Acts 27:28
And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(28) Twenty fathoms.—The Greek noun so rendered was defined as the length of the outstretched arms from hand to hand, including the chest. It was reckoned as equal to four cubits—i.e., to about six feet—and is therefore fairly represented by our “fathom.” The soundings here given agree with those that have actually been taken among the breakers off Cape Koura.

27:21-29 They did not hearken to the apostle when he warned them of their danger; yet if they acknowledge their folly, and repent of it, he will speak comfort and relief to them when in danger. Most people bring themselves into trouble, because they do not know when they are well off; they come to harm and loss by aiming to mend their condition, often against advice. Observe the solemn profession Paul made of relation to God. No storms or tempests can hinder God's favour to his people, for he is a Help always at hand. It is a comfort to the faithful servants of God when in difficulties, that as long as the Lord has any work for them to do, their lives shall be prolonged. If Paul had thrust himself needlessly into bad company, he might justly have been cast away with them; but God calling him into it, they are preserved with him. They are given thee; there is no greater satisfaction to a good man than to know he is a public blessing. He comforts them with the same comforts wherewith he himself was comforted. God is ever faithful, therefore let all who have an interest in his promises be ever cheerful. As, with God, saying and doing are not two things, believing and enjoying should not be so with us. Hope is an anchor of the soul, sure and stedfast, entering into that within the veil. Let those who are in spiritual darkness hold fast by that, and think not of putting to sea again, but abide by Christ, and wait till the day break, and the shadows flee away.And sounded - To sound is to make use of a line and lead to ascertain the depth of water.

Twenty fathoms - A fathom is six feet, or the distance from the extremity of the middle finger on one hand to the extremity of the other, when the arms are extended. The depth, therefore, was about 120 feet.

Fifteen fathoms - They knew, therefore, that they were drawing near to shore.

27-29. when the fourteenth night was come—from the time they left Fair Havens.

as we were driven—drifting

up and down in Adria—the Adriatic, that sea which lies between Greece and Italy.

about midnight the shipmen deemed—no doubt from the peculiar sound of the breakers.

that they drew near some country—"that some land was approaching them." This nautical language gives a graphic character to the narrative.

Found it twenty fathoms: a fathom is the distance betwixt the end of the middle finger on the one hand, from the end of the middle finger on the other hand, when the arms are stretched out; which is ordinarily accounted about six feet in measure.

Found it fifteen fathoms; coming into more shallow places they might reasonably conclude that they were near unto the land. And sounded,.... Or let down their plummet, or sounding line; which was a line with a piece of lead at the end of it, which they let down into the water, and by that means found what depth it was, by which they could judge whether they were near land or not. The sounding line, with the ancients, was called by different names; sometimes bolis, and this is the name it has here, "they let down the bolis": and the bolis is, by some, described thus; it is a brazen or leaden vessel, with a chain, which mariners fill with grease, and let down into the sea, to try whether the places are rocky where a ship may stand, or sandy where the ship is in danger of being lost: it is also called "catapirates", which is thus described by Isidore; "catapirates" is a line with a piece of lead, by which the depth of the sea is tried. Herodotus makes mention of it under this name, and observes, that when persons are within a day's voyage of Egypt, if they let down the "catapirates", or sounding line, they will bring up clay, even when in eleven fathom deep (r) According to modern accounts, there are two kinds of lines, occasionally used in sounding the sea, the sounding line, and the deep sea line: the sounding line is the thickest and shortest, as not exceeding 20 fathoms in length, and is marked at two, three, and four fathoms with a piece of black leather between the strands, and at five with a piece of white leather: the sounding line may be used when the ship is under sail, which the deep sea line cannot. --The plummet is usually in form of a nine pin, and weighs 18 pounds; the end is frequently greased, to try whether the ground be sandy or rocky, &c. (s). The deep sea line is used in deep water, and both lead and line are larger than the other; at the end of it is a piece of lead, called deep sea lead, has a hole at the bottom, in which is put a piece of "tallow", to bring up the colour of the sand at the bottom, to learn the differences of the ground, and know what coasts they are on.

And found it twenty fathoms; or "orgyas"; a fathom is a measure which contains six feet, and is the utmost extent of both arms, when stretched into a right line: the fathom, it seems, differs according to the different sorts of vessels; the fathom of a man of war is six feet, that of merchant ships five feet and a half, and that of fly boats and fishing vessels five feet: if the fathom here used was the first of these, the sounding was an hundred and twenty feet; the Ethiopic version renders it, "twenty statues of a man".

And when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms; or ninety feet; by which they imagined that they were near the continent, or some island: in some places, as the coasts of Virginia, for instance, by the use of the deep sea line, it is known how far it is from land; for as many fathoms of water as are found, it is reckoned so many leagues from land.

(r) Scheffer. de Militia Navali Veterum, l. 2. c. 5. p. 150. (s) Chambers's Cyclopaedia in the word "Sounding".

And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 27:28. βολίσαντες: having let down the sounding-lead (βολίς), elsewhere only in Eustath., in active voice, but see also Grimm-Thayer, sub v.ὀργυιὰς: five or six feet, a fathom, Grimm; Breusing compares Herod., iv., 41, and gives six feet; on the accent see Winer-Schmiedel, p. 72. “The ancient fathom so nearly agrees with the English that the difference may be neglected,” J. Smith, p. 131.—βραχὺ δὲ διαστήσαντες: “and after a little space,” so Ramsay, Rendall; the phrase may refer to space or time; if we understand to τὸ πλοῖον or ἑαυτούς we should take it of the former (Grimm); but if we explain = βραχὺ διάστημα ποιήσαντες (Blass), it may be taken of either. διΐστημι is only found in Luke for signifying any space of time, Luke 22:59, cf. Acts 5:7; but Luke 24:51, διέστη ἀπʼ αὐτῶν. J. Smith shows how exactly the geographical details in the traditional St. Paul’s Bay correspond with the description here. Before a ship drifting from Cauda could enter the bay it would not only pass within a quarter of a mile of Point Kaura, north-east of Malta, but the measurements of 20 and 15 fathoms exactly correspond to ascertained soundings according to the vessel’s average of speed.28. and sounded] In ancient times, this must have been the only means of feeling their way in dark and stormy weather. The lead must have been in constant use.

found it twenty fathoms] The original has no word for “it,” which is therefore omitted by R. V. What is meant is “they found twenty fathoms’ depth of water.” The same omission is found at the end of the verse also.

and when they had gone a little further] The verb has no sense of “going,” but only implies that they allowed an interval to elapse. The movement of the vessel meanwhile is of course understood, but the simpler rendering of the R. V. “after a little space” is to be preferred.

fifteen fathoms] So rapid a decrease in the depth of the water shewed them that they would soon be ashore.Verse 28. - They sounded for sounded, A.V.; found for found it, A.V. (twice); after a little space for when they had gone a little further, A.V. After a little space (βραχὺ διαστήσαντες); literally, having interposed a short interval of time or space (comp. Luke 22:58, 59, μετὰ βραχύ κ.τ.λ., and then follows διαστάσης ὡσὲι ὥρας μιᾶς "after an interval of about an hour").
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