Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:9-12

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast[a] was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

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The first eight verses of Acts 27 describe the beginning of Paul’s and Luke’s voyage to Rome from Caesarea. Festus, the Roman governor, allowed Luke, the author of Acts, to accompany his good friend Paul on the journey. The centurion in charge of the ship, Julius, was also well disposed towards the Apostle.

The weather at this time of year, late summer, was unpredictable for sea voyages. In mid-September, seafaring became dangerous. By mid-November, sea voyages stopped until early the following year.

They had spent a few weeks at Fair Havens — Kalous Limenas — near the city of Lasea waiting for better prospects. Now, the Fast — the Jewish Day of Atonement — was already over. This would have been in the early autumn, and it was time to make a decision whether to stay or go (verse 9).

John MacArthur explains this next part of the voyage (emphases mine):

Now we come to stage two. If stage one is the start, stage two is the stay. Here they are in Fair Havens, taking on supplies and waiting for a change of winds. And they’re getting anxious to go to Rome. I mean they want to get to Rome, you see, before the season ends. They want to get to Rome before the winter comes. You see what happens is if they can’t get to Rome, then this fellow who is running the ship is going to have to take care of the whole crew for the winter. And that means three to four months in harbor before they can get off again.

In addition to that, to be stuck in Fair Havens would be absolute disaster. It was open, it was exposed to the winds of the sea. It was not a commodious harbor, as it says in verse 12. It wasn’t a good place to spend the winter. And nothing was happening there; no fun and games in Fair Havens. Plus there was a sort of a desire to make a little money on the deal. If the ship had been owned, indeed, as some indicate by its captain, he would have wanted to get his supplies there as fast as possible and get his money and not have to spend the whole winter paying these people for idleness. And so they wanted to gamble and they figured we’re going to try to make it. If we could just get a change of wind we’ll take off.

Now verse 9. “Now when much time was spent,” – Now, we don’t know how much time, but plenty of time. Maybe weeks went by, maybe more. Very likely at least a month – “and when sailing was now dangerous,” — Now notice. If they got there sometime at the end of August, and a month passed, the notation that Luke makes now is they’re in the dangerous season. They’re in the period of time when to sail is dangerous. Then he adds – “because the fast was already passed.” The fast is referenced to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jewish fast.

If you know anything about Jewish history you’ll remember that Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of the 7th month of the Jewish calendar, which is the month of Tishri. That falls into the Roman calendar at the end of September or the beginning of October. In A.D. 59 we know, historically, that Yom Kippur was on October 5th. If this is the year, then A.D. 59, it is already after October 5th. They are well into the dangerous season for trying to cross the open sea. Any attempt now would really be a gamble.

Paul, having been a passenger on many ships during his ministry, warned them that leaving Fair Havens would result in a perilous voyage, causing not only injury and loss of cargo but also the ship — and lives (verse 10).

However, Julius, the centurion, was more interested in what the ship’s pilot and captain had to say on the matter (verse 11).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

They would not be advised by Paul in this matter, Acts 27:11. They thought him impertinent in interposing in an affair of this nature, who did not understand navigation; and the centurion to whom it was referred to determine it, though himself a passenger, yet, being a man in authority, takes upon him to overrule, though he had not been oftener at sea perhaps than Paul, nor was better acquainted with these seas, for Paul had planted the gospel in Crete (Titus 1:5), and knew the several parts of the island well enough. But the centurion gave more regard to the opinion of the master and owner of the ship than to Paul’s; for every man is to be credited in his own profession ordinarily: but such a man as Paul, who was so intimate with Heaven, was rather to be regarded in seafaring matters than the most celebrated sailors. Note, Those know not what dangers they run themselves into who will be governed more by human prudence than by divine revelation. The centurion was very civil to Paul (Acts 27:3), and yet would not be governed by his advice. Note, Many will show respect to good ministers that will not take their advice, Ezekiel 33:31.

MacArthur explains the pilot and captain relationship. In his translation, the words used are ‘master’ and ‘owner’:

Now, those two words master and owner are very difficult to translate because they are obscure words. The best translation of the word master, in my mind, is sailing master or pilot. This is the man who was responsible for steering and navigating. And the word owner is not really the word for owner but probably should be translated captain. So that the thing would say the pilot and the captain. Now in some cases, the captain was an owner, if in fact it was a private vessel. But if it was one of the imperial fleet grain ships he would be simply the captain.

The word is used only here. It’s not the common word for owner, but has to do probably with him as the captain. And if he was the owner he probably was also the captain, but it seems best to see it perhaps as a Roman ship, and these two would be the sailing master or the pilot and the captain. And the centurion agrees with them. And you really can’t blame the guy. I mean they were the experts, right? You can’t blame the centurion for believing the navigator and the captain. And so he does.

Because Fair Havens was not a destination in which to spend the winter, the majority decided to sail to the port of Phoenix — Phenice, present day Lutro — on the island of Crete to spend the winter there (verse 12).

Phenice is a derivation of ‘palm tree’.

Henry says that the ship’s crew would have made the decision to set sail. He also has more information on Phenice and the appeal of Crete as a winter destination:

Some of the ship’s crew, or of the council that was called to advise in this matter, were for staying there, rather than venturing to sea now that the weather was so uncertain: it is better to be safe in an incommodious harbour than to be lost in a tempestuous sea. But they were outvoted when it was put to the question, and the greater part advised to depart thence also; yet they aimed not to go far, but only to another port of the same island, here called PheniceIt is here described to lie towards the south-west and north-west. Probably the haven was between the two promontories or juttings-out of land into the sea, one of which pointed to the north-west and the other to the south-west, by which it was guarded against the east winds. Thus hath the wisdom of the Creator provided for the relief and safety of those who go down to the sea in ships, and do business in great waters. In vain had nature provided for us the waters to sail on, if it had not likewise provided for us natural harbours to take shelter in.

MacArthur says:

Phoenicia is the ancient name of the coastline of Israel. That’s not the translation that’s best. It should be … Phenice, which was a port 40 miles down Crete. Forty miles further along the island was the port of Phenice …

Historians tell us that anciently the only place in the winter that was a comfortable place to stay was on Crete.

The story continues next week. Was there ever a time, post-conversion, when Paul erred in his speech? No.

Next time — Acts 27:13-20

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