Good morning! In today’s final chapters of Acts (27-28), we follow along as the apostle Paul laboriously sails to Rome with his unnamed companion, in whose voice much of the journey is recorded. Paul acts as a sort of chaplain to the entire Roman ship, though he is supposedly a prisoner on it. He gives a reliable sense of when it is too hazardous to travel, as the shipwrecked passengers find out almost too late. As the boat is driven by late-season storms (think of those now facing Syrian refugees also seeking ports in Europe), we learn something about ancient maritime customs aboard ship. Paul acts for group cohesion when part of the crew tries to flee in the sole lifeboat, and encourages the hundreds of passengers when it seems all hope is lost. According to the author here, it is Paul’s wisdom (and the overseeing centurion’s mercy) which makes sure all aboard arrive safely on the island of Malta. There again, Paul heroically survives a snakebite that would have felled a lesser man, and cures people of diseases by laying hands on them. Throughout these accounts, Paul takes on a near-mythical status—this reads almost like the adventures of one of the ancient Greek heroes. One wonders what Paul would have made of such a lionizing account, were he alive to read it himself.
The last we hear of Paul is at the end of Acts, after he arrives at Rome. He is placed under house arrest, but given considerable freedom to mingle with Christians and Jews in Rome. Ironically, the massive opposition he leaves behind among Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and Asia has not reached Rome, but news of “the Way” and Christ has. Paul apparently finds a much more receptive audience among the residents of Rome, and even though not all become Christians, he still persuades many to believe as he does. In the closing verses of this book, we read that he lived in Rome for several more years, engaged in preaching and teaching throughout. We hear nothing of what happens to him next, nor of any trial or audience before Caesar. Christian tradition holds that he is eventually martyred in Rome, but the years he lives there allow for significant further expansion of the Christian message throughout Europe.
As we reflect on the book of Acts as a whole, I’m persuaded that Christianity might have remained a local splinter group of Judaism for centuries, were it not for the movement of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and other zealous early ambassadors. Their messages traveled in written form even when their impressive itineraries didn’t let them visit places in person very often. Some letters, including those of Paul that we read next, carried such weight that they were quickly regarded as Scripture, imbued with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. (We’ll get a chance to judge for ourselves.) Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Romans 1-3. Thanks for reading!