Acts Chapter Twenty-Seven

Read Acts 27:1-12


v.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.”


            We don’t know how much longer that Paul remained in Caesarea as a prisoner after his trial before Agrippa but I don’t think that Festus waited very long to rid himself of this problem.  Communication and travel between the eastern Mediterrean and Rome probably wasn’t daily but it would appear that he took advantage of the next opportunity.  Paul and the other prisoners destined for Rome were turned over to a centurion of the Augustus Band, a band that is thought to have included the Imperial Guard who protected Caesar.  History tells us that this centurion, Julius, and his family were as well known and respected as was Cornelius and his household.


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


            They enter into a ship from Adramyttium, a seaport of Mysia, the same province where Troas is located in northwestern Asia Minor.  Luke says that “WE LANUNCHED” so we know that Luke is accompanying Paul.  Luke tells us that Aristarchus from Macedonia is also with them.  Aristarchus is with Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:29) and Acts 20:4 tells us that he was from Thessalonica.  He is also mentioned in Colossians 4:10 and in Philemon.  So it appears that he may have stayed with Paul from early in the third missionary journey for much of the rest of Paul’s life.


v.3And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.”


            Luke and the Holy Spirit, as has been the custom, is going to give us another short geography lesson on the eastern Mediterrean.  The time of year is summer and most commentators will date Paul’s journey in A.D. 59 or 60.  Sidon, a seaport of Phoenicia, is 67 miles from Caesarea, a good day’s sail with a favorable wind.  When the ship stops there, Paul is allowed the freedom of the city, to visit those there that were his friends and probably brethren, and generally he was provided with freedom not normally given to prisoners.


v.4And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.”


            For years, as I studied Acts 27, I had thought that when this ship sailed “UNDER CYPRUS” that it sailed past the south side of the island, the underneath as it appears on any map that has north at the top.  But such is not the case.  The Mediterrean can be a stormy and difficult sea to navigate as we will see before this chapter is completed.  If you are using most any translation other than the KJV, it will say that they sailed “UNDER THE LEE OF CYPRUS”.  The lee side is where they were protected from the contrary winds or between Cyprus and the mainland of Asia Minor and the coasts of the provinces of Cilicia and Pampyhlia.  Again we see the precision, the attention to detail in the Word of God, even in the description of a simple journey.


v.5And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.”


            Their next stop, after sailing along the coast of Cilicia and Pampyhlia is at Myra, a city on the south coast of Lycia.


v.6And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.”


            Here, at this seaport, they change ships.  The ship from Adramyttium is going to continue along the coast of Asia Minor westward and then north into the Agean Sea and up the western coast.  They need a ship that is sailing to Italy.  The Alexandrian ships were usually much larger ships as they carried freight from Egypt to Italy on a regular basis.  They typically displaced about 1000 – 1100 tons and Josephus records that the one on which he was shipwrecked carried 600 people.  From what we study later we will observe that this one was loaded with wheat and 276 passengers.


v.77And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;”


            At certain times of the year sailing westward in this region can be difficult due to the winds.  There is a current that flows around the eastern end of Cyprus and then westward along the north coast but it makes for very slow going without favorable winds.  Cnidus is a seaport on a peninsula between the Asia Minor province of Caria and the island of Rhodes.  The wind would not allow them to take the direct route and cross just south of Greece so they sail south toward the eastern end of the island of Crete.  Salmone is a cape on the eastern end of this island called Plaka today.


v.88And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.”


            The scripture says they “HARDLY” passed the island, the map tells us that Fair Havens is about midway between the eastern and western ends of the island on the south or lee coast.  At that point the coastline turns northwest again and is no longer protected from the fierce west and northwest winds common to the Mediterrean.  Again the note the accuracy and precision of the scripture.  The city of Lasea was destroyed, lost and the ruins were only found again in 1856.  Fair Havens was its harbor and is mentioned in scripture only by Luke.


v.9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,”


            We’re told by history that ancient mariners considered the Mediterrean to be unsafe from October until about March and extremely dangerous from about the middle of September until the middle of November.  Normally ships just laid up and waited until this period was over. 

What does the time reference Luke that uses here, “THE FAST” mean?  The Day of Atonement, celebrated today as Yom Kippur is fixed by the Law of Moses on the tenth day of Tisri, the seventh month (Leviticus 16:29, Numbers 29:7); which corresponds to late September, early October on the Roman calendar.  In A.D. 59 that “FAST” fell on October 5, in A.D. 60 it fell on September 23, during the most dangerous time to be sailing in this area.  Luke uses it here to designate a time that was commonly known and used as a reference date by all Jews across the world.  Paul knows of the danger that they are facing if they continue.


v.10And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.”


            Whether by means of prophecy or by common knowledge we’re not told but Paul tells the centurion and most probably the ship’s master that if they continue there will be hurt, damage, loss of their cargo and perhaps even of their lives.


v.11  11Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.”


            Of course, the centurion is going to listen to the owner and master of the ship before he will listen to a prisoner, even one with the status of Paul.  Like most of us he hears the advice, considers the circumstances and they make a decision, but one that is somewhat of a compromise.


v.12And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.”


            The compromise is that they will not try to reach Italy at this time but will try to reach the port of Phenice further west on the south coast of Crete.  Phoenix is a location that has a much better harbor in which to spend the winter than existed at Fair Havens.  However, to reach that harbor they have to sail a little south and west, around a headland on the south coast of Crete and then north and west for about 75 miles.  When they leave the lee side of this headland they risk running into contrary winds or storms and this is exactly what happens.


Read Acts 27:13-44


v.13And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.”


            At the beginning they enjoy a soft, south wind that serves their purpose and all is going well but as is common on the open sea, that changes quickly.


v.14-1514But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. 15And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.”


            The euroclydon, or euraguilo, is a strong, cold wind out of the northeast that circles and boils in this region of the Mediterrean during the late fall and early winter.  It catches the ship and pushes it west and south.  It was so strong that the ship could not tack against it but rather had to batten down and run, letting the wind carry it.  Luke says “WE LET her DRIVE” which simply means that the wind is driving the ship; driving it toward the southwest, not the direction to the harbor of Phoenix.


v.16And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:”


            In their running before the wind, they reach the small island of Cauda or Clauda that is about 23 miles southwest of Crete.  They are about to lose their small boat and they have to rescue it.  As is true today with larger sailing vessels and motorized vessels, they carried a ship’s boat or dingy that they typically towed behind the ship.  The winds and seas made recovering this boat a very difficult job and the language used by Luke would indicate that the prisoners were put to work to help the crew accomplish this task.


v.17Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, struck sail, and so were driven.”


            When they had taken up the boat, they still feared for the ship and used either ropes or chains to wrap the hull and help protect it from breaking up in the storm.  They were afraid that they would be driven into the “QUICKSANDS”, two places on the north coast of Africa, one west of Cyrene and the other near Carthage where they would be run aground and the ship destroyed.  Consequently they took down their sail and allowed the ship to be driven by the northeast winds out into the open Mediterrean toward the west.  I can picture them with the rudders, which were actually two oars on the stern of the vessel, set so as to steer them toward the northwest as much as possible.  So the wind and sea is sending them scuttling along partially sideways.


v.18-1918And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; 19And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.”


            As is common during a major storm, one of the first things that you do when things start to get really serious is to lighten the ship.  Start putting things overboard that are not required.  The first thing to go would be the cargo.  As we noted at verse 6, this ship had a load of wheat in addition to the passengers.  As their situation became more serious they also threw the “TACKLING” overboard.  This word translated “TACKLING” is from the Greek word skeuen and refers to the ships furniture or tackle.  Everything is going overboard that is not absolutely required.


v.20And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.”


            The storm continues to drive them.  Before they are shipwrecked they will have traveled some 400-450 miles without benefit of a sail or anything to move them except the force of the wind and sea against the hull of their ship.  They didn’t know where they were, they didn’t know how much longer the ship would hold together, they didn’t know when the storm would die down and they are to the point psychologically that they are ready to give up.  But Paul is undaunted.  Jesus has promised him that he will see Rome (Acts 23:11) and his faith is secure and it has been reinforced.


v.21But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.”


            In addition to the work and strain of being driven by the storm, they have not been able to prepare food.  They have been busy fighting the sea, there was probably no way to have done any cooking, everything is probably totally soaked and would take a major effort just to have something that would be marginally edible.  Paul reminds them that he counseled that they not leave Crete and that they should have heeded his warning.  Now he counsels them further.


v.22And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.”


            Now Paul tells them that nobody will lose their lives but that the ship will be lost.  He goes on to tell them how he knows this.


v.23-24For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.”


            Just as Jesus has stood beside Paul and encouraged him in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11), just as God protected Daniel from the lions:


Daniel 6:2222My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.”


God will protect Paul as well and has sent an angel, a messenger to appear to him in the ship and strengthen his faith.  Paul is to go to Rome and nothing will keep God from keeping that promise, just as nothing will keep God from keeping all of the promises that he has made to mankind.


v.25-26Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. 26Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.”


            Not only has the angel from God assured Paul that they will all be saved when the ship is wrecked; he has told him that they will be cast up on an island.  Knowing the nature of Paul the Apostle, he has probably already preached the gospel to everyone on the ship.  Paul demonstrates his faith by his assurance and his subsequent actions.  He has the same kind of faith that he describes in Abraham when God promised that he would bear a son in his old age:


Romans 4:20-2120He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”


v.2727But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;”


            It’s been 14 days, 14 nights that they have been driven up and down the Adriatic Sea.  This area is that part of the Mediterrean that lies between Crete, Greece and Italy.  What was called the Adria or Adriatic Sea in the first century is a larger area than you will find marked on today’s maps.  The sailors start to see that they are approaching some kind of land.


v.28-29And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. 29Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.”


            As they are continuing to be pushed westward, the sailors on the ship are testing the depth of the water to try to keep from being washed up on shore which will destroy the ship.  They test or let down an sounding line and find that the water is now only 20 fathoms deep.  A fathom is about 6¾ feet so the depth here is about 125 feet as we measure depth today.  They sound again and find it is now only a little over 100 feet so they are coming up on something, probably a coast line.  It is dark, the middle of the night, so they put out anchors to keep from crashing against the shore that they cannot see and do the only thing they can do; wait for daylight.


v.3030And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,”


            Putting anchors out from the stern of the ship was easy; just throw them out and the ship will stop when it reaches the end of the ropes attached to them.  These sailors appear to be getting ready to put anchors out to the “FORESHIP” or off the bow of the ship as well; but that’s not their real purpose.  Their real purpose is to abandon the soldiers and prisoners and get themselves on whatever shore is nearby, they’ve had enough, they’re leaving.  Paul knows this.


v.31-3231Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. 32Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.”


            Paul has devised what the sailors had planned to do, he knows that their help will be required to control the ship when daylight comes and they can see where to try to bring it ashore.  He tells the centurion what is going on and he has a very simple solution to the problem.  His soldiers cut the ropes holding the small boat and it disappears into the sea.  Now the sailors have no choice but to stay on board.


v.33-34And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. 34Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.”


            Now Paul encourages them to eat.  Throughout this entire ordeal it has been 14 days since they had a regular meal.  Now they have the anchors out, within a few miles of a shore and daylight is going to bring some hard work to try to get the ship to shore.  They will need their strength.  Paul continues to tell them that none will be injured, not even a hair of anyone’s head will be taken.  This is an old proverb of safety that we find in the Old Testament I Samuel 14:45; II Samuel 14:11, I Kings 1:52 and Jesus used it in Luke 21:18.


v.35-36And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. 36Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.”


            Paul follows his own advice.  He takes bread, gives thanks for his meal just as Jesus did in Matthew 15:36 and John 6:11 and as we do today and ate.  The others followed his example.


v.37-38And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. 38And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.”


            We are here given by inspiration the population of the ship; 267 people, a large number but then this is one of the largest ships sailing in the Mediterrean at this time.

            When they had eaten enough, the Greek would indicate that everyone was completely full, completely satisfied they return to working at lightening the ship further.  That cargo which had been saved, perhaps for food, that was not thrown overboard earlier now is removed to help keep the ship afloat until they could reach the shore.


v.3939And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.”


            They don’t know where they are.  The shoreline is not one that anyone recognizes but they see a creek or, as other translations call it, a bay and determine to try to send the ship into that waterway where it will be protected.


v.4040And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoisted up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.”


            They took up the anchors; other translations indicate that they removed them the easy way by cutting them loose.  They remove the bands from the rudder or steering oars, hoist sail and start toward the shore. 


v.41  And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.”


            They run into a place where Luke says two seas met.  They run into currents pushed by the sea is trying to send them in two directions at once and prevents them from reaching the creek or bay that they are trying to reach.  The ship runs aground and is destroyed by the sea, just as Paul had told them it would be back in verse 22.  Paul stated in II Corinthians 11:25 that he had been shipwrecked three times so since that epistle was written during his third missionary journey, this now makes the fourth time.


v.42-43And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. 43But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:”


            The soldiers are afraid that their prisoners are going to escape, perhaps they feared the usual result when that happened and they would have to take their place.  But the centurion keeps his wits about him, veto’s that notion and they are not harmed.  Instead he tells them that all who can swim should go overboard and work their way to land. 


v.44  And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.”


            At this point in time, they don’t have a lot of choices left.  Some swim, others who could not get boards or other broken pieces of the ship and eventually all make their way to land safely.  No one was lost, just as Paul had assured them.