7. PAUL’S ACTION ON THE SHIP.

The account of the voyage as a whole is commonly accepted by critics as the most trustworthy part of Acts and as “one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship,” (Holtzmann on XXVII 4, p. 421). But in it many critics detect the style of the later hand, the supposed second-century writer that made the work out of good and early documents, and addressed his compilation to Theophilus. Many hold that this writer inserted vv. 21-26, and some assign to him also vv. 33-35, because the character there attributed to Paul is quite different from his character in the genuine old document, especially vv. 10 and 31; in the original parts Paul is represented as a simple passenger, cautious to a degree, suffering from hunger, apprehensive of the future, keenly alive to prospective danger, and anxious to provide against it: on the other hand, in vv. 21-26 he knows that their safety is assured; he speaks as the prophet, not the anxious passenger; he occupies a position apart from, and on a higher plane than human.

This is a fair hypothesis, and deserves fair and dispassionate consideration; no one whose mind is not already definitely made up on all questions can pass it by; and only those who feel that they understand the entire narrative in every turn and phrase and allusion would willingly pass it by, for every real student knows how frequently his knowledge is increased by changing his point of view.

We may at once grant that the narrative would go on without any obvious awkwardness if 21-26 were omitted, which is of course true of many a paragraph describing some special incident in a historical work.

But it is half-hearted and useless to cut out 21-26 as an interpolation without cutting out 33-38; there, too, Paul is represented as the prophet and the consoler on a higher plane, though he is also the mere passenger suffering from hunger, and alive to the fact that the safety of all depends on their taking food and being fit for active exertion in the morning. Some critics go so far as to cut out vv. 33-35. But it is not possible to cut these out alone; there is an obvious want of sequence between 32 and 36, and Holtzmann therefore seems to accept 33-35. But if they are accepted I fail to see any reason for rejecting 21-26; these two passages are so closely akin in purport and bearing on the context that they must go together; and all the mischief attributed to 21-26 as placing Paul on a higher plane is done in 33-35.

Further, the excision of 21-26 would cut away a vital part of the narrative. (1) These verses contain the additional fact, natural in itself and assumed in v. 34 as already known, that the crew and passengers were starving and weak. (2) They fit well into the context, for they follow naturally after the spiritlessness described in v. 20, and Paul begins by claiming attention on the ground of his former advice (advice that is accepted by the critics as genuine because it is different in tone from the supposed interpolation). “In former circumstances,” says he, “I gave you different, but salutary advice, which to your cost you disregarded; listen to me now when I tell you that you shall escape.” The method of escape, the only method that a sailor could believe to be probable, is added as a concluding encouragement.

But let us cut out every verse that puts Paul on a higher plane, and observe the narrative that would result: Paul twice comes forward with advice that is cautiously prudent, and shows keen regard to the chance of safety. If that is all the character he displayed throughout the voyage, why do we study the man and his fate? All experience shows that in such a situation there is often found some one to encourage the rest; and, if Paul had not been the man to comfort and cheer his despairing shipmates, he would never have impressed himself on history or made himself an interest to all succeeding time. The world’s history stamps the interpolation-theory here as false.

Moreover, the letters of Paul put before us a totally different character from this prudent calculator of chances. The Paul of Acts XXVII is the Paul of the Epistles: the Paul who remains on the interpolation theory could never have written the Epistles.

Finally, the reason why the historian dwells at such length on the voyage lies mainly in vv. 21-26 and 33-38. In the voyage he pictures Paul on a higher plane than common men, advising more skillfully than the skilled mariners, maintaining hope and courage when all were in despair, and breathing his hope and courage into others, playing the part of a true Roman in a Roman ship, looked up to even by the centurion, and in his single self the saviour of the lives of all. But the interpolation-theory would cut out the centre of the picture.

There remains no reason to reject vv. 21-26 which I can discover, except that it introduces the superhuman element. That is an argument to which I have no reply. It is quite a tenable position in the present stage of science and knowledge to maintain that every narrative which contains elements of the marvellous must be an unhistorical and untrustworthy narrative. But let us have the plain and honest reasons; those who defend that perfectly fair position should not try to throw in front of it as outworks flimsy and uncritical reasons, which cannot satisfy for a moment any one that has not his mind made up beforehand on that fundamental premise. But the superhuman element is inextricably involved in this book: you cannot cut it out by any critical process that will bear scrutiny. You must accept all or leave all.

 

from chapter 14, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen