27:1-12 Paul's sea journey towards Rome
The first part of the voyage was uneventful, and again (as in 21:1-6) Luke has obviously kept a diary in which he recorded interesting details of navigation in the Mediterranean. Luke twelve times used the words "we" and "us" to stress his own involvement in this journey (27:2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8). Except for his obvious fascination with what the sailors were doing, there seems no other reason for including nautical details which would be of no interest to the Roman judges of Paul's case in Rome. It is possible that the brief which Paul would need ended with 26:32, and the last two chapters were the notes that Luke wrote in his diary as a personal record of this traumatic journey. Why would God want this story preserved and included in his Word for us? One answer is that Luke's account of the problems and hazards of sailing in the Mediterranean fill out Paul's own very brief account of his sea travels. "Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea: (2 Corinthians 11:25). The story also illustrates the Lord's intention to get his servant Paul to Rome (as stated in 23:11). We can take Paul and the Centurion as examples of heroic courage in a terrible situation.
27:1 Paul had been guarded by the Roman army officers of the governor's guard in Caesarea (24:23). He was now transferred for the journey to a centurion (captain) of the Augustan Cohort (probably similar in function to our military police). Luke may have mentioned the name of Julius because he came to faith during this journey, and was known in the Christian community. He was certainly very caring of Paul's needs (27:3), and certainly saved him from being killed (27:43).
27:2 Adramyttium (Greek Adramytion) was a port on the west coast of Asia Minor (near the present-day Turkish town of Edremit). This big ship carried a full cargo of wheat (27:38) destined for Rome, and had room for a few dozen passengers (see 27:37 note). And the Centurion took Paul and other prisoners in his charge on board. Aristarchus also came as a passenger. He belonged to the church Paul had planted in Thessalonica (17:1-8, 20:4). He was with Paul in Ephesus, where he was dragged into the arena in the riot there (19:29), and he was in prison with Paul in that city (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24, see our dating in 20:1). After their release, he continued as a valued member of Paul's team (20:4-6), and he probably traveled with Paul and Luke on the way to Caesarea and Jerusalem (21:1-16). Now Paul asked him to join the ship as far as Myra (27:5), and from there he would have gone back via the churches in Asia Minor and on to Macedonia to work with the churches there.
27:3 Paul and Luke had met with the disciples in Tyre (21:3-6). Now Julius the Centurion kindly allowed them to visit the church in Sidon (20 miles to the north of Tyre). The Greek expression epimeleias tuchein means to be cared for, which may mean that Paul needed medical attention which Dr. Luke could get for him there. Obviously Paul could have escaped from custody, which shows that Julius trusted him, and perhaps already had faith in Jesus the Messiah.
27:4-5 The direct course to Asia Minor was to the south of Cyprus, but making no progress against a strong contrary wind the captain turned the ship north to use the protection of the island. That took them along the Turkish coast past Tarsus (Cilicia) to the port of Myra (modern Dembre on the Adriacus river) in the province of Lycia (very close to Patara, 21:1 - both ports were used for tran-shipment for the journey west to Greece and Rome).
27:6-8 Against a contrary wind the ship took several precious days to tack the180 miles west to the port of Cnidus at the south-west tip of Turkey. It would have been a good place to winter, but the captain decided to sail south to go around Crete. They had a hard time sailing round the promontory of Salmone (modern Cape Sideros) on the east shore of the island, but they made it into a harbor named Fair Havens east of Cape Littinos. We do not know the location of Lasea, but we know the cape gives no protection from the prevailing south-easterly winds (27:12).
27:9-10 From his experience of sailing in the Mediterranean Paul warned that, as a result of delays, the Day of Atonement was past and the sailing season was now over with winter storms approaching. He said moving on would result in the loss of the ship's cargo and the ship itself, and their own lives. It is interesting that this last part of the prophecy was changed by the Lord as they approached Malta (27:22).
27:11-12 There was a discussion between the Centurion, the Captain, and the owner of the ship, and they decided against Paul's advice to see if they could make it to winter in the safe harbor of Phoenix (modern Loutro) only a hundred miles to the west.
27:13-38 The account of a fourteen day hurricane at sea and a shipwreck on Malta.
This is one of the most powerful eye-witness accounts in world literature of a disaster at sea. Luke's counting of days in the middle of this terrifying storm (27:18-20, 27) suggests that he was keeping a diary of the events which he records so vividly. As noted in the previous introduction (27:1-12), this story would not have impressed Paul's Roman judges. It can only have been written because of Luke's personal interest in the events.
27:13 With the help of a gentle south wind on the port side they sailed close to the shore, but suddenly a violent wind came down from the mountains of Crete, and there was no way to turn against it and they were driven out to sea.
27:16-17 Luke's use of the plural in "we were scarcely able to get the ship's boat under control" shows that Luke and Paul joined the sailors in hauling in the water-logged boat which was towed behind them, and managed to lift it up on deck (see the sailors' later attempt to use this boat, 27:30). The next task was to pass ropes under the hull of the ship and fasten them tight to prevent the planks from being battered loose. Then they made a sea anchor to be towed behind the ship to slow it down as it was being driven towards the quicksands of the Gulf of Sidra (Sirte) in Libya.
27:18-20 The next day, as they were being pounded by huge waves, they threw some of the cargo overboard, and the third day they threw out the main sails, main mast, and the ropes and tackle that held them. They probably made another sea anchor with these. Without sun or stars in the sky, and a horrendous hurricane with waves constantly crashing on the deck, the crew and passengers gave up hope of getting safe to land.
27:19-21 After two weeks of terror (27:27) Paul stood up among those who were huddled demoralized in the area below deck. He claimed the authority to speak by reminding them that he had advised against leaving Crete.
27:22-24 He then told the assembled passengers, sailors and soldiers that a messenger of God (probably Jesus himself) had just assured him (as in 23:11) that he would stand before the emperor in Rome. And he also announced that all others on the ship with him would preserved.
27:25-26 He then encouraged them to believe that had God had promised that this would be exactly as he had been told, and they would run aground on an island.
27:27-29 The ship was drifting helplessly, dismasted and without the main sail, but the crew must have calculated they were in the sea of Adria (now called the Ionian Sea) somewhere to the south of Greece and Italy. This meant the wind had changed, and the ship had escaped been blown on to the quicksands of Libya and Tunisia (27:27). That night the sailors took a sounding (using a weight attached to a knotted rope) that indicated the depth was 120 feet then decreasing to 90 feet, so they threw out four anchors to prevent the danger of drifting on to rocks. Perhaps influenced by Paul, they all prayed, and waited for dawn (see Jonah 1:6).
27:30-32 Evidently the driving wind of storm had abated, leaving only a huge swell, and the sailors decided their best hope was to lower the boat (retrieved in 27:16-17) during the night and find their own way to shore. Their excuse was that they had to put out more anchors. But Paul told the Centurion that to save the ship the sailors would be needed on board (see 27:39-40), and his soldiers immediately cut the ropes that held the boat and it drifted away. It must have seemed a long anxious night.
27:33-34 As dawn was breaking Paul told everyone to get pita bread from the ship's store, and strengthen themselves (after fourteen days without food). And again he assured them that not a hair of their head would be lost (see Jesus' use of this metaphor in Luke 21:18)..
27:35-38 Luke was obviously reminded of a communion service on the stricken ship as Paul thanked God for the bread they had distributed, broke it , and ate before the whole ship's company. We can imagine their awe as 76 persons (more likely than the 276 mentioned in some texts) were encouraged to share in this astonishing meal.. Luke stressed that their hunger was "satisfied" (as in his account of the feeding of the five thousand, Luke 9:17). The result was that they now had the renewed courage and strength to work at bringing up the heavy bags of wheat from the hold, and throw them into the sea to lighten the ship.
27:39-41 When dawn broke the sailors could see a little beach without rocks. They loosed the rudder that had been secured to save it from being broken in the storm. Having cast off the anchors, they were able to hoist a jib on the foremast to sail in the direction of the beach, but the bow of the ship ran aground, and the strong swell began breaking up the poop at the stern of the vessel.
27:42 The instinct of the soldiers was to kill their prisoners to avoid being blamed for their escape, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul, and prevented this. He took decisive charge and organized those who could swim to go first. Then he had the soldiers and sailors break off pieces of wood from the ship, and forced the people that remained to hold on to these and get to shore. As a result of this brilliant bit of leadership Luke and Paul and probably 74 others (see 27:37) were saved from the raging sea.