TODAY’S READING: ACTS 27-28
“After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead.” – Acts 28:11
Paul was on three different ships as he sailed from Caesarea to Rome. Regarding the first ship, Luke simply writes that it was of Adramyttium. Regarding the second ship, Luke simply writes that it was of Alexandria. But, regarding the third ship, the ship that Paul finally reached Rome in, Luke noted it had “the twin gods as a figurehead.”
Why would Luke record this seemingly insignificant detail?
In the Greek, “the twin gods” is Dioskouroi. The twin gods were the sons of Zeus. In Latin, the twin gods were the sons of Jupiter, Castor and Pollux. Castor and Pollux are the two brightest stars of the constellation Gemini, which means twins.
So, the boat that Paul reached Rome in was marked with the stars of the twins as a figurehead. The Greek word for figurehead is parasemos. Para means from beside, at, or in. Semeion means a sign, as in a miracle or wonder. Parasemos literally means side-marked, but we can think of it as a sign in the side.
Semeion is the Greek word for signs in the Septuagint in Genesis 1:14, which says, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.”
God created the stars as signs to be lights to give light on the earth. Of course, light was created on day one. So, perhaps we are to understand that God created the stars as lights, signs, that give light upon the earth to be signs that give revelation.
What kind of revelation were these stars, signs, to give?
“And behold, the word of the came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.'” (Genesis 15:4-5)
Abram told God that he had not given him an heir yet despite the promise he would have one. God told Abram that indeed he would have an heir that was his very own son. To prove it, God told Abram to go outside, look up to the sky, and “number the stars” because “so shall your offspring be.”
In Galatians 3:16, Paul wrote, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”
Therefore, God told Abram to number the stars because his offspring, singular, Jesus Christ, would be as the stars. Now, God was not telling Abram to number, as in physically count, the stars. There was only one offspring. So, there was no need to physically count the stars.
The English word number is actually two Hebrew words (basically the same word used twice). Both of these words basically mean to count, to make a written record, to make known or announce, to report or tell. God is not telling Abram to count how many stars are in the sky. He is telling Abram to look toward heaven and make a written record of what the stars are saying, if he can indeed make a written record of it, because that is how his offspring shall be.
Am I saying the stars tell the story, the gospel, of Jesus, the offspring of Abraham?
Yes, I am.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has sent a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (Psalm 19:1-6)
David is saying that God has created the stars in the sky, the constellations, as a circuit, a path, that the sun travels. As the sun travels this path through the constellations, the constellations pour out speech and reveal knowledge. The voice of the constellations goes out to all the earth and the words, or message, of the constellations goes to the end of the world.
David is writing the mazzaroth, the Hebrew name for the zodiac, a group of constellations that have served as astronomical or astrological signs throughout man’s history in every culture.
Lest you think that Christians should not have anything to do with the mazzaroth or zodiac, when God is questioning Job regarding what he knows about the creation, God says, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” (Job 38:31-33)
Paul knew all about this. In fact, he quoted David and Psalm 19.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have for ‘The voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.'” (Romans 10:14-18)
Paul says you can’t believe if you haven’t heard. And, you can’t hear if there isn’t a preacher.
So, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. But, Paul is not talking about the scriptures or the Bible here.
Paul says that the Jews can believe because they have heard because they have had a preacher.
Who is the preacher?
Paul quotes Psalm 19 to say that the stars, the constellations, the mazzaroth, the zodiac, are the preachers. Their words of the gospel, the word of Christ, has gone out to the end of the world.
Clearly, Paul was very familiar with the mazzaroth and the zodiac and the idea that sing the foundation of the world God had created the stars and constellations to tell us the story of Abraham’s offspring, Jesus Christ. Given Paul’s seemingly intimate knowledge of the message of the stars, it is not so surprising that Luke would record that the ship Paul and he were traveling to Rome in was side marked with the sign of Gemini, the twins. I suspect that this was a topic of conversation between Paul and Luke as they sailed to Rome.
There is a mythology, a story, about Gemini that I won’t go into. But, I will say that the Greek word parsemos, the figurehead, side-mark, or sign in the side of the ship, also means marked amiss; falsely, counterfeit; falsely stamped. The constellation Gemini represented a false story to the Greeks and Romans.
But, I venture to say that the true story of this constellation, its true speech, was the topic of conversation for Paul and Luke.
All the way back in Acts 23:11, Jesus said to Paul, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, God’s people. Rome was the capital of the world, the Gentiles. Paul had testified in the one, and he was going to testify in the other.
When Paul was making his defense just before he was sent to Rome, he said Jesus told him, “For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I shall appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16-18)
Jesus gave Paul the task of taking him, the light, to all the nations to the end of the world so that Gentiles could have a part in God’s salvation just as the Jews did (see Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6).
We should note what Luke writes about their time in the tempest before they got on the ship marked with the sign of Gemini.
“And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” (Acts 27:19-20)
The third day, the day of resurrection, the day of salvation, has come. But, there was no sun and no stars in the sky. In other words, their voice, their message, the gospel, could no longer be heard. Their hope of being saved was lost. Paul was not going to make it to Rome to fulfill Jesus’ purpose of preaching in Jerusalem and Rome, to the Jew and the Gentile, from the center to the end of the earth.
So, when Paul got on the ship with Gemini, the twins, as the figurehead it was a sign to him that Jesus would fulfill God’s purpose and the purpose he had for Paul.
Paul would fulfill Jesus’ purpose for him of preaching to Jerusalem and Rome, the Jew and the Gentile. And, Jesus would fulfill the purpose of God by making the two – Jew and Gentile – one. They would become twins – two stars, two people, in one constellation.
Indeed, the twins, Gemini, Castor and Pollux, were quite a sign for Paul. Perhaps they influenced his writing of Ephesians 2:11-22.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”