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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 27

 

 


Verse 1-2

Acts 27:1-2. When it was determined that we should sail into Italy — The apostle having, by appeal, transferred his cause to the emperor, Festus determined to send him to Italy by sea, as being a shorter and less expensive passage to Rome; and for that purpose delivered him, with certain other persons, who were also to be judged at Rome, to one Julius, a centurion of the Italian legion. All these prisoners, with the soldiers who guarded them, went aboard a ship of Adramyttium, a seaport of Mysia, and sailed from Cesarea in the autumn of A.D. 62. From the history here, it appears that the messengers of the churches, who accompanied Paul into Judea with the collections, (Acts 21:4,) were not intimidated by the evils which the Jewish rage brought upon him in Jerusalem. For, while he continued there, they remained with him; and when he was sent a prisoner to Cesarea, they followed him thither, and in both places, doubtless, ministered to him, and perhaps attended him on his trials. And when it was determined to send him to Italy, two at least of these affectionate friends went in the same ship with him; namely, Luke, the writer of this book, as appears from his style here, and Aristarchus, a Thessalonian.


Verses 3-8

Acts 27:3-8. And the next day we touched at Sidon — A celebrated city on the Phenician coast, not far from Tyre. Here Julius, to whose care the prisoners had been delivered, being a man of singular humanity, allowed Paul to go ashore and refresh himself with the brethren of that city; a favour which must have been peculiarly acceptable to one that had been so long in prison. After that, loosing from Sidon, they sailed under Cyprus — Leaving it on the left hand; to Myra, a city of Lycia; and there finding a ship of Alexandria, bound for Italy, they went aboard. This ship, it is probable, was laden with wheat, for the greatest part of the corn consumed in Rome was brought from Alexandria in Egypt; and the vessels employed in that trade were exceedingly large, as this vessel certainly was; for there were on board of her no fewer than two hundred and seventy-six persons. And when we had sailed slowly many days — By Rhodes and several other small islands, which lay near the Carian shore; and scarce were come over against Cnidus — A cape and city of Caria; the wind not suffering us

To make greater despatch, steering to the south; we sailed under Crete — A well-known island in the Mediterranean sea; over against Salmone — A promontory on the eastern coast of that island. And hardly passing it — That is, passing the cape with difficulty; we came to a place called The Fair Havens — The most considerable port in that part of Crete, which still retains the same name: but the city Lasea, mentioned next, is now utterly lost, together with many more of the hundred cities for which Crete was once so renowned.


Verses 9-12

Acts 27:9-12. Now when much time was spent — In making this little way, and the season of the year was so far advanced, that sailing was now dangerous — On account of the tempestuous weather usual at that season: for the fast — Of the seventh month, or anniversary expiation; was now past — And consequently winter was coming on apace. It may be proper to observe, that the fast here spoken of was the day of atonement, which was ordered to be kept on the 10th day of the 7th month, called Tisri by the Jews, and consequently must have been about the 25th of our September. Philo, in several passages quoted by Dr. Whitby in his note here, speaks of this as an ill time for sailing, as Aratus also does; and it would naturally be so, not only on account of winter approaching, but also because of the flows that are still well known in the Mediterranean. Paul admonished them — Not to leave Crete. “Even in external things,” says Bengelius, “faith exerts itself with the greatest presence of mind, and readiness of advice.” And said unto them — Namely, to the centurion and other officers; I perceive that this voyage — If it be pursued according to the present scheme you have in view; will be with hurt and much damage — Paul seems to have given them this warning, not so much because of the time of the year, and the tempests usually attending it, as by a prophetical spirit. God, intending to preserve and honour Paul in this tedious and difficult voyage, endues him with the gift of prophecy; which, when they saw it verified, could not but beget in them a great respect for him, and was probably the means of salvation to many that were in the ship with him; not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives — So it would have been; their lives would have been lost, as well as the ship and goods, had not God given the lives of all in the ship unto Paul, and saved them for his sake. See Acts 27:24. Nevertheless, the centurion believed the master — Whom he thought most experienced and best skilled in an affair of that kind. And, indeed, it is a general rule, Believe an artificer in his own art. But Paul had an extraordinary qualification, with which the centurion was not acquainted: he had supernatural light from God. And because the haven — Notwithstanding its promising name; was not commodious ανευθετου, was unfit, and probably judged unsafe; to winter in, the more part — Of the ship’s company; advised to depart αναχθηναι, to set sail thence; if by any means they might obtain to Phenice — A port in Crete, and not the Phenicia in Syria; and lieth toward the south-west and north-west — That is, having a double opening to these two parts.


Verses 13-15

Acts 27:13-15. And when the south wind blew softly — Ordinarily a wind very mild, and at that time not high; supposing they had obtained their purpose — And would soon arrive at the harbour they wished to reach; loosing, they sailed close by Crete — That is, sailed along the shore of the island, not being afraid to be driven upon it by that side wind. But not long after there arose against it — Against the ship; a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon — This expression comes from ευρος and κλυδων, an eastern storm, as the word signifies. A kind of tempest this which is called by those who now frequent those seas, a Levanter. It was a kind of hurricane, not carrying them any one way, but tossing them backward and forward: for these furious winds blow in all directions, from the north-east to the south-east. And when the ship was caught — συναρπασθεντος, was violently hurried away; and would not bear up against the wind — Or face it, as the word αντοφθαλμειν signifies; we let her drive — Gave her up to the wind, to be driven before it.


Verses 16-19

Acts 27:16-19. Running under a certain island called Clauda — A little to the south of the western coast of Crete. Such was the violence of the storm, that we had much work — Great difficulty to become masters of the boat, so as to secure it from being staved; which when they had taken up, they used helps — Not only all such instruments as were fit for their purpose, but all hands too; undergirding the ship — With cables, to keep it from bulging, and enable it to ride out the storm; and fearing — As the wind had varied more to the north, and blew them toward Africa; lest they should fall into the quick-sands — The greater or the lesser Syrtis, those quick-sands on the African shore, so famous for the destruction of mariners and vessels; they strake sail — That so their progress might be slower, and some more favourable weather, in the mean time, might come to their relief; and so were driven — Before the wind, as before. And the next day they lightened the ship — Casting the heavy goods with which she was laden into the sea. And the third day we cast out the tackling of the ship — Cutting away even those masts that were not absolutely necessary, and throwing them overboard with their furniture.


Verses 20-22

Acts 27:20-22. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared — The direction of which could be the less spared before the compass was found out; and no small tempest lay on us — Still the wind was boisterous, and the sea ran high; all hope that we should be saved — That is, delivered from the danger we were in; was then taken away — The whole ship’s company expected nothing but that the ship would certainly be lost, and we should all perish with it. But after long abstinence — For all this time they had had no heart to think of taking any regular refreshment, and probably several of them took little or none; Paul stood forth in the midst of them — Authorized by God to give them encouragement; and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me — Paul having foreseen and foretold what had befallen them, and warned them not to set sail from Crete, they ought to have believed his prediction, and taken his advice, especially as Luke and Aristarchus, if not some others on board the ship, Paul’s companions, could have borne, and probably did bear, witness to the spirit of prophecy and the miraculous powers with which he was endowed: and for their not hearkening to him they were now deservedly punished. And to have gained — That is, to have brought upon yourselves and upon us all, as well as upon the owner of the ship, this harm and loss — Which is now before your eyes. The words, υβριν και ζημιαν, rendered harm and loss, are used Acts 27:10, and have here evidently a reference to what the apostle had there predicted. And — Or nevertheless; now I exhort you — Bad as the situation of affairs may appear; to be of good cheer — For though you conclude you must inevitably perish, I assure you there shall be no loss of any man’s life — Among you, that is, provided they would do as he directed them, see Acts 27:31. In God’s promises there is generally implied a tacit condition, which, from the nature of the thing, is to be understood, as in the promise made to Eli, 1 Samuel 2:30. Paul here foretels their preservation so particularly, that, when it was effected, more credit might be given to the gospel which he preached, and more glory might redound to the God he worshipped.


Verses 23-26

Acts 27:23-26. For, &c. — As if he had said, It is not without good authority that I speak in so express and positive a manner, with regard to an event which seems to you utterly improbable; there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose servant and property I am, and whom I serve — Worship and obey. How short a compendium of religion! Yet how clear and how full! Containing both doctrine and practice, both the foundation and the superstructure: comprehending at once faith, hope, and love, with their proper fruits: in fact, all graces and virtues. Reader, see thou be able to say, Whose I am! and then, and not before, thou wilt be able to add, and whom I serve. Be his subject, his servant, his child, his heir, and know thyself to be such, know that thou art of God, by the Spirit which he gives thee, and then thou wilt be able to serve him in holiness and righteousness before him, making his will thy rule, and his glory thy end, in all thy actions, and that all the days of thy life. Saying, Fear not, Paul — Such a message God’s angels have often brought unto his people. See Daniel 10:12; Daniel 10:19; Luke 2:10; Matthew 28:5. Thou must be brought — Rather, be presented; before Cesar: and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee — Paul had doubtless prayed for them. And God gave him their lives; and perhaps their souls also. And the centurion, subserving the designs of the Divine Providence, spared, for his sake, the lives of the prisoners, Acts 27:43. Here we have an instance how wonderfully the providence of God reigns in things apparently the most contingent! And, rather shall many bad men be preserved with a few good, (for so it frequently happens,) than one good man shall perish with many bad. So it was in this ship, and so it is in the world. Paul repeats, it seems, the very words of the angel, Lo, God hath given thee all that sail with thee. For at such a time of distress as this, there was not the same danger which there might otherwise have been, of Paul’s seeming to speak out of vanity what he really spoke out of necessity. Wherefore, be of good cheer — Take courage, and lay aside your fears; for I believe God — I trust in him whose word is faithful, and his power almighty; that the event shall be as has been told me. Howbeit — I know also; we must be cast upon a certain island — And that the vessel will be wrecked upon the coast of it. Nevertheless, if we take care to use the proper means, we shall all escape, and get safe to land.


Verses 27-32

Acts 27:27-32. But when the fourteenth night — Since they left Crete; was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria — That is, in the Adriatic sea: as the ancients called all that part of the Mediterranean sea which lay south of Italy. About midnight, the shipmen deemed (apprehended) that they drew near to some country — Or shore; which confirmed what Paul had told them, that they must be driven upon some island: and, to try whether it was so or not, they sounded — In order to ascertain the depth of the water, which would be less as they drew nearer to the shore. And by the first experiment, they found it twenty fathoms, and by the next only fifteen — Which decrease of their sounding convinced them that their apprehension was just. Then, fearing lest they should have fallen upon rocks — Of which there were very many in those seas, especially about the islands, where there might not be depth of water sufficient to keep the vessel from striking; they cast four anchors out of the stern — This shows how great the tempest was, in that they needed so many anchors; and wished for day — That they might the better discern their situation. And, as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship — Perceiving the danger to be extreme, and endeavouring to provide for their own safety, by making to the shore; and when — To compass their design; they let down the boat into the sea — Supposing it would go more safely over the shallows; and were just going into it, under colour as though they would have cast anchors — From the ship’s head, to make the vessel more secure; thus dissembling the true reason of their going into the boat, which was to make their escape. Paul — Who knew it was the will of God that all proper endeavours should be used for their preservation, in a dependance on the promise he had given them, perceiving the design they had in view; said to the centurion and to the soldiers — Who had power to hinder their accomplishing their design; Except these mariners abide in the ship — Without whom ye know not how to manage it; ye cannot be saved — He does not say, We. That they would not have regarded. The soldiers were not careful for the lives of the prisoners: nor was Paul careful for his own. We may learn hence, to use the most proper means for security and success, even while we depend on Divine Providence, and wait for the accomplishment of God’s own promise. He never designed any promise should encourage rational creatures to act in an irrational manner; or to remain inactive, when he has given them natural capacities of doing something, at least, for their own benefit. To expect the accomplishment of any promise without exerting these, is at best vain and dangerous presumption, if all pretence of relying upon it be not profane hypocrisy. Then the soldiers — Who had learned from their commander to pay a deference to what Paul said, that the success of this intended fraud might be effectually prevented; cut off the ropes of the boat — By which it was fastened to the side of the ship; and let it fall off into the sea — Before any of the mariners got into it.


Verses 33-38

Acts 27:33-38. While the day was coming on — Before they had light sufficient to discern what they should do; Paul besought them all to take meat — To take some refreshment; saying, This is the fourteenth day that ye continue fasting — Not as if they had absolutely eaten nothing all that while; for it is generally allowed that none can fast half so long without danger of death; having taken nothing — No regular meal; through a deep sense of your extreme danger: the necessary consequence of which is, that you must be very faint and weak, and unfit for those exertions and fatigues which may farther lie before you; for it will be a narrow escape that we are to expect, and we may find great difficulties in getting on shore. If a sense of the great danger they were in took away all their desire for food, let us not wonder if men who have a deep sense of the danger they are in of everlasting death should, for a time, forget either to take food, or to attend to their worldly affairs. Much less let us censure that as madness which may be the beginning of true wisdom. Wherefore — Since till the morning rises we can attempt nothing by way of approach to land; I pray παρακαλω, I exhort; you to take τροφης, nourishment, for this is προς της υμετερας σωτηριας, for your preservation, that ye may be the better able to swim to shore; for there shall not a hair, &c. — A proverbial expression, assuring them of entire safety. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread and gave thanks — For that provision which God now gave them in their necessities, and for the assurance of life with which he had favoured them by so particular a revelation; and when he had broken it, he began to eat — Thus setting them an example. Then were they all of good cheer — Encouraged by his example as well as words; and they also took some meat — As he had done. And when they had eaten enough — As much as was sufficient for their present refreshment and support; they lightened the ship — Still more than they had done; and cast out the wheat — The very stores they had on board; into the sea — So firmly did they now depend on what Paul had said.


Verses 39-41

Acts 27:39-41. And when it was day — And they had the shore before them; they knew not the land — And therefore were still at a loss what course to take; but they discovered a certain creek — A bay or bosom of the sea, having land on each side, where they judged it most likely for them to get on shore; using, however, still all proper means for their safety. And when they had taken up — Or, as it is now termed, weighed; the anchors, they committed themselves — Or, rather, the ship; unto the sea — And tried to stand in for the creek. But the original expressions here, τας αγκυρας περιελοντες; ειων εις την θαλασσαν, may be rendered, having cut the anchors, they left them in the sea. And loosed the rudder- bands — Their ships had frequently two rudders, one on each side. These were fastened while they let the ship drive; but were now loosened, when they had need of them to steer her into the creek. And hoisted up the mainsail to the wind — Which seemed to set right for their purpose. Although our translators here render the word, αρτεμονα, mainsail, Grotius (who supposes that σκευος, rendered sail, Acts 27:17, signifies the main-mast, and consequently, that the mainsail was now gone, Acts 27:19) supposes it was a sail near the fore part of the ship, answering to what we call the foremast, or the bowsprit. And falling into a place where two seas met — Probably by reason of a sand-bank running parallel with the shore, such was the violence of the current, that they ran the ship aground, so that the fore part stuck fast upon the sand. but the hinder part was broken to pieces by the violence of the waves — So that they suffered shipwreck with the shore in view, and almost in the harbour, teaching us never to be secure.


Verses 42-44

Acts 27:42-44. And — In this critical juncture, as there were several prisoners on board, who were to be conveyed in custody to Rome; the soldiers’ counsel was to kill them — A counsel most unjust, ungrateful, and cruel; lest any of them should swim out and escape — Out of their hands; of which they were unwilling to run the hazard, as they knew how severe the Roman law was in such cases, where there was any room to suspect the guards of connivance or negligence. But the centurion, willing Or rather, desirous; to save Paul — For though he had despised his advice, (Acts 27:11,) yet he afterward saw much cause to respect him, and therefore prevented the soldiers from executing their purpose. Thus God, for Paul’s sake, not only saved all the rest of the ship’s company from being lost in the sea, but preserved the prisoners from being murdered, according to the unjust and barbarous proposal of the soldiers, who could have thought of no worse a scheme, had they all been condemned malefactors, and had these guards, instead of conveying them to their trial, been carrying them to the place of execution. Commanded that they who could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land — That they might be helpful to others in getting on shore; and the rest, some on boards, &c. — Still using means, though it was of God only that they had those means, and that the means were made effectual for their preservation. And it came to pass — Through the singular care of Divine Providence, and according to the prediction of Paul; that they escaped all safe to land — And there was not one single life lost; and some of them, doubtless, received the apostle as a teacher sent from God. These would find their deliverance from the fury of the sea but an earnest of an infinitely greater deliverance, and are, long ere this, lodged with him in a more peaceful harbour than Malta, or than earth could afford.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-27.html. 1857.

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