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Acts 27 Study Notes

27:1 This is the fourth we section in Acts (see note at 16:10), and it extends to v. 37. The most natural conclusion is that the author of the “we” source was along for the journey. There were a number of people besides Paul and the other prisoners on the ship (e.g., Aristarchus, v. 2).

27:2 Adramyttium was in western Asia near the island of Lesbos. Like many ships sailing the Mediterranean Sea, the ship appears to have been a small grain vessel that would have worked its way from Caesarea along the coast until it reached Adramyttium.

27:3 There apparently were Christians in Sidon, although Acts does not record when the city was evangelized. The Christian presence may have been made possible as a result of citizens traveling to Jerusalem at Pentecost (2:9) or Christians fleeing persecution in Jerusalem (11:19). Paul seemed to have friends there who provided for him, possibly friends made during an unrecorded visit as he traveled between Jerusalem and Antioch.


Greek pronunciation [heh kah tahn TAHR kayss]
CSB translation centurion
Uses in Acts 13
Uses in the NT 20
Focus passage Acts 27:1,6,11,31,43

The Greek noun hekatontarchÄ“s literally means leader of a hundred. This is also the meaning of the equivalent Latin term centurio, which is the basis of the English word centurion. Centurions are mentioned on two occasions in Jesus’s life. When a centurion requested that Jesus heal his servant without coming to his home, Jesus marveled at this Gentile’s faith and healed the servant from a distance (Mt 8:5-13 = Lk 7:1-10). At the crucifixion, a centurion proclaimed Jesus to be God’s Son (Mt 27:54 = Mk 15:39) and a righteous person (Lk 23:47), and later informed Pilate of his death (Mk 15:44-45). Acts records the conversion of a God-fearing centurion who became one of the first Gentile converts (Ac 10:1-8,17-48).

Centurions were non-commissioned officers in the Roman army. A Roman legion had 6,000 soldiers, which were divided into ten cohorts of 600 soldiers. Each cohort was also divided into six centuries (100 soldiers), each with its own centurion.

27:4 The route of travel reflects the need to sail close to land and to tack against the winds.

27:5-6 The ship from Adramyttium would have taken them out of their way since it was going to follow the coast of the province of Asia. As a result, at Myra, on the southern coast of Asia Minor, the centurion found a ship from Alexandria that was going to Rome. The Alexandrian ship would have been part of the grain supply trade from Egypt to Rome (see note at v. 38).

27:7-9 The journey was being undertaken at the end of the sailing season, so the ship ran into difficulty. Sailing was dangerous from mid-September to mid-November, and the waterways closed for travel from then until February (see note at 28:11). It appears that Paul’s journey occurred in roughly mid-October. Fair Havens was not a suitable place to spend the winter because the harbor was exposed to the open sea (v. 12).

27:10 Paul offered a prophetic-like statement about the dangers of the voyage ahead. He either had divinely given insight into the situation, or as an experienced traveler he was well acquainted with the dangers of seafaring.

27:11-12 The topography of Phoenix, on the island of Crete, was radically changed in the sixth century by an earthquake.

27:13-16 The crew thought the gentle south wind would push them to their destination, but the seasonal “northeaster” blew the ship away from Phoenix and into open sea.

27:17-19 Caught in the wind, the sailors had virtually no control over the ship. They tied ropes around the hull to bind it tight and keep it from ripping apart. To gain buoyancy, they jettisoned cargo and tackle, but not the grain (cp. v. 38).

27:20 Since the storm blacked out sun and stars, the crew was unable to chart their location. They would have tracked the alternation between day and night by noting the vague light of day.

27:21-26 Refraining from eating was apparently due either to seasickness or to fear. Rather than reprimanding the crew for failure to take his advice (v. 21), Paul related his encounter with an angel who revealed that Paul had a greater destiny than death by shipwreck. He was destined to appear before Caesar, the world’s premier power. The divine plan would not be thwarted, especially by those who had acted so foolishly.

27:27 The Adriatic Sea mentioned here is not the same one that is currently known as the Adriatic Sea between Italy and the former Yugoslavia. It apparently refers instead to the modern day Ionian Sea between Crete, Malta, Italy, and Greece that extends into the Mediterranean Sea.

27:28-29 The sailors took soundings by letting down lengths of weighted rope. They determined that they were approaching land at a fast pace, even though they could not see it. In an effort to slow down the ship, they took the unusual action of lowering four anchors, all from the stern, rather than dropping anchors from the bow, which would have swung the ship around.

27:30-32 The prospect of imminent landfall after being adrift on the stormy sea for two weeks (v. 27) enticed a group of sailors to attempt, selfishly, an escape on the skiff (lifeboat). Paul’s wisdom in preventing this is seen in the next episode, when all hands were needed (vv. 37-38,40,43-44).

27:33-34 The men had gone without food for fourteen days, most likely because of severe seasickness brought on by the rough sea.

27:35 Following Jewish custom, Paul gave thanks to God for the food they ate.

27:36 Paul’s example of steady faith (“he gave thanks to God”) and practicality (“he began to eat,” v. 35) in the midst of the storm encouraged the battered sailors.

27:37 Luke mentions the number to show that Paul had managed to encourage all of them to eat. Verse 37 ends the fourth “we” section in Acts (see note at 16:10).

27:38 The crew threw out the grain, which had been acting as ballast for the ship, so they could run it aground (v. 39).

27:39-40 In light of the damage to the ship and the loss of the lifeboat (vv. 30-32), the only option for reaching shore was to ground the ship.

27:41 With the bow jammed fast in the offshore sandbar, the ship’s stern took a beating by the incoming waves.

27:42 The soldiers’ intention to kill the prisoners was probably motivated by the fact that soldiers were held personally responsible for the prisoners whom they guarded. Any soldier whose prisoner escaped would suffer the prisoner’s punishment.

27:43 By now the centurion recognized that paying attention to Paul was a good idea.

27:44 The sea would have been littered with planks and debris from the shattered ship.

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