WHAT DOES “UNDER COLOUR” MEAN IN ACTS 27:30?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Acts 27:30 includes a bizarre “King James expression:” “And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,….” What should we make of “under colour?” We have no need to grow angry at, vilify, or throw out the Authorized Version. All we need to do is a little study to learn something about our English Bible and our English language!
The Greek word rendered “under colour” is prophasis, appearing a total of seven times in the King James Greek New Testament. Notice the other six occurrences, how our 1611 scholars translated the term other ways:
- Matthew 23:14: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence [prophasis] make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
- Mark 12:40: “Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence [prophasis] make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.”
- Luke 20:47: “Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew [prophasis] make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.”
- John 15:22: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke [prophasis] for their sin.”
- Philippians 1:18: “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence [prophasis], or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”
- 1 Thessalonians 2:5: “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke [prophasis] of covetousness; God is witness:….”
The tenor of all these passages is someone appearing to behave uprightly while in reality accomplishing a sinister goal. In other words, they put on a nice show to cover or mask their real intentions. But, what does “colour” have to do with all this? (The King James scholars were British, so they would insist we use “colour” as opposed to “color”—we will happily oblige!). 🙂
“Colour” can be used in the sense of “the hue of the light reflected (bouncing) off an object”—as in yellow, purple, green, blue, red, and so on. This meaning is absurd in the context of Acts 27:30. We should totally disregard that sense in this passage. A less common definition is “an outward often deceptive appearance.” Yet another, but related, sense is “an appearance of authenticity.” These concepts not only best agree with Acts 27:30, they also correspond to how the word appears elsewhere in the King James English Bible and King James Greek Bible.
All that said, we return to Acts 27:30 to define the word with some light commentary: “And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour [pretense—or as the King James scholars prefer, “pretence!”] as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,….” These men pretended as if they were throwing out anchors from the front of the ship, so as to stabilize and “brake” the ship before ran aground (become stranded on shore). In actuality, they were attempting to release the dinghy or lifeboat so as to escape from the larger vessel!
“ But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;  And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.  Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.  And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,  Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.  Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.”