Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus go through a storm and shipwreck. An angel stands before Paul and promised everyone safety. When they followed his directions, they safely reach an island.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Paul and Team Depart Caesarea and Land at Myra (Acts 27:1-8)
1 When it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they handed Paul and some other prisoners, to the centurion name Julius of the Augusta cohort. 2 After embarking on the ship from Adramyttium that was about to sail for the coastal places along Asia, we sailed off. Aristarchus the Macedonian of Thessalonica was with us. 3 The next day we landed at Sidon, and Julius treated Paul kindly and permitted him to go to his friends to receive care. 4 From there we left and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the wind was contrary. 5 We sailed on the open sea along Cilicia and Pamphylia and landed at Myra in Lycia.
6 There the centurion found a ship from Alexandria sailing to Italy. He put us on board. 7 For several days we were sailing slowly and with difficulty arrived off Cnidus. The wind did not allow us to go father. We sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone. 8 With great difficulty we sailed alongside it and came to a place called Fair Havens, which is near the town of Lasea.
Readers are encouraged to get a online google Bible map, to find all these geographical features and names.
Recall that Paul’s trial was in Caesarea on the Mediterranean, on Israel’s coast.
“we”: this pronoun picks up again when it had been broken off at 21:18. Bruce speculates that Luke volunteered to be the ship’s doctor, and Andronicus was a fare-paying passenger. This sounds reasonable to me.
“they”: the subject is not stated, but the context says it has to be his Roman guards who were not going to travel to Rome.
Julius will turn out to be a kind centurion. Luke likes the military (e.g. Luke 7:3; Acts 10). Could it be that Julius joined the Christian community in Rome? We will never know for sure, but he certainly favored Paul throughout this chapter in Acts and the next one.
Aristarchus was a good, firm, stable believer. See Acts 19:29; 20:4; Col. 4:10; Phm. 24 for further study of his life. In Col. 4:10, he was Paul’s fellow-prisoner. Now that’s loyalty!
“kindly”: we get our word philanthropy from it. It means someone who loves humanity. See Acts 28:2.
There was a Christian community in Sidon, about 70 miles north of Caesarea, their starting point.
They stayed close to the shoreline of Asia Minor (Modern Turkey). Traveling under the shelter of the island of Cyprus means they were on the lee side or going east and north of the island. In the summer the wind from the Levant was westerly and northwesterly.
These are islands, and the pilot (today we would say captain) was sailing under the protection of these islands to avoid contrary winds. Crete is a giant island relative to the other ones. Alexandria is in Egypt, and this land fed Rome with grain. It turns out this is a grain ship (v. 38). But these locations and historical facts can be looked up online.
The word difficulty, used three times in this chapter (vv. 7, 8, 16), should signal us the readers that trouble is ahead.
GrowApp for Acts 27:1-8
A.. Paul and his team are on their way to their goal. You too are on your journey. What is your goal? Have you ever reached interim goals? How did this success motivate you to reach another one?
The Storm (Acts 27:9-38)
9 A lot of time elapsed, and the voyage was now dangerous because the fast was already broken. Paul began to urge and 10 say to them, “Men! I perceive the voyage is about to be in damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives!” 11 But the centurion listened to the pilot and the shipowner rather than to what was said by Paul. 12 Since the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority intended to set sail from there, and if possible, to land at Phoenix and winter there, for this was the harbor on Crete facing the southwest and northwest.
13 When the south wind blew gently, they thought they obtained their purpose and weighed anchor and sailed along Crete. 14 Not long afterwards, a swirling, violent wind called the Northeaster, rushed down the island. 15 When the ship was dragged away and was unable face the wind, we gave up and were carried adrift. 16 As we ran along under the shelter of a small island called Cauda, we were barely able to get the lifeboat under control, 17 which we hoisted on board. They got the ropes and undergirded the ship, fearing that we would run aground on the sandbars at Syrtis. They lowered the sea-anchor, and in this way they were carried along. 18 We were being tossed in a violent storm, and the next day they threw things overboard. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s gear overboard with their own hands. 20 Neither the sun nor stars appeared for many days. Not a little storm lay into us, and at last all hope of saving ourselves was abandoned.
21 After a long time being without food, Paul stood in the middle of them and said, “Men! You should have listened to my leadership advice and not gone off from Crete, to be spared this damage and loss! 22 And so now I urge you to be courageous! There shall not be even one loss of your life, except the ship. 23 For last night an angel of God, whose I am and whom I worship, stood before me 24 and said, ‘Do not fear, Paul! You must stand before Caesar. And see! God has graciously granted you everyone sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, be courageous, men! For I believe God—that it shall happen in the way that was spoken to me! 26 But we must run aground on some island!”
27 When the fourteenth night arrived, as we drifted through to the Sea of Adria, at midnight the sailors supposed they were heading towards land. 28 And they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. And after going a short distance they again took a sounding and found fifteen fathoms. 29 They were afraid that somewhere they would crash into rocky ground. They threw out four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.
30 When the sailors attempted to escape from the ship and lowered the lifeboat into the sea in the pretext that they were about to run out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and soldiers, “If they don’t stay aboard the ship, you cannot be saved!” 32 Then the soldiers cut the ropes of the lifeboat and let it fall away.
33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged everyone to take food, saying, “This day is the fourteenth day you have continued in a state of suspense without food! You have received nothing at all! 34 Therefore I urge you to take food, for this is for your survival! Not even one hair of your head shall perish!” 35 After he had said these things and took bread, he gave thanks to God in front of them all and broke it and began to eat. 36 Everyone was encouraged and they all took food. 37 Every soul on board were two hundred and seventy-six. 38 After being satisfied with food, they lightened the ship by throwing grain into the sea.
The fast was commanded on the Day of Atonement, which was about October 5 in 59 A.D. For sailing, Luke is saying that the timing is getting late.
In this storm, Jesus calmed it:
22 And so it happened during one of the days, he got into a boat, and his disciples too, and he said to them, “Let’s go across to the opposite side of the lake.” And they set sail. 23 While they were sailing, he fell asleep. And a fierce burst of wind came down on the lake, and they were being swamped and were in danger. 24 They approached him and woke him up, saying, “Master, Master! We are dying!” He woke up and rebuked the wind and rough water, and they stopped, and it became calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and stunned, saying to each other, “Who then is this man that commands the winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:22-25)
And in this storm, Jesus walked on water, yet he did not calm the storm. The boat got to the other wide more quickly than usual, as if miraculously.
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 and getting in a boat, they were trying to cross the lake to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come for them. 18 The lake was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had gone twenty or thirty stadia, they saw Jesus walking on the lake, and when he got close to the boat, they were afraid. 20 But he said to them, “It is I! Do not fear!” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was on the shore where they were going. (John 6:16-21)
Paul’s storm was standard for us humans. It was severe, God did not calm it, and the ship did not reach land extraordinarily quick.
Yes, Paul was an experienced traveler by sea, but there seems to be something prophetic in the word perceive, which comes from the Greek theōreō (pronounced theh-oh-reh-oh). It can be translated as “see,” but it is related to our word theory, which means a deeper look. Paul is putting two and two together and can spot trouble ahead, but his insight also came from God. Renewalists believe that God can give wisdom beyond human ability to figure things out (1 Cor. 12:8; Jas. 3:17).
Paul prayed in the Spirit often—his prayer language, formerly and archaically called “tongues” (1 Cor. 14:18). We should have no doubt he was exercising this gift a lot—a storm was about to hit! And we should have no doubt that Luke was a charismatic believer, since his two volumes were charismatic, particularly Acts. Aristarchus hung out with Paul, so he used his prayer language too—or it is impossible that a man who spent time with Paul would not have his prayer language and use it.
The pilot and shipowner were unable to spot the danger, while Paul could. The centurion was caught in the middle, between the much more experienced (a) shipowner and pilot and (b) the less experienced Paul. The centurion may have treated Paul kindly, but his mind told him to listen to the voices of experience. It is tough when you have insight, but no one listens. Are you willing to trust God that he will see you through to your goal, despite resistance and foolishness from others?
Paul had experienced a shipwreck before: “three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Cor. 11:25b. NIV).
More details that can be looked up online or on a map in the back of the Bible. I recommend both.
“intended”: it is the noun boulē (pronounced boo-lay), and BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it defines the term thus: (1) “that which one thinks about as possibility for action, plan, purpose, intention”; (2) “that which one decides, resolution, decision”; (3) it can even be a council that takes up proposals and deliberates, council meeting. Here it is the first definition. It is used 12 times, and 9 times in Luke-Acts. He favors this word.
What we see with our five senses is mostly correct. They really are accurate. Don’t be skeptical about them, as modern philosophers since Descartes and lesser known skeptics were and still are. These intellectuals can make you doubt your own hand waving in front of your face. However, sometimes our five senses can put two and two together and come up empty. I cannot blame the sailors necessarily for deducing that the gentle breeze would guide them towards the fulfillment of their plan or purpose. But they can be blamed if they knew about a rushing, swirling wind that regularly came down off Crete and assumed it would not happen this time. Their five senses failed them, while Paul’s intuition or revelation from God was right.
The word from “violent, swirling” is where we get our word “typhoon.”
Polhill discusses the OT background, specifically the book of Jonah:
The story of Paul’s stormy voyage is reminiscent of the voyage of Jonah. The prophet also encountered a violent storm at sea. Jonah’s crew also jettisoned the cargo and began to despair of life. And the crew and passengers of Jonah’s ship were ultimately delivered. There is, of course, a major difference between the two. It was Jonah’s presence on the ship that gave rise to the storm, and only in his absence were the others saved. It was altogether different for Paul’s ship. The apostle’s presence on the ship led to the deliverance of all aboard. This becomes evident in the next passage. (vv. 21-26).
They had to seek protection from the small island. The lifeboat was probably hoisted by a derrick. One scholar suggests it was a mast that could be sloped and turn around to grab things off the ship. It was for unloading cargo.
“ropes”: yes, it is the standard Greek word for “help,” but in this context it means “ropes” (plural). They looped ropes at the front (bow) and back (stern) of the ship and slipped them under that ship and tied them together.
But I see nothing wrong with building sermon material out of it. Sometimes you need help to keep your “personal ship” together by undergirding it with ropes (helps).
One has to ask how many anchors does this ship or any ship have (as we will see in this chapter)!
They threw things overboard to lighten the ship and keep it at a maximum height above water level, so the waves would not overpower and sink or capsize it.
Syrtes (plural) were quicksands off the Libyan coast (Bruce, 1990, p. 520). Luke is not only genuinely concerned about this, but he is creating high drama and suspense.
Hope is to the soul what food is to the body. It must be terrible for unbelievers without God. They don’t need him when they become millionaires and business is booming. But when the storms of life come—and they will—then hopelessness and despair will make the millions seem empty. However, with God, when appearances say you are doomed, don’t give up hope.
“saving ourselves”: this could be translated “our being saved,” which is closer to the Greek. My translation is active. “Let’s save ourselves!” The Greek is passive: they have to be saved or rescued. And yes, it is the standard verb for “saving,” as in a believer being saved in Jesus—Christian salvation. So the word is very versatile, and this versatility can be used in sermons and in your personal life.
It is the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times). Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō.
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG, which is the authoritative lexicon of the NT, defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in passive mood it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
Acts is about salvation of entire households and meeting in those saved households (2:2, 46; 5:42; 8:3, but be careful of persecution in 8:3! 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, 31, 34; 20:20; 21:8).
I believe Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus were praying in the Spirit—their prayer languages. As noted, Paul said he did this often (1 Cor. 14:18). And a storm is the perfect time to exercise this wonderful gift! It may have led to his receiving a message from the angel sent by God.
I use exclamation points for Paul’s words because the storm was still raging, so he had to shout at all the men. For the angel I use them for his commands, but I believe the angel was calm and managed by divine power to convey the message over the wind. But if you think exclamation points should be there for the other words, then that’s all right too.
“leadership advice”: this is an interesting compound verb. The standard word for “listen” or “be persuaded” is peithō (pronounced pay-thoh), but here it has the word arch– (pronounced ahrkh) attached, which means “authority or person in charge” or “leader” (noun) or “to lead” (verb): peitharcheō (pronounced payth-ahr-kheh-oh). It is used only four times in the NT: Acts 5:29, 32; 27:21; Ti. 3:1. It means “to obey someone in authority.” Paul is laying it on the line here. He has spiritual authority. He did not have the legal authority of the centurion or the management authority of the shipowner or pilot, but he had spiritual authority. Believe that you have spiritual authority in your life, when you may not be the legal or business or political authority. When you walk into your place of employment, you may not be the human boss, but you are the spiritual leader, whether your co-workers recognize it or not.
One human touch about this verse is that Paul is not above saying, “I told you so!” or “toldya!” But what he is actually doing is establishing his credibility. He needs to drive home the point that since he was right about the timing of their voyage, he is about to be right about his recounting the angelic visitation. His words in the natural storm means his words about the supernatural communication are right; they match.
I like Bruce here:
In the midst of this general dejection and despair, Paul stood up one morning and spoke cheering words to his companions in distress. It warms our hearts to see, first of all, that in some very human respects he was quite like ourselves: he could not resist the temptation to say: “I told you so!” to those who had rejected his advice at Fair Havens. (Bruce, comment on v. 21)
“should”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. In this context, Paul believed he had received guidance from the Lord.
This is a bold statement. Circumstances were against it. The men were afraid, with good reason. A ferocious wind hit their ship. Paul’s faith command to be courageous comes from the Greek verb euthumeō (pronounced yew-thoo-meh-oh), and appears in v. 25. The adjective euthumos is in v. 36. The basic meaning is that the soul or spirit (thum-) of a human should be positive (eu-). Therefore it can also be translated as “cheerful,” which I did at first, but thought it was too far outside the context. So I went with “courageous.”
Once you get a clear command, especially from Scripture, don’t be afraid to speak it out. But be careful! Joseph spoke out his dream at the wrong time to the wrong people (Gen. 37:1-11). It is best to treasure your dream in your heart until the time is right, and then you can speak it. Paul was called to speak about his angelic visitation and he promise because people were hurting and frightened. When your vision can help people immediately, then it is all right to share it.
The Greek says Paul belongs to and serves or worships God, not the angel.
“angel”: An angel, both in Hebrew and Greek, is really a messenger. Angels are created beings, while Jesus was the one who created all things, including angels (John 1:1-4). Renewalists believe that angels appear to people in their dreams or in person. It is God’s ongoing ministry through them to us.
Here is a multi-part study of angels in the area of systematic theology, but first a list of the basics.
(a) Are messengers (in Hebrew mal’ak and in Greek angelos);
(b) Are created spirit beings;
(c) Have a beginning at their creation (not eternal);
(d) Have a beginning, but they are immortal (deathless).
(e) Have moral judgment;
(f) Have a certain measure of free will;
(g) Have high intelligence;
(h) Do not have physical bodies;
(i) But can manifest with immortal bodies before humans;
(j) Can show the emotion of joy.
See my posts about angels in the area of systematic theology:
Here is one delivering a message from God. There are too many reliable stories of this happening to deny them. The deniers seem like overbearing precisionists and restrictionists. Don’t allow them to take away what God does in your life, as they try to put him in a small box. It is simply not biblical to restrict God and his way of communicating with people.
Remember what Jesus himself told him: “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
Paul prayed in the Spirit often (1 Cor. 14:18). Many Renewalists believe that the gift of Spirit-inspired languages opens the door to other gifts. Here it possibly opened the door to an angelic visit. In any case, as noted, we should have no doubt that Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus were praying in the Spirit while the storm was raging.
“stood”: an angel stood before Paul, and Paul is about to stand before Caesar. Same verb.
“worship”: it is the verb latreuō (pronounced lah-true-oh), and it is related to serving, which can encompass worship (Acts 7:7, 42). But sometimes it is best to translate it as serving (Acts 24:14; 26:7). It is optional—up to you. Interpret it both ways: worship and serve.
Recall this earlier promise:
The next night the Lord stood before him and said, “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
One more time, God reassured Paul that God would see him through the storm. God did not rebuke it or cause the ship to get to shore in one piece. Paul is not a God-man who could calm the storm. Everything has to be done by the will of God.
Back in the 1970s, when the Charismatic Movement was fresh and exciting (I was young and new to the whole thing), some extra-confident TV preachers and fund-raisers on the east coast saw a hurricane coming towards their TV satellite hookup, and they rebuked it. The hurricane veered away from land. Or could it be that hurricanes of a certain low level of severity veer northward when they reach land? The preachers celebrated and claimed the victory and answer to prayer. Looking back, I’m not so sure. As I noted in my commentary on Luke 8:
Now for those of us who are not fiery revivalists, yes, you can certainly pray that God will enable you to survive during a natural disaster. And you can even pray that a hurricane veers off into the Atlantic or a tornado lifts before it hits your house. But God answers this prayer; don’t be so self-centered that you believe you had anything to do with it.
Best of all, we regular people can prepare for storms. Jesus embarked in the boat with four experienced fishermen: Peter, his brother Andrew, and the other two brothers, James and John. They were experienced authorities. We should listen to the authorities when they tell us to evacuate before a hurricane hits or build an underground storm shelter in the backyard if tornadoes might come your way. Even a hole in the ground with proper support and storm doors can save your life. In California, authorities are retrofitting key buildings and other structures to prepare for earthquakes. That’s the right idea.
Don’t be caught off guard. Prepare and pray and run, if you have to!
Here are Scriptures about God rebuking the sea (all from the ESV):
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (Ps. 18:15)
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. (Ps. 104:6-7)
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert. (Ps. 106:9)
Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
I make the rivers a desert (Is. 50:2)
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers (Nah. 1:4)
In light of those verses, you can certainly try to rebuke nature in Jesus’s name, but depend on the Father. It is by his will that this must be done. Be careful about arrogating too much power to yourself. And just because you string word together (“I give glory to God; this is his work”) does not mean you are not concentrating too much power in yourself. In any case, when Jesus rebuked the winds and the lake of Galilee, he did so in his own authority. Jesus’s followers have to do so in his name. And he controls how his name is used and which prayers to answer.
If the natural storm does not stop, find shelter or evacuate to safety.
“Don’t fear, Paul!” This is a personal word from the Lord to you and me. Don’t be afraid of the storms of life.
“must”; see v. 21 for more comments, looking for the Greek verb dei.
Paul was called to stand before Caesar (Acts 25:11). God will see you through to his goals for your life.
“graciously granted”: it comes from the one verb charizomai (pronounced khah-reez-oh-my), and it is related to the standard noun for grace: charis (pronounced khah-rees). Grace is a verb. It can mean, depending on the context: “give or grant freely as a favor”; “dispense with, cancel”; “remit, forgive, pardon”; “show oneself to be gracious.”
Note how God gave to Paul everyone on board. Once again, Paul is the spiritual leader and authority. The centurion, shipowner, and pilot might have believed they were in charge—and they were up to a point—but Paul was the one who sustained the entire crew and passenger. Is it possible that they would have been shipwrecked and lost without him? Probably.
Let’s not forget something. We are concerned about Paul getting to Rome. Great. But Luke wrote a huge section of the NT. By Greek word count the Gospel of Luke is 19,482 words, while Acts is 18,450. In other words, God was saving everyone, including Luke, so the writer-historian-researcher would complete his mission too!
“courageous”: see v. 22 for a closer look.
“for I believe”: His belief was directional: in God. Faith can take all sorts of wrong turns, but never let it go in bad directions, like people or yourself. Your faith is built up on Scripture. The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Here it is connected to “saved” for physical salvation.
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
I believe this was a prophetic word, spoken right then from the Spirit to Paul’s spirit to his mind and out of his mouth. How else could he have known it? Even traditional and respectful and respected NT scholar Bruce writes: “This was a statement of faith. The sailors knew that they had missed Sicily and could not hope that the ship would hold out for the 200 miles that had to be covered before they struck the African coast near Carthage (Tunisia). If they had no hope of a landfall on Sicily, Malta was the next best hope (though Paul would probably not have known this—but it was a slender hope indeed” (1990, p. 522).
“must”: see v. 21 for more comments, looking for the Greek verb dei. Paul seems to believe that God was leading them to run aground.
The Sea of Adria lies between Italy, Malta, Crete, and Greece. It is not to be confused with the Adriatic Sea (Bruce, p. 522).
A fathom is the length of a man’s two arms stretched out to the side (about six feet or 1.82 m). They lowered a weighted and knotted rope. Twenty fathoms = 37 meters = 120 ft.; 15 fathoms = 27 meters = 90 ft. Once again, the ship had lots of anchors! It must have been huge. Here they are intended to act as brakes.
I use exclamation points for Paul’s words because the storm was still raging, so he had to shout.
It is probable that Paul told them they could not be saved unless they stayed onboard because the passengers needed the sailors to guide the ship towards land. However, I believe Paul told them this because God guaranteed everyone’s safety if they stayed on the ship. Off the ship, and the guarantee might not apply. We have to do what God tells us. If we step outside God’s plan, then we open ourselves to satanic attacks or our own (inadequate) wits. God will still have mercy on us when we do step outside our plans, however. And that’s good news!
“saved”: see v. 20 for further comments. Here it means their physical life.
Once again I use exclamation points in my translation of Paul’s words because the storm is still raging, so he has to shout to 275 people (and himself = 276).
Again Paul was concerned for the men. This shows he was a pastor. An apostle is a generalist: a prophet (at times), an evangelist (all the time!), and a pastor and teacher (all the time!). He was all of those things. Paul reaffirms the promise with different words: “not one hair on your head…!” He was supremely confident in God’s message to him. How confident are we in God’s message to us?
“survival”: it is the Greek word for “salvation,” and in many contexts it includes salvation through Jesus—Christian salvation. Here it means their life-survival. So salvation is a very versatile noun or verb. You can apply it to your own life: your soul’s and body’s salvation.
Giving thanks to God for a meal in front of people is a good thing. See v. 20 for further comments.
“perish”: it comes from the verb apollumi (pronounced ah-poh-loo-mee), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “to cause or experience destruction (active voice) ruin, destroy”; (middle voice) “perish, be ruined”; (2) “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose”; (3) “to lose something that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost” (BDAG). The Shorter Lexicon adds “die.” “Perish” works best here.
Food freshens the body and brain. They were encouraged.
Bock surveys other commentators, and he concludes this was not a eucharist in a formal sense. The meal most notably lacks wine (comment on vv. 35-38 and footnote 4). I agree, but I like how Paul gave thanks to God in front of these pagans. He was a relentlessly good witness.
This is Luke’s practical concern. Clearly the ship was big, but it must have been crowded with all those people. Grain, mainly from Egypt, had to feed Rome, so grain ships plying the sea to Rome were numerous.
I do nothing mysterious with the number 276, but this won’t stop the “numbers” interpreters and code seekers from finding something secret in them.
GrowApp for Acts 27:9-38
A.. In Luke 8:22-25, Jesus calmed the storm while he was in it. In John 6:16-21, Jesus walked on water but did not calm the storm, yet the boat got to land extra-quickly. This storm in Paul’s life was neither calmed, nor did the ship reach land intact. What lesson do you draw from each storm and the different solutions?
B.. How would you describe your personal storms?
C.. An angel encouraged Paul that God would see him through this major storm. Do you regularly fellowship with other believers to encourage you?
D.. How has anyone encouraged you through your storm? How have you encouraged anyone going through his or her storm?
The Shipwreck and On to Safety (Acts 27:39-41)
39 When day came, they did not recognize land, but they spotted a certain bay having a beach, into which they planned, if possible, to drive the ship. 40 And they cut loose the anchors and left them in the sea, and at the same time they slackened the ropes to the rudders and hoisted the foresail to the wind and steered to the beach. 41 They hit a sandbar and ground the ship. The bow got stuck and stayed without moving, while the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.
42 The plan of the soldiers was to kill the prisoners, so that no one would swim away and escape. 43 But because the centurion planned to save Paul, he prevented them from carrying out their plan. He ordered the ones who could swim to jump overboard first and go for land. 44 And the rest could be on the planks and other things from the ship. And so it happened that everyone safely reached land.
“recognize”: it is the verb epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get,” and it is used 44 times in the NT). In any case here are the basic meanings, depending on the context: (1) “know exactly, completely”; “know again, recognize”; “acknowledge’; (2) “know, learn, find out, ascertain; notice; perceive, learn of; understand, know, learn to know.” Either “perceive” or recognize works here.
“planned”: this comes from the stem boul– (pronounced bool). Its basic meaning is “plan” or “purpose.” I translated it as “planned” consistently through the end of this chapter (see vv. 42-43). See v. 12 for more comments.
The bow is the front of the ship, and the stern is the back end (I had to look it up!).
Luke uses the same root boul– (pronounced bool), and in a noun or verb it means “plan” or “purpose.” I translated it by the one word “plan” or “planning” (v. 43). See v. 12 for more comments. Also see v. 39.
The soldiers’ plan was awful, but they might get executed if their prisoners escaped.
God gave Paul favor through Julius the centurion. And once again, Paul was the spiritual leader onboard.
“swim”: many people, even sailors, did not know how to swim back then, and throughout maritime history.
“save”: the verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh), it literally means “save through.” It means to bring someone through to the other side, safely and soundly. Its related verb sōzō is standard for “save,” as in people being saved and healed through Christ. The verb and noun are very versatile. See v. 20 for more comments.
I translated it at first as “saved through,” but opted for the safer translation; nonetheless, the centurion wanted to bring Paul all the way through to Rome. This is God’s favor on Paul through the centurion. God can work through anyone.
“safely reached”: this is the same verb diasōzō, and see vv. 20 and 43 for more comments. Everyone was saved through to land. The angel was right, and Paul’s faith was well placed—in God.
Remember this promise (see vv. 23, 24)?
The next night the Lord stood before him and said, “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
We are not in Rome yet, but Jesus promised Paul would get to Rome, and he survived the storm, by the grace of God. Be sure you are in the middle of God’s will. Hang on to his personal promise to you. He will see you through.
GrowApp for Acts 27:39-44
A.. God saw them through the storm. Which storm has God seen you through? How did he do this? What purpose did the storm serve? Tell your story.
Observations for Discipleship
In the three synoptic Gospels, there is one storm and Jesus calmed it (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25). In three of the four Gospels, Jesus walks on water when the wind was strong and the waves were high (Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-51; John 6:16-21). In John’s Gospel, after Jesus boarded the boat, it says, “Immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” (v. 21). It is not clear how in John’s Gospel they reached their destination “immediately.” It was a miracle.
Notice how many days Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus and the 273 others (totaling 276) had to survive the storm—about two weeks. God did not send the angel to tell Paul to rebuke the storm. Nor did the angel do this in the name of God and the resurrected Jesus. Instead, God told Paul that everyone would survive. And remember what Jesus himself told him: “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
In John’s Gospel, it did not take even one day to reach their destination. In Paul’s case, it took two weeks to get through the storm and three months to depart from Malta (Acts 28:11), and about two weeks later they arrived in Rome (28:12-14). In both scenarios Jesus was with the passengers. When he says they would make it, they will. They did.
Of course the application is clear. God will see you through your personal storms. Remember what Paul said: “I believe in God” (v. 25). Do you believe God will get you through. If not, study those “storm” passages. If you have a prayer language, use it! Don’t neglect it! If you don’t have it, ask for it. If you don’t want this wonderful gift, then pray in your native language and study Scripture. Whether you have it or not, Scripture builds faith.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.