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Acts 27:39

Act 27:39

When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.

Note 91: Daylight

Now that it was daylight, all eyes were scanning the island for a way to land safely. These people had to be getting more tense with each passing moment. At least now the darkness is gone and they could see.  Isn’t it amazing how things seem to get better once you shed some light on them.

Note 92: Why didn’t they recognize Malta?

This verse also reveals to us “They did not recognize the land”.  This comment has always been a major talking point for critics who do not believe the story ever happened  or who do not believe the location was Malta.  First, the critics point out that Malta is very close to Italy and it was on the trade route from Egypt, so the crew should have known where they were.  Second, Malta had several busy ports in the first century, just as it does today.  Given these facts, the critics assume that these sailors should certainly recognize Malta if indeed that is where the ship was actually anchored. I disagree with that idea.  If you have ever approached a coast at dawn or are awakened from sleep and suddenly find yourself close to shore, most people would not recognize where they are.  This is true even if they have actually been close to that section of coast before.  The ship of Acts 27 was not about to enter a busy port and it is highly unlikely they were even near a known harbor. So, at early dawn in this verse these people found themselves off the coast of some rocky shore. In my experience it would have been far more unbelievable if the narrative had said …and when daylight came they knew exactly where they were.

Note 93: A Bay or a Creek?

The verse now says “(NIV) but they saw a bay with a sandy beach,”

However, the King James Version says it this way “but they discovered a certain creek with a shore,” (KJV).  The different versions translate the Greek as either creek or bay, and either sandy beach or shore.  The actual Greek word used by Luke may have had more meaning in the first century than we know today. However, I am of the opinion that this passage is more accurately describing a bay or a gulf.  I have seen very few ‘creeks’ in Malta, but there are a number of small bays and inlets that could fit the description.  Regardless of the exact meaning, the passage is clear in one respect, there was some break in the shoreline that led them away from the open sea and in toward the island, they could tell the area they saw before them offered a better chance of survival.

Note 94: A Sandy Beach or a Shore

The narrative describes a ‘location’ that attracted their attention, either translated as a sandy beach or as a shore.  Don’t think of this term ‘beach’ like a beach we see along the Florida coast.  The island of Malta is a large rock in the middle of the Mediterranean sea;  sandy beaches are few, small and not really very sandy.  However, Luke’s narrative does point out that the crew did see some feature on the shore that the crew determined was an attractive location for them to try to run the ship aground at that particular spot.  Believe me, most of the shoreline on Malta is obviously not suitable for trying to land a ship.  There are actually are very few landing spots that even appear to be survivable.

Note 95: if they could?

The verse goes on to say that the sandy beach/ shore, they spotted would be “where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.”  I love the last part of the phrase where they say they would run it aground ‘if they could’.  On the face of the statement, they are trying to ground a ship – just how hard can that be?  How hard would it be to intentionally wreck your car?  Maybe it is harder than we imagine. The passage actually refers to the act of steering the ship to a particular place, which means maneuvering it into the exact position, and then getting the keel of the ship to clear any bottom obstacles to get it up onto dry land.  The owner wanted to save the ship therefore  running it aground was his only choice.  The crew wanted to get the ship in as close as possible to dry land, to save themselves. The passengers didn’t care how they got off – they just wanted off that ship and the sooner the better.  However, the fate of everyone on board was tied to how far they could drive that ship onto a dry beach.  The phrase used here was a comment about the difficulty of steering the ship to the small target beach across a rough bay. The crew would have to first turn the bow of this large ship to the port (left) side.  Next they must steer the ship through the choppy waves and cross currents of the bay.  They would also be required to gain as much speed as possible in order to actually push the ship onto the intended beach.  They would be required to take all these critical actions and accomplish them with precise timing, in order land safely on the selected beach… if they could !

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