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What is the significance of Acts 27:10-44?

This is the passage deal with Paul’s ill-fated voyage to Italy as a prisoner. The ship ran into very bad weather and Paul announced, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also” (vs. 10). As he reminded them later on, he was trying to get the sailors to stop sailing (vs. 21).

Unfortunately, the sailors didn’t listen (vs. 11). Why would they? They’re seasoned sailors and Paul’s a missionary prisoner. But several days later their ship encountered a hurricane force wind (called “the Northeaster”, vs. 14) which eventually caused the seasoned sailors to abandon any hope of survival ( vs 20). But an angel of the Lord appeared to Paul and told him that God was mercifully going to protect him and everyone else on the ship (vs. 24). Paul told the men they should have listened to him (vs. 21), but now that they found themselves in this mess, he told them to have faith in God and remain courageous (vs. 22). They’d lose the boat, but all on board would be saved.

When it looked like the ship might run aground, some sailors tried to escape on a lifeboat (29-30). Interestingly enough, Paul then told the captain, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved” (vs. 31). The ship eventually crashes, and some of the soldiers planned on killing the prisoners to prevent them from escaping (vs. 42). But the captain, now very impressed with Paul, wanted him spared so he did not allow the soldiers to kill him (vs. 43). In this way “everyone reached land safely” (vs. 44).

It’s important to notice all the contingencies involved in this story. Unless we suppose that Paul had better sailing skills than the seasoned sailors, it seems it was by divine inspiration that Paul announced that the voyage would be disastrous if they kept sailing (vs. 10). So he tried to get them to stop. It seems like it was God’s will that they stop when Paul told them to, and Paul himself chastises them for not listening to him (vs. 21). Once they found themselves in trouble, however, God sent an angel to reassure them they were going to be safe. Yet, even this promise was conditioned on whether or not all the men would have faith, stay courageous, and not abandon the ship (vs. 29-31). A straightforward reading of the passage suggests that, had the sailors not stayed with the ship, the promise of the angel would have been revoked and lives would have been lost.

So, while it seems it was a pre-settled certainty that Paul would sooner or later stand trial before Caesar (vs. 24), the passage indicates that there were a number of variables which affected when and how Paul would end up there, as well as who would or would not survive the trip with him. The passage, in other words, suggests that the future is partly settled, but also partly open.

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