The Gospel and the Voyage to Rome

16 Jul

It has been said that “the tendency to over allegorize” the account should be resisted. Luke’s focus is on the rescue of the passengers from danger, including Paul. There is no proclamation of the Gospel message by Paul, and the pagans on board remain pagans after they arrive on the shore of Malta.”[1] Nevertheless, if this is so, why record anything that occurred in Acts 27? Why not simply begin with Acts 27:1 and let verse-2 begin at Acts 28:12? If what occurs between Acts 27:1 and 28:12 have no meaning for the Gospel, then what meaning would they have for Theophilus (Acts 1:1), to whom Luke wrote in order to offer him a more perfect understanding of the things he had been told (Luke 1:3-4)?

It may surprise some that Luke uses Paul’s voyage to Rome as a ‘Passion Narrative’ to point to Jesus’ own journey to Jerusalem and ultimate crucifixion and what that has come to mean for mankind, especially believers. Luke’s: “When it was determined that we should sail to Italy…” (Acts 27:1) is reminiscent of his: “…when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” concerning Jesus in Luke 9:51. Luke leaves Paul in prison in Acts 28:31 awaiting his trial before Nero, which may very well have ended in his death.

Just as Jesus was numbered among the transgressors (Mark 15:28; cp. Isaiah 53:12), so Paul was also linked to “certain other prisoners” (Acts 27:1). Later, a storm arose on the sea that threatened the lives of all on board the vessel, but in the end all were brought safely to land (Acts 27:44) for Paul’s sake (Acts 27:22, 24; cp. 2Corinthians 4:11), just as it is for Jesus’ sake that we are saved (Isaiah 53:4-5, 10, 12). Moreover, on the 14th day since they had despaired of life Paul made a meal for them (Acts 27:33), just as on the 14th day in the first month in the Jewish calendar, Jesus had a meal for the disciples. “When he had thus spoken, he took bread…” (Acts 27:35; cp. Luke 24:30). The ship’s crew were promised life, prolonged life after despairing of all life, just as Jesus had promised his disciples everlasting life (John 3:16). While it is true that we should not see the meal aboard the ship exactly the same way we see the Passover covenant meal Jesus used to commemorate his death, it was, nevertheless, a meal shared with folks who despaired of life, and Paul called upon them to believe the One who promised their safety—the One who appeared to Paul 14 days earlier, in whom Paul trusted and said he served (Acts 27:22-23, 25; cp. 27:33-36).

Another incident that occurred to Paul that pointed to Jesus was the act of Julius, the centurion, who organized the abandonment of the ship and the rescue of all aboard. This he did in order to save Paul (Acts 27:42-43), and his behavior as much as admits to Paul’s innocence, knowing all Paul did prior to the shipwreck. Jesus was crucified for admitting to being the Son of God (John 19:7, 14-16), but was found innocent of two previous charges (Luke 23:13-16). So, when the centurion, standing near the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, saw the earthquake and all the things that occurred and how Jesus behaved, he declared that he (Jesus) was indeed the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39). That is, the things that occurred witnessed to Jesus’ innocence of blasphemy. In other words, Jesus was who he said he was and was, therefore, innocent!

There were many who witnessed the crucifixion and, although they agreed Jesus was innocent, they remained unbelievers in Luke’s Gospel narrative. So, too it was for Paul on the ship and during the shipwreck. This doesn’t mean the Gospel wasn’t preached, nor does it mean that no one believed the Gospel, simply because Luke doesn’t record it. Luke’s purpose at this point is to show that God had saved everyone for Paul’s sake and, in doing so, that it took place just as Paul predicted; it proved Paul’s innocence before God to the reader, just as God declared Jesus’ innocence through his resurrection.

[1] See Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, page 767.

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Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Gospel, Kingdom of God, Voyage to Rome


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