Once again, Luke begins the chapter speaking in the first person plural, indicating that he was with Paul all the way to Rome as they set sail for Italy. The centurion, Julius, that Paul and the other prisoners were delivered to is said to have been “of the Augustan Cohort.” A cohort generally consisted of six hundred men under the command of six centurions. However, auxiliary forces of the cohort could push the numbers up to a thousand men. The cohorts were given names – this one likely given the name for the imperially dedicated regiment founded by the emperor, Augustus, who reigned from 27 BC to 14 AD.
Don’t get confused by verse 2’s statement “embarking in a ship of Adramyttium.” The ship was from Adramyttium (the Latin name for Edremit), an ancient port city of Mysia in the Roman province of Asia Minor (see first map), near present-day Edremit – Turkey. But it was carrying them from their starting point in Caesarea – the next stop being Sidon (see second map). Aristarchus, mentioned as accompanying them in the same verse, is one of the disciples that was dragged into the theater during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29).
Verse 9’s “the Fast” refers to the Day of Atonement, which would have been in October. From this time to about April, Meditteranean sailing is (and was) most dangerous; and Paul was already warning them that the voyage would result in “injury and much loss” (verse 10). But the centurion sided with the captain and the rest of the crew, who judged the harbor at Fair Havens to be unsuitable for the winter. So they decided to try to make it to “Phoenix, a harbor of Crete,” (probably present day Phineka Bay) to spend the winter. This was, after all, a 2,000 mile voyage to Rome.
When a northeaster – a fearsome storm – arrived, it tossed them about so badly that they began jettisoning cargo and tossing the ship’s “tackle” overboard (the tackle may have been the beam supporting the ship’s mainsail). Most had lost hope when Paul told them that “an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship” had appeared and told him not to be afraid – that he must stand before Caesar, so they would all be spared. But, he told them, they would have to run the ship aground on “some island” (verse 26).
The mention of the men taking a “sounding” refers to measuring the depth of the water by use of a “sounding line.” When they found that they were nearing land, the sailors (afraid of the ship hitting rocks) were lowering boats to abandon ship under the pretense of laying anchors. But Paul warned the centurion, saying that they would not make it if the sailors left the ship. So the soldiers cut the boats loose from the ship to prevent escape.
Having conserved all they could, the fourteenth day without having eaten approached, and Paul urged them all to eat, in order to gather their strength. He did so himself, giving thanks to God; and they were encouraged, and all ate some. There were 276 aboard (verse 27) – about the right amount for the vessel to have been a large grain ship , meaning it was probably not worthy of such a voyage.
Verses 39-44 detail the horrific shipwreck on the reefs, and the escape to land that all of them made safely, hanging on to the wreckage. Verses 42-43 tell us that the soldiers had planned to kill the prisoners, so that none could escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, prevented them. God had, as always, made good on his promise to save them.
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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