Acts 27 – 2019-10-15
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CHAPTER 27 COMMENTARY
Background of passage: “The last two chapters of Acts record the fulfillment of Paul’s great ambition to go to Rome (cf. Rom. 1:10-13, 15:22-32). Luke records the event with the crisp, ‘And so we came to Rome’ (Acts 28:14). This was politically the most powerful city of the time and Paul had been a citizen of it from birth. He had planned to go there several times but had been prevented from doing so (Rom. 1:13). He had spent the twenty-seven years or so after his conversion in the eastern parts of the empire (15:19-20) and had dreams of taking the gospel westward as far as Spain, hopefully using Rome as a base for this stage of his career (15:22-29).
“About three years before, Paul had written to the Roman church his testament of faith, the letter to the Romans, in preparation for his visit. In a time of crisis, the Lord had buttressed this dream through a vision in which he was told that he ‘must also testify in Rome’ (Acts 23:11). But he probably never imagined that he would reach Rome as a prisoner. The description of the way he got there reads like an excerpt from an exciting novel. We can feel the drama and excitement of the events through Luke’s vivid description. These two chapters also contain details typical of the record of one who was part of the travel group (this is a ‘we’ section).”
vv.1-3: “Paul has embarked upon his last journey. Two things must have lifted up his heart. One was the kindness of a stranger, for all through the voyage Julius, the Roman centurion, treated Paul with kindness and consideration, which were more than mere courtesy. He is said to have belonged to the Augustun Cohort. That may have been a special corps acting as liaison officers between the Emperor and the provinces. If so, Julius must have been a man of long experience and with an excellent military record. It may well be that when Julius and Paul stood face-to-face one brave man recognized another. The other uplifting thing was the devotion of Aristarchus. It has been suggested that there was only one way in which Aristarchus could have accompanied Paul on this last journey and that was by enrolling himself as Paul’s slave. It is probable that Aristarchus chose to act as the slave of Paul rather than be separated from him – and loyalty can go no further that that.”
vv.4-12: “It was Paul’s advice that they should winter in Fair Havens where they were. As we have seen, the ship was an Alexandrian corn ship. The owner would be rather the contractor who was bringing the cargo of corn to Rome. The centurion, being the senior officer on board, had the last word. It is significant that Paul, the prisoner under arrest, was allowed his say when counsel was being taken. But Fair Havens was not a very good harbor nor was it near any sizeable town where the winter days might be passed by the crew; so the centurion rejected Paul’s advice and took the advice of the master and the contractor to sail farther along the coast to Phoenicia where there was a more commodious harbor and a bigger town.” 
vv.13-20: “The peril of the ship was by this time desperate. These corn ships were not small. They could be as large as 140 ft long and 36 ft wide and 33 ft draught (the depth of water a ship draws especially when loaded). But in a storm they had certain grave disadvantages. They were the same at the bow as at the stern. They had no rudder like a modern ship, but were steered with two great paddles coming out from the stern on each side. They were, therefore, hard to manage. Further, they had only one mast and on that mast one great square sail, made sometimes of linen and sometimes of stitched hides. With a sail like that they could not sail into the wind.
“It can be easily seen what peril they were in. Then an amazing thing happened. Paul took command; the prisoner became the captain, for he was the only man with any courage left. The man of God is the man whose courage stands when terror invades the hearts of others.”
“We noted that this passage is unique to the exposition of God’s sovereignty amidst hardship in Acts because here the hardship comes not from the sinfulness of people but from the forces of nature and the folly of humans […]
“Indeed, Christ can still every storm, but he does not immunize Christians from problems that others in the world also face. Sometimes he miraculously delivers Christians from such situations, while at other times he gives Christians courage to endure natural and other disasters. We thank him for performing miracles but also for his sufficient grace that provides endurance in the midst of storms (2Cor 12:7-10).
“Since Paul believed so strongly in the sovereignty of God, he could look beyond the bleak situation and anticipate good to come out. A vision of sovereignty may not come to us at once because our natural tendency may be to panic in a difficult situation. If so, we must grapple with God until we come out of that situation and are able to go to the people with a word from God rather than with a public display of anxiety.
“The psalmist in Psalm 73, for example, pondered the mysterious providence of God that can permit the wicked to prosper while the righteous suffers. After a sustained reflection on his doubts, he said, ‘If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children’ (Psalm 73:15). As a result, without publicly proclaiming his doubts, he went to the sanctuary to battle it out with the Lord (73:17). There he received a vision of Gods’ sovereignty, and in the rest of the psalm he praised God. We too must grapple until we see things the way that God sees them. This will give us the confidence to be agents of hope in this hopeless world.”
vv.27-38: “The sailors planned to sail away in the dinghy, which would have been quite useless for 276 people; but Paul frustrated their plans. The ship’s company must sink or swim together. Next comes a most human and suggestive episode. Paul insisted that they should eat. He was a visionary man of God; but he was also an intensely practical man. He had not the slightest doubt that God would do his part but he also knew that they must do theirs. Paul was not one of those people who ‘were so heavenly minded that they were of no earthly use.’ He knew that hungry men are not efficient men; and so he gathered the ship’s company around him and made them eat.
“As we read the narrative, into the tempest there seems to come a strange calm. The man of God has somehow made others sure that God is in charge of things. The most useful people in the world are those who, being themselves calm, bring to others the secret of confidence. Paul was like that; and every follower of Jesus ought to be steadfast when others are in turmoil.”
vv.30-32: “Contrary to the best tradition of the sea, the sailors schemed to save themselves by lowering the dinghy (cf. vv. 16-17) under cover of lowering some more anchors from the bow. But Paul saw through the ruse, doubtless realizing that no sailor would drop anchors from the bow under such conditions. He knew to try to make shore in the morning without a full crew would be disastrous. So Paul warned Julius that all would be lost if the sailors deserted the ship. Though he had not listened to Paul earlier (cf. vv. 11-12), Julius took his advice here and ordered his men to cut the lines holding the dinghy and let it fall away.”
vv.33-38: “The storm had been so fierce that preparing food had been impossible. In this time of crisis, Paul’s great qualities of leadership came to the fore. Urging all on board to eat, he took some bread, gave thanks to God, and ate it. The others on board also ate. Then, strengthened by the food, they threw the cargo of grain overboard to give the ship a shallower draft as they beached her.
“Only at v. 37 does Luke tell us how many were on board. Probably it became necessary when distributing the food to know the exact number, and Luke himself may have had a part in supervising the distribution. Though there is some MS evidence for reading 76, there is nothing improbable in the larger and better-attested number 276. Josephus tells of making a Mediterranean crossing to Rome in A.D. 63 in a ship that had 600 on board and which was also wrecked (cf. Life 15 ).”
vv.42-44: “Once again, the fine character of this Roman centurion stands out. The soldiers wished to kill the prisoners to prevent possible escape. It is difficult to blame them, because it was Roman law that if a man escaped, his guard must undergo the penalty intended for the escaped prisoner. But the centurion stepped in and saved Paul’s life and the other prisoners with him.”
 Ajith Fernando, Acts, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) 609.
 William Barclay, Acts, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976) 181.
 William Barclay, Acts, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976) 183.
 William Barclay, Acts, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976) 184.
 Ajith Fernando, Acts, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) 618.
 William Barclay, Acts, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976) 186.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for vv.30-32.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for vv.33-38.
 William Barclay, Acts, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976) 186.
Acts 27:1-44 (ESV)
1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. 4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.
22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”
27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land.28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come.30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.
33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.
39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape.43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land,44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
- Note all the things Paul says and does that are uncharacteristic for a prisoner under guard.
- Chart Paul’s progression from prisoner to leader, and note his actions and his growing influence throughout this narrative.
- Contrast Paul’s perspective on the storm to everyone else’s. How does his perspective lead him to be a blessing to everyone on the boat? Are there any situations I am going through with non-believers, in which I can provide a uniquely gospel-centered perspective?
- What challenges or inspires me from this passage?