Adam Clarke Commentary
St. Paul, and the rest of the crew, getting safely ashore, find that the island on which they were shipwrecked is called Melita, Acts 28:1. They are received with great hospitality by the inhabitants, Acts 28:2. A viper comes out of the bundle of sticks, laid on the fire, and seizes on Paul's hand, Acts 28:3. The people, seeing this, suppose him to be a murderer, and thus pursued by Divine vengeance, Acts 28:4. Having shook it off his hand, without receiving any damage, they change their minds, and suppose him to be a god, Acts 28:5, Acts 28:6. Publius, the governor of the island, receives them courteously, and Paul miraculously heals his father, who was ill of a fever, etc., Acts 28:7, Acts 28:8. He heals several others also, who honor them much, and give them presents, Acts 28:9, Acts 28:10. After three months' stay, they embark in a ship of Alexandria, land at Syracuse, stay there three days, sail thence, pass the straits of Rhegium, and land at Puteoli; find some Christians there, tarry seven days, and set forward for Rome, Acts 28:11-14. They are met at Appii Forum by some Christians, and Paul is greatly encouraged, Acts 28:15. They come to Rome, and Julius delivers his prisoners to the captain of the guard, who permits Paul to dwell by himself only attended by the soldier that kept him, Acts 28:16. Paul calls the chief Jews together, and states his case to them, Acts 28:17-20. They desire to hear him concerning the faith of Christ, Acts 28:21, Acts 28:22; and, having appointed unto him a day, he expounds to them the kingdom of Christ, Acts 28:23. Some believe, and some disbelieve; and Paul informs them that, because of their unbelief and disobedience, the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, Acts 28:24-29. Paul dwells two years in his own hired house, preaching the kingdom of God, Acts 28:30, Acts 28:31.
They knew that the island was called Melita - There were two islands of this name: one in the Adriatic Gulf, or Gulf of Venice, on the coast of Illyricum, and near to Epidaurus; the other in the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and Africa, and now called Malta. It is about fifty miles from the coast of Sicily; twenty miles long, and twelve miles in its greatest breadth; and about sixty miles in circumference. It is one immense rock of white, soft freestone, with about one foot depth of earth on an average, and most of this has been brought from Sicily! It produces cotton, excellent fruits, and fine honey; from which it appears the island originally had its name; for μελι, meli, and in the genitive case, μελιτος, melitos, signifies honey. Others suppose that it derived its name from the Phoenicians, who established a colony in it, and made it a place of refuge, when they extended their traffic to the ocean, because it was furnished with excellent harbours: (on the E. and W. shores): hence, in their tongue, it would be called מליטה Meliteh, escape or refuge, from מלט malat, to escape.
The Phaeacians were probably the first inhabitants of this island: they were expelled by the Phoenicians; the Phoenicians by the Greeks; the Greeks by the Carthaginians; the Carthaginians by the Romans, who possessed it in the time of the apostle; the Romans by the Goths; the Goths by the Saracens; the Saracens by the Sicilians, under Roger, earl of Sicily, in 1190. Charles V., emperor of Germany, took possession of it by his conquest of Naples and Sicily; and he gave it in 1525 to the knights of Rhodes, who are also called the knights of St. John of Jerusalem. In 1798, this island surrendered to the French, under Bonaparte, and in 1800, after a blockade of two years, the island being reduced by famine, surrendered to the British, under whose dominion it still remains (1814.) Every thing considered, there can be little doubt that this is the Melita at which St. Paul was wrecked, and not at that other island in the Adriatic, or Venitian Gulf, as high up northward as Illyricum. The following reasons make this greatly evident:
Chadar Beth olam kabar Chanibaal
Nakeh becaleth haveh, rach -
m daeh Amos beshuth Chanib -
aal ben Bar -melec .
"The inner chamber of the sanctuary of the sepulchre of Hannibal,
Illustrious in the consummation of calamity.
He was beloved;
The people lament, when arrayed
In order of battle,
Hannibal the son of Bar-Melec."
As this is a curious piece, and one of the largest remains of the Punic language now in existence, and as it helps to ascertain the ancient inhabitants of this island, I thought it not improper to insert it here. For the illustration of this and several other points of Punic antiquity, I must refer the curious reader to the essay itself.
The barbarous people - We have already seen that this island was peopled by the Phoenicians, or Carthaginians, as Bochart has proved, Phaleg. chap. xxvi.; and their ancient language was no doubt in use among them at that time, though mingled with some Greek and Latin terms; and this language must have been unintelligible to the Romans and the Greeks. With these, as well as with other nations, it was customary to call those βαρβαροι, barbarians, whose language they did not understand. St. Paul himself speaks after this manner in 1 Corinthians 14:11; : If I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a Barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a Barbarian unto me. Thus Herodotus also, lib. ii. 158, says, βαρβαρους παντας Αιγυπτιοι καλεουσι τους μη σφι ὁμογλωσσους· The Egyptians call all those Barbarians who have not the same language with themselves. And Ovid, when among the Getes, says, in Trist. ver. 10: -
Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non Intelligor ulli.
"Here I am a barbarian, for no person understands me."
Various etymologies have been given of this word. I think that of Bp. Pearce the best. The Greeks who traded with the Phoenicians, formed this word from their observing that the Phoenicians were generally called by the name of their parent, with the word בר bar, prefixed to that name; as we find in the New Testament men called Bar-Jesus, Bar-Tholomeus, Bar-Jonas, Bar-Timeus, etc. Hence the Greeks called them βαρ-βαροι, meaning the men who are called Bar Bar, or have no other names than what begin with Bar. And because the Greeks did not understand the language of the Phoenicians, their first, and the Romans in imitation of them, gave the name of Barbarians to all such as talked in a language to which they were strangers." No other etymology need be attempted; this is its own proof; and the Bar-melec in the preceding epitaph is, at least, collateral evidence. The word barbarian is therefore no term of reproach in itself; and was not so used by ancient authors, however fashionable it may be to use it so now.
Because of the present rain and - of the cold - This must have been sometime in October; and, when we consider the time of the year, the tempestuousness of the weather, and their escaping to shore on planks, spars, etc., wet of course to the skin, they must have been very cold, and have needed all the kindness that these well disposed people showed them. In some parts of Christianized Europe, the inhabitants would have attended on the beach, and knocked the survivors on the head, that they might convert the wreck to their own use! This barbarous people did not act in this way: they joined hands with God to make these sufferers live.
There came a viper out of the heat - We may naturally suppose that there had been fuel laid before on the fire, and that the viper was in this fuel, and that it had been revived by the heat; and, when St. Paul laid his bundle on the fire, the viper was then in a state to lay hold on his hand.
The venomous beast - Το θηριον, The venomous animal; for θηρια is a general name among the Greek writers for serpents, vipers, scorpions, wasps, and such like creatures. Though the viper fastened on Paul's hand, it does not appear that it really bit him; but the Maltese supposed that it had, because they saw it fasten on his hand.
Vengeance suffereth not to live - These heathens had a general knowledge of retributive justice; and they thought that the stinging of the serpent was a proof that Paul was a murderer. There is a passage in Bamidbar Rabba, fol. 239, that casts some light on this place. "Although the Sanhedrin is ceased, yet are not the four deaths ceased. For he that deserves stoning either falls from his house, or a wild beast tears and devours him. He that deserves burning either falls into the fire, or a serpent bites him. He that deserves cutting of with the sword is either betrayed into the power of a heathen kingdom, or the robbers break in upon him. He that deserves strangling is either suffocated in the water, or dies of a quinsy." See Lightfoot.
As these people were heathens, it is not likely that they had any correct notion of the justice of the true God; and therefore it is most probable that they used the word δικη, not to express the quality or attribute of any being, but the goddess Dikê, or vindictive Justice, herself, who is represented as punishing the iniquities of men.
Hesiod makes a goddess of what the Maltese called Δικη, or Justice: -
Η δε τε παρθενος εϚι ΔΙΚΗ, Διος εκγεγαυια,π
Κυδνη τ 'αιδοιη τε θεοις, οἱ Ολυμπον εχουσιν·π
Και ρ 'ὁποτ 'αν τις μιν βλαπτῃ σκολιως ονοταζων .
Αυτικα παρ Διΐ πατρι καθεζομενη ΚρονιωνιΓηρυετ 'ανθρωπων αδικον νοον·
Hesiod. Opera, ver. 254.
Justice, unspotted maid, derived from Jove,
Renown'd and reverenced by the gods above:
When mortals violate her sacred laws,
When judges hear the bribe and not the cause,
Close by her parent god, behold her stand,
And urge the punishment their sins demand.
Shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm - This is a presumptive evidence that the viper did not bite St. Paul: it fastened on his hand, but had no power to injure him.
When he should have swollen - Πιμπρασθαι, When he should have been inflamed: by means of an acrid poison introduced into the blood, it is soon coagulated; and, in consequence, the extremities of the vessels become obstructed, strong inflammation takes place, and all the parts become most painfully swollen. Lucan, ix. v. 791, gives a terrible account of this effect of the bite of a serpent: -
- illi rubor igneus ora
Succendit, tenditque cutem, pereunte figura
Miscens cuncta tumor jam toto corpore major:
Humanumque egressa modum super omnia membra
Efflatur sanies late tollente veneno.
Ipse latet penitus, congesto corpore mersus;
Nec lorica tenet distenti corporis auctum.
And straight a sudden flame began to spread,
And paint his visage with a glowing red.
With swift expansion swells the bloated skin,
Nought but an undistinguished mass is seen;
While the fair human form lies lost within,
The puffy poison spreads and heaves around,
Till all the man is in the monster drown'd.
See other ensamples, in the notes on Numbers 21:6; (note).
Said that he was a god - As Hercules was one of the gods of the Phoenicians, and was worshipped in Malta under the epithet of Αλεξικακος, the dispeller of evil, they probably thought that Paul was Hercules; and the more so, because Hercules was famous for having destroyed, in his youth, two serpents that attacked him in his cradle.
The chief man of the island - The term πρωτος, Chief, used hereby St. Luke, was the ancient title of the governor of this island, as is evident from an inscription found in Malta, which runs thus: -
Λ. Κ. υἱος, κυρ. ἱππευς. ῥωμ. πρωτος Μελιταιων·
Lucius Caius, son of Quirinus, a Roman knight, Chief of the Melitese. See Bochart, Phaleg. and Chan. vol. i. chap. 498, etc., and Grotius. This title is another proof of the accuracy of St. Luke, who uses the very epithet by which the Roman governor of that island was distinguished.
The father of Publius lay sick - Πυρετοις και δυσεντεριᾳ ; Of a fever and dysentery; perhaps a cholera morbus.
Paul - prayed - That God would exert his power; and laid his hands on him, as the means which God ordinarily used to convey the energy of the Holy Spirit, and healed him; God having conveyed the healing power by this means. In such a disorder as that mentioned here by St. Luke, where the bowels were in a state of inflammation, and a general fever aiding the dysentery in its work of death, nothing less than a miracle could have made an instantaneous cure in the patient. Such a cure was wrought, and even the heathens saw that it was the hand of God.
Others - which had diseases - Luke was a physician; yet we do not find him engaging in these cures. As a medical man, he might have been of use to the father of Publius; but he is not even consulted on the occasion. Paul enters in to him, prays for him, lays his hands on him, and he is healed. The other diseased persons who are mentioned in this verse were doubtless healed in the same way.
Honoured us with many honors - The word τιμη, as Bishop Pearce has remarked, is often used to signify a pecuniary recompense, or present. The Greek word seems to be thus used in 1 Timothy 5:17. Let the elders which rule well be accounted worthy of double Honor, τιμης, which St. Chrysostom, on the place, explains thus: την των αναγκαιων χορηγιαν· a supplying them with all necessary things. Diodorus Siculus, and Xenophon, used the word in the same way. In the sense of a pecuniary recompense, or price, paid for any thing, the word τιμη is met with in 1 Corinthians 6:20; and 1 Corinthians 7:23. And in the Septuagint, Numbers 22:17; compared with Numbers 22:18; Psalm 8:5; and Psalm 49:12; Proverbs 3:9. Bp. Pearce.
Such things as were necessary - They had before given them many presents, and now they gave them a good sea stock; all that was necessary for their passage.
After three months - Supposing that they had reached Malta about the end of October, as we have already seen, then it appears that they left it about the end of January, or the beginning of February; and, though in the depth of winter, not the worst time for sailing, even in those seas, the wind being then generally more steady; and, on the whole, the passage more safe.
Whose sign was Castor and Pollux - These were two fabulous semi-deities, reported to be the sons of Jupiter and Leda, who were afterwards translated to the heavens, and made the constellation called Gemini, or the Twins. This constellation was deemed propitious to mariners; and, as it was customary to have the images of their gods both on the head and stern of their ships, we may suppose that this Alexandrian ship had these on either her prow or stern, and that these gave name to the ship. We, who profess to be a Christian people, follow the same heathen custom: we have our ships called the Castor, the Jupiter, the Minerva, the Leda, (the mother of Castor and Pollux), with a multitude of other demon gods and goddesses; so that, were ancient Romans or Grecians to visit our navy, they would be led to suppose that, after the lapse of more than 2000 years, their old religion had continued unaltered!
Virgil speaks of a vessel called the Tiger. Aeneid, x. ver. 166: -
Massicus aerata princeps secat aequora Tigri.
"Massicus, chief, cuts the waves in the brazen-beaked Tiger."
Of another called the Chimera. Aen. v. ver. 118, 223: -
Ingentemque Gyas ingenti mole Chimaeram.
"Gyas the vast Chimera's bulk commands."
And of another called the Centaur. Aen. v. ver. 122, 155, 157: -
- Centauro invehitur magna.
"Sergestus, in the great Centaur, took the leading place."
Besides these names, they had their tutelary gods in the ship, from whom they expected succor; and sometimes they had their images on the stern; and when they got safely to the end of their voyage, they were accustomed to crown these images with garlands: thus Virgil, Geor. i. ver. 304: -
Puppibus et laeti naute imposuere Coronas.
"The joyous sailors place garlands on their sterns."
Several ancient fables appear to have arisen out of the names of ships. Jupiter is fabled to have carried off Europa, across the sea, in the shape of a bull; and to have carried away Ganymede, in the shape of an eagle. That is, these persons were carried away, one in a ship called Taurus, or Bull; and the other in one denominated Aquila, the Eagle. Why not Taurus, as well as Tigris? and why not Aquila, as well as Chimera? - which names did belong to ships, as we find from the above quotations.
Landing at Syracuse - In order to go to Rome from Malta, their readiest course was to keep pretty close to the eastern coast of Sicily, in order to pass through the straits of Rhegium and get into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Syracuse is one of the most famous cities of antiquity: it is the capital of the island of Sicily, and was built about 730 years before the Christian era. It lies 72 miles S. by E. of Messina, and about 112 of Palermo. Long. 15°. 30'. W., lat. 37°. 17'. N. In its ancient state, it was about 22 English miles in circumference; and was highly celebrated for the martial spirit of its inhabitants. This was the birthplace of the illustrious Archimedes; who, when the city was besieged by the Romans, under Marcellus, about 212 years before Christ, defended the place with his powerful engines against all the valor and power of the assailants. He beat their galleys to pieces by huge stones projected from his machines; and by hooks, chains, and levers, from the walls, weighed the ships out of the water, and, whirling them round, dashed them in pieces against each other, or sunk them to the bottom: several also, he is said to have destroyed by his burning glasses. When the city was taken by treachery, Archimedes was found intensely engaged in the demonstration of a problem. A Roman soldier coming up, and presenting his dagger to his throat, he cried, "Stop, soldier, or thou wilt spoil my diagram!" The brute was unmoved, and murdered him on the spot.
This city was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1693: its present population amounts to but about 18,000. Christianity, in some form or other, has existed here ever since St. Paul spent the three days in it, mentioned in the text.
We fetched a compass - Ὁθεν περιελθοντες, Whence we coasted about. This will appear evident, when the coast of Sicily is viewed on any correct map, of a tolerably large scale.
Rhegium - A city and promontory in Calabria, in Italy, opposite to Sicily. It is now called Reggio. It had its name, Ῥηγιον, Rhegium, from the Greek Ῥηγνυμι, to break off; because it appears to have been broken off from Sicily.
The south wind blew - This was the fairest wind they could have from Syracuse, to reach the straits of Rhegium.
The next day to Puteoli - This place, now commonly called Pozzuoli, is an ancient town of Naples in the Terra di Lavoro; and is supposed to have been founded by the Samians, about 470 years before Christ. Within this city are several warm baths, very highly celebrated; and from these, and its springs in general, it seems to have had its ancient name Puteoli, from Putei, wells or pits; though some derive it from putor, a stench, or bad smell, because of the sulphureous exhalations from its warm waters. Varro gives both these etymologies, lib. iv. de Ling. Lat. cap. 5. It is famous for its temple of Jupiter Serapis, which is built, not according to the Grecian or Roman manner, but according to the Asiatic. Near this place are the remains of Cicero's villa, which are of great extent. The town contains, at present, about 10,000 inhabitants. Long. 14°. 40'. E., lat. 41°. 50'. N.
Where we found brethren - That is, Christians; for there had been many in Italy converted to the faith of Christ, some considerable time before this, as appears from St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, written some years before this voyage.
We went toward Rome - One of the most celebrated cities in the universe, the capital of Italy, and once of the whole world; situated on the river Tiber, 410 miles SSE. of Vienna; 600 SE. of Paris; 730 E. by N. of Madrid; 760 W. of Constantinople; and 780 SE. of London. Long. 12°. 55'. E., lat. 41°. 54'. N. This famous city was founded by Romulus, at the end of the seventh Olympiad, a.m. 3251; of the flood, 1595; and 753 years before the Christian era. The history of this city must be sought for in works written expressly on the subject, of which there are many. Modern Rome is greatly inferior to ancient Rome in every respect. Its population, taken in 1709, amounted to 138,569 souls only; among whom were 40 bishops, 2686 priests, 3359 monks, 1814 nuns, 893 courtezans, between 8 and 9000 Jews, and 14 Moors. This city, which once tyrannized over the world by its arms, and over the whole Christian world by its popes, is now reduced to a very low state among the governments of Europe, by whom it is supported, for it has no power sufficient for its own defense.
When the brethren heard of us - By whom the Gospel was planted at Rome is not known: it does not appear that any apostle was employed in this work. It was probably carried thither by some of those who were converted to God at the day of pentecost; for there were then at Jerusalem, not only devout men, proselytes to the Jewish religion, from every nation under heaven, Acts 2:5, but there were strangers of Rome also, Acts 2:10. And it in most reasonable to believe, as we know of no other origin, that it was by these Christianity was planted at Rome.
As far as Appii Forum - About 52 miles from Rome; a long way to come on purpose to meet the apostle! The Appii Forum, or Market of Appius, was a town on the Appian way, a road paved from Rome to Campania, by the consul Appius Claudius. It was near the sea, and was a famous resort for sailors, peddlers, etc. Horace, lib. i. Satyr. 5, ver. 3, mentions this place on his journey from Rome to Brundusium: -
- Inde Forum Appi
Differtum nautis, cauponibus atgue malignis.
"To Forum Appii thence we steer, a place
Stuff'd with rank boatmen, and with vintners base."
This town is now called Caesarilla de S. Maria.
And the Three Taverns - This was another place on the same road, and about 33 miles from Rome. Some of the Roman Christians had come as far as Appii Forum: others, to the Three Taverns. Bp. Pearce remarks, there are some ruins in that place which are now called Tre Taverne; and this place Cicero mentions in his epistles to Atticus, lib. ii. 11. Ab Appi Foro hora quarta: dederam aliam paulo ante in Tribus Tabernis. "Dated at ten in the morning, from Appii Forum. I sent off another (epistle) a little before, from the Three Taverns."
Zosimus, lib. 2, mentions τρια καπηλεια, the three taverns, or victualling houses, where the Emperor Severus was strangled by the treason of Maximinus Herculeus, and his son Maxentius. See Lightfoot.
The word taberna, from trabs, a beam, signifies any building formed of timber; such as those we call booths, sheds, etc., which are formed of beams, planks, boards, and the like; and therefore me may consider it as implying, either a temporary residence, or some mean building, such as a cottage, etc. And in this sense Horace evidently uses it, Carm. lib. i. Od. iv. ver. 13: -
Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
"With equal pace, impartial Fate
Knocks at the palace as the cottage gate."
This place, at first, was probably a place for booths or sheds, three of which were remarkable; other houses became associated with them in process of time, and the whole place denominated Tres Tabernae, from the three first remarkable booths set up there. It appears to have been a large town in the fourth century, as Optatus mentions Felix a Tribus Tabernis, Felix of the Three Taverns, as one of the Christian bishops.
Thanked God, and took courage - He had longed to see Rome; (see Romans 1:9-15;); and, finding himself brought through so many calamities, and now so near the place that he was met by a part of that Church to which, some years before, he had written an epistle, he gave thanks to God, who had preserved him, and took fresh courage, in the prospect of bearing there a testimony for his Lord and Master.
The captain of the guard - Στρατοπεδαρχῃ . This word properly means the commander of a camp; but it signifies the prefect, or commander of the pretorian cohorts, or emperor's guards.
Tacitus (Annal. lib. iv. cap. 2) informs us that, in the reign of Tiberius, Sejanus, who was then prefect of these troops, did, in order to accomplish his ambitious designs, cause them to be assembled from their quarters in the city, and stationed in a fortified camp near it; so that their commander is with peculiar propriety styled by St. Luke στρατοπεδαρχης, the commander of the camp. For the arrival of St. Paul at Rome was in the seventh year of Nero; and it is certain, from Suetonius, (in Tiber. cap. 37), that the custom of keeping the pretorian soldiers in a camp, near the city, was retained by the emperors succeeding Tiberius; for the historian observes that Claudius, at his accession to the empire, was received into the camp, in castra delatus est, namely, of the pretorian cohorts; and so Tacitus says of Nero, An. lib. xii. cap. 69, that on the same occasions illatus castris, he was brought into the camp. Dr. Doddridge observes that it was customary for prisoners who were brought to Rome to be delivered to this officer, who had the charge of the state prisoners, as appears from the instance of Agrippa, who was taken into custody by Macro, the pretorian prefect, who succeeded Sejanus; (Joseph. Ant. lib. xviii. cap. 7. sec. 6); and from Trajan's order to Pliny, when two were in commission, Plin. lib. x. ep. 65. Vinctus mitti ad praefectos praetorii mei debet: he should be sent bound to the prefects of my guards. The person who now had that office was the noted Afranius Burrhus; but both before and after him it was held by two: Tacit. An. lib. xii. sec. 42; lib. xiv. sec. 51. See Parkhurst.
Burrhus was a principal instrument in raising Nero to the throne; and had considerable influence in repressing many of the vicious inclinations of that bad prince. With many others, he was put to death by the inhuman Nero. Burrhus is praised by the historians for moderation and love of justice. His treatment of St. Paul is no mean proof of this. Calmet.
With a soldier that kept him - That is, the soldier to whom he was chained, as has been related before, Acts 12:6.
Paul called the chief of the Jews together - We have already seen, in Acts 18:2, that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome; see the note there: but it seems they were permitted to return very soon; and, from this verse, it appears that there were then chiefs, probably of synagogues, dwelling at Rome.
I have committed nothing - Lest they should have heard and received malicious reports against him, he thought it best to state his own case.
For the hope of Israel I am bound, etc. - As if he had said: This, and this alone, is the cause of my being delivered into the hands of the Romans; I have proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah; have maintained that though he was crucified by the Jews, yet he rose again from the dead; and, through him, I have preached the general resurrection of mankind: this all Israel professes to hope for; and yet it is on this account that the Jews persecute me. Both the Messiah and the resurrection might be said to be the hope of Israel; and it is hard to tell which of them is here meant: see Acts 13:6; Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21; Acts 26:6. It is certain that, although the Jews believed in the general resurrection, yet they did not credit it in the manner in which Paul preached it; for he laid the foundation of the general resurrection on the resurrection of Christ.
We neither received letters, etc. - This is very strange, and shows us that the Jews knew their cause to be hopeless, and therefore did not send it forward to Rome. They wished for an opportunity to kill Paul: and, when they were frustrated by his appeal to the emperor, they permitted the business to drop. Calmet supposes they had not time to send; but this supposition does not appear to be sufficiently solid: they might have sent long before Paul sailed; and they might have written officially by the vessel in which the centurion and the prisoners were embarked. But their case was hopeless; and they could not augur any good to themselves from making a formal complaint against the apostle at the emperor's throne.
For as concerning this sect - See the note on Acts 24:14. A saying of Justin Martyr casts some light on this saying of the Jews: he asserts that the Jews not only cursed them in their synagogues, but they sent out chosen men from Jerusalem, to acquaint the world, and particularly the Jews everywhere, that the Christians were an atheistical and wicked sect, which should be detested and abhorred by all mankind. Justin Martyr, Dial. p. 234.
To whom he expounded - the kingdom of God - To whom he showed that the reign of the Messiah was to be a spiritual reign; and that Jesus, whom the Jewish rulers had lately crucified, was the true Messiah, who should rule in this spiritual kingdom. These two points were probably those on which he expatiated from morning to evening, proving both out of the law and out of the prophets. How easily Jesus, as the Messiah, and his spiritual kingdom, might be proved from the law of Moses, any person may be satisfied, by consulting the notes written on those books. As to the prophets, their predictions are so clear, and their prophecies so obviously fulfilled in the person, preaching, miracles, passion, and death of Jesus Christ, that it is utterly impossible, with any show of reason, to apply them to any other.
Some believed, etc. - His message was there treated as his Gospel is to the present day: some believe, and are converted; others continue in obstinate unbelief, and perish. Could the Jews then have credited the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom, they would have found little difficulty to receive Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
Multitudes of those now called Christians can more easily credit Jesus as the Messiah than believe the spiritual nature of his kingdom. The cross is the great stumbling block: millions expect Jesus and his kingdom who cannot be persuaded that the cross is the way to the crown.
Agreed not among themselves - It seems that a controversy arose between the Jews themselves, in consequence of some believing, and others disbelieving; and the two parties contested together; and, in respect to the unbelieving party, the apostle quoted the following passage from Isaiah 6:9.
The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles - St. Paul had spoken to this effect twice before, Acts 13:46, and Acts 18:6, where see the notes; but here he uses a firmer tone, being out of the Jewish territories, and under the protection of the emperor. By the salvation of God, all the blessings of the kingdom of Christ are intended. This salvation God could have sent unto the Gentiles, independently of the Jewish disobedience; but He waited till they had rejected it, and then reprobated them, and elected the Gentiles. Thus the elect became reprobate, and the reprobate elect.
They will hear it - That is, they will obey it; for ακουειν signifies, not only to hear, but also to obey.
And had great reasoning among themselves - The believers contending with the unbelievers; and thus we may suppose that the cause of truth gained ground. For contentions about the truth and authenticity of the religion of Christ infallibly end in the triumph and extension of that religion.
Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house - As a state prisoner, he might have had an apartment in the common prison; but peculiar favor was showed him, and he was permitted to dwell alone, with the soldier that guarded him, Acts 28:16. Finding now an opportunity of preaching the Gospel, he hired a house for the purpose, and paid for it, St. Chrysostom observes, by the fruits of his own labor. Here he received all that came unto him, and preached the Gospel with glorious success; so that his bonds became the means of spreading the truth, and he became celebrated even in the palace of Nero, Philemon 1:12, Philemon 1:13; and we find that there were several saints, even in Caesar's household, Philemon 4:22, which were, no doubt, the fruits of the apostle's ministry. It is said that during his two years' residence here he became acquainted with Seneca, the philosopher, between whom and the apostle an epistolary correspondence took place. In an ancient MS. of Seneca's epistles in my own possession, these letters are extant, and are in number fourteen and have a prologue to them written by St. Jerome. That they are very ancient cannot be doubted; but learned men have long ago agreed that they are neither worthy of Paul nor of Seneca.
While he was in captivity, the Church at Philippi, to which he was exceedingly dear, sent him some pecuniary assistance by the hands of their minister, Epaphroditus, who, it appears, risked his life in the service of the apostle, and was taken with a dangerous malady. When he got well, he returned to Philippi, and, it is supposed, carried with him that epistle which is still extant; and from it we learn that Timothy was then at Rome with Paul, and that he had the prospect of being shortly delivered from his captivity. See Philemon 1:12, Philemon 1:13; Philemon 2:25; Philemon 4:15, Philemon 4:16, Philemon 4:18, etc.
Preaching the kingdom of God - Showing the spiritual nature of the true Church, under the reign of the Messiah. For an explanation of this phrase, see the note on Matthew 3:2.
Those things which concern the Lord - The Redeemer of the world was to be represented as the Lord; as Jesus; and as the Christ. As the Lord, ὁ Κυριος, the sole potentate, upholding all things by the word of his power; governing the world and the Church; having all things under his control, and all his enemies under his feet; in short, the maker and upholder of all things, and the judge of all men. As Jesus - the Savior; he who saves, delivers, and preserves; and especially he who saves his people from their sins. For the explanation of the word Jesus, see the note on John 1:17. As Christ - the same as Messiah; both signifying the Anointed: he who was appointed by the Lord to this great and glorious work; who had the Spirit without measure, and who anoints, communicates the gifts and graces of that Spirit to all true believers. St. Paul taught the things which concerned or belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ. He proved him to be the Messiah foretold by the prophets, and expected by the Jews; he spoke of what he does as the Lord, what he does as Jesus, and what he does as Christ. These contain the sum and substance of all that is called the Gospel of Christ. Yet, the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, necessarily include the whole account of his incarnation, preaching in Judea, miracles, persecutions, passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and his sending down the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. These were the subjects on which the apostle preached for two whole years, during his imprisonment at Rome.
With all confidence - Παρῥησιας, Liberty of speech; perfect freedom to say all he pleased, and when he pleased. He had the fullest toleration from the Roman government to preach as he pleased, and what he pleased; and the unbelieving Jews had no power to prevent him.
It is supposed that it was during this residence at Rome that he converted Onesimus, and sent him back to his master Philemon, with the epistle which is still extant. And it is from Philemon 1:23, Philemon 1:24, of that epistle, that we learn that Paul had then with him Epaphras, Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.
Here St. Luke's account of Paul's travels and sufferings ends; and it is probable that this history was written soon after the end of the two years mentioned in Acts 28:30.
That the apostle visited many places after this, suffered much in the great cause of Christianity, and preached the Gospel of Jesus with amazing success, is generally believed. How he came to be liberated we are not told; but it is likely that, having been kept in this sort of confinement for about two years, and none appearing against him, he was released by the imperial order.
Concerning the time, place, and manner of his death, we have little certainty. It is commonly believed that, when a general persecution was raised against the Christians by Nero, about a.d. 64, under pretense that they had set Rome on fire, both St. Paul and St. Peter then sealed the truth with their blood; the latter being crucified with his head downward; the former being beheaded, either in a.d. 64 or 65, and buried in the Via Ostiensis. Eusebius, Hist, Eccles. lib. ii. cap. 25, intimates that the tombs of these two apostles, with their inscriptions, were extant in his time; and quotes as his authority a holy man of the name of Caius, who wrote against the sect of the Cataphrygians, who has asserted this, as from his personal knowledge. See Eusebius, by Reading, vol. i. p. 83; and see Dr. Lardner, in his life of this apostle, who examines this account with his usual perspicuity and candour. Other writers have been more particular concerning his death: they say that it was not by the command of Nero that he was martyred, but by that of the prefects of the city, Nero being then absent; that he was beheaded at Aquae Salviae, about three miles from Rome, on Feb. 22; that he could not be crucified, as Peter was, because he was a freeman of the city of Rome. But there is great uncertainty on these subjects, so that we cannot positively rely on any account that even the ancients have transmitted to us concerning the death of this apostle; and much less on the accounts given by the moderns; and least of all on those which are to be found in the Martyrologists. Whether Paul ever returned after this to Rome has not yet been satisfactorily proved. It is probable that he did, and suffered death there, as stated above; but still we have no certainty.
There are several subscriptions to this book in different manuscripts: these are the principal: - The Acts of the Apostles - The Acts of the holy Apostles - The end of the Acts of the holy Apostles, written by Luke the Evangelist, and fellow traveler of the illustrious Apostle Paul - By the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, etc. etc.
The versions are not less various in their subscriptions.
The end of the Acts, that is, the History of the holy Apostles. - Syriac.
Under the auspices and help of God, the book of the Acts of the pure Apostles is finished; whom we humbly supplicate to obtain us mercy by all their prayers. Amen. And may praise be ascribed to God, the Lord of the universe! - Arabic.
This (book) of the Acts of the Apostles, which has been by many translated into the Roman tongue, is translated from the Roman and Greek tongue into the Ethiopic. - Aethiopic.
On the nature and importance of the Acts of the Apostles, see what is said in the preface to this book. To which may be added the following observations, taken from the conclusion of Dr. Dodd's Commentary.
"The plainness and simplicity of the narration are strong circumstances in its favor; the writer appears to have been very honest and impartial, and to have set down, very fairly, the objections which were made to Christianity, both by Jews and heathens, and the reflections which enemies cast upon it, and upon the first preachers of it. He has likewise, with a just and honest freedom, mentioned the weaknesses, faults, and prejudices, both of the apostles and their converts. There is a great and remarkable harmony between the occasional hints dispersed up and down in St. Paul's epistles, and the facts recorded in this history; insomuch as that it is generally acknowledged that the history of the Acts is the best clue to guide us in the studying of the epistles written by that apostle. The other parts of the New Testament do likewise agree with this history, and give great confirmation to it; for the doctrines and principles are every where uniformly the same; the conclusions of the gospels contain a brief account of those things which are more particularly related in the beginning of the Acts. And there are frequent intimations, in other parts of the gospels, that such an effusion of the Spirit was expected; and that with a view to the very design which the apostles and primitive Christians are said to have carried on, by virtue of that extraordinary effusion which Christ poured out upon his disciples after his ascension; and, finally, the epistles of the other apostles, as well as those of St. Paul, plainly suppose such things to have happened as are related in the Acts of the Apostles; so that the history of the Acts is one of the most important parts of the sacred history, for neither the gospels nor epistles could have been so clearly understood without it; but by the help of it the whole scheme of the Christian revelation is set before us in an easy and manifest view.
"Even the incidental things mentioned by St. Luke are so exactly agreeable to all the accounts which remain of the best ancient historians, among the Jews and heathens, that no person who had forged such a history, in later ages, could have had that external confirmation, but would have betrayed himself by alluding to some customs or opinions since sprung up; or by misrepresenting some circumstance, or using some phrase or expression not then in use. The plea of forgery, therefore, in later ages, cannot be allowed; and for a man to have published a history of such things so early as St. Luke wrote; (that is, while some of the apostles and many other persons were alive who were concerned in the transactions which he has recorded); if his account had not been punctually true, could have been only to have exposed himself to an easy confutation and certain infamy.
"As, therefore, the Acts of the Apostles are in themselves consistent and uniform, the incidental things agreeable to the best ancient historians which have come down to us, and the main facts supported and confirmed by the other books of the New Testament, and by the unanimous testimony of so many of the ancient fathers, we may, I think, very fairly, and with great justness, conclude that, if any history of former times deserves credit, the Acts of the Apostles ought to be received and credited; and, if the history of the Acts of the Apostles be true, Christianity cannot be false: for a doctrine so good in itself, and attended with so many miraculous and Divine testimonies, has an the possible masks of a true revelation."
On St. Paul's character and conduct, see the observations at the end of Acts 9:43; (note), where the subject is particularly considered.
The book of the Acts is not only a history of the Church, the most ancient and most impartial, as it is the most authentic extant, but it is also a history of God's grace and providence, The manner in which he has exerted himself in favor of Christianity, and of the persons who were originally employed to disseminate its doctrines, shows us the highest marks of the Divine approbation. Had not that cause been of God, could he have so signally interposed in its behalf? Would he have wrought such a series of miracles for its propagation and support? And would all its genuine professors have submitted to sustain the loss of all things, had not his own Spirit, by its consolations in their hearts, given them to feel that his favor was better than life?
That the hardships suffered by the primitive apostles and Christians were great, the facts themselves related in this book sufficiently declare: that their consolation and happiness were abundant, the cheerful manner in which they met and sustained those hardships demonstrates. He who cordially embraced Christianity found himself no loser by it; if he lost earthly good in consequence, it was infinitely overbalanced by the spiritual good which he received. Paul himself, who suffered most, had this compensated by superabounding happiness. Wherever the Gospel comes, it finds nothing but darkness, sin, and misery; wherever it is received, it communicates light, holiness, and felicity. Reader, magnify thy God and Savior, who hath called thee to such a state of salvation. Should thou neglect it, how grievous must thy punishment be! Not only receive its doctrines, as a system of wisdom and goodness, but receive them as motives of conduct, and as a rule of life; and show thy conscientious belief of them, by holding the truth in righteousness, and thus adorn these doctrines of God thy Savior in all things. - Amen.
I have often with pleasure, and with great advantage to my subject, quoted Dr. Lardner, whose elaborate works in defense of Divine revelation are really beyond all praise. The conclusion of his Credibility of the Gospel History is peculiarly appropriate; and the introduction of it here can need no apology. I hope, with him, I may also say: -
"I have now performed what I undertook, and have shown that the account given by the sacred writers of persons and things is confirmed by other ancient authors of the best note. There is nothing in the books of the New Testament unsuitable to the age in which they are supposed to have been written. There appears in these writers a knowledge of the affairs of those times, not to be found in authors of later ages. We are hereby assured that the books of the New Testament are genuine, and that they were written by persons who lived at or near the time of those events of which they have given the history.
"Any one may be sensible how hard it is for the most learned, acute, and cautious man, to write a book in the character of some person of an earlier age; and not betray his own time by some mistake about the affairs of the age in which he pretends to place himself; or by allusions to customs or principles since sprung up; or by some phrase or expression not then in use. It is no easy thing to escape all these dangers in the smallest performance, though it be a treatise of theory or speculation: these hazards are greatly increased when the work is of any length; and especially if it be historical, and be concerned with characters and customs. It is yet more difficult to carry on such a design in a work consisting of several pieces, written, to all appearance, by several persons. Many indeed are desirous to deceive, but all hate to be deceived; and therefore, though attempts have been made to impose upon the world in this way, they have never, or very rarely, succeeded; but have been detected and exposed by the skill and vigilance of those who have been concerned for the truth.
"The volume of the New Testament consists of several pieces: these are ascribed to eight several persons; and there are the strongest appearances that they were not all written by any one hand, but by as many persons as they are ascribed to. There are lesser differences in the relations of some facts, and such seeming contradictions as would never have happened if these books had been all the work of one person, or of several who wrote in concert. There are as many peculiarities of temper and style as there are names of writers; divers of which show no depth of genius nor compass of knowledge! Here are representations of titles, posts, behavior of persons of higher and lower ranks in many parts of the world; persons are introduced, and their characters are set in a full light; here is a history of things done in several cities and countries; and there are allusions to a vast variety of customs and tenets, of persons of several nations, sects, and religions. The whole is written without affectation, with the greatest simplicity and plainness, and is confirmed by other ancient writers of unquestionable authority. If it be difficult for a person of learning and experience to compose a small treatise concerning matters of speculation, with the characters of a more early age than that in which he writes, it is next to impossible that such a work of considerable length, consisting of several pieces, with a great variety of historical facts, representations of characters, principles, and customs of several nations, and distant countries, of persons of ranks and degrees, of many interests and parties, should be performed by eight several persons, the most of them unlearned, without any appearance of concert.
"I might perhaps call this argument a demonstration, if that term had not been often misapplied by men of warm imagination, and been bestowed upon reasonings that have but a small degree of probability. But though it should not be a strict demonstration that these writings are genuine, or though it be not absolutely impossible, in the nature of the thing, that the books of the New Testament should have been composed in a later age than that to which they are assigned, and of which they have innumerable characters, yet, I think, it is in the highest degree improbable, and altogether incredible.
"If the books of the New Testament were written by persons who lived before the destruction of Jerusalem, that is, if they were written at the time in which they are said to have been written, the things related in them are true. If they had not been matter of fact, they would not have been credited by any persons near that time, and in those parts of the world in which they are said to have been done, but would have been treated as the most notorious lies and falsehoods. Suppose three or four books should now appear amongst us, in the language most generally understood, giving an account of many remarkable and extraordinary events, which had happened in some kingdom of Europe, and in the most noted cities of the countries next adjoining to it; some of them said to have happened between sixty and seventy gears ago, others between twenty and thirty, others nearer our own time; would they not be looked upon as the most manifest and ridiculous forgeries and impostures that ever were contrived? Would great numbers of persons in those very places, change their religious principles and practices upon the credit of things reported to be publicly done, which no man ever heard of before? Or, rather, is it possible that such a design as this would be conceived by any sober and serious persons, or even the most wild and extravagant? If the history of the New Testament be credible, the Christian religion is true. If the things that were related to have been done by Jesus, and by his followers, by virtue of powers derived from him, do not prove a person to come from God, and that his doctrine is true and divine, nothing can. And as Jesus does here, in the circumstances of his birth, life, sufferings, and after exaltation, and in the success of his doctrine, answer the description of the great person promised and foretold in the Old Testament, he is at the same time showed to be the Messiah.
"From the agreement of the writers of the New Testament with other ancient writers, we are not only assured that these books are genuine, but also that they are come down to us pure and uncorrupted, without any considerable interpolations or alterations. If such had been made in them, there would have appeared some smaller differences at least between them and other ancient writings.
"There has been in all ages a wicked propensity in mankind to advance their own notions and fancies by deceits and forgeries: they have been practised by heathens, Jews, and Christians, in support of imaginary historical facts, religious schemes and practices, and political interests. With these views some whole books have been forged, and passages inserted into others of undoubted authority. Many of the Christian writers of the second and third centuries, and of the following ages, appear to have had false notions concerning the state of Judea between the nativity of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem; and concerning many other things occasionally mentioned in the New Testament. The consent of the best ancient writers with those of the New Testament is a proof that these books are still untouched, and that they have not been new modelled and altered by Christians of later times, in conformity to their own peculiar sentiments.
"This may be reckoned an argument that the generality of Christians had a very high veneration for these books; or else that the several sects among them have had an eye upon each other, that no alterations might be made in those writings to which they have all appealed. It is also an argument that the Divine providence has all along watched over and guarded these books, (a very fit object of especial care), which contain the best of principles, were apparently written with the best views, and have in them inimitable characters of truth and simplicity." - See Dr. Lardner's Works, vol. i. p. 419.
Let him answer these arguments who can. - A. C.
Sunday, December 4th, 2016
the Second Week of Advent
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