Key Verse: “There is trouble ahead if we go on – shipwreck.” (Acts 27-10 NLT)
1-2 As soon as arrangements were complete for our sailing to Italy, Paul and a few other prisoners were placed under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, a member of an elite guard. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium that was bound for Ephesus and ports west. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, went with us.
Reflection: (Acts 27:1-2)
Aristarchus is the man who had been dragged into the theater at the beginning of the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29, 20:4; Philemon 1:24)
Reflection: (Acts 27:1-2)
Here the fourth “we” section of Acts appears, indicating Luke accompanied Paul across the Mediterranean and could, therefore, give us an eyewitness report.
The expedition was under command of Centurion Julius of the Imperial Regiment, a group particularly useful to Caesar in times of military intrigue.
Their ship sailed from Adramyttium, a harbor on the west coast of Asia Minor, just southeast of Troas.
Obviously, Paul’s party boarded the ship at Caesarea.
Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was part of the party.
Paul mentions in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24. We should probably think of him as a member of the missionary team, though surely he appeared to Julius and his troops as Paul’s servant.
It would not be unusual for a well-educated Roman citizen, even one being sent to Rome as a prisoner, to travel with his friends, perhaps even a personal physician.
Reflection: (Acts 27:1-3)
Julius, a Roman army officer, was assigned to guard Paul.
Obviously he had to remain close to Paul at all times.
Through this contact, Julius developed a respect for Paul. He gave a certain amount of freedom (Acts 27:3) and later spared his life (Acts 27:43).
How would your character look, up close and personal?
3 The next day we put in at Sidon. Julius treated Paul most decently—let him get off the ship and enjoy the hospitality of his friends there.
Reflection: (Acts 27:3)
Their first stop lay seventy nautical miles north of Caesarea, the old Phoenician port of Sidon.
While the crew took care of the cargo, Paul visited Christians in that town.
Perhaps the Sidonian church was founded by the scattered Hellenists (Acts 11:19).
Julius behaved much like Lysias in Jerusalem, a thoroughly professional officer with a tendency toward kindness when it seemed warranted.
The word needs surely refers to food and other items Paul’s party may have required on board.
On Spartan ships it was every man for himself.
We find friends interesting, since Paul had never been to Sidon.
Some suggest Christians commonly used this term of themselves (3 John 14), based on the disciple’s experience with Jesus (Luke 12:4; John 11:11; 15:13-15)
4-8 Out to sea again, we sailed north under the protection of the northeast shore of Cyprus because winds out of the west were against us, and then along the coast westward to the port of Myra. There the centurion found an Egyptian ship headed for Italy and transferred us on board. We ran into bad weather and found it impossible to stay on course. After much difficulty, we finally made it to the southern coast of the island of Crete and docked at Good Harbor (appropriate name!).
Reflection: (Acts 27:4-5)
Luke had been on enough voyages with Paul to pick up some sailor talk, so he tells us that they passed to the lee of Cyprus which means they stayed close to the long east coast of the island because of westerly winds.
Two-and-a-half years earlier, Paul’s ship had sailed with that prevailing west wind to Tyre, passing Cyprus on the south.
This time tacking would have been important (directing a ship first starboard and then port so that one does not try to sail directly into the wind); protecting the vessel by using Cyprus as a shield made a lot of sense.
Most experts agree that the voyage from Cyprus to Myra could well have taken about fifteen days and covered over four hundred nautical miles.
In the first century, Myra had become an increasingly popular port (particularly for grain ships sailing from Alexandria to Rome).
It would have been impossible to set a direct northwesterly course for that important commercial journey, so a 90-degree angle at Myra “was the most illustrious city in Lycia, with distinguished public buildings, a very large theater, and many evidences of wealth”.
Reflection: (Acts 27: 6-8)
Apparently and Alexandrian grain ship was available, so Julius transferred his part on board.
The vessel is described as “Such ships seemed to have been privately owned and leased by the Roman government. Adequate supply of grain was absolutely essential to the stability of the empire and seems to have been closely regulated by the state. Grain ships were usually quite large, sometimes in excess of a thousand tons of over a hundred feet in length” (Polhill, 517)
Regardless of its size, the ship was no match for Mediterranean weather.
With difficulty, it reached the Asiatic coastal city of Cnidus, another 130 miles from Myra. There the west winds would not allow the pilot to make port, so they headed south for the safety of Crete and hugged its southern coast until they reached Fair Havens, just about the center of the 160-mile long island.
The normal route for an Alexandrian grain ship would have taken them across the northern coast of Crete, but this ship was apparently fighting for its life already and probably thrilled to make port at Fair Havens, which does not mean left or right, north or south, but a position which offers shelter from a prevailing wind.
9-10 By this time we had lost a lot of time. We had passed the autumn equinox, so it would be stormy weather from now on through the winter, too dangerous for sailing. Paul warned, “I see only disaster ahead for cargo and ship—to say nothing of our lives!—if we put out to sea now.”
Key Reflection: (Acts 27:9-10)
Up to now Luke has given us meticulous geographical detail so that we can reconstruct the journey on an ancient map.
Now he drops in a time reference to tell us winter was rapidly approaching.
By Fast Luke refers to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) sometime toward the end of September or the beginning of October of either A.D. 59 or 60.
The ship had lost precious time struggling from Myra to Fair Havens, so it seemed impossible to cross the open sea for Italy and arrive there before winter.
Navigation in this part of the Mediterranean was always dangerous after September 14th and was considered impossible after November 11th.
Paul was a seasoned traveler in these waters, though he had not yet seen anything like the late fall Mediterranean between Crete and Italy.
Nevertheless, he felt compelled to give the others his viewpoint and predicted disaster if they sailed any farther.
We should understand that Paul did not pretend to be a nautical genius; he merely based his viewpoint on what all knowledgeable people in the Mediterranean world understood as the shipping pattern and dangers of that threatening body of water.
We wonder to whom might Paul have addressed this remark? We assume that it was not the Centurion alone. Perhaps by this time Paul’s wisdom had become obvious, so that both officers and sailors listened to him.
Key Reflection: (Acts 27:9)
Ships in ancient times had no compasses, so they navigated by the stars.
Overcast weather made sailing almost impossible and dangerous.
Sailing was doubtful in September and impossible by November.
This event occurred in October (A.D. 59).
12,11 But it was not the best harbor for staying the winter. Phoenix, a few miles further on, was more suitable. The centurion set Paul’s warning aside and let the ship captain and the shipowner talk him into trying for the next harbor.
Reflection: (Acts 27:11-12)
If this council, either formal or informal, was intended to convince the Centurion of the best decision, we can hardly fault him for following the advice of the pilot instead of the opinions of a prisoner.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul used pilot (kubernete)to decribe the gift of administration.
The pilot (or captain) would have been in charge of all navigational decisions, though in this particular case the owner of the ship happened to be on board.
We can certainly see why he would press for a tighter schedule for reasons of commercial profit.
Even he did not favor going on to Rome, but the majority decided to head for Phoenix, a larger and safer port about forty miles west.
Scholars have mused over Luke’s description at Phoenix facing both southwest and northwest,
Most agree he describes modern Phineka Bay on the west side of Cape Mouros.
We can picture it as a half-moon harbor with entrance from the west and, therefore, shelter from strong northeast winds.
Up to this point the ship’s problem had come from westerly winds, but that was about to change very quickly.
Reflection: (Acts 27:12)
Although this was not the best time to sail, the ship’s captain and the owner of the ship didn’t want to spend the winter in Lasea, or Fair Havens, so the officer took a chance.
At first the winds and weather were favorable, but then the deadly storm arose.