by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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Paul Sails for Rome; The Storm; The Shipwreck (Acts 27:1–12; 13-26, 27-44)

Paul Sails for Rome; The Storm; The Shipwreck (Acts 27:1–12; 13-26, 27-44)

From command to cheerful saint (Acts 27:1-44)

(1) When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. (2) And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. (3) The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care. (4) From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. (5) When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. (6) There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it. (7) When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; (8) and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

(9) When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, (10) and said to them, "Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." (11) But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. (12) Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. (13) When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.

(14) But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; (15) and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. (16) Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship's boat under control. (17) After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. (18) The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; (19) and on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. (20) Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned. (21) When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. (22) Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. (23) For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, (24) saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' (25) Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. (26) But we must run aground on a certain island."

(27) But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. (28) They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. (29) Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. (30) But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, (31) Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved." (32) Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it fall away.

(33) Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. (34) Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish." (35) Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. (36) All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. (37) All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. (38) When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea.

(39) When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. (40) And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. (41) But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. (42) The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; (43) but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, (44) and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.

  A. The command given to Julius the centurion (Acts 27:1–2): Paul and some other prisoners are handed over to him.
B. The compassion shown by Julius the centurion (Acts 27:3): Paul is treated very kindly by Julius and is allowed to visit his friends at Sidon.
II. PHASE TWO: FROM SIDON TO MYRA (Acts 27:4–6): The prisoners are transferred to an Egyptian ship headed for Italy.
III. PHASE THREE: FROM MYRA TO FAIR HAVENS (Acts 27:7–12): Paul warns the centurion not to continue the voyage.
  A. The reason for Paul's warning (Acts 27:7–10): He knows it is the season for storms on the Mediterranean.
B. The rejection of Paul's warning (Acts 27:11–12): The ship's captain and owner determine that the voyage will continue.
  A. The fearful storm (Acts 27:13–20)
    1. The name for this storm (Acts 27:13–14): It is called a "northeaster" and refers to a treacherous wind of typhoon strength.
2. The nature of this storm (Acts 27:15–20): The wind is so strong and the waves so high that eventually all hope for survival is gone.
  B. The cheerful saint (Acts 27:21–44): Paul stands before the terrified passengers, assuring them concerning what God had told him on the previous night:
    1. The foretelling (Acts 27:21–38)
      a. God says they will all be shipwrecked on an island Acts (27:21–32).
b. God says not one person will lose his life, so all should eat and take courage (Acts 27:33–38).
    2. The fulfilling (Acts 27:39–44)
      a. Shipwreck (Acts 27:39–44a)
        (1) The ship runs aground and begins to fall apart (Acts 27:39–41).
(2) The soldiers want to kill the prisoners to make sure none of them escape, but the commanding officer forbids it in order to save Paul's life (Acts 27:42–44a).
      b. Safety (Acts 27:44b): All make it safely to shore. [ref]

(Click on image for magnified view | source)

The Journey Motif: God Is In The Details
John Polhill:
In the final two chapters of Acts, all the major themes of the book come together. Not least among these is the journey motif. From the time the church at Antioch first commissioned Paul and Barnabas, the apostle had constantly been depicted as traveling -- to Cyprus, the towns of southern Galatia, to Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Ephesus. Three times he made the return trip to Jerusalem. Now he departed Palestine, seemingly for the last time, bound for the capital of the empire and his appearance before Caesar. He and his companions traveled this time by sea. Paul had traveled by sea before, and Luke often depicted these voyages in extensive detail, naming ports and landmarks and even time spent in sailing. This voyage is different. It is told with considerably more detail, occupying three-fourths of the total text of the last two chapters (Acts 27:1–28:16). [ref]
Not only do the travel details help to substantiate Luke's reliabiblity as a careful historian, but they also provide a glimpse of God's providential care for both the messenger and the message. - AC21DOJ

Why So Many Details?
Stanley D. Toussaint:
Why did Luke go into such lengthy detail about the voyage from Caesarea to Rome? There is no easy answer.
  1. It may simply be a device to emphasize Paul’s journey to and his arrival at Rome. As the Gospel writers stressed the Lord’s final approach to Jerusalem and His last days there to heighten the impact of His death and resurrection, so Luke climaxed his Luke-Acts work with the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom to Gentiles in the Roman capital.
  2. Luke may have used the example of great ancient epics of his day which commonly employed the theme of a storm and shipwreck. This would parallel the modern use of a chase scene in a movie or television drama. The problem with this view is a simple one. How does this contribute to Luke’s purpose in writing? Simply following the example of ancient epics would not really add to the book.
  3. Possibly the writer desired to show a parallel with Jonah and his storm (Jonah 1:4–15). After Jonah lived through the storm by miraculous means he preached to a large Gentile capital city. The comparison with Paul is obvious.
  4. The purpose of this account is to show God’s sovereign protection and direction in Paul’s ministry. It was God’s will for the apostle to minister the gospel in Rome.
  5. It was Luke’s intention to show Paul’s leadership and thereby to underscore the fact that God’s program had become primarily Gentile and therefore Paul was God’s man of the hour. In the account Paul certainly does come off as the one who is in control even in the spheres of ocean travel and shipwreck.
  6. Some think the story is something of an allegory. In the Old Testament the sea was portrayed as an enemy; so here it figures opposition to the spread of the gospel. In spite of all antagonism the good news of the kingdom will survive and will ultimately reach its predetermined goal. But this is so allegorical it is a highly improbable view.
The answer to the question of Luke’s great emphasis on the journey to Rome may be a combination of answers 1, 3, 4, and 5, though it is difficult to be dogmatic. [ref]
  • (Acts 27:1) As soon as arrangements were complete for our sailing to Italy, Paul and a few other prisoners were placed under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, a member of an elite guard (The Message).
    ■ Bruce: "The 'we' narrative is now resumed, after being broken off at [Acts 21:18]. We have no information about Luke's movements during the two intervening years, but it would be safe to think of him as spending much of the time in or around Caesarea (where Paul was kept in custody) and making good use of his opportunities of gathering information about the early days of the Christian movement. Once Paul had appealed to Caesar, the governor was bound to send him to Rome; the first opportunity was therefore seized to have him taken there under escort." [ref]
    ■ Keener:
    Governors at times assigned special duties to centurions and a handful of their soldiers with them. In custody, persons of status were sometimes guarded by centurions; on occasion they even became friends. Given his name, "Julius" may be a Roman citizen, assigned to guard Paul the citizen, though Julius's soldiers may still be noncitizen auxiliaries. "Augustan" (NASB, NRSV) was often an honorary term; multiple legions and presumably cohorts carried this title, and one cohort known in Syria-Palestine from this period bore that name. Centurions could be moved around. 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 for the entertainment of the Roman public. [ref]
  • (Acts 27:2) So begins Luke's chronicle of Paul's sea voyage to Rome. Marshall: "The story of Paul's journey gives a fascinating glimpse into ancient sea travel. In general, ships clung to the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and avoided sailing during the winter. The ship on which the party travelled at first came from Adramyttium, a port well up the west coast of Asia Minor, not far from Troas, and it was probably returning to its home port, calling at other places on the coast of Asia on the way; it would be the centurion's hope that at one of these places the party would be able to transfer to a ship going to Italy." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:2) Arnold: "Aristarchus ... was among the delegates accompanying Paul with the collection for the Jerusalem believers. Apparently he is the only one of the group who remains with Paul in Caesarea for the two years of his imprisonment and will continue to minister to Paul through his own Roman imprisonment. The text does not say that Aristarchus is also a prisoner at this time, but for some unknown reason (but probably related to his commitment to the gospel) he will be imprisoned in Rome (Col. 4:10)." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:3) It is while "in Sidon, the ship’s first port of call after leaving Caesarea" [ref] that the centurion allows Paul to visit with friends.
    ■ Bruce: "Here Paul received the first of several recorded kindnesses at the hand of Julius. (It is remarkable how uniformly centurions receive a favorable portrayal in the New Testament.) In Sidon there was a Christian community, founded probably during the persecution and dispersion that followed the death of Stephen (Acts 11:19). Paul received permission to go ashore and visit members of this community (for so we should certainly understand 'his friends') and enjoy all the attention that their Christian love could suggest while the ship was in harbor. It may be assumed that a soldier was detailed to accompany him." [ref]
    ■ Keener: "Loading and unloading cargo could take days (or longer) at a busy port, so passengers often went ashore. Ships' primary purpose was to transport cargo; passengers thus were responsible to bring their own food and other supplies. (At night they slept on deck either in the open or in tents that they brought and erected.) Soldiers normally would need to requisition provisions for themselves and their prisoners from locals, so Paul's friends' voluntary support (cf. Acts 24:23) exempts Julius from this unpleasant task here. Although it could be politically dangerous to display loyalty to a prisoner, ancients valued true friendship that remained loyal no matter what one's circumstances (cf. also Acts 28:13–15)." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:4-8) Toussaint: "The information in these verses points up the difficulty of sailing from east to west in the Mediterranean Sea. The prevailing winds blew from the west so the ships would sail to the east of Cyprus and proceed with difficulty along the southwest coast of Asia Minor and to the east of Crete. When Paul sailed in the opposite direction, the ship took a more direct route (Acts 21:1-3)." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:6) It is in Myra that the commanding officer finds an Egyptian ship from Alexandria that is bound for Italy, and he puts Paul, Luke, and the others on board (see NLT). Toussaint: "This was a grain ship (Acts 27:38) large enough to carry 276 passengers (Acts 27:37). Egypt was Rome’s breadbasket. The grain ships would commonly sail north to Asia Minor and then make their way west across the Mediterranean using the islands for as much protection as they could obtain from them." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:7-8) It is with much difficulty that Paul's ship finally reaches the harbor of Fair Havens.
    ■ Peterson: "One long sentence in Greek runs through these two verses, giving a sense of increasing problems with the weather and creating a certain narrative tension." [ref]
    ■ Dunn: "The unfolding story makes it clear that the events took place late in the sailing season (Acts 27:9, 12). Both captain and centurion were evidently anxious to reach Rome before the season closed down: presumably the financial rewards for a late season cargo of grain made the risk worthwhile; and escort duty through the winter in foreign parts or the prospect of the lengthy overland route in early winter were evidently less appealing." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:9-10) With their voyage having become quite hazardous, Paul issues a warning that to continue is to invite disaster: damage and great loss for the cargo, the ship, and the passengers onboard.
    ■ Ger:
    They spent a considerable amount of time in Fair Havens waiting for more favorable weather. However, the longer they waited, the more dangerous their eventual voyage became. Sailing the Mediterranean Sea was known to be particularly hazardous from September 14 through November 11; no ships sailed at all from November 12 through February 7. It was clear that it was no longer possible to make Italy before the seas closed, so the remaining question was whether Fair Havens was a secure enough harbor in which to spend the winter. Luke records that while they were harboring in Fair Havens, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement ("the Fast," tēn nēsteian) had already come and gone.  In A.D. 59, Yom Kippur fell on October 5. This places the travelers solidly within the dangerous sailing season. [ref]
  • (Acts 27:11-12) The centurion set Paul's warning aside and let the ship captain and the shipowner talk him into trying for the next harbor. But it was not the best harbor for staying the winter. Phoenix, a few miles further on, was more suitable (The Message).
Security in Christ (Acts 27:1-12)
In our spiritual journey, we are guaranteed by God Himself that we will arrive some day at our eternal destination regardless of the uncertainties of life on this earth. (Video link) [ref]
  • (Acts 27:13-20) Having been "caught by a sudden Northeaster, a hurricane-like wind, they could not remain in the protection of Crete and were driven helplessly into the open sea." [ref] A series of emergency measures are taken as the situation grows steadily more dire. The terrible storm rages for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope is gone (see Acts 27:20, NLT). 
  • (Acts 27:21) Swindoll: "The crew had not eaten for some time, perhaps for a number of reasons. Perhaps they didn't know how long they would have to stretch their food supply, stress killed their appetites, seasickness overwhelmed them, or they fasted to please the gods. Regardless, they had begun to lose all hope of making it to shore alive. That's when Paul took command of the situation. He reminded them of his earlier warning and chided them for not heeding his advice -- not to say 'I told you so,' but to encourage them to heed him now (Acts 27:21)." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:22-24) Paul recounts the angelic reassurance he received that this situation, as bad as it is, will not result in the loss of life.
    ■ Bruce: "[W]hat [Paul] went on to tell them was exactly what the situation most needed, a message of encouragement and hope. Nor was this message the product of wishful thinking: he spoke as one who had received divine reassurance." [ref]
    ■ Arnold:
    After days of being tossed around at sea and at the point when all on board are at the point of despair, God intervenes not to stop the storm, but to communicate a message of encouragement and hope to Paul through a divine emissary. The angel specifically tells Paul that the ship will be destroyed, but not one person will die. In communicating the content of this appearance to the passengers, Paul tailors his remarks to be understood by a group of people not familiar with Christianity or Judaism. Greeks and Romans believed in divine intermediaries, however, and would probably not have been skeptical about what Paul was saying. Paul makes it clear that it is not a messenger of Zeus (or any other deity from the pantheon of Gentile gods), but the God he serves. [ref]
    ■ Polhill: "The overarching theme of the shipwreck narrative is the providence of God. The central verse is [Acts 27:24]: God delivered Paul and all who sailed with him for the ultimate purpose of the apostle's witness before Caesar." [ref]
The Triumphant Gospel
John Polhill:
Again and again the apostles and Paul are depicted in extreme circumstances -- in prison, under sentence of death, stoned by angry mobs. Always they were delivered, never for who they were but always for what they proclaimed. It was not the apostles who triumphed in Acts -- it was the gospel that triumphed. Stephen is the prime example. He gave his life for that witness. But out of the tragedy of his death, the gospel triumphed -- spread to Samaria, and all Judea, and ultimately to the ends of the earth. There is a triumphalism in Acts, but it is not a human triumphalism. It is a God-triumphalism, a triumph of his word in Christ. Nowhere is this clearer than in the shipwreck narrative. Paul was delivered, but he was delivered to bear witness. He was still a prisoner in chains when he bore his witness in Rome. The book closes with his bold, unrestricted proclamation in the capital city. The gospel had reached its ultimate destination as set forth in Jesus' commission to the apostles (Acts 1:8). It had reached the "ends of the earth." It had triumphed. But Paul remained under arrest. [ref]
  • (Acts 27:25-32) Paul entreats the men to keep up their courage -- although they are sure to run aground on an island. Eventually they do indeed encounter land. Some of the sailors are prevented from abandoning ship.
  • (Acts 27:33-34) Paul encourages everyone to eat and reassures them that they will be saved. Marshall: "[I]t may seem strange that Paul occupied such a dominant position on the ship that he could command the attention of the people generally, but a holy man, such as Paul would appear to be, would be regarded with more attention than an ordinary person in these critical circumstances. Paul urges his hearers to eat, as this will be in the interests of their safety: they will not be fit for the strenuous task of getting ashore without proper nourishment." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:35-38) Paul sets the proper example by choosing to eat, after which the others do the same. Then they lighten the ship's load by discarding the cargo (the wheat).
    ■ Toussaint: "[Paul] took some bread, unashamedly thanked God for it, and broke it and started eating. Though this sounds like an observance of the Lord’s Table, it probably was not. Most of those 276 people were not Christians. Rather it was a public testimony by Paul of his faith in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus as well as a practical expedient of eating in order to muster strength for the ordeal ahead." [ref]
    ■ Keener: "They need to lighten the ship further (Acts 27:18), in order to run aground as close to land as possible. Once wet, grain would also pose a hazard to the ship, since the grain could swell to twice its original volume and split the hull." [ref]
  • (Acts 27:39-41) Land is spotted and efforts are made to drive the ship aground.
  • (Acts 27:42-44) The soldiers aboard ship intend to execute all the prisoners in order to prevent them from escaping. The centurion, however, intervenes to protect Paul and the others. In the end everyone makes it safely ashore. Bruce:
    In accordance with traditional Roman discipline, the soldiers were responsible for the safekeeping of the prisoners in their charge. But now it would be easy for some of the prisoners to escape in the general confusion of abandoning ship. The soldiers, therefore, decided to forestall any such attempt by slaughtering them. The centurion, however, forbade them to do any such thing: he felt too grateful to Paul to expose him to this fate. Let the prisoners get safe to land along with the others, he said (it should not be too difficult to round them up afterward and keep them under guard). Those of the ship's company who could swim should dive overboard and swim ashore. The rest could float ashore on planks and spars; some nonswimmers might even be carried ashore by swimmers. (The words "on pieces of things from the ship" -- literally, "on some of the [things] from the ship" -- might conceivably mean "on some of the [persons] from the ship," i.e., on the backs of members of the crew.) At any rate, one way or another, they all reached land safely. The angelic assurance given to Paul in their darkest hour had been fulfilled to the letter: the ship and cargo were lost, but every life on board was saved. [ref]
Stormy Lessons
Warren Wiersbe:
Before leaving this exciting section of Acts, we should note some practical lessons that it teaches us.
  • First of all, storms often come when we disobey the will of God. (Jonah is a good example of this truth.) However, it was not Paul who was at fault, but the centurion in charge of the ship. We sometimes suffer because of the unbelief of others.
  • Second, storms have a way of revealing character. Some of the sailors selfishly tried to escape, others could only hope for the best; but Paul trusted God and obeyed His will.
  • Third, even the worst storms cannot hide the face of God or hinder the purposes of God. Paul received the word of assurance that they needed, and God overruled so that His servant arrived safely in Rome.
  • Finally, storms can give us opportunities to serve others and bear witness to Jesus Christ. Paul was the most valuable man on that ship! He knew how to pray, he had faith in God, and he was in touch with the Almighty. [ref]

A Divine Opportunity In A Difficult Situation
David Peterson:
The narrative [of the shipwreck] is not an allegory of personal redemption, illustrating what it means to be brought from darkness to light, and rescued from divine judgment. But it does portray human beings in a desperate situation, in need of God's help, and shows the importance of believing his word and relying on his power for deliverance. Moreover, it demonstrates the opportunity that the believer has in such a situation to draw attention to the character of God and to encourage unbelievers to turn to him for mercy. For some people, this might be the first step towards trusting God for salvation in the ultimate sense. In terms of Luke's concern about the gospel's progress among the nations, 'the insistence that all the ship's company must be saved echoes the promise that "all flesh will see the salvation of God" in Luke 3:6' (Tannehill). [ref]

Salvation Temporal And Eternal
David Peterson:
Those who know the saving purpose of God should be seeking to express his character and will in all that they say and do. They should be encouraging unbelievers to turn to God for deliverance and help in a whole range of everyday situations. They should be seeking the peace and prosperity of the people among whom they live (cf. Je. 29:4–7), the righting of wrongs, and deeds that glorify God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11–17). This may include deliverance from injustice or poverty, rescue from social or political structures impeding the genuine welfare of citizens, and physical or emotional healing. While such a ministry may point to the restoration of all things promised in Scripture and made possible by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts 3:16, 21), Luke does not imply 'a universalism that includes every creature in God's ultimate salvation' (Tannehill). Salvation from disease, danger, or sudden death may be a means used by God to bring people to believe the gospel and receive its benefits. But salvation in temporal matters is not to be confused with or equated with the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life, which Luke consistently shows to be the essence of the messianic deliverance. [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.