A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Chapter 13

Paul's Trip to Rome

Acts 27 - 28

Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of a Roman soldier and boarded a ship to Rome to stand trial. We know Luke went with Paul on this voyage because he describes the events in detail, in the first person.

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Section 13.1 - Tough Sailing

It was tough sailing right from the beginning. Eventually, they got to a place called Fair Havens.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. [Acts 27:8 – 11]

Notice that the time was specified as being “after the Day of Atonement.” These days, if we say, “after Thanksgiving” rather than “November 24,” it is because November 24 might have been before, on, or after Thanksgiving; and it presumably makes a difference to the context. If the Jewish festivals had been abolished, it would not have made any difference to Luke or Theophilus (who were both Gentiles) if it was before or after the Day of Atonement.

Presumably Paul had left Caesarea before the Day of Atonement, so they were probably at sea on that date. Certainly Paul wasn’t in Jerusalem, and did not participate in any ceremony there—but he no doubt had spent the day in prayer and careful reflection about whatever sins he may have committed during the previous year.

We aren’t saved by any acts of atonement that we do ourselves. We are saved by the act of atonement done by Jesus on the cross; but there is benefit in having an annual reminder of the seriousness of sin, and the need to atone for it. An annual reminder of the necessity of confession of sin is certainly as important as an annual reminder of the birth of Christ.

Getting back to the story, Fair Havens must have been one of those places, like Greenland, with a misleading name. It must not have been a safe haven.

Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. [Acts 27:12]

Phoenix wasn't very far from Fair Havens. They should have been able to make it in a day; but a sudden storm came up, and fourteen days later, they shipwrecked on Malta.

Just before they crashed, Luke tells us,

After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” [Acts 27:21-26]

That was a bold prediction, in light of the situation. Later, he made another prediction.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. [Acts 27:33-37]

The story came to a happy ending for the passengers (but not the owner of the ship and its cargo) a short time later.

When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely. [Acts 27:39-44]

It happened just as God had told Paul. Against all odds, all 276 people survived.

Section 13.2 - Three Months on Malta

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. [Acts 28:1-6]

Paul was one of many prisoners on board, some of whom might have been murderers. The people were right to be suspicious of him. God worked a miracle, taking advantage of their superstition, to give Paul the credibility he needed to be welcomed into the home of the chief official of the island.

There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. [Acts 28:7-10]

Healing the sick isn’t as impressive as resurrecting the dead—but it is impressive enough to gain respect.

Section 13.3 - Rome at Last!

After three months they set sail again for Rome. Luke provides more details about this leg of the journey—but let’s just skip to the end.

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” [Luke 28:16-20]

Yet again, Paul insists that he has “done nothing against the customs of our ancestors” and “certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people.” If the modern myth that the first Christians hated Jews and rejected God’s laws is true, then Paul must be a liar. Paul wasn’t lying.

Paul’s statement about “the hope of Israel” refers to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah the Jews had hoped for all those years.

Paul was prepared to defend himself against rumors they may have heard. Although they had not heard anything about Paul in particular, they had heard bad things about the Christian movement and were anxious to hear the other side.

They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”

They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. [Acts 28:21-24]

Luke doesn’t say anything about Paul trying to convince the people on the basis of miracles. Paul could have told them about the miraculous deliverance of all the passengers in the shipwreck, or how a viper bite had no effect on him, or about the miracles Jesus did. The fact that Luke doesn’t report these details does not prove that Paul did not mention them; it just proves Luke didn’t think they were important enough to include in his letter.

Furthermore, the word “love” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Book of Acts, so that must not have been one of Paul’s main points. Nor did he tell the Jews that they were God's Chosen People and were therefore saved by their special relationship.

Paul must have told the Romans in person the same things he wrote to them in a letter.

[D]o you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 1 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. [Romans 2:3-11]

Luke says the statement that really offended them was:

They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

“'Go to this people and say,

“'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”

“'For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.

“'Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.' 2

“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen! [Some manuscripts include verse 29: After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves.] ” [Acts 28:25-29]

Luke concludes the Book of Acts with these two verses:

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! [Acts 28:30-31]

Since Luke doesn’t tell us anything about Paul’s death, this letter was probably sent just before Paul died.

Back to Chapter 12 Table of Contents On to Chapter 14

Footnotes:

1 Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12
2 Isaiah 6:9,10