They Encounter a Massive Storm
When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. We sailed along the sheltered side of a small island named Cauda, where with great difficulty we hoisted aboard the lifeboat being towed behind us. Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind.
The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard. The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”
About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. They dropped a weighted line and found that the water was 120 feet deep. But a little later they measured again and found it was only 90 feet deep. At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight. Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship.
But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away. Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat— all 276 of us who were on board. After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.Acts 27:13-38
It’s interesting that it was under the limited protection of the island of Cauda that they hauled the lifeboat in. It had clearly been towed behind the ship and was likely filling with water and hampering their steerage. So “we” took it on board. Luke used the royal “we” here. I wonder did he and Paul help in hauling the lifeboat on board the ship? Also under the protection of Cauda they strapped the ship.
- How would they manage to strap the ship with ropes in a typhoon? Ian
I consulted the resources I have to explain what was happening here. The only comment was that the exact nature of what was happening here was doubtful given the fact that they were at sea in heavy weather. The suggestions among the commentators range from:
- ropes or chains were passed across the deck, above the deck, to hold the upper deck fast against the weather.
- ropes or chains were slung under the ship to hold it against the weather, but the technique for doing this is unknown and unlikely.
- ropes or chains were attached under the deck, in the hold, fastened to the decking timbers from side to side and wound tight.
The suggestion is that these ropes or chains were fastened transversely or longitudinally. In other words, “we commentators don’t know how they did it or exactly what they did but they could have done either one of these three options in various combinations.
My mate Kev to rescue:
About the ropes. I have this memory from early school about early sailing boats. They would lower ropes over the bow held on each side of the ship and let the forward motion take the loose rope around the ship along the keel to the middle of the ship. So that it went down one side and up the other then they would tie the ends tightly together and probably twitch the rope i.e. twist it with an oar this would really tighten the rope and because it went over the boards that all ran longways it would help hold the ship together. Particularly when multiple ropes were used.
I remember a teacher telling us apparently it was common practice on early sailing boats. It may or may not be correct but this is the picture I still have in my memory.Kevin Ward
I reckon Kev has nailed it; don’t you? Phooey to the commentators when one has mates like Kev. We’ll go with a practical guy’s take on it rather than the deck-chair-academics.
- How is it the prisoner Paul called the crew together and they listened to him! What is going on here?
- Where is the ship’s captain let alone the Commanding Officer of the guard and his soldiers?
I think the use of the royal “we” above suggests that the passengers (prisoners) and everyone on board were involved in whatever they could do to save everyone’s lives. At a time like this you need take charge type people to do just that – take charge. Paul was a tent maker, Luke was a doctor and academic. I can imagine Paul calling his band together and giving them instructions on what to do in the midst of chaos, when every man was doing what was right in his own eyes. Either that or the sailors aboard enlisted the help of the “prisoners”.
Besides I am not convinced that the owner was on board with them. I commented in Bible Gem 1869 that the word can actually mean the owner’s representative and not the owner himself. The latter is not likely.
That indeed was some storm: lasting for 14 days (a fortnight non-stop). One of you (who wants to remain nameless) asked how did they get back up to the Adriatic Sea if they were being driven by a Northeast wind? A good question. I suspect it was because the prevailing winds at the time were from a south-easterly direction but this nor’easter caught them by surprise. If the normal wind had been from the south east then it made sense for them to attempt to get from Fair Havens to Phoenix. But if the wind suddenly changed and caught them from the north east then we can understand why they were caught out. I can only assume the wind changed again and started driving them northwest. Luke despite all of his thoroughness, doesn’t tell us that detail, nor does he tells what they did to strap the ship in the middle of a storm.
- What cargo would they have been throwing overboard?
- Where did Paul get bread from?
- Was it wheat they were carrying or corn?
- Why did they throw the wheat overboard?
- Wouldn’t the owner protest at losing the cargo?
These too are all good questions. I only assumed corn was involved because of the use of the word Frumentarii which Ramsay suggests infers they carried corn. But it is likely they carried wheat as well. Ships of trade would carry both commodities regularly in the hold. The different grains were carried separately in different holds. Where did they get bread from? Well you can make bread from either wheat or corn. They would have had to have the other ingredients on board as well. I think I have answered the question about the owner’s likely protestations already.
This Gems is already getting long and so I will leave the remaining questions for the next Gem.
- How come Paul tells the Commanding Officer and the guard to cut the rope to the life boat? Who is in charge here?
- Were the sailors going to abandon ship and leave the prisoners and everyone else on the ship? That is how it seems to read.
- Seriously, one lifeboat for 276 people and they cut it adrift? Why?
- Are you going to dissect Paul’s speech from 27:21-26? I hope so.
- Really? Paul led them in communion and then they were saved. I can’t get my head around that. How could Paul led a bunch of non-Christian heathen in communion? It doesn’t seem right when he says not to take communion lightly in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31
In order to hear the voice of the Lord we need to ignore the noise of the world.Ian Vail
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.C. S. Lewis
A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.John Burroughs
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.Carl Jung
Give me a practical guy in the midst of a storm and not an armchair critic. They only arrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship.Ian Vail