Paul Sails for Rome

PAUL SAILS FOR ROME (ACTS 27:1-12). Luke and Aristarchus join Paul for the journey to Rome. Paul seems to have been treated as a special case. The fact that he had two companions with him suggests he was traveling in the style of a well-to-do Roman, accompanied by two slaves. The fact that he was consulted about the details of the voyage also suggests that Paul had a special position. Festus knew Paul was innocent of the charges; he did not want to bring the wrath of Rome down on himself as Felix had.

The apostle, along with some other prisoners, was handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. He must have been an officer of long experience and with an excellent military record. Julius would treat Paul was respect and kindness throughout the journey. The rest of the prisoners were of another kind, possibly going to Rome for execution.

Luke’s record of the voyage to Rome reads like a log of a ship. The voyage with its storms and shipwreck is one of the most graphic descriptions of such an adventure in all of ancient literature. It is obviously a first-hand account of this journey.

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Julius was unable to secure passage on a ship at Caesarea going to Italy so he took his prisoners on a ship of Adramyttium, which would sail northward and then west along the coast of Asia. He would secure a larger vessel at a port in Asia. The vessel proceeded northward along the coast, stopping first at Sidon. The centurion allowed Paul unusual liberty to visit friends ashore. Putting to sea again, the ship kept to the east and then to the north of Cyprus to gain some shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. By sailing along the mainland coast, the ship was able to take advantage of the land winds, together with the the current which runs to the west. By this means, the ship made its way along Cilicia and Pamphylia and put in at Myra, a city in Lycia.

There the centurion found a ship sailing for Italy and put them on board the grain ship; one of many that sailed the Mediterranean that brought foodstuffs to Italy. Grain ships were not small ships; they could be as large as 140 feet long and 36 feet wide and of 33 feet draught. They were hard to manage since they did not have rudders, but were guided with two great paddles coming out from under the stern on each side. They had one large sail and could not sail into the wind. Their stems and sterns looked like modern bows. They did not fair well in storms.

The westerly winds made sailing difficult and slow. At Cnidus, the ship lost the advantage of the westerly current, smooth water, and land winds and its only course was to head south before the northwest wind, and sail under the shelter of Crete. At Cape Salmone on the east side of Crete, it put in at the harbor of Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.

It was now late in the sailing season, for already the Day of Atonement (October 6, A.D. 59) was past. Among the ancients, the dangerous season for sailing was defined as September 14 to November 11, after which all navigation on the open sea was discontinued. Since the grain ship was part of the government’s grain fleet, the centurion actually was the highest authority on board, outranking the ship-owner and the pilot. He called a meeting to see whether to remain at Fair Havens or proceed. Paul took part in the meeting, possibly because of his experience as a traveler.

The apostle knew the Mediterranean and its habits from boyhood on the sea near Tarsus, as well as from experience. He had written to the Corinthians, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Corinthians 11:25). His advice, however, to remain at Fair Havens was rejected. The majority voted to set sail for Phoenix, a more suitable harbor of Crete, 40 miles farther west. The centurion’s approach is a classic example of how not to determine the will of God or make a wise decision. The majority is often wrong!

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