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.
1.Tradition has unvaryingly asserted this as the place of the apostle‘s shipwreck.
2.The island in the Venitian Gulf, in favor of which Mr. Bryant so learnedly contends, is totally out of the track in which the euroclydon must have driven the vessel.
4.In St. Paul‘s voyage to Italy from Melita, on board the Alexandrian ship that had wintered there, he and his companions landed at Syracuse, Acts 28:12, Acts 28:13, and from thence went to Rhegium. But if it had been the Illyrican Melita, the proper course of the ship would have been, first to Rhegium, before it reached Syracuse, and needed not to have gone to Syracuse at all; whereas, in a voyage from the present Malta to Italy, it was necessary to reach Syracuse, in Sicily, before the ship could arrive at Rhegium in Italy. See the map; and see Bp. Pearce, from whom I have extracted the two last arguments.
That Malta was possessed by the Phoenicians, before the Romans conquered it, Bochart has largely proved; and indeed the language to the present day, notwithstanding all the political vicissitudes through which the island has passed, bears sufficient evidence of its Punic origin. In the year 1761, near a place called Ben Ghisa, in this island, a sepulchral cave was discovered, in which was a square stone with an inscription in Punic or Phoenician characters, on which Sir Wm. Drummond has written a learned essay, (London, Valpy, 1810, 4to.), which he supposes marks the burial place, at least of the ashes, of the famous Carthaginian general, Hannibal. I shall give this inscription in Samaritan characters, as being the present form of the ancient Punic, with Sir Wm. Drummond‘s translation: -
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: -
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.
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: -
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: -
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!
Of another called the Chimera. Aen. v. ver. 118,223: -
And of another called the Centaur. Aen. v. ver. 122,155,157: -
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: -
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.
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. 1440‘. E., lat. 4150‘. 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. 1255‘. E., lat. 4154‘. 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 14Moors. 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: -
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Hearing ye shall hear, etc. - See the notes on Matthew 13:14, and John 12:39, John 12:40.
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.
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.
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