5 June 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 27:1-12. From Caesarea to Crete.
Many readers of Acts 27 have commented on the precision, accuracy and vividness of the narrative. The explanation is surely not that Luke borrowed from somebody else’s firsthand description of a sea voyage and shipwreck (as some liberal scholars have unwarrantably suggested), but rather that he was himself present throughout Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Rome, as indicated by the fourth and final ‘we-section’ which runs from 27:1 to 28:16, and that he was writing a daily log of the ship’s progress, on which he later drew. ‘There is no such detailed record of the working of an ancient ship’, wrote Thomas Walker, ‘in the whole of classical literature.’
The writer who has done most to vindicate Luke’s accuracy in Acts 27 is James Smith of Jordanhill in Renfrewshire, Scotland, whose book *The voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul* was published in 1848. He was a soldier by profession, a keen yachtsman of thirty years’ experience, an eminent amateur geologist and geographer, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He lived successively in Gibraltar, Lisbon and Malta, and spent the winter of 1844-45 in Malta while investigating Paul’s voyage. He was widely read, he familiarized himself with the weather patterns of the Mediterranean, and he made a study of navigation and seamanship in both the ancient and the modern worlds. His general conclusion was that Acts 27 was the work of an eyewitness who nevertheless was a landlubber, and not a professional seaman: ‘no sailor would have written in a style so little like that of a sailor; no man not a sailor could have written a narrative of a sea voyage so consistent in all its parts, unless from actual observation.’
It is presumed (though not specifically stated) that they set sail from Caesarea, since it was there that Paul had been held in custody for two years and had been tried by Felix, Festus and Agrippa. Who were the *other prisoners* who were also on board? Ramsay suggests that they were ‘in all probability already condemned to death, and were going to supply the perpetual demand which Rome made on the provinces for human victims to amuse the populace by their death in the arena.’
No ship seems to have been available to transport the prisoners direct to Italy. In consequence, the voyage from Caesarea to Malta took place in two stages and in two ships, which came respectively from Adramyttium (2) and Alexandria (6).
a). A ship from Adramyttium (27:2-5)
Adramyttium was situated on the south-east shore of the Aegean Sea, not far south of Troas. This ship will have been a coastal vessel on its way back to its home port. But how is it that Luke and Arisarchus (who had travelled with Paul to Jerusalem, 20:4) were permitted to accompany Paul? Ramsay makes the plausible suggestion that ‘they must have gone as his slaves’. This may have enhanced Paul’s importance in the Centurion’s eyes and may partly account for the respect in which he was held. On the other hand, Paul was later to refer to Aristarcus as ‘my fellow-prisoner’ (Col.4:10).
Their first port of call was Sidon. It will have been a trading stop for the vessel, but for Paul a valuable opportunity for a few hours’ fellowship with Christian friends (3). Since the prevailing winds must have been westerly, to pass ‘under the lee of Cyprus’ meant to sail to the north of it (4). This also explains how they sailed across open sea and off the coasts of Cilicia (where Paul’s home town of Tarsus was situated) and Pamphylia (where they had landed on the first missionary journey), and arrived at Myra (5), which is where they changed ships. According to the Western text, the journey so far had taken a fortnight.
Tomorrow: Acts 27:6-12. b) A ship from Alexandra.