Acts 27 – Lost at Sea

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, some scholars argue that Luke is patterning this story after an 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 Luke has written this story along the lines of a story expected by a Greco-Roman reader, there is nothing implausible about the whole adventure.

14 thoughts on “Acts 27 – Lost at Sea

  1. I think that it makes sense that Luke would write a detailed chapter about this shipwreck because he was part of it and it definitely gives him credibility as an author. Not only does this chapter give him credibility but I also think it adds a lot to this book that Luke has written. This story grabs my attention when I read it because Luke does a great job of describing this scene. I like verse 20 where Luke says, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (NIV). This verse along with the verses before, create this very dramatic scene (as it would be) in Acts 27. I also think that there can be a lot of contemporary applications in this text as they find themselves in a situation where they have lost hope, but Paul tells the men to keep courage and faith in God in verse 25. Obviously you can see where you can go with the metaphors of storms and shipwrecks, as we often come to times in our lives where we face storms and ship wrecks that seem to try and drain us of all hope. But after the shipwreck, in the end of this chapter it says that they all reached land safely.

  2. Do the storm narratives in the Gospels lend themselves to an allegorical interpretation–the church being the boat and the sea being the historical tribulations that threaten to sink it? Jesus is seemingly absent (sleeping or away), but comes to his disciples in their need. I know the prophets sometimes use the image of a storm or flood to depict a coming historical crisis so perhaps this isnt too outlandish. I wonder if other ancient writers used ships and rough seas as metaphors.
    In this story in Acts we have a pagan crew saved on account of a Christian onboard to whom they become obedient. But the ship itself is lost. The ship of the church stays afloat but the Roman ship is abandoned…

  3. Luke’s history shows he is a detailed write, he gets this through his occupation of being a physician. So, it is not too surprising that he writes in detail of this journey. We look at why this particular journey was more significant than others and why he includes more detail than other stories written. In Acts 27, we see Luke is traveling with Paul, which may be a factor to the detail added. Luke is seeing and experiencing the situation with his own eyes. Other factors that we look at to see why so much detail was given is to point out the similarities between Jesus and Paul in regard to the suffering and injustice they both faced. We look back to the beginning of Acts and note that the gospel is to be shared everywhere, part of this makes individuals question, will Paul die on this journey. The answer is no, rather we see time and time again of God’s faithfulness and promises lived out. In this Paul gets the opportunity to share with more people the work of the Lord and Jesus’ testimony. I thought it was interesting the connection of the Odyssey, honestly, I never thought I’d think about this book again after high school. The Odyssey has several parallels and general story line, which is both set up as Greco-Roman literature. Regardless, to travel to Rome, going by ship was the best way to go and not at all odd that Festus would send him this way, and shipwrecks were not uncommon during this time. Overall, this was not a story put in just for entertainment.

  4. The first thing to pop into my mind when reading Acts 27 was the story of Jesus on the ship during the storm. P Long, in this article you discuss the idea of the parallels seen between Jesus and Paul when it comes to matters such as being arrested and handed to the Romans and tried by authority figures. To me, this story seems like another parallel to Jesus because both were on ships in the middle of a storm with men who were afraid. A theory of why Luke wrote this story in Acts could be because it shows how Paul, just like Jesus, was called to do something great. Jesus was called to save us of our sins and Paul was called to spread the good news to the end of the earth. By giving another story that showed how much Paul went through and endured what Jesus had showed he truly was called to be doing what he was doing.

    Also, I do see how this story could help in the credibility of Luke because since during this time pictures and videos were not possible this is what writers were known to do to prove credibility. I think this is another important step in the writing of the Bible because if one does not have credibility in his writing others will not believe what he writes. By doing little things such as gaining trust in his credibility allowed Luke to help spread the Bible.

  5. the reason Luke mentions this travel story is something that I had never really put much thought into before. it makes sense though that he would of course have a motive behind it and I think the idea that the theme is God’s will be done is a good way to look at it. if you look at the lead up to this ship travel story Paul has had nothing but hardship and trial up to this point for quite some time. even with that though God continues to provide and keep Paul on the path toward Rome. the fact is this whole story shows that when God wants something to happen God will make sure it happens one way or another. this story reminds me of Jonah’s boat travel in that way for the fact that in the end Paul much like Jonah ends up where God wants him to be. the huge difference being Paul was willing Jonah was not.

  6. My five thoughts:
    If those who believe that Luke was writing this story as a plot-line or climax to a journey — it worked. This story caught my eye as a reader and was described lasmot as if I was watching a movie scene
    After reading the notes in ESVSB, Polhill notes himself that the ship of Adramyttium they were on was not even adequate enough to be on an open sea voyage like that (p. 2141). Which already goes to show the probability of a shipwreck was much higher.
    Luke knows Paul will survive the voyage so why does he write it so the reader may not know? I feel like this may cause some to question whether what God says will actually happen. Ultimately even if they do question God’s all knowingness they will see that his word was true.
    In Acts 27 Luke and Paul are traveling together which means we are getting a first hand account of the story which adds to the credibility and also the authenticity of the story.
    This story shows me obvious parallels to the story in Jonah. Both times those who were on the boat that were not either Paul or Jonah that God was directly speaking to, were frightened. They did not have the peace of God in them at the time.

  7. I never once thought that this story may not have been true. It is exciting to read about, but even with the comparisons to other literature, such as the Odyssey, it makes perfect sense for Paul to have traveled by ship. Like the blog talks about, it may seem strange to some people that Luke would write this much about the trip by sea, including the shipwreck that they encounter. The Bible is inspired by God and I believe that it may have been written to show people that God can take care of you, even in terrible storms like the one talked about in the story. Also, with all of the shipwreck stories that were common around that time, it makes sense that, since this really happened, Luke would want to write about it so that people could read about it. This may have been the kind of thing that non-believers would be interested in hearing, and then, maybe they would learn more about God through that story or other parts of Acts if they decide to listen to more of the book. There are many stories found in the Bible where things happen that are not common today. I feel like those would be harder to believe for non-believers than this story. This is a common thing that can happen today and does not seem to me like it would have been made up at all. It is very interesting to read about and though it may not be one of the most well known stories found in Acts, I still think that there is some importance to it.

  8. If one is looking at the credibility of the author and how Luke didn’t write the book of Acts as if it was him living it out it could be confusing and questionable to the audience on whether or not he was truly there. For literary elements it makes sense for not every book in the Bible to be a first person perspective. The book of Acts is a book that shares on mission work and how missions should be done properly. It shares how to share the gospel. What is unique about the book of Acts and the perspective that Luke gives is although it is written in ancient times and is about Paul traveling and doing mission work, there still are a lot of principles that are designed for believers in today’s world. Mission work isn’t just for missionaries, every believer should be sharing the good news in some capacity. Believer’s are called to share the gospel. When Luke shares in details of the shipwreck and the details behind it there is the realization for the audience that it needs to be understood that this was a common occurrence in this time period. The parallel that Luke is using the shipwreck and its details doesn’t necessarily mean that it actually happened, but it also doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. The entire adventure of the story in Acts 27 is interesting but it shouldn’t discredit the entirety of the chapter if it were to be untrue, especially when there is a God so powerful that He can do it all.

  9. This blog post was interesting to dive into because we start to question a lot of things about Luke and what his intentions were with this story. In Acts 27 Paul is preparing to sail for Rome. During this time Paul and other prisoners were delivered to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. Julius was nice to Paul and allowed him to leave with his friends. Long talks about how in the book of Acts, there are about 11 or 12 accounts of Paul traveling by sea. Long goes on in this blog to talk about how we as readers should pause a moment and pay attention to the amount of detail that was given during this specific trip to Rome. Luke had some sort of plan or process when it came to scripting out this journey that Paul was on. Throughout Acts we talked about Luke making these parallels back to Jesus and other stories. Long talks about how on this specific voyage with Luke being present, he is making another connection. Agreeing with classmates, if we do just look at Luke living these events out it is quite confusing vs thinking of him as an author. I also agree that not every book needs to be in first person. I personally believe that reading these books from other points of views helps us as readers gain the knowledge that we need.

  10. Luke goes into great detail about a journey that Paul took to Rome. This has led some people to wonder why Luke included so much detail about this particular journey, and whether or not it is historically accurate. One possible reason for the detailed account of the journey is that Luke himself was traveling with Paul, and he wanted to establish his own credibility as a historian. In ancient times, it was common for historians to include themselves in their own accounts to build credibility. This may have been why Luke included so much detail about the journey, to show that he was an eyewitness to the events that took place. Another reason for the detailed account may have to do with the similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both were arrested by the Jews and handed over to the Romans for trial, and both were victims of a miscarriage of justice motivated by the religious establishment in Jerusalem. By detailing Paul’s journey to Rome, Luke may have been trying to show that despite the similarities between Paul and Jesus, Paul would ultimately fulfill God’s purpose by preaching the good news in the very heart of the Roman Empire. Some scholars have questioned the historicity of this story, pointing out that it follows a common plot-line found in ancient literature. However, there is nothing too crazy about the whole adventure. Shipwrecks were common during this time period, and it is entirely possible that Paul suffered through one on his journey to Rome. While there may be some questions about the historical accuracy of Luke’s account, there are also good reasons to believe that it is a true and accurate reflection of what happened. The detailed account of the journey may have been intended to establish Luke’s own credibility as a historian, and to show that Paul ultimately fulfilled God’s purpose by preaching in the heart of the Roman Empire.

  11. The long description of Paul’s travel to Rome is included in the book of Acts for more than just filling space or entertaining the readers. As the author points out, there are literary and theological grounds for Luke’s emphasis on this specific journey. For starters, Luke’s attendance with Paul during the travel could explain the level of information offered. In ancient history, it was customary practice for the historian to incorporate himself in the story in order to boost the credibility of the report. As a result, Luke’s inclusion of the disaster and the events that followed lends credence to him and his work. Second, the parallels between Paul and Jesus are obvious, since both are arrested, tried by secular authorities, and eventually suffer as a result of Jerusalem’s religious establishment. Luke demonstrates that God’s purpose will be realized despite the obstacles and challenges that Paul endures by describing Paul’s journey to Rome and eventual arrival. Finally, the shipwreck and other disasters on the journey may have been frequent in literature at the period. However, this does not necessarily rule out the account’s historicity. In fact, it is highly conceivable that Paul got to Rome by ship, and that disasters were common. The inclusion of the detailed account of Paul’s journey to Rome serves to enhance the credibility of Luke’s work, highlight the parallels between Paul and Jesus, and demonstrate that God’s purpose will ultimately be fulfilled.

  12. Luke’s story of Paul’s journey to Rome has more meaning than just a travel story. It shows that Luke was there and saw everything, which is something other ancient writers did too. It also compares Paul’s situation to Jesus, making us wonder if Paul will face the same fate as Jesus. Luke’s main idea in the book of Acts is about how the gospel spreads from Jerusalem to everywhere else. Paul’s journey to Rome shows how God’s plan is accomplished despite obstacles, like the shipwreck. In the end, Luke’s inclusion of the story of Paul’s journey to Rome by sea is not just a travel narrative, but also serves a literary and theological purpose. It lends credibility to the account, it also draws comparisons between Paul and Jesus, and highlights the main theme of the book of Acts which us the spreading of the gospel by demonstrating how God’s plan cannot be brought down, even with difficulties along the way.

  13. This chapter of Acts 27 was truly quite an interesting chapter to read, this is one of those journeys in the bible that gives us a little glimpse into what life would have looked like for many of the sailors during these early bible times. It is very clear that sailors often encountered strong storms, and were not usually too afraid of them, as clearly in this chapter they decided to go straight into a crazy strong storm known as a nor’easter. What’s so interesting about this story is that Paul is a prisoner, being held by the Romans, and yet they seem to some extent to listen to what he is telling them as they are fighting for their lives sailing out in a nor’easter. When Paul tells them that an angel has spoken to him, they don’t doubt him, or mock him, they do exactly what he says without hesitation. Paul even though he was a prisoner at the time, obviously still commanded a huge amount of respect from his guards, they even went so far as to let him see his friends prior to leaving for the trip. This just shows that they obviously knew he was someone special.

  14. We talked a lot about this in class early today, but it was interesting to get a read on what more Long thinks about the storm and the shipwreck. Reading it at first, you may start to question why Luke included this portion of Acts, but it pieces together all the information that is needed to understand why. First off, Luke wanted to establish credibility and secondly, it is technically a part of Paul’s mission work: being persecuted for Christ’s sake. It shows Paul escaping the Jews, still hearing word from the angel of God, and obeying the Lord’s commands, such as the promise of no lives being lost. It is a crucial part of the story because Paul almost died, a good piece of information any reader would want to know. On the contrast, it was really interesting to hear about the parallels between the Odyssey and Luke’s account of the shipwreck in Acts 27. According to the secular world, the Odyssey was written in the seventh century BC, so I wonder if Luke knew about the story of the Odyssey? If maybe, he wanted to write the shipwreck story similar to it? I’m unsure why, but it was an interesting comparison that could spark some interesting conversations.

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