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On the Ships and Navigation of the Ancients.
The narrative contained in this chapter, even if we put on one side its sacred character as part of an inspired volume, is full of manifold interest. No other single document of antiquity gives us so much information regarding the ships and navigation of the ancients. Moreover, certain obscurities in the narrative have now been entirely cleared away by the simple expedient of applying the experience of practical seamanship as the test for solving the problems which it contains; and the result is, that now this chapter is so well understood, and felt to be so literally true, that in itself it is one of the strongest evidences of the trustworthiness of the Book of the Acts.
It will be convenient to put together here, in a small space, a few of the most important particulars of the build and capabilities of ancient ships. And, in the first place, it is essential to remove a popular impression that the merchant ships of the Mediterranean under the Roman Empire were of small size. From the history before us (Acts 27:31), we see that there were 276 persons on board the ship in which St. Paul was wrecked; and it is important to add that, after shipwreck, these persons were conveyed (Acts 28:11) from Malta to Italy in the Castor and Pollux, in addition to her own crew and passengers. Now, it is customary for transport ships, which are prepared for carrying soldiers, to allow a ton and a half per man. This at once gives us a test for estimating the size of Alexandrian corn ships. And the conclusion which we reach in this way is confirmed by other evidence. Thus Josephus informs us that there were six hundred persons on board the ship from which he, with about eighty others, escaped; and the great ship of Ptolemy Philadelphus, which forms the subject of one of Lucian’s Dialogues, and which is described as driven by stress of weather into the Piræus, is estimated from the dimensions given to have been of 1000 or 1100 tons burden; and though this vessel was probably built for ostentation, we see that the tonnage of these trading ships was not far below that of our old East Indiamen.
There is no doubt that the ships of the Greeks and Romans were more clumsy in their build and rig than ours. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that with a favourable wind they sailed slowly. Their rig consisted of one, or more than one, large square sail; and nothing is more favourable than this for a run before the wind. In the China seas, during the monsoons, junks (which are rigged in this way) have been seen from the deck of a British sailing vessel behind in the horizon in the morning, and before in the horizon in the evening. Several specimens of rapid voyages could be given from classical antiquity. One of the most animated is that furnished by Cato, when he held up a fresh fig in the Senate, to impress on his countrymen the imminent nearness of their enemy, and said, ‘This fruit was gathered fresh at Carthage three days ago.’ It would be quite safe to say that an ancient merchantman could sail seven knots an hour with a fair wind; and this conclusion is well illustrated by what we read in Acts 16:20, , , Acts 16:28.
A point of greater importance in reference to the voyage immediately before our attention is the question of the capability of an ancient ship of sailing near the wind. That a ship can make good progress when the direction of her course forms less than a right angle with the direction of the wind, was well known in the earliest times. The smallness of this angle depends on the character of the ship and the violence of the wind. A modern sailing ship under average circumstances can sail within six points of the wind; and it would be safe to say that an ancient one could be made to sail within seven points. Thus, to take the usual divisions of the compass, with the wind blowing from the north-north-east in moderate weather, she could make good a course north-west by north.
Certain peculiarities, in which ancient ships differed from modern, must of course be borne in mind in considering this subject. Thus, partly from defective construction, and partly from the nature of the rig, which caused violent action in a gale at the base of the mast, they were peculiarly liable to spring leaks and to founder. Hence the frequent habit of undergirding or trapping; and special provision was taken on board for this purpose, as we know from the inventory of the Attic fleet in its flourishing period, which is inscribed on certain marbles dug up at the Piraeus about forty-five years ago (see Acts 27:17). But especially we must notice two other peculiarities and disadvantages of ancient vessels. The hinged rudder at the stern, with which we are familiar, was not known to the Greeks and Romans. In fact, the earliest proof of the use of it is to be found on the coins of our King Edward III. Even the Northmen in their voyages during the Middle Ages, like the Greeks and Romans, steered with paddle rudders, one on each quarter (see Acts 27:40). Finally, we must recollect that the Greeks and Romans, like the Northmen, were ignorant of the use of the compass. Hence they were peculiarly dependent on observation of the sun and stars, and were conscious of danger when the sky was overcast for a long period (see Acts 27:20).
Acts 27:1. When it was determined. It might seem that there had been some doubt whether the apostle after all was to be sent into Italy. Festus indeed had, in the first instance, decided on this course (Acts 25:12); but after a careful consultation with Agrippa (Acts 25:14-44.25.22), and after a full hearing of St. Paul in Agrippa’s presence (Acts 26:1-44.26.29), serious doubt was expressed (Acts 26:32) whether this was really a case for appeal to the emperor. The word ε ̓ κρι ́ θη , however, may only mean that time for going to Italy was now fixed.
Certain other prisoners. Who they were, and under what circumstances they were going to Rome, we do not know. The same opportunity which was available for conveying any one group of prisoners would naturally be used for conveying others. See below on the next verse.
One named Julius, a centurion. Rather, ‘a centurion named Julius.’ The name being merely a praenomen, determines nothing. It may be remarked, however, that the Julian house, like the Cornelian (Acts 10:1), was an illustrious one in Italy. As to this Julius personally, we presently feel that we know a good deal of him through his character and his treatment of St. Paul. Like other centurions mentioned in the New Testament (Matthew 15:10; Mark 15:39; Acts 10:1), he commands our respect. We should especially compare the case of Cornelius in his connection with St. Peter.
Of Augustus’ band. More correctly, ‘of the Augustan cohort.’ Josephus tells us ( war, Acts 2:12 ; Acts 2:7, and Acts 2:12; Acts 2:5) that one cohort of the Roman garrison at Cæsarea in the time of Felix had this title, though most of the soldiers were recruited in Syria. Various cohorts, as well as legions, had honorary titles. We have an instance in Acts 10:1. We must not, however, identify the Italic cohort and the Augustan cohort. It is possible that the corps to which Julius belonged was a detachment of the Praetorian Guards. That he had an escort of soldiers with him is clear from Acts 27:31-44.27.32. Dr. Hackett gives a good illustration of the position of these detached Roman cohorts from Lord Macaulay, where he speaks of ‘a troop of dragoons, which did not form part of any regiment, as stationed near Berwick for the purpose of keeping the peace among the moss-troopers of the Border.’
Voyage to Myra, 2-5.
Acts 27:2. A ship of Adramyttium. It is to be observed that St. Paul’s voyage to Italy was accomplished in three ships. The first ship was probably merely a coasting vessel, carrying passengers and cargo, and touching at various ports. The reason why this ship of Adramyttium was used by Julius is given. The true reading is μέλλοντι . She was bound for ‘the ports which are in the neighbourhood of Asia.’ Here Reuss makes two mistakes. He says of Adramyttium that it was ‘Ville de la cote meridionale de l’Asie Mineure.’ Now the ‘Asia’ of the New Testament is not the peninsula of Asia Minor, but merely the western portion of that peninsula; and Adramyttium is not on the southern coast of Asia Minor, but on its western coast, some considerable distance northward, opposite the island of Lesbos. As far, however, as the south-western angle of the peninsula, the course of this vessel was in the direction of Italy; and in some of the harbours at which it would touch in its way, Julius might expect to find another western-bound ship in which he and his prisoners could pursue their voyage. Even military officers in high command, on important errands, were obliged in that day to employ opportunities of that kind, and to accomplish long voyages by circuitous methods, using one ship after another, besides being dependent on the weather. A good illustration is supplied by Josephus (War, vii. 2, 1) in his account of the voyage of Vespasian himself, who went on board a merchant ship from Alexandria to Rhodes, and thence pursued his way through Greece to the Adriatic, and finally went to Rome through Italy by land.
One Axistarchus, a Macedonian, of Thessalonica. There is no reason why the word ‘one’ should be prefixed in the Authorised Version. Aristarchus was one of the apostle’s well-known companions. He was with him at Ephesus during the earlier part of his Last Missionary Journey (Acts 19:29), and he was also with him on his return in the later part (Acts 20:4). In the first of these passages he is described as a Macedonian; in the second, it is said more specifically that he was from Thessalonica. It is important to add that he appears as one of St. Paul’s companions in Rome at the close of this voyage. In one of the epistles written there during his imprisonment, St. Paul terms Aristarchus his ‘fellow-prisoner’ (Colossians 4:10), and in another his ‘fellow-worker’ (Philemon 1:24). Thus the companionship of the two was close and prolonged. In each case, too, it is to be noted that Aristarchus and Luke are both mentioned as being with St. Paul in Rome. See Colossians 4:14. So far as we know, Aristarchus and Luke were his only companions on the departure from Cæsarea.
Acts 27:3. The next day we touched at Sidon. With a favourable wind this would be very easy. The distance was only sixty-seven miles; and six knots an hour would, as we shall see below, be under the natural speed of the ship under such circumstances. But a question arises here. Sidon lay due north of Cæsarea on the Phoenician coast, and the course to ‘the neighbourhood of Asia’ was west-north-west. We do not know all the circumstances of the case; but very good reasons can be given why the vessel should have touched at Sidon. She might have had passengers or merchandise to land or to take on board there. But other reasons can be given of a physical kind. We know from what follows that ‘the wind was contrary on leaving Sidon, and sufficiently strong also to force the vessel to take the northern side of Cyprus. Now, we learn from nautical authorities that north-westerly winds are prevalent in that part of the Levant. Moreover, a strong current sets to the north along the Phoenician coast, and is favourable to the progress of a ship in that direction. Hence it is very probable that the wind was blowing hard from the northwest from the first, and nothing was more natural than that the vessel should go into harbour at Sidon, even if no business required her presence there.
Julius courteously entreated (i.e. treated) Paul. Already we have a strong indication of the centurion’s friendly disposition, and of the influence gained by the apostle over him. It is highly probable that Julius had obtained in Cæsarea some knowledge of the character of St. Paul, and of the circumstances of his imprisonment, and even that he was there personally acquainted with him. See the special reference to military quarters in Acts 23:31-44.23.35, and compare Acts 24:23.
His friends. St. Paul’s name would be quite sufficient to secure the friendship of any Christians at Sidon. But it is almost certain that he had personal friends there. The Gospel had been actively diffused along this part of the coast, soon after the persecution which resulted in the death of Stephen (Acts 11:19). Barnabas had been sent along this coast from Jerusalem when news came of successful evangelization in Antioch (Acts 11:22), and he was directed to spread the Gospel as he went (see the note on that passage). And again, it was along the same route that Barnabas and Saul afterwards took the charitable relief from Antioch to Judæa. The Roman way by Tyre and Sidon was a well travelled road, with frequent communication among the towns which lay along the line. St. Paul himself had very recently been at Tyre (Acts 21:3), as well as at Ptolemais (Acts 21:7), and had held affectionate intercourse with the Christians at both places.
To refresh himself. More literally, to obtain friendly care. Two particulars here naturally suggest themselves. First, we know that St. Paul had experience of delicate health; and this state of suffering must have been aggravated by his imprisonment of two years (Acts 24:27) at Cæsarea. Secondly, he had a long and circuitous voyage in prospect, at a bad season of the year; and some provision for his comfort was by no means a matter of light importance (see 2 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:21).
Acts 27:4. Sailed under Cyprus. The reason is given presently afterwards. The meaning is, that they sailed ‘under the lee of Cyprus,’ or so as to place the island between themselves and the wind. To suppose that ‘under’ means ‘to the south of’ Cyprus, is a mere confusion of thought, arising probably from our habit of placing the north at the top of our maps and the south at the bottom. The natural course for this ship would have been on the south of Cyprus, towards the south-west corner of Asia Minor, the course followed inversely on St. Paul’s return from his Last Missionary Expedition, on which occasion the sighting of Cyprus to the north is mentioned (Acts 21:6).
Because the winds were contrary. Hence the wind was blowing hard from the north-west (see note above). This was a sufficient reason for standing to the north, and then following the coast of the mainland westwards. And this reason was, of course, freely mentioned among those who were on board the ship. But some other reasons doubtless weighed with those who had charge of the sailing of the ship, to bring about this determination. The current which, as mentioned above, sets northward along the Syrian coast, to the east of Cyprus, sets westward between that island and the Cilician and Pamphylian coast. Admiral Beaufort says ( Karamania, p. 41 ), that ‘from Syria to the Archipelago, there is a constant current to the westward.’ This would be favourable to the progress of the vessel. Moreover, the wind would draw more from the north when coming down from the high land above this coast. This is stated in our English Sailing Directory, pp. 241 - 243 . Hence there would be comparatively smooth water here. This coast, too, had several good harbours. All these things were known to sailors accustomed to the navigation of the Levant.
Acts 27:5. The sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia. The exactitude of this geographical order, and the perfectly artless manner in which this exactitude appears, should be marked.
Myra, a city of Lycia. Again we should notice the placing of Lycia correctly, yet without any artifice, immediately to the west of Pamphylia. As to Myra, this was a well-known seafaring town in the day of St. Paul. It is worth while to observe that Nicholas, one of its Christian bishops in the fourth century, became in the Middle Ages the favourite patron saint of sailors.
Voyage from Myra to Fair Havens, 6 - 8 .
Acts 27:6. A ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy. The centurion obtained here, what he expected he might obtain in one of the harbours along this coast, a new opportunity for prosecuting his voyage farther towards Italy. This opportunity was afforded by the ship bound for Italy, which he found in port at Myra. It evidently was a large and commodious ship; for there were 276 persons on board at the time of the wreck, as we learn afterwards (Acts 27:37). The majority of these, of course, were passengers. It is a popular fallacy to suppose that the trading ships of the Mediterranean, under the Roman Empire, were necessarily small craft. We have abundant proof that they were often of 500 or 1000 tons. This would especially be the case with the great corn ships of Alexandria, which took grain from Egypt to Rome and the other large towns of Italy; and this, as we learn from the subsequent narrative, was one of that class (Acts 27:38). Another Alexandrian ship (Acts 28:11) took these people on board, besides her own crew and passengers. See the Excursus at the end of the chapter.
A question, indeed, arises here, as to why this Alexandrian corn ship was found in harbour at Myra. She was bound for Italy, which is far to the west, and Myra is nearly due north of Alexandria. This question, however, is very easily answered. Independently of the possibility that there might be passengers to be landed at this port, we must remember that the wind had been blowing for some time from the north-west, and that what was unfavourable to ‘the ship of Adramyttium’ was equally unfavourable to ‘the ship of Alexandria.’ Thus it was extremely natural that a vessel bound from Egypt to Italy should stand to the north, where the Asiatic coast is high and easily seen, where good harbours are abundant, and where the above described advantages as to wind and water would be found. And this is in strict accordance with the practice, under such circumstances, of modern sailing ships in the Levant.
Acts 27:7. Sailed slowly. If, as is said in what immediately follows, ‘ many days ’ had passed after leaving Myra, while yet they ‘ scarce were come over against Cnidus, ’ they must have sailed ‘ slowly; ’ for the distance from Myra to Cnidus is only 137 miles. The question arises as to the cause of this slow sailing. It must have been either from lack of wind, or because the wind was contrary; and when we take into account all that has been said above, we can have no doubt that the latter reason is the true one. Moreover, the Greek word μόλις , translated ‘scarce,’ really expresses difficulty and struggle. It would be necessary, along the Lycian coast, as previously along the Cilician and Pamphylian, for the ship to beat up against the wind, with tacks, speaking roughly, north-east by north and south-west by west.
The wind not suffering us. A question might be raised here as to whether this means that the wind would not allow them to enter the harbour of Cnidus, or would not allow them to make the southernmost point of the Morea, which was in their direct route to Italy. Mr. Humphry takes the former view, adding that in the harbour of Cnidus, which was a good one, they would probably have wintered, if they had been able to enter it. But it does not appear that at this time they had relinquished their intention of prosecuting their voyage. Reuss supposes that they were hindered from entering the port of Cnidus, because the wind was from the north-east, but this supposition is at variance with all the other circumstances of this part of the voyage. The other view is by far the more probable.
Sailed under Crete, i.e. under its lee. Here they would obtain the same advantages as before, under the shore of Asia Minor, as to comparative shelter and a favourable current.
Over against Salmone. This promontory is the easternmost point of Crete.
Acts 27:8. Hardly passing it. The word here again is μόλις , which expresses difficulty. It seems that they were hardly able to accomplish their purpose: but they did accomplish it; and from this circumstance, added to the fact that they could not fetch the southernmost point of the Morea, Mr. Smith of Jordanhill has drawn an ingenious indirect proof confirming the evidence that the wind was blowing from the north-west. The argument shall be given in his own words: ‘The direct course of a ship on her voyage from Myra to Italy, after she had reached Cnidus, is by the north side of Crete, through the Archipelago, west by south. Hence a ship which can make good a course of about seven points from the wind, would not have been prevented from proceeding on her course unless the wind had been to the west of north-north-west. We are next told that she ran “under Crete, over against Salmone,” which implies that she was able to fetch that cape, which bears about south-west by south from Cnidus; but unless the wind had been to the north of north-north-west, she could not have done so. The wind was, therefore, between north-north-west and west-north-west. The middle point between the points is north-west, which cannot be more than two points, and is probably not more than one, from the true direction. The wind, therefore, would in common language have been termed northwest.’
A place which is called the Fair Havens. This place, on the south coast of Crete, is well known, and has always, up to the present day, retained the same name. It lies a few miles to the east of Cape Matala, beyond which (westwards) the coast suddenly trends to the north.
Nigh whereunto is the city of Lasea. The proximity of this town to the roadstead of Fair Havens, evidently attracted the attention of St. Luke and of the others who were on board. The natives of the place would bring supplies to their ship when she was anchored in the roadstead. But the very name and existence of Lasea have remained unknown until recently, except through very obscure and precarious intimations. Now, however, both the name and the ruins of Lasea have been found precisely in the right place. This curious discovery of a Scotch yachting party may be classed among the really valuable geographical evidences of the truth of the Bible which have been accumulating of late years. See Appendix to recent edition of Hora Paulina issued by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Stay at Fair Havens Determination to reach Phænix, if possible, 9 - 12 .
Acts 27:9. Much time. It is impossible to say precisely how long this time was. Such terms are always relative to the circumstances of the case to which they belong. It is evident from what follows, that continued delay now began to involve considerable anxiety.
Sailing was now dangerous. The more correct translation is, ‘ the further prosecution of the voyage being now dangerous. ’ It would be quite a mistake to suppose that the old navigators were afraid to try the open sea. We have an instance of a perfectly free and open voyage of this kind in St. Paul’s return from his last missionary expedition (Acts 21:2-44.21.3). But in this case a long voyage was in prospect, and the season was very stormy. The sky might be expected to be overcast. What the old sailors especially dreaded, having no compass, was the absence of any power of making observations of the sun and stars (see below, Acts 27:20). Moreover, it is highly probable from what immediately follows that the ship had received great damage, and was already in an unseaworthy condition. There was good reason for remaining in harbour, if possible.
The fast was now already past. This fast was the great Day of Atonement, which took place on the 10 th of Tisri, about the beginning of our October. It is a popular way of describing the season, as we might say ‘about Michaelmas;’ and it would be most natural language for St. Paul to use, for the sacred seasons of the Jews were much in his memory, and he probably observed them still as carefully as he could (see Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 21:24). In conversing with St. Luke on board the ship, he would speak in this manner, and therefore it would become natural language for St. Luke to use in his narrative. Thus the phrase can hardly be pressed into an argument to prove that the historian himself had been brought up as a Jew.
Paul admonished them. Here we see the apostle, who at first was merely a despised and obscure prisoner, assuming a great position among the people on board the ship, and speaking with confidence on subjects concerning which he might naturally have been supposed to be ignorant. Already he must have acquired considerable influence over the minds of those who had been sailing with him, and must have been viewed by them as no ordinary man. How far he spoke from prophetic enlightenment on this occasion, and how far from instinctive judgment of the risks that were in prospect, we cannot determine. There is always mystery in what relates to inspiration; and certainly St. Paul had had very large experience of the sea and its changes (see 2 Corinthians 11:25, which was written some years before the present occasion). Still the more reverential view is that he did speak under a consciousness of Divine teaching (see below, Acts 27:23).
Acts 27:10. Hurt and much damage, i.e. risk of injury and great loss.
But also of our lives. St. Paul, with his customary good sense, uses an argument which would appeal forcibly to every one who heard him, whether concerned or not with the cargo or with the management of the ship (see below, Acts 27:31).
Acts 27:11. The master and the owner. The former had to do with the steering and working of the vessel, the latter with the proprietorship of the vessel or cargo, or both. Looking at the matter as they did from different points of view, their united opinion must have been felt to be very weighty; and it is true to nature that the centurion should have yielded to their persuasion ( ε ̓ πει ́ θετο ) ‘more than to those things that were spoken of Paul’ It is evident from the form of ε ̓ πει ́ θετο and λεγομε ́ νοις , that there was a prolonged and somewhat evenly-balanced discussion. The centurion, too, as was natural, had a great part in settling the question, though not, as we see from the next verse, an absolutely decisive part.
Acts 27:12. The harbour was not commodious to winter in. It was in its very nature ( υ ̔ πα ́ ρχοντος ) not commodious for this purpose. Many things had to be taken into account the supply of provisions, for instance, as well as the soundings and the shelter. The exact knowledge of this roadstead which we now have through the surveys of British officers, shows that the case might have been reasonably argued on both sides.
The more part advised to depart thence also. The voice of the majority prevailed. This is another proof that there was a prolonged and free discussion as to the wisdom of remaining in the harbour of Fair Havens. The majority gave their opinion ( ἔθεντο βουλη ̀ ν ) in favour of quitting it, if possible. What follows ( εἴ πως δυ ́ ναιντο ) shows that they were by no means certain that it would be possible to reach the harbour they desired. Phenice ( Φοι ́ νικα , from Φοι ́ νιξ ). It is unfortunate that in the Authorised Version this word is spelt like the word for Φοινικη , used elsewhere for Phoenicia (Acts 11:19). It ought to be pronounced in English differently. A parallel case is that of Urbane (Romans 16:8), which is not the name of a woman. As to this ‘harbour of Crete,’ named ‘Phoenix,’ it might be said that we have nothing to do with it, inasmuch as St. Paul’s ship never reached the place. But, in fact, the information which we now possess concerning it, furnishes very important and interesting elucidations of the truthfulness and accuracy of this narrative.
Which looked towards the south-west and north-west. This is the description which some of the sailors in consultation at Fair Havens gave of the harbour of Phoenix; and it is evident in a moment that they could not possibly have recommended, for the purpose of ‘wintering,’ a harbour which was exposed or open to winds from the north-west and south-west. We must obviously seek for some other explanation of the phrase than that which suggests itself at first sight; and we find this explanation by remembering that sailors regard everything as seen from the sea. This is just the difference between a chart and a map. The recommendation of Phoenix, as a good harbour for wintering, is precisely this, that it was sheltered from the two above-mentioned winds; and this is quite in harmony with the use of the Greek preposition κατα ̀ . As seen from the sea towards the land, the harbour of Phoenix did ‘look’ towards the south-west and north-west.
We come now, however, to consider whether there is any harbour on the south coast of Crete west of Fair Havens, which fulfils these conditions and the other conditions of the case. It is evident that some of the sailors on board the Alexandrian corn ship were convinced of the existence of such a place, and could describe it accurately. The writer of this note was positively told, some years ago, by a ship captain experienced in the trade of the Levant, who had often sailed along this coast, that there is no harbour here fulfilling these conditions; and all information concerning it was, till recently, somewhat precarious. An anchorage in an old Dutch chart is marked here; and it became known that a place of shelter here, easily concealed by the cliffs of this rocky coast from those who merely sailed along it to the westward, was familiar to Greek pirates. At length the point was entirely settled and made clear by the publication of the charts of our British surveying officers. There is no difficulty now in identifying Phoenix with Lutro, in the narrowest part of the island of Crete. It is a place of admirable shelter, with deep water close under the rocks, and precisely protected from south-west and north-west winds, as was said in the discussion at Fair Havens.
Sudden and Violent Storm from the East-north-east The Ship undergirded and laid to under the Lee of Clauda, 13 - 17 .
Acts 27:13. Supposing that they had attained their purpose. The phrase expresses the utmost confidence. And this was natural. In two respects an encouraging change of weather took place the wind was no longer violent; and it blew from the south. It appeared that they could very easily accomplish their intention. A vessel that could sail within seven points of the wind would have no difficulty in rounding Cape Matala, which was a few miles off, west by south. And thence to Phoenix, within three hours’ sail, the wind, if it remained the same, would be as favourable as possible. In this confidence they were coasting ‘ close by Crete,’ and, as we find afterwards (Acts 27:16), with so little fear that the boat was towing behind.
Acts 27:14. But not long after. How suddenly violent changes may take place when we least expect them, and when we have thought that already we have ‘gained our purpose’! Every part of the narrative before us, and this part very particularly, admits of being turned into an admirable sermon. As to the actual facts of the case, the sailing books which contain directions for navigating these coasts tell us that it very often happens that after a gentle southerly wind a violent gale from the north-east comes on suddenly. As to the exact point where the change took place in the instance under consideration, we cannot precisely determine this; but it was evidently ‘not long after’ they rounded Cape Matala, when they would be closest to the shore.
There arose against it. The translation in the Authorised Version is incorrect. The phrase κατ᾿ αυ ̓ τη ͂ ς cannot refer to the ship, the word for which, employed throughout, is πλοῑον . The meaning is that the storm came ‘ down from the island.’ The land here is very high, and the gale suddenly swept down one of the gullies among the mountains, in a south-westerly direction.
A tempestuous wind named Euroclydon. The word translated ‘tempestuous’ is very strong. It was a typhonic wind, a hurricane. As to the precise direction in which the wind blew, and the name which is given to it, we encounter here a very interesting question. The manuscripts vary as to the reading, and are rather evenly balanced between ‘Euroclydon’ and ‘Euro Aquilo.’ There is a presumption at first sight in favour of the former word, partly because it is a very strange word, and partly because the phrase ‘a wind called Euroclydon’ seems to call attention to a popular name of the wind used by the sailors on this occasion. Moreover, there is this objection to the other word, that it appears to be made up half of Greek and half of Latin. The Sinaitic MS., however, it must be admitted, has recently turned the scale in favour of Euro Aquilo. Whatever may be our conclusion in this matter, two things are clear, first, either word shows that the gale blew more or less from the east; while, secondly, the fact that it came ‘down from’ the island, and drove the ship to the southward (see below), shows that it blew more or less from the north. In popular language, it was a north-easterly gale. We shall see more precisely, when we come to sum up the evidence, that the quarter from which it blew was east-northeast.
Acts 27:15. When the ship was caught. Here, again, a very strong expression is used in the original, implying that the wind seized hold of the ship, as it were, and whirled her out of her course.
Gould not bear up into the wind. The literal meaning is, ‘could not look at, or against, the wind;’ and the phrase is made all the more expressive by the fact that in ancient ships, eyes were painted on each side of the prow. This is part of that personification of a ship which has been common in all ages and nations, and which leads to some of the singular language used by our own boatmen and sailors. See e.g. below, Acts 27:27.
We let her drive. Rather it should be translated thus: ‘Yielding to the wind, we were driven.’ St. Paul would hardly speak as though at this moment he had any responsibility in the management of the ship. In the first instance they scudded before the wind; they had no choice in the matter. It is worth while to observe that two verses below, where reference is made to certain practical steps taken by the sailors, the word is not ε ̓ φερο ́ μεθα but ε ̓ φεροντο .
Acts 27:16. Running under a certain island which is called Clauda. The meaning of ‘running under’ is that they ran under its lee, as in Acts 27:3; Acts 27:7. Under the shelter of this island, they would have, for a short time, comparatively smooth water, which was a matter of the utmost importance to them in their preparations for riding out the storm. There is no difficulty whatever in identifying this island with the modern Gozo. Both its ancient and its modern name are well known. In position it lies nearly south-west from Cape Matala, a circumstance which helps us to determine the direction of the wind, as we shall see presently.
We had much work to come by the boat. The use of the first person should be observed here. It is not impossible that St. Luke and St. Paul themselves gave some aid in this matter, as they did in another emergency soon afterwards (see Acts 27:19). The first instinct of the sailors, at so dangerous a moment, would be to make sure of the boat. But to get it up on deck with so furious a wind blowing and in so heavy a sea, was not easy, which accounts for the strong language employed here. In order to accomplish their purpose, taking advantage of the temporary lull under the lee of Clauda, they would bring the ship’s head round towards the north, and bring the boat up to the davits on the larboard side, which would be sheltered from the wind. It is important to observe this; for the vessel, as we shall see, drifted afterwards with her starboard side to the wind. Reuss strangely supposes that they put the boat out into the water (‘on mit la chaloupe dehors, manoeuvre très-difficile par une mer grosse et houleuse’), and he finds fault with the commentators for supposing that they took the boat on board (‘comme si elle avait été trainée à la remorque tout le long du voyage; mais dans ce cas on voit pas comment la manoeuvre des câbles et des poutres a pu se faire’). But the boat would not be required in the waves for undergirding the ship, nor could ἄραντες mean that they put the boat out of the ship; and, in fact, Reuss contradicts himself, for he admits afterwards (Acts 27:30; Acts 27:32) that the boat was on board. There is no chance of attaining a correct idea of the details of this voyage except from the point of view of practical seamanship. But, when examined from this point of view, the whole becomes perfectly clear.
Acts 27:17. They used helps, undergirding the ship. It is evident that the timbers were in danger of parting. Hence they artificially strengthened the vessel by passing ropes round it over the gunwale and under the keel, and tightening them on deck by levers. This process is called ‘frapping’ in the English navy; and before the large use of iron in modern shipbuilding, the process was by no means uncommon in cases of great peril. Several instances are given in Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul. In the times of the Greeks and Romans, the probability of this method being required was such that ‘helps’ were sometimes carried on board in the form of ropes made ready. Compare Hor. Od. i. 14 , 6 : ‘Sine funibus vix durare carinæ possint imperiosius æquor;’ and see the Excursus.
Fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands. This means a certain very definite part of the sea called the Greater Syrtis, full of shoals, on the north coast of Africa. The ancient navigators dreaded this place very much. Here Virgil placed the shipwreck of Æneas . The Syrtis lay to the south-west of the present position of the ship. Thus we have another element here for determining the direction of the wind. If they continued to run before the wind, they feared lest they should be driven into the Syrtis. Hence the wind blew from the north-east. To avoid this danger, they adopted the plan which is described in the next words.
Strake sail. The verb used here ( χαλα ́ σαντες ) is the same which is employed below (Acts 27:30) of the lowering of the boat into the sea, and of the lowering of St. Paul, after his conversion, from the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25; 2 Corinthians 11:33). What they brought down upon deck was, no doubt, the heavy top-hamper ( το ̀ σκευ ͂ ος ) of the masts. The rig of ships at this date consisted of heavy square sails, each with an immense yard, and this would necessitate the presence of other heavy gear. To suppose that the sailors ‘strake sail,’ in this instance, in the sense of setting no sail at all, would be a great mistake. They could not have adopted a more dangerous course, for thus they would have drifted before the wind into the very Syrtis which, above all things, they dreaded. What they did was this. They laid the ship to; and, her head being already to the north, they laid her to on the starboard tack, or with her right side to the wind. This is done by setting a small amount of sail, and with the united action of the wind on this sail, and of the rudder on the water, keeping the ship’s head as near the wind as possible. This is a method familiar to all sailors, when their design is not to make progress, but to ride out a storm.
So were driven. More accurately,’ so they drifted.’ It is worth while to notice that here the word is ε ̓ φε ́ ροντο , whereas above (Acts 27:15) it is ε ̓ φερο ́ μεθα , the reference being now more specific to the result of the action of the sailors in the working of the vessel.
When a ship is laid to, she does not remain stationary, but drifts; and two questions arise first, as to the direction in which, and secondly, as to the rate at which, she drifts. As regards the rate, any experienced sailors would say that, under the circumstances now before us, the rate would be about a mile and a half an hour. The direction depends on two conditions. First, we must inquire how near the vessel would lie to the wind. Now, it may be said with confidence, that if this Alexandrian ship could sail and make progress in fair weather within seven points of the wind, she would be within about six points of the wind when laid to. Thus, the wind blowing from the east-north-east, her head would point due north. A ship, however, does not under such circumstances make progress in the direction in which her bow points. Allowance must be made for lee-way: she drifts more or less to leeward; and here, using the experience of sailors as our guide, we may say that this lee-way would amount to about seven points. Thus the actual course of the ship was within thirteen points of the wind, or west by north.
Here, then, we have the ship under the lee of Clauda made ready as well as possible for the contingencies of the storm, with the boat taken on board, undergirded or frapped, laid to on the starboard tack, and drifting west by north at the rate of a mile and a half an hour. We must not anticipate what the result must be as to the coast which she will reach, but must proceed with the narrative. It is impossible to know how long the storm will last, or whether, in the course of it, the vessel will not founder.
Long-continued Severity of the Gale St. Paul’s Address to the People on board, in the midst of the Storm, 18 - 26 .
Acts 27:18. The next day they lightened the ship. This is said in general terms to have been done under the pressure of the storm; but there is little doubt that there was a more specific reason, that the danger which had been apprehended had occurred in fact, that, in spite of the undergirding, the ship had sprung a leak, and that already the water was gaining in the hold. What particular things were thrown overboard on this day we cannot tell; but, of course, they would be such heavy things as could most easily be spared. Compare Jonah 1:5.
Acts 27:19. We cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. This was ‘on the third day.’ The danger was now more imminent, as is evident from two particulars. In the first place, the passengers themselves (St. Luke certainly among the rest, and probably St. Paul and Aristarchus) took part in lightening the ship. This seems to imply fatigue and exhaustion among the seamen, unless, indeed, the weight of what they threw overboard required many hands. The second proof of the growing peril is ‘that they now parted with some of the gear of the ship.’ This certainly would not have been done without urgent necessity. We cannot tell precisely what part of the gear is meant. Mr. Smith thinks it was the main-yard, ‘an immense spar, probably as long as the ship, and which would require the united efforts of passengers and crew to launch overboard,’ adding ‘that the relief which a ship would experience by this would be of the same kind as in a modern ship, when the guns are thrown overboard.’ But would sailors, in danger of foundering, willingly lose sight of such a spar as this, which would be capable of supporting thirty or forty men in the water?
Acts 27:20. When neither sun nor stars in many days appeared. This was a most serious aggravation of the danger. The great reason which made ancient navigation perilous in the winter was, that the sky is then more overcast than at other seasons. See note above (Acts 27:9), on the special necessity of taking observations from the sun and stars, when the compass is not available.
All hope was now taken away. Two stages in the progress of growing fear have been mentioned in the two preceding verses. Now we come to the third stage, which is absolute despair. We should note that it was precisely at this time, when no escape through human means seemed possible, that St. Paul interposed with Divine encouragement.
Acts 27:21. After long abstinence. See below on Acts 27:33. One great aggravation of the hardship and suffering of an emergency like this is the want of proper and regular food. The fires are put out, the provisions are soaked, and meanwhile all hands are required for every effort that can be suggested for the safety of the ship. One absurd comment made on this passage is, that a religious fast was observed by the crew during the storm. Nothing could be more unreal than such a supposition; and, in commenting on this narrative, it is incumbent upon us, above all things, to present it in its reality.
Paul stood forth in the midst of them. He chose some place on the deck, whence he could most easily address them; and the sailors, soldiers, and passengers now willingly crowded round him, however incredulous they may have been before regarding him. We feel this to be a most striking and impressive moment, when we remember that he had been praying while they had been struggling with the storm, and that he is now calm and confident while they have lost all hope.
Ye should have hearkened unto me. His purpose, as Chrysostom says, is not to taunt them, but to inspire them with confidence in him for the future. They have now good reason for believing in his prophetic insight.
To have gained this harm and loss. This literal translation is very emphatic. Mr. Humphry reminds us that in Greek and Latin to gain a loss is to avoid it. The Vulgate has the correct equivalent, ‘Lucri facere.’
Acts 27:22. No loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. See Acts 27:10. His comparatively dim prophetic insight is now become clearer.
Acts 27:23. The angel of God. St. Luke says ‘an angel,’ not ‘the angel.’ As we read through the Acts of the Apostles, we have occasion to observe, more than once, that the ministry of angels is made conspicuous in this book. See Acts 1:10, Acts 10:3, Acts 12:7, Acts 16:9.
Whose I am, and whom I serve. One of the noblest utterances that ever came from the lips of man, and made more remarkable by the circumstances under which the words were uttered. As addressed to the hearers, this short sentence is a whole sermon, full of meaning. As an expression of Paul’s habitual state of mind, it is invaluable. His speech would have been complete without it; but he cannot help showing by this outburst of feeling what is in his heart. Similar instances of this characteristic of St. Paul’s style are to be found in Romans 1:9, and at the end of Galatians 2:20.
Acts 27:24. Fear not, Paul. It is a natural inference from these words that St. Paul himself had been experiencing fear. That he was not a stranger to fear, is evident from chap, Acts 18:9. Nor is he ashamed to own this in his letters.
God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. This seems to show that he had been engaged not only in prayer, but in intercessory prayer. Compare the language in Philemon 1:22. The exclamation ι ̓ δου ̀ in the passage before us appears to denote something unexpected.
Acts 27:25. I believe. This might truly be called a sermon on faith.
Acts 27:26. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island. Prophetic prescience does not imply that everything is clear (see Acts 20:22-44.20.23).
Anchoring in the Night, 27 - 29 .
Acts 27:27. When the fourteenth night was come. The reckoning, as above in Acts 27:12; Acts 27:19, is from their leaving Fair Havens. About a day must be . allowed, more or less, for all that was done before the ship was made ready under the lee of Clauda for the gale which had suddenly come upon them.
As we were driven up and down in Adria. Two points must be carefully noted here. In the first place, the word διαφερομε ́ νων does not necessarily mean that they were driven to and fro; nor is there any reason to suppose that the wind was perpetually changing its course. The sinuosities which in old Bible-maps used to be assigned to this part of St. Paul’s imaginary course, were only an indication of ignorance as to the right way of solving this problem. The direction of the ship’s way, though of course it varied slightly as she ‘came up and fell off,’ during the changing moods of the gale, did not deviate far from a straight line. The other point relates to the meaning of ‘Adria.’ The popular language of our own day might easily lead us to suppose that the Gulf of Venice is intended. But this would not be in accordance with the use of geographical terms in classical times. This word ‘Adria’ denoted the central basin of the Mediterranean between Sicily on the west and Greece on the east, and extending as far southwards as the coast of Africa. To quote two well-known geographers, Ptolemy distinguishes clearly between the Adriatic Sea and the Adriatic Gulf; and Pausanias says that the Straits of Messina separate the Tyrrhene Sea from the Adriatic Sea.
About midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country. The phrase here used ( προσα ́ γειν τινα ̀ αυ ̓ τοι ͂ ς χω ́ ραν ) is characteristic of that animated language of sailors, according to which everything is spoken of from their own point of view, the ship being, as it were, personified. These sailors suspected that they were ‘fetching’ some land near to them. But now we must inquire into the reason why they suspected this. It was the middle of the night; hence the thought could not have been suggested by anything which they saw. There were no lighthouses then to warn them. Nor would the suggestion have come through any fragrance of gardens, as has been fancifully supposed, for the wind blew from the ship towards the land. The fact is, they heard the sound of breakers, which is a terrible sound to seamen, and which is often perceived by sailors, when the ears of others would not recognise it. Thus it is true to nature that St. Luke should observe that it was ‘the shipmen’ who became conscious of this danger. As to that part of the coast of Malta, if the conclusion to which we shall be led may be anticipated, there must have been infallibly breakers on Koura Point that night.
Acts 27:28. Sounded, and found it twenty fathoms. On hearing the breakers, their instinct would be to heave the lead and ascertain the depth of the water. The fathom ( ο ̓ ργυια ̀ ) of the Greeks is practically the same measure of length as that which we designate by that term.
Sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. There is nothing extraordinary in finding a depth of fifteen fathoms soon after a depth of twenty fathoms had been found. But we must remember that this shallower depth was found in succession to the greater depth in the direction in which the ship was drifting, and that there had been time to ascertain this without the ship striking. These two conditions must be satisfied before we can identify the exact place of the shipwreck (see note on Acts 27:41). They were now shoaling the water, and in imminent danger of striking, and the only possible expedient for safety was to anchor. From what follows, also, it would appear that there was possibly another reason for this conviction that they were in the utmost risk.
Acts 27:29. Fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks. It might seem now that they not only heard breakers at a distance, but now heard them directly ahead. Such is Mr. Smith’s view. This is not, however, necessarily the meaning of the words, which may express only a general tear.
They cast four anchors out of the stern. It is customary, for very good reasons, to anchor from the bow:’ Anchora de prorâ jacitur.’ But it is quite possible to anchor from the stern; and on emergency this has often been done. This was done, for instance, under the orders of Lord Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen in 1801 , and of Lord Exmouth at the battle of Algiers in 1816 . The difficulty in the case before us is, that these seamen were prepared to anchor from the stern. It is probable, however, that they had made ready for an emergency which was likely to happen. The fact that there were four anchors seems to show that they were well provided with ground tackle. Moreover, ancient ships were so built that they frequently anchored at the stern. This may be seen in the Levant now in small vessels of the old build; and Mr. Smith has produced an illustration from a sculpture at Herculaneum strictly contemporary with the Apostle Paul.
Wished for the day. Literally, ‘prayed that the day might come on;’ and some commentators have supposed that actual prayers to this effect were offered up whether by Christians or by Heathens on board. This supposition is hardly natural.
The day was sure to dawn. The anxiety, however, of all on board is expressed as strongly as possible.
At this point, without anticipating the particulars of the argument, which must be summed up afterwards, we may consider what the probabilities are as to the place where the ship was anchored. Fourteen days had passed since she left Fair Havens. Allowance must be made for about a day before she was laid to on the starboard tack, under the lee of Clauda. The direction of her drift was west by north, and the rate about a mile and a half an hour, or thirty-six miles in the twenty-four hours. Now Malta lies west by north from Clauda, and the distance is 480 miles. The coincidence is so remarkable as to be startling; and yet there is nothing forced in this way of viewing the matter. Admiral Penrose and Mr. Smith, at different times, and quite independently, took this problem in hand with the view of solving it on the principles of practical seamanship, with just that slight difference in their results which gives great additional force to the argument. It seems impossible to believe that St. Paul at this moment could have been anywhere else except on the coast of Malta.
Attempt of the Sailors to leave the Ship baffled by the Apostle, 30 - 32 .
Acts 27:30. When they had let down the boat into the sea. This was the boat which had cost so much trouble before (see Acts 27:16). They had already lowered it down from the davits, when St. Paul perceived their purpose, and with great presence of mind frustrated it in the most sagacious way.
Under colour as though they would have cast anchor out of the foreship. No more plausible excuse could be given to the passengers. It was impossible to know whether the four anchors at the stern would hold; and the ship would be made more steady by putting out additional anchors at the bow. See note on Acts 27:41.
Acts 27:31. The centurion and the soldiers. St. Paul said nothing to the sailors, but spoke at once to his friend the centurion; and he used with him and the soldiers the argument which is of greatest weight in such a case, the appeal to self-preservation.
Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Much has been written on this in connection with the assurance previously given that they should all certainly be saved. It is quite useless to write any more on the subject. The same difficulty meets us everywhere.
Acts 27:32. Cut the ropes. With military promptitude and without any argument, the soldiers settled the question. The ropes were cut; and the boat drifted off into the darkness, and was dashed to pieces on the rocks. A very good religious moral, full of very varied instruction, might be connected with the story of this boat.
Waiting for the Day St. Paul’s Exhortation A hearty Meal taken by all on board On his Advice, Cargo thrown overboard, 33 - 38 .
Acts 27:33. Paul besought them all. A better translation would be that he ‘exhorted’ them all. Once more we see the apostle in the position of supreme command, as the only person on board in whom confidence was placed. Whatever he did now might be expected to have a distinctly religious effect upon the minds of the crew and the passengers.
To take some meat. This was characteristic not only of his good sense and presence of mind, but of his sympathetic nature. See, for instance, Acts 14:17; 1Ti 5:23 ; 2 Timothy 4:20. The word ‘meat’ is used in the general sense of ‘food.’
This is the fourteenth day. See note above on Acts 27:27.
Having taken nothing. He uses words naturally, in their popular sense. Those whom he addressed knew what he meant. A fortnight had passed without any regular meal (see note on Acts 27:21). Even from the very mention of this subject, it is evident that there was much suffering from hunger and weakness. Some hours at least, apparently even a longer time, had passed since that incident; and now they must have been utterly exhausted from the want of proper food.
Acts 27:34. This is for your health. The correct meaning is: ‘This is essential for your safety.’ Their imminent danger was not death from starvation, but from drowning in the waves. They had laborious and difficult work before them; and it was necessary that they should recruit their strength.
There shall not a hair fall from the head of any of you. This was a proverb denoting entire safety and exemption from the slightest harm. See 1 Kings 1:52; Matthew 10:30; Luke 21:18.
Acts 27:35. He took bread, and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all. It is difficult to believe that there was not at this moment in his mind a reminiscence of the Sacred Eucharist, especially when we observe that the ‘breaking’ of the bread is specified. See Luke 24:30; Luke 24:35.
He began to eat. He set the example. We see from what follows that this is by no means .unimportant.
Acts 27:36. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. In one sense the meal may truly be said to have been eucharistic. This is one of those passages in the Acts of the Apostles which tend, though it records many depressing and discouraging circumstances, to give a cheerful character to the book. See, for instance, Acts 1:12 (with Luke 24:52), Acts 16:25, Acts 28:15. On the occasion before our notice, it is evident that the people on board were utterly exhausted, and had lost all heart, so that even the desire for food was gone.
Acts 27:37. Two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. Having mentioned the fact that all on board took some food, he is led to state the total number. For the size of ancient merchant ships, see the Excursus. We must call to mind that these people were afterwards (Acts 28:11) conveyed from Malta to Puteoli in the Castor and Pollux, in addition to her own crew and passengers.
Acts 27:38. They lightened the ship. This would require great and active labour; and the food they had taken was an essential condition of their doing it effectually. The cargo was now of no use, as it was known that the ship would be lost; and there were two reasons why it was important to throw it overboard the ship was to be run aground, and it was desirable to make it draw as little water as possible. But, moreover, the ship having been for many days on the starboard tack, it is probable that the cargo had shifted, and that the vessel was heeling over to the port side. In cargoes of grain, unless the grain is packed in sacks, such displacement is very liable to take place. This very subject has been brought under public attention lately in the English newspapers.
Cast out the wheat into the sea. In the late Professor Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences (p. 326 ) are some remarks on this subject, which present so good an example of this kind of argument that it is worth while to quote them at length: ‘In the fifth verse we are informed that the vessel into which the centurion removed Paul and the other prisoners at Myra belonged to Alexandria, and was sailing into Italy. From the tenth verse we learn that it was a merchant vessel, for mention is made of its lading, but the nature of the lading is not directly stated. In this verse, at a distance of some thirty verses from the last, we find, by the merest chance, of what its cargo consisted. The freight was naturally enough kept till it could be kept no longer, and then we discover for the first time that it was wheat, the very article which such vessels were accustomed to carry from Egypt to Italy. These notices, so detached from each other, tell a continuous story, but it is not perceived till they are brought together. The circumstances drop out one by one in the course of the narrative, unarranged, unpremeditated, thoroughly accidental; so that the chapter might be read twenty times, and their agreement with one another and with contemporary history be still overlooked.’
Preparations for running the Ship aground Cruel Scheme of the Soldiers foiled Ultimate Escape of all to Land, 39 - 44 .
Acts 27:39. When it was day, they knew not the land. At first sight this may cause surprise; for Melita was a well-known island, a distinct part of a Roman province, having an admirable harbour, familiar to Alexandrian sailors. But these sailors were not at this moment in the harbour of Valetta, but on a part of the coast which they had never seen before. An English seaman might have made many voyages between New York and Liverpool, and yet might be puzzled (even with the help of such charts as the old Greek sailors did not possess) if he found himself, in foggy weather, off a part of the coast of North Wales which he had never seen before.
A certain creek with a shore. In one sense every creek has a shore; but the Greek word here ( άἰγιαλός ) denotes a pebbly or sandy beach, as opposed to rocks.
Minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. They were not quite sure that they would be able to accomplish their purpose. How the matter was managed is described in the following verses.
Acts 27:40. When they had taken up the anchors. This was the first essential step. These anchors were, as we have seen (Acts 27:29), ‘cast out of the stern.’ When this was done, the ship was free for the full action of the wind, which was blowing towards the shore. The translation, however, is not quite accurate. They did not ‘take up’ the anchors, but cut the ropes which connected the ship with them. This is the meaning of περιελο ́ ντες ; and it is evident from what follows, which, correctly rendered, is, ‘They committed them (i.e. the anchors) to the sea,’ these anchors were of no further use, for it was known that the ship would be destroyed.
And loosed the rudder bands. This phrase, for more reasons than one, demands careful attention. In the first place, the little word ἅμα is not noticed in the Authorised Version. What was done here was done simultaneously with the cutting away of the anchors. In the next place, the cutting away of the anchors was quite necessary for what was being done here. The true translation is ‘the bands of the rudders,’ the word ‘rudders’ being in the plural. See the Excursus at the end of this chapter. The rudders were now absolutely necessary in order to steer the ship precisely, so that she might take the ground at the right point. Moreover, the ropes which connected the snip with the anchors might possibly have been an impediment to the free action of the paddle-rudders. The anchors themselves could now be of no further use, the destruction of the ship being inevitable.
Raised up the mainsail to the wind. The sail which would have been the most useful for the purpose in hand would have been the foresail; and it is probable that this sail is meant. The Greek word ( α ̓ ρτε ́ μων ) which is employed here by St. Luke, is found in no other Greek author; but it is a familiar word in the more modern seafaring language of the Mediterranean. The Venetians gave this name to the largest sail, and this may have led to the use of the term ‘mainsail’ here; but in Venetian ships the foresail was the largest sail. See the Excursus. Dr. Humphry very appositely here refers to the familiar passage in Juvenal (xii. 68 ):
‘Et quod superaverat unum,
Velo prora suo’
quoting the note of the Scholiast, ‘Id est arte-mone solo velificaverunt.’
Toward shore. Toward that particular beach ( το ̀ ν αι ̓ γιαλο ́ ν ) which had been observed.
Acts 27:41. Falling into a place where two seas met. Assuming that the place of anchoring in the night was that which has been determined above, we have here one of the most remarkable helps for the identification of the exact place of St. Paul’s shipwreck. The word διθα ́ λασσος denotes that which is intermediate between two broad surfaces of sea. This connecting link may be either land or water. The Greek word is equivalent to the Latin bimaris applied by Horace to Corinth, which is situated on an isthmus between two seas. But Strabo applies the term διθα ́ λασσος to the Bosphorus, which is a strait between two seas. And such is its meaning here. As the ship parted from her anchors, when steered towards the shore, and impelled by the north-east wind rapidly moved towards the beach, those on board would observe on their right the small island of Salmonetta disengaging itself from the general coast, and showing a channel between itself and that coast. This was unexpected; and it impressed itself vividly on St. Luke’s mind, and he here records a fact vividly remembered.
They ran the ship aground. The Greek word here is one of those many technical naval terms which are used in this narrative with strict accuracy. In the Appendix to the article ‘Ship’ in the American edition of the Dictionary of the Bible, is a very important catalogue of catalogue of this kind.
The fore part stuck fast . . . but the hinder part was broken. Mr. Smith of Jordanhill, who was distinguished among scientific men for his successful study of the geology of coasts, enters very fully and carefully into the conditions of this part of the narrative, and shows that they are accurately met by the facts of the case. For this inquiry it must suffice to refer to his work on the Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. Attention must be given also to what he says concerning the soundings of St. Paul’s Bay, which exactly correspond with what we read above (Acts 27:28). As to the holding ground (Acts 27:30), our Sailing Directions say of St. Paul’s Bay, that ‘while the cables hold there is no danger, as the anchors will never start.’
Acts 27:42. The soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners. We have here an illustration of the extreme cruelty of the Roman military system. But we have also, in however cruel a form, an indication of a high sense of honour and duty. Now that the ship had ‘stuck fast,’ and they were close to the shore, the fear of the soldiers was that some of the prisoners might ‘swim out and escape.’ They might have very little hope that they themselves would be saved; but if they themselves were drowned, while their prisoners escaped, their military reputation would be tarnished. In two passages of this Book of the Acts (Acts 12:19 and Acts 16:27) we have exemplifications of the terrible responsibility of soldiers in charge of prisoners. Each prisoner may originally have been chained to a soldier; but under the circumstances of the moment, and indeed during the voyage, such fastenings would have been loosened.
Acts 27:43. The centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose. This is singularly true to the spirit of the whole course of the narrative. We have here a new indication of the charm and power which St. Paul exercised over the minds of those with whom he came in contact. It seems that Julius was very willing that the other prisoners should have been killed, but he wished to secure the safety of Paul ( διασω ͂ σαι το ̀ ν Παυ ͂ λον ) Thus the other prisoners owed their lives to the apostle. It is possible, indeed, that the centurion was more sanguine than the soldiers were of the probability of their lives being saved; but this would be only another proof of the influence gained over him by the apostle.
Commanded. This military order may have been of great importance at this moment of hesitation, when many may have feared to go through the breakers, and try to ‘get to land.’
Acts 27:44. Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. There is nothing in the original to correspond with the word ‘broken.’ But no doubt the meaning is correctly given. The contrast is between loose planks, seats, barrels, and the like, on the one hand; and on the other hand, fragments of the ship itself, which the waves were now breaking up.
They escaped all safe to land. The same strong Greek word is used here as in Acts 27:43 and Acts 28:1. As to St. Paul’s part in this experience of imminent danger of drowning, we must remember that he had passed through it at least three times before (see 2 Corinthians 11:25).
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 27". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent