J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 27
Verses 1, 2
As the ship belonged to Adramyttium, which is on the coast of
Mysia, it was now homeward bound, and was not expected to take the
prisoners further than its own destination. But as they were about to
touch at several "places along the coast of Asia," they could calculate
upon falling in with some vessel bound for Rome.
Not long after the interview with Agrippa, Paul saw
an immediate prospect of departing upon his long-purposed voyage to
Rome. The answer to his prayers was about to be realized, and the
promise made him by night in the prison of Claudius Lysias that he
should yet testify of Jesus in Rome as he had done in Jerusalem, was
about to be fulfilled. This was being accomplished, not by any direct
divine interference, but by a providential combination of circumstances.
The machinations of the Jews, the corruption of Felix, the
indecision of Festus, the prudence of Paul, and the Roman statute
in behalf of citizens, had all most strangely, yet most naturally, combined
to fulfill a promise of God made in answer to prayer.
when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul
and certain other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort, named
(2) And embarking on a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, intending
to sail to places along the coast of Asia, Aristarchus, a Macedonian
of Thessalonica, being with us."
Here, again, we find the significant
"we" of Luke, showing that he was again in Paul's company. The
last time we met with this term was upon the arrival of the apostolic
company in Jerusalem. [21:17,18.]
He had probably not been far from Paul
during the two years of imprisonment in Cæsarea, and was now permitted
to accompany him to Rome. Aristarchus was also a voluntary
companion of the prisoner, as we infer from the manner in which his
name is mentioned. There were, however, other prisoners on
The apostolic company are now fairly launched upon their voyage,
the details of which constitute a peculiar and most interesting
passage in sacred history.
(3) "And the next day we landed at Sidon:
and Julius, treating Paul humanely, permitted him to go to the friends, and
partake of their kindness."
Here we learn that Paul found friends, who
were, doubtless, brethren, in the city of Sidon. Thus we find that
both the Phenician cities, Tyre and Sidon, to whose wickedness the
Savior once so significantly alluded, had, ere now, received the gospel.
With the brethren in the former place Paul had spent a week on his
voyage to Jerusalem, and now the beginning of another voyage, not
much less mournful, is cheered by the hospitality of those in the
"And having put to sea from that place, we sailed under the lee of
Cyprus, because the winds were contrary."
As the proper course of
the ship was westward, the contrary wind must have come from that
quarter. With a favorable wind she would have passed to the south
of Cyprus; but in tacking to make headway against a contrary wind,
they necessarily passed to the east and north-east of that island, leaving
it on the left. An additional reason for taking this tack may
have been a desire to take advantage of a current which flows westward
along the southern shore of Asia Minor, as far as the Archipelago,
and greatly favors the progress of westward-bound
vessels. [For the nautical information connected with thisvoyage not found in the text, I am indebted to Mr. Howson's mostexhaustive chapter on the subject, Life and Ep. vol. 2, chap. xxiii.]
Verses 5, 6
Passing around the north-east point of Cyprus, the vessel entered
the open to the south of Cilicia and Pamphylia.
when we had sailed across the sea along Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came
to Myra, a city of Lycia.
(6) There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria,
sailing for Italy, and put us on board of it."
Thus, according to
expectation, they fell in with a vessel bound for Italy, and left the
ship of Adramyttium. Their new vessel was one of the many grain
ships which supplied Rome with bread from the granaries of
She was a vessel of good size, accommodating, on this voyage, two
hundred and seventy-six
She had, probably, undertaken
to sail direct from Alexandria to Rome; but the same contrary winds
which had thus far retarded the progress of the other vessel had compelled
her to sail far to the northward of the direct route.
The wind was still contrary when they left Myra.
having sailed slowly many days, we reached Cnidus with difficulty, the
wind not favoring us, and sailed under the lee of Crete, over against
(8) and coasting along it with difficulty, we came into a place called
Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea."
From Myra to the
island of Cnidus is only one hundred and thirty miles; hence it must
have been slow sailing to be "many days" reaching that place. From
that island their course to Cape Salmone, which was the most eastern
point of the island of Crete, was a little to the west of south. The
wind, to turn them this much out of their course, could have been but
little, if any, north of west. The lee of Crete, under which they sailed,
was the southern shore, which but partially protected them from the
wind, rendering it difficult to keep near the shore until they reached
the harbor called Fair Havens. This was about half way the length
of the island.
The voyage, thus far, had been so tedious that winter was approaching,
and it was deemed unsafe to attempt to complete it before
spring. It became a question, however, whether they would spend the
winter where they were, or seek a more desirable winter haven.
"Much time having now elapsed, and navigation being already unsafe,
because the fast had already passed, Paul admonished them,
Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with violence and much loss, not
only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.
(11) But the centurion
believed the master and the owner of the ship rather than the things
which were spoken by Paul.
(12) And the harbor being inconvenient to
winter in, the majority advised to depart thence, so as, if possible, to reach
Phoenix, and spend the winter there, a harbor of Crete looking to the
south-west and north-west."
Paul's advice to the mariners was the beginning
of an activity in behalf of the ship and crew which forms the
chief matter of interest in the remainder of the voyage. We will yet
see how nearly his prediction was fulfilled. He did not claim for it
the authority of inspiration, and, therefore, we should not claim it for
him; but he had some experience at sea, and expressed the result of
his own judgment. It was quite natural, however, that the centurion,
who seems to have had control of the matter, should put more confidence
in the judgment of the owner and the master than in his. He
had not yet learned to appreciate his prisoner as he did subsequently.
The description given of the harbor of Phoenix had occasioned some
perplexity to commentators. As the wind was blowing from north of
west, a harbor "looking to the north-west and south-west," from the
shore, would be entirely exposed to the weather; whereas this description
is given to show that it was a safe harbor in which to spend the
winter. Mr. Howson is undoubtedly right in assuming that Luke
supposes the beholder to be looking from the water, where a vessel
would lie at anchor, toward the inclosing shore, and means that to
him the harbor would look to the north-west and the south-west. Such
a harbor would be safe against any wind in the quadrant from south-west
to north-west, and was precisely such as was needed at that time.
The harbor called Fair Havens lay on the east side of Cape
Matala, which they would have to round in order to reach Phoenix;
but it could not be rounded in the face of a north-west wind, hence
they had to wait for the wind to change.
(13) "Now when the south wind
blew moderately, thinking they had gained their purpose, they weighed
anchor, and sailed close by the shore of Crete."
They felt that all was
secure, and even had their boat swinging astern, as they tacked slowly
along the smooth sea under a gentle southern breeze. It was deceitful
lull, the prelude to unexpected disasters.
(14) "But not long after, a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon,
struck, against her,
(15) and the ship being seized by it, and unable to face
the wind, we gave up and were driven by it.
(16) And running under the
lee of an island called Clauda, with difficulty we were able to secure the
(17) When they had taken it up, they used helps, undergirding the
ship. And fearing lest they should fall into the
Syrtis, [An extensive sand-bank to the north of Africa, still known as Syrtis.]
they lowered the sail, and so were driven."
It was just as they were rounding Cape
Matala, and expected to be borne by the southern wind directly to
Phoenix, that they were whirled away by this tempest. The direction
from Crete to Clauda is south-west; the wind, therefore, must have been
from the north-east. This is indicated by the name Euroclydon, which
Bloomfield translates "the wave-stirring easter." Such a wind, varying
from north-east to south-east, is said still to prevail in those
While passing under the lee of Clauda, the island checked the violence
of the storm, and enabled them to take some precautions which
were impossible in the open sea. The first of these was to "secure
the boat," which had thus far drifted astern, and was likely to be
dashed in pieces. The second was to undergird the ship, a process
called frapping in modern style, which consists in passing heavy cables
under the hull, and fastening them securely on the deck, to prevent
the timbers from parting under the force of the waves. The third
precaution was to lower the sails, so as to prevent the vessel being
driven too rapidly before the wind.
(18) "And being exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day we
lightened the vessel,
(19) and on the third day, with our own hands we
cast out the tackling of the ship.
(20) And as neither the sun nor the
stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, at last all
hope that we should be saved was taken away."
The sailors now began
to realize the truth of Paul's prediction about the character of the
voyage, and they were prepared to listen to him with more respect
when he addressed to them the following speech:
(21) "Now, after long abstinence, Paul stood in the midst of
them, and said, Sirs, you should have hearkened to me, and not have
sailed from Crete, and gained this harm and loss.
(22) And now, I exhort
you to be of good cheer; for there will be no loss of life among you,
except of the ship.
(23) For there stood by me this night an angel of
God, whose I am and whom I serve,
(24) saying, Fear not, Paul; you must
be brought before Cæsar; and behold, God has given you all those who
are sailing with you.
(25) Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe
God, that it will be even as it was told me.
(26) But we must fall
upon a certain island."
Paul's former prediction
was already fulfilled
in part, and they all believed that it was about to be in full. His
reference to it was designed both to rebuke them for not heeding it,
and to remind them of its correctness. His present prediction conflicted
with the former in reference to loss of life; but their lives had
been so completely despaired of, that they were not disposed to find
fault with the former prediction, even in this particular. The present,
however, was certainly spoken upon divine authority; and if we suppose
the former to have been also, then the security of their lives
may be regarded as a boon granted to Paul in answer to prayers offered
subsequent to the first prediction. That their safety was in some
sense owing to him, is evident from the words, "God has given to you
all those who are sailing with you."
Notwithstanding the assurance of final safety, their danger, for
a time, became more imminent.
(27) "And when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven
along in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors supposed that
they were drawing near to some land;
(28) and having sounded, they found it twenty fathoms. And going a
little farther, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.
fearing lest they should fall upon breakers, they cast four anchors out of
the stern, and wished for day."
From this time till day-break, the ship
lay with her bow to the shore, where the waves were dashing fearfully
over the hidden rocks; and was held back from inevitable destruction
only by the four anchors cast astern. It was a period of fearful suspense,
rendered hideous by the darkness of the night and the raging
of the storm. They "wished for day," but they knew not whether it
would bring relief, or only render them more certain of destruction.
Under circumstances like these, both the nobler and the
baser traits of human character have fair opportunity to exhibit
themselves. The strong and skillful have often been known to save
themselves without concern for the more helpless; while, at times, the
utmost magnanimity has been displayed by the few. Both traits of
character were exhibited here; one by the sailors, the other by Paul.
(30) "Now the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and letting
down the boat into the sea, under pretense of casting anchors out from the
(31) when Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, Unless these
remain in the ship, you can not be saved.
(32) Then the soldiers cut off
the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off."
Here we see that while the
sailors, who alone could have any hope of steering the vessel safe to
land, were selfishly leaving the passengers to their fate, and the soldiers
were so paralyzed with fear as not to discover their design, Paul
was perfectly self-possessed, and was watching for the safety of all.
He had an assurance from God that no lives would be lost, yet he
was just as watchful as though no such promise had been given; and
he assured the soldiers that they would not be saved if the sailors
were permitted to leave the vessel. We have here a happy illustration
of the manner in which God's decrees and human free agency
harmonize to produce a given result. It was a decree of God that the
passengers and crew should be saved, and it was certain to be accomplished;
but the voluntarily watchfulness of Paul, and the desire of self-preservation
on the part of the soldiers, were contingencies on which
the result depended, and which contributed to it. In determining,
therefore, that a thing shall be done, or declaring that it will be done,
God anticipates the voluntary action of parties concerned, and only
interferes, by miracles, where such action would fail of the contemplated
result. In the matter of salvation, we should act as Paul did in this
case: be as watchful and laborious as though God had promised us
no assistance, yet as confident of divine assistance as though all were
dependent on it alone.
In a time of extreme danger like the present, a man who is
able to maintain complete self-possession has great control over those
who are alarmed. Paul had already displayed his coolness and watchfulness
to the soldiers, and had outgeneraled the sailors; consequently
he became at once the leading spirit in the whole ship's company.
During the entire inactivity of the crew, while swinging at anchor and
waiting for daylight, he endeavored to impart his own calmness to them
(33) "Now while day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take
some food; saying, This is the fourteenth day that you have been waiting,
and continued fasting, having taken nothing.
(34) Wherefore, I beseech
you to take some food; for this is for your preservation; for not a hair
shall fall from the head of any of you.
(35) And when he had thus
spoken, he took a loaf and returned thanks to God before all, and broke
it, and began to eat.
(36) Then all were of good cheer, and they also
took some food."
The remark that they had taken no food for fourteen days must be
interpreted in the light of the circumstances. It is not a remark of
the Luke addressed to his readers, but one of Paul, addressed to his
hearers. If they had taken any food at all during the time, which they
certainly did, unless they were sustained by a miracle, they could but
understand him as merely expressing, in strong terms, their severe
abstinence. Such was undoubtedly his meaning. If Luke had been
describing the fact in his own words instead of Paul's, perhaps he
would have stated it to us with some qualification. Here, again, the
apostle assures them that no harm shall befall them, yet in the same
breath urged them to eat heartily, as a precaution for their safety.
Their safety, though certain, was still dependent upon their exertions,
and, in order that they might have strength for the labor before them,
it was necessary that they should break their long and exhausting
The cheerfulness of Paul, as he gave thanks to God, broke the loaf, and
began to eat, inspired them all with new courage. As their excitement
subsided, their appetites returned; and a hearty meal, which generally
smooths a rough temper, and acts as a sedative upon all mental
excitement, completed her restoration of general cheerfulness, and
prepared them to undertake, with alacrity, the work yet to be done.
The gathering of the whole ship's company to partake of this
meal seems to have suggested to the historian to mention, here, the
number of persons on board.
(37) "Now all the souls in the ships were
two hundred and seventy-six.
(38) And when they had eaten enough, they
lightened the ship, casting the wheat into the sea."
This was all done
between the time of eating and daylight, and was no inconsiderable
labor. It was designed to lessen the draught of the vessel, so that when
run ashore she might float into the shallow water.
All was now done that could be, until daylight should reveal
the nature of the shore ahead.
(39) "And when it was day they did
not recognize the land. But they discovered a certain inlet having a sandy
shore, into which they determined, if it were possible, to thrust the ship.
(40) And having cut away the anchors, they abandoned them to the sea;
at the same time loosing the rudder-bands, and hoisting the foresail to the
wind, they held toward the shore.
(41) And falling into a place between
two seas, they ran the ship aground; and the bow sticking fast, remained
immovable; but the stern was broken by the violence of the waves."
every point, except the one to which the vessel was steered, the shore
was rocky; for this point was selected because it had a sandy shore.
It required some seamanship to land where they did. While lying at
anchor, the rudders, which were merely paddle-rudders, one at each
side of the stern, had been lashed up, to prevent them from fouling
with the four anchor-cables also astern. These were loosed to guide
the vessel; and the foresail was unfurled to give the vessel the impetus
necessary to a successful use of the rudders. By a skillful use of both
she was steered clear of the rocks, and stranded on the sandy beach.
Here "two seas met;" that is, the waves from two different points met
each other, and spent their combined force upon the stern of the vessel,
and she was rapidly going to pieces.
At this critical juncture there was exhibited by the soldiers an
instance of depravity even greater than that of the sailors the night
before. They owed their present prospect of safety to the watchfulness
of Paul, yet they felt no apparent gratitude to him, and while
hoping to escape themselves, they were regardless of the lives of himself
and the other prisoners.
(42) "Now the purpose of the soldiers
was, that they would kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out
Such is the depravity of human nature, when void of
religious truth, and trained to the cruelties of war.
Verses 43, 44
But God had a purpose and a promise to fulfill, which did
not admit of such a disposition of the prisoners, and the more cultivated
nature of the centurion was the means of saving them. The
incidents of the voyage had made an impression upon his mind most
favorable to Paul, and he would not ignore the gratitude which he
(43) "But the centurion, determined to save Paul, kept them
from their purpose, and commanded those who could swim to cast themselves
out and go first to land;
(44) and the remainder, some on boards,
and some on fragments of the ship. And thus it came to pass that all
escaped safe to land."
Paul's last prediction was literally fulfilled, and his
fellow-prisoners owed their lives to the centurion's partiality for