The Shipwreck: Part 1 of 6 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

August 24, 2016

The Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson: IV.G.1: The Shipwreck (Acts 27:1-44)

Note: Please familiarize yourself with this map, since we will refer to it many times in this commentary on chapter 27. Sorry, map did not print. I need to figure out how to do it.

This sea voyage might reasonably be called Paul’s fourth missionary journey. He was just as active when he went to Rome, he exercised the same liberty, he made as many contacts, and he witnessed just as faithfully as he had on his other journeys. Chains did not hinder him even though he made this entire journey in chains. He is the one who said that the things which happened to him work out for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12).

In chapter 27 of Acts, we have the record of his voyage to Rome. What we have here might be called the log of the ship. This chapter of Acts has been considered the finest description of a sea voyage in the ancient world that is on record today. There were certain benefits gained from this voyage, such as, Paul going to Rome, which is what God said he must do. There is nothing observable to be gained by this voyage unless the author intended for us to see the providence of God overcoming all obstacles to get the apostle to Rome. This surely is the purpose of placing the story in the Bible.

1 And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band.

Like all the other 2centurions who figure in the New Testament, 3Juliusis a good man and loyal soldier. Ramsey has suggested that “Augustus’ band” was an imperial 1cohort of couriers responsible for communications between the Caesar and his armies in the provinces. “Paul” was placed in the custody of one such army officer. His status as a Roman citizen and the fact that he was on his way to the emperor secured favorable treatment for Paul. Even though Paul was a prisoner, who knew what high-level connections he might have? Throughout the voyage, Julius treated Paul with considerable respect. Paul’s gift for making friends no doubt helped him, and as the voyage proceeded and Paul’s wisdom, foresight, and influence became obvious, the centurion became his protector.

The “other prisoners” may include some sent for trial as Roman citizens, but a higher number of those sent normally were convicted criminals to be killed in the games—either by wild animals or by gladiators—for the entertainment of the Roman public.

The “we” here reintroduces the historian as one of the company. Not that he had left the apostle from the time when he last included himself (21:18)—but the apostle was separated from him by his arrest and imprisonment until now, when they met in the ship.

There were three regular routes which a person in those days might take from Caesarea to Rome. One option was to book passage on a vessel going directly west across the Mediterranean to Italy. Another was to sail on a coastwise ship along the coast of Syria and Asia Minor and take the first large vessel sailing west to Italy. A third option was to go on board the first coastwise ship going to the Aegean Sea with the hope that Neapolis was a port of call. From Neapolis, it was possible to go overland on the Egnatian Road to Dyrrhachium. From Dyrrhachium one could cross the Adriatic Sea to Brundisium and take the Appian Road to Rome.

Apparently, the original itinerary of Julius was the third listed above. He planned to go to Adramyttium and transfer to a ship going to Neapolis. From there he would march his prisoners along the Egnatian Road and finally reached his destination. However, when he arrived at Myra, he changed his mind and transferred to a grain ship from Alexandria which was going to “Italy.”

2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched (set sail), meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one 6Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.

Caesarea was the chief seaport of Syria. Julius, unable to find a ship bound for Italy large enough to accommodate his prisoners and the soldiers under his command, shipped aboard a vessel that at least would get him started on his way. He found a ship of 4Adramyttium, a seaport of Mysia on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. This vessel was in all likelihood heading for its home port. Its course from Caesarea would take it past the various ports of the Roman province of 5Asia.

Paul’s companions were his beloved Luke and “Aristarchus of Thessalonica” (19:29; 20:4), one of the men who had accompanied him to Jerusalem with the money gift from the Gentile churches. On another occasion, he had been

seized by the crowd during the riot at Ephesus. It has been suggested that these two friends of Paul might have shipped aboard as Paul’s slaves or perhaps Luke was allowed to go as Paul’s Physician and Aristarchus as Paul’s personal assistant. Either case would have greatly enhanced Paul’s image in the eyes of the centurion. As an agent of Rome, Julius could requisition passage on ships without paying for it. A prisoner’s friends or servants would be permitted to accompany him only if his guards allowed it.

Look well at Luke and Aristarchus, Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” He said, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was . . . in prison, and he came unto me” (Matthew 25:34-40). If such an inheritance is in store for those who thus identify themselves with the least of His brethren, what an inheritance awaits Luke and Aristarchus, who ministered faithfully to the very chief of all the apostles.

Again, it will be helpful if you will follow this voyage on a map. You will notice that now they are going up the coast of Israel. In other words, they don’t sail directly out to sea from the point of departure and then arrive at Rome. The ship hovers close to the coastline and goes up the coast of Israel.
3 And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.

The vessel headed north along the coast about 60 geographical miles, to the ancient seaport of Sidon, where it dropped anchor, no doubt to do business.

Here it was that Julius extended to “Paul” the first of a number of personal kindnesses. As long as Paul was in Julius’ custody he was treated courteously. He allowed Paul to go ashore and visit “his friends” (doubtless a local church) in town and “refresh” himself. From the saints at Sidon, perhaps, Paul received the food, clothing, and other necessities for his long and possibly hazardous voyage.

A ship's primary purpose was to transport cargo; passengers, therefore, were responsible to bring their own food and other supplies. (At night they slept on deck either in the open or in tents that they brought and erected.)

4 And when we had launched (set sail) from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.
5 And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.
6 And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.

Once out to sea again and in sight of the important island of “Cyprus,” the ship ran into adverse winds. The westerly wind forced the ship to the leeward side (away from where the wind is coming from) of the island. Standing to the north, they passed Cyprus on the port side (the left-hand side of a boat when facing forward) and reached the main island again in the vicinity of “Cilicia.” Here they picked up the land wind, prevalent in the summer months, and the westward current. And in due course, the vessel dropped anchor at “Myra,” the most southerly part of Asia Minor

Here the centurion made inquiries for a vessel better suited to carry his company onward to Rome. At anchor was a ship from the Egyptian city of “Alexandria.” Egypt at that time was the granary of the Roman Empire, and this sizable vessel was loaded with wheat destined for Rome. The grain ships appear to have been as large as some of the larger merchant ships of our day. The centurion wasted no time in commandeering space aboard the ship and transferring his men and prisoners aboard.

Grain ships bound to and from Rome accounted for a vast proportion of Mediterranean trade; ships from Alexandria, Egypt, would travel northward and then westward to bear their cargoes to Rome. This journey took from as little as 40 days to over two months (with up to another month to unload the cargo in Italy), although the reverse voyage from Rome to Alexandria could take as little as 9 to 13 days. A particularly large ship could be about 180 feet long, 45 feet wide and (at their deepest) over 40 feet deep; estimates of the amount of grain imported to Rome annually range from two to four hundred thousand tons, probably over a hundred thousand tons of that being imported from Egypt. Because of the fertile Nile Valley, Egypt supplied possibly a third of Rome’s grain. Egyptian peasants who raised the grain could not always feed their families, but the grain was disbursed free to citizens of Rome to maintain stability in the heart of the Empire.

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