In this chapter we are given a detailed account of Paul’s journey to Rome as a prisoner before making his appeal to Caesar.
Acts 27:1-8 The writer of Acts (generally accepted to be Luke) uses the term ‘we’ referring to the fact that he was once again one of the company travelling to Rome with Paul. The previous reference to the apostles being together was prior to Paul’s arrest and imprisonment in Acts 21:17-18.
Julius, the centurion in charge of the prisoners, was part of the Imperial Regiment probably part of an elite group that was closely associated with the Roman emperor.
Adramyttium, a port on the northeast coast of the Ægean Sea, had a number of ships sailing around the coast, though not directly to Rome, so Julius knew that the company would need to change ships during the journey.
Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, is mentioned as being one of Paul’s travelling companions. He was seized by the Ephesian mob as a man of Macedonia and Paul’s travelling companion in Acts 19:29 and as a Thessalonian accompanying the apostle from Ephesus on his voyage back through Macedonia Acts 20:4.
In order to have reached Sidon, an ancient Mediterranean port about seventy miles from Caesarea, in one day, the company must have had a favourable wind unlike the next few days when the winds were against them and the journey was very slow. The Alexandrian ship that was sailing to Italy was carrying a cargo of wheat see Acts 27:38. The Romans brought most of their wheat from the store houses in Egypt and large cargo ships were a familiar sight in the harbours along the coastline.
Acts 27:9-12 Because of unfavourable weather the ship had made a slower journey than expected. Clearly the captain had hoped to reach Italy before the stormy season. We are told that the Fast (the day of Atonement) was over so the time of year would be around the end of September/beginning of October. This was a time of year when it was accepted that navigation was considered unsafe and so a discussion ensued about the best place to stay during the winter. Paul was involved in the discussion but his advice was ignored by the centurion in favour of the advice of the pilot and the owner of the ship. This was not surprising as Julius probably thought that they had more experience of sailing than Paul. Phoenix was a major Cretan city with a good harbour providing protection for the winter.
Acts 27:13-20 The pilot and owner of the ship were tempted to set sail with a favourable wind and would have reached their destination in a few hours if the wind had remained gentle. When the wind changed it became more like a tornado and the sailors were unable to navigate the ship. They were blown off course and passed by Cauda which was 23 miles south of Crete. Although the sailors struggled to keep the ship afloat they needed to lighten the load and decided to throw much of the heavy ship’s tackle overboard. They wanted to avoid drifting on to the dangerous area of Syrtis (a long stretch of sandbank off the African coast). The sailors were fearful for their lives because their ship was rapidly becoming unseaworthy and they could no longer navigate by the sun or stars as the dark clouds and stormy seas prevented them from being seen.
Acts 27:21-26 Paul spoke confidently and gave everyone hope when he told them of the message he had received from an angel sent from God. Despite the dangerous circumstances Paul gave witness of his faith and belief in God’s purpose for him. He knew that he had to stand trial in Rome and that God would ensure that he reached Italy safely.
Acts 27:27-32 Although the ship had drifted off course it was nearing land and the crew and passengers were now some miles south of Italy. The sailors were in a high state of anxiety because they had no idea where they were and were fearful that they would run aground on rocks which would sink the ship. It was not surprising that they wanted to save their own lives by trying to escape from the ship in the lifeboat. Paul appealed to the centurion and the soldiers because they represented authority and again spoke confidently of his faith that God would bring them safely to land if they all stayed together.
Acts 27:33-38 Paul gave a good witness of his faith in God’s purpose by encouraging all 276 people on the ship to eat in order to give them strength to help them reach land safely. Breaking bread and giving thanks was a common practice by now for all those who professed a belief in Jesus. With renewed strength and confidence the crew made a last effort to lighten the ship by throwing all the cargo overboard.
Acts 27:39-44 With daylight the sailors were able to see that the sandy bay ahead was a good place to run the ship aground. In order to do this they needed to cut away the anchors so that the ship could sail toward the shore using both wind and tide to help them. By now Paul must have given everyone confidence that they would reach land safely despite the fact that the ship was beginning to break up under the strength of the waves. Paul must have made quite an impression on Julius, the centurion, because he wouldn’t allow the soldiers to kill any of the prisoners as they escaped from the battered ship. It was common practice for Roman soldiers to kill prisoners if there was any chance of them escaping. If a Roman soldier lost his prisoners then he could be sentenced to death for neglecting his duty. Paul had shown his faith and confidence in God when he told everyone ‘not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed (Acts 27:22).