The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON THE ACTS OF
Today is our last talk on the Acts of the Apostles and the last talk until after Easter. At our last meeting we finished with chapter twenty six where after Paul was examined before King Agrippa, his sister Bernice and the Governor Festus, it was decided that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to be judged at Caesar's seat at Rome.
Chapter twenty seven. Paul and other prisoners are handed over to a centurion named Julius and board a ship of Adramyttium which launched intending to sail by the coasts of Asia. Accompanying Paul on his fourth and last journey are Luke and Aristarchus, a Madedonian of Thessalonica. The next day they came to Sidon and Julius the centurion gave Paul the freedom to go about freely and be with his friends. From Sidon they planned to sail under Cyprus, but as the winds were against them they sailed above Cyprus over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia and came to Myra of Lycia. From there they boarded another ship that was heading for Italy. The going was very slow and after many days only reached Cnidas which wasn't very far from Myra where they had launched. They would have taken the quickest route crossing straight over to Greece but the wind would not allow them so they sailed south under Crete and came to a place named The Fair Havens near the city of Lasea. Here they stayed for a long time, but Luke tells us that continuing to sail would now be dangerous because the fast was over. In other words the autumn fast was over and they were in the month of September and could expect rough and dangerous waters. Paul warned then that to continue the voyage there would be hurt and much damage, not only of the merchandise and ship, but also of their lives. The owner of the ship was of the opinion that they could make it safely and the Centurion preferred to believe the owner rather than Paul. Most were of the opinion that where they were was not an appropriate place for them to winter in and that they should sail to the western coast of Crete to a town named Phenice and to winter there.
They set off and at first the winds blew favourably but not long after there arose a tempestuous wind which caught the ship making it impossible to be governed so they let the ship free to take them wherever the wind blew. They came under an Island called Clauda, but the waters were so dangerous that they had to bring the lifeboat tied to the ship on board so that they would not lose it. The winds continued to toss them without any control of the ship. The next day they decided to lighten the ship by throwing overboard some of the cargo and the next day they threw overboard anything else that was loose on the ship like ropes and instruments. When after many days they hadn't seen the sun or stars and fearing that worst was still to come, they lost all hope of being saved. The men were tired, seasick and hungry, because they hadn't eaten for many days. Then Paul stood up and said to them, sirs, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and you would not have suffered this harm and loss. But I tell you now to be cheerful, because there shall not be any loss of any man's life, but only of the ship. For this night there stood before me an angel of God, whose I am and serve, saying, fear not Paul, because you must be brought before Caesar and because of you God will save everyman who sails with you. Therefore sirs, be of good cheer, because I believe in God, that it will be even as it was told me. However we will be cast upon a certain island.
On the fourteenth night from when they had departed from the Fair Havens of Crete, as they were driven up and down in the Adriatic sea, that is the part of the Mediterranean sea between Greece and Sicily, the shipmen realized that they were drawing near to land. The text says that they sounded and found it twenty fathoms. The sounding is not actually a sounding mechanism, but a plummet line weighted with lead which was let down into the sea to determine the depth and by greasing it they could also determine if the sea bed was sandy or rocky. Along the length of the chain black leather pieces were tied for the single units and white leather for every 5 fathoms. A fathom is approx six feet and was the measurement of a pair of outstretched arms. Thus the twenty fathoms was about a hundred and twenty feet which is approx 36.5 metres. When they had gone a little further they sounded again and found it to be fifteen fathoms or ninety feet or approx 27 metres.
As it was dark they feared that they would fall upon rocks so they let down four anchors out of the stern, that is the back part of the ship, and hoped for daylight so that they could see where they were. But the crew, believing that the ship would not hold until the morning planned to escape leaving the prisoners behind. They prepared to let down the boat on the pretence that they were going to cast anchors from the bow (the front of the ship in the hope that this would stabilize the ship. But Paul knew their intentions and told the centurion that unless they also remain on the ship you cannot be saved. What Paul had in mind was that if the crew left it would cause a panic, but also the crew would know how to guide the ship to safety as soon as there was daylight: without them there was no one who could steer the ship and all would be lost. The soldiers therefore cut the ropes of the boat and let her fall off.
Waiting for the sun to rise, Paul advises them to eat saying this is the fourteenth day that you have not had anything to eat. Therefore take some meat for your health, because not a hair from your heads shall fall from any of you. And when he had said this he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all and breaking it he began to eat. Hearing Paul, everyone was hopeful and they all had something to eat. On the ship were a total of two hundred and seventy six men. When they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship by casting out the remainder of the wheat into the sea. This was to get the ship to rise higher in the water and so could get closer to land as they didn't have a boat anymore. When it was day they didn't know the land before them, but they discovered a cove with a sandy shore so they decided, if it were possible, to try and guide the ship into it. So they lifted up the anchors and loosed the ropes which had been tied to the rudder to hold it out of the water and hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made towards the shore.
The text continues to say that they fell into a place where two seas met and the ship ran aground and the forepart stuck fast but the stern was broken with the violence of the waves. In the Greek the place where the two seas met is called διθάλασσον – a double sea and what is meant by this is that it is a place washed on both sides by the sea. It refers properly to an isthmus, a tongue of land, or a sand-bar stretching out from the mainland, and which was washed on both sides by the waves. Usually an isthmus is above the waves and here we have a place with a long sand-bank that stretched far out into the sea under the water and which they could not see. In endeavouring to make for the harbour, the bow of the ship ran into this sand-bank and got stuck fast, and because the ship could no longer move with the waves, the stern broke of from the force of the waves.
With the ship broken the soldiers decided that they should kill the prisoners in case any of them swim out and escape, but the centurion wanting to save Paul prevented them and commanded that those who could swim should cast themselves into the sea and swim for shore so that they could help the others who couldn't swim, but would try to save themselves by holding on to boards and broken pieces of the ship. In this way they all reached land safely.
Chapter twenty eight. Having escaped certain death some of the natives came to their help and they discovered that the land they were on was called Melita, known today as Malta. Luke mentions that they were a barbarous people. What he means is that they were settlers from Chalcedon who spoke neither Greek nor Latin. They had a Phoenician dialect which was close to Aramaic and so Paul and the other Apostles were able to communicate with them. The natives showed them the greatest kindness and lit a fire for them because of the cold storm. Paul went to help and gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire. Among the bundle of sticks was a viper which had been hibernating and from the heat of the fire awoke and with its fangs fastened on to Paul's hand. When the natives saw the venomous snake hanging from his hand they assumed that Paul must be a murderer and having escaped the sea a divine justice would not allow him to live. Paul simply shook the snake into the fire and felt no harm. When they looked at his hand that it wasn't swollen and that he didn't fall down dead and no harm had come to him they changed their minds that he was a murderer and said that he was a god.
Close by to where they had been shipwrecked was the home of the chief man of the island whose name was Publius who received them into his home and lodged them for three days. Archaeological digs have verified that the chief man was indeed a man named Publius as recorded by Luke. He was the Roman prefect of Malta under the governor of Sicily of which province Malta was. While they were there Publius' father was sick with a fever and dysentery. Paul prayed and laid his hand on him and he was healed. Soon word spread of the miracle and many throughout the island who had diseases came to Paul to be healed and honoured the apostles with a show of respect and reverence and when they were ready to depart they provided them with everything they would need for their journey. Luke doesn't tell us if Paul preached in Malta and if he founded a church there, but this would not be inconceivable, especially as tradition has Publius as the first bishop and martyr of Malta. Tradition also has him as later becoming bishop of Athens. Paul's shipwreck on Malta is celebrated each year on 10th February which is also a Maltese national holiday.
Paul and the others stayed on the island for three months and when the weather permitted they departed on a ship of Alexandria which had wintered on the isle. Luke mentions, according to the KJV, that the ships sign was Castor and Pollux. In fact the original Greek only gives one name the "Dioskourois" which means "The Twin Brothers" and does actually refer to the twin brothers Castor and Pollux who in Greek mythology were the sons of Zeus and a woman named Leda. The twins were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as a weather phenomenon known today as St. Elmo's fire. The twins were worshipped by both the Greek and Romans and a complete cult evolved around them especially in the regions of Egypt and many Alexandrian ships had carved figureheads of their image at the bow. Today these two mythological figures still have a prominent part in our universe, as they are now to be seen in our starry skies within the constellation Gemini, often identified as the Twins of Gemini, and are supposedly, astrologically speaking, in a position to rescue those in peril on the sea.
So having departed from Malta, they land at Syracuse of Sicily and stayed there for three days. From there they sailed to Rhegium known today as Reggio Calabria and is the most southern city on the tip of the boot of Italy and the next day they came to Puteoli known today as Pozzuoli situated on the western coast near Naples. This is where the sea voyage ends and their journey to Rome will now continue on foot. At Puteoli they found Christian brethren who requested that they stay for a few days. The decision to stay was not theirs because they were prisoners, but from the beginning the centurion showed that he favoured Paul so must have given his permission for him to stay and speak to the Christians there. After seven days they departed and again began their journey towards Rome. The news of Paul's arrival and journey must have reached Rome before him and on the way he was met by at least two groups of Christians; the first at Appii Forum an important stop on the Appian Way about 43 miles from Rome and the second at the Three taverns about thirty three miles from Rome and as the name suggests was a stopping place for travellers to and from Rome. On seeing the brethren Paul thanked God and took courage because he was not going to Rome simply as a prisoner, but as an apostle and preacher.
When they finally reached Rome, the centurion delivered the other prisoners to the captain of the guard, who according to history was named Burros, but, Paul, probably because of the centurion's favourable report, was allowed to live by himself in a rented house chained by one hand to a guard outside. Whether his disciples Luke and Aristarchus, who accompanied him to Rome stayed with him we are not told; they probably stayed as guests of other brethren and visited Paul everyday. After three days in Rome Paul called the chief of the Jews together at his home so that he could defend himself before them before any slander against him reached them from Jerusalem. So when they were gathered Paul spoke to them saying: Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because they could not find any cause worthy of my death. But when the Jews spoke against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not because I wanted to accuse my nation before the emperor, but because I wanted to avoid my own death. This is why I have called you, to see and speak with you, because I am bound with this chain because of the hope of Israel, whose hope is in the coming of the Messiah in whom I preach. When they had heard him they replied that they had not received any letters from Judea concerning him neither had any brethren that came to them spoken anything against him. But of this religious sect known as Christians to which you belong, we have heard that everywhere it is spoken against and therefore we desire to hear from you your thoughts concerning them.
A day was appointed for Paul to speak to them of the Christian faith and many came to his home to hear him. He preached and testified the kingdom of God showing them through the law of Moses and the Prophets, the prophecies concerning Jesus. Some believed and others didn't and when they began to argue among themselves they prepared to leave, but not before Paul had one last word for them. Quoting from the Prophet Isaiah he said: Well spoke the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, go unto this people, and say, hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Isaiah was instructed by God to say this to the people for their unbelief, Jesus used the same prophecy when speaking to the Jews of his time again for their unbelief and now Paul uses the same prophecy against the Jews of Rome for their unbelief. He then tells then that because they refuse to hear the word of God, the salvation of God is sent to the gentiles and they will willingly hear it.
Paul dwelt for two whole years in is rented house and received everyone that came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence and boldness, with no man forbidding him to speak.
This is how the Acts of the Apostles comes to an end. The year is AD 63 and we assume that he was martyred in AD 67, so what did Paul do during the four years before his death. The end of the Acts tells us that he spent two years under house arrest. After this he was set free and many believe that he stayed in Rome where he was rearrested during the persecution of Christians by Nero after the great fire that destroyed the most part of Rome in AD 64. But Paul's epistles, especially those to his disciples tell a different story.
We know from his epistle to the Romans which he wrote from Corinth in AD 58, three years before he reached Rome, that he desired to visit Spain: He says: Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey. (Rom. 15:24) But his epistles written while under house arrest in Rome, the epistles to Philemon, Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians suggest that for the time being, he had abandoned his original plan to visit Spain and had set his eyes towards the east. After his release it seems that he took Titus with him and came first to Crete from where the ship that was taking him to Rome had lost control in the storm. He must have thought that it was new territory for him to preach even though the Cretans had already received the gift of Pentecost as there were Cretans present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Paul leaves Titus in Crete as the first bishop of Crete. We know that he left Titus in Crete because in his epistle to Titus he write: For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you. (Titus 1:5)
From Crete he travels to all the churches in the east. The first recorded evidence that Paul visited Spain is from Clement the third bishop of Rome writing to the Corinthians between AD 90 -100. From there we cannot be sure were he went, but in AD 66 we find him again in Crete and then in Corinth and then at Miletus. In his second Epistle to Timothy he writes that Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick. (2 Tim 4:20) From there he again went to Ephesus where he left Timothy as his representative and bishop of Ephesus. He mentions in first Timothy: As I besought you to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that you might charge some that they teach no other doctrine. (1 Tim. 1:3) From there he goes to Troas because he writes again in his second Epistle to Timothy: The coat that I left at Troas with Carpus, when you come, bring with you, and the books, but especially the parchments. (2 Tim 4: 13) From Troas he then went to Macedonia from where he possibly wrote his first epistle to Timothy.
His next stop is Nicopolis on the western coast of Epirus Greece from where he writes his epistle to Titus saying: When I shall send Artemas unto you, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. (Titus 3:12) In AD 67 he is arrested at Nicopolis or he returned to Rome and was arrested there and placed in solitary confinement in a prison cell at the famous Roman Mamertine Prison. The only entrance to his cell was through a hole in the ceiling which was 6.5 feet high. From this prison cell he wrote the second epistle to Timothy which has been described as his swansong, a metaphorical phrase for a final effort or performance given just before death. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death.
Paul knows that his end is near and writes to Timothy: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." He then requests Timothy to come to him in prison which shows that Paul did not suffer martyrdom immediately after his arrest, but after spending some months in prison before a proper and legal trial as a Roman citizen. He writes that he is alone and everyone had either deserted him or had been sent to other cities to preach, except for Luke who remained with him throughout his ordeal. He requests that when he comes to bring with him Mark for he is profitable to me for the ministry. If you remember during the first Apostolic mission Mark was with Paul and Barnabas, but when they reached Pamphylia he deserted them because he feared the rough conditions ahead and when about to embark on the second mission Barnabas wanted Mark with them but Paul thought him as unreliable and insisted that he would not allow him to be with them which caused Paul and Barnabas to part ways. But here Paul is asking for Mark to come to him because he is profitable, so it seems that the past was all forgiven and somewhere along the way Paul and Mark were reconciled and Paul now sees in Mark someone of great ministerial usefulness.
The Second epistle to Timothy ends with Paul again requesting Timothy to come to him and to try and come before winter. There are two reasons why Paul wanted Timothy to come to him before winter. The first because the prison cell was cold and winter would be unbearable, that is why he asked Timothy to go by Troas to get his coat which he had left with a man named Carpus. He would need that coat when the weather turned colder. The second reason is because during the winter the weather made travel by sea difficult and sometimes impossible. If Timothy delayed at all, he would not come to Rome until the spring and if he waited that long, Paul would very likely already be dead.
Whether Timothy made it to Rome we do not know. Paul was brought to trial for the second time and was sentenced to death. According to tradition he was beheaded without first being tortured because Roman law forbade torture to Roman citizens. The date of his execution is not known. Some place it towards the end of AD 67 while others in AD 68. What is agreed is that it was before Nero committed suicide in June 68.
With his execution Paul's very turbulent apostolic career came to an end, but has remained as one of the biggest personalities in the history of the church, known throughout the centuries as the Apostle to the Gentiles and although not one of the original twelve apostles, he is celebrated together with the Apostle Peter as the two great chiefs of the apostles on 29th June.
Tradition holds that both Apostles died at Rome under Nero; Paul first and then Peter supposedly on the 22nd February of AD 68. The New Testament makes no reference to Peter ever being in Rome and if he was preaching with Paul as Roman Catholic tradition claims, it is strange that Paul in his epistles mentions over fifty co-workers, but makes no reference to the great apostle Peter ever being with him. The only New Testament reference to Peter being in Rome is from Peter's first Catholic Epistle where he says "The church in Babylon and my son Mark greet you," which has been allegorically interpreted as referring to Rome, especially by the Roman Catholic Church. If the reference is to Rome, it is the only biblical reference to Peter being there. However, in the greeting he also mentions Mark. This could be Mark the Evangelist, regarded as the founder of the Church of Alexandria Egypt. Babylon was an important fortress city in Egypt, just north of today's Cairo with a large Jewish community, so Peter could have been writing from the actual Babylon and Mark being with him would confirm the traditions and writings of fathers from the second century that Mark was Peter's interpreter and wrote his Gospel according to what he heard from Peter. No one can disclaim that Peter was not in Babylon, but on the other hand no one can disclaim that he didn't go to Rome as well, especially since so many early Christian writers claim that he did go to Rome, was arrested and was crucified upside down at his own request.