Summary: 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.
August 24, 2016
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts Chapters 12-28)
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 forth 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 centurions who figure in the New Testament, Juliusis a good man and loyal soldier. Ramsey has suggested that “Augustus’ band” was an imperial cohort 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 Aristarchus, 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 Adramyttium, 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 Asia.