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(1) Paul and certain other prisoners.—The Greek for “other” implies that they were prisoners of a different class. It is probable, however, that they also had appealed to the emperor, as there would otherwise be no object in sending them to Rome.
A centurion of Augustus’ band.—Literally, of the Sebaste. On the band or cohort as a subdivision of the Roman legion, see Note on Acts 10:1. Three different explanations have been given of the term translated “Augustus.” (1) The cohort may have consisted of soldiers levied in Sebaste (= Augusta) or Samaria. Josephus mentions a squadron of Sebastene cavalry (Ant. xx. 6, § 1; xix. 9, § 2), and there may have been a corresponding band of foot-soldiers. (2) Nero about this time had formed a kind of body-guard, consisting of some 3, 000 young men of the equestrian order, who accompanied him to games and spectacles, and whose chief business it was to applaud him in his speeches and recitations. To these he gave the name of Augustani (Tacit. Ann. xiv. 15; Sueton. Nero, c. 25), a term of which Sebastene would be the natural Greek equivalent. (3) A certain Julius Priscus appears in Tacit. Hist. ii. 92 as appointed by Vitellius to be one of the prefects of the Prætorian cohorts, which, as specially under the emperor’s personal command, might naturally be called by his name; and he has been conjecturally identified with the centurion here named. Of these, (2) seems the most probable, but it is not absolutely incompatible with (3). On this assumption, as it is not said that the cohort itself was at Cæsarea, it is possible that he may have accompanied Festus as an escort to his province, and was now returning to Rome.
(2) Entering into a ship of Adramyttium.—Better, embarking in. Adramyttium was a town on the coast of Mysia, opposite Lesbos. It lay on the Roman road from Assos and Troas to Pergamus, Ephesus, and Miletus. It was a port of considerable importance, and the Gulf of Adramyti still retains its name. There would seem to have been but little direct intercourse by sea between Cæsarea and Rome, and the voyage had therefore to be made, now in one ship, now in another. Changes of this kind occurred, it will be remembered, in St. Paul’s journey from Philippi to Cæsarea. Possibly it was at first intended that the prisoners should go to Adramyttium, cross to Greece, and then proceed by land. “Asia” is, of course, the proconsular province so called. Looking to the fact that the “fast,” i.e., the Day of Atonement (falling this year on Sept. 24th), was over when St. Paul reached Crete (Acts 27:9), the date of embarkation may be fixed, with much probability, in the middle, or towards the end, of the previous August.
One Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica.—It is reasonable to infer that Aristarchus, who had come with St. Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), had remained in Palestine during the two years of the Apostle’s imprisonment, and was now intending to return to his native city. The subsequent alteration of plan (Acts 27:6), however, led to his accompanying him to Rome, and we find him there with St. Paul in Colossians 4:10, sharing his imprisonment.
(3) And Julius courteously entreated.—The English fairly expresses the meaning of the Greek adverb, which is literally philanthropically. We note, as in other instances, the favourable impression made by St. Paul’s conduct on official persons who came in contact with him. (Comp. Acts 18:14; Acts 19:31; Acts 19:37.) The “friends” of St. Paul at Sidon were probably Christian disciples who had seen him when he passed through Phœnicia, as in Acts 15:3, or in other journeys.
To refresh himself.—Literally, to avail himself of their care. The Greek word suggests the thought of a provision of personal comforts, clothing and the like, for the voyage. After two years’ imprisonment we may well believe that such kindly care would be both necessary and acceptable.
(4) We sailed under Cyprus . . .—Had the wind been favourable, the ship would naturally have taken the direct course from Sidon to Mysia, leaving Cyprus on the right, as in his previous voyage St. Paul had sailed from Patara to Tyre (Acts 21:1). As it was, the wind probably being from the north-west, they made for the channel between Cyprus and Cilicia, and, sailing close under the lee of the long, projecting east coast of the island from Salamis to the promontory of Dinaretium (Capo Andrea), were thus sheltered.
(5) We came to Myra, a city of Lycia.—The city lay about two miles and a half from the mouth of the river Andriacus. It had been at one time the metropolis of Lycia, and the remains of a theatre and an aqueduct remain to attest its former stateliness.
(6) A ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy.—A glance at the map will show that the ship, which was probably one of those engaged in the corn-trade between Egypt and Rome, must have been driven out of its course. This may have been owing to the prevalence of the westerly winds already noticed. The Alexandrian traders, however, as a rule, avoided taking the course along the coast of Africa, through fear of the quicksands of the great Syrtis, and took that between Crete and the Peloponnesus. The presence of this merchantship led to a change of plan. It seemed an easier and more expeditious route to go straight to Rome, instead of landing at Mysia, and then taking another ship to Macedonia in order to journey by land to the coast of the Adriatic. A local inscription describes Myra as a “horrea,” or store-house of corn (Lewin’s St. Paul, ii. p. 187), and the Alexandrian ship may therefore have gone thither to discharge part of its cargo. It has been assumed, but on insufficient grounds, that Aristarchus here parted from St. Paul, and went on in the Adramyttium ship.
(7) When we had sailed slowly many days.—The Etesian gales from the north-west, which prevail in the Archipelago during the latter part of July and the whole of August, were still blowing strongly, and during the “many days” (probably a fortnight or three weeks) the ship had not been able to traverse more than the 120 miles that lay between Myra and Cnidus. To reach the latter place they had probably coasted along Lycia, and gone through the straits between Rhodes and the mainland.
And scarce were come over against Cnidus.—Better, with difficulty. Cnidus was situated on a neck of land with a harbour on either side, and was apparently a naval station for the ships that were engaged in the corn-trade between Egypt and Greece (Thucyd. viii. 35). Here, as the coast trends away to the north, and they had no longer the shelter of the land, they were exposed to the full force of the Etesian winds. It was useless to attempt to make head against these, and their only alternative was to steer southward, so as to get, if possible, under the lee of the coast of Crete, the modern Candia. They succeeded in getting as far as Cape Salmone, the eastern point of the island, and finding here some shelter, went on their way westward under the lee of the coast. The name of Salmone appears in Strabo (x. 4) as Samonion, in Pliny (iv. 12) as Samnonium. In modern Greek it takes the form of Capo Salomon.
(8) And, hardly passing it.—The Greek adverb is the same as the “scarce” of Acts 27:7, and should be translated as before, with difficulty.
A place which is called The fair havens.—It was obvious that the ship would have been again exposed, after passing Crete, or even its central promontory, Cape Matala, to the full force of the northwest gales. About two miles to the east of the promontory, however, and therefore sheltered by it, there was tolerably good anchorage, in a harbour known then and now as the Fair Havens (Limeônes kaloi).
Nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.—The comparative obscurity of the place has led to a large variety of readings of the name—Lassœa, Alassa, Thalassa, and other forms. Pliny mentions a city in Crete named Lasos, but does not describe its position. The remains of buildings, columns, the walls and foundations of temples have been found about two hours’ walk from the Fair Havens, under Cape Leonda, and are locally known as Lasea (Rev. G. Brown, in Smith’s Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, Appendix 3).
(9) Because the fast was now already past.—The Fast was the Jewish Day of Atonement, which fell on the tenth of Tisri (in that year, September 24th), the seventh month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year. The sailing season with the Jews was reckoned from the Feast of Pentecost to that of Tabernacles, which fell five days after the Fast. Roman reckoning gave a somewhat wider range, sc., from the sixth day of the Ides of March to the third of the Ides of November. The manner in which St. Luke names the Fast, and not the Feast of Tabernacles, makes it probable that the time to which we are now come was between September 24th and October 1st, when the Etesian winds, which are always of the nature of equinoctial gales, would naturally be most violent. Probably, also, the date may have been fixed on St. Luke’s memory by St. Paul’s observance of the Fast. He was not likely to leave so memorable a day unregarded, however little he might care to impose its observance upon others. To keep the Feast of Tabernacles on board the ship was, of course, impossible.
(10) Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt.—The tone is clearly that of a man who speaks more from the foresight gained by observation than from a direct supernatural prediction. St. Paul had had, it will be remembered, the experience of three shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:25), and the Epistle to Titus, though probably written later, shows an acquaintance with Crete which suggests that he may have had some knowledge even of the very harbour in which they had found refuge. His advice accordingly was to remain where they were, in comparative safety, in spite of the drawbacks referred to in Acts 27:12. The word for “hurt,” which properly means “outrage,” is used here in the sense of a violent calamity.
Not only of the lading.—The cargo probably consisted chiefly of corn coming from Alexandria to Rome. (Comp. Notes on Acts 27:18; Acts 27:38.)
But also of our lives.—No lives were actually lost (Acts 27:44), but the Apostle speaks now, as above, from the stand-point of reasonable opinion. When his counsel was rejected he gave himself to prayer, and to that prayer (Acts 27:24) he attributes the preservation of his companions not less than his own.
(11) Nevertheless the centurion believed the master.—Better, the pilot. The word is the same as that translated “ship-master,” in Revelation 18:17. The advice was, we may believe, determined by the fact that there was a better harbour but a few miles further on the coast. Could they not press on thither and be safe for the winter? It was natural that the centurion should trust to them as experts rather than to the enthusiastic Rabbi whom he had in charge as prisoner.
(12) And because the haven was not commodious to winter in . . .—The anchorage in the Fair Havens, while it gave immediate shelter from the north-west gales, was open to those from other points of the compass, and it was therefore decided by the majority (there would seem to have been something like a vote taken on the question) to press on and face the immediate risk for the sake of the more permanent advantages.
Phenice . . . which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.—The precise meaning of the phrase is that the harbour looked, as we say, down these winds, in the direction to which they blew—i.e., that it faced the north-east and south-east, the words used being the names, not of points of the compass, but of the winds which blew from them. The harbour so described has been identified with the modern Lutro, on the east of the promontory of Kavo Muros, which looks eastward, and so corresponds to the interpretation just given of the words that describe it. The harbour is named by Ptolemy (iii. 17) as Phoenikous, and a city named Phoenix lay a few miles inland. It is still used as a harbour by Greek pirates, and was marked as such in the French admiralty charts of 1738; but, owing to the silting up of the sand, has become unsuitable for larger vessels. An inscription of the time of Nerva, of the nature of a votive tablet to Jupiter and Serapis, found near the spot, records the fact that it was erected by Epictetus, the tabularius, or agent, of the fleet to which the ship belonged, with the assistance of Dionysius of Alexandria, the pilot (the same word as that which St. Luke uses) of a ship which had as its sign (the same word as in Acts 28:4) the Isopharia. It is a natural inference from this that the Alexandrian ship (we note the Egyptian element in the dedication to Serapis, and possibly in the connection of the sign with the Pharos, or lighthouse of Alexandria) had anchored, and possibly wintered, at Phœnice, and that the tablet was a thank-offering for its preservation. (See Alford, Prolegomena.)
(13) And when the south wind blew softly.—There was a change at once in the force and the direction of the wind. With a gentle and favourable breeze from the south, the pilot and the owner thought that all was smooth sailing, and the ship left the Fair Havens and made across the bay, a distance of thirty-four miles, for Phænice. They still, however, hugged the coast, as afraid to venture too far into the open sea. The Greek adverb asson, which is rightly rendered “close” in the Authorised version, has been mistaken, in the Vulgate and some other versions, for the accusative case of Assos, as though it were a proper name, and the words have been variously rendered “when they had left Assos,” or “when they had made for Asses,” or “when they had come in sight of Assos.” The island Assos, however, lay far to the north (see Note on Acts 20:13), and there is no evidence of the existence of any town of that name in Crete. Of the English versions, Wiclif and the Rhemish follow the Vulgate, “when they had removed” (W.), or “parted” (Rh.), “from Assos”; Tyndale and Cranmer, following Luther, “they loosed unto Asson.” The Geneva translation was the first to give the true meaning, and is following by the Authorised version. The tense of the Greek verb for “they sailed close,” implies that they were in the act of doing this when the storm burst upon them, as in the next verse.
(14) There arose against it . . .—The Greek pronoun is in the feminine, and as the noun used for ship is, throughout the narrative, in the neuter, the difference of gender presents a difficulty. Grammatically the pronoun seems to refer to Crete, and if referred to it, the sentence admits of three possible constructions: (1) the wind drove us against Crete; or (2), blew against Crete; or (3), drove down on us from Crete. Of these, (1) and (2) are at variance with the facts of the case, as the gale blew the ship away from Crete to the south, while (3), which is as tenable grammatically, exactly agrees with them. Some translators (e.g., Luther) have, however, referred the pronoun to the noun “purpose,”—“the wind blew against their purpose;” but this gives a less satisfactory sense. Of the English versions Wiclif gives “was against it,” leaving the sense ambiguous. Tyndale and Cranmer follow Luther, “there arose against their purpose.” The Geneva adopts the first of the above readings, “there arose against Candie,” and is followed by the Rhemish, “drove against it.”
A tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.—The Greek adjective typhonic is perpetuated in the modern “typhoon,” as applied to whirlwinds like that now described. The “vortex” of such a wind is indeed its distinguishing feature. The name Euroclydon, which is fairly represented by such a word as “wide-wave,” or “broad-billow,” is not found elsewhere, and, if the reading be genuine, must be looked on as a term which St. Luke reported as actually used by the sailors on board. Some of the best MSS., however, give the form Euro-aquilo, which, though a somewhat hybrid word unknown to Greek and Latin writers, fits in, as meaning north-east, or, more strictly, east by north, with all the phenomena described. The earlier English—Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva—all give “north-east,” while the Rhemish reproduces the term Euro-aquilo, without attempting to translate. A sudden change from south to north, with a great increase of violence, is a common phenomenon in the autumnal storms of the Mediterranean, and in this instance the blast would seem to have rushed down on the ship from the hills of Crete.
(15) And could not bear up into the wind.—The Greek verb is literally, “to look into the wind’s eye,” to face the wind. The figure is a sufficiently natural one in all languages; but it perhaps received additional vividness from the fact that a large eye was commonly painted on the prow of Greek vessels. The practice is still not unusual in Mediterranean boats. Assuming the direction of the gale to have been as stated in the previous Note the ship was now driven in a south-west direction, scudding before the wind.
(16) And running under a certain island which is called Clauda.—Some MSS. give the various-reading Cauda, which agrees more closely with the form Gaudos found in Pliny and Suidas. This, in its turn, has passed into the modern Gozzo. The island lay about twenty-three miles to the south-west of Crete. Here they got under the lee of the shore, and availed themselves of the temporary shelter to prepare the ship more thoroughly than had been possible before to encounter the fury of the storm. The first step was to get the boat, which hitherto apparently had been towed through the waves, on board the ship. This, as St. Luke says, was a matter of much work (literally, we were with difficulty able to get hold of the boat), partly, we may believe, because it was not easy to keep the vessel with her head to the wind, and so avoid the motion which would have impeded the operation, partly, because the boat was probably full of water.
(17) They used helps, undergirding the ship.—The word “helps” answers to what we should call “precautions,” or “remedial measures.” The process described, technically known as “frapping,” consisted in carrying a strong cable several times round the ship from stem to stern, so as to keep the planks from starting, and guard against the consequent leakage. The practice has always been a common one. Thucydides (i. 29) mentions the Corcyreans as having recourse to it. The Russian ships taken in the Tagus in 1808 were kept together in this manner in consequence of their age and unsound condition (Arnold, on Thuc. i. 29). We have probably an allusion to it in the lines of Horace (Od. i. 14).
“Ac sine funibus,
Vix durare carinæ,
[“And scarcely can our keels keep sound,
E’en with the ropes that gird them round,
Against the imperious wave.”]
Fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands.—Literally, the Syrtis. There were two quicksands of this name, the Greater and the Lesser, on the north coast of Africa. The former lay just to the west of Cyrene, the latter further west, and nearer Carthage. St. Luke probably speaks of the Greater. These quicksands were the terror of all Mediterranean sailors (Jos. Wars, ii. 16, § 4). A fine description of them is given by the Evangelist’s namesake, Lucan, in his Pharsalia (ix. 303-310):
“When Nature gave the world its primal form,
She left the Syrtes neither sea nor land.
There neither sinks the shore and welcomes in
The deep sea’s waters, nor the coast can hold
Its own against the waves, and none can track
Their way within the uncertain region’s bounds.
The seas are marred with shallows, and the land
Is broken by the billows, and the surge
Beats on the shore loud-sounding. Nature leaves
This spot accursed, and of use to none.”
Comp. Milton’s Paradise Lost, ii. 939:
“Quenched in a boggy Syrtes, neither sea
Nor good dry land.
The voyagers knew that the gale was bearing them in that direction, and did not dare to let the ship sail on full before the wind any longer.
Strake sail.—The English fails to give the sense of the original. Had they struck sail altogether the ship would simply have drifted in the very direction which they were anxious to avoid. Some sail was absolutely necessary to keep the ship steady. What is meant is that they “lowered the ship’s gear,” the spars and rigging, and especially, perhaps, the heavy yard and ropes which the ancient ships carried, and which would, in such a gale, make the ship top-heavy.
And so were driven.—Better, thus—i.e., in this state, undergirded and with storm-sails set. They aimed at sailing as close as possible to the wind, making for the north-west, so as to avoid the Syrtes.
(18) The next day they lightened the ship.—St. Luke uses the technical term for throwing the bulk of the cargo overboard. They effected, in this way, the relief of the ship from the imminent danger of sinking. The act shows that, in spite of the undergirding, leakage was still going on. The cargo, as coming from Alexandria, probably consisted largely of corn; but see Note on Acts 27:38.
(19) We cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.—The better MSS. give the third person plural, and not the first. If we accept the Received text, the fact that the passengers as well as the crew were pressed into the service indicates the urgency of the peril; but even with the other reading, the words describe the prompt spontaneous action caused by a strong sense of danger. The Greek word for “tackling” (better, perhaps, furniture) is wider in its range than the English, and includes the beds and personal luggage and movables of all kinds. Even these the sailors were ready to sacrifice for the chance of safety.
(20) When neither sun nor stars in many days appeared.—We have to remember that before the invention of the compass the sun and stars were the only guides of sailors who were out of sight of land. Now the sky was over-cast and this guidance failed. The ship was driving, but whither they knew not.
All hope that we should be saved was then taken away.—Better, finally, or at last. The failure of all hope implies some other cause of fear in addition to the mere violence of the gale, and the successive attempts to lighten the ship make it all but certain that she had sprung a leak, which their efforts were powerless to stop. The want of proper food (see next verse), and the exhaustion of protracted labour, naturally aggravated the feeling of despair.
(21) After long abstinence . . .—We find from Acts 27:35-38 that there was still a fair supply of food on board, but. as they could not tell how long it might be before they reached a harbour, the crew, amounting, with passengers, to two hundred and seventy-six men (Acts 27:37), had been naturally put on reduced rations, and the storm, and the sacrifice which they had been obliged to make of all their goods that could be spared probably made cooking all but impossible.
Paul stood forth in the midst of them.—The narrative implies that while others had burst into the wailing cries of despair, calling, we may believe, like the sailors in Jonah 1:5, “every man unto his god,” the Apostle had passed his hours of darkness in silent communing with God, and now came forward with the assurance that his prayers were heard. With the feeling natural to one whose counsel had been slighted, he reminds them that if they had followed it they would have been spared the harm and loss (the same words are used in the Greek as in Acts 27:10) to which they were now exposed. “Sirs,” as in Acts 14:15; Acts 19:25, answers to the Greek for “men.”
And to have gained this harm and loss.—Better, to have been spared. The English reads as if the words were ironical, but parallel passages from other Greek writers show that to “gain” a harm and loss meant to escape them—to get, as it were, a profit out of them by avoiding them. This, St. Paul says, they would have done had they listened to his advice. The Geneva version adds an explanatory note, “that is, ye should have saved the losse by avoyding the danger.” Tyndale and Cranmer take the words as the English reader, for the most part, takes them now, “and have brought unto us this harm and loss.”
(22) And now I exhort you to be of good cheer.—Look and tone, we may well believe, helped the words. It was something in that scene of misery and dejection to see one man stand forward with a brave, calm confidence.
For there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you.—The quiet courage of the speaker’s tone must at once have struck the listeners, even before they heard the grounds on which that courage rested.
(23) For there stood by me this night . . .—With most others of the enthusiastic type of character, visions, real or supposed, of messengers from the unseen world have produced terror and agitation. With St. Paul they are the source of a calm strength and presence of mind which he is able, in his turn, to impress on others.
Whose I am, and whom I serve.—The service implied is that of worship rather than labour. The word and thought were eminently characteristic of St, Paul. (Comp. Romans 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:3.)
(24) Fear not, Paul.—The words obviously came as an answer to the prayer, prompted by the fear, not of death or danger in itself, but lest the cherished purpose of his heart should be frustrated when it seemed on the very verge of attainment. The words that follow imply that his prayer had not been bounded by his own interests, but had included those who were sharing the danger with him. We are reminded, as by the parallelism of contrast, of the words in which Caesar bade the pilot of his ship not to fear, but to commit himself to the wind, seeing that he carried “Caesar and the fortune of Cæsar” (Plutarch, de Fortun. Rom. p. 518).
(26) We must be cast upon a certain island.—This had clearly formed part of the special revelation that had been granted to the Apostle. It was more than a conjecture, and the “must” was emphasised as by a prophetic insight into the future.
(27) When the fourteenth night was come.—The time is apparently reckoned from their leaving the Fair Havens. (Comp. Acts 27:18-19; Acts 27:33.)
As we were driven up and down in Adria.——The name was used as including more than the Gulf of Venice, to which the name Adriatic has been confined by more recent geographers. So Ptolemy (iii. 16) speaks of the Adria as washing the south coast of the Peloponnesus and the east coast of Sicily (iii. 4). So Josephus (Life, c. 3), narrating his shipwreck, just two years after St. Paul’s, on his voyage from Judæa to Puteoli, states that he was picked up by another ship sailing from Cyrene to the same port, “in the middle of Adria.” The intersection of the lines of the two vessels would fall, as a glance at the map will show, within the region now mentioned by St. Luke under the same name.
The shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country.—Literally, they suspected, or surmised, that a certain country was approaching them. The sound of breakers, probably the white lines of foam seen through the darkness, gave rise, we may believe, to this impression. The country which they were nearing could hardly be any other than the head-land known as the Point of Koura, at the east extremity of St. Paul’s, Bay, in Malta. To the Apostle the sight and the sound would alike witness that his prediction was on the point of fulfilment.
(28) Twenty fathoms.—The Greek noun so rendered was defined as the length of the outstretched arms from hand to hand, including the chest. It was reckoned as equal to four cubits—i.e., to about six feet—and is therefore fairly represented by our “fathom.” The soundings here given agree with those that have actually been taken among the breakers off Cape Koura.
(29) Fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks.—Literally, upon rough places—the reefs of rock which were indicated by the breakers and by the diminished depth of water.
They cast four anchors out of the stern.—It was no unusual thing for a ship to be furnished with this complement of anchors. So Cæsar describes his ships as being secured with four anchors each (Bell. Civ. i. 25). In ancient navigation, as in modern, the anchors were commonly cast from the bow. In the battles of the Nile and of Copenhagen, however, Nelson had his ships anchored at the stern, and the fact derives a peculiar interest from the statement that he had been reading Acts 27:0 on the morning of the engagement. The result of this operation was that the ship was no longer in motion, and would be found, when the morning came, with her head to the shore. The tension of hope and fear, the suspense which made men almost cry—
“And if our fate be death, give light, and let us die,”
is vividly brought before us in St. Luke’s few words, “they were praying for the day.”
(30) And as the shipmen were about to flee . . .—The hour of danger called out the natural instinct of self-preservation, to the exclusion of better feelings. It was easy for the sailors to urge that the ship needed anchors fore as well as aft, and, while pretending to be occupied about this, to lower the boat which they had before hoisted on deck (Acts 27:16), and so effect their escape. The boat, it might appear, was necessary to their alleged purpose, as their ostensible aim was not merely to cast anchors from the bow, but to carry them out (as the word which St. Luke uses implies) to the full tether of the cable’s length.
(31) Except these abide in the ship . . .—We need hardly embarrass ourselves with the question how far the divine promise was dependent on the contingency thus specified. Prompt vigour, and clear discernment of what was needed on the instant, spoke out in the Apostle’s words. The assurance that had been graciously given was to be realised, not by the apathy of a blind fatalism, but by man’s co-operation. It was obvious that landsmen like the soldiers and the prisoners would be quite unequal to the task of handling a large ship under such critical conditions, and the presence of the sailors was therefore, from a human point of view, essential to the safety of the others. The thoughtful vigilance of St. Paul, even in those hours of darkness, was eminently characteristic.
(32) Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat.—The act had to be the work of an instant. The boat was already lowered, the sailors were on the point of leaping into it. We can picture their mortification on finding their selfish plat at once detected and frustrated. Even in this, however, there was a new element of danger. Men, under such circumstances, were likely to be sullen and unwilling workers.
(33) Paul besought them all to take meat.—Better, to take food; and so in the next verse. Once again the practical insight of the Apostle—yet more, perhaps, his kindly human sympathy—comes prominently forward. Soldiers and sailors needed something that would draw them together after the incident just narrated. All were liable at once to the despair and the irritability caused by exhaustion.
That ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.—Better, that ye continue on the look-out, without a meal, taking no extra food. The English somewhat exaggerates the force of the Greek. The word for “fasting” is not that which is commonly used in the New Testament to express entire abstinence from food. It was physically impossible that the two hundred and seventy-six who were on board could have gone on for fourteen days without any food at all. Scanty rations had, we must believe, been doled out to those who came for them; but the tension of suspense was so great that they had not sat down to any regular meal. They had taken, as the last word implies, nothing beyond what was absolutely necessary to keep body and soul together. What they wanted physically was food, and morally, the sense of restored companionship; and to this St. Paul’s advice led them.
(34) This is for your health.—Better, safety, or preservation. The Greek word is not that commonly translated “health,” and the translators seem to have used it in the wider sense which it had in older English. So, for example, in Wiclif’s version, “the knowledge of salvation” in Luke 1:77 appears as “the science of health.” Wiclif has “health” here also, and is followed by all the chief English versions, except the Geneva, which has “safe-guard.” What St. Paul means is that the preservation of his fellow-passengers depended on their keeping up their strength. The gracious assurance that followed was, as before, not independent of their co-operation.
(35) He took bread, and gave thanks to God.—The act was a common practice of devout Jews at the beginning and the end of meals. (See Note on Matthew 14:9.) To the heathen soldiers and sailors it was probably altogether new, and at such a moment must have been singularly impressive. The act of “breaking bread,” though in itself not more than the natural incident of such a meal, must at least have reminded the few Christians who were his companions of the more solemn “breaking of bread” with which they were familiar. (See Note on Acts 2:46.) For them the meal, if not strictly eucharistic, in the liturgical sense of that term, would be at least as an Agapè, or feast of charity.
(36) Then were they all of good cheer.—The words present a striking contrast to the despair of Acts 27:20. The hearty cheerfulness (is it too colloquial a phrase to say the “pluck”?) of the Apostle had communicated itself, as by a kind of electric sympathy, to his companions. They looked to him as their friend and leader, and had spirits to eat once more.
(37) And we were in all in the ship . . .—The number is given here, either as a fact that had been omitted before, and was not without its interest, or probably because then for the first time, when they were all gathered at their meal, the writer had taken the pains to count them. A man does not commonly count the number of passengers on board a ship until there is some special occasion, and here it comes naturally as explaining the “all” of the previous verse. It was, we may well imagine, a striking spectacle to see the two hundred and seventy-six all under the influence of one brave and faithful spirit.
(38) And when they had eaten enough . . .—More accurately, when they were filled with food. The words describe a full and hearty meal. The first effect of this was seen in renewed activity for work. In spite of all that had been done before (Acts 27:18-19), the ship still needed to be lightened. The tense implies a process of some continuance. The “wheat” which they now cast out may have been part of the cargo which had been reserved by way of provisions. As it was clear that they could no longer continue in the ship, this was no longer required, and the one essential point was to keep her floating till they reached the shore.
(39) They knew not the land.—It was, of course, probable enough that some at least of the sailors had been at Malta before; but St. Paul’s Bay, which we assume to be the point they had now reached, was remote from the Great Harbour, now that of Valetta, into which ships commonly sailed, and may therefore well have remained unknown to them.
A certain creek with a shore.—Better, having a beach, the English word failing to describe why it was that the creek attracted them. The earlier versions have “bank.” In Homer and other Greek writers the word is commonly used for a flat, sandy beach.
To thrust in the ship.—The word was a quasi-technical one, answering to our “to run the ship aground.”
(40) And when they had taken up the anchors.—Better, And when they had cleared away (or, cut off) the anchors, they let them go into the sea. It is obvious that nothing would have been gained at such a juncture by encumbering the ship, which they were anxious to lighten as much as possible, with the weight of the four anchors. The meaning given above is accordingly more in harmony with the facts of the case as well as with the Greek, which does not warrant the insertion of the pronoun in “they committed themselves.”
Loosed the rudder bands.—This was the necessary sequel to the previous operation. While the ship was anchored the two large paddle-like rudders with which ancient ships were furnished, were lifted up out of the water and lashed with ropes to the ship’s side. When the ship was got under way again, and the rudders were wanted, the bands had to be loosed, and the rudders fell into the water.
And hoised up the mainsail to the wind.—The Greek term so rendered (artemôn) is still found in Italian (artimone) and French for the largest sail of a ship. In the structure of ancient ships, however, this was the foresail, not, as with us, the mainsail. The word for wind is strictly the participle, the (breeze) that was blowing. The change of word seems to imply that there was a lull in the fury of the gale.
Made toward shore.—More accurately, were making for the beach, that which had been described in Acts 27:39.
(41) And falling into a place where two seas met.—Better, But falling, as in contrast with the attempt described in the previous verse. At the west end of St. Paul’s Bay lies the island of Salmonetta. From their place of anchorage the crew could not have seen that it was an island, and in trying to run the ship on the beach they grounded on a mud-bank between the small island and the coast. The waves swept round the island and met on the bank, and the position of the ship was accordingly one of extreme danger, the prow imbedded in the mud, the stern exposed to the billows.
The hinder part was broken.—Better, was being broken up, the tense expressing continuous action.
(42) And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners.—The vigour of Roman law, which inflicted capital punishment on those who were in charge of prisoners and suffered them to escape (see Notes on Acts 12:19; Acts 16:27), must be remembered, as explaining the apparently wanton cruelty of the proposal. In putting the prisoners to death the soldiers saw the only chance of escaping death themselves.
(43) But the centurion, willing to save Paul.—Better, wishing, as expressing a stronger desire than the sense of mere acquiescence which has come to be attached to “willing.” The Apostle had, we have seen, from the outset gained the respect of the centurion Julius (Acts 27:1). The courage and thoughtfulness of the night that had just passed was likely to have turned that respect into something like admiration.
Commanded that they which could swim . . .—The order which was observed shows that the centurion kept his head clear, and had the power to enforce discipline. It was not the rush of a sauve qui peut. The swimmers were to plunge in first so as to get to the beach and be in readiness to help their comrades. St. Paul, who had thrice been shipwrecked, and had once passed a night and day in the open sea (2 Corinthians 11:25), was probably among the former group, and the order itself may well have been suggested by him.
(44) And the rest, some on boards . . .—These were probably planks from the decks. The words “broken pieces are not in the Greek, but fairly express its force. Literally, on some of the things from the ship. These might, it is obvious, have been pieces of timber from the bulwarks, loose spars, tables, stools, and the like.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 27". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
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