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Acts 27:3

Acts 27:3 – (NIV) – “The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”

Note 8: Time Frame

In verse 3, Luke records the first stop of the trip “the next day we landed at Sidon”. Sidon is approximately 67 miles north of Caesarea.  This is a comfortable distance to make in a single day, especially if there are good winds.  In this passage, Luke DOES NOT mention anything about the weather or the wind, both of which he mentions quite often after verse 3.  Judging from the distance traveled and the time it took, they must have had good wind blowing from the West.

Note 9: About Sidon

Sidon was a Phoenician town on the Mediterranean in north Palestine.  It was famous for industry and commerce (along with the city of Tyre) so it is a logical stop for any trading vessel. Today it is located in Lebanon.

Note 10: Julius “consideration” of Paul

The New International Version (NIV) states verse 3 this way- “and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”

The New American Standard (NAS) version states verse 3 this way “and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.”

Both verses really say the same thing, but I believe the NAS uses a more accurate translation of what was meant.  But, either way, the information sounds a little strange to us today.  We do not think of kindness or consideration as features of federal custody today.  Under today’s system, there is no way any prisoner would be released to their friends to be cared for.  However according to historical records, during Roman times things were different and the practice of having family and friends care for a prisoners’ needs was common.

The passage certainly reports on the centurion’s actions toward Paul and a seemingly kind motive.  This attitude may only be Luke’s interpretation of Julius’ actions or it may be that Julius truly acted out of kindness or consideration.  There are at least three explanations:  (1) Julius acted out of Kindness, (2) Julius followed common practice of the day and Luke views the actions as kindness, (3) Julius was following the earlier precedent of Governor Felix toward Paul , or some combination of the above.

Note 11: Releasing of a prisoner

Whatever the reason, Luke records the incident and attributes kindness and consideration as part of the motive of the centurion.  In Acts 24:23, we find a similar action, occurring earlier in Paul’s two year imprisonment.

Acts 24:23 – NIV

He [Felix, the Governor] ordered the centurion [unknown identity] to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

This passage shows that Paul was given some amount of freedom, in context probably released, yet remained under guard. At that occasion Paul’s friends were allowed to take care of his needs during his imprisonment.

There is historical evidence that Roman prisoners were often taken care of by friends, and were often accompanied by servants or slaves.  The families sometimes supplied prisoners food everyday.  For the most part, the Roman authorities didn’t care if a prisoner lived or died, so as a practical matter, they didn’t go out of their way to care for the ordinary needs of prisoners. (A novel concept – prisoners providing for their own care and housing, instead of being a burden on the state.)

Note 12: Accuracy

Over the years I have heard many comments about this passage, one of which is that “the story can’t be true because Roman centurions weren’t known for being kind. They would never do this.”  I believe that statement is only partially true.  Acts 10:1 contains the story of another centurion named Cornelius.  Cornelius became the first gentile (non-Jew) converted to Christianity.

Acts 10:2 states

He [Cornelius] and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

Another centurion is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke accounts:

Luke 7:3-5

The centurion [name unknown] heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” Jewish elders pleading on behalf of the centurion?

Roman Centurions were the backbone of the Roman Legions that conquered and held the known world. Yes, they were the meanest of the mean.  Many were blood thirsty and ruthless.  But they were also highly disciplined soldiers who knew how to carry out orders to a tee, and the consequences of not doing their duty were severe.  I can find nothing in this passage that disqualifies it as truthful.  The centurion did what he was allowed to do, whether out of kindness or convenience.  The actions of the centurion in this passage also have no bearing on the outcome of the shipwreck.

Note 13- So why include the information?

Why would Luke include information in his narrative that he must know would be doubted later?  It appears to hurt the believability of the story if you include it so why not just leave it out.  I would have. I personally would not have included the information about the kindness or release, especially if it were not 100% true.  Unless I thought my role was to record what happened exactly as it happened, then I would dutifully report what I saw.

This leads me to the conclusion that Luke included these events in his narrative, because this is what he saw and his perception of why they happened, so he recorded it as part of his narrative of the trip.

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