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Acts 27:37-38

Acts 27:37

Altogether there were 276 of us on board.

Acts 27:38

When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

Note 88: 276 Souls

When I discussed verse 27:30, I made a comment about the nautical tradition of calling people on board a ship “souls.”  This tradition comes from our English background. The King James version of 27:37 reads “And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.

Note 89: So just how big was this ship?

The placement of verse 37 has always seemed to me to be a very strange location in the text.  It just really seems to be randomly inserted.  I don’t now why Luke places it here rather than verse 1, or 6, or 44 or at any other point in his narrative.  But Luke places it here.  To me it just seems a little out of place in verse 37 and, for someone reading the bible for perhaps the first time, this verse may seem completely unimportant and not necessary in the text at all.  However, from a shipwreck narrative perspective, verse 37 provides critical information.  This ship was a grain carrier of the Alexandrian trade, a supertanker, and the larger it was the more special its design had to be.  The emphasis of this ships design was on the cargo of grain, not passengers.  It was the cargo that paid for the ship, the expenses of travel and of course any profit. The ship architects probably didn’t care about passengers, yet here we are told that, in addition to its grain cargo, it also carried 276 people.  It is much more difficult to design a ship to accommodate people as opposed to accommodating grain and grain doesn’t complain. A passenger count of 276 was a huge number of people especially when it was in addition to a cargo of grain; thus, the ship had to be quite large in order to accommodate all that it was carrying.  The USS Constitution, a ship that measured 175 ft (53 m) long and 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m) wide and about 45 feet from deck to Keel, carried nearly 500 people but absolutely no cargo other than necessary supplies.  It is interesting to note that the USS Constitution used nearly 60 acres of trees to build and had copper spikes and copper sheathing.  We can only speculate how big the Acts ship was, but to carry all the grain and 276 people it had to be very large.  With this in mind, this shipwreck hunter is very happy that Luke decided to include the passenger count in his narrative.

Note 90: They threw cargo overboard.

In verse 38 Luke informs us that the people on the ship ate “as much as they wanted” and then began throwing the remaining grain overboard.  Throwing cargo overboard to lighten a ship is a common practice during perilous times.  In fact, lightening the load was perhaps the only way to ensure that the most people survived and that the ship made it as close to shore as possible (since the closer the ship could get to dry land the more people would survive).  It is unclear if they dumped ALL the grain overboard or, if not all, exactly what percentage got tossed.  Nonetheless, lightening the cargo load of a ship is very common when an ordeal such as this begins.

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