In Acts 28:11 the narrator observes a detail about Paul’s journey to Rome that seems superfluous to the events of his arrest, shipwreck, and impending court appearance. Paul and his companions, shipwrecked on a small Mediterranean island, hunkered down for three months of idle activity, waiting for winter to end, have now found suitable passage on an Alexandrian ship.
We are told the figurehead on the ship features the twin gods, Castor and Pollux, alleged protectors of travel and sailing vessels, sons of Zeus, father of the gods. Until we grasp all the events of the last few chapters of the book, we might miss the significance of this detail.
All through the narrative of Acts, the Apostle Paul has emphasized the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of Jesus in his proclamations and his teaching. Implied in all of this has been a challenge to the pagan view of reality which suggested that the world was populated and controlled by a system of gods.
Riots in Ephesus (Acts 19), persecutions in various cities, and Roman officials unable to know exactly how to judge Christianity all point to the challenge these views created for the ancient world. The ship with these two gods may be one of the narrators final attempts to contrast the view of reality represented by them and the view of reality represented by Paul and others as expressed in Psalm 95:3-5,
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hand formed the dry land.
During the height of their perilous voyage, an angel had visited Paul to tell him that all would be well, and even more, God was going to preserve the lives of the entire ship, crew, soldiers, and prisoners. It was this God, the creator and sustainer of all creation, who was the real mover and shaker in this story and the one who preserved their lives. His Kingdom was breaking into the world, instituted by His Son, Jesus Christ.
Over the last several chapters we have watched as Paul and his companions have come through violent storms safely, been treated well by people on foreign soil, and given hospitality in every place they came to. In all of this, it is the providence of this God who has protected them. The irony that Castor and Pollux were not available to them on their initial journey is not lost on the narrator of this story.
The Kingdom of God challenges the world’s view of reality, portraying one God and His only Son at the center of the universe, suggesting that the pagan gods weren’t really gods, teaching that Jesus is the master of history. Even today when many people seek to create their own view of reality, twisting human nature into knots, redefining the bond of marriage, turning morality on its head, this has rapidly become a challenge to their way of thinking.
The early church’s view of reality challenged Rome and her contemporaries just as it challenges us today: is reality represented truly by Castor and Pollux, or by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and of Jesus, His Son?
– Bob –