Acts 27: 42-44
The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping.
But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land.
The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.
Note 108: Planned to kill the Prisoners
Would Roman soldiers really just kill prisoners? You bet they would. Remember we are talking about a culture that had slaves, ruled the Mediterranean world with an iron fist, and invented Gladiatorial games. After the revolt lead by Spartacus they crucified approximately 6,000 prisoners along the road leading into Rome. They crucified Jesus and would later burned Jerusalem. We also know the Roman army used severe discipline on it’s own troops. The word decimate is derived from the Roman practice of beating to death every tenth man in a legion who showed cowardice on the battlefield. We know from other historical documents, the price paid by any soldiers who allowed a prisoner under their care to escape was death or he was forced to take the place of the escaped prisoner. If you were in their place would you plan to kill the prisoners? I know I would have killed them had I been a Roman soldier.
Note 109: The Centurion
The real question is did the centurion stop the troops and why? Luke states he stopped them and immediately (reading like it was almost in the same breath) gave the soldiers the order to abandon ship. Luke further states that the REASON the Centurion stopped the soldiers was he wanted to spare Paul’s life.
Note 110: Why?
This action begs the question…Why did the centurion want to spare Paul’s life?
The best answer is simply; I don’t know?
- Maybe he just wanted to deliver Paul to Caesar.
- Maybe it was the fact they had spent 14 days together and he wanted to spare everyone. Maybe he thought Paul was special or that Paul’s God really was about to deliver them all.
- Maybe Julius had seen or heard the angel Paul said had visited him.
- Maybe God just made him change his mind so he would save them.
- Maybe he just liked Paul,
I just don’t know, but apparently there was some reason why he spared Paul along with all the other prisoners. I am certain Luke reported the facts as they occurred.
Note 111: New Orders
Next the centurion gave the following order: He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land He ordered those who could not swim to get on planks or on pieces of the ship.
As I read this text, the soldiers plan to kill the prisoners was replaced with a plan for an orderly abandoning of the ship. This Centurion order would accomplish several objectives. It is obvious it stopped the killing of Paul. It also stopped the killing of the other prisoners. It gave each group of soldiers what they needed to survive. The sequence put guards in front and on the beach first. They could help the other soldiers and even prisoners get out of the water once these groups arrived. It put guards on the beach when prisoners arrived. It also may have put a group of guards behind the prisoners. We are not told the specifics for the entire maneuver, but it could have surrounded a group of prisoners with two groups of guards. I believe Julius would have stayed on board until all the soldiers were in the water or maybe even ashore. Luke tells us that Julius, the Centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and this plan would accomplish that.
Note 112: Promise
Next the text states “In this way everyone reached land in safety.”
The owner’s ship was destroyed, but he was safe to return home. The crew managed to steer this ship close enough to shore so they abandoned ship and were saved with the 276 souls. The centurion, Julius managed to get his men safely on shore along with all the prisoners. He had spared Paul’s life. Luke lived to write his eyewitness account. Paul would stand trial before Caesar and write his letters from prison. Everything about this story is consistent with other nautical and historical data from other shipwrecks and voyages throughout the centuries. So everything is in its proper place.
I have to think back to the time when Paul stood up and repeated what God had told him through an angel ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you. So keep up your courage men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.
It appears that everything turned out just as Paul told them his God promised it would.