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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 27

 

 

Verse 1

VII. PAUL IN ROUTE FOR ROME—AT ROME, Acts 27:1; Acts 28:31.

1. In the Adramyttine ship to Myra, Acts 27:1-5.

1. And—No packet ships or steamers in this, the palmy time of imperial Rome, crossed the sea at regular intervals, but the waters had been cleared of pirates, and from various directions a plentiful current of commerce tended to the Roman capital. Even consuls and emperors were obliged in crossing the sea to avail themselves of the merchant vessels, which were of a size hardly inferior to the same class of ships at the present day.

Other prisoners—From all the provinces appellants and accused parties were constantly going to the imperial bar; some were of honourable character; but from the political and domestic troubles of Palestine, Paul, with his faithful Luke and Aristarchus, probably found himself in an unsympathizing crowd of insurgents, robbers, and sicarii.

Julius… Augustus’ band—It has been plausibly conjectured that this band was a detachment from the pretorian guards, attached to the person of the governor at Cesarea, and thence Julius is identified with the Julius Priscus who, according to Tacitus, rose from his present rank of centurion to be pretorian prefect at Rome. When Paul pleaded before Agrippa no one of the military officers lower than chiliarch seems to have been present; but the centurion could hardly have been unaware of that occasion, or unknowing that Paul was no ordinary prisoner. He may even have formed the acquaintance of Paul during the two years of his imprisonment. Hence, from the first he receives marked deference from Julius, and finally becomes virtually commander of the entire body.


Verse 2

2. Adramyttium—A trading town of some note in Mysia, near the Isle of Lesbos. The ship was, doubtless, merely engaged in the coasting trade.

We launched—According to Mr. Lewin’s reckoning it was on the twenty-first of August, in the year of our Lord 60, when Paul’s ship departed from Cesarea. The winds at that date are generally from the west, but not violent, and the trip to Sidon was doubtless prosperous.

The first intention probably was that Paul and his party should land at Adramyttium, and take the overland route across Northern Greece, by the Egnatian way, through Neapolis, Philippi, and the other Macedonian towns, and thence crossing the Adriatic to Brandusium, the regular route to Rome. (See note on Acts 17:14-34.) The meeting an Alexandrian ship at Myra changed this plan disastrously.

One Aristarchus—See note on Acts 19:29.


Verse 3

3. Sidon—See note on Matthew 11:21. A sail of sixty-seven miles.


Verse 4

4. Under Cyprus—The premonitions of their hazardous voyage now begin to appear. From Sidon to Myra would, in the usual course, have Cyprus on the right hand, but so powerful is the west wind that they are glad to steer between Cyprus and the shore. This brings the island between the wind and the ship, enabling them to sail under protection of the Cyprian high lands; or, as the seamen say, “in the lee” of the island.


Verse 5

5. Sailed over—Sailed through. As they rounded the island a favouring breeze would, according to the usual fact, come from the southeastern coast of Asia Minor. But a special aid was derived from a strong coast current which here sets in westwardly, bearing the ship rapidly along.

Myra—Entering a river whose channel had been broadened into a port, rendered securer for ships by a cross chain, and ascending the stream two miles and a half, they found the city of Myra, the metropolis of Lycia, situated upon an eminence, and overlooking a broad plain. So late as the twelfth century this city was the great port of the Adriatic, as Constantinople was of the AEgean. It is now a desolation. See Frontispiece Map.


Verse 6

2. From Myra to Fair Havens, Acts 27:6-12.

6. A ship of Alexandria—Egypt, with her fertile Nile-valley, was at this time the wheat field of Rome. During the navigable months her ships laden with merchandises in multitudes plied their merry way to the great metropolis. Their shortest route was along the coast of Africa until they neared the Syrtes, and then a northwest line. But when the autumnal west winds begin to grow powerful, they take the Syrian coast and avail themselves of the powerful western current along the shores of Asia Minor. Dr. Hackett has shown with great clearness that the season of Paul’s arrival at Myra would be the very height of the wheat trade from Egypt, when vessels from Alexandria would be surest found.

Into Italy— The direct route would have been past Rhodes, westward along south of Peloponnesus, through the straits of Messina to Puteoli.


Verse 7

7. Slowly… many days—As the distance from Myra to Cnidus is but one hundred and thirty miles, a single day’s prosperous sail, it is clear they had a strong west wind in their face. Such winds, usually commencing in August, sweep the Mediterranean for forty days.

The wind not suffering us—Not permitting a continuance of their direct western course. There is no intimation that they attempted to enter the port of Cnidus. But this promontory, forming the southwest corner of Asia Minor, having been passed, both the favouring current and the land breezes are lost, and they emerge into the full force of a mastering northwest wind.

Under Crete— They were driven almost directly south, yet, happily, so that they were able to pass Salmone and come under the protection of the southern shore of Crete. The island broke the force of the terrible northwester.


Verse 8

8. The Fair Havens—After arriving at the southern shore of Crete, the first port, and that an indifferent one. From it, further west about five miles, was the Cape of Matala, projecting far into the sea, which would have to be passed with much danger in any farther progress. Lasea has lately been identified as the proper town of which Fair Havens is the port. (See chart.)


Verse 9

9. Much time—Delaying some days, waiting, perhaps, for a slack of the storm; visiting Lasea and the interior, they found, finally, that it was a serious question whether to winter there or not.

Dangerous… fast was… past—The fast of the great day of Atonement, which fell this year on the twenty-third day of September, the autumn equinox. The period of safe navigation ends here in October and begins in March.

Paul admonished— It seems a council was called, of which Paul was accepted as a member. He gave advice to remain in spite of the defects of the harbour.


Verse 10

10. I perceive—Not by revelation, as in Acts 27:23, but by natural perception and inference.

Lives—All escaped, so that Paul speaks not here as a prophet.


Verse 11

11. Centurion—As responsible to the government for the safety of the citizens, Julius had the power to decide.

Master—The pilot or controller of the matter of the navigation, hence properly the ship’s captain.

Owner—The owner sailed in his own ship, having the master as a professional seaman, accepting his decisions in nautical questions. Julius naturally preferred the judgment of men so experienced in navigation to that of a landsman like Paul.


Verse 12

12. Commodious—Well situated. The harbour was open to the winds of half the horizon so far as its main land was concerned; but nevertheless it was so fenced about with reefs and small islands as to be rather safer than the putting again to sea.

More part advised—After the council was over the general voice confirmed the centurion’s decision.

To Phenice—Port Phoenix, an excellent harbour, now called Lutro, on the southern shore of Crete near its western end.

Lieth—The Greek word requires looketh, which gives a very different view of the position of Phoenix. By the annexed chart it will be seen that the harbour of Lutro opens to the east. How then could Luke, or rather the sailors whose report he is giving, say that Lutro looks toward the southwest and northwest winds? For such is the obvious translation. If the sailors meant to say that the harbour opened so as to expose ships to winds from the southwest and northwest, it will be seen at once that it would be a worse harbour than Fair Haven, as exposing them to the very blasts they were trying to escape. Another translation, therefore, would be looking according to (in the direction with) the southwest and northwest winds. Or the sailors here may have followed their own habit of speaking from their own standpoint. From the ship their look into the harbour was into the face of the southwest and northwest wind, that is, they would enter it from an easterly direction, and find themselves protected from the two winds mentioned, which was precisely what they needed.

That Lutro is the port intended is beyond a doubt. On the annexed chart Phoenix is also called Anapolis, or upper town, while, in fact, Lutro is also called Katapolis or lower town. “The coexistence of the names Phineka, Aradhena, and Anapolis on the modern chart in immediate neighbourhood establishes the point above a doubt. Moreover, Strabo says that Phoenix is the narrowest part of Crete, which is precisely true of Lutro.”—Conybeare and Howson.

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Verse 13

The EuroclydonClaudaLightening Shipthe Despair, Acts 27:13-20.

13. South wind blew—The temptation came at the dangerous moment. If they could only get round Cape Matala, five miles distance, this gentle south wind would send them in precisely the right direction, and Phoenix was then but thirty miles farther. (See the chart on opposite page.)

Their purpose—Of securely attaining Port Phoenix. The phrase expresses full confidence up to the moment of the typhonic blast.

Close by Crete—As the south wind pressed them close to the shore.


Verse 14

14. A tempestuous wind—Literally, a typhonic wind. The word typhonic indicates a tornado with a whirl. The Greek for arose is flung. The typhonic blast flung down instantly from Mount Ida, from which the ship lying southwest would be directly smitten.

Euroclydon—a well known sort of tornado called by Mediterranean seamen a levanter, from the French name of the sea, Levant. It is a Greek compound, euros, east wind, and clydon, broad-wave, an east wind broad-swell. But a reading of some authority is euru-aquilo, a northeaster. This precisely describes the actual direction of the tornado. Alford plausibly suggests that Euruaquilo is the true (Latin) name, and Euroclydon its popular corruption among the Greek sailors.

Against it—Is generally referred to the ship, but more probably refers to Crete, and signifies adown it. The typhoon rushed from the summit of Ida, adown the isle, and swept sea and ship.


Verse 15

15. Caught—Seized and taken possession of by the wind.

Bear up— Literally, could not directly eye the wind. In the bows of ancient ships were painted two eyes, so as to give the look of a living thing. The ship could not face the wind; the blast whirled it about, and turned its bow southwest, the direction of the wind, and compelled it rapidly to scud to the south of Clauda, by the shelter of which it was for the moment fortunately covered.

Let her drive—Let her drift in the straight line of the blast.


Verse 16

16. Running under—Under the shelter of Clauda. (See chart.)

The boat—The small boat, which had hitherto been towed at the stern. It was an important means of escape in shipwreck, and the sailors availed themselves of the smooth waters in the lee of Clauda to haul it in. This was difficult, as the boat had probably swamped, and was full of water.


Verse 17

17. Helps—Props placed under loosened timbers to prevent their falling. Or, more properly, the helps may refer to the materials used for undergirding, as follows.

Undergirding—Powerful ropes were wound around the loosening ship, as a person draws a girdle around the waist, in order to bind its loosening timbers fast and prevent its going to pieces. This was an ancient practice, and cables were anciently carried on board as the helps prepared for emergencies. It is sometimes practised in modern times on small craft, and is called “frapping the ship.”

Quicksands—The immense sandbanks on the northern coast of Africa, called on the map Syrtes. These were fatal to ships, and a persistence in its southwest course would have carried the present ship directly thither.

Strake sail—Strake, old English for struck. Ancient ships had from one to three masts. On the principal mast was the large square mainsail, which with the others was now lowered, and they drifted with naked masts.

Driven—By the northeaster.


Verse 18

18. Lightened the ship—Casting over whatever could be spared, but saving the ship’s rigging and wheat cargo.


Verse 19

19. Third day—After leaving Fair Havens.

Own hands—The passengers, including Luke himself.

Tackling—At this second lightening they threw over the ship’s rigging.


Verse 20

20. Neither sun nor stars—It was cloudy, rainy, windy; gray by day, and a black darkness by night. No mariner’s compass existed, and all the signs by which they could know their locality or direction were covered from sight.

No small tempest—A perpetual rain.

All hope—They were floating as in a wooden trough, they knew not where or whither, at the mercy of the hurricane. But when despair of all human aid has full possession, the hardest heart may look for Divine aid, and humbly recognise it when it comes.


Verse 21

21. Long abstinence—Yet not total abstinence. Cooking had been impossible or difficult, and anxiety had destroyed appetite.

Stood forth— Assuming even in his fetters to make a regular and authoritative address. Before starvation and hopelessness had subdued this motley company they might hardly have allowed him the assumption.

Should have hearkened— We do not quite agree with Dr. Hackett that there is no “reproach,” or rather reproof, here. The apostle does not mean, indeed, that they ought to have obeyed him as an apostle, but that so good were the reasons for obeying his counsel they ought to have realized them. It was an inexcusable misdoing.

Gained—incurred.

Harm—Rather, rebuke, condemnation for folly. The same as used in Acts 27:10 for hurt. It was fitting that the apostle should humble his unruly audience in order that a mastery over them should be attained for future use, (Acts 27:31; Acts 27:43.) The rebuke fell upon the majority, (Acts 27:12,) more on the ship’s captain and ship’s owner, but most decisively upon Julius, (Acts 27:11.)


Verses 21-26

The Apostles’ rebuke and cheer, Acts 27:21-26.

To the general prevalence of total despair there is one exception. Paul could calmly face the storm, since he knew that He who ruled the storm had promised that he should face the emperor. Having withheld himself in serenity until the men had given up all hope, he now speaks to them words both of humiliation for the past and cheer for the future.


Verse 22

22. Life… ship—There were three clear points, as from a dark background in the future, revealed to Paul: the safety of every life, the loss of the ship, and the falling upon some unknown island. We thus see how partial and fragmentary even a true prophetic foresight may be. Besides these three points Paul was entirely uninformed. Little did this company now sorrow for the ship if only dear life is spared.


Verse 23

23. This night—The previous night, which by Jewish reckoning belonged to the day following.

The angel—An angel of God.

God—The great body of Paul’s audience were pagans. There were Alexandrians, Egyptian worshippers of Osiris, probably Greeks, worshippers of Zeus, and Romans, worshippers of Jupiter. Probably each, as in Jonah’s ship, called upon his god. And now comes a moment when, as with Egypt of old, the supremacy of Jehovah the true God must manifest itself over nature and life.

Whose I am—Not only as by him created, but as to him sacredly consecrated.

Serve—With exclusive devotion.


Verse 24

24. Before Cesar—This expectation, so full of terror with others, has become an object of hope and promise with Paul.

God hath given thee— To his faithful servant God had graciously made a blessed gift, a gracious present, namely, two hundred and seventy-six human lives. They are given to understand, in a humbling way again, by Paul, that it is from no merit of their own, nor from the power of any pagan gods, but purely from goodness to him and grace to them from the only true God. Herein Paul is wonderfully made a type of Him to whose sole merit the salvation of our souls is granted, so that he has the blessed right to save on his own terms those for whom he has lived and died. Reasonably do some commentators conjecture that this great boon was granted to Paul in answer to earnest intercessory prayer. Yet does God so limit the concession as that there shall, beyond this one thing, be no disturbance of the ordinary course of things, nor shall there be any visible variation of the operations of nature. Winds and waves shall all visibly exert their regular measures and forces; human thoughts and wills shall apparently act according to normal laws, yet the event predicted will at last result.


Verse 26

26. Certain island—The two discriminations are carefully stated. They were not to sail prosperously, but to lose their ship; they were not to reach Italy, but strand on some island. The fulfilment of these signs would be proof of the fulfilment of the promise of preservation of lives. So may lesser lead to greater faith.


Verse 27

27. Fourteenth night—After their start from Fair Havens, Acts 27:13.

In Adria—The Adriatic sea. Its earlier and narrower meaning was limited to the sea between Italy and Greece, now called the Gulf of Venice. Its later and large meaning includes the entire basin limited by Italy, Greece, Sicily, Crete, and Africa. It was from taking the word in its narrower meaning that earlier commentators have endeavoured to find the Melita of this shipwreck in the Gulf of Venice.

Midnight—When signs of land could only be heard, not seen.

Deemed—Conjectured.

Country—Land. They conjectured this probably as they were nearing what is now called St. Paul’s Bay from hearing the dash of breakers upon Point Koura.


Verses 27-32

The Soundings and Shallowsthe attempted Desertion by the Sailors, Acts 27:27-32.

The close of the narrative approaches. Here, Acts 27:27, it is midnight, Acts 27:33 it is dawning day, Acts 27:39 it is day.


Verse 28

28. Sounded—Dropped the long line into the water with a leaden sinker at its end to ascertain its depth.

Twenty fathoms—One hundred and twenty feet. The rapid decrease of depth was alarming. Before Paul’s speech the danger was from the depths, after it from the shallows.


Verse 29

29. Four anchors—The ancient anchors, being lighter than the modern, were used in large numbers, from four to eight in a ship, both at bow and at stern. These anchors were flung from the stern, because if the bow were fast and the stern loose the waves might whirl the stern upon rocks. The modern Greek caiques are often anchored at stern.

Wished for the day— Well they might. In total darkness, beaten by the rain, chilled by the blasts, with the breakers resounding in their ears, and the seas threatening at any moment to dash their shattered craft in pieces! These were hours of horror.


Verse 30

30. Shipmen—The sailors now have formed a plot to abandon the ship and its occupants to their fate. Under pretence of fastening the bow by letting out anchors, they were letting down the small boat into the sea. As this base project could be formed and executed in the dark, so Paul’s eye could detect it in the dark.


Verse 31

31. To the centurion and to the soldiers—Paul is now about as good as commander in chief. The sailors would desert, and he directs centurion and soldiers to arrest them.

Ye cannot be saved—The promise of God only engaged to them the power of being saved if they would. It neither pledged that they should not be lost if they disused or misused the means, nor did it even pledge that they should use the means. The condition of the right action on their part was implied. Not so acting, their destruction would have been no breach of God’s promise.


Verse 32

32. Cut off the ropes—The soldiers severed the ropes, the boat drifted into the sea, and the sailors were fast in the ship. However impressive had been the assurances of safety given by Paul, the sailors trusted more to their own villainy than to the promise of God. The surface of a depraved nature may thus be touched while its depths remain unchanged. The soldiers will soon prove worse than the sailors.


Verses 32-38

Early breakfast and renewed cheer, Acts 27:33-38.

For the third time Paul takes command. With the natural ascendency of strong character in emergencies he secures the prompt obedience of every class and rank. He sees, while the day is breaking, that for the enterprise of passing through the shipwreck and escape, the reinvigoration of exhausted nature by food is necessary.


Verse 33

33. Nothing—No regular meal.


Verse 34

34. Not a hair fall—Little as the sailors deserved such mercy, and little worthy as the soldiers would prove.


Verse 35

35. Gave thanks—Not asking these heathen for the privilege of saying grace, he establishes a Christian family ordinance on pagan shipboard. Happy is it when strong character exercises its power for good. Too often it is the case that in evil company the Christian easily allows the wicked power to rule. In his bright serenity Paul makes no reproving allusion to the inhuman treachery of the sailors just before occurring.

Began to eat— Inducing them by his example.


Verse 36

36. Of good cheer—Revived hope revived the appetite.

Meat—Food.


Verse 37

37. All—Now that their rescue commences, Luke proceeds to give the census of the rescued.

Souls—The word properly designates man’s spiritual or immaterial personality. The reason why both the English and Greek terms are often used to designate the entire person is rightly given by the Greek philosopher, Plutarch: “We are accustomed to designate a man as soul and head from his most important part.”


Verse 38

38. Eaten enough—So as to have full strength for the task.

Wheat—They threw over the grain, as aware that the ship must go to pieces, and that the rescue of life would be easier by lessening the weight of the ship.


Verse 39

39. Knew not the land—From this harbour even a native Maltese would probably not have recognised the spot.

Creek—Or indentation into the shore.


Verses 39-44

Stranding, wreck, and escape, Acts 27:39-44.

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Broad day reveals an unknown shore, but a narrow inlet, or creek with a beach, tempts them to run from the open sea into its slender channel for safety. In their effort to accomplish this they push the prow of the ship into a mud bank, where it remains immovably fixed. The rush of two counter currents striking the stem breaks the stern half of the ship in pieces, but upon the front half the whole company find a footing long enough to secure the escape of every individual safe to shore.


Verse 40

40. Loosed the rudder bands—The modern rudder, suspended by hinges, and swayed with a single handle, was unknown to the ancients. Their rudders were rather paddles, one on each side of the stern, which were bound up when they let the ship drift, and now loosed again when they purposed to steer to their point.

Mainsail—The word αρτεμων has been a very doubtful one among scholars. But sailors say that none but the foresail, a small sail at the bow, would serve the present purpose of pulling the ship to the given point. The three performances of taking up anchors, letting down rudders, and hoisting foresail, were doubtless achieved simultaneously and rapidly.


Verse 41

41. Place where two seas metτοπον διθαλασσον; literally, if we may coin a parallel term, a two-seaed place. The strait which divides Salmonetta from the mainland unites the outer sea with the inner St. Paul’s Bay. As the seamen sailed in from the east they mistook the just visible part of the mouth of the strait for a bay, and, thrusting their prow into the clayey shore, their stern took the force of the double-sea, still agitated by the storm.


Verse 42

42. Soldiers’ counsel—As each man must now save himself, the soldiers found it necessary each to separate himself from his prisoner. Yet if one escaped, his keeper was answerable with his life. Hence, a plot was formed to massacre the whole.


Verse 43

43. Willing—Determining.

To save Paul—It illustrates how unimpressible this company was, that of all the military none revolted from murdering their benefactor save Julius. He, probably, not only appreciated the apostle, but felt competent safely to assume the responsibility of risking the escape of the prisoners. And thus a second time we have the phenomenon of wicked men saved by a merit not their own.

They which could swim— Whether prisoners or not. The whole were now divided into two parts, the able to swim and the not able. The first go first, and the last remain until they see the result.


Verse 44

44. Some on boards—Or planks found about the ship.

Broken pieces— The italics show that the translators supply words not in the Greek. Some understand chests, barrels, tables, and other articles of furniture in the ship. But all those had probably long since been thrown overboard. More probably the translators correctly understand it of fragments of the wrecked ship.

All safe—And so the three points of Paul’s prediction were accomplished; they were wrecked upon an island, the ship was lost, and the lives were saved. (Note Acts 27:22.) Unimpressible as this body of men appear, they doubtless had their solemn reflections at recollecting these scenes and the supernatural character of this apostle. And it was in this way that Christianity made its deep impression on the age, and gathered a Church of heroic sanctity from out the world.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-27.html. 1874-1909.

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