the provision made by the empire for the protection of its citizens had all operated together to keep Paul in custody and bring him to the sea voyage that was to end in Italy" (Reese p. 890).

"They proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners" Very little is known about these other prisoners. Had they also appealed to Caesar or were they prisoners destined to die in the Roman arena to amuse the populace? "Other" The Greek term here is heteros which often means another of a different kind, that is prisoners of a different class than Paul. "To a centurion of the Augustan cohort" We will later learn that the name of this centurion was Julius. Various ideas exist concerning the meaning of the term Augustan. Some suggest that this title might be given to any cohort "for valor", or had been named in honor of the emperor. Others feel that this cohort consisted of officers who served as personal couriers between the emperor and various governors or army leaders. Reese says, "It is possible that Julius accompanied Festus as the emperor"s personal escort as Festus came into his new province; and since Festus has been installed, Julius is now returning to Rome" (p. 891). "It was now that Julius the centurion (as Luke"s tale unfolds), wins our admiration for his kindness and common sense" (Stott p. 387).


Verse 2

"Embarking" We assume that the port of departure was Caesarea. "In an Adramyttian ship" The name here is pronounced add rah mitt ee um. The ship was so named because it originated from the city by this name, which was an important seaport of the Roman province of Asia. The site is now called Karatash, but a nearby town, Edremit, preserves the ancient name. "Which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia" Apparently no ship had been available that was going directly to Rome, in consequence, the voyage from Caesarea to Malta took place in two stages and on two ships. This particular ship was now homeward bound and would sail on the coast of Asia Minor, in contrast to a larger ocean-going vessel. Luke then informs us that Aristarchus was also present.


Verse 3

"Sidon" This city was about 70 miles north of Caesarea, and the voyage could be easy made in 24 hours. "And Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care" That is, Paul was allowed to spend time with the brethren in Sidon. Paul had passed through his region before (Acts 15:3). The expression receive care may suggest medical attention or providing Paul with new clothes, provisions and encouragement. Remember, Paul has spent the last two years in prison. "We note, as in other instances, the favorable impression made by Paul"s conduct on official persons who came in contact with him. Does our conduct produce the same effect? (Acts 18:14; Acts 19:31; Acts 19:37)" (Reese p. 893).


Verse 4

"Sailed under the shelter of Cyprus" The ship headed north after leaving Sidon. "During this time of year (it was getting late in the sailing season-27:9) the prevailing winds, called Etesian winds, blow from the west and northwest. As they sail northward, they would sail past the east side of Cyprus, and while near Cyprus they would be sheltered from the prevailing winds making sailing somewhat easier" (Reese pp. 893-894).


Verse 5

Once they had passed Cyprus there was a stretch of open sea to be cross before they arrived near the southern coast of Cilicia. "Myra" Pronounced my ruh was one of the chief cities of Lycia (lish ih uh), and was situated on the river Andriacus.


Verse 6

"There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy" This ship was from Alexandria in Egypt, she was headed for Rome with a load of grain (27:38) and accommodated 276 persons (27:37). About 300 years earlier Egypt had become the breadbasket of Rome, and a whole fleet of ships was devoted to bringing grain from Egypt to Italy. "The Alexandrian ships were very large and were steered by two broad oars, one on each side of the stern, and one large mast with the huge sail fastened to an enormous yard arm. Another sail was often seen in the forepart of the ship. From the descriptions of such ships found in ancient literature, it has been estimated they could carry between ten and eleven hundred tons. Fully loaded, with a good breeze, they could make about eight or nine miles an hour" (Reese p. 895). "And he put us aboard it" It was a common practice to place prisoners on grain ships and this centurion would of have the authority to do such.


Verse 7

"When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus" The distance from Myra to the island of Cnidus was 130 miles, and could have been covered in a little more than a day, but the sailing was slow and tedious because of a contrary wind. Cnidus was a harbor on the Carian peninsula called Triopium. "To reach this place they have coasted along Lycia and gone through the straits between Rhodes and the mainland" (Reese p. 895). "Since the wind did not permit us to go farther" "A look at the map will show that at Cnidus the coast of Asia Minor trends away to the north. Once a ship passed Cnidus it would not longer have the shelter of the land; instead it was exposed to the full force of the Etesian winds" (Reese p. 896). At this point the crew has two choices, either spend the winter at Cnidus, or head in a southerly direction until they came under the shelter of Cyprus. "They could gain another hundred miles toward Rome, with the possibility that by that time the winds will have changed and blow from a direction that would permit the rest of the voyage" (Reese p. 896). "We sailed under the shelter of Crete" "Rounding Cape Salmone, they hugged Crete"s south coast until they reached Fair Havens" (Stott p. 388).


Verse 8

"And with difficulty" But such a trip still was tedious, difficult and taxed the expertise of the crew. "Fair Havens" "Fair Havens was nothing more than a small bay. In fact the nearest town was two hours" walk to the east, called Lasea" (Reese p. 896). "Lasea" The name of this town is pronounced luh see uh.


Verse 9

"When considerable time had passed" "Five miles west of Fair Havens lies Cape Matala, and beyond Cape Matala the south coast of Crete trends away suddenly to the north. There was no more protection from the northwest wind. This is why they waited at Fair Havens for the wind to change. The much time measured by the common experience of sailing vessels waiting for a favorable wind, may mean one or two weeks" (Reese p. 897). "And the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over" The sailing season between September 14 and November 11 was the dangerous season, "it was a sail-at-your-own-risk-period" (p. 897). After November 11 to March 10 all navigation on the Mediterranean ceased. "The fast was already over" This is another name for the Jewish Day of Atonement. In the year 59 A.D. this day fell on October 5, in 60 A.D. it fell on September 23. "Paul began to admonish them" Some feel that this speech given by Paul indicates at a ship"s council was held and Paul was allowed to speak concerning whether they should winter at Fair Havens or try find a better port. "Admonish is used in medical writers of the advice a doctor give his patient" (Reese pp. 897-898).


Verse 10

"I perceive" Later on Paul will be given revelation from God on the final outcome, thus the expression "I perceive" may be the result of Paul"s experience as a seasoned traveler. Paul had already endured three shipwrecks and a night in the ocean hanging on for dear life (2 Corinthians 11:25). "But also of our lives" Compare with 27:21-23. Paul knows that God had said that he would preach in Rome but at this time he is not sure what will happen to the rest of the people on ship. Will they be delivered?


Verse 11

"The centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship" That is, he trusted the experts. The pilot was the helmsman or steersman, who occupied an important position at the stern of ancient ships. He steered the ship and gave directions to the crew. In the end the centurion had the final say, because he had the higher rank and basically had taken the ship into service for the emperor in using it to get Paul to Rome.


Verse 12

"Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering" Fair Havens did give immediate shelter from the northwest gales, yet it was open to all other points of the compass. "It would put a strain on Lasea, too, to show hospitality to 276 people through the winter" (Reese p. 899). "The majority" Apparently others also sided with Paul, yet they were in the minority. "If somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and the spend the winter there" The expression if somehow reveals that everyone knew they were taking a huge risk in trying to reach the next harbor. "Phoenix: Many feel that this is the modern harbor of Lutro, if that is the case then the directions given, facing southwest and northwest are from the standpoint of the sailors as they come into the harbor. Bruce argues that Phoenix is rather the harbor of Phineka, which lies open to any westerly wind.


Verse 13

"When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had gained their purpose" The stormy northwest wind ceased and a southwest wind, which would be very favorable for their trip emerged. Here we learn about a lesson about "omens" for these sailors though that they were "as good as there", and get this voyage that appears to have a good "omen" will end in the complete loss of the ship. "Close inshore" It was about 5 miles from Fair Havens to Cape Matala, and about 35 miles from there to Phoenix. If this wind lasted only about three or four hours they could make it. The verse also reveals that they were sailing closer to the shoreline than usual.


Verse 14

"But before very long" Suddenly things changed. "Rushed down from the land" This wind rushed down from the Cretan mountains. "A violent wind" Literally typhonic, which means a wind of hurricane force. "Called" This is what the sailors called such a violent wind. "Euraquilo" "The sailors recognized this wind as an old enemy and had a name for it" (Bruce p. 509). Actually, the term is a combination of two words, Eura means "east wind" and aquilo means "north wind", or as an accurate nautical term, "north-one-third-east-wind".


Verse 15

"Could not face the wind" It was so violent that the pilot could not steer the wind in the direction they needed to go.


Verse 16

The modern name of this small island is Gavdho and is about 23 miles southwest of Crete. "Once they were in the shelter of the island, they would have had relatively smooth water for ten or fifteen miles, and in this stretch of smooth water they make what preparations they can for riding out the storm" (Reese pp. 901-902). "We were" Indicating that the passengers may have been pressed into service. "Scarcely able to get the ships boat under control" This is the first of three precautions and most feel this refers to getting the ship"s life boat which was usually towed back on board. "The dinghy was normally towed astern, but taken aboard in bad weather. By this time it must have been full of water, and this made it all the more difficult to secure it" (Bruce p. 509). Compare with 27:30.


Verse 17

The second precaution is now listed. "They used supporting cables in undergirding the ship" This involved passing cables round it transversely underneath in order to hold the timbers together. "Ancient vessels were provided with cables ready fitted for bracing the hulls to enable them to resist the destructive force of such winds" (Bruce p. 510). British sailors refer to this practice as frapping. Some feel that this might also have included lashing the stern and bow together above deck to prevent her from having her back broken. "And fearing that they might run around in the shallows of Syritis" The shallows of Syritis were vast beds of sand driven up by the sea, and seeing that these sandbars were constantly shifting and they were feared by sailors. The greater Syritis was almost exactly southwest of Crete, so they would not afford to drift in this direction indefinitely. The name Syritis is pronounced sur tis. "They let down the sea anchor" Which would act as a brake as they drifted along. "So they let themselves be driven along" For the moment there was not much else they could do.


Verse 18

The next day things get even worse. "They begin to jettison the cargo" Just imagine trying to pick up, carry upstairs and toss overboard large sacks of wheat while the ship underneath your feet is being violently toss about. The reasoning behind this move is that in making the boat lighter and thus drawing less water, the waves might strike her sides with less force.


Verse 19

The third day and it appears there is still no relief. Imagine being three days on board a boat with absolutely no rest, relief and everything is getting wet. "They threw the ship"s tackle overboard" This would include all extra boards, rigging, cordage and so forth that were carried for making repairs.


Verse 20

"As the mariners of the age were dependent on the sun and the stars exclusively for a knowledge of the direction in which they were sailing, when they had seen neither for many days, and the storm was unabated, they had no definite idea as to where they were, and hence their despair of being saved" (McGarvey p. 267).


Verse 21

"Had gone a long time without food" This was probably due to the fact that no one felt like eating, it would be very difficult to prepare anything, and much of the food might have been wet. "Paul stood up in the midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice"" This sounds like the modern expression, "I told you so". Paul is not rubbing it in; rather he is reminding them that his advice is worth something. He was an experienced traveler, in addition, he is God"s servant and God reveals things about the future to him. Notice, very quickly after this "I told you so" are words of hope and encouragement. One writer has estimated that from Acts and other letters it appears that Paul had eleven voyages on the Mediterranean before this trip and had already traveled some 3500 miles by sea (Haenchen pp. 702-703).


Verses 22-26

Twice Paul will urge them to keep up their courage because only the ship would be lost, and how could Paul be so certain? Because the previous night an angel of the God to whom he belonged, and whom he served, had stood beside him, had told him not to be afraid, had promised that he must appear before Caesar, added that all the fellow passengers and crew would be delivered (in answer to his prayers?) and noted that this ship would run around on a certain island. As the rest of the story unfolds all those who heard this prediction will see it fulfilled. The angel has repeated the same basic promise given to Paul in 23:11. "Stand" "Is the proper word for standing before a judge. Since Paul is promised that he will be tried before Caesar, it must be that he will not perish at sea" (Reese p. 907). "God has granted you" Here we see the importance of the lone Christian or the one righteous man. Because Paul is on a mission for God, 276 soldiers, sailors, prisoners and passengers will be spared.


Verse 27

"The fourteenth night had come" That is, the fourteenth night after leaving Fair Havens. "The Adriatic Sea" The term Adriatic was a popular way of referring to the entire east central region of the Mediterranean. "The sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land" They sensed the approach of land probably because they started hearing waves breaking in the night on a shore.


Verse 28

"They took soundings, and found it to be twenty fathoms; a little father on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen" "To take a sounding they made use of a line with a lead weight on the end of it. Usually, there were knots on the rope, each a fathom apart" (Reese p. 910). The first sounding revealed 120 feet of water beneath them, probably the other sounding was taken about 30 minutes later and revealed 90 feet.

"It is one of the striking proofs of the truth of the Lucan record, that at the rate at which it is calculated that a large ship laying to in a gale would drift in 24 hours, that is 36 miles, multiplied by 14 days, gives 504 miles. And it is 476 miles in a straight line from Crete to Malta" (Reese p. 909).


Verse 29

"Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks" With the rapid deceasing depth and the fact it was night and could not see where they were headed there was the natural fear of hitting a reef. "They cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak" These four anchors served as a brake until daylight showed them where they were. Such a procedure kept the ship pointed towards the shore and will make it easier in the morning to make a run for the beach. "Wished" We certainly can identify with these men. They wished that daylight would hurry and come.


Verse 30

"On the pretense" "The sailors now attempted to make sure of their own safety at the expense of the others on board. They lowered the dinghy into the sea, pretending that they were going to lay out anchors from the bow as well as from the stern. Paul detected their aim, and prevented it" (Bruce p. 516). We are not told if Paul knew this plot was inspiration at this point or if he many years of sailing experience told him that "there could be no possible advantage in anchoring the ships by the bow under the present circumstances" (p. 516).


Verse 31

Paul quickly informs the centurion that if these sailors escape then the entire company will perish. These skilled hands that were leaving would be needed to drive the ship to shore, and Paul just does not sit back, but rather does what he can to see that God"s promise is fulfilled. We must learn that many of God"s promises are conditional upon our and the obedience of others as well. "God"s promise to give him the lives of the whole ship"s company clearly presupposed that they would stay together" (Stott p. 391).


Verse 32

"By this time the centurion has learned that it was unwise to disregard Paul"s advice" (Reese p. 912). There is wisdom behind cutting loose the lifeboat. "History is full of accounts of the terrible scene which accompanies frantic men"s attempts to take what seems the last means of escape from a disaster. Furthermore, if the boast were still available through the rest of the night, what is to keep the sailors from trying to escape again later?" (Reese p. 912).


Verse 33-34

This verse reveals what the last 14 days had been like. That had been 14 days of sleeplessness, constant watching, and going without eating. Paul now encourages everyone to eat, for they will need this nourishment to make the swim to shore.


Verse 35

Here is an example of a public prayer before a meal.


Verse 36-37

As a result the passengers and crew are encouraged and Luke then mentions how many were on board. Luke may had known the precise number not only by inspiration but also due to the fact that Paul and Luke may have helped distribute whatever food was left to the entire crew.


Verse 38

The passengers eat a hearty meal and now have the strength and resolve to lighten the ship even further by unfolding the wheat on board. It appears that up to this point the crew had been trying not only to save the ship but a good portion of the cargo as well, but now the choice is between saving the wheat and saving themselves. It is always interesting to see how valueless possessions and money are when your life is on the line. "It was no easy task to raise the sacks of grain from the hold of the ship and dump them overboard, for the storm is still raging, and the ship must have been pitching and tossing" (Reese p. 915).


Verse 39

Even though some of these sailors had probably been to the harbor at Malta, this side of the island they had never seen, but they stop a bay and determined to drive the ship onto the beach if they could.


Verse 40

The anchors that had been dropped are left behind in the sea, the two rudders in the back that had been hoisted up and lashed fast, are now put back into use to steer the ship, in addition, they hoist the foresail, which will give them forward movement, because when sailing rudders are only useful if the ship is moving forward.


Verse 41

"But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable" As they headed for shore the unexpected happened, they hit a hidden sandbar. This bar was hit even when they were a good distance from shore. With the front part of the ship stuck in the bank, and with the stern still afloat in deeper water, the force of the waves began to break the ship apart. "Two seas met" This is how sailors spoke of an area where heavy waves hit from opposite directions.


Verse 42

Seeing that the soldiers were responsible for their prisoners, the soldiers were ready to kill all the prisoners lest any escaped. "In putting the prisoners to death, the soldiers saw what looked to them like the only chance of escaping death themselves" (Reese p. 917). Notice that the sailors had been selfish and now the soldiers display the same attitude.


Verse 43

Eventually the centurion felt too grateful to Paul to allow any such thing to happen. "Again we see that for the sake of one righteous man, the lives of all the prisoners were spared" (Reese p. 917). The centurion instead orders the soldiers who could swim to do so and get to land first and then they could collect the prisoners as they came in. "That they all were brought safely to land" "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 peril, 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 fulfill all His purposes. Indeed, we have seen that God"s men are good men to have around in any event" (Barnes p. 369).

 


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Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/acts-27.html. 1999-2014.

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