The Book Of Acts by William R. Cannon
Before his election to the episcopacy in 1968 United Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon served as Professor of Church History and then Dean of Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Other books by Bishop Cannon include The Gospel Of John, Jesus The Servant, and The Book Of Acts. The Book Of Acts, Copyright 1989 by W.R. Cannon, published by Upper Room Books. This material prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 8: Toward the Eternal City
Rome is known as the eternal city. It was the capital of an empire that lasted a thousand years. For almost as long as the Christian era, it has been the seat of the papacy; and since the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, its see has been the most powerful and influential of any see in Christendom. The pope has been, and is, the temporal and spiritual ruler of the largest church in the world. From the days of Constantine in the early fourth century, he has been the father of princes and the king of kings.
Paul lived too soon to have any relationships whatever to the papacy. Peter is reputed to have been the first pope. But if he were, he did not know it. The papacy as an institution did not exist in New Testament times. All the apostles, including Peter, were wandering evangelists. There is no evidence that Paul had any contact with Peter in the city of Rome.
Paul was a Roman citizen, however. As such, he enjoyed all the rights and privileges of a free citizen of the largest and most powerful empire on the face of the earth. Its capital was the metropolis of the western world. And Paul longed to visit Rome because he wanted to have some part in the life of the Christian community flourishing there (Rom. 1:8-13). These last chapters of Acts deal with the circumstances that led to Paul's being taken to Rome and describe the events on his way there.
Paul's final destination was not Rome. Like Abraham, the father of his race, "he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10). These final chapters in Acts bring to a close all that Luke tells us of Paul's evangelistic and missionary career. Luke does not tell us of Paul's death. But more important than Paul's being temporarily the prisoner of Caesar, he was after his conversion permanently the prisoner of Christ. The city of Rome was but his gateway into God's everlasting kingdom beyond the years. On his way to Rome, he saw before him the crown of righteousness that was laid up for him and that the Lord would give him on the last day (2 Tim. 4:8).
Paul's company was enlarged by people from Caesarea who desired to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. Among them was a Cypriot named Mnason, who owned a home in Jerusalem and who invited Paul to be his guest in that city. Perhaps he had been converted by Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Their luggage was heavy, so they employed carriages for the sixty-four mile trip from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
On arrival, Paul met with the brethren in general and went the next day to give his report to James, the brother of Jesus, and the elders of the Jerusalem church. They received Paul's glowing report of his missionary successes with joy and thankfulness, but they reported to Paul the rumors about him in Jerusalem, namely, that he had treated Jews as gentiles and freed them from all requirements of the Mosaic law, including the rite of circumcising their male babies. As a result, thousands of converted Jews in the city were scandalized. Therefore, Paul had to declare in some graphic way that the rumors were false and that he had freed only gentile converts from the Mosaic requirements but had insisted on Jewish Christians living up to the law that he had diligently kept.
James and the elders proposed that Paul defray the Temple expenses of four men who had taken the Nazirite vow and go into the Temple with them and join them in their ritualistic purification. This ceremony, begun on one day, could not be concluded until seven days later. Paul began the ritualistic process the day after the suggestion had been made to him. He thereby announced that his purification, along with that of the four men, would be finished seven days later. They would make their sacrifices together, and Paul would pay for all of them.
Some scholars have felt that this could not have happened and that Luke is in error here. They think making such a sacrifice to please the Jewish Christians would be a compromise too great for the apostle to the gentiles to make. He preached Christ who alone is the propitiation for all our sins. But that same Paul confessed he could be all things to all people if by any means he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). He was willing to be to the Jews a Jew, that is, to live under the law for the sake of those living under the law, and to the gentiles, a gentile. He realized of course that he had been liberated from the bondage of the law and lived entirely by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Thus, his willingness to perform the necessary purification rites by making a sacrifice in the Temple was for the sake of others. He did not want to hinder the progress of the newly converted Jews in the Christian faith. F. F. Bruce puts the matter succinctly when he writes, "A truly emancipated spirit such as Paul's is not in bondage to its own emancipation."
James and the elders did not give Paul good advice, however. It may have convinced the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were bound to the Mosaic law that Paul had never transgressed that law and was in full harmony with them. But it exposed him in the Temple to the unconverted Jews in the city. There were at the Feast of Pentecost some hostile Jews from Asia, probably from Ephesus itself. They had seen Paul in the streets with Trophimus, one of his gentile converts from Ephesus. No doubt Trophimus followed him into the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple area. There was a sign in the doorway between this court and the Court of Women, stating that any foreigner who passed over from the Court of the Gentiles into the Temple area proper would have only himself to blame for his subsequent death. Jews killed any gentiles who defiled their Temple with their unholy presence. These Asian Jews spread the false rumor through the crowd that Paul had admitted Trophimus into the sacred precinct of the Temple.
Consequently when Paul had done his sacrifice on the seventh day, as they espied him in the Temple, the Asian Jews let out a cry: "Men of Israel, help! Here is the man who speaks everywhere against the Jewish people, their law, and their Temple. Here is he who polluted this holy place by bringing Greeks into it" (21:28, AP). Since there were many men in the Temple area, this was enough to incite them and turn them into a mob. They grabbed Paul and pulled him out of the Temple proper, and the keepers of the Temple shut the doors behind him.
Fortunately for Paul, the Antonia was located adjacent to the Temple. This was the Roman fortress in Jerusalem, and it held a garrison of 760 infantry and 240 cavalry, which made up an auxiliary Roman cohort. Flights of stairs led down from the Antonia into the Court of the Gentiles. The fortress was built above the Temple and higher than any other building in Jerusalem so that the Romans could keep constant watch over the population.
When the Romans saw what was happening in the outer court of the Temple, the military tribune in command of the garrison rushed down with troops to stop the outbreak. If he had not, Paul would have been killed by the mob. When he tried to ascertain what Paul had done to cause such an uproar, everyone was too excited to give him an answer. Some people shouted one thing and some another. Most of them did not know what Paul was supposed to have done. Like sheep following one another, they had just joined in with the rest to do their part in doing what needed to be done by all loyal Jews who loved their Temple. The Romans arrested Paul at the scene and bound him with two chains. Then the soldiers lifted him bodily out of the crowd and carried him up the stairs toward the entrance to the Antonia.
Paul surprised the tribune by addressing him in Greek, the international language of the time. "Why, you speak Greek," the officer said. "I thought you were that Egyptian who staged a riot here not long ago and escaped with his murderous gang into the wilderness" (21:37-38, AP). The reference is no doubt to an alleged prophet of Egyptian origin who led, according to Josephus, a mob of Zealots to the Mount of Olives and assailed the city of Jerusalem to rid it of the Romans. Most of the assailants were hunted down and killed by the Roman governor Felix, but the Egyptian leader had escaped. There is a difference in the number of assailants given by the tribune and by Josephus. The tribune says there were only four thousand of them. This is probably correct, since the revolt was not a major one and was easily put down. Evidently Paul's appearance was such that the Roman officer thought he was an ignorant brigand, but Paul informed him that he was a citizen of Tarsus. And his tone of voice and use of Greek were such that the officer realized Paul was more than ordinary and let him speak.
When Paul addressed the mob in Hebrew, they immediately became an audience, for silence fell. He was able to make his testimony by recounting his own experience in which he was led to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. It is similar to the account Luke gave when he described its occurrence, with a few details Paul now added. For example, he recalled it was high noon when the experience took place, and the heavenly light was strong enough to outshine the noonday sun. He referred to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth, so there would be no mistake on the part of his audience as to who his Savior really was. They knew Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified. He added incidentally that his companions also saw the light but did not hear the voice so that they became afraid. Paul made the point with them that Ananias, who was the instrument of God in the restoration of his sight in Damascus and who had baptized him and told him to witness to Jesus Christ, was a strict adherent of the Mosaic law and was highly respected by the Jews. Paul reported that he came back to Jerusalem and prayed in the Temple. Indeed, it was in the Temple that God revealed to him that he should leave Jerusalem for his own safety. The fact that he had beaten and imprisoned Christians and had concurred in the death of Stephen would not now stand him in good stead with the Jerusalem Jews. He must go, God told him, to witness to the gentiles.
The crowd had heard him without interruption up to this point. But at the mention of the gentiles, they broke out in fury, casting off their clothes and throwing dust in the air, and demanded Paul's death. The officer ordered him to be taken into the barracks and questioned by scourging in order to get the truth out of him as to what he had really done to cause such an outbreak. Scourging meant being beaten with a whip impregnated with pieces of sharp metal, which lacerated the body.
At this point Paul identified himself as a Roman citizen, for the law forbade such punishment of a Roman. The centurion was amazed when Paul told him this, and he informed his superior that they had more on their hands than they realized. The tribune countermanded his orders, observing to Paul that he had bought his Roman citizenship and implying that it was no longer the honor it used to be, since most anyone could get it who was willing and able to pay a bribe. Paul responded, "You may have gotten your citizenship that way, but I was born a Roman citizen" (22:28, AP). The chief officer now realized Paul was a person of prominence, and he became afraid because he had had him bound.
The tribune summoned the members of the Sanhedrin to the Antonia. He wanted to ascertain from them the crime, if any, of which Paul was guilty. The high priest at the time was Ananias (A.D. 47-58), an unworthy and disreputable man, who had been once accused of treachery but acquitted for lack of evidence; he was eventually deposed.
When Paul assured the Sanhedrin that he had lived in good conscience before God, the high priest ordered the man nearest to Paul to strike him in the mouth to indicate he thought Paul was a liar. Paul said in outrage to the high priest, "God will strike you, you hypocrite, for pretending to judge me by the law and yet behaving toward me contrary to the law" (23:3, AP). The Jewish leaders were scandalized by Paul's remark and cried out against him that he had then and there violated the law forbidding anyone to speak evil of God's high priest (Exod. 22:28).
Paul admitted he had broken the law but added he had not realized this man was the high priest. He had to have known who he was, however, due to his leadership in the interrogation. What Paul meant was that he could not believe God's high priest would conduct a hearing in a rough and violent manner contrary to the law (Lev. 19:15). Paul was being sarcastic; he knew very well to whom he was speaking.
The Sanhedrin was composed of Sadducees and Pharisees, the former adhering only to the Pentateuch and denying the resurrection, the latter accepting the historical and wisdom literature plus the prophets and using the commentaries on the law by their scribes. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead. Paul announced to the Sanhedrin that he was a Pharisee, and he very cleverly turned the tables on his opponents by saying that he was being indicted for declaring his hope in the resurrection of the dead.
His remark divided the Sanhedrin. The less powerful members of the body, the scribes, who were Pharisees, supported Paul against the chief priests, who were Sadducees. The former found no evil in Paul and said that it was possible an angel had been using Paul as his mouthpiece and that the assembly dare not fight against God. The two parties in the Sanhedrin could fight against each other, however, and that is exactly what they started to do. The Roman officer had to have Paul removed from their midst. That night the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and encouraged him by commending him on his witness in Jerusalem and promising him that he would testify to him in Rome.
Outside, a party of more than forty Jewish fanatics covenanted together that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. To accomplish this, they appealed to the chief priests to request a second hearing from Paul. It was contrary to law for the Sanhedrin to engage in a plot of this type, but in desperation people are not always too careful to observe the niceties of the law. Paul's sister resided in Jerusalem, and her son heard of the plot and told his uncle of it. Roman prisons were always open to relatives of inmates. Paul sent his nephew with a centurion to apprise the commanding officer of the plot.
While the tribune was listening to the lad's report, he made up his mind to get Paul out of Jerusalem immediately and to refer his case to the Roman procurator of Judea, who resided in Caesarea. To this end, he composed a letter to the procurator, giving him an account of what had happened, and sent Paul under the cover of darkness with a military escort of two hundred foot soldiers, two hundred spearmen, and seventy cavalrymen on the way to Caesarea. By forced marching, the party reached Antipatris, a distance of thirty-seven miles, overnight. The spearmen and the infantry returned to their barracks the next day; the cavalry transported Paul the twentyfive remaining miles to Caesarea where the governor received him and placed him in Herod's judgment hall.
Felix, the procurator, or governor as we would say, was an unusual character. He had risen to prominence by his own bootstraps. Felix had been a slave and had not only achieved freedom and Roman citizenship but also this high position in the government of the empire. His brother had been a companion of two emperors, Claudius and Nero, but only in their debauchery. Felix was married to the Jewish princess, Drusilla; she was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who had jailed Peter and had been stricken at Caesarea and died shortly thereafter (12:22-23). Drusilla was Felix's third wife.
Five days after Paul's arrival in Caesarea, Felix heard his case at a formal trial where the high priest Ananias and the elders presented their charges against him. They did this through a regular trial lawyer, Tertullus, who, judging from his name, must have been a Roman practicing law in Judea. The charges were four: (1) Paul was a public nuisance -- "a pestilent fellow" (24:5); (2) he had caused a riot in the Temple area and was an instigator of sedition; (3) he had caused sedition among the Jews throughout the Roman world, for he was "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (24:5); and (4) he was making an attempt to profane the Temple.
Tertullus's use of "sect of the Nazarenes" is the first and only use of "Nazarenes" to indicate Christians in the entire New Testament. Jesus of course is called "the Nazarene," but not his followers, at least in the New Testament. Later a Jewish Christian sect by that name emerged in church history, but Tertullus's designation does not apply to them, for they acquired their name and organization after Paul's time.
Paul in his own defense made two points: first, that his accusers, the Jews from Asia, were not present as witnesses to testify against him; and, second, that the real issue in the case was that he believed and taught the resurrection of the dead.
Felix postponed his decision on the ground that he needed to talk directly with Lysias, the military tribune in Jerusalem, who was not present. Meanwhile he put Paul in the custody of a centurion and allowed him free intercourse with his friends, the Roman equivalent of our behavior toward a person on bail awaiting trial. Felix brought his Jewish wife to converse with Paul and allowed him to testify again in her presence. On this occasion Paul's testimony was so convincing, especially as he spoke about righteousness and the judgment to come, that Felix trembled and told Paul at a more convenient time he would hear him again on this matter.
It is confusing really as to what Luke means at this point. Does he mean to imply that Felix was about to be converted to Christianity? That is the obvious meaning of the sentence. But what follows casts doubt on this interpretation. Luke says that Felix hoped to get a bribe out of Paul, so he talked with him off and on during his period of custody. He makes no further mention of a favorable disposition on Felix's part toward the gospel. Luke does tell us that before Paul's trial Felix had a rather thorough knowledge of "the way," meaning the Christian way to salvation.
Felix procrastinated in making a decision on Paul's case. He let it drag on until the end of his procuratorship two years later. He tried for his bribe to the very end, confirming the Roman historian Tacitus's appraisal of him: Felix "exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave."
He was replaced by Festus, a more honorable person who tried to dispense justice in the cases tried. However, his stay in office was relatively short, for he died not many years after taking up his duties in Caesarea. Paul's case was the first one on his docket. Indeed, when he made his first courtesy visit to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, the chief priests called to his attention Paul's case and asked that it be tried in Jerusalem, for they intended that the original plot to kill Paul be carried out. Festus was too smart to be taken in by them so soon after his investiture as Roman procurator. Obviously he had not heard of the case before, so he invited them to come with their testimony immediately on his return to Caesarea.
Festus had been governor only a fortnight when he sat in judgment on Paul's case. The Jews brought out all their old complaints against Paul, but they could not produce a shred of evidence to support what they said. Yet the fact that they were so vehement in their attack on Paul led Festus to assume that there was more to the case than met the eye. Perhaps it would be better to hear it in Jerusalem after all. He could gather more witnesses and also have access to advisors knowledgeable in Jewish beliefs and customs.
Paul had answered the charges the Jews brought against him in Caesarea and had declared that he had not transgressed Jewish law or in any way profaned the Temple, neither had he done anything detrimental to the reign of Caesar. Still Festus was hesitant to exonerate Paul lest later he should prove to be a revolutionary and a threat to the peace of the province. So he said to Paul, "Will you go back with me to Jerusalem and let us hear your case in the very city where your crime is alleged to have taken place?" (25:9, AP).
This alarmed the apostle. Jerusalem was the last place on earth he could expect to receive justice. So now he took advantage of his Roman citizenship and appealed his case to Caesar. There was nothing more Festus could do but acquiesce: "You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you shall go!" (25:12, AP).
Shortly thereafter Festus received a state visit from King Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I and the brother or halfbrother of Felix's wife, Drusilla. King Agrippa was accompanied by another sister, Bernice, rumored to be his mistress. Agrippa ruled certain territories in the north of Judea toward Syria, and Rome had accorded him the title of king. He was a Jew and was well versed in his Jewish religion. Festus, who hardly knew what to write about Paul in his report to Caesar, was glad of the opportunity to consult Agrippa in the matter. When he apprised Agrippa of the case, Agrippa asked that he might see and hear Paul in person. Consequently a state gathering was arranged for the very next day. King Agrippa and Bernice entered the state chamber in pomp and splendor as did their host Festus. The military officers and principal citizens of Caesarea were present as well, for Festus had commanded them to come.
Paul's defense before King Agrippa was really a testimony, for he reviewed once again the remarkable experience he had on the road to Damascus, both the events leading up to it and its result in the mission God gave him to the gentiles. Paul's account to Agrippa was abbreviated. He told the king that he stood under accusation by the Jewish leaders because of his hope in the resurrection, which ought to be their hope as well. "If God is what we Jews believe God to be, why is it incredible that God should raise the dead?" (26:8, AP). This is what the Christians claim for Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul admitted he rejected this claim and did all in his power to persecute and destroy those who made it. But the living Jesus intervened and changed his mind on the road to Damascus.
In his narration of this experience, there are a few differences in detail from what Paul said to the crowd in Jerusalem. For example, he recalled that his companions, as well as he, were struck to the ground by the heavenly light, but he did not mention his blindness and its cure. He supplied no factual details about himself and his work except to say in general that in that experience Jesus Christ made him a minister and a witness to free people from the power of Satan and to give them their inheritance with the saints. He also recalled that Jesus said to him, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (26:14), which he had not recounted to the Jews in Jerusalem. This was a Greek saying, meaning, You cannot resist fate, which Festus and Agrippa were familiar with, but which would have meant nothing to the crowd at Jerusalem. There is no contradiction whatever in the two accounts. Like any of the rest of us, Paul recounted some things in one that he left out in another. He used what he thought was relevant to those he was addressing. The force of all that he said was that he had not been disobedient to that heavenly vision.
Festus had no comprehension of what Paul was saying. To that practical Roman, Paul appeared to be crazy. He realized Paul was a learned man, too learned in fact for his own good. He interrupted to say in substance, "All those books you have read, Paul, have made you raving mad. Nothing you have said here makes any sense" (26:24, AP).
But Paul saw that Agrippa was listening and weighing his words carefully. On the basis of Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, he was trying to convince Agrippa that Jesus fulfilled them to the letter and that it was necessary for him to suffer and as a result to be the first person to rise from the dead. (Others, like Lazarus, may have been raised from the dead, but Jesus was the first to rise from the dead by his own divine power.)
Paul said confidently to Festus that King Agrippa knew all the things he was talking about. To which King Agrippa replied, "Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian" (26:28). We take this to mean that Paul almost converted Agrippa as a result of his testimony. That is what John and Charles Wesley thought. Charles preached a sermon entitled "The Almost Christian" on this text, and John used Charles's sermon and preached it often as his own; at least he included it in his published sermons.
But I doubt that this is what Agrippa really meant. About all he meant was that he realized Paul was trying to bing him on the basis of what he knew from the prophets about the Messiah to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was that Messiah. Agrippa was not prepared to go that far. His answer to Paul was probably no more than this: "Paul, do you think in these few words you have spoken to us today that you can make a Christian out of me?" To Agrippa, Paul replied, "I wish to God that you and all who hear me this day would become just as I am without my impediment of being a prisoner awaiting trial" (26:29, AP).
When Festus and King Agrippa had retired from the state chamber to discuss Paul's case privately, the king assured Festus that Paul had done nothing in violation of the Jewish law, and Festus knew that he had not violated any Roman law. Both men realized Paul was guiltless. They shook their heads and said that Paul could have been set free and sent on his way to do what he felt compelled to do if he had not made an appeal as a Roman citizen to Caesar. Though the emperor would have no doubt been relieved not to have to hear Paul's case, Festus had no option but to send Paul to Rome since his appeal was a matter of public record.
The Voyage (27:1-28:13)
Paul was sent to Rome in the custody of a centurion, that is, a minor officer in the Roman army who had command of a century, or a group of one hundred soldiers. A Roman centurion would be the equivalent of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The man's name was Julius of the Augustus band, or cohort, which was one of ten divisions of a Roman legion. A cohort numbered between three hundred and six hundred soldiers. The Augustus cohort was probably stationed not too far from Caesarea in Galilee, a part of the kingdom of Herod Agrippa II.
It is likely that Julius took only a few, perhaps six to a dozen, of his troops with him, just enough to guard his prisoners, indeed to kill them if necessary. Not many people could merit an appeal to Caesar. Aristarchus of Thessalonica is mentioned as a fellow passenger, and we might assume he was just another passenger on his way back from Judea to Macedonia except for the fact that Paul mentions in one of his letters that Aristarchus was a fellow prisoner in Rome. Evidently he, too, was on his way to trial (Col. 4:10). Since the voyage falls under one of the "we passages," we know that Luke was accompanying Paul, though not as a prisoner. The transportation used was regular commercial travel. Fortunately for Paul, at the very outset Julius liked him and treated him with admiration and respect.
The journey to Italy was not by direct travel. Passengers would book a passage as far as a ship was going in their direction, disembark, and pick up another vessel as soon as one was available. The boats carried cargo as well as people. The first vessel used was a ship out of Adramyttium, a port on the northwest coast near Troas, which was sailing back from the south and stopped to pick up passengers at Caesarea. It stopped at Sidon to unload and load cargo, and Julius graciously permitted Paul to visit with Christian friends there.
The route of the voyage was roughly the same as the route Paul had taken from Assos to Caesarea when he went to Jerusalem for Pentecost just two years and more before. The trip was in reverse order of course and not so extensive, for Paul and company got off at Myra in Lycia and took another ship out of Alexandria in Egypt, which had as its final destination Italy itself. It was a grain ship, hauling wheat from Egypt to Rome. The merchants who sold the grain often owned the ship that hauled it as well and would travel along with their cargo. They received special concessions from the imperial government, for grain from the provinces was essential to the populace of Rome.
Sailing across the Mediterranean was generally safe from the middle of May to early September. But from early November to early March it was so dangerous that voyages ceased altogether. The captain of the Alexandrine ship hoped to reach Italy before the bad weather had set in. Unfortunately winds were not favorable, and the ship had difficulty reaching Fair Havens, a harbor right in the middle of the southern coast of Crete. This was an open harbor, however, and
therefore subject to storms on the Mediterranean Sea; the ships lacked the protection of arms of land around them.
There was another harbor on the same southern coast of Crete some distance to the west on the direct route to Italy. It was Phoenix, today's Phineka, and its harbor was well suited for the wintering of ships. The owner of the vessel insisted, in order to protect his cargo, that they leave Fair Havens and winter in Phoenix. The captain of the vessel felt they could make this other port in relative safety.
But Paul did not agree; he said to attempt it meant risking their lives as well as the cargo. Paul based his warning on the fact that the Jewish Feast of the Atonement was already past. It fell on the tenth day of the seventh month. The Jewish year was a lunar year, and dates varied from year to year depending on the position of the moon. The Day of Atonement in A.D. 59, the most likely year of the voyage, was as late as October 5. The weather had already gotten bad, for the ship had had difficulty proceeding further.
However, the centurion yielded to the wishes of the ship's owner and the advice of the captain. On the first fair day, when the south wind was blowing softly, they put out from port expecting to reach Phoenix safely. In good weather it was only a day's cruise from Fair Havens. The weather seemed to be fine, and they were taking every precaution by hugging the shore as they sailed. But the gentle south wind was short-lived. It was soon displaced by the tempestuous Euroclydon, formed by a meeting of winds from the north and the east. These winds coming down from the mountains of Crete above them were so strong that the sailors could not man the sails of the ship. To strive to do so would have meant that the sails would have been torn to shreds, so the crew had to let the ship drift with the winds.
As the ship drifted under the island of Cauda, twenty-three miles south of where they had hoped to land, they had to draw in the little lifeboat attached by ropes to the larger ship from behind to keep it from being dashed into their ship by the gales. Also they had to fortify their vessel by binding it tight ropes or cables around its planks to hold them together in the storm. They used pulleys to undergird the ship to keep from falling into the quicksands.
Leaving the protective shield of Cauda, which obviously had no harbor to serve them, they took to the high sea again, where after a day they had to lighten the ship by casting overboard some of the cargo. The third day they threw out the tackle of the ship. The tempest would not die down. For days they sailed, not knowing where they were because sun, moon, and stars were hidden from view, and these were the only means they had for determining their course. Consequently, they gave up all hope and were too distraught to eat.
The apostle Paul reassured them. He said that during the night the angel of God stood by him and told him that he would stand before Caesar in Rome and that God had given to him all those on board ship with him. He assured them that there would be no loss of life among them but that they would lose the ship.
After fourteen days, the sailors saw signs to indicate they were approaching land. They sounded for the depth of the sea. As the water got less and less deep, they stopped the ship and cast out four anchors lest the ship be dashed against the rocks. It was the middle of the night, and they waited anxiously for the morning light. The sailors got frightened, however, and started to abandon the ship and escape in the little lifeboat. They pretended to want to use the boat to cast anchors out of the bow of the ship. The other four anchors were out of the stern. Paul warned the centurion and the soldiers that unless the sailors remained with the ship none could be saved, so the soldiers cut the ropes and set the lifeboat adrift before the sailors could use it.
When daylight came, they saw that land was near and took heart again. Paul urged them to eat to gain strength, for he assured them that no one would be hurt. He took bread in his hands and broke it and gave thanks to God. Some commentators have insisted that in this act he celebrated the Lord's Supper with them. This is absurd. Except for him and Luke and Aristarchus, there were no Christians among them. The others would not have known what the Lord's Supper was all about. What Paul did was to say the table blessing, to give God thanks for their rescue and the provisions for an ordinary meal. They could all understand that and under those conditions appreciate Paul's prayer.
They saw a creek ahead, which they thought would make a good harbor for the ship. They threw out the rest of the wheat. Unfortunately this did little good, for as they sailed inland, the ship ran aground, its bow got stuck in the mud and sand, and its stem was broken to pieces by the waves. In keeping with their discipline, the soldiers started to kill the prisoners, lest they take the opportunity to escape. But the centurion, in order to save Paul, stopped them and ordered all who could to swim to land. Those who could not were to take pieces of the ship and float in. All reached the shore unhurt.
The people on shore kindled a fire and received the party hospitably. Because they could not speak Greek, Luke called them barbarians, but they were really civil and decent people. The name of their island was Melita, which is modern Malta. The Maltese proudly claim that their church was established by the Apostle Paul. Yet Luke provides us with no evidence to support this claim, such as evangelistic preaching by Paul on the island, his organizing a congregation, or the appointment of elders as we have seen him do in other places. But all these things can be taken for granted.
Paul gained immediate influence with the people. As he was placing wood on the fire the natives had built for him and his companions, an adder, or horned snake about two feet long, very venomous, crawled from the unignited wood onto Paul's arm and bit his hand. The apostle took no notice of the incident except to pry loose the reptile and throw it in the fire. But the natives took notice. At first they thought it was a sign that Paul had committed some horrible crime and was escaping execution as a criminal. Fate would not permit this. The gods had sent this adder to destroy him. They fixed their gaze on his hand. When it did not become swollen and he showed no signs of being poisoned, they changed their opinion and took him to be a god in human guise.
Paul's reputation, gained by this incident, went before him. The ruler of the island, Publius, entertained him and his fellow passengers for three days. Publius's father was ill of dysentery, and Paul cured him. People from all over the island came to Paul for relief, and he healed them, too. To do this, he had to pray over them.
It is unreasonable to think that he did not convert them as well. Paul knew that for a person to be whole, that person had to be right with God. He stayed three months on Malta. Therefore, the Maltese are no doubt correct in claiming that Paul won the entire population to Jesus Christ. When the shipwrecked passengers left, the people gave them all they needed for their trip and honored them, especially Paul, in every way they knew how.
It must have been a considerable time after the Feast of the Atonement, say a month or so, that the ship's crew had risked the cruise from Fair Ravens to Phoenix; for after such an ordeal as they had been through, they would not have undertaken to sail again until spring of the next year. Then, they booked passage on another ship from Alexandria, which had wintered in Malta. On its way to Italy, it stopped for three days at Syracuse, the chief port of Sicily, called at Rhegium at the tip of the Italian boot, and after one day in port there, the gentle south wind enabled them to arrive safely in the harbor of Puteoli, which was their port of disembarkation. Their long voyage was over.
Paul's destination was Rome. His purpose in being there was to stand trial at Caesar's judgment seat. He was met by the Christians at Puteoli with whom he stayed for a week. Obviously the centurion was most lenient. He had no definite time to arrive in Rome, so he adapted himself to Paul's desires and let him do pretty much what he wanted to do.
When the Roman Christians got news of Paul's arrival in Italy, they came out from the capital to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet Paul and to escort him into Rome. The group that met Paul at the Forum of Appius had come a distance of forty-three miles; the second group, waiting at the Three Taverns for him, had come thirty-three miles. The Forum of Appius was about halfway between Puteoli and Rome, so in all probability the Christians of Puteoli went with Paul to the point where the first group from Rome met him.
Seeing all these brethren brought Paul great joy and gave him much courage. Together they took the Appian Way into Rome, and without being aware of it almost recapitulated their divine Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The centurion fulfilled his mission by delivering his prisoners to the captain of the guard. Paul, then, was permitted to live in a house with only one soldier to guard him. This is what we would call house arrest. He was not permitted to wander throughout the city, though.
Consequently, after three days, he invited the Jewish leaders of Rome to visit him in his house. He explained to them why he was in Rome and indicated those in Jerusalem responsible for his predicament, all the while avowing his innocence of any crime against the Jewish nation. It is obvious that the Jewish leaders in Rome had received no information from Jerusalem about Paul and the nature of the complaints against him. In fact, they told him that people who had come from Judea to the capital had had nothing detrimental to say about him. The chances are that those people did not mention him one way or the other. They had heard about the Christian sect, however, and all reports of it had been bad, so now they wanted to hear about it from one of its own members.
They gave Paul time to prepare his apology, and on the day appointed, they came back with as many others who could conveniently accompany them. Paul took a whole day to talk with them about the kingdom of God, using both Moses and the prophets to persuade them to believe in Jesus Christ. Luke says some were persuaded and some were not. Evidently not enough were persuaded, or rather those who were persuaded were not persuaded enough to accept Christ as their Savior and be baptized. Paul dismissed them with the words of Isaiah, who said that the heart of the people has become obtuse, their ears dull, and their eyes closed, so that God can't heal them (Isa. 6:9-10). Paul told them as they left that, since they would not hear, he would preach to the gentiles, to whom God had sent the gospel. He knew they would be open to it.
As he had done everywhere else, so Paul did in Rome. He preached first to his own people, the Jews. But when they would not hear him, he preached to the gentiles, who did hear him. For two years he received as many as would come in his house and preached to them the kingdom of God and taught them about Jesus Christ. The Roman government put no restraint on him so long as he did it in his own house.
At this point the Acts of the Apostles closes. If Paul arrived in Rome in the spring of A.D. 60, based on the probable dating of the shipwreck in the winter of A.D. 59, which is consistent with general Pauline chronology, Acts ends in the spring of A.D. 62. Paul's hope had been fulfilled. He had come to the Christians in Rome, and he was gathering fruit among the gentiles there as he had in all the other places where he had been (Rom. 1:13). Though Paul did not plant the church in Rome (Peter had probably done that, or else it had come into existence by means of converted Jews of the Diaspora who had heard the apostles in Jerusalem and returned with the Christian faith to Rome), Paul now had become a powerful factor in its development and would give it impetus by his martyrdom some years later.
Luke had accompanied Paul to Rome. He had begun his association with him at Assos, when they sailed together to Macedonia. About three years later, he joined Paul again at Philippi, where Paul had left him, and traveled with him to Jerusalem, where Paul was arrested and transported to Caesarea to languish for two years in Roman custody. There Luke joined him again for his voyage to Italy. The intimate friendship with Paul and lengthy association gave Luke the opportunity to gain information about Paul's career, which he describes so vividly from the start in the book of Acts. He does not carry the account, however, to the point of Paul's martyrdom. Why, we do not know, and it would be idle to speculate about the reasons. Enough! He has shown us in fullness Paul the missionary and evangelist. And the subsequent history of Christianity has proved Paul to be the greatest missionary of all times.
Questions For Reflection and Study
1. Paul spoke about being all things to all people in order that he might win some to Christ. When he was with Jews, he observed Jewish traditions; when he was with gentiles, he refrained from forcing Jewish beliefs on them. Does this imply that Christians may do anything in the name of winning persons to Christ? What are some of the positive aspects of this attitude? What are some of the pitfalls? What guidelines might you use upon which to base your decisions as to what is appropriate and what is not?
2. When the riot was incited in the Temple, Luke tells us that many of the spectators became like sheep following one another. Indeed, many of those present were not even certain what the conflict was all about. Do Christians ever join in a conflict without being certain of the issues involved? Name several examples. What do you think makes us susceptible to such blind action? What remedies can you recommend?
3. Paul retells his conversion experience several times, each time as an attempt to convert others to faith in Jesus Christ. Have you ever related the story of your conversion as a way of telling others about the gospel? Are you comfortable in doing so, or in hearing others tell of their experiences? Do you think this is an effective way of winning others to the Christian faith?
4. When giving his witness, Paul uses what he considers relevant to those he is addressing. Although the basic story is the same, he adds or omits details depending on his audience. When you witness to others about your experience, are you sensitive to your audience? How might you adapt your witness to different situations?
5. Throughout his ministry, Paul exhibited extraordinary courage in the face of life-threatening situations. However, we are told that when Festus asked him if he was willing to return to Jerusalem for trial, the apostle became alarmed and appealed to Caesar, as was his right as a Roman citizen. How do you account for this uncharacteristic action by Paul? Was it a sudden attack of cowardice, or was there something more important involved?
6. Following his interview with Agrippa and Festus, Paul could have been set free; both officials knew that he was innocent. However, because he had appealed to Caesar, they had no choice but to send him to Rome. Do you think that Paul may have regretted his decision? Would the ultimate result have been the same in Jerusalem as in Rome? Do you feel that God was at work in these particular circumstances? Why or why not?
7. Throughout his missionary travels, Paul consistently preached the gospel to the Jews, gave them an opportunity to respond, then turned to the gentiles. In view of the fact that his mission to the Jews continually met with failure, why do you suppose he persisted in this pattern? Do you think he might have been more effective if he had simply concentrated on evangelizing the gentiles in the first place? What implications might this have for Christians today?