The Kind Roman Centurion
ROMAN centurions did not have a reputation for kindness. Assigned to lead a band of a hundred battle-hardened soldiers, a centurion had to be a tough drill-sergeant, a disciplinarian, and, at times, even an executioner. Nevertheless, the Bible tells us of a Roman centurion of the band of Augustus who showed real generosity and compassion to the apostle Paul. His name? Julius.
The Bible introduces us to this man in Acts chapter 27. The apostle Paul had requested that Caesar hear his appeal in Rome. Thus, Paul, along with several other prisoners, was handed over to the care of “an army officer named Julius of the band of Augustus.” They set sail from Caesarea, a seaport city northwest of Jerusalem that served as a headquarters for Roman troops. Says the historian Luke: “The next day we landed at Sidon, and Julius treated Paul with human kindness and permitted him to go to his friends and enjoy their care.”—Acts 27:1-3.
Just why Julius was moved to show such kindness is not stated in the Bible. He could have been under orders from Governor Festus to give Paul special treatment. Or perhaps having become familiar with the circumstances of Paul’s arrest, Julius may simply have admired Paul’s courage and integrity. In any event, Julius seemed to appreciate that Paul was no ordinary prisoner.
Nevertheless, Julius chose not to listen to Paul’s warning against setting sail from Fair Havens. Soon the ship was caught in a tempestuous wind that threatened to run it aground on the sandbanks off the shore of northern Africa. (Acts 27:8-17) In the midst of this tempest, Paul stood up and assured the frightened passengers that ‘not a soul of them would be lost, only the boat.’ Still, some of the sailors later tried to escape. Paul then told Julius: “Unless these men remain in the boat, you cannot be saved.”—Acts 27:21, 22, 30, 31.
This time, Julius chose to listen to Paul, and the sailors’ escape was foiled. True to Paul’s prediction, the ship ran aground on a shoal and was wrecked. Fearful that the prisoners would escape, the soldiers on board determined to kill all of them. Once again, though, Julius intervened and restrained his men, thus saving Paul’s life.—Acts 27:32, 41-44.
The Bible does not tell us what became of this kindly centurion or whether he ever embraced the Christian faith. Whatever kindness he showed was a demonstration of the workings of a God-given conscience. (Romans 2:14, 15) Christians, however, go beyond mere human kindness and show godly kindness that results from having the spirit of God. (Galatians 5:22) Certainly, if a pagan soldier who did not know God could show kindness, how much more God’s people should be moved to do so!