Acts 27 – Travel to Rome

There are eleven or twelve accounts of Paul traveling by sea in the book of Acts, about 3000 miles in all.  Yet this chapter gives bay far the most detail of a journey by sea in the Bible, and even in the rest of ancient literature.  Given the fact that Luke has carefully designed the rest of this two volume history, we should probably pause to wonder why he includes such a great amount of detail to the journey to Rome.  It is not just that it is an exciting story (his readers were getting bored?) or that he was trying to fill out a scroll.  There is a literary and theological reason for Luke’s inclusion of this lengthy story.

That Luke is traveling with Paul may account for the detail.  Often ancient historians would write up to the time in which they are living and include themselves in the story in order to build credibility.  Consider Josephus, who summarized all of Jewish history up to the time of the Jewish revolt.  So too Thucydidies, who wrote his history of the Peloponesian War and included his own participation at various points.  This shipwreck functions to give Luke credibility – he witnessed the events himself and was a participant in the history he tells.  A Greco-Roman reader would expect this sort of thing if the book of Acts was to be seen as credible.

But there is more going on here than Luke’s interest in travel.  If someone (say, Theophilus) has been reading through Luke and Acts, he would notice some similarities between Paul and Jesus.  Both are arrested by the Jews and handed over to the Romans, both are tried by a secular authority (Pilate and Herod; Felix/Festus and Agrippa) and both are the victims of a miscarriage of justice motivated by the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  Will Paul suffer the same fate as Jesus?  Will he be executed by the Romans as a political undesirable, or will he receive justice from Rome?

Beyond these parallels, we need to remember Luke’s theme for the whole book: “beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth.”  Luke knows that Paul will go to Rome to testify before the Emperor, but the reader may think that Paul will be killed along the way.  As James Dunn has observed, Luke is trying to show that “come what may, God will fulfill his purpose by having Paul preach the good news in the very heart of the empire” (Dunn, Beginning in Jerusalem, 968).

Some have questioned the historicity of this story based on parallels with other ancient literature, including Homer’s Odyssey.  Often a guilty man will try to escape justice (or fate), head out to the seas to avoid capture, but ultimately he will suffer and die anyway.  Paul is escaping from the Jews, yet is shipwrecked and eventually nearly killed by a snake, it is thought that Luke is patterning this story after the archetypal Greco-Roman novel plot-line.

There is something to the parallels, and it may be that Luke tells this story in such detail because shipwrecks were popular in literature at the time, but this does not necessarily negate the historicity of the story.  Paul had to go to Rome and the best way to do that is by ship, it is entirely plausible that Festus would send him off in this way.  Shipwrecks were in fact common, so much so that Paul has already suffered shipwrecks twice in his travels (2 Cor 11:25)!

While I think Paul did travel to Rome by ship and experienced a shipwreck, Luke’s theological motivation is to demonstrate nothing will hinder the Gospel getting to Rome.

14 thoughts on “Acts 27 – Travel to Rome

  1. I think Paul was doing just that, writing himself into the story to give it credibility. Since none of us were obviously not alive back then, I assume that Paul would want us to know about his life and his travels. As James Dunn said, “Luke is trying to show that “come what may, God will fulfill his purpose by having Paul preach the good news in the very heart of the empire.” That in Luke and Acts, Paul and Jesus have some resemblance between them. I wonder how Paul felt about getting shipwrecked two times in (2 Cor 11:25).

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    • You mean Luke wrote himself in, not Paul. Do you think that Luke was actually there, or is he “creating” a role for himself?

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      • Yes it looks like Luke is trying to add creditibility to himself in what he is doing… On the topic of if he is making up a role for himself is a hard question to ask and can we really even answer it? Do you think God would want that in a book of the Bible? If someone made up a lie to make them look better. So for this reason I believe that Luke is telling the truth and did not write himself into the story.

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    • I think that Luke may potentially have created a role, or at least embellished, but that does not take away from the truth in the message. When Jesus told the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, he was not citing an actual story about men communicating between heaven and hell, he told it to make a point. I think an author can add or subtract some elements of a story for effect without taking away from the truth or message of a story. If all of the Bible was exactly literal without creativity, then it would be like reading a scientific journal, and no one would read it. Maybe God chose Luke to write the epic book of Acts because of he had an interesting way of interpreting and transferring reality onto paper.

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  2. During this period it is easy to see that shipwrecks are spoken of a lot. I think this is because it is something that everyone of the time can somewhat relate to, not because they have been in a ship wreck but because that is one of the many ways of transportation. Just like now we have a lot of movies and shows about air plane crashes because it is something that everyone can relate to and something everyone worries about. (Lost and sadly Snakes on a Plane with Samuel L. Jackson… TERRIBLE MOVIE) Anyway, I think the reason that this shipwreck is focused on so much is because it almost seems as if this is or could be the end of Paul. And I think this is something that Paul understands and correct me if I am wrong i believe it is towards the beginning of Acts 21 that the people do not want Paul to leave because they all feel that he is going to die and Paul says to them, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” I feel that Paul very well knows what could happen, but he is motivated and determined to do whatever it is that has to be done at any cost, even if that means giving up his life.

    P.S. the book the Odyssey is a great book.

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  3. Going off of what Kyle wrote I agree that Luke must be trying to gain some creditability here. whether or not it is all true is another question. i would love to think that because it is in the Bible, it would be the truth. there may be some things that sort of stretch the truth a little, but the main point is there. Another thought here is that it is his story, we can only go off of what is written we all tend to add things to our personal stories maybe to hide something, or to get another point across. maybe that could be what he was doing.

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  4. I think that very well might be the reason this shipwreck is more focused on is because Paul’s life is coming to an end or is that the end. Also Paul had to have rode the ship that way Luke can write about it and it was basically one of their main ways of transportation as well.

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  5. I don’t think Luke needs to add credibility, he has written an entire novel on the history of Peter and Paul, among others. I think it is just a great story of faith. I like what someone said on the other posting. Paul shows great faith through the storm. We should all aspire to have Faith like this when we are facing trials. Luke uses this as a great illustration and fascinating way to wind down a long well thought out and written book. It seems like a great way to leave the readers wanting more. Just my two sense.

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  6. I believe that this detail is absolutely because Luke is traveling with Paul. It is by no stretch of the mind to believe this. If you were a journalist and someone told you about a baseball game, you would have something to write about. Not everything, but you would have some material to write about. If you yourself went to the game, you can write for pages and pages about everything there. When you are actually involved in something and it becomes personal to you, you will give more detail because you know more detail. Even though this scene parallels others from popular literature, I don’t see why it would be made up. Luke has no reason to make this story up. The same thing can happen more than once; just take a look around you in the world. Just because it is closely related to another story doesn’t make it false.

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  7. I have often looked at this story with a yep, there was a wreck lets move on attitude. I think perhaps the key of this story was explaining how the Gospel was able to go to Malta and to show how Paul was still being protected by the Holy Spirit. To survive being bitten by a deadly snake does give some credence to Paul’s connection with God. I don’t think Luke would have to embellish this story.

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  8. I think that Luke was probably with Paul. I do not understand why Luke would go with Paul to Rome because this was not exactly a pleasure trip. It seems odd to me that Luke would go with Paul to a land far away if he thought that Paul would not be coming back. Maybe they are just that good of friends though. Maybe Luke was not actually with Paul. Does that make the story any less credible? A good portion of Acts was Luke talking about things that he did not witness. This portion is just as credible as those are then. Either way, it seems easy to me to think that these are all real events and that Paul, a real person, experienced all these events in the book of Acts.

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  9. It is interesting to think that Luke may have embellished Paul’s journey to Rome a bit in order to stress that Paul would go through anything to get to Rome and share the Gospel. I guess I kind of assumed that there wouldn’t be embellishment in stories that we believe to be true. It makes sense when the story is obviously just a story or an allegory, but with something that we claim as a fact being embellished, I had never really thought of that being the case. The thought that Luke could have been using parallels with the Odyssey seems like it could be true, seeing how Luke was a developed writer (at least he wrote a lot better than I can) and was maybe feeling a little saucy, wanting to add something exciting to the story. Whether this be true or not, the main point of this passage is that Paul had unwavering faith at this moment, knowing for sure that the Lord would take care of them and that they would live during this tragic event. If Luke wanted to add in some embellishments to that to make it more obvious to the reader, then that’s great!

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