Sunday, May 27, 2007: “Acts of the Apostles: Session 6”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Lecture Series Led By Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Acts of the Apostles

Session 6: Chapters 27 – 28

27:1 – 28:16, the journey from Caesarea Maritima to Rome – This is the last of Paul’s 10-12 sea journeys in Acts. 

Paul is the center of attention in the narrative. Willimon (p. 184) points out: “He gives expert advice about weather and navigation, he maintains amazing calm in the middle of a raging storm, even delivering a sermon to the hardened sailors who had ‘abandoned all hope’ (27:20-25), and he helps to head off a mutiny. He predicts that no one will be lost (27:22), a prophecy fulfilled when ‘all escaped to land’ (27:44).”

The journey narrative moves on a step-by-step basis, moving closer and closer to its destination, with those in charge deciding at each stop where and how to go next.

27:2 – Aristarchus has been mentioned as a Macedonian in 19:29 and as a Thessalonian in 20:4. Col. 4:10 refers to him as “a fellow prisoner.” Philemon 24 lists him among Paul’s “fellow workers.”

27:4 – Instead of sailing directly west toward Italy, they stay close to the eastern and northern shores of Cyprus for protection from the winds.

27:5 – They then take to the open sea in order to be able to hug the coast of Asia Minor, again for protection.

27:6, “an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy” – Ships frequently sailed with grain from Egypt to Rome. Their food supply was especially critical in winter in order to supply the needs of the sometimes restive Roman population. To ensure adequate supplies of grain, Claudius provided insurance to ships that sailed with grain from Egypt to Rome during the winter, and he paid a premium for the food that they delivered.

27:7 – Cnidus was located at the most southwestern point of Asia Minor. Thucydides (Peloponnesian Wars) mentions Cnidus as a port used frequently by ships from Alexandria.

27:8 – The ship sailed close to Crete rather than taking to the open sea, arriving eventually at Fair Havens. Yom Kippur (27:9, “the Fast”) would have been in September or October. The Mediterranean was considered to be too dangerous to sail during the winter (at least November through March), and a premium was paid to anyone who dared to sail across it anyway.

27:12, Phoenix – There is disagreement as to whether Phoenix was located on the southwest shore of Crete or the northwest – but it doesn’t matter here since the ship never arrives there anyway.

27:16 – Cauda appears to have been to the southwest of Crete since the ship is heading for the open water.

27:26 – After an “I told you so” (vs. 21) and an exhortation to courage, Paul delivers the bad news last (vs. 26): the fact that they will shipwreck on some island.

27:27 – What is now called the Adriatic Sea was then referred to as the Gulf of Adria.

27:31-32 – Paul once again intervenes, but this time the centurion listens.

27:35-36 – Paul takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and begins to eat, which encourages the others to begin to eat of it as well. Willimon notes (p. 185): “The Eucharist is food of confidence shared in the middle of the storm.”

27:44 – Following the shipwreck, everyone arrives on the shore.

28:1-10, Paul and the others on Malta – Paul brings healing to a prominent man of the island.

28:11-13 – They board another Alexandrian ship, one with the figurehead of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus; they were associated with protection at sea. They sail from Malta to Syracuse on Sicily, and then on to Puteoli where they meet a group of believers. Then (14) they sailed on toward Rome.

28:15 – At Paul’s arrival in Rome, he is enthusiastically greeted by the church who come out to meet him. Throughout Acts the call to embrace the good news is not a call to accept a certain way of thinking, but a call to join a community that is dedicated to carrying on the mission. Willimon puts it this way: “Jesus’ message formed a distinct people. His message was about a new community. The Acts question is not merely the intellectual one of ‘Do you agree?’ but the political and social question, ‘Will you join up?’”

28:16 – Paul remains at Rome, guarded by a soldier. The final “we” section comes to an end, and full attention is focused on Paul.

The significance of the journey narrative: è Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, pages 457-458

28:17 – Paul meets with the leaders of the Jewish community at Rome. Luke Timothy Johnson (p. 466) notes that there had been a Jewish community in Rome since probably the mid-second century BCE. Despite expulsions form the city under Tiberius and Claudius, the community appears to have been fairly large at this time.

28:20 – Paul asserts that he is being put on trial because he has affirmed “the hope of Israel.” His audience responds that they have heard nothing about these charges, but that they would like to hear more “for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (22). He teaches them from morning until evening (23), giving testimony and trying to convince them. Some were convinced, while others refused to believe (23). Paul once again turns to the Gentiles for “they will listen” (29).

28:30-31 – Paul continued for two years to proclaim the good news to all who came to him. Considering 28:22, they might have come to him because they had been expelled from the synagogues.

Willimon (p 190) suggests that these verses are an allusion to 2:11, the Pentecost scene that speaks of “God’s deeds of power.” Paul proclaiming the good news n Rome “with all boldness and without hindrance” (31) is itself a mighty act of God. Johnson (p. 473) notes: ”Luke therefore ends his work with a positive affirmation, much like that stated by Paul himself from his captivity, ‘I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered.’ (2 Tim. 2:9).”

Some (e.g. David Tiede) have suggested that Acts ends on a triumphalistic note. Willimon (p. 191) denies that notion, pointing out that it ignores “Luke’s intended audience – a persecuted minority fighting for its life.”

Acts does not include an account of Paul’s death, but passages such as 20:25 & 38 indicate that Luke knew well the ultimate outcome of Paul’s trial – as well as the note in 28:30 about Paul living in Rome for “two whole years.” But the account of Paul’s death was not the end of the story. Despite Jesus’ death, despite the death of Stephen, and despite the death of Paul, the story goes on. Willimon (p. 192) puts it this way: “You and I live in the continuation of the story of Acts. Acts must close in an open-ended fashion, with the door still open for work and witness rather than closed by death, because the Spirit is still active. Luke is not simply writing history. He writes the story of the Spirit, the Spirit incarnate in people like you and me… We need not be gazing into heaven (1:11) when the Spirit is active here on earth… In your church and mine the story continues.”