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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 27

 

 

Verse 1

‘And when it was determined that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan band.’

No time notice is given but in the end a determination was made to send Paul to Rome. We will never know what Festus finally put in his correspondence with Caesar as to the charge laid against Paul. But accompanying Paul was Luke (‘we’), together with Aristarchus (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24). Both accompanied him to Rome. We may surmise that Luke went along as his physician, and Aristarchus as his servant, which would give them official positions. There may possibly have been other companions, and there were some other fellow-prisoners. There may have been three or more. In charge of the prisoners was a centurion named Julius. The ‘Augustan band’ might have been a cohort of auxiliaries, as legionary cohorts were not usually given names. Alternately they may have been a special group used for this kind of work, possibly originally set up by Augustus.


Verses 1-44

A Series of Maritime Stages and Examples of Prophecy (Acts 27:10; Acts 27:21-26) On The Way To Rome (27.l-26).

This series of ‘maritime stages’ on a voyage parallels that in Acts 21:1-16. That one led up to Jerusalem. This one takes Paul away from Jerusalem towards Rome. In both passages God’s active presence in what is happening is emphasised by the acts of prophecy which occur.

Again the detail is given of the detailed stages of the journey. This was partly because the writer was with them on it, but the paralleling suggests that in each case there is also the purpose of introducing into the narrative the idea of a slow and inexorable progression towards the fulfilment of God’s purpose. They (and his readers) have much time in which to consider their future before arrival at Rome.

In the parallel this journeying was interrupted by the gathering of the Ephesian elders at Miletus in order to consider the trials and troubles ahead for the church. Here it is interrupted by a storm and by shipwreck which almost sweep all away. Spiritual parallels are clearly intended to be drawn.

There is thus in this chapter a picture of the church. It commences with making fairly smooth headway, it then runs into storms, and it ends with those involved enduring to the end and being saved by the grace of God. This would also be the future of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38; compare Revelation 2:1-7) and of all churches. It is with much tribulation that we will enter the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 14:22).

There is also a message concerning Paul. The way ahead may at first seem smooth, but ahead lay storms. However, God is with him. Even when things seem hopeless God will deliver him and bring him safely through.

But finally, and most importantly in the context of the book, is that in this storm was to be seen the attempt of Satan to prevent Paul reaching Rome. He had at last caught on to the fact that God had outmanoeuvred him, and he tries to destroy Paul (compare Job 1:19). But he was too late. And his failure is symbolised in the snake which attaches itself to Paul and is cast into the fire without harming him (Acts 28:3-6). Luke’s readers would recognise the connection.

The Maritime Stages (Acts 27:1-13).


Verse 2

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

They set sail in a ship from Adramyttium, a Mysian seaport opposite Lesbos, which was travelling from Caesarea up the coast towards Asia Minor.


Verse 3

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

The next stop was Sidon, seventy miles up the coast, where they presumably stopped to unload or pick up cargo. This would leave a little time for going ashore. Julius, the centurion, appears to have struck up a rapport with Paul, and when they arrived at Sidon allowed him to visit friends there, no doubt accompanied by a guard, and to ‘refresh himself’, presumably both physically and spiritually. This may include the fact that they provided money and provisions for his journey. Festus may well have given orders that Paul was to be treated as befitted a Roman citizen on appeal. He had after all made the choice to go to Rome. He was going willingly.


Verse 4

‘And putting to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.’

They then set sail again and because of the westerly winds sailed to the east of Cyprus, sailing in the lee of the island, the regular route at that time of year. But it is mentioned as the first indication that it was doubtful sailing weather.


Verse 5

‘And when we had sailed across the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.’

From there they sailed across to the Asian coast, to Myra, a city of Lycia, a small district on the south coast of Asia Minor with a varied history, and thoroughly hellenised. Its port was Andriaca, which was regularly used by grain ships from Egypt. There they left the ship they were on and sought another which would take them to Italy.


Verse 6

‘And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, and he put us in it.’

The ship they next boarded had come from Alexandria in Egypt and was a grain ship (compare Acts 27:38) although also possibly carrying other freight (Acts 27:18). It was bound for Italy. It would appear to have been a government ship, or at least under contract to the government, for final control of the ship seems to have been in the hands of the highest ranking person aboard, the centurion (Acts 27:11). According to a contemporary description, these large ships were often 180 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 44 feet deep from the deck to the bottom of the hold.


Verse 7-8

‘And when we had sailed slowly many days, and were come with difficulty over against Cnidus, the wind not further allowing us, we sailed under the lee of Crete, over against Salmone, and with difficulty coasting along it we came to a certain place called Fair Havens, near to which was the city of Lasea.’

The voyage was now slow and laborious, with difficult sailing conditions, until they came opposite Cnidus on the south west tip of Asia Minor. But the wind would not allow them to land there, so they made for Crete and sailed along the lee shore, over against Cape Salmone, the eastern tip of Crete. And the winds were such that they found difficulty in coasting along it. However, they managed to reach Fair Havens near the city of Lasea, five miles east of Cape Matala, which was a small open bay. But as its name indicated it was not a good place at which to shelter for the winter. It was a haven in fair weather.


Verse 9-10

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

This voyaging had take more time than they had wished, and they appear also to have had some delay at Fair Havens. Thus the Day of Atonement (the Jewish Fast on the tenth day of Tishri) had passed, and the dangerous season for sailing was on them. In the Mediterranean navigation was considered to be difficult from the middle of September and impossible after the middle of November, due to the limitations of their ships. This would probably be early October. Indeed Paul appears to have had at least a premonition, (he was a fairly experienced traveller), and possibly a word from the Lord (note his ‘I perceive’ and his note of confident certainty which go beyond just concern), that to continue the voyage would lead to much loss, not only of the ship and cargo, but also of human lives. Whether he was officially called on to give his opinion, or did so because he received a warning from the Lord we are not told.


Verse 11

‘But the centurion gave more heed to the master and to the owner of the ship, than to those things which were spoken by Paul.’

However the shipmaster and the captain (or the captain and the owner if it was a contracted ship) were for pushing on. They had risked a last, late trip, and wanted to be in a place where, once the new sailing season began, they could be first in Italy. And the centurion quite naturally took their advice as against Paul’s. Luke, however, appears to be hinting that he might have done better to recognise that Paul possibly had a better Source of advice.


Verse 12

‘And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to put to sea from there, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, and winter there; which is a haven of Crete, looking north-east and south-east.’

This decision to press on was partly because finding lodgings for the winter was not going to be easy, and the shelter that the bay provided was not fully satisfactory. So they decided that they would make for Phoenix and winter there. This was a haven of Crete that looked north east and south east, and would be a much safer haven (the description fits Phineka). But this necessitated crossing the Gulf of Messara which would leave them exposed to any violent winds that arose.


Verse 13

‘And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close in shore.’

At first the weather seemed to favour them, for the south wind had begun to blow gently. So they weighed anchor and, leaving Fair Havens, they sailed along the coast of Crete close in shore. This was a sign of how nervous they were. And then, just as they were beginning to congratulate themselves that all was well, and that they would safely make harbour, disaster struck.

The Storm (Acts 27:14-20).

This magnificent picture of the storm sees the ship being driven slowly and helplessly as it drifts in the contrary elements, torn by the winds and battered by the waves, from Crete to Malta. All aboard are seen as helpless, savage nature is in total control, everything is jettisoned, and in the end all is seen to depend on the hand of God. It is a picture of life in the raw. And yet we know that Paul must survive for he has to appear before Caesar. Thus are we to have confidence that God is in control over the whole episode.

There are also in the passage a number of hints that we are to gather from it certain spiritual lessons. God gave His guarantee that as long as they endured all would be saved in the end (Acts 27:22), ‘he who endures to the end will be saved’ (Mark 13:13). If the people were to be saved all must stay within the vessel (Acts 27:31). Of those who faced the storm not a hair of their heads would perish (Acts 27:34). In the midst of the storm they could partake of the blessed and broken bread (Acts 27:35). And as we have already seen it is paralleled by Luke with the words to the elders of the Ephesian church as he warned them of troubles ahead.

Note the stages of the storm:

· The ship is driven before the storm, bobbing like a cork on the wild sea.

· As the gale shrieks around them, and the boat continually tosses and sways, and the rigging is continually torn, partial shelter from an island enables them, because of the resulting slight slackening of the wind and waves, to haul the dinghy/life boat, which was being dragged behind, into the ship.

· Fearful that the wooden ship, which is being tossed to and fro on the boiling sea, and no doubt also beginning to leak and show signs of wear, will be torn apart in the howling winds and huge waves they undergird the ship, whose timbers were already probably leaking and letting in water, with ropes, in order to give it strength and hold it together.

· By now nature has taken over and losing all thought of steering or sailing, they lower the sails and possibly chop down the mainmast which could make them top heavy and turn over. (They later use only a foresail). It is now a matter of waiting, praying and hanging on, hoping for survival.

· But the ship continues to threaten to break apart in the storm, and recognising that fact they begin to lighten it by throwing the freight overboard, including much, although not all, of the cargo of Egyptian wheat, hoping that this will help to keep them afloat. Some had to be retained as ballast.

· But still the ship flounders and the next thing to go is the ship’s tackle, apart from what is vital. Torn by the wind, drenched to the skin, hardly able to keep their feet, and finding it difficult to hold on to the ship to prevent themselves going overboard, and with each no doubt roped to some solid object, their plight now appears hopeless.

· And still the storm just goes on and on, and they lose all hope, as lashed by wind and wave, without sail and unsteerable (the rudders are tied) they just wait for the end. There is nothing further that they can do. None have ever been in a storm like this before.

· But there is a man of God aboard, and from the midst of the panic and chaos, there comes a cry as Paul tells them not to fear, for God intends to deliver them because of His intentions for Paul, for Paul is destined to appear before Caesar. In the midst of disaster there is a breath of hope. If they will just obey God, they may, as it were, be brought back from the dead.


Verse 14-15

‘But after no long time there beat down from it a tempestuous wind, which is called Euraquilo, and when the ship was caught, and could not face the wind, we gave way to it, and were driven.’

The tempestuous wind that suddenly struck the ship as it came round the cape into the gulf was infamous. It appeared suddenly, so that they were caught before they could face into the wind, and thus had to give way and allow it to drive them before it. The name by which such winds were known was Euraquilo (‘east wind-north wind’).


Verse 16-17

‘And running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were able, with difficulty, to secure the boat, and when they had hoisted it up, they used helps, under-girding the ship, and, fearing lest they should be cast upon the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and so were driven.’

They were driven along for twenty three miles until they came into the lee of the isle of Cauda, and the slight abatement of wind that resulted from this enabled them with great difficulty to pull in the life boat that was being pulled along behind, and get it aboard. It might yet be their salvation. After which they took advantage of the slight slackening of the tempest caused by the shelter of the island to pull ropes underneath the ship with the purpose of holding it together. Then, fearful less the wind blow them onto the African coast, onto the feared sandbars of Syrtis, the graveyard of many a ship as underwater archaeology has revealed, they took down all sail and lowered the mast. Thus they were totally at the mercy of the howling wind and the waves, except possibly for a small storm sail.


Verse 18

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

But the storm continued to tear at the ship, and in order to prevent it foundering or being torn apart, various cargoes were thrown overboard, preserving only some of the wheat as ballast, and things became so bad that this was followed by the ships tackle. All efforts were now aimed at keeping the ship together and floating.

‘We laboured exceedingly.’ Luke remembers battling against the wind and the spray, as they fought for the survival of the vessel. The change to ‘they’ possibly refers to those in authority who had to make such decisions.


Verse 20

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

The blackened sky prevented navigation, and there were no breaks in the clouds. They had no idea where they were. But as the next verses bring out, God knew. Meanwhile the howling winds and the great breakers continued to tear at the ship until all hope of survival was taken away. Not even the most experienced sailor had been through anything like this before.


Verse 21-22

‘And when they had been long without food, then Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, “Sirs, you should have listened to me, and not have set sail from Crete, and have received this injury and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” ’

Such had been the efforts required, and the desperate strivings of all on board, that none had had time to eat properly. It was just a matter of fighting on, holding on and waiting for the end, and taking what they could. Then Paul fought his way through the howling wind, and finding a convenient place yelled, presumably to the shipmaster, the captain, and the centurion, but also to any within hearing, that had they listened to him this would not have happened. They should have listened to what God had shown him. He was saying this, not in order to gloat (there was little to gloat about), but in order to give them confidence in what he was going to say next. If he had been right once he could be right again. So then he assured them that they could cheer themselves with this thought, that although the ship would be lost, not a man would perish.


Verse 23

“For there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar, and lo, God has granted you all those who sail with you.”

Then he explained that an angel of God had stood by him that night and had told him not to be afraid, for it was God’s purpose that he stand before Caesar, and that he had given to him all those who sailed with him. This gives the solid impression that that was what he had been praying for. Why else the promise?

We are reminded here of Acts 23:11 where the Lord Himself had stood by him, and had said a similar thing. That was when he had been rescued from the howling mob of the Sanhedrin and was facing up to an uncertain future. Now in a similar situation he faced a howling wind and faced an uncertain future. So he received the same promise. Whether from men or from the elements, God would protect him. For God was with him in all that was happening and would see him safely through to the end, and safely into Caesar’s presence.


Verse 25

“Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God, that it will be even so as it has been spoken to me.”

So he assures them that they can be of good cheer, because he is sure that God will do as He has promised.


Verse 26

“But we must be cast on a certain island.”

However it will ‘be necessary’ for them to be cast onto an unknown but determined island. In other words God has not just promised deliverance, He has filled in some of the detail. And He has a purpose for their landing on that island. Malta was awaiting the Good News. The calm assurance that in this wild and uncontrolled storm God had fixed on a particular island where He wanted to fulfil His purposes shines out through the narrative. Thus when the landing happens as God has described they will be able to know that it was the hand of God that has taken them there.

The Shipwreck (Acts 27:27-44)

In what follows we are given certain lessons for success in life, and which equally applied to the Ephesian elders. If they, and we, are to survive the storms there are certain principles that must be followed.

The first was obedience to what God told them to do. If the centurion had not obeyed God’s voice through Paul there would have been great loss of life (Acts 27:31).

The second was to cut away the one hope that they seemed to have, the life boat. They must trust in nothing else but God and look to Him alone for deliverance.

The third was to trust Him and take food. This would strengthen them for their final ordeal. Christians would see in this the food of eternal life offered through the death of Christ. They would recognise that under every circumstance of life it is by partaking of Him that men can be saved and can endure.

And fourthly it was necessary to be observant and follow His instruction. He had said that they would be cast on a certain island. They had to look for that island and plan accordingly when it arrived.

And the guarantee was that all those who thus trusted Him would be saved. That this was to be seen as a parable as well as a reality comes out in the promise that not a hair of their head would perish (Acts 27:34 compare Luke 21:18-19), that they were to eat bread as illustrated by Paul in such a way as to suggest the partaking of bread at the Lord’s Supper (Acts 27:35), and by the numbering of the saved (Acts 27:37).

There is no better picture of ‘he who will endure to the end will be saved’. These men were helpless and in a hopeless situation. Their endurance arose out of the necessities of the situation. But they did endure, for it was an essential part of their nature to fight for survival. They clung on and fought for life, even though they seemed to be all alone. But as they endured they discovered that God was with them, planning all that took place, keeping each one safe, and the result was that in the end all were saved. We too must sometimes hold on with gritted teeth, knowing that behind all is God, and if we are His He will see us safe through to the end. And those who are His will do so. It has become their nature.


Verses 27-29

“But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven to and fro in the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors surmised that they were drawing near to some country, and they sounded, and found twenty fathoms, and after a little space, they sounded again, and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing lest haply we should be cast ashore on rocky ground, they let go four anchors from the stern, and wished for the day.”

They were under the control of that raging storm for fourteen days, arriving eventually in the sea of Adria, the central Mediterranean. Fourteen is twice seven, intensified divine perfection. Even the timing of the storm was planned. While to those in the ship all seemed lost, to God it was going according to plan. However, in the midst of the howling wind and the great breakers the experienced sailors then saw or heard something in those breakers that now gave them hope. Perhaps it was a lessening in their size, that suggested to them that they were approaching shallower water, which meant land somewhere ahead. Or they may have discerned the sound of surf, and breakers on a shoreline. Whatever it was they tossed out the lead and discovered a depth of twenty fathoms. And after a while they tossed it out again and the depth was now only fifteen fathoms. They were fast approaching land. But it was night. And they dared not approach unknown land at night. So they cast out four stern anchors and waited, and wished and prayed, for day. The purpose in using stern anchors was in order to keep the ship pointing in the same direction


Verse 30-31

“And as the sailors were seeking to flee out of the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would lay out anchors from the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved.” ’

And as day approached the sailors pretended that they were about to drop the forward anchors. But their real intention was to lower the life boat while the light was still dim and desert the ship. They were like false shepherds who did not care for those for whom they had responsibility. They were abandoning the sheep. And sure enough they set about lowering the boat secretly. It is clear that there was only limited space in the lifeboat. But Paul, either through divine guidance or astuteness and suspicion (he knew men’s hearts) recognised what they were doing in the dim light and called to the centurion to stop them. He warned that without the sailors to steer the ship they would all be lost.


Verse 32

‘Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.’

So the soldiers ran forward and cut the ropes which held fast the boat and it fell into the sea. Now the only hope of safety for them all lay in grounding the ship, something that they could not have done without the sailors.


Verse 33-34

‘And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take some food, saying, “This day is the fourteenth day that you wait and continue fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I beseech you to take some food, for this is for your safety, for there will not a hair perish from the head of any of you.” ’

Then Paul pointed out that none of them had eaten properly for fourteen days. They had done all that was humanly possible. It was now time to take some food, which would strengthen them for the ordeal ahead. For he promised that not a hair of their heads would perish. This same promise had been given by Jesus when speaking of the tribulations that God’s people must face, where it had in mind the need for endurance (Luke 21:18), which again confirms that this story was intended by Luke to have a spiritual application.


Verse 35

‘And when he had said this, and had taken bread, he gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it, and began to eat.’

Then he led by example and taking bread, deliberately and publicly gave thanks in the presence of them all, and breaking it, began to eat. This in itself was a kind of acted out prophecy. It was declaring the certainty that he, and they, would survive. Even in the midst of such extremity the habits of a lifetime persisted. He could not eat without remembering God and giving thanks. The likeness to the Lord’s Supper is striking. What he was doing symbolised to Luke’s readers that however severe the storms of life, by partaking of Christ men could be delivered from them and be saved.


Verse 36

‘Then were they all of good cheer, and they themselves also took food.’

And the result of his practical example was that they all took heart and themselves also took food. Probably only Luke and Aristarchus had understood the significance of what he had been declaring by his act.


Verse 37

‘And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen persons.’

The number aboard the ship is now given. (Josephus tells of a similar voyage where there were six hundred on board). The count may have been taken in handing round the food. Or it may have been a head count preparatory for their hoped for landing. Or it may simply have been taken in the beginning, and have been recorded. But it was important. The count when all this was over would prove that not one was lost. We are reminded here again of the counting of the ‘one hundred and forty four thousand out of every tribe of the sons of Israel’ (Revelation 7:4) who represented the whole people of God. Despite the tribulations to come, not one of them too would be lost, for they were sealed by God.


Verse 38

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

Then when all had eaten sufficient, they lightened the ship by throwing all the grain that was left into the sea. The lighter the ship, the more likely to reach land


Verse 39

‘And when it was day, they did not know the land, but they perceived a certain bay with a beach, and they discussed together whether they could drive the ship on it.’

And when day came they saw land. Many of them could hardly believe it. They had never expected to see land again. But they did not recognise the land. They did, however, observe a certain bay with a beach, and they discussed among themselves whether they would be able to drive the ship onto the beach.


Verse 40

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

Then casting off the anchors and leaving them to the sea so as to lighten the vessel as much as possible, they loosened the ropes that had been holding the two great paddles which acted as rudders in a fixed position, with the intention of preventing their breaking or flailing about, and hoisting up a foresail to the wind, made for the beach. But in Acts 27:22 we have been told that the ship would not be saved, and so it was to prove. God would give them all their lives, but nothing of ship or cargo.


Verse 41

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

For coming across a sand bar where two seas met, they ran aground, and the bow embedded itself and became immovable. And the result was that the stern began to break up under the pounding of the waves.


Verse 42

‘And the soldiers’ advice was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape, but the centurion, desiring to save Paul, stayed them from their purpose, and commanded that they who could swim should cast themselves overboard, and get first to the land, and the rest, some on planks, and some on other things from the ship. And so it came about that they all escaped safe to the land.

The soldiers then advised their commander that the best thing would be to kill the prisoners in order to prevent them from escaping. They were aware that according to regulations to lose a prisoner could mean punishment for themselves of a type which would have been imposed on the prisoner. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, stopped them from doing so, and commanded rather that all try to get to the shore. Those who could swim were to do so, and get ashore as quickly as possible, and those who could not were to use planks and other floating objects in order to float ashore. And the result was that all escaped to land as God had promised Paul (Acts 27:22).

By this Luke lets us know that in spite of the storms God’s work goes forward. All whom He has enrolled/numbered will be saved and none can hinder it.

The Haven. God Reveals That He Is With Paul By Signs (Acts 28:1-10).

Having landed in what turned out to be Malta Paul had an encounter with a snake which emphasised that God was protecting him from Satan. This was then followed by signs and wonders. The danger now being passed God was confirming His servant’s status and revealing that His presence was still with him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-27.html. 2013.

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