The Life and Times of Paul – Journey to Rome

By Mary Jane Chaignot

While in Jerusalem for Pentecost, Paul was "seized" by religious authorities for defiling the Temple – for bringing Gentiles into the Temple – even though it is not clear that he actually did. However a crowd was able to get to Paul and began to beat him. The commotion got the attention of the Roman guards in the city, who took custody of Paul.

Now in the custody of Roman officials, Paul was taken to the governor of Caesarea, Felix. However, Festus, who wanted to send Paul back to Jerusalem, quickly replaced Felix.

When it became apparent to Paul that he would not get a fair hearing under the authority of Festus, who wanted him to return to Jerusalem (after two years) and face the Sanhedrin's charges, he appealed to Caesar.

This was the right of a Roman citizen, but obviously it was not done very often. Caesar had more important duties than to hear local cases. Nonetheless, Festus took this request seriously (as required by law) and made arrangements for Paul to go to Rome. It became a series of errors and misjudgments, yet Paul would arrive intact.

A Calling to Rome
Paul received a vision saying he would "preach in Rome." There is no doubt that Paul wanted to go to Rome, but the vision did not include how he would get there. From Paul's viewpoint, the goal was Rome; the means were in God's hands.

Had he been set free he surely could have gone there on his own. But since he was in Roman custody, Paul decided he would take advantage of the situation. Since he knew the Jews wanted to kill him, he must have realized that having a Roman escort all the way to Rome would increase the likelihood of him arriving in one piece. He also apparently had no objections to traveling at the government's expense. So he was ready to go.

The Long Journey Begins
Paul, along with other prisoners, is placed in the hands of a centurion named Julius, who belongs to the Imperial Regiment. It was his job to book passage however he can, to deliver all the prisoners safely to Rome.

Paul and other 275 people on board the ship head north up the coast to Sidon. When they arrive the following day, they have traveled almost 70 miles from Caesarea. In Sidon they debarked for a while, perhaps to load more cargo.

Then Julius does a startling thing – he allows Paul to get off the ship for the purpose of meeting with some of the "brethren." Scholars have a variety of explanations for this. One is that Julius is convinced of Paul's qualities and knows he won't escape. Another option is that Julius probably sent officers along with him. Still another is that it was to his benefit if Paul's needs were supplied by his friends. Indeed, the text states "in kindness to Paul, he allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs."

Sailing to Crete
Once they are back at sea, they pass on the east side of Cyprus because the winds are already unfavorable. After a slow and arduous journey, they arrived at Myra, on the southernmost tip of Asia, directly north of Alexandria. There they find an Alexandrian ship, presumably a grain ship from Egypt, sailing for Italy and get on board.

The winds, however, do not improve. Again, they are forced to sail to the lee side of Crete because of the winds, bringing them to a small harbor on the island of Crete called Fair Havens. The impression is that they never once got a break from the weather.

Dangerous Seas
The ship was probably sailing after the first of October. Any sailing after mid-September was considered dangerous. And all shipping stopped from the middle of November until the middle of March. It was simply too dangerous.

However, Rome encouraged ships to come as late as they could and as early in the season as they could because, of course, they needed the grain. Rome not only paid a huge premium for grain at this time, but the emperor also insured their ships against loss and damage.

The insurance policy was meant to sweeten the pot. If owners were willing to take the risk and try to come at these times, the government would pay for the loss of the cargo and the ship if they didn't successfully complete the journey. Paul and his ship are definitely in that dangerous season, and they have a long way to go.

Storm Watch!
While at Fair Havens, Paul has a vision that the voyage will be disastrous. He shares this with the officials, but the centurion ignores Paul's advice and follows the wishes of the pilot and the owner of the ship. So the decision is made to head out toward Phoenix, a larger port on Crete. The plan is to dock the ship there for a few months. They wait for a gentle wind and set off for the one-day sail.

Unfortunately, they didn't have Doppler radar back then and didn't know that the winds were about to change course and turn into hurricane force winds. The most feared of all winds, the "northeaster" sweeps down from the island. It blows them farther and farther out to sea. They are completely out of control and at the wind's mercy.

Already 25 miles off course, they pass a little island, called Cauda. The shelter of the land mass gives them enough time to perform some emergency measures, namely, passing ropes under the ship itself, literally, trying to hold it together. They understood what they were in for.

But the storm does not abate, and on the second day they start to dump their cargo. The following day they throw out their personal items. Neither sun nor stars shine for many days, while the storm keeps raging. Finally, with morale at an all-time low they give up all hope of being saved. They haven't been eating and people are weary

Then Paul takes charge. He urges them to keep up their courage. He has had another vision that the ship would be lost, but no one will die.

The storm continues raging for 14 days. Eventually they are blown clear over to the island of "Melita," which is probably another name for Malta. It's about 475 miles from Crete, and it provides one of the most historical notes of Acts – it really does take exactly 14 days for a ship of that size to be blown that far during a "northeaster." It gives the account a ring of truth like nothing else does.

The travelers begin to hear the sound of the waves breaking on land, but they don't have a clue where they are. Since it's still night they drop anchor hoping to last until daylight.

Some of the sailors let down the lifeboats in an attempt to escape from the ship. If they succeed, Paul and the prisoners will be left to fend for themselves. Paul, however, perceives their intentions and alerts the centurion. The ropes holding the lifeboats are cut, and they fall away. Paul again reassures the people that not one life (of the 276 on board) will be lost while the storm continues to rage.

The soldiers are afraid that the prisoners might escape, so they decide to kill them. But Julius puts a stop to this and orders the prisoners off the boat. Those who could swim should do so. Others could use planks or pieces of the ship. All make it safely to shore.

On the Island
Once on land, the islanders show them unusual kindness, quickly building a fire and welcoming them. Paul wants to be helpful, so he goes about gathering firewood. As he adds it to the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastens itself to his hand. This is perceived as an agent of divine justice.

The islanders waited for him to swell up or suddenly fall over dead, but nothing happens. Then, thinking he is a god, Paul is invited to the estate of the chief official of the island where he heals the man's father of dysentery. Afterwards, every one on the island who is sick comes to Paul and is cured. They stay there for three months.

Arrival and Life in Rome
Thereafter, the trip to Rome is uneventful. However, news of his arrival has preceded him, and some of the brothers joined him when he is about 45 miles south of Rome and walk with him the rest of the way.

Once in Rome, he is allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. It was the least restrictive of all the possibilities. Paul was in charge of his own time, could run his own household, and even see whomever he wanted. Paul continues to preach to the Jews – some believe, others do not.

For two years, Paul stays in his own rented house and welcomes all who come to visit him. Boldly and without hindrance, he preaches the kingdom of God and teaches about the Lord Jesus Christ.

After Rome?
Acts doesn't tell us what happens to Paul. Did he stand before the emperor? And if he did, was he deemed guilty or innocent? What happened after his two years of house arrest? If he arrived in Rome in 60CE, his house arrest would have been finished in 62CE.

Since, scholars don't think he was killed until later it is possible that he left Rome. Perhaps after he left he was recaptured and brought back. But while it's fun to speculate, the bottom line is that we don't know what happened. And probably never will.

Life and Times