PAUL, SAILING UNDER THE SIGN OF CASTOR AND POLLUX
Acts 28: 11
Rev. H.A. Bergsma
FREE REFORMED CHURCHES OF NORTH AMERICA
Law of God
Scripture Reading: Acts 28: 1 – 11
Doxology: Psalter 315
Congregation of the Lord,
According to one Bible commentator, our text contains a piece of “useless” information. (I. Howard Marshall, Tyndale, New Testament Commentaries, The Acts of the Apostles) He refers to the sign of Castor and Pollux, the sign of a ship from Alexandria, which Paul took to Rome.
It is particularly the mention of this sign of Castor and Pollux that this Bible commentator considers a piece of “useless” information.
I want to preach from this so-called “useless” information, because I do not consider it useless information at all.
And in defence of it, I would ask, “Would the Holy Spirit, who is the Author and Inspiration of the Bible put anything useless in the Bible?”
I would not think so.
We are told in 2 Timothy 3:16 … “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
And since our text is part of Scripture, it must be profitable for something. Therefore, with the help of the Holy Spirit, let us search out and hopefully learn something from what we have in our text, and let us consider it by this theme…
PAUL, SAILING UNDER THE SIGN OF CASTOR AND POLLUX
1. A Sign That Shows The State Of The Ungodly
2. A Sign That Left Paul Untouched
3. A Sign That Teaches Believers A Lesson
Having been stranded on the Island of Malta for some three months, the Apostle Paul boarded a ship from Alexandria, “whose sign was Castor and Pollux”, so we are told in our text.
The translators of the King James Version have taken some interpreting liberties in translation here, because in the original Greek it does not give those two names, but simply states “Dioskourois” which means “The Twin Brothers.”
But the interpretation is a correct one, because the term “The Twin Brothers” does undoubtedly
refer to Castor and Pollux.
Who were they?
Castor and Pollux were two mythological figures, supposedly the twin sons of a woman named Leda and the Greek god Zeus, or as Calvin calls him Jupiter.
These Twin Brothers, worshipped by the Greeks as well as by the Romans as gods, became most famous as the protectors and saviors of mariners, that is, of those who sailed the high seas. A complete cult evolved, particularly in the regions of Egypt, and many ocean going vessels, hailing from Alexandria, Egypt’s most famous seaport, sailed under the sign of the Twin Brothers, Castor and Pollux.
Bringing it up to date, these two mythological figures still have a prominent part in our universe today, as they are now to be seen in our starry skies within the constellation Gemini, often identified as the Twins of Gemini, and are supposedly, astrologically speaking, in a position to rescue those in peril on the sea.
At any rate, the ship that Paul boarded at Malta, for his final journey to Rome, sailed under the idolatrous sign of the Twin Brothers.
Perhaps the busts of Castor and Pollux decorated the fore or the aft of the ship, or perhaps they were prominently displayed on the mainsail-mast.
No doubt, Paul was well aware of these figureheads of the ship, and the author of the Book of Acts felt it necessary to tell us about them in our text.
A ship from Alexandria, “whose sign was Castor and Pollux.”
Rather than this being a bit of “useless information”, it shows us something of the state of the
ungodly, of Paul’s days … and of our days.
Let me remind you of the fact that man is unmistakingly religious; if man does not worship the God of the Bible, he inevitably worships some other god or gods.
When it really comes down to it, there is no one on earth who does not worship someone or something.
The philosopher, David Hume, though religiously a radical skeptic and opponent of the supernatural, (as quoted by Louis Berkhof) once said, “Look out for a people entirely void of
religion, and if you find them at all, be assured that they are but a few degrees removed from the brutes.” (Manual of Christian Doctrine, Introduction, p.15)
The man who says that he is an atheist and does not believe in any God or gods, is only fooling himself, even as the Bible says in Psalm 14:1 … “The fool hath said in his heart there is no
The ship sailing under the sign of Castor and Pollux shows that even the ungodly heathens have, right in their very own nature, the tendency of worship.
The sailors on that ship worshipped Castor and Pollux, the Twin Brothers.
Another thing we can say about the ungodly is that, in the end, they have to admit that only supernatural help can protect them, ultimately, from harm.
If you have ever been in a storm at sea or a storm on the ocean, you will know what sort of powers can be unleashed by the wind and the waves.
On land, storms can already wreak great havoc, but on water, storms can be terrifying and bring the toughest roughest sailors on their knees.
Just think of the sailors who handled the ship that Jonah was on; at the height of the storm we are told that the mariners were afraid and that every man cried to his god.
A chapter earlier in the Book of Acts (Acts 27) Paul is on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, and a tempest literally falls upon the ship, and then we read of the sailors that all hope to be saved was given up. (Acts 27:20)
Even the most hardened and ungodly sailor will admit at a certain point, that if a storm at sea becomes fierce enough, only supernatural intervention could help them.
The wind and the waves on the ocean are a powerful means to show a man how small and weak and dependent he really is.
It is not surprising therefore that on a good number of occasions, a storm at sea has been the means to bring an ungodly man or woman to God, and a sinner to conversion.
I think of a man like John Newton, for instance, when face to face with the invincible powers of the Almighty in the wind and the waves, he surrendered to God, and eventually confessed …
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see!
But now back to the ungodly sailors putting their trust in Castor and Pollux …
They knew they needed protection on the high seas, and so they sailed under the sign of Castor and Pollux, trusting that those gods would protect them.
Dear people! There comes a time in the life of the ungodly man that even he must realize that he cannot help himself anymore and that he needs supernatural help.
Even the most ungodly person will come to a point in life that he has to admit that it is beyond him, and that a higher being will have to come to the rescue.
How sad then, when on such an occasion, the ungodly clams up, and becomes too proud to cry out to God for mercy!
Perhaps there are some in church this hour who still fall in the category of “ungodly.”
It is very well possible to be in church and yet to be ungodly. …
Raised in a Christian family; church-attending all your life; and yet to be ungodly, and with no interest in God or in His Word, or in the Christian religion ... it is all very well possible You are here simply because you have to be here.
Let me urge you, my friend, to consider your state, and reflect on the outcome of remaining ungodly; someday, inevitably, calamities will come your way, and disaster will strike. What will you do then? Who will you call for then?
Let me plead with you, take seriously the word of this hour and while you are still under the impression of this word, call on God for mercy.
By way of modern technology, the TV particularly, we have become eyewitnesses to many calamities and many tragedies.
I think of the September 11 tragedy, for instance, when we saw two planes torpedo into the twin towers of the World Trade Center of New York.
How many times during that horrific calamity did we not hear people cry or scream it out “O, God!”?
I have no doubt that some of them were Christians; but many of them may not have opened a Bible or prayed a prayer in their life.
And yet, when it was beyond them to cope with, they called on a higher being. This proves again that man deep down is a dependent creature and recognizes that only supernatural help can protect him from the worst fate.
And so he sails, or flies, or rides, under the sign of Castor and Pollux … as if those mythical Twin Brothers, will keep them safe.
But as Bible-believing people, we know better; sailing under the sign of Castor and Pollux will not protect you for one moment.
It is a sign that shows the state of the ungodly: religious at best, superstitious at least.
But now, how was it for the Apostle Paul, as he had to sail under the sign of Castor and Pollux. Let’s consider this in the second place by the heading of A Sign That Left Paul Untouched.
The question could rise up in us, “Should Paul, a Christian, have set foot on a ship that would, obvious to all, sail under the sign of Castor and Pollux?”
First of all, we need to remember that Paul was not a free man but a prisoner, a prisoner of Rome, on his way to be judged by Caesar.
He had no choice but to go on that ship and sail under that superstitious sign.
Circumstances also made it necessary to go on that particular ship.
In the previous chapter, Acts 27, you can read how Paul and all his shipmates, fellow-prisoners, soldiers and sailors, were shipwrecked on the Island of Malta.
And after a three-month wait, being stranded on the Island of Malta, they took advantage of the only ship big enough for their purpose, … a ship from Alexandria, a bulk-grain carrier, sailing
under the sign of Castor and Pollux.
Another question could rise up in us … “Would Paul have become polluted by it, and have become defiled by sailing under such a gentile superstitious insignia?”
The Jews, and particularly the Pharisees would have answered: “Yes, it constitutes engaging in idolatry!”
And perhaps the legalist of today will say the same thing … “Paul should have strongly protested against the sign of Castor and Pollux; he should have condemned it as ungodly; he should have threatened that the ship will go down with its cargo and its idolatrous sign; he should have staged a hunger strike or a sit-down protest, whatever, but he should not have stepped on board, because by doing so he defiled himself!”
Well, we do not read in our text-passage that Paul said anything about the superstitious practice under Castor and Pollux.
And yet it can be said that even though he had to witness idolatry first-hand; and even though he found himself surrounded by heathen and superstitious customs and practices; and even though the cult of Castor and Pollux was obviously “in” with the crowd that he was forced to be part of, Paul himself was not defiled by it.
The Castor and Pollux superstition did not touch him.
John Calvin explains that “Paul was no more defiled by entering into this ship, then when he did behold the altars at Athens; because, being void of all superstition, he knew that all the rites of the Gentiles were mere illusions.” (Commentary on Acts)
Congregation! There are certain things, idolatrous and superstitious, in this world that we simply have to put up with.
Perhaps you have to fly in a plane that has a modern Castor and Pollux sign on it, such as the name, “The Spirit of Windsor” or “The Spirit of St. Columbia.” (And those titles usually are printed right on the nose of the plane)
Perhaps you have to live in an apartment, which, for superstitious reasons has no thirteenth floor registered.
Perhaps you have to ride in a taxicab that has a St. Christopher figurine fastened on the dash by its superstitious cabdriver, who believes that St. Christopher will keep him safe on the roads. Perhaps you will find yourself in a store where the Zodiac sign is prominent, or eating in a Chinese restaurant where the Chinese year of the goat or of the pig, is prominent on their placemats.
These are all superstitious symbols and signs that some people, non-Christians, put great faith in. But they cannot defile the Christian.
True, a Christian may not engage in idolatrous practices or acts of superstition himself, and he must not promote it either.
A church-going person who plays with tarot cards, or ouija boards, or other mediumistic communication devises, is playing with fire.
A church-going person who puts stock in astrology or other means of fortune telling is definitely heading in a soul-destroying direction.
If a church-going person bows for or participates in the idolatrous practices of our modern society, from Gay-Pride parades to Beauty Queen contests to purchasing of lottery tickets to visiting the Casinos, such a church-going person is putting his possibility of salvation at great risk.
If a church-going person is a true Christian, he or she will not want to engage in things that promote idolatrous or superstitious practices.
As Christians, we are to be in the world … we cannot separate ourselves from the world and live our life on some sacred island … we are to be in the world, but not of the world!
But if superstitious and idolatrous practices happen around us – and they do in this world of ours
today in blatant ways – we, as Christians should not worry if it will touch us or defile us.
Paul was forced to sail under the sign of Castor and Pollux, but it did not touch him or defile him. Again, as John Calvin explains, “The ship was polluted with wicked sacrilege; but because Paul
did not make choice thereof, of his own accord, he is not polluted thereby.”
The whole world might fall into idolatry and be in bondage to all sorts of superstition, but the Christian has received, what Paul calls in 1 Corinthians 8,9 and 10 a freedom, a liberty in Christ. This is why Paul could step on board of a ship that would sail under the sign of Castor and Pollux, and not be touched.
This idolatrous and superstitious sign of the Twin Brothers was no threat to Paul, the believer in Christ and the God of the Bible.
But, and this is what I must consider with you in the third place yet, this sign that Paul sailed under, this sign of Castor and Pollux, is a sign that teaches believers a lesson. First of all, as believers, we must feel sad and sorrowful that so much of our world around us has fallen into idolatry and superstition.
How many today, around us do not bow the knee for modern-day Castors and Polluxes! As believers we should genuinely pity the poor masses who have nothing to hang on to but a bit of superstition and a bevy of dead idols.
When the storms begin to rage and the calamities fall and the disasters rise, they have nothing to cling to, nothing to hope for, and no one to call on.
Because Castor and Pollux cannot rescue or save them.
As believers, in our pity for our poor, superstitious neighbors, we should pray for and look for opportunities to speak with our poor superstitious neighbors, and lovingly redirect them from Castor and Pollux to Jesus Christ.