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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Acts 28

 

 

Introduction

Verse 1

St. Paul’s Stay of Three Months in MelitaMiracles wrought there by the Apostle, 1-10.

Acts 28:1. When they were escaped. The original verb here and in Acts 28:4 is the same that is translated ‘save’ in Acts 27:43, and ‘escaped all safe’ in Acts 27:44. See note on the former of these passages.

Then they knew. Probably the true reading is ‘then we knew.’ St. Luke took an active part, or at least a keen interest, in the inquiry. See note on Acts 27:39.

That the island was called Melita. More correctly, ‘is called Melita.’ The information would be obtained immediately on landing. The island was very well known to traders in the Levant, and it was doubtless quite familiar to the sailors, and especially the captain, in this case, though they were perplexed when they found themselves on a part of its coast which was not familiar to them.

This is the right place for a slight notice (a very slight notice is all that is requisite) of the theory that the island now under our attention was Meleda in the Adriatic. There was in the seventeenth century an animated literary warfare on this subject, which seems to have given new life to certain apocryphal Acts of St. Paul, mentioned in an Excursus at the close of this chapter. It is a curious extinct controversy, but it is now extinct for ever. That the honour of St. Paul’s shipwreck should be claimed for the Dalmatian Meleda was natural. At a much earlier period, however, the same claim was put forward by one of the Byzantine Emperors; and in this case, too, it is not unlikely that local ecclesiastical feeling suggested the belief. It is more strange that some modern English writers should have fallen into this old delusion.

We have seen above (Acts 27:29; Acts 27:41) that irresistible arguments converge to the conclusion that it was on the island of Malta that St. Paul was wrecked. But the following decisive considerations should be added:—(a) When St. Paul left this island, he sailed by Syracuse and Rhegium to Puteoli (Acts 28:12-13). These are precisely the natural stages for a voyage from Malta, but altogether alien from any reasonable relation with the other island. (b) Rome was the destination of Julius and his prisoners, and from the Dalmatian Meleda the natural course would have been to have gone not by the road leading through Appii Forum and the Three Taverns (Acts 28:15), but by a totally different road, (c) We find that a corn ship from Alexandria, bound for Puteoli, had wintered in the island on which St. Paul was wrecked (Acts 28:11). The harbour of Malta is a place where we should naturally have expected to find a ship under such circumstances; but at the Dalmatian Meleda she would have been altogether out of her course, (d) Under these circumstances of weather described above, St. Paul’s ship could not have reached this Dalmatian island without a miracle. This point is so well put in the MS. notes of Admiral Penrose, that it is useful to quote what he says on the subject:—‘If Euroclydon blew in such a direction as to make the pilots afraid of being driven on the quicksands (and there were no such dangers but to the south-west of them), how could it be supposed that they could be driven north towards the Adriatic? . . . We are now told that the Euroclydon ceased to blow. . . . To have drifted up the Adriatic to the island of Meleda in the requisite curve, and to have passed so many islands and other dangers in ten route, would, humanly speaking, have been impossible. The distance from Claude to this Meleda is not less than 720 geographical miles, and the wind must have been long from the south to make this voyage in fourteen days.’ See Life and Epistles of St. Paul, chap. xxiii. As to the arguments based upon the mention of ‘Adria,’ see above on Acts 27:27. Other arguments, equally fallacious, based upon what we find in the second and third verses of this chapter, will be noticed in their proper places.


Verse 2

Acts 28:2. The barbarous people showed us no little kindness. ‘No common kindness’ would be a more correct translation. The Greek word, too, for ‘kindness’ ( φιλανθρωπί α) is worthy of remark. It denotes the kindness that is shown on the general ground of humanity, irrespective of differences of rank or race. It is the word used above (Acts 27:3; see note there) of the treatment received from Julius at Sidon. The example of Heathens in such matters has often been a rebuke to Christians. In Titus 3:4 it may be said with reverence that the same use of the word is found.

As to the word ‘barbarous’ here and ‘barbarian’ in Acts 28:4, it is clear that these people did not act as savages. Their generous and sympathetic conduct is strangely contrasted with the cruelty and plunder that have often disgraced wreckers on our own coast. But, indeed, the word has no such meaning. It denoted simply those who did not speak Greek or Latin (see Romans 1:14; 1 Corinthians 14:11; Colossians 3:11). The modern Maltese speak the Arabic, which was introduced at the Mohammedan conquest, with a slight admixture of Italian and English. This condition of things is in some degree parallel to that which existed under the Roman Empire. The Maltese then spoke Phoenician, with a slight admixture of Greek and Latin. Diodorus Siculus (Acts 28:12) tells us that this island was originally colonized by the Phoenicians.

They kindled a fire. Here we touch one of the fantastic objections which have been brought forward against the identification of this Melita with the modern Malta. It is said, and quite truly, that there is now a great absence of wood in the bland. It might indeed be replied that a fire could have been made of driftwood from wrecks. The ‘bundle of sticks,’ however, in the next verse points to the presence of brushwood. The true answer to the objection is that it is only in very modern times that the population of Malta has grown so enormously as to lead to the destruction of the natural wood of the island. Persons were recently living who remembered the growth of natural wood near St. Paul’s Bay.

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Received us every one. The natives of the island welcomed these cold and shipwrecked people to their company and to the warmth of the fire. The phrase ‘every one’ expresses a hearty gratitude in St. Luke’s remembrance of the scene.

Because of the present rain, and because of the cold. These particulars could hardly have been introduced so naturally, except by one who had been present on the occasion. Whatever the weather had been before, as to dryness or wet, rain was at this moment adding to their distress. The Greek verb is used here in its exact sense, as in Galatians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:2. The ‘cold’ of a northeasterly wind at this season must have been extreme; but even if the wind had changed with the coming on of the rain, we must remember that these shipwrecked people had passed through the waves in escaping to the land.


Verse 3

Acts 28:3. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks. More exactly, ‘had twisted together a large quantity of sticks.’ We see the apostle here helping with his own hands to improve the fire, as we saw him before (Acts 27:19) in the storm helping with his own hands to lighten the ship by throwing ‘tackling’ overboard. Another remark, too, may be permitted here. We see St. Paul ‘warming himself at a fire,’ just as St. Peter did on a very different occasion (see John 18:13-25). Such incidents are part of that natural framework which gives life and reality to the biographies of the New Testament.

There came a viper out of the heat. Here we encounter another objection, similar to the preceding, against the identification of Malta. It was put forward in a very random way by Coleridge in a conversation quoted in his Table Talk. But this objection falls with the other. It is true that there are no poisonous serpents now in Malta; but with the increase of population, wood has been cleared away, and with the clearing away of wood noxious reptiles have disappeared. Mr. Smith adduces a similar experience of recent date, in the island of Arrant, and quotes from Sir C. Lyell’s Principles of Geology the following sentence, written by travelers in Brazil, concerning the poisonous serpents and other dangerous animals of that country: ‘With the increasing population and cultivation of the country, these evils will gradually diminish: when the inhabitants have cut down the woods, drained the marshes, made roads in all directions, and founded villages and towns, man will, by degrees, triumph over the rank vegetation and the noxious animals.’ By the expression, ‘came out of the heat,’ is meant that the animal came through the bundle of sticks in consequence of being awakened into activity from a torpid state by the heat. Dr. Hackett quotes Professor Agassis as saying that such reptiles become torpid as soon as the temperature falls sensibly below the mean temperature of the place which they inhabit; also that they lurk in rocky places, and that they are accustomed to dart at their enemies sometimes several feet at a bound.

Fastened on his hand. The impression given by these words is, that St. Paul was bitten by the viper; and this, no doubt, is the true impression. We gain nothing in such a case by attenuating a miracle.


Verse 4

Acts 28:4. When the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand. Our translators have added the adjective ‘venomous.’ The word θήριον is exactly that which would be naturally used for a snake. There is a curious illustration of this in the word ‘treacle,’ which is derived from ( θκριακόν [or θϰριαϰόν]), a black medicine or antidote made of snakes. For the meaning of the word ‘barbarian,’ see note above.

They said among themselves. This suspicions conversation among themselves is an animated element in the description. We can well imagine the scene.

This man is a murderer. They would readily perceive that St. Paul was one of the prisoners under the charge of the military officer, and it was natural to suspect that his crime had been no light one. It is not likely that he had been chained to a soldier, when the people from the ship were struggling through the waves; but the manacle might be on his wrist, and he might be chained again to a soldier on gaining the land.

Yet vengeance suffereth not to live. The ancients personified retributive justice under the name of Nemesis. We need not imagine an absolute personification in this case. The instinctive moral sense of these untutored people would naturally lead them to this conclusion. Mr. Humphrey adduces here an interesting Greek epigram, the substance of which is this, that a man shipwrecked on the coast of Libya, and killed while asleep by a serpent, had struggled in vain against the waves, finding here on land the fate that was his due.


Verse 5

Acts 28:5. Felt no harm. We see here part of the fulfilment of the promise in Mark 16:12, words which were doubtless fulfilled in other instances likewise.


Verse 6

Acts 28:6. Swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly. Either of these results might have followed from the bite of a poisonous serpent. It should be noted, however, that the former word denotes inflammation rather than swelling.

After they had looked a great while. Again we should remark the singular reality and naturalness of the description.

They changed their minds, and said that he was a god. Such a sudden revulsion of feeling is characteristic of rude and unlettered people. There had been, in St. Paul’s experience, a similar instance among the Lycaonians, though in an opposite direction (Acts 14:18-19).


Verse 7

Acts 28:7. In the same quarters. The traditional place is Città Vecchia, where is the country residence of the present British governor of the island.

The chief man of the island, whose name was Publics. The name is Latin, and doubtless he was a Roman or an Italian. The title given to him ( τῷ πρώ τῳ τῆ ς νή σου) is peculiar, and it corresponds precisely with the title ( πρῶτος ΄ιλιταἰων and Primus Melitensium) which has been found on ancient Maltese inscriptions, as was noted long ago by Biscoe, who quotes Bochart and Grotius (The History of the Acts confirmed by other Authors, p. 62). A question still remains as to the precise meaning of this title, though this does not affect the value of the historical coincidence. The meaning can hardly be that Publics was the wealthiest man on the island, for his father was still living. Clearly there is something official in the phrase. The natural view is that Publics was the Roman governor of the island; and this has been the common opinion. At this time Melita was a political dependency of Sicily, and the praetor of this larger island would have a legatus in the smaller. Hackett, however, in his second edition (p. 449), quotes an interesting note by President Woolsey of Yale College, in which it is shown from inscriptions that those who had ceased to be chief magistrates of the island might still retain the title of πρῶτος; and similar honorary titles are found in ancient inscriptions belonging to towns in Italy. Hackett justly remarks that, if this is the correct view, it really enhances the narrator’s accuracy, ‘inasmuch as the range of the application of the term is narrower.’

Lodged us three days courteously. This, no doubt, refers to the centurion and his prisoners. It was natural that Publius should pay especial attention to Julius and his party; and we may be sure that the favorable feeling of the latter towards St. Paul would not be without its influence on the mind of the former. It is to be observed that the Greek word here translated ‘courteously’ is not the same that is so rendered in Acts 27:3. This is not in itself a matter of much moment, but it would be an advantage to the English reader to be enabled to follow the use of such words precisely.


Verse 8

Acts 28:8. Lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux. He was suffering, in fact, from dysentery, attended with fever. We meet here with another of the fantastic objections which have been brought against the identification of Melita. It has been contended that dysentery is never found in Malta. It might be enough to reply that changes in the natural condition of a country involve changes in regard to human health; but it happens that the writer of the present note has been by the bedside of a friend suffering from dysentery in Malta. The use of the plural πυρετοῖ ς is an instance of the accuracy of St. Luke’s professional language. The fever fits of Publius were intermittent. It may be added that κατέ κειτο is the word which would naturally be used of a patient in such a condition (see Luke 5:25).

Entered in, and prayed. He followed the same course as St. Peter in the case of Tabitha (Acts 9:40). The miraculous power was granted to the apostles on occasion; and here we see it exercised in conjunction with prayer, in virtue of that faith which ‘removes mountains.’

Laid hands on him and healed him. This is a second specimen of the fulfilment of part of the promise given in Mark 16:18.


Verse 9

Acts 28:9. Others also which had diseases. More accurately, ‘the rest ( οἱ λοιποὶ) who had diseases.’ It is probable that all the sick persons in the island who could be moved were brought to St. Paul. The population was scanty, the island was small, and the apostle remained there three months. The imperfect tense, too, of the verbs which follow, denotes something that went on continuously. This was a golden opportunity for making known the gospel to hearts predisposed to receive it. Nothing is said of this subject; but we cannot suppose either that St. Paul neglected his Master’s cause, or that his spiritual work was without result.


Verse 10

Acts 28:10. Honoured us with many honours. In 1 Timothy 5:3; 1 Timothy 5:17, the word ( τιμή) used here is employed to denote the material support of religious ministers; and whatever else may be included, we need not exclude that meaning here. St. Paul did not refuse elsewhere to accept the gifts which were freely offered to him. Chrysostom says here: ‘Did he receive pay? God forbid! No; but there was a fulfilment of that which is written, The labourer is worthy of his support,’ quoting the very passage which St. Paul quotes in writing to Timothy.

When we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary. When they were preparing to set sail, gifts for the wants of the voyage were lavishly pressed upon them. We must remember that on the previous voyage they had suffered many hardships and losses.


Verse 11

Voyage from Malta to Puteoli, 11-14.

Acts 28:11. After three months. Probably it was now February. The earliest opportunity which the weather permitted would be taken. This is one of the indications of time which are to be taken into account in estimating the relative chronology of St. Paul’s life.

A ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle. The same circumstances of weather which had caused so much disaster to the other ship, had kept this ship in the harbour of Valetta. This too, like the other, was doubtless a corn ship.

Whose sign was Castor and Pollux. A reference may be allowed at this point to the articles ‘Ship,’ ‘Castor and Pollux,’ and ‘Rhegium,’ in the Dictionary of the Bible, The ‘great twin brethren,’ Castor and Pollux (the ‘Dioscuri,’ as the name is given here in the Greek), were the tutelary gods of Greek sailors (Horace, Od. i. 3, 2, and 12, 28), and their presence was often imagined in the phosphorescent light—the fires of St. Elmo—playing on the masts of Mediterranean ships. Their figures were doubtless painted in the customary conventional form, with stars above their beads, on each side of the bow of the ship. St. Luke’s notice of the fact is valuable as an indication of the presence of an eye-witness. The thought, too, of an Egyptian ship, with heathen symbols, bearing the gospel to Italy, is suggestive of many interesting reflections. See some reflections of this kind in Bishop Wordsworth’s Commentary.


Verse 12

Acts 28:12. Landing at Syracuse. Or rather, ‘putting into harbour at Syracuse.’ This was in their direct course. The distance is about eighty miles to the north of Malta.

Three days. From what follows, it seems probable that they were waiting for a fair wind.


Verse 13

Acts 28:13. From thence we fetched a compass. The meaning of this English phrase is (as in 2 Kings 3:9), that they did not sail in a straight course; and from the mention of a fair wind presently afterwards which enabled them to do so, it is natural to conclude that they were forced to tack or beat against an unfavourable wind.

Came to Rhegium. This is a town on the Italian side of the Straits, nearly opposite to Messina on the Sicilian side. See the Excursus on the Apocryphal Acts. It is a curious coincidence that the ancient coins of Rhegium exhibit Castor and Pollux as twin brothers, with stars above their heads (see note on Acts 28:11).

After one day the south wind blew. This was the most favourable wind for carrying the vessel through the Faro; and if she was rigged with a great square sail, she would go very rapidly before it.

We came the next day to Puteoli. The distance is about 122 miles; and if the ship sailed about seven knots, she would have accomplished the voyage in twenty-six hours. Puteoli (the modern Pozzuoli) was, next after Ostia, the most important harbour of Western Italy; and especially it was the customary port for the Alexandrian corn ships. A very animated account of the arrival of these corn ships is given in a contemporary document, one of Seneca’s letters. Puteoli, it is to be observed, was close to the north-western point of the bay of Naples; and Seneca tells us that trading vessels, on coming into sight round the island of Capri, were required to strike their topsails, with the exception of these Alexandrian corn ships, which were thus easily recognised. Then the philosopher describes how the people crowded down to the pier, to welcome their arrival. Thus we have some help for imagining the scene correctly, when St. Paul first set foot on Italian ground. But a further help is supplied to us by visible and tangible remains. Seventeen piers still survive of the mole upon which his foot was set. In fact, the most perfect ruin existing of any ancient Roman harbour is that which is for ever connected with the memory of St. Paul’s arrival in ltalv.


Verse 14

Acts 28:14. Where we found brethren. We know from Romans 16, and indeed from the mere existence of the Epistle to the Romans, that the Christian ‘brethren’ were at this time numerous in the metropolis. Hence there must have been Christians at Puteoli, which was the place of communication by sea with Palestine. We must also remember that, since Puteoli was a mercantile harbour with very active business, the Jews were probably numerous there, with a synagogue or more than one.

Were desired to tarry with them seven days. We seem here to have a clear indication of the observance of the Lord’s day, as in Acts 20:6-7 at Troas, and in Acts 21:4 at Tyre. As to the permission given by Julius to spend a week at Puteoli, this need cause us no difficulty. He might himself be waiting for orders; it is probable that he had time at his command; and now, at the close of the voyage, after owing his life to St. Paul, it is not likely that he would be less considerate and kind than at the beginning (see Acts 27:3).

And so we went toward Rome. More correctly, ‘and so we came to Rome.’ From this bare statement of the fact of their arrival at the end of their journey, St. Luke turns aside in the next sentence to mention most interesting circumstances connected with their route from Puteoli. This route was first by a road called the ‘Consular Way,’ which led to Capua, and then along the celebrated ‘Appian Way’ to Rome. The stages are given in the Itineraries (see Wesseling). For the features of the country through which they travelled, see Life and Epistles of St. Paul.


Verse 15

Journey from Puteoli and Arrival in Rome, 15.

Acts 28:15. When the brethren heard of us. During the week spent at Puteoli there would be abundant time for the intelligence to travel to Rome; nor would a moment be lost in announcing the arrival of the wonderful writer of the Epistle to the Romans.

They came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and the Three Taverns. They were in two separate groups, the one in advance of the other. Among them were possibly Aquila and Priscilla, and others named in the sixteenth chapter of the epistle. The two places are well known to us through the writings of Horace and Cicero, and through the Itineraries. Three Taverns was thirty-three miles from Rome, and Appii Forum ten miles farther, on the low ground termed ‘the Pomptine Marshes.’

Whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage. We mark here two most distinctive characteristics of St. Paul—the consciousness of help derived from the presence of his friends, and the gratitude which such services inspired in him. See, for instance, 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6; and 2 Timothy 1:16-18.


Verse 16

Paul at RomeHis work in the Capital, 16-31.

Acts 28:16. Delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard. This officer ( στρατοπεδαρχηής, prefect of the prætorian guard) is named in the singular; and this circumstance has been used by Wieseler and others, in conjunction with additional evidence, to prove that St. Paul came to Rome in the early part of 62 A.D. At that time Burrhus was sole commander of the praetorian guard (see Norris, Key to the Acts, p. 155). This argument, however, must not be pressed too confidently; for the language used by St. Luke need only imply a reference to the officer in command at the time.

But Paul was suffered to dwell by himself. In the case of state prisoners sent to Rome from the provinces for trial, it was usual to confine them in a prison adjoining the Praetorian Camp, which was north-east of the city, outside the Porta Viminalis; but sometimes the prisoners were suffered to choose their own residence, under the custody of a soldier. This indulgence was granted to Paul by Burrhus, then Prætorian Præfect, the friend and colleague of Seneca, probably owing to the kindly report sent from Cæsarea by Festus and King Agrippa. Already we have read of the centurion Julius, who brought Paul from the East to Rome, courteously entreating his prisoner (chap, Acts 27:3). It seems as though the Roman officials pitied the brave missionary apostle, although they were unable to resist the strong pressure put on them by the influential Jews of Jerusalem to bring him to trial for his alleged seditious preaching. ‘Tradition points to the vestibule of the Church of Santa Maria, at the junction of the Via Lata and the Corso, as the site of his dwelling; but it has been urged by Dr. Philip, at present working as a missionary in the Ghetto at Rome, in a pamphlet On the Ghetto (Rome, 1874), that this site, forming part of the old Flaminian Way, was then occupied by arches and public buildings, and that it was far more probable that he would fix his quarters near those of his own countrymen. He adds that a local tradition points to No. 2 in the Via Stringhari, just outside the modern Ghetto, as having been St. Paul’s dwelling-place’ (Plumptre).

With a soldier that kept him. To this gaoler Paul was fastened by a chain, to which the apostle refers in Acts 28:20, and again in his epistles, written during this imprisonment, to foreign churches (see Ephesians 6:20; Philippians 1:7; Philippians 1:13; Philippians 1:18; Colossians 4:18).

The soldier thus chained to him was relieved at stated intervals, and so by means of these stern military guardians—each of whom doubtless in turn was won by the sweet patience and glowing earnestness of the captive—Paul’s bonds in Christ were manifested in the Praetorian Camp, and in all other places (see Philippians 1:13).


Verse 17

Acts 28:17. And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together. The Book of the ‘Acts’ tells us of the loving, restless activity of Paul to the last. Before the prisoner’s arrival at the imperial city, some of the Christians of Rome had met him at Appii Forum and the Three Taverns (Acts 28:15). With these brethren in the faith, and with others who no doubt at once sought out and visited the famous Christian missionary in his prison lodging, Paul spent his three first days in Rome. On the fourth day he invited the leading Jews of the Hebrew colony to visit him. The Jewish colony in Rome was a large one; they dwelt in one quarter of the city, the ‘Trastevere,’ or district beyond the river. When a petition was sent from Jerusalem to the Roman Emperor against Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, Josephus tells us 8000 Jews resident in Rome supported it. This Jewish community ‘had its first beginning in the captives brought by Pompey after his eastern campaign. Many of them were manumitted; and thus a great proportion of the Jews in Rome were freedmen. Frequent accessions to their numbers were made as years went on, chiefly owing to the mercantile relations which subsisted between Rome and the East. Many of them were wealthy, and large sums were sent annually for religious purposes from Italy to the mother country’ (Howson, St. Paul). These Jews had been banished from the imperial city by a decree of Claudius, A.D. 49; but this decree, some time before Paul’s arrival as a prisoner at Rome, had been rescinded or allowed to lapse. Probably this favour had been procured through the influence of Poppæa, at this time all-powerful with the Emperor Nero. Poppæa was a proselyte to Judaism. The chiefs of the Jews here alluded to included the rulers and elders of the synagogues and heads of the principal Jewish families settled in Rome, with the scribes and probably the wealthier traders.

Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Here in Rome, as in all the great centres where he had preached during the last twenty years, Paul begins his work among his own loved race. Here, as had been his unvarying custom, he seeks to win his listeners by the most studied courtesy, and addresses these haughty Jews by the name they so persistently, even in exile and humiliation, arrogated to themselves, the people, dwelling with reverence on the memory of the customs of our fathers. ‘Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law’ (1 Corinthians 9:20). Paul’s loving life-work had been in truth the glorification of Judaism—of true Judaism. He had taught that his Master’s religion was nothing but the development of the religion of Moses, only world-wide instead of being confined to one race. Much of the bitter enmity he had evoked sprang from the utter inability of his selfish, narrow-minded countrymen to disprove his references to the words of the great Hebrew prophets, foretelling the development of the old Hebrew faith into a worldwide religion.


Verse 18

Acts 28:18. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. All the great Roman officials, before whose tribunals, at different periods of his career, Paul had been brought, through the enmity of his countrymen, had acquitted him of sedition and wrong-doing. He was thinking of Sergius Paulus (chap. Acts 13:7), Gallio (chap. Acts 18:12), Claudius Lysias (chap. Acts 23:29), Felix (chap. Acts 24:25), Festus and Agrippa (chap. Acts 26:32), but especially of the last two names, the Roman governor and the Jewish king, who so unwillingly had sent him to Rome to be judged before the imperial tribunal.


Verse 19

Acts 28:19. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Cæsar; not that I had ought to accuse my own nation of. He presses this point upon them, being most anxious to show them he was there not as an accuser of, or an enemy to, ‘the people’—the people whom he loved better than life. It was to do them no harm that he had appealed to the Cæsar at Rome: it was his last resort to save himself from judicial murder or assassination. We must bear in mind that here, as in the other reports of Paul’s sermons and speeches, we only possess the barest outline of the original. No doubt he sketched out to his listeners that day at Rome a full picture of all the dark plottings on the part of his countrymen which had preceded his ‘appeal unto Cæsar.’


Verse 20

Acts 28:20. For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you. His love to his own people was so great that the ever-recurring suspicions of his work and conduct on the part of the Jews were the occasion of the most bitter grief to him. He longed to set himself right with the representatives of the nation dwelling in Rome, and with this hope he had sent for them to his prison room.

Because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. The ‘Hope,’ the glorious hope, for which he, the old man, was suffering all these indignities, was closely connected with the Messiah, for whom Israel had been so long anxiously waiting. He, Paul, believed that that Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It was his unswerving belief in that Messiah Jesus which was the cause of all his suffering, including the chain then hanging upon his arm and linking him to the silent Roman legionary at his side. The chain is specially mentioned in the singular. This is evidently the remark of an eye-witness, who was referring to the fetter which bound him to a single soldier (see Acts 28:16).


Verse 21

Acts 28:21. And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judæa concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spake any harm of thee. This reply of the Roman Jews was more courteous than honest. It was probably the fact that no official communication from the Sanhedrim had as yet been received by the Roman synagogue; for during the two years of the Cæsarean imprisonment there was no need for the council in Jerusalem to write to their fellow-countrymen at Rome respecting the prisoner Paul, and after his appeal to the emperor there had been no time to send information to Rome concerning him. Paul would have arrived at the metropolis before any official tidings from Jerusalem could have reached the Roman Jews. We know he left Cæsarea soon after his appeal; and shortly after his departure, the sea—owing to the time of year—was closed for navigation. But it was clearly disingenuous for them on their part to deny any knowledge of his evil fame among the rulers of the people. The principal charge brought against a prominent leader of the Christians like Paul must have been well known to the Roman Jews. They must in past years have often heard of the hated Paul of Tarsus, now a leading Nazarene, once known as the brilliant and admired Pharisee Saul.

The result of the earnest and impassioned pleading of the Christian apostle, told so shortly, but so sorrowfully, in the words of Acts 28:24, ‘and some believed not’ coupled with the evident mournful disappointment manifested by Paul at his complete failure to convince ‘some’—evidently a large number—of his Jewish audience, points to the conclusion we have arrived at, that the courteous reply of the Roman Jews to Paul (Acts 28:21) was hollow and false.


Verse 22

Acts 28:22. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against. The leading Jews of Rome who accepted the prisoner Paul’s invitation to visit him in his confinement, were naturally anxious to hear what such an one, notoriously a leader of the strange sect, and just arrived from the Holy Land under such peculiar circumstances, would have to say on behalf of the faith for which he had endured and suffered so much. They knew, doubtless, at least the outlines of the famous missionary teacher’s story; in spite of their alleged ignorance, his antecedents were of course well known to the majority of them. But it would be interesting to hear the Christian story from the lips of a highly-cultured Pharisee like Paul; so they express their desire to hear what he has to say concerning a sect which they carefully assure him was everywhere spoken against. Already men had begun to whisper abroad the dark calumnies which we know were universally circulated through the Roman world concerning the innocent Christians. The jealous and angry Jew joined hands here with the Pagan in fostering untrue and utterly baseless rumours respecting the worship and practice of men whose doctrines were gradually penetrating into all classes and orders of the Empire. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote in the days of the Emperor Nero, speaks of the Christian religion as ‘a detestable superstition’ (exitiabilis superstitio), and calls attention to ‘the atrocious and shameful crimes condemned by the hatred of mankind.’ Suetonius, writing in the same reign, describes the followers of Jesus of Nazareth as ‘a race of men holding a novel and criminal superstition.’


Verse 23

Acts 28:23. And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging. The word in the original translated ‘many’ is a comparative form, and implies either that more of the Roman Jews came to hear Paul than on the first occasion, or else that more of these leading Jews presented themselves in the house used as Paul’s prison than had been expected by the apostle and his companions.

To whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. Even the short resumé of the discourse which the compiler of the ‘Acts’ has given on several momentous occasions in the history is wanting here. All seems to point to the fact that the majority of the listeners remained unconvinced. The long and earnest pleading of Paul with his countrymen dwelling in the queen city, availed nothing. Only a very few seemed to have listened; as for the rest, their hearts were hopelessly hardened. What an end for the aged and worn apostle, who had so earnestly desired to visit Rome! There is something terribly dramatic in the words of the Isaiah blessing and the Isaiah curse which the sorrowful servant of Jesus Christ pronounced, as the Hebrew rejecters of the glorious message of his Divine Master departed from his prison chamber that same evening, resolved to see his face no more.

From that hour it is probable that Paul for the remainder of his life gave up the hope of touching the heart of Israel as a people, and devoted the few remaining years of his noble life to winning to his loving Master’s side the hated and despised Gentile nations—the peoples who had so long sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. The splendid results of his labours are revealed in the story of the eighteen Christian centuries. The aged Christian teacher looked down the long vista of these many years, when he declared with true prophetic instinct, As for the rejected salvation of God, they (the Gentiles) would hear it.


Verse 24

Acts 28:24. And some believed the things that were spoken, and some believed not. The number of those who rejected the salvation of the Messiah evidently far exceeded the number of those who were convinced by Paul’s pleading. The melancholy and indignant tone of the apostle’s words, with which he closed the memorable day of argument and exhortation, only too plainly tell us of a loving patience at last exhausted. They are the words of one giving up a hopeless struggle.


Verse 25

Acts 28:25. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed. Evidently the assembled Jews openly expressed their difference of opinion. A remnant seems to have believed, but the large majority clearly expressed themselves with extreme bitterness, and with hearts full of envy and hatred. The thought of a suffering Messiah was hateful to these proud, ambitious men. The idea of sharing a salvation with the loathed and accursed Gentiles they refuse for an instant to entertain.

After that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers.One final significant word, as opposed to many words’ (Hackett). The prophecy here quoted is from Isaiah 6:9-10, and

agrees almost exactly with the words of the Septuagint Version. No passage is quoted so often in the New Testament as this. It occurs six times in the Gospels, in the Epistle to the Romans, and here in the Acts. St. Paul’s use of the awful words of Isaiah on this momentous occasion, and also in the argument in the Roman Epistle, shows that our Lord’s discourse and His deductions from Hebrew prophecy were well known to, and had been often pondered over by, the missionary apostle and his friends.


Verse 26

Acts 28:26. Saying, Go unto this people, and say. Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. The stern prediction originally occurs in a sublime passage (Isaiah 6), which relates how, under circumstances of extraordinary solemnity, the Divine commission to be a prophet of the Lord to Israel was entrusted to Isaiah. Then he is told that he must preach to the chosen people, who, however, will refuse to listen to him. He hears that his divinely-inspired words will, far from converting, only blind their eyes and harden their hearts, and in the end the doom of judicial blindness will be their punishment. The terrible prediction was first fulfilled to the letter in the prophet’s own days. After his time, calamity following on calamity, years of ruin and captivity, all failed to touch the hearts of the stubborn and rebellious people. It therefore received another and final fulfilment in the impenitence of the people, and in their determined rejection of the love and mercy of then-Messiah.

The story of the eighteen Christian centuries, which relates the strange destiny of the Jews since the last fall of Jerusalem and its temple, tells the nations of the world how the prophecy of the Holy Ghost has been carried out.


Verse 29

Acts 28:29. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves. The whole of this verse is wanting in the more ancient MSS. and versions, and must be considered spurious. It was, however, probably added in early times by some scribe, to soften down the apparent abruptness of the close of the account of the interview between Paul and the leading Jews of Rome.


Verse 30

Acts 28:30. And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him. We must remember that all this time the apostle was a close prisoner of state, although, through the indulgence of the praetorian praefect, allowed to reside in a lodging of his own instead of in the prison within the walls of the praetorian barracks. The expenses incurred were no doubt defrayed by faithful friends at Rome and in the provinces (see, for instance, the reference in Philippians 4:10-14, one of the epistles written during this imprisonment at Rome). Paul during this period of captivity was, during the day, chained to a soldier, and probably in the night two soldiers watched him, according to the sentence of the Roman law, nox custodiam geminat. We possess four of his writings composed while in prison at Rome—the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians, and the short letter to Philemon. From notices in these writings, we learn that Luke, Timothy, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, and Tychicus were among the friends who, during a whole or part of this time, were with the apostle.


Verse 31

Acts 28:31. No man forbidding him. Literally, ‘without hindrance’ ( ἀ κωλύ τως). Wordsworth remarks ‘that there is something musical in the cadence of this word reserved for the end of the Book. It commences with a short syllable followed by three long ones, happily adapted to express rest after labour (see Catullus, Carm. xxix. 6-10). Compare the word ἐ κοιμή θη, he fell asleep—a word of like quantity closing the history of St. Stephen’s martyrdom’ (Acts 7:60). Thus far the imperial authorities were disposed to show all toleration to the disciples of the new faith. They probably looked upon the ‘Christians’ as a sect of Jews harmless in themselves, and even useful in occupying the attention of their more turbulent and fervid co-religionists. The Roman authorities no doubt at this time viewed the intense hatred which existed between the more rigid Jews and the rapidly-increasing Christians, with considerable favour; in addition to which, statesmen of the type of Burrhus, the praetorian præfect, and Seneca, at that time the friend of the Emperor Nero, would ever be ready to encourage and protect a sect like the Christians, which taught its disciples an unswerving loyalty to the existing government, which discouraged all meddling with politics and directed attention only to philanthropic interests. Its peculiar worship, its especial hopes and fears, were matters with which these philosophic Pagan statesmen declined to interfere.

It was only in the later years of Nero, when other influences were at work, and the infamous and cruel Tigellinus was dominant in the state, that the Christians were marked out by a mistaken and foolish policy for persecution. (For the subsequent history of Paul, see Excursus C, following this chapter.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 28:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-28.html. 1879-90.

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