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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 28

 

 

Verse 1

‘And when we had escaped, then we knew that the island was called Melita.’

Once ashore having escaped the sea they learned that the island on which they had landed was Malta. Malta, also called Melita (meaning refuge) which it was for many a sailor, lies about 60 miles south of the island of Sicily, and about 500 miles west of Crete. It Isaiah 18 miles long and 8 miles wide. The people who inhabited it in Paul’s day were of Phoenician origin. Luke calls them "barbarians" (Gr. barbaroi - one who says ‘bar-bar-bar’) because of the difficulties that he had in understanding some of them because in the excitement they favoured their own native tongue. But there is no suggestion of their being uncivilised.


Verse 2

‘And the barbarians showed us no common kindness, for they kindled a fire, and received us all, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.’

There the people of the island welcomed them with extraordinary kindness, coming out into the appalling weather and kindling a fire for them to gather round as an antidote to the rain and the cold. Many from the boat would be suffering from hypothermia. The fire was literally a lifesaver.

There can be no doubt that God had landed the passengers in the right place. On other beaches they might have found people waiting to kill them as they landed so as to collect their possessions, or people so eager to gather the wood coming in from the vessel that they had not time to care for the desperate. But here all was kindness. Even the hearts of the people had been prepared.


Verse 3

‘But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out as a result of the heat, and fastened on his hand.’

The able ones among the rescued no doubt busied themselves in doing what they could for the others. And as usual Paul was busy seeking to serve, and he assisted by gathering a bundle of sticks, laying them on the fire. But then a snake came out as he tossed them on the fire. It had been comatose in the cold, but disturbed by the heat, fastened itself on Paul’s hand.


Verse 4

‘And when the barbarians saw the venomous creature hanging from his hand, they said one to another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped from the sea, yet Justice (dike) has not allowed to live.” ’

It was of a type known to the islanders to be venomous, and the barbarian inhabitants of the island looked meaningfully at one another, and said that he must be a murderer who, even though he had escaped the sea, Justice (dike) would not allow to live. It would appear that the Maltese venerated the Greek god Dike.

There seems little doubt that Luke sees this incident as symbolic. To all Christians the snake represented Satan, and here was his representative seeking to destroy Paul, but failing (as he had in the storm). As Jesus Himself had said, ‘Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you’ (Luke 10:19). The Enemy had once again attacked, and had failed. Thus was indicated that the conqueror of Satan was on his way to Rome, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18), and Satan was powerless to do anything about it.

Today there are no venomous snakes on the island of Malta, but that is no evidence that there were none in those days, for as men became more sophisticated they would seek to exterminate them and that would not be difficult on so small an island. Locals do not make mistakes about which snakes are poisonous.


Verse 5

‘However that may be he shook off the creature into the fire, and took no harm.’

But whatever the barbarians thought he shook off the creature into the fire and took no harm. We note that he did not take it into his hand on the grounds that Jesus had said that believers could do so (Mark 16:18). He did not seek to do anything spectacular. He just shook it off. Not for him a showing off of his immunity against snakes.


Verse 6

‘But they expected that he would have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly. But when they were long in expectation and beheld nothing amiss came to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.’

The barbarians, however, stood around watching him and waiting for the signs of the poison to reveal themselves, expecting him to swell up and die at any moment. But when after a goodly period nothing had happened, they changed their minds about him and decided that he was a god.


Verse 7

‘Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the first man of the island, named Publius, who received us, and entertained us three days courteously.’

The title ‘first man of the island’ is known from archaeology to have been the title given to the Roman governor of Malta. His name was Publius. This may have been his official name as used of him by the islanders. He apparently had lands nearby and welcomed Paul and his companions, and no doubt the centurion, and the shipmaster and captain. (He may indeed have welcomed a number of others also). ‘Three days’ probably means ‘for some time’.


Verse 8

‘And it was so, that the father of Publius lay sick of fevers and dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laying his hands on him healed him.’

While they were there Paul learned that Publius’ father was ill with intermittent fevers (plural) and dysentery and he went to his sick room and prayed, laying his hands on him and healing him. The power of the name of Jesus has come to Malta.

The prayer before the laying on of hands is mentioned in Acts 6:6. Here it was necessary so that a people who thought that Paul was a god would recognise the true source of healing power. The illness may have been Malta fever which in fact was passed on by the milk of Maltese goats.


Verse 9-10

‘And when this was done, the rest also who had diseases in the island came, and were cured, who also honoured us with many honours, and when we sailed, they put on board such things as we needed.’

The natural result of this was that many people on the island brought their sick and they were all healed (a different word from Acts 28:8 but used elsewhere in Acts of Peter’s healings (Acts 5:16)). And as a result the people honoured them with many honours. They were received with complete acceptance and treated with great respect.

There is an interesting parallel here with Luke 4:38-40. In both cases a relative of an associate is healed, followed by wholesale healings of the people who come to him. But we must not overpress this. There are significant differences.

As is often the case throughout Acts the Christian evangelism is simply assumed (we can compare Cyprus (Acts 13:6), Philippi, Caesarea). There were the large number of people saved from certain death who had already learned about God from Paul’s behaviour on board. It would be unusual indeed if some had not shown an interest. There were the people who observed the incident of the snake. They too would have been intrigued. There was the fact that they had seen Paul as a god. He could hardly leave things like that. There were those who were healed and their relatives who came from all around the island. They would be open to the Gospel. We cannot doubt that every opportunity was take to present the Good News and that many responded. Paul must have been very busy. Such a response is in fact what this behaviour of the people implies. ‘They honoured us with many honours, and when we sailed, they put on board such things as we needed.’ They were expressing their wholehearted gratitude. not only for healing of body, but also for healing of soul. But Luke’s emphasis here is not on that, but on reaching Rome.

Paul Meets With Disciples For Seven Days at Puteoli and Then At The Appii Forum (Acts 28:14-15).

Paul is now rapturously welcomed as he approaches Rome with the Christian’s equivalent of the emperor’s Triumph being granted to him. First at Puteoli, then at the Appii Forum and then at The Three Taverns he is greeted with joy before taking up residence in his own private residence. One of God’s Witnesses of the resurrection has come to Rome to establish the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:8).


Verses 11-13

‘And after three months we set sail in a ship of Alexandria which had wintered in the island, whose figurehead was ‘The Sons of Zeus’ (The Twin Brothers). And touching at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. And from there we weighed anchor (or ‘took a circuitous route’), and arrived at Rhegium, and after one day a south wind sprang up.’

Three months were spent in Malta. No ship would put to sea over those three winter months. But there was a grain ship from Alexandria wintering in the island (how galling to the shipowner of the wrecked ship). Its figurehead was the Twin Brothers (Castor and Pollux). The word is ‘dioskurois’ - the ‘sons of Zeus’. Luke no doubt saw it as ironic that the sons of Zeus should carry to Rome the greatest opponent of Zeus in the Roman Empire. (How blind Zeus must have been). So they went aboard and set sail, arriving at Syracuse, on the east coast of Sicily, where they lingered a few days (‘three days’). This may have been because of the weather, or because of something needed aboard ship, or because of a small extra cargo being unloaded. There may be a contrast in this ‘three days’ here with the ‘seven days’ at Puteoli where there were Christians, the one a short wait, the other a period of heaven on earth.

‘Took a circuitous route and arrived at Rhegium.’ After this they had to take an indirect route (as with our modern tacking but without the same ability) to Rhegium on the toe of Italy, because of the weather, but then a south wind sprang up and they were able to sail for Puteoli, 180 miles up the coast. Alternately Alpha and B have ‘weighed anchor and arrived at Rhegium.’


Verse 14

‘And on the second day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were entreated to tarry with them seven days. And so we came to Rome.’

Sailing time was good and on the second day they arrived at Puteoli which competed with Ostia as the main grain terminal for Rome. There they found a group of Christians and were heartily welcomed among them for ‘seven days’, a period of joy and bliss. This meant that they could spend with them both the Sabbath day and the first day of the week, celebrating together the Lord’s Supper. So having started off with a seven day stay at Troas so long ago (per the parallel) at the commencement of his ‘journey’ (to Rome via Jerusalem) he now experiences the same thing at the end. All is well. God has not changed. A recently discovered Christian chapel at nearby Herculaneum may well once have been a venue for some of these Christians who met Paul.

Luke does not explain how this seven days was managed, for after all Paul was a prisoner. But Paul was now the hero of the shipwreck and may well have been given some licence. It may, however, be that on arrival at his destination the centurion had some formalities to complete which necessitated a seven day wait. Possibly arrangements had to be made for the disposal of the prisoners. This was the Rome terminal. Or possibly their papers had been lost at sea, necessitating further instructions

‘And so we came to Rome.’ This is not a travel description, but a triumphant eulogy. ‘This is how we came to Rome, into the bosom of believers.’ They were in fact not quite there yet, but to these weary travellers it seemed like a homecoming at their first real landing on Italian soil. To them Puteoli in Italy spelt Rome. (To arrive at Ostia or Puteoli signified Rome to all sea travellers. They were Rome’s grain terminals). This would be how they would ever remember their arrival in ‘Rome’.


Verse 15

‘And from there the brethren, when they heard of us, came to meet us as far as The Market of Appius and The Three Taverns, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.’

Even more joyous was it to be met on the last part of the journey, as they travelled along the Via Appia, by other brethren who came to meet them at the Market of Appius, a market town forty three miles from Rome, and at the Three Taverns, thirty three miles from Rome. They had received his treasured letter to the Romans three years before and now they could meet the famed apostle, who was the author, for themselves. Paul must have felt like a conquering emperor being welcomed into Rome. It was as though it was his ‘Triumph’. (One difference being that he had not staged it himself, or even expected it). It was a further reminder that God was there, and was with him (even Paul must have suffered some apprehension as the moment of meeting with Caesar drew closer). So ‘he thanked God and took courage.’

Paul Commences His Ministry in Rome Where, Living in Peace and Safety, He Has Clear Course to Proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28:16-31).


Verse 16

‘And when we entered into Rome, Paul was allowed to abide by himself with the soldier that guarded him.’

Thus entering Rome in humble triumph the King’s representative was allowed to live by himself (with his companions) with a soldier guarding him. The Apostolate had at last entered Rome, and was ‘free’ to carry out his ministry there. It was God’s first main step towards taking over Rome. It was from Rome that the Good News could flow out to all parts of the empire. Now were to be fulfilled Jesus’ words, ‘you shall be my witnesses --- to the uttermost parts of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).


Verse 17-18

‘And it came about, that after three days he called together those who were the chief of the Jews, and when they were come together, he said to them, “I, brethren, though I had done nothing against the people, or the customs of our fathers, yet was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, desired to set me at liberty, because there was no cause of death in me.” ’

After a few days of settling in Paul sent a message to the leading elders among the Jews and called them together, speaking as one Jew to others. They were still very much his people. He was concerned to know what charges had been sent against him, and how he was viewed among Jews here in Rome.

So once they had come together he introduced himself. He explained that although he was innocent of any fault against his people, or against their customs, they had delivered him up as a prisoner into the hands of the Romans. The Romans, however, had examined him and found that he did not deserve death, and wanted to set him free..


Verse 19

“But when the Jews spoke against it, I was constrained to appeal to Caesar; not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation.”

But, he added, the Jews in Jerusalem had spoken against it, with the result that he had had to appeal to Caesar. It was not because he wanted to bring a charge against the Jews, but simply that they had brought a charge against him and would not drop it. And that was why he was here under house arrest.


Verse 20

“This is the reason why I entreated you to see and to speak with me, for because of the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

And it was the reason why he had called them together to see him and speak to him. Because he wanted them to know that he was not an apostate. It was for the hope of Israel that he was bound within this chain that they saw on him. As we have already seen the hope of Israel was a twin hope, the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the body.


Verse 21

‘And they said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judaea concerning you, nor did any of the brethren come here and report or speak any harm of you.” ’

They then informed him that no letters had arrived at the synagogues concerning him, nor had any visitors come and reported anything or in any way spoken evil of him. As far as they were concerned he was in the clear. Their words seem to suggest that that would be how they would like it to remain. They did not want any more trouble with the Roman authorities. They had had enough under Claudius. We should note that they are being wary and giving him the benefit of the doubt. They are only claiming not to have had any official complaints. They are not talking of private ‘rumours’. With regard to those they were ready to wait and see.

The news that no charges had come through must have quite surprised him, for he would have expected the Jews in Jerusalem to have made some efforts to bring charges against him in Rome. They had had sufficient time. Were they not to do so within eighteen months the charge against him would probably be dropped for lack of evidence.

Had we only had this to go by we may have surmised that there had simply been a delay in messengers getting through. After all it had taken him and his fellow travellers a good while to make the journey, although any accusations could have left Caesarea earlier than he did. But Luke then describes the passage of two years, and the impression we are given is that there were still no charges against him.

However, that should not necessarily surprise us. They had got rid of him from Palestine, and it was one thing to bring charges not backed by evidence to a provincial governor whom they could lean on, it was quite another to bring them before Caesar. That could bring them into disrepute where it mattered.


Verse 22

“ But we desire to hear from you what you think, for as concerning this sect, it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”

Meanwhile the Jewish leaders expressed their desire to hear his views, for they did know of the Christians and claimed that no one had any good to say about them. They are probably not being quite as vague as it might at first seem. Rather they have recognised Paul’s quality, have probably heard from him his background, and are saying, ‘while we look on Christians as having a bad reputation, as everyone knows, we are ready to listen to anything by which you can convince us otherwise. You may know what we do not know’. Their words suggest that at this time the Jews in Rome had little to do with the Christians, and avoided them in case there was trouble. There are grounds for believing that there had been such trouble in the time of Claudius so it is possible that they had agreed to an uneasy peace and avoided each other.


Verse 23

‘And when they had appointed him a day, they came to him into his lodging in great number, to whom he expounded the matter, testifying the Kingly Rule of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning until evening.’

Then having appointed a day on which they could meet him they came in even greater numbers. There was a keen interest in learning what he had to say. They were neither so bigoted nor so hidebound as the Jewish Christians. Nor did they have the same political power, nor probably were they so bound by tradition.

Paul then expounded to them his teaching on the present and future Kingly Rule of God, and on the call of God to His people to respond to it. This was then followed up by his introduction of Jesus as the King in question, as evidenced both through his own experience and through his studies in the Law of Moses and the prophets. For the sum of his teaching we may consult Acts 13:26-41 and his letter to the Romans, together with his threefold testimony. This testifying and expounding continued ‘from morning until evening’, so that the subjects were thoroughly dealt with.


Verse 24

‘And some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.’

As we might expect some believed what he spoke, and some disbelieved. Compare Acts 13:42-43; Acts 17:32-34. They were divided among themselves. .


Verses 25-27

‘And when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after that Paul had spoken one word, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, Go you to this people, and say, ‘By hearing you will hear, and will in no wise understand, and seeing you will see, and will in no wise perceive, for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest, haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them.” ’

Once he perceived that not all were in agreement with him, Paul, who thought the Scriptures involved crystal clear, reminded them of the words of Isaiah the prophet about the unwillingness of the ancient people of Israel to believe the truth. It had been true in the prophet’s case. It was sad if it was true this day.

For it was the Holy Spirit Himself Who had said to their fathers through the prophets, ‘Tell the people that their hearing, their seeing and their hearts are at fault. Because of this they will hear and not understand, they will see and will not perceive.’ And this in turn was because their hearts were fat with luxuries, their ears did not want to hear what did not please them, their eyes refused to believe what they did not want to see. And why was this? In the end it was because they loved their sin. They did not want to be healed and restored. Until that attitude was altered there could be no hope for them.

So now the choice was before them. They must decide if they wanted the truth, if they really wanted God’s will, or whether they were just saving face and pretending that they did. Their choice was as to whether they would continue as Jews under condemnation by their own Scriptures, or whether they would respond to those Scriptures and become true Jews.

As with Isaiah 6:9-11 this was not a rejection but a warning. Paul is speaking to them as the new Isaiah. He and those who followed him would go on preaching to them until the final day of judgment It was they who must take heed to the condition of their ears, eyes and hearts. Now, however, the message was to go to a wider audience than that of Isaiah. The Gentiles also would hear, as Isaiah had later declared. The Servant had come (Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 49:6).


Verse 28

“Be it known therefore to you, that this salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles. They will also hear.”

Meanwhile let them know, (and he wanted to provoke them to jealousy by this - Romans 11:11) that this salvation of God available through the Messiah is sent to the Gentiles who will hear it, just as many Jews do. True ‘Judaism’ is now open to the world.

‘They also.’ Also as well as the believing Jews. So it was now open to all Jews to consider their response, recognising that some Jews had already responded and that many Gentiles were also to receive God’s offer and would hear. He did not want them to be left behind. And on that note they departed, with some believing, some considering, and some saying, ‘No way!’.

The thing that stands out most strongly from these last few verses, and the lack of any reference to the church separately in this final passage is that Paul is still concerned that Christianity be seen and recognised as the true fulfilment of Judaism. To him the church is the Israel of God. It is not a question of choosing between being a Jew or a Christian, it is a matter of a Jewish Christian being the true Jew, and the Christ-rejecter not being a true Jew. Those who believe are engrafted. Those who do not believe are cut off (Romans 11:17-27). And while Gentile Christians may not practise all the customs of the Jews, they do become an essential part of Israel (Romans 11:17-27; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:28; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Revelation 7:4-8). For as will be later pointed out they are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11). Their offerings are offered once for all through the sacrifice of Himself offered by their great High Priest (Hebrews 7-10). Thus the growth of the Kingly Rule of God is the growth of the true Israel as laid on the foundation of the Jewish Christian Apostles. Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22; Isaiah 2:2-4)).

The Conclusion.

This general statement brings to a conclusion and stresses all that Acts has been aiming for, the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God, and of the risen Lord Who is responsible for that Kingly Rule, both in heaven and in earth. And it brings out that God has made it possible for this to occur in peace and safety, at the very heart of the Empire itself.


Verse 29-30

‘And he abode two whole years in his own rented dwelling (or ‘at his own expense’), and received all that went in to him, preaching the Kingly Rule of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none forbidding him.’

These final summaries have a twofold purpose. To bring to a summation the passage that they follow, and to summarise all that has happened throughout the preceding section. This one is no different from the others, except that it also brings the whole of Acts to summation.

Firstly it points out that throughout the section which speaks of his journey to Jerusalem and his imprisonment he had preached the Kingly Rule of God and taught the things concerning Jesus with all boldness (as indeed we have seen).

And secondly it points out that in perfect peace and safety, under the very eye of the emperor, he has continued to teach and proclaim it in Rome, and not as under Rome but at his own expense. And he has done this for two years, two representing the completeness of witness. ‘Two years’ is regularly a picture of a complete testimony. Compare in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) and in Caesarea (Acts 24:27)

In other words having entered Rome in triumph, he has, as it were, been enthroned in his own rented ‘palace’ (his home is in Heaven) and now declared Jesus’ Kingly Rule over both the Jews and the nations, no one preventing him. The initial stage of God’s triumph is complete, and the word of God goes forth freely, even in Rome, to both Jew and Gentile. All who will may come.

But, someone may say, is he not bound with a chain to a Roman soldier? Yes, Paul triumphantly declares, BUT THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT BOUND (2 Timothy 2:9). And it continues to go forth like an ever-flowing stream. And as the final word in the book proclaim, it was ‘unhindered’.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 28:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-28.html. 2013.

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