And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 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.” But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Luke lays out Paul’s voyage to Rome. The voyage was difficult. It was fraught with danger and mishap. The fact Luke can layout the voyage in such detail shows he was an eye witness. The account also shows how God protected Paul on the journey.
Festus delivered Paul to a centurion named Julius. He was with the Augustan Cohort. Augustan Cohort was an honorary title given to auxiliary troops. The Greek phrase used here σπεῖρα Σεβαστή is an expression found elsewhere for ‘auxiliary troops.” It does not refer to a special imperial bodyguard and cohort. There is archaeological evidence Cohors Augusta I was stationed in Syria at the time. But it is doubtful this is the same unit. These were auxiliary (provincial) troops given the honorary title. A cohort was a Roman military unit. It was one-tenth of a legion.
Festus delivered Paul along with other prisoners to Julius. Luke mentions they left with Aristarchus. Who he was is not clear. Nor it is clear why Luke singled him out.
Though Luke does not state it, the ship set out from Caesarea. Caesarea is where the previous events occurred. They sailed along the coast to Sidon.
Luke mentions Julius was kind to Paul. He allowed his friends to tend to his needs. This is in keeping with Paul’s previous imprisonment. But the fact Luke mentions it indicates Paul’s treatment was not commonplace.
When they set out from Sidon they sailed past the eastern point of Cyprus. This was for protection from the westerly winds of summer and fall. The ship went up the Syrian coast past Antioch of Syria. Then it went west to Myra. Myra was an important port of call for ships sailing between Alexandria and Rome.
At Myra, Julius found a ship heading to Alexandria. Alexandria was a great city in northern Egypt. It was a center for grain trade for Rome. Because of the danger during winter travel, special bonuses and insurance were offered. (Suetonius, Life of Claudius 18.1-2).
They got on board and set sail. Travel was difficult. They sailed for several days off the coast of Cnidus. Cnidus was the name of a peninsula on the southwestern coast of Asia Minor. This was about 130 miles from Myra.
The winds prevented their progress so they sailed the lee side of Crete off Salmone. Salmone was the name of a promontory on the northeastern corner of the island of Crete. This was about 100 miles farther. Because of the weather they put in a Fair Havens.
They had lost a lot of time. And the winter weather was only getting worse. The port at Fair Havens was not fit to spend the winter. They needed to get to a safer port. So for the ship and its owner it was risky to stay and risky to leave. If Julius did not leave with the ship he would have trouble getting out in the spring because this was not a major port. So you can see why they made the decision to set sail out of Fair Haven.
Here comes what could cause a problem of the casual reader. Paul advised them not to leave. He “perceived” the loss of cargo, ship, and lives. In the next passage, we learn they lost the cargo and the ship. But there was no loss of life. Paul right about the cargo and the ship. But he was wrong about the loss of life. What are we to think about that.
“when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:22
Does this prove Paul was a false prophet? There was no loss of life. Paul said there would be a loss of life. No. A careful reading of the text indicates Paul was not speaking in the name of the Lord. He was giving his opinion. He did not say the Lord had told him people would lose their lives. He was speaking for himself. He said. “I perceive.” That is the same as saying, “I think.” If Paul had spoken for the Lord when the Lord had not spoken, he would have blasphemed and been a false prophet.
Paul advised them against leaving. Luke provides a literary theme. Even though Paul is under arrest, he will be the one to guide them. He guides them through the dangers of the storm and the coming shipwreck. Luke is clear in showing God’s presence and protection of Paul. Luke tells the story in great detail. This literary effect slows down the passage of time. The narration serves to add a sense of drama.
The centurion ignores Paul’s warning. From his point of view, Paul was a prisoner and a Jewish rabbi. He had no expertise as a sailor. Trusting those with experience seemed to a more prudent course. Plus prolonging the journey only increased the likelihood of prisoners escaping. While not a no brainer, from the centurion’s point of view, leaving was the wiser choice. The captain and the owner wanted to reach the larger and safer harbor of Phoenix. It was about forty miles to the west. But in going west they had to pass Cape Matala. That exposed the ship to winds from the northwest.