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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Acts 28

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. XXVIII.

Paul, after his shipwreck, is kindly entertained of the barbarians: the viper on his hand hurteth him not: he healeth many diseases in the island: they depart towards Rome: he declareth to the Jews the cause of his coming: after his preaching, some were persuaded, and some believed not: yet he preacheth there two years.

Anno Domini 63.


Verse 1

Acts 28:1. Escaped, That is, Got safe to land. There were two islands called Melita; this was that which lay between Africa and Sicily, being about twelve miles broad and twenty long, and sixty distant from Sicily to the south. It took its name from the abundance of honey found therein,—for meli in Greek signifies honey. It also yields a great deal of cotton; and though the soil is but three feet deep above the rock, it is very fruitful. It is now called Malta; and the place where St. Paul and his company were driven on shore, is at this time shewn to travellers, and goes by the name of St. Paul's shore, or haven. The people of Malta were originally a colony of Carthaginians, as appears from several old inscriptions in Punic characters, and from the language of the present inhabitants, the number of whom is said to be above 90,000. St. Paul's shipwreck here engaged a kind of religious veneration for the island; in consequence of which it was given in the year 1530, by the emperor Charles V. to the knights of St. John in Jerusalem, when they had been expelled from Rhodes by the Turks: they were 1000 in number, of whom 500 always resided in the island, and were called Hospitalers, Knights Templars, or Knights of Malta. They were at one time composed out of eight nations, but afterwards of onlyseven, because the English knights became extinct on the reformation. They were, by the statutes of their order, under a vow of celibacy, were obliged to repress all pirates, and to wage perpetual war with the Turks and other Mahometans. This island now belongs to Great Britain.


Verse 2

Acts 28:2. And the barbarous people The ancients looked upon islanders in general as uncivilized, for want of a more free and common conversation with the rest of mankind; and the Greeks and Romans in particular looked upon all nations, except their own, as barbarous. (See Romans 1:14.) The Maltese however were famous for their civility to strangers. See Diodor. Siculus, lib. 5: p. 204. Edit. Steph.


Verse 4

Acts 28:4. The venomous beast The fierce animal seems the proper import of the word θηριον : Bos has shewn that the physicians use it to express any poisonous animal; and Lucian applies it as here to a viper. To render it beast, is by no means proper: venomous creature, would be more allowable. It has been observed, that these people concluded St. Paul to have been guilty of murder, rather than of any other crime, because they saw the viper hanging on his hand, which therefore they judged to have been the offending part; according to the rule which prevailed much among the ancients, that persons were often remarkably punished in that part of the bodywhich had been the immediate instrument of their sin. Beza finely observes in the true spirit of criticism, that the phrase ουκ ειασεν should be rendered according to its exact form, hath not suffered; to signify that they looked upon him as in effect a dead man, after having been bitten by that venomous creature. Though vengeance may here be understood of the divine vengeance in general, yet as these were the words of Heathen idolaters, possibly they might refer to the idol deity worshipped among them under this name.


Verse 5

Acts 28:5. And he shook off the beast This was exactly agreeable to what our Lord had promised that his disciples should do. See Mark 16:18. Luke 10:19 and compare with this the miracles of Moses, Exodus 4:2-5; Exodus 7:10-12.


Verse 6

Acts 28:6. But after they had looked a great while, &c.— Many of the Heathens thought there was something divine in thenature of serpents, and that deities, or good genii, who were made use of as the instruments of delivering and honouring those who were the peculiar favourites of the gods, often appeared in that shape. Hence idols were often made with serpents near them; and there have been numerous, and indeed astonishing instances of religious worship, absurd as it may seem, paid to that kind of animals. See the notes on Genesis 3:15. Grotius, Whitby, and some others, think that the Melitese took St. Paul for Hercules, Αλεξικακος, (the driver away of evil,) who was worshipped in this island, and was, according to Ptolemy, one of the gods of the Phoenicians. The Lystrans would have worshipped St. Paul as a god, and afterwards stoned him as a blasphemer, and the worst of men; chap. Acts 14:11-19. So soon do unthinking persons run from one extreme to another, and so little regard is to be had to the warmth of affection, where it is not grounded upon scripture, reason, and conviction.


Verse 7

Acts 28:7. Of the chief man of the island, Grotius has produced an ancient inscription, by which it appears that the title of πρωτος, or chief, was given to the governor of this island; and so it is used here by St. Luke with his accustomed accuracy of expression.


Verse 11

Acts 28:11. Whose sign was Castor and Pollux. It was the custom of the ancients to have images on their ships, both at the head and stern; the first of which was called the sign from whence the ship was named, and the other was that of the tutelar deity to whose care the ship was committed. There is no doubtbut they had sometimes idol deities at the head; and then it is most likely, if they had any figure at the stern, it was the same; as it is hardly probable the ship should be called by the name of one idol deity and be committed to the care of another. The figure that was used for Castor and Pollux, was that of two young men on horseback, with each a javelin in his hand, and by their side half an egg and a star; but the sign of Castor and Pollux was that of a double cross. When these two appeared together, they were looked upon, by the superstitious Heathen, as propitious to sailors, and therefore for a good omen they had them carved or painted on the head of the ship, and gave it a name from thence; and perhaps most of those who sailed in company with the apostle, might look upon it as fortunate, that they sailed under such a protection, andmight promise themselves a more prosperous voyage in that ship, than they had met with in the other which brought them from Crete, as indeed they had; but it was owing to the protection, not of Castor and Pollux, but of an infinitely superior Deity, even that true God whose providence is continually over all his works.


Verse 12

Acts 28:12. Syracuse, Was the metropolis of Sicily, situated on the east side of the island, and had a beautiful prospect from every entrance both by sea and land. The port, which had the sea on both sides of it, was almost wholly surrounded with elegant buildings; all the suburbs being on both sides banked up and supported with walls of marble. While in its splendor, this city was the largest and richest belonging to the Greeks; it was twenty-two miles in circuit, and perhaps equalled Carthage in its wealth. It was called Quadruplex, because it was divided into four parts; the first of which contained the famous temple of Jupiter; the second, the temple of Fortune; the third, a large amphitheatre, and a surprising statue of Apollo; and the fourth which was the island of Ortygia, the two temples of Diana and Minerva, and the celebrated fountain of Arethusa. It was not far from mount AEtna. About 210 years before the birth of Christ, this city was taken and sacked by Marcellus the Roman general, and in storming the place the famous Archimedes was slain by a common soldier, while he was intent upon his studies. It was afterwards rebuilt by Augustus, and had at this time so recovered itself as to answer its former splendour. It had at length three castles, three walls, and a marble gate, and was able to send out 12,000 heroes, and 400 ships; but it received such a blow from the Saracens in the year 884, when they rased it, that it has never since recovered its former splendour.


Verse 13

Acts 28:13. And from thence we fetched a compass, From thence we coasted round, and came over against Rhegium, a city and promontory in the southernmost part of Italy; from which, as the name of the place implies, it was supposed the island of Sicily was broken off; for Rhegium comes from the verb ρηγνυω, or ρηγνυμι, to break. It is now called Reggio, is an archbishop's see, and a considerable place for trade. Puteoli, now commonly called Pozzuoli, is a city in the Terra di Lavoro, a province in the kingdom of Naples, situated upon a hill, in a creek of the sea, and just opposite Baiae. Within this city are five-and-thirty natural warm baths, celebrated for the cure of several diseases; and from these baths, wells, or pits of water, called in Latin Putei, the name of the town is said to be derived. It is a bishop's see, and was till lately under the archbishop of Naples.


Verse 15

Acts 28:15. When the brethren, &c.— That is, the Christians residing at Rome,—came to meet him, sensible of the great character of St. Paul, and the important obligations which they were under to him for his excellent Epistle to them written a few years before this. It is very remarkable, that we have no certain information by whom Christianity was first preached at Rome: probably as some inhabitants of that celebrated city were present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, ch. Acts 2:10 they being converted themselves, might at their return carry the gospel thither, confirming it by miraculous works, and by the exercise of extraordinary gifts. Appii Forum was a town in the Appian way between Rome and Campania, at the distance of fifty-one miles from Rome. Tres Tabernae, or The Three Taverns, was another place, which stood on the Appian-way, about thirty miles from Rome. The rendering it Three Taverns, gives us the idea of inns or houses appointed for refreshment and accommodation. The proper meaning of the word tabernae is frontier towns, built to repress the inroads and insults of foreigners. That this was a city properly so called, and an episcopal see in the time of Constantine, is evident from Optatus, who mentions Felix a Tribus Tabernis, "of the Three Tabernae," as one of the nineteen bishops. The expression at the end of the verse, he thanked God and took courage, may perhaps intimate that his courage began in some small measure to be shaken. He knew there was a flourishing church at Rome, which had been some time planted, (Romans 1:8.) and to which, about three years before this journey, he had written a long epistle, in which he had expressed an affectionate desire to see them. Romans 1:11; Romans 15:32. In a near view of doingthis, he now rejoiced, esteeming it as the first-fruits of their friendship that they had come a day's journey to meet him, no doubt in a very kind and respectful manner. He might reasonably expect that they would contribute much to lighten his bonds, as without question they did, though so strange a panic seized them when he appeared before Caesar to make his apology. See 2 Timothy 4:16.


Verse 16

Acts 28:16. To the captain of the guard: It was customary for prisoners who were brought to Rome, to be delivered to this praefect, or captain of the praetorian band, who had the charge of the state prisoners, as appears from the instance of Agrippa, who was taken into custody by Macro the praetorian praefect, who succeeded Sejanus; and from Trajan's order to Pliny, when two were in commission. The person who nowheld this office, was the noted Burrhus Afranius; but before and after him it was held by two. The phrase Καθ' εαυτον, rendered by himself, may signify either apart or at his own pleasure; and Acts 28:30 seems to fix the meaning of it to his dwelling apart in his own house. By this means he was excused from all the affliction, which lying in the common prison, among the wretched creatures who would probably have been his companions there, must have given to a mind like his. The soldier was probably chained to him as the Roman custom was, concerning which see the note on ch. Acts 12:4. Who that had met the apostle in these bonds, would have guessed at his real character, and imagined him to have been one of the most upright, pious, benevolent, and generous of mankind? It has been observed, that this entry of St. Paul in chains into the chief city of the world, was more glorious and triumphant to the eye of faith than all the public entries of the Roman emperor


Verse 20

Acts 28:20. For the house of Israel "My sufferings arise from my regard to that glorious Messiah for whom Israel professes to wait, and to that eternal life which he has purchased, and secured for those that receive him under that character, and perseveringly love and obey him."


Verse 22

Acts 28:22. We know that every where it is spoken against. Justin Martyr has assigned one of the chief reasons why the Christians laboured so universally under the popular odium: "for the Jews (says he,) not only cursed them in their synagogues, and did all they could to raise the hatred and enmity of mankind against them; but they sent out chosen men from Jerusalem, to acquaint the world, and more especially the Jews every where, that the new sect which arose from JESUS of Galilee was an atheistical and wicked sect, to be avoided and detested by all mankind. The Jews spoke first againstJesus himself, and afterwards against his apostles; but it is not easy to fix the exact time when those chosen men were sent out by them." See Dial. cum Trypho, p. 170.


Verse 23

Acts 28:23. And testified the kingdom of God, Mr. Craddock observes, that St. Paul probably insisted on two topics; that the kingdom of God, which they had so long expected, was of a spiritual, and not of a temporal nature; and that Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name he preached, was the person foretold, as the promised Messiah, and Lord of that kingdom. The frequent mention which we have of the proof of these points out of the law of Moses, obviously leads us to conclude, that St. Paul expatiated on the typical nature of that law, whence would arise the strongest and clearest proofs of them to the Jews. The length of the present conference shews how zealous a desire St. Paul had for the conversion of his countrymen. It was undoubtedly a very curious and important discourse, and every believer must have wished to have been favoured with it, as well as with that of our Lord, of which we have only a general account, Luke 24:27. But as God, for wise reasons no doubt, has thought fit to deny us that pleasure, let us acquiesce in this, that we know enough to confirm our faith in the gospel, through his grace, if we discover a teachable temper; and if we do not, the narration of other discourses and facts would probably have occasioned new cavils for those who are determined not to believe. For there is hardly any argument in favour of truth, from which a prejudiced and captious wit cannot draw an objection, and frame a sophistry to maintain error. See on ch. Acts 20:21.


Verse 25

Acts 28:25. Well spake the Holy Ghost The apostle could not refer to them all, because some believed; but it is probable that most of them rejected the gospel. With respect to this passage from Isaiah, which he applies to them, we observe that it is quoted oftener than any other text of the Old Testament, that is, six times, in the New; yet in such a variety of expression, as plainly proves that the apostles did not confine themselves exactlyeither to the words of the original, or of the Greek version. See the marginal references, and the Inferences at the end of the preceding chapter.


Verse 30

Acts 28:30. And Paul dwelt two whole years, &c.— Before he was heard by Caesar, or his deputy, upon his appeal. As St. Luke concludes his history with St. Paul's abode at Rome, before his journey into Spain, we may infer, that he wrote both his gospel and the Acts while the apostle was living. Dr. Lardner proves from Ulpian, that the proconsul was to judge whether a person under accusation was to be thrown into prison, or delivered to a soldier to guard, or committed to sureties, or trusted on his parole of honour. It appears from this passage, that the persecution against the Christians at Rome was not then begun: the Romans had not yet made any laws against the disciples of the Lord Jesus; for what is here related, happened within the first ten years of the reign of Nero, before his cruelty against the Christians broke out; and it is most likely that St. Paul's friends in Nero's family (Philippians 4:22.) used their interest with the emperor, to procure him the liberty which he now enjoyed.


Verse 31

Acts 28:31. Preaching the kingdom of God, In consequence of St. Paul's sermons and instructions, many converts were doubtless made under divine grace; and this confinement, which seemed to have so discouraging an aspect, was on the whole a means of promoting the gospel. Many of his retired hours were also employed in corresponding with the Christian churches, and writing several of those excellent epistles, which have proved so great a blessing to the most distant ages. The Epistle to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, andPhilippians, as well as that to Philemon, were written from Rome during this imprisonment; and that to the Hebrews, as there is reason to believe, in or quickly after it; but as for the second to Timothy, it appears to be of a later date. It seems highly probable, that about the end of the two years here spoken of, St. Paul was set at liberty. Some have questioned, whether he ever returned into the east again; which yet from Philemon, Philemon 1:22 and Hebrews 13:23 he seems to have expected. Clemens Romanus (Epist. 1: ad Cor. cap. 5:) expressly tells us, that he preached in the west, and that to its utmost bounds; which must at least include Spain, whither he intended to go. Romans 15:24-25. Theodoret adds, that he went to the islands of the sea; and elsewhere he numbers Gaul, that is, France, and Britain, among the disciples of the tent-maker. But in what order he visited these places, (if hedid at all visit the last-mentioned place,) or how long he remained in any of them, cannot be determined. We are told, however, that about the year of Christ 65, or 67, he returned to Rome. Chrysostom tells us, that he here converted one of Nero's concubines, which so incensed that cruel prince, that he put him to death; probably after an imprisonment, in which the second Epistle to Timothy was written. It seems to have been universally agreed among all ancient writers who mention his death, that he was beheaded at Aquae Salviae, three miles from Rome; for being free of that city, he could not be crucified. It is said, (and there can be no doubt of it,) that this glorious confessor gave his head to the fatal stroke with the utmost cheerfulness; and that he was buried in the Via Ostensis, two miles from Rome, where Constantine the Great erected a church to his memory, in the year 318, which was successively repaired and beautified by Theodosius the Great, and the empress Placidia. But his most glorious monument remains in those his immortal writings, which, with the assistance of God's grace, we now proceed to consider.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 28:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/acts-28.html. 1801-1803.

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