Dreaming the Dream Forward

The Slave Ship
J.M.W. Turner

W. H. Auden

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

John 2:1–11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Racism is not new, nor will it be eradicated in this age.  The inherent belief that one race is superior to another is rooted in the worse kind of idolatry.  It’s all a world of double standards, and they are a fearful thing. They allow you to hold diametrically aligned but contrasting views in the cradle of your mind with no moral angst whatsoever. It takes children a while to get the hang of it, but not long. The problem, of course, is that we all are guilty and remedy requires a hard lonesome fight against the resolute crowd.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was such a man.  As Ken Kovacs said in his book Out of the Depths,

Throughout King’s ministry the dream was expressed in his vision of the Beloved Community. King said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” His words resound with the gospel; they echo Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God (or Kin-dom or Realm, even Empire of God). The beloved community is the dream—a dream that shapes our waking life. And if we’re going to enter into that community, if we are going to live from the dream, if we’re really going to get there and are serious about wanting to get there it will only come through change: qualitative change in our individual souls, in our hearts, change in the nature of our thoughts and feelings and quantitative change in our lives, in our actions, collective action strong enough that moves us off from dead center or the way things are. The status quo is often status woe, especially for those without power or privilege.


Why is it so difficult for us, both as a Church and as a nation, to talk honestly and openly about racism?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 


John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.




Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/


D I G  D E E P E R


A general definition of this social and personal vice can be framed as a belief that human groups can be validly grouped in races on the basis of their biological and cultural traits, which in turn determine their behavior and social value (Banks 74–75). The underlying assumption of this categorical organization of human groups by race is that some human groups are superior to others. This type of categorical distribution of human groups cannot (and should not) be understood without considering the connection between the social value assigned to each group and the social power of the group determining the categorical value—in this case, race. In other words, the roots of racism are found in the abuse of social power and location of the dominant group as, consciously and unconsciously, defining the value of certain human groups, categorized by race, by comparing them to the dominant group as the norm. In this way all other groups are judged based on the dominant group’s norm; thus, groups that do not fit the norm imposed by the dominant group are deemed inferior.

Interpretations of history and current practices show that some groups have had, and still have, unequal power in the decision-making process. For this reason, every decision made by the dominant group enhances, legitimizes, and reinforces their own norm, and in this case their categorical distribution of human groups by race disenfranchises, minimizes, and devaluates groups that do not fit the norm and/or are not part of the dominant group. Furthermore, the assumptions of the dominant group are not only false and morally pernicious; in a devastating way its evil manifestations also affect the identity and self-understanding of those who are considered inferior. Individuals in their process of self-construction and self-identity develop a picture of themselves primarily informed by their interaction with their social environment. Occasionally groups of individuals will be identified, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in subcategories, often named “ethnic” groups. A biblical example of this process is the naming and value distribution to the Israelites, Canaanites, Jews, and so on. In any case, persons’ social context and its interpretation heavily influence their identity and self-understanding. But when the interpretation of their social context is almost always defined and determined by the dominant group, the individual in this condition “accepts” this imposed reality and develops a self-consciousness, self-understanding, and identity of inferiority.

Sadly, Christians whose social location and power have placed them in a privileged position are not exempted from this self-centered and socially located practice. A clear example of the consequences of racism has been the use of the Scriptures in the affirmation of slavery as a valid Christian practice. This example shows that biblical interpreters and scholars, as well as Christian communities, are not exempt from falling into the trap of abusing their power and social location to determine the meaning and moral value of the Scriptures. They thus provide interpretations that affirm the practices of the dominant group and their self-centered motivations. Interpretations like these are often justified by allusions and exegetical work that intend to capture the “original” meaning of the text, by placing it in its social context and providing a careful examination of that context. But this approach does not consider the reader’s and interpreter’s social context and location, consequently imposing their own biases, and in this case their own categorical distribution of human groups by race. Perhaps a good way to avoid this self-centered practice is to spend the same amount of time and energy in exploring the social context and location of the person(s) in charge of the interpretative task, and in fostering reciprocal and meaningful dialogue with readers and interpreters from the global Christian community. In doing so, perhaps, one will become self-aware of one’s own limitations and bias.

Furthermore, contrary to this self-centered categorical distribution of human groups by race, the biblical creation narrative provides a solid ethical foundation for the affirmation of all humans. In the creation narrative it is clear that humans were created equal (Gen. 1:26–27). As bearers of God’s image, humans have the capacity and responsibility to reflect divine moral attributes in every action and decision, but particularly in relating to each other. In the same way that the three persons of the Trinity relate to each other in a harmonious and egalitarian relationship we, as humans, are called to reflect this type of relationship as we relate to each other. Additionally, God’s creation is a concrete expression and reflection of God’s goodness and holiness, in which humans and God live in perfect harmony and humans reflect God’s character by living in an egalitarian and harmonious relationship with each other. Humans, male and female, are blessed and given equal responsibilities to care for the earth, preserving and replicating God’s harmonious relationship with it (Gen. 1:28–30). Humans are created and called to enter into a just and equal partnership with God and with each other, in this way providing a living testimony and a reflection of God’s character. Thus, harmony and equality are signs present in God’s creation and implicit in the image of God imprinted in all humans.

When these signs and values are pursued and embraced by humans and expressed in their relationships with one another, they are striving to reflect God’s character and image as depicted in the creation narrative. But when these signs and values are ignored and/or neglected, global harmony and equality are replaced with systematic and structural oppression of certain groups by the dominant group. For this reason, racism is an anticreation tendency and a reality that has become inherent to our human condition and a manifestation of our sinful nature—selfishness and self-centeredness.

Nevertheless, the biblical narrative offers a solution to this inherent human tendency, by providing sufficient teaching that affirms the value of all races and the importance of equality among them, condemning self-centered interpretations and racial discrimination. Not only in the creation narrative do we find these affirmations; they are also present throughout Scripture and particularly in the morally shaping and formative stories. In the story of Abram’s call, God promises him and his descendants that all nations will be blessed through them, not few nations or certain ethnic groups but all nations. Isaiah, later quoted by Gospel writers, reminds Israel that the temple, the house of prayer, should be called a house of prayer for all nations, a statement that is later affirmed by Jesus in the cleansing of the temple. Perhaps the conclusion of this trajectory and affirmation of all races and ethnic groups as equal and valuable is found in Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 2:11–19. There Paul clearly follows the trajectory that begins in Genesis and culminates in Revelation with the eschatological gathering of all nations before the Lord. In the light of this holistic narrative projection, some of the passages that seem to provide a justification for slavery and racism (ironically Paul’s writings) should be read. Therefore, by exploring our own social-context location, by dialoguing with the global Christian community, and by following the trajectory of the all-nations-centered biblical narrative, we will be able to avoid the pitfalls of racist biblical interpretation. We will also be challenged to promote racial equality as we reflect God’s character and holiness—by living in harmony and treating with respect and dignity all humans, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.


Bailey, R., and T. Pippin. “Race, Class, and the Politics of Bible Translation.” Semeia 76, no. 1 (2001): 1–40; Banks, J. Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies. Allyn & Bacon, 1991; Emerson, M., and C. Smith. Divided by Faith. Oxford University Press, 2000; Feagin, J., and H. Vera. White Racism. Routledge, 1995; Feagin, J., and C. Booher Feagin. Racial and Ethnic Relations. Prentice Hall, 1996; Felder, C. H., ed. Stony the Road We Trod. Fortress, 1988; Horsman, R. Race and Manifest Destiny. Harvard University Press, 1981; Mosala, I. “Race, Class, and Gender as Hermeneutical Factors in the African Independent Churches’ Appropriation of the Bible.” Semeia 73, no. 1 (2001): 43–57; Pagan, S. “Poor and Poverty: Social Distance and Bible Translation.” Semeia 76, no. 1 (2001): 69–79.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al., eds., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London; Grand Rapids, MI: SPCK; Baker Academic, 2005), 657–658.

Heaven On Earth


On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?

― Martin Luther King Jr., from Strength to Love

When Jesus taught us how to pray, He included this mysterious phrase: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He taught that our priorities and the direction of our lives should be based on this commandment from Matthew 6:33 –

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

If we are to pray for God’s kingdom to advance in this world, how should we then live?  The question can only be answered by understanding the essence of God.  Just who is this King and what is the nature of His kingdom?

The Apostle John states it clearly in 1 John 4:7-11

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We celebrate the willingness of God to step into the broken lives of His children. Abandoning heaven, He emptied Himself and embraced the poverty and vulnerability of a manger.  His love is one of inconvenience, commitment and sacrifice.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our being and likewise to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The story of the Good Samaritan was told in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” and therein we find the essence of God which we are to embrace.

The Good Samaritan was simply going about his business, having a normal day when suddenly he was offered an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God.   Jesus noticed his response.


Luke 10:25-37

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Dig Deeper – The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

One of the most famous depictions of the parable was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in May 1890. It is based on an earlier work by Delacroix in 1852, which shows the Samaritan straining to lift the wounded traveller on to his horse. Delacroix used dark colours, except for the Samaritan’s robe, which is painted in a brilliant red. Van Gogh replaced Delacroix’s dark palette with brilliant light hues, allowing every detail of his active brush strokes to be seen. Our attention is first claimed by the Samaritan himself, and his wounded passenger. Around them, we see a great gorge, through which a torrent of water cascades. Then our eyes stray to the left, where we see the priest and the Levite disappearing into the distance. Van Gogh does not suggest that they are running away from the wounded man. They just pass him by, without a thought, as they proceed on their journeys.

Van Gogh hints at the extent of the care which the Samaritan bestows on his patient through the box to the lower left of the painting. It is fitted with secure fastenings: its contents are precious. The story itself suggests that the box contained ointment and bandages. It now seems virtually empty, its contents having been lavished on the wounded man. The Samaritan has also relinquished his place of relative comfort and safety on his horse to the stranger. As the Samaritan raises the man, single-handedly, on to his horse, we notice his flimsy, loose sandals. The remainder of his journey over the rough, rocky terrain will not be comfortable.

~Alister McGrath, from Incarnation

I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.

RickThe expression of ideas as never been safe.  Though we proudly espouse our freedom of speech, we likewise find its limits quickly.  In some circumstances, speaking against popular beliefs and mores can get you ostracized.  In other cases it can get you killed.  The church is no exception. Through the centuries, many people have been martyred for their words, only to be canonized later.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered a speech at the March on Washington that has become one of the greatest of recorded history.  Entitled “I Have A Dream“, he rallied the people in the name of God to stand against racial injustice.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

The only other passage in all of English letters that gives me goose bumps to compete with this passage from Milton is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Incidentally, the two works, in their most powerful moments, draw upon some of the very same scriptures.

How do we draw the line between allowing freedom of speech and defending against heresy?

2 Corinthians 3:17

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

STRENGTH TO LOVE by Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published five books in his lifetime; a sixth was released after he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 at the age of thirty-nine. They are all seminal works for American Christians. Stride Toward Freedom (1958) tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Measure of a Man (1959) is a slim volume explaining the theological and philosophical roots of nonviolent activism. Why We Can’t Wait (1964) is a history of the civil rights movement in general, and the 1963 Birmingham Campaign in particular. This book includes his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which was addressed to eight clergymen and urged the church to join the struggle for racial justice. King’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, is a clear-eyed look at the state of race relations at a moment when the civil rights movement was in disarray. The book also makes a provocative connection between the bankrupt ideology of systemic discrimination and the literal impoverishment of millions of Americans, white and black. The five speeches that make up The Trumpet of Conscience, published posthumously in 1968, link the evils of poverty, militarism, and racism and call for nothing less than a nonviolent revolution.
Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, and John Pattison, Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.


Praying for Daylight

shipwreck-1854-jpglargeMOBY DICK
Herman Melville

It is not down on any map; true places never are.

On this day, February 10th in 60 AD, tradition says the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. The exact date is disputable, but the shipwreck is not.

The Bible described it as “the fullness of time.”  For hundreds of years, God’s people were subjected to one cruel ruler after another and each seem bent to out-do their predecessor in horror.  When Jesus was born the power was mighty Rome and many had risen-up to fight back, but ultimately learned as Martin Luther King Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

The journey of Paul at the onset of Christianity seemed to be coming to a horrific halt with the wreck of a ship, but in truth he was on the verge of a climatic adventure that would take him to an audience with Nero.  The world was enslaved by a Caesar, but God was up to something bigger.

When Jesus came into the world, the people knew they needed a Deliverer, but they didn’t understand the depth of their captivity.  Rome was only a metaphor of the storm of destruction sin was wrecking on their lives.  Like sailors in a midnight hurricane, all they could do was hang on and pray for daylight.

It was from this darkness that the voice of John the Baptist was heard as his father Zechariah prophesied in Luke’s Gospel:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Deliverance was coming.


Acts 27:27–29

On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.


Dig Deeper

Art: Shipwreck by Ivan Aivazovsky  (Original Title: Тонущий корабль) 1854

This painting is a testament to the artist’s skill of portraying light and dark. With nothing more than a pencil and gouache on paper, this scene illustrates the strong winds and crash of the waves with violent intensity. This intensity makes you fear for the safety of the standing observers, as if the waves threaten to dash the ship against the cliff, upon which they are standing, and throw them into the sea. Three seagulls fly over the ship, creating the slight sense that all hope is not lost, and seeming as if is not impossible to hope that the ship may not yet be lost.

Literature & Liturgy – The Shipwreck of Paul by Rick Wilcox

Chronologically, the events of Acts 27 follow Paul’s trial before Festus and Agrippa and was specifically related to Paul’s appeal to Caesar, exercising his right as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:11).  During the trial, Paul was treated with interest if not respect and ultimately Agrippa remarked to Festus that Paul might have been freed absent his appeal (Acts 26:32).  This general attitude toward Paul apparently set a favorable tone with the centurion Julius to whom Paul was entrusted with transport.  This writer imagines some measure of relief to the centurion who (as a career solider) must have been accustomed to dealing with far more notorious criminals.  This is not an insignificant point because the innocuous (if not ultimately respectful) attitude of Julius towards Paul contributed greatly to the story’s favorable conclusion.

Preceding the Storm: Acts 27:1-12

The first twelve verses of chapter twenty-seven set the stage for the journey from Caesarea to Puteoli and is often noted for its attention to detail (a general remark for the following sections as well).  In verse one, Luke reintroduced the first person plural tense and thereafter used either “we” or its derivative to describe the events. While some have considered this detail superfluous or even indicative of secondhand reporting, Polhill and others have observed this to be a mark of first hand narrative rather than the allegorical tale proposed by Baur in the nineteenth century.  As W.R. Nicoll wrote, Luke possessed suburb literary skills and clearly expected the reader to understand that he himself was eyewitness to the events as he had previous set disclaimers when otherwise.[19]    As Smith (referenced earlier) concluded, Luke’s use of nautical terminology, while somewhat technical, is consistent with the notes of a nonprofessional eyewitness observer.  The work is written like a journal and interpretation is most logically achieved when other theories are set aside.

The port of embarkation was remote to the empire and it was necessary for the centurion to arrange an itinerary that would accommodate a connection to Rome at a major hub of commerce.  Verses two through six describe this early part of the journey through favorable weather, and Luke makes special note of Julius’ generosity in verse three as Paul was allowed to visit his friends in Sidon for provision of his needs.  Scripture is unclear about whether Paul remained under arrest during this visit or was afforded “trustee” status, but in either event no escape was attempted and Paul returned for continuation of the journey.  Julius successfully procured passage on a large Alexandrian grain ship in the port of Myra and the bulk of the itinerary was commenced.

Verses seven through twelve introduce the developing inclement conditions in both weather and relationships.  Luke notes a change in the winds that caused difficulty and delay until the ship safely arrived in Fair Havens (verse eight).  Until that time, no indication was given that Paul had acted in any manner other than the prisoner he was, but here he assumed the office of prophet.  There is no indication of God’s direct revelation (unlike later in verses twenty-three and twenty-four) of impending disaster to Paul, but the apostle nonetheless stepped forward to dissuade further travel in spite of his unfavorable circumstances.  Kostenberger describes the prophetic office as both “foretelling” and “forthtelling” and cites Acts 27 as example.[20]  Like the prophets of old, Luke presents Paul as the voice of God and though his counsel was not heeded, this initial speech grounded another to follow during the height of the storm.

The Storm:  Acts 27:13-26

Verse thirteen begins with “a gentle south wind” but “before very long” the ship encountered a storm of hurricane force.  The vessel was a grain ship that would have been both large and heavy, and there was little the crew could do other than implement a series of defensive measures.  As Luke states in verse fifteen, “we gave way to it and were driven along.”   The verses following describe increasingly desperate measures to secure the ship with each failing to assuage the situation.

The climax of the story is reached in the twentieth verse as Luke describes a point, “after many days” of seeing neither sun nor stars when “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”  Linguistically, verse twenty is striking for Luke’s use of the words “we” and “saved.”  By including himself in the condition of despair, Luke was inclusive of the general gloom and his language states that hope (as Nicoll has it) “was being gradually stripped away.”[21]

The key verses in Acts 27 are verses twenty-two through twenty-six.  At the peak of the storm and the depth of despair, Paul addressed the people, saying he had received a special revelation from God by way of an angel who appeared to him in the night.  The angel’s message contained two points – that Paul would indeed stand trial before Caesar and that all of the crew would be saved.  The passage calls to mind Jonah in a number of ways.  During the storm described in the first sixteen verses of Jonah, the crew likewise fought helplessly by throwing cargo overboard and calling on their gods.  When Jonah addressed the men, he said the storm was his fault and that “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land” (Jon 1:9).  Paul likewise invoked “the God to whom I belong and whom I serve” as his authoritative source (Acts 27:23).  Paul was quick to remind them that he had given them counsel (which they ignored) previously which had now proved sound and fortunately his message was one of encouragement.  Faw’s commentary contains a bright section here on Luke’s occasional use of humor as Paul did not resist an “I told you so” moment of (what is now) comic relief.[22]  While the ship would ultimately be lost, each of them would be saved.

The Shipwreck:  Acts 27:27-39

Few shipwrecks have been recorded with such fluid and vivid literary skill.  Luke begins the sequence in verse twenty-seven by saying two weeks had passed as the mariners helplessly rode the crippled vessel through the sea.  Sensing their approach to land, they took “soundings” which Hemer describes as a technical term referring to the use of a special anchor.[23]   Evoking Homeric language, Luke says in verse twenty-nine that the sailors “dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight.”[24]  Bruce describes Luke’s use of classic motif in detail citing numerous similarities.[25]

Adding drama, Luke also included an escape attempt in the lifeboat by the sailors which was thwarted by Paul.  The incident’s inclusion is significant because it clearly highlights the influence of Paul as the soldiers heeded his instructions to prevent the sailors’ escape.  Verse thirty-two says that the soldiers cut the lifeboat loose and “let it drift away”; a notable act of faith from a group in such despair.

Verse thirty-three marks a turning point in the story.  With bold leadership, the apostle spoke to the men “just before dawn” and urged them to eat by setting the example himself and encouraging them that God’s promise of their safety was assured.  The use of food consumption as a setting for teaching is a particular Lukan device.  Polhill’s extensive commentary is especially rich here and rewarding for further study.[26]

For the first time (verse thirty-seven) Luke informs the reader that there were “276 of us on board”.  Given the shipwreck that was to come it is remarkable that this large number accepted that they would all be saved as Paul said and (verse thirty-nine) ate “as much as they wanted” before throwing the grain into the sea. The text is absent of any indication of grumbling or disunity among the crew or passengers.

At dawn, the sailors saw the beach of an unknown island and decided to run the ship aground by cutting the anchors, untying the rudders and setting the foresail (verses thirty-none and forty) but the heavy ship became inextricably stuck in a sandbar, helplessly victimized by the pounding waves.  As the stern began to break-up, the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to prevent their escape – no doubt in concern for their own lives, but Julius prevented it because of his desire to save Paul.  Instead, he ordered those who could to swim to shore and the others to drift in on pieces of the ship (verse forty-four).  As Paul prophesied, all were saved.


Bence, Philip A. Acts : A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Indianapolis, Ind.: Wesleyan Pub. House, 1998.

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of the Acts. Rev. ed. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988.

Faw, Chalmer Ernest. Acts. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993.

Hemer, Colin J., and Conrad H. Gempf. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament,, 49. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1989.

Homer, and Robert Fagles. The Odyssey. New York: Viking, 1996.

Josephus, Flavius, and John M. G. Barclay. Against Apion. Flavius Josephus, Translation and Commentary, 10. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2007.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Richard Duane Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation : Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.

Lenski, Richard Charles Henry. The Interpretation of the Acts of the Appostles. Columbus, Ohio.,: Lutheran book concern, 1934.

Longenecker, Richard N. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary : John – Acts, with the New International Version of the Holy Bible. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary ; Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.

Nicoll, W. Robertson. The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 5 vols. London,: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897.

Polhill, John B. Acts. The New American Commentary, 26. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1992.

Smith, James. The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul: With Dissertations on the Sources of the Writings of St. Luke, and the Ships and Navigation of the Antients. London,: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1848.

Talbert, Charles H. Reading Acts : A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Rev. ed. Reading the New Testament. Macon, Ga.: Smyth & Helwys Pub., 2005.

Utley, Bob. Luke the Historian : The Book of Acts. Marshall, Tex.: Bible Lessons International, 2003.

Wade, John William. Acts : Unlocking the Scriptures for You. Standard Bible Studies. Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Pub., 1987.

Wright, N. T. Acts for Everyone. 2 vols. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.