Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band.Acts 27:1-44. Paul’s voyage and shipwreck
1. they delivered Paul] i.e. the soldiers who had the care of him did so, by order of Festus.
a centurion] This was generally the rank of the officers appointed to such a charge. Cp. Acts 21:32, Acts 24:23, &c.
of Augustus’ band] Rev. Ver. “Of the Augustan band.” The word rendered “band” might be translated “cohort” as in the margin of R. V., and it is said that in the time of Octavianus Augustus there were some legions to which the title “Augustan” (Gk. Sebastos) was given, as being specially the Imperial troops, and that perhaps among the soldiers in Cæsarea there was a detachment of these legions. But as Cæsarea was itself called “Sebaste” it seems more likely that the soldiers were Samaritan troop belonging to Cæsarea itself! And Josephus (Wars ii. 12. 5) makes mention of troops which had their name, Sebasteni, from this city Cæsarea Sebaste.
And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.2. And entering into (R. V. embarking in)] The verb is the technical term for “going on board.”
Adramyttium] a seaport on the coast of that district of Asia Minor called Mysia, and in early times Æolis. It appears to have been in St Paul’s time a place of considerable trade, and Pliny (Acts 27:30) mentions it as an assize town. The reason why the Apostle and his companions embarked on board a vessel from this port was that it was probably the easiest way of getting into the line of vessels going from Asia to the West. The isle of Lesbos lay off the gulf on which Adramyttium was situated, and to which it gave name, and the town was in close connexion with Ephesus, Miletus, Pergamos and Troas, and so was a considerable centre of commerce.
we launched, meaning to sail] The best MSS. make the participle refer to the ship and not to the Apostle and his company. So read, with Rev. Ver. “a ship … which was about to sail unto the places on the coast of Asia, we put to sea.” For in a voyage of such a character they would be very likely to find, in some of the ports at which they touched, a vessel that would convey them to Italy.
Aristarchus] Mentioned before (Acts 19:29) as one of those whom the mob in Ephesus seized in their fury against St Paul. He went, as it seems, with the Apostle into Europe, for he is enumerated amongst those who accompanied St Paul (Acts 20:4) on his return. After the present notice of him, we learn nothing more of his history except that from Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24 we can gather that he remained with the Apostle during his first Roman imprisonment.
And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.3. Sidon] The well-known seaport on the coast of Phœnicia.
courteously entreated Paul] “To entreat” is in modern English only used as “to beseech” “to supplicate.” In the older language it had the same sense as “to treat,” “use” has now. Cp. Shaks. Hen. VI. (pt. 2) ii. 4. 81 “Entreat her not the worse, in that I pray you use her well.” The R. V. has “treated Paul kindly.”
to refresh himself] The Greek is literally “to receive attention.” The Apostle no doubt knew some of the residents in Sidon, and at his request the centurion allowed him, while the vessel stayed there, to enjoy their company and kind offices.
And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.4. And when we had launched from thence] R. V. “And putting to sea from thence.” “Launch” has become a little restricted in meaning in modern English, but compare, for the sense, Christ’s words to Peter (Luke 5:4), “Launch out into the deep.”
we sailed under Cyprus] i.e. between Cyprus and the mainland, so as to have the shelter of the island on their left to protect them from the contrary winds. R. V. “under the lee of Cyprus.”
And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.5. the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia] R. V., more correctly, “the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia.” These two countries formed the coast of Asia Minor in that portion which is opposite Cyprus.
Myra] Lies about 20 stadia (2½ miles) from the coast on the river Andriacus.
And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.6. a ship of Alexandria] They found a means of transport into Italy sooner perhaps than they had expected. It may be that the same strong contrary winds from the west which had altered already the course of their voyage from Sidon, had carried this vessel across the Mediterranean to the Asiatic coast. Myra was certainly out of the way for persons sailing from N. Africa to Italy.
And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;7. sailed slowly many days] Kept back by the same head-winds.
and scarce were come over against Cnidus] The word rendered “scarce” would be better “with difficulty.” They had been forced to hug the coast all the way from Myra, and when off Cnidus they were only opposite to the S.W. extremity of Asia Minor. Cnidus was, as its remains demonstrate, a famous seaport town in ancient times, and we find that Jews dwelt there in the days of the Maccabees (1Ma 15:23). It was a notable seat of the worship of Aphrodité.
the wind not suffering us] Better, with R. V., “not further suffering us,” i.e. not allowing us to make further progress.
under Crete] Rev. Ver., “under the lee of Crete.” See above on Acts 27:4. Crete is the modern island of Candia. Salmone was the eastern extremity of the island, off which when they came they sheltered themselves under the island, and sailed to the south of it, to avoid the wind as much as might be.
And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.8. and hardly passing it] “Hardly” is in the original the same word which was rendered “scarce” in the previous verse. Read (with R. V.) “with difficulty coasting along it.” The verb represents the voyage as made by keeping close in to the southern shores of the island.
came unto a place] i.e. on the coast of Crete. The Gk. gives (as R. V.) “a certain place.”
which is called The fair havens] R. V. “called Fair Havens.” This place, though mentioned nowhere else in literature, yet is known by the same name still. It is on the south of Crete, four or five miles east of Cape Matala, which is the largest headland on that side of the island.
Lasea] This city has also been identified very recently. Its ruins were discovered in 1856, a few miles east of Fair Havens. See Smith’s Voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul, App. iii. pp. 262, 263.
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,9. Now when much time was spent] Waiting for a change of wind, and in debate on what course should next be taken.
and when sailing (R. V. and the voyage) was now dangerous] It had come to be dangerous by the late season of the year. In St Paul’s day navigation both among the Jews and other nations was only attempted for a limited portion of the year.
because the fast was now already past] The fast here meant is that on the great Day of Atonement, which falls on the tenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish year. This corresponds to a part of September and October of our calendar. So that a stormy season was to be expected.
And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.10. Sirs, I perceive that this (R. V. the) voyage will be with hur, and much damage (R. V. injury and much loss)]. Evidently the character of the Apostle had won him the regard and respect of those in charge of the vessel as well as of the centurion. He must have had some experience of sailing in the Mediterranean, and so was fitted to speak on the question which was now being debated. We should bear in mind too that he had seen more of perils by sea already than we gather from the Acts. For some time before this voyage to Rome, he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:25), “Thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.”
The verb rendered “I perceive” implies the results of observation, and does not refer to any supernatural communication which the Apostle had received. This is clear from the end of the verse where St Paul speaks of hurt to the lives of those on board, which did not come to pass (Acts 27:44).
Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.11. the centurion believed (R. V. gave more heed to)] As the centurion was in charge of prisoners for the Imperial tribunal, his wish would be much regarded by both owner and sailing-master. And it was natural when they recommended the attempt to proceed that he should not listen to Paul’s advice and remain where they were.
the master] i.e. the sailing-master. The original means “pilot,” which term must here be understood of that officer who had charge of the navigation.
the owner of the ship] Who was probably owner of the cargo too, and if, as is most likely, this was corn, he would be sailing with it, that he might dispose of it to the best advantage when they reached Italy.
And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.12. not commodious to winter in] And this was what they most likely would have to do, wherever they stopped, as the season for sailing was nearly over.
to depart thence also] The oldest MSS. do not represent the last word. (R. V. “to put to sea from thence).” The word is the technical term, and not the ordinary word for “depart.”
they might attain to Phenice] (R. V. “they could reach Phœnix.”) Phœnix is no doubt the correct orthography of the name. The place is mentioned both by Strabo and Ptolemy, and has been identified with the modern port of Lutro (Spratt’s Crete ii. 250 seqq.).
and lieth toward the south west and north west] [R. V. looking north-east and south-east) The original is “looking down the south-west wind and down the north-west wind.” To look down a wind is to look in the direction in which it blows. So as a south-west wind would blow towards N.E., the Rev. Ver. appears to give the correct sense, and the haven of Lutro answers these conditions, being open towards the east.
And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.13. the south wind blew softly] The storm appeared to have in some degree abated, and the change of wind must have been very complete, for (see Acts 27:7-8) they had previously sailed under the lee of Crete to get shelter from the north wind.
loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete] (R. V. “They weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close in shore).” The word for “close in shore” is asson, and it has been by some taken for a proper name and endeavours been made to discover traces of some place so named in Crete. But though the translation “when they had loosed from Assos” is as old as the Vulgate, there can be little doubt that the Greek word is really the comparative degree of an adverb signifying “near.” So it literally means “nearer,” and is probably used to indicate that the coasting voyage now being made was one in which the coast was hugged more closely than usual. This is intended by R. V. “close in shore.”
But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.14. there arose against it] The word “it” must mean the last-mentioned subject, the island Crete. Thus the A. V. would state that the south wind, which already had begun to blow, became tempestuous, and dashed against the island. But if so, it must have carried the vessel with it. Whereas, what really happened was that they were driven southward to the island of Clauda. It is therefore better to take the preposition = down from, a sense which it often has in such a construction, than to give the verb the more literal meaning from the margin of A. V., and to construe (with R. V.) “there beat down from it, &c.” The wind suddenly changed from south to north, and coming over the land carried the vessel southward away from Crete. Such changes are not unusual in the Mediterranean (Smith’s Voyage of St Paul, p. 99).
a tempestuous wind] The adjective is one from which the word “typhoon” is derived.
called Euroclydon] (R. V. “which is called Euraquilo”). This reading of R. V. is supported by the oldest MSS., and has the Vulgate “Euroaquilo” in its favour, and it exactly describes the wind which would carry the vessel in the direction indicated. It is known in Greek by the name “Cœcias” and is a north-east wind. Some have thought that the reading of the A. V., which has the support of many MSS., arose from a corruption in the mouths of sailors. For the word “Euraquilo” is a hybrid, the first portion being Greek, the latter Latin. The form in the Text Rec. gives it a look of being all Greek, and the words “which is called” seem to intimate that the name was one known to the sailors, rather than a word of general use. Whereas “Euraquilo” would have needed no such introductory expression, but have been understood at once by its etymology.
And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.15. and could not bear up into the wind] (R. V. “face the wind”). This comes nearer to the original, which is literally “to look the wind in the eye.”
we let her drive] (R. V. “we gave way to it, and were driven.) The literal rendering is “having given way we were driven.” The general usage of the verb in the sense of “yielding to superior force” makes it most probable that the meaning is “we yielded to the wind.” The. A. V. makes the sense “we yielded the vessel up.”
And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:16. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda] (R. V. And running under the lee of a small island, called Cauda”) For the verb cp. above on Acts 27:4; Acts 27:7. The word for “island” is here in the original a diminutive form, hence “small island.” The name “Cauda” which has the best MS. support agrees well with the form which the name has assumed in modern times, “Gozzo” and “Gaudo.” But the form in A.V. is warranted by the orthography of Ptolemy (Claudos) and Pliny (Glaudos).
we had much work to come by the boat] This is most idiomatic old English, but is changed in R. V. into “we were able, with difficulty, to secure the boat.” The boats in old times were not as in modern ships made fast round about the vessel, but were carried on in tow. In stormy weather, there was of course much danger that the boat would be washed away. This was the case here, and as soon as ever they had gained the shelter of the island, they set about making sure of its safety by hauling it on board, but this they were not able to do without much difficulty, probably because it had been already filled with water.
Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.17. which when they had taken up] [R. V. “and when they had hoisted it up”]. The sense of the verb is thus fully brought out, as it indicates the labour which the work required.
helps] These were strong cables, which were drawn several times round the hulls of vessels, to help in keeping the timbers from parting. The technical term for the operation is “to frap” a vessel, and it is only in modern times that the process has been abandoned.
should fall into the quicksands] [R. V. “lest they should be cast upon the Syrtis”]. The Syrtis Major and Syrtis Minor are two quicksands on the north coast of Africa, of which the Syrtis Major lies most to the east, between Tripoli and Barca, and was the shoal on to which the sailors at this time were afraid of being driven.
strake sail] [R. V. “lowered the gear”] The noun is a very general one, signifying “tackling” or “implements” of any kind. What was done was to lower everything from aloft that could be dispensed with. They could not have struck sail, because to do so would be to give up all the chance which remained of using the wind to avoid the Syrtis, which was what they desired to do.
And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;18. And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest] Better, with R. V. “and as we laboured exceedingly with the storm.” The storm waxed in violence.
the next day they lightened the ship] This is not as precise as the original. Read “they set about throwing the cargo overboard.” The verb is an imperfect, and the noun is used in classical Greek for “a cargo cast forth.” The ship was probably carrying corn from Alexandria to Italy, and if so the load would be a heavy one and its removal a great relief to the struggling vessel. On the African supply of corn to Italy cp. Juv. Sat. v. 118 seqq.
And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.19. we cast out with our own hands] The oldest MSS., with R. V. read “They cast out with their &c.” which is much more likely than that the writer of the narrative, even if he were a fellow-traveller with St Paul in this voyage, was employed in such a work, which is pre-eminently that which the sailors alone would undertake.
the tackling] (Gk. furniture). The word is closely akin to that used in Acts 27:17 for “gear.” As that signified all that could be spared from aloft, so this seems to mean all that could be removed from the deck or the hull of the vessel.
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.20. in many days appeared] [R. V. shone upon us for many days]. This does not imply a continuous darkness like night, but that the mist and spray made the whole sky obscure both by day and night. In such a state of things we can understand how hopeless seemed the case of the Apostle and his fellows. They were at the mercy of the storm, and could neither know the direction in which they were carried, nor see if they were nearing any danger.
But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.21. But after long abstinence] As this sentence stands in A. V. it seems to indicate that the Apostle had been observing this long abstinence before he spake to his companions. The Gk. means that everybody on board had been without food for a long time. Read (with R. V.) “when they had been long without food.” This was in consequence of the excitement which made it impossible to eat, as well as the condition of the vessel which made the preparation of food very difficult. They had been living on anything that happened to be attainable, and that had been very little.
and not have loosed [R. V. set sail] from Crete] His exhortation had been that they should stay at Fair Havens, even though it was not so very commodious as a harbour.
and to have gained [gotten R. V.] this harm [injury R. V.] and loss] “To gain a loss” is a Greek, though not an English expression, and signifies “to prevent the loss by avoiding the danger.” The negative of the previous clause must not therefore be taken with this clause too, but the whole read as meaning “ye would not have set sail from Crete, and so would have escaped (been the gainers in respect of) this harm and loss from which ye now suffer.”
And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship.22. And now] i.e. though my advice was formerly rejected I offer it again.
there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship] R. V. “no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” This is more literal, but does not alter the sense. The Apostle now speaks in the confidence of a revelation. Formerly (Acts 27:10) he had reasoned from the probabilities of the case.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,23. the angel of God] [R. V. an angel of the God]. In speaking to heathens this would be the sense which the Apostle designed to convey. They had their own gods. But St Paul stood in a different relation to his God from any which they would acknowledge towards their divinities. To him God was a Father, and therefore all obedience and service were His due. Cp. the language of Jonah when he was among the heathen sailors. (Jonah 1:9.)
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.24. thou must be brought [R. V. stand] before Cesar] i.e. “and that this may come to pass, thou shalt be saved from the present danger.”
God hath given [R. V. granted] thee] This must be understood as in answer to prayer on the part of St Paul. In the midst of such peril, though no mention is made of the fact, we cannot doubt that the Apostle cried unto the Lord in his distress, and the gracious answer was vouchsafed that all should be preserved. It is not with any thought of boastfulness that he speaks thus to the heathen captain and centurion. All the praise is ascribed to God, and thus the heathen would learn that St Paul had God very near unto him.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.25. for I believe God] And he implies “I would have you do so too.” In the midst of danger, few things could be more inspiriting than such an address. And by this time all in the ship must have learnt that they had no common prisoner in the Jew who had appealed from his own people to the Roman Emperor.
Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.26. upon a certain island] Hence it appears that in the vision some details of the manner of their preservation had been made known to St Paul by the divine messenger.
But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;27. the fourteenth night] i.e. from the time of their sailing away from Fair Havens. Since that time they had been constantly driven to and fro.
in Adria] [R. V. in the sea of Adria]. That part of the Mediterranean which lies between Greece, Italy and Africa is so called. The name embraced a much wider extent of sea than the present Gulf of Venice, which is called “the Adriatic.” Cf. Strabo, ii. 123.
the shipmen deemed] [R. V. surmised]. Their knowledge of the sea would enable them to form an opinion from things which others would hardly notice, some alteration in the currents or the different character and sounds of the waves, dashed as they would be against the land.
And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.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.
Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.29. lest we should have fallen upon rocks] [R.V. should be cast ashore on rocky ground]. That rocks were near was evident from the dashing of the waves. But the morning, even with the faint light which appeared through the dark clouds, might enable them to make for a part where the coast was not so full of danger.
out of the stern] Thus trying as best they might to keep the head of the vessel towards the land and yet let her come no nearer to it, until they could make out what it was like.
wished for the day] Or the verb may be rendered “prayed.” The similarity of the circumstances to those in Jonah’s voyage would thus be made still greater, for then the heathen sailors prayed to their own gods.
And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,30. were about to flee] The Greek is better represented by the R. V. “were seeking to flee.” They had hit upon a device which they thought would enable them to have the first chance for safety and now they set about to carry it out. Everybody would agree that it was the most important matter at the moment to hold the ship in her position. So they professed to be anxious to make her secure fore as well as aft, and to lay out anchors from the foreship. For doing this they made out that the boat must be lowered from the deck, and that having been done, they intended to avail themselves of it and to row towards the shore. Paul’s interference stopped them.
Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers] These would probably be able to stop the intended desertion better than the captain of the vessel. At all events they were strong enough in numbers to take the matter into their own hands, and cut the boat adrift. It seems too (from Acts 27:11) that the centurion had much to do with the direction of the ship. Probably he had chartered her for the conveyance of his prisoners and so had the right to be consulted on all that was done.
Except these abide in the ship] We see from this that every human effort was still to be made, although God had revealed to Paul that they should all be saved. If the sailors had left, the ignorance of the soldiers and other passengers would not have availed to save them at such a time. The skill of the sailors was to be exerted to carry out what God had promised.
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.32. cut off [R. V. away] the ropes of the boat] i.e. cut asunder the ropes which attached the boat to the ship.
And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.33. while the day was coming on] Before it was light enough to see what had best be done. Here again we may notice how every means was to be employed for safety. Paul urges them to take now a proper meal that when the time for work arrives they may be in a condition to undertake it. The remaining clauses of the verse are not to be understood as implying that the fast had been entire for so long a time. Such a thing is impossible. But what the Apostle means is that the crew and passengers had taken during all that time no regular food, only snatching a morsel now and then when they were able, and that of something which had not been prepared.
Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.34. to take some meat] “Meat” in the older English was used for any kind of food, which is what the Greek signifies, “nourishment.” Therefore in these verses the R. V. has everywhere “food.”
this is for your health] [R. V. safety.] The R. V. is the better rendering of the Greek, and agrees with what has been said on Acts 27:32. The men when they had eaten would be able to do more towards their own preservation.
there shall not a hair fall, &c.] The best MSS. have “perish” instead of “fall,” and so R. V. The phrase is a proverbial one to express complete deliverance. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:45; 2 Samuel 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Luke 21:18.
And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.35. gave thanks to God] As he had advised, so he set the example of taking food. But he did more than this. He made an Eucharist of this meal. In the sight of the heathen soldiers and sailors, he brake the bread in solemn thanksgiving, and thus converted the whole into a religions act, which can hardly have been without its influence on the minds of some, at all events, of those who had heard St Paul’s previous words about the revelation which God had made to him.
Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.36. all of good cheer] Paul’s hopeful spirit had breathed hope into the whole company, and doubtless the religious character infused into the meal was not without a calming influence.
took some meat] The “some” of the A. V. seems warranted by the genitive case in the original, and is therefore to be preferred to the “took food” of the R. V.
And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.37. two hundred threescore and sixteen] As we do not know the number of prisoners and soldiers, it is impossible to form any conclusion about the manning of such a ship as this. The number here mentioned is very large, and we cannot suppose that a merchantman from Alexandria to Rome would carry a very large crew. But to accept the reading (supported by very little authority) which makes the whole company “about threescore and sixteen” has equal difficulty on the other side, and the way in which it arose can be easily explained from the use of letters for numerals among the Greeks. A vessel which could have four anchors cast from the stern, and still have more to spare for the foreship, must have been of large size and have needed many hands. The occasion of the numbering was probably the near expectation of coming ashore, and so it was needful to have all told, for the captain, in respect of the crew, and for the centurion, that of his prisoners and soldiers none might be allowed to escape or be missing. The mention of the number at this point of the history is one of the many very natural features of the narrative.
And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.38. And when they had eaten enough] Gk. “And having been satisfied with food.” When they had satisfied their present need, there was no use in trying to save more of the food which they had. So they set about lightening the ship. This is implied by the tense of the verb, and the next clause tells us the way they did it. They cast into the sea the corn which had been the first cargo of the vessel from Alexandria. No doubt this was the heaviest part of the freight, and would relieve the vessel greatly.
And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.39. they knew not the land] We are not from this to suppose that none of the sailors were acquainted with the island of Malta, but that the point of the land close to which they were was unrecognised by them. When they were close in shore, and amid stormy weather, this could very well happen, as they were a long way distant from the usual harbour.
but they discovered a certain creek with a shore] Better (with R. V.) “they perceived a certain bay with a beach.” The word is used to signify such a sandy beach as might allow a ship to be run aground upon it without the danger of her immediately coming to pieces.
into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship] Better (with R. V.) “and they took counsel whether they could drive the ship upon it,” i.e. they saw that the beach was such that they had a chance of landing there, and they discussed the best way of doing so, in their present maimed condition.
And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.40. And when they had taken up the anchors] The verb in the original implies that they cast loose all the anchors round about the stern of the vessel where they had laid them out. So the R. V. rightly gives “And casting off the anchors.” When they had thrown overboard a load of corn, they would have no wish to encumber themselves with the weight of the anchors or to take the trouble of hauling them up.
they committed themselves unto the sea] The italics of the A. V. shew that “themselves” is unrepresented in the original. It is far better to refer the verb to the anchors already mentioned, and render (with R. V.) “they left them in the sea.”
and loosed the rudder bands] The original has an adverb which is feebly represented by the conjunction of the A. V. Read (as R. V.) “at the same time loosing,” &c. The rudders, of which the ancient ships had two, had been made fast, and raised out of the water, when the anchors were laid out in the stern. Now that an attempt is to be made to steer the ship toward the beach they are let down again into the water.
and hoised up the mainsail] The Gk. Word “artemon” here used, was in old times the name given to the “foresail” of the vessel, and so it should be rendered here. Cognate words are now employed for the larger sails of vessels in the Mediterranean, but the “foresail” was all they here had left.
toward shore] i.e. toward this beach, which seemed a suitable place where they might try to land.
And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.41. And falling into a place where two seas met] The conjunction should here be rendered adversatively “But.” The verse goes on to describe some circumstances which defeated the intention of the sailors. Read “But lighting upon a place, &c.” This is one of the features of the narrative by which the locality can almost certainly be identified. The little island of Salmonetta forms with the Maltese coast near St Paul’s Bay exactly such a position as is here described. From the sea at a little distance, it appears as though the land were all continuous, and the current between the island and the mainland is only discovered on a nearer approach. This current by its deposits has raised a mud-bank where its force is broken by the opposing sea, and into this bank, just at the place where the current meets the sea-waves, was the ship driven, the force of the water preventing the vessel from reaching the beach just beyond. So it came to pass that though they got much nearer to the shore than at first, yet after all they had to swim for their lives.
but the hinder part was broken] Read (as R. V.) “the stern began to break up.” The verb in the orginal expresses an incomplete and gradual process. When the foreship was immoveable, the stern would also be held fast, and so be acted on by the waves with great violence and begin to go to pieces.
with the violence of the waves] The best MSS. do not represent the last three words. Of course they are to be understood, if they be not there.
And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.42. to kill the prisoners] This was the advice of the soldiers because, by the Roman law, they were answerable with their own lives for the prisoners placed under their charge.
But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:43. But the centurion, willing to save] The Gk. word indicates an active desire, and not a mere willingness. Read (with R. V.) “desiring to save.” The centurion could not fail to feel that it was to the Apostle that the safety of the whole party was due, and he could hardly help feeling admiration for the prisoner, after all he had seen of him. From the first (see Acts 27:3) he had been well disposed toward Paul, and the after events would not have lessened his regard. So to save him, he stops the design of his men, and saves the whole number of the prisoners.
kept them] Better, “hindered them” or (with R. V.) “stayed them.” The verb is a forcible word, and shews that the centurion was in full command of his men, and had not in the confusion lost his thoughtfulness and presence of mind.
they which could swim] This was the wisest course to adopt. Thus there would be a body ready on the shore to help those who only could float thither by the aid of something to which they were clinging. As St Paul had already been thrice shipwrecked and had been in the deep a night and a day (2 Corinthians 11:25) we may be sure that he was among those who were told off to swim ashore.
should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land] [R. V. “should east themselves overboard and get first to the land”] What is represented in the A.V., by “into the sea” is merely the preposition compounded with the verb “to cast.” This the R. V. represents by “overboard,” and so brings the word “first” into its proper and emphatic position. The swimmers were to get into safety first of all, that then they might be in readiness to succour those who drifted to the land on the floating spars and planks.
And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.44. and the rest] The nominative is here left pendent, both in the original and the translation. We supply readily in thought the needful words “should get to the land.”
some on boards [R. V. planks] and some on broken pieces of [R. V. other things from] the ship] The R. V. is the closest rendering of the Greek, but the A. V. gives the sense. The things on which they were saved were pieces which on the stranding of the vessel would be broken away from the main timbers. Everything that was needless to be kept on board they had already thrown over, and so we cannot think here of loose furniture of the vessel, but only of the framework itself.
escaped all safe] [R. V. all escaped safe]. The transposition of R.V. makes the emphasis clear. “All safe” might be read as if it meant “quite safe,” and “all” were merely an adverb qualifying the adjective.