Acts 27:1-28:16 — The Hope of Salvation


Acts 27:1-28:16


Paul’s transfer to Rome in the custody of a centurion and cohort of soldiers involves an arduous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea interrupted by shipwreck. In this precarious situation, the major Luke-Acts theme of salvation becomes immediate and personal for Paul and his shipmates—including missionary associates (“we”), other prisoners, and Roman guards. 


Citizen Paul’s appeal to Caesar (25:10‒12, 25; 26:32) eventually requires his transfer from Caesarea Maritima to Rome. Acts narrates in detail the long Mediterranean voyage from Judea to Italy, focusing especially on the storm and shipwreck that occurs along the way. Transported with other prisoners under the guard of a centurion and squad of soldiers, Paul also seems to be accompanied by missionary associates, as implied by the “we” narrator.

This is the last of four sections in the latter part of Acts reported from a “we”-perspective (16:11‒16; 20:5‒15; 21:1‒18), implying the author’s eyewitness participation in the events along with other travelers. Scholars continue to debate whether this “we”-material reflects a travelog source or a literary device (or both). In any case, first-person narration invites “we”-readers into the scenes on a personal level, seeking to see, hear, and feel the experiences for “our”-selves.

The chief security officer on this voyage is distinguished by name, status, and attitude toward Paul. The centurion-in-charge is a man named Julius who serves in an imperial regiment known as the “Augustan Cohort.” At first, Julius “treated Paul kindly,” allowing him to say farewell to friends and receive their care packages (27:1‒3). During the difficult voyage, however, Julius “paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said” (27:11)—with potentially disastrous results.

From Acts’ perspective, Paul—yes, the prisoner Paul —functions as the true ship’s captain dedicated to saving passengers as he serves the God of salvation. The situation becomes so dire (after not following Paul’s advice) that as “no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (27:20). Yet after essentially telling the voyage leaders, “I told you so,” Paul still assures them that “there will be no loss of life among you” because “God has granted safety” not only for Paul, but for everyone sailing with him (27:21‒25). 

After 14 days adrift at sea, Paul finally has everyone’s attention. For their own good (salvation), he commands that everyone stay together in the storm-tossed ship as it rocks toward an island coast: “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (27:31). To further their chances of salvation/survival, Paul also takes charge of feeding the famished passengers in a manner strikingly reminiscent of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude and his Last Supper ministrations: Paul “took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves” (27:33‒36; cf. Luke 9:16‒17; 22:19).

As a prisoner of the Roman state, Paul serves God as an agent of saving hope for other prisoners and a Roman imperial officer, as well as for members of the accompanying “we”-group.