1. And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment.
The plans now come together for Paul to sail to Italy to appear before Caesar. He will be traveling with a number of other prisoners, for travel was difficult at that time, and of course Rome wouldn’t go to all the trouble of planning a trip just to transport one prisoner at a time. Yet from this verse we also learn that Paul will not be traveling alone, but will have at least one of his band of closest followers traveling with him. For here we see the pronouns change, and Luke tells us it was decided that “we” should sail to Italy. So it is clear that Luke is going to accompany Paul on his journey to appear before Caesar.
Now how this was accomplished is hard to say. Some have suggested that Luke bound himself to Paul as a slave, and that Rome would have paid for Paul to have a slave accompany him. The likelihood of this I cannot comment upon, but we have also seen from some comments earlier that there is a good chance that Paul had come upon a considerable inheritance at this time. It could well be that Paul is paying the expenses for Luke to accompany him to Rome. There is no particular reason to think that Rome must have been paying the way for both of them.
So Paul and the other prisoners are delivered to a centurion (or commander of a hundred soldiers) named Julius. He was of the Augustan Regiment, which is probably what is otherwise known as the Praetorian Guard. When first established, they were the first Roman soldiers allowed to be stationed in Rome, and were the personal bodyguard of Caesar Augustus, remaining completely loyal to him. However, upon his death, they remained in Rome as the Emperor’s bodyguard, but also worked for their own political ends. The centurions of this Regiment were powerful, and so this Julius was no insignificant soldier.
2. So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.
So they enter a ship from Adramyttium. This name means “I Shall Abide in Death,” and Adramyttium is actually a seaport in Mysia. The ship has probably come to the coast of Israel to trade, and now is heading back towards its home port. So they put to sea, and sail north, planning to head along the coasts of Asia.
Now we learn more of Paul’s companions. We discover that Luke is not the only one who is accompanying him. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, also accompanies him. We met this man in Acts 19:29, and saw him accompanying Paul in Acts 20:4. Now, he accompanies Paul on this journey. Whether he means to go all the way to Rome with Paul, or just until he can separate from them and head back to Macedonia, it is hard to say. Certainly during this first leg of the journey he is heading in the right direction for going back home.
3. And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care.
The next day they land at the port city of Sidon. The wind must have been favorable for them to have made this journey, close to 70 miles, in a single day. Sidon means “Hunting,” and is an ancient city that earlier was associated with another famous port city, Tyre. Sidon is in Phoenicia, Israel’s neighbor to the northwest along the Mediterranean Sea. It was a convenient stopover for the sailors commanding the ship.
Julius at this point shows much kindness towards Paul, giving him liberty to leave and go to find his friends in Sidon and receive care. Why Julius was so kind towards Paul the prisoner is hard to say, but he clearly does show him kindness, for he displays this favor throughout the record as we read it here. It could well be that Julius was one of those who heard Paul’s defense before King Agrippa, for we are told that Agrippa came “with the commanders and the prominent men of the city.” This Julius might well have been one of these “commanders,” and if so, he would have been well aware of Paul’s innocence of any real crime. He may, too, have respected Paul’s teaching and dedication to his work and his God. At any rate, this favor is not a single incident, but will continue as they travel onwards toward Rome.
Who the “friends” were here whom Paul went to it is hard to say. No doubt, these were Jewish believers in Jesus Christ who were living in Sidon, and who knew Paul. Though the circumstances were not ideal, no doubt they were happy to receive God’s apostle and to have the privilege to minister to him.
4. When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.
Now they leave Sidon and put to sea. This time, they sail west away from shore, coming to the island of Cyprus. Remember, this was the island that was Barnabas’ home country, and was the first place Paul and Barnabas went to minister together after they were called to their work by the Holy Spirit. Now, they sail along the coast of that island, using it to shelter them from the winds, which were blowing contrary to the way they were trying to travel.
5. And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.
They continue their journey, sailing over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia. Cilicia, which means “The Land of Celix,” is the place where Paul’s birthplace of Tarsus is located. North of Cilicia is Lycaonia, where Paul and Barnabas proclaimed in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. West of Cilicia is Pamphylia, where Paul and Barnabas first landed on the mainland to begin their work. Paul has done work in these places multiple times since that first journey through these regions, but now he sails by them a prisoner of Rome.
Now, they come to a place called Myra, a city whose name means “Myrrh.” It is in the region of Lycia, which means “Wolfish.” Lycia is west of Pamphylia, and is also bordered by Phrygia and Caria.
6. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board.
Apparently Myra is the final stop for the ship from Adramyttium in which they were sailing before it turns away from the path they are taking toward Rome, so the centurion abandons it at this point. He finds another ship sailing their way, this time one that is planning on going all the way to Italy. This ship is from Alexandria. Alexander the Great had named many cities this during his conquests, but this ship was probably from what was perhaps the most famous Alexandria, in Egypt. Egypt provided grain to the ancient world, much like the Americas do today, so this was probably a grain ship bound for Italy with its cargo to feed the capital of the empire. So the centurion gets them passage on this ship, and puts the prisoners, along with Luke and Aristarchus, on board this ship to continue their journey.
7. When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone.
The winds are not cooperating with them now, so they proceed slowly for many days. They had ingenious ways of tacking against the wind, but it was a slow process. Finally, they arrive with difficulty off Cnidus. Cnidus, which means “Nettled,” was a peninsula at the extreme southwest of what we call Asia Minor. There was a city on Cnidus that was called the same name. The ship arrives here with difficulty, and finally has to give up struggling against the wind. So they choose to sail under shelter of the island of Crete off Salmone.
Crete means “Fleshy,” and is the largest and most fertile island in the Aegean Sea. Paul will return to Crete in the post-Acts period to do a work there, and will leave Titus behind to complete the work, later writing the book of Titus to him while he is still working there. For now, however, Crete is just a means of escaping the wind for the Alexandrian ship in which Paul is riding.
Salmone means “Clothed.” Salmone is a promontory on the east side of the island of Crete. So what this is telling us is that the ship leaves the coast of the mainland to sail under this promontory to escape the wind.
8. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
The promontory does not totally shield them from the fierce wind, and so they proceed with difficulty past this promontory. Finally, they arrive at a place called Fair Havens (or “Beautiful Ports”) along the southern coast of Crete. This harbor still bears the same name today. It is near to a city called Lasea or “Shaggy.” Deciding to pause their difficult journey for now, the sailors stop at this city to wait out the wind.
9. Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them,
They spend much time in Lasea, no doubt waiting out the wind. The result is that the time of year arrives when sailing becomes dangerous. In that part of the world, the winter months are the stormy months, and so there is a period of about three months when sailing would be very dangerous, and was generally avoided. This time has arrived, for Luke informs us that the Fast was already over. The fast, according to Leviticus 16:29, was on the tenth day of the seventh month. It is impossible to make this correspond with an exact date, but it would have been in late September or early October. Therefore, as they are deciding what to do, Paul gives them his advice. Yet as God’s apostle, this advice was not his alone, for he had knowledge of these things that came from the Lord.
10. saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.”
They are planning to attempt to continue their voyage now before winter. Yet Paul reveals what he has perceived about this, no doubt using knowledge given to him by God. He has perceived that this voyage they are planning to take will end with disaster and much loss. Not only will this affect the cargo and ship, but also the lives of those who are traveling aboard her. The word here is the Greek word psuche, which is the word translated as “soul.” Paul is warning that many souls will be lost if they make this voyage. The souls are the people themselves.
11. Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.
The centurion weighs Paul’s words, but in the end he is more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by Paul. Paul had been on many sea voyages by this time, but still he did not have anything like the experience of a helmsman or the very owner of this ship. They were the ones who owned the ship and had a stake in its cargo. They were the ones who would lose out most if the ship was destroyed. From all worldly standpoints, listening to them was the smart thing to do. Yet one fact negates this, and that is that Paul is not speaking just as a man, but as the spokesman of God Himself. Whatever knowledge these seamen have or think they have, they do not know as much about the situation as God. Yet the centurion may not realize this truth about Paul yet, or if he knows it, he does not yet trust it completely to the point where he will make his decision based on Paul’s word alone. Thus, he listens to the men with worldly experience instead.
12. And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.
Weighed against the risk of sailing this late in the year is the fact that the harbor of Fair Havens and the town of Lasea are not what these men are looking for as a good place to winter in. The harbor was not as sheltered as they would like, and perhaps Lasea just did not offer the pastimes and ungodly pleasures that a typical seaman would like to indulge in during the long winter months. Some of the Roman soldiers with the centurion, being rough men, may have had the same idea in mind. Therefore, the majority of the sailors advise them to set sail from there. They do not wish to go far, knowing that it is not safe, but simply suggest sailing a short way down the coast to reach Phoenix.
Phoenix means “A Palm Tree,” and is another harbor of Crete on its western coast. This harbor faces toward the southwest and northwest. In Greek this reads “down the southwest wind and northwest wind.” In other words, it faces north-east and south-east, so the wind would be coming across the island to reach the harbor, and so would be blocked by the land mass of Crete, making it a much more comfortable harbor. Doubtless it was also better supplied with the entertainments the sailors would want during the winter.
13. When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete.
A day arrives when the south wind blows softly, and it appears to the sailors a perfect day to accomplish their desire. Phoenix is not very far down the coast, less than a day’s sailing, and so they think they can make it without too much risk on a nice day, even this late in the year. Therefore, they put out to sea, cautiously staying close to Crete in hopes of minimizing their risk of sailing this late in the fall. They are probably quite satisfied with themselves at this point, feeling certain that they will overcome the weather and time of year, and even Paul’s dire words, and come to Phoenix as they planned.
14. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.
Their nice day does not last long, however. The soft south wind blowing earlier turns out to have merely been the calm before the storm, and by it these sailors were lured into a life-threatening situation. Now, a tempestuous head wind arises. This wind is called Euroclydon, for they named their winds, usually based on the direction the wind is coming from. This name in some manuscripts is Eurokylon, and means “North-North-East Wind.” This would hardly seem to be a name by which it would be called, as the text suggests, but just a designation. Many manuscripts, along with the Syriac, read Euroklydon, which would mean “A Wind Causing Broad Waves.” In other words, it is a tempestuous wind, and spells disaster for their plan of just taking a short trip down the coast.
15. So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive.
The ship is caught by this mighty wind, which is far too powerful for this tiny vessel to hope to fight against it. Therefore, the sailors, apparently with Luke helping them, are unable to continue along their course, so they simply let the ship drive where the wind wills to take it.
16. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty.
They manage to run under the shelter of an island called Clauda, or “Lame.” This island is nearly due south of Phoenix, the harbor they had hoped to reach to winter in. However, they have no hope of sailing south at this point, since this would be into the teeth of this mighty wind, and so their best laid plans have come to nothing.
The island is barely any protection, as it is described here in Greek as a little one. Here under the shelter of this tiny island, a new crisis arises. The skiff (similar to what we would call a lifeboat) that was attached to this vessel needs to be secured or it will be beaten apart by the storm. This is no easy task, but they accomplish it with difficulty while still benefiting from the shelter Clauda supplies them.
17. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven.
Once they have taken the skiff on board, they have another task to do. The way ships were constructed at the time was by using metal pegs and driving them through the beams. If the ship did start to break apart, they would take cables, run them underneath the ship, and then pass them over the deck and by a twisting arrangement secure them so that they would hold the ship together. Needless to say, sailing on a ship that was undergirded in this way was a very dangerous proposition, and not something you would wish to do.
Now, having tied the ship together to stop it from coming to pieces in the waves, they begin to fear that they might run aground on the Syrtis Sands. This name could come from the Arabic word sert meaning “desert,” or from the Greek suro, which means “dragged.” This was a place in about this location in the sea that was full of shallows and sandbanks, and therefore very destructive to ships. Fearing this, they are unwilling to attempt any further sailing, and so they strike their sail and allow the wind to carry them where it will.
18. And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship.
Because of how badly the tempest is tossing them, they think it necessary to lighten the ship as much as possible. Therefore anything they deem to be unnecessary they take and cast it overboard, hoping that by doing this they may at least keep the ship afloat.
19. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands.
On the third day, so frightened are they by the storm, that they throw overboard with their own hands the very gear of the ship, the very important things needed for sailing. Obviously, they are desperately frightened, and in great fear for their lives.
20. Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
Many days now have passed and they have seen neither sun or stars. If we understand how they navigated at that time, we can realize that this means that they had no idea where they were, for it was the sun and the stars that gave them their bearings and let them know where they were on the sea. So they are completely lost, and a great tempest is beating on them. The word for tempest is cheimon, which is often translated “winter.” The winter they thought to spend in Pheonix is upon them in full force, and they are stuck in the middle of the sea. The sailors can hardly imagine a worse situation, and they give up hope at this time. It simply seems to them that there is no way for them to be saved.
The word for “appeared” here is the Greek word epiphaino. The root word is phaino, which means “to shine forth.” With epi in front of it, it means to blaze forth, or to shine forth in a favorable intervention. What these sailors were hoping for was for the sun or stars to shine through the clouds and intervene on their behalf. First of all, their appearance would mean the storm was finally breaking up. Secondly, a glimpse of sun or stars would at least give them an idea of where they are and where they might head to reach land. However, no such intervention of sun and stars has occurred, and so they do not believe they can be saved.