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Bible Commentaries
Acts 28

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

They knew - Either from their former acquaintance with the island, or from the information of the inhabitants.

Was called Melita - Now called “Malta.” It was celebrated formerly for producing large quantities of honey, and is supposed to have been called Melita from the Greek word signifying honey. It is about 20 miles in length from east to west, and 12 miles in width from north to south, and about 60 miles in circumference. It is about 60 miles from the coast of Sicily. The island is an immense rock of white soft freestone, with a covering of earth about one foot in depth, which has been brought from the island of Sicily. There was also another island formerly called “Melita,” now called “Meleda,” in the Adriatic Sea, near the coast of Illyricum, and some have supposed that Paul was shipwrecked on that island. But tradition has uniformly said that it was on the island now called “Malta.” Besides, the other “Melita” would have been far out of the usual track in going to Italy; and it is further evident that Malta was the place, because from the place of his shipwreck he went directly to Syracuse, Rhegium, and Puteoli, thus sailing in a direct course to Rome. In sailing from the other Melita to Rhegium, Syracuse would be far out of the direct course.

Verse 2

And the barbarous people - See the notes on Romans 1:14. The Greeks regarded all as barbarians who did not speak their language, and applied the name to all other nations but their own. It does not denote, as it does sometimes with us, “people of savage, uncultivated, and cruel habits, but simply those whose speech was unintelligible.” See 1 Corinthians 14:11. The island is supposed to have been populated at first by the Phoecians, afterward by the Phoenicians, and afterward by a colony from Carthage. The language of the Maltese was that of Africa, and hence it was called by the Greeks the language of “barbarians.” It was a language which was unintelligible to the Greeks and Latins.

The rain - The continuance of the storm.

And ...of the cold - The exposure to the water in getting to the shore, and probably to the coldness of the weather. It was now in the month of October.

Verse 3

Had gathered a bundle of sticks - For the purpose of making a fire.

There came a viper - A poisonous serpent. See the notes on Matthew 3:7. The viper was doubtless in the bundle of sticks or limbs of trees which Paul had gathered, but was concealed, and was torpid. But when the bundle was laid on the fire, the viper became warmed by the heat, and came out and fastened on the hand of Paul.

And fastened on his hand - καθῆψεν kathēpsen. This word properly means to join oneself to; to touch; to adhere to. It might have been by coiling around his hand and arm, or by fastening its fangs in his hand. It is not expressly affirmed that Paul was bitten by the viper, yet it is evidently implied; and it is wholly incredible that a viper, unless miraculously prevented, should fasten himself to the hand without biting.

Verse 4

The venomous beast - The English word “beast” we usually apply to an animal of larger size than a viper. But the original θηρίον thērion is applicable to animals of any kind, and was especially applied by Greek writers to serpents. See Schleusner.

No doubt - The fact that the viper had fastened on him; and that, as they supposed, he must now certainly die, was the proof from which they inferred his guilt.

Is a murderer - Why they thought he was a murderer rather than guilty of some other crime is not known. It might have been:

(1) Because they inferred that he must have been guilty of some very atrocious crime, and as murder was the highest crime that man could commit, they inferred that he had been guilty of this. Or,

(2) More probably, they had an opinion that when divine vengeance overtook a man, he would be punished in a manner similar to the offence; and as murder is committed usually with the hand, and as the viper had fastened on the hand of Paul, they inferred that he had been guilty of taking life. It was supposed among the ancients that persons were often punished by divine vengeance in that part of the body which had been the instrument of the sin.

Whom, though he hath escaped the sea - They supposed that vengeance and justice would still follow the guilty; that, though he might escape one form of punishment, yet he would be exposed to another. And this, to a certain extent, is true. These barbarians reasoned from great original principles, written on the hearts of all people by nature, that there is a God of justice, and that the guilty will be punished. They reasoned incorrectly, as many do, only because that they supposed that every calamity is a judgment for some particular sin. People often draw this conclusion, and suppose that suffering is to be traced to some particular crime, and to be regarded as a direct judgment from heaven. See the notes on John 9:1-3. The general proposition that all sin will be punished at some time is true, but we are not qualified to affirm of particular calamities always that they are direct judgments for sin. In some cases we may. In the case of the drunkard, the gambler, and the profligate, we cannot doubt that the loss of property, health, and reputation is the direct result of specific crime. In the ordinary calamities of life, however, it requires a more profound acquaintance with the principles of divine government than we possess to affirm of each instance of suffering that it is a particular judgment for some crime.

Yet vengeance - ἡ δίκη hē dikē. “Justice” was represented by the pagan as a goddess, the daughter of Jupiter, whose office it was to take vengeance, or to inflict punishment for crimes.

Suffereth not to live - They regarded him as already a dead man. They supposed the effect of the bite of the viper would be so certainly fatal that they might speak of him as already, in effect, dead (Beza).

Verse 5

And he shook off ... - In this was remarkably fulfilled the promise of the Saviour Mark 16:18; “They shall take up serpents,” etc.

Verse 6

When he should have swollen - When they expected that he would have swollen from the bite of the viper. The poison of the viper is rapid, and they expected that he would die soon. The word rendered “swollen” πίμπρασθαι pimprasthai means properly “to burn; to be inflamed,” and then “to be swollen from inflammation.” This was what they expected here, that the poison would produce a violent inflammation.

Or fallen down dead suddenly - As is sometimes the case from the bite of the serpent when a vital part is affected.

They changed their minds - They saw that he was uninjured, and miraculously preserved; and they supposed that none but a god could be thus kept from death.

That he was a god - That the Maltese were idolaters there can be no doubt; but what gods they worshipped is unknown, and conjecture would be useless. It was natural that they should attribute such a preservation to the presence of a divinity. A similar instance occurred at Lystra. See the notes on Acts 14:11.

Verse 7

In the same quarters - In that place, or that part of the island,

Possessions - Property. His place of residence.

The chief man - Greek: the first man. Probably he was the governor of the island,

Verse 8

A bloody flux - Greek: dysentery.

And laid his hands on him ... - In accordance with the promise of the Saviour, Mark 16:18. This miracle was a suitable return for the hospitality of Publius, and would serve to conciliate further the kindness of the people, and prepare the way for Paul’s usefulness.

Verse 10

Who also honoured us - As people who were favored by heaven, and who had been the means of conferring important benefits on them in healing the sick, etc. Probably the word “honors” here means “gifts, or marks of favor.”

They laded us - They gave us, or conferred on us. They furnished us with such things as were necessary for us on our journey.

Verse 11

And after three months - Probably they remained there so long because there was no favorable opportunity for them to go to Rome. If they arrived there, as is commonly supposed, in October, they left for Rome in January.

In a ship of Alexandria - See the notes on Acts 27:6.

Whose sign - Which was ornamented with an image of Castor and Pollux. It was common to place on the prow of the ship the image of some person or god, whose name the ship bore. This custom is still observed.

Castor and Pollux - These were two semi-deities. They were reputed to be twin brothers, sons of Jupiter and Leda, the wife of Tyndarus, king of Sparta. After their death, they are fabled to have been transported to heaven, and made constellations under the name of Gemini, or the Twins. They then received divine honors, and were called the sons of Jupiter. They were supposed to preside over sailors, and to be their protectors; hence it was not uncommon to place their image on ships. Compare Lempriere’s Dictionary.

Verse 12

And landing at Syracuse - Syracuse was the capital of the island of Sicily, on the eastern coast. It was in the direct course from Malta to Rome. It contains about 18,000 inhabitants.

Verse 13

We fetched a compass - We coasted about; or we sailed along the eastern side of Sicily.

And came to Rhegium - This was a city of Italy, in the kingdom of Naples, on the coast near the southwest extremity of Italy. It was nearly opposite to Messina, in Sicily. It is now called “Reggio.”

The south wind - A wind favorable for their voyage.

To Puteoli - The wells. This place was celebrated for its warm baths, and from these and its springs it is supposed to have derived its name of The Wells. It is now called “Pozzuoli,” and is in the campania of Naples, on the north side of the bay, and about 8 miles northwest from Naples. The town contains at present (circa 1880’s) about 10,000 inhabitants.

Verse 14

Brethren - Christian brethren. But by whom the gospel had been preached there is unknown.

Verse 15

And from thence - From Puteoli.

When the brethren heard of us - The Christians who wore at Rome.

As far as the Appii Forum - This was a city about 56 miles from Rome. The remains of an ancient city are still seen there. It is on the borders of the Pontine Marshes. The city was built on the celebrated Appian Way, or the road from Rome to Capua. The road was made by Appius Claudius, and probably the city was founded by him also. It was called the forum or market-place of Appius, because it was a convenient place for travelers on the Appian Way to stop for purposes of refreshment. It was also a famous resort for peddlers and merchants. See Horace, book i. Sat. 5, 3.

And the Three Taverns - This place was about 8 or 10 miles nearer Rome than the Appii Forum (Cicero, a.d. Art., ii. 10). It undoubtedly received its name because it was distinguished as a place of refreshment on the Appian Way. Probably the greater part of the company of Christians remained at this place while the remainder went forward to meet Paul, and to attend him on his way. The Christians at Rome had doubtless heard much of Paul. His Epistle to them had been written about the year of our Lord 57 a.d., or at least five years before this time. The interest which the Roman Christians felt in the apostle was thus manifested by their coming so far to meet him, though he was a prisoner.

He thanked God - He had long ardently desired to see the Christians of Rome, Romans 1:9-11; Romans 15:23, Romans 15:32. He was now grateful to God that the object of his long desire was at least granted, and that he was permitted to see them, though in bonds.

And took courage - From their society and counsel. The presence and counsel of Christian brethren is often of inestimable value in encouraging and strengthening us in the toils and trials of life.

Verse 16

The captain of the guard - The commander of the Praetorian cohort, or guard. The custom was, that those who were sent from the provinces to Rome for trial were delivered to the custody of this guard. The name of the prefect or captain of the guard at this time was Burrhus Afranius (Tacitus, History, 12, 42, 1).

But Paul was suffered ... - Evidently by the permission of the centurion, whose favor he had so much conciliated on the voyage. See Acts 27:43.

With a soldier that kept him - That is, in the custody of a soldier to whom he was chained, and who, of course, constantly attended him. See Acts 24:23; Acts 12:6.

Verse 17

Paul called the chief of the Jews - He probably had two objects in this: one was to vindicate himself from the suspicion of crime, or to convince them that the charges alleged against him were false; and the other, to explain to them the gospel of Christ. In accordance with his custom everywhere, he seized the earliest opportunity of making the gospel known to his own countrymen; and he naturally supposed that charges highly unfavorable to his character had been sent forward against him to the Jews at Rome by those in Judea.

Against the people - Against the Jews, Acts 24:12.

Or customs ... - The religious rites of the nation. See the notes on Acts 6:14.

Was I delivered prisoner ... - By the Jews, Acts 21:33, etc.

Verse 18

When they had examined me ... - Acts 24:10-27; Acts 25:0; Acts 26:31-32.

No cause of death - No crime worthy of death.

Verse 19

The Jews spake against it - Against my being set at liberty.

I was constrained - By a regard to my own safety and character.

To appeal unto Caesar - See the notes on Acts 25:11.

Not that I had aught ... - I did it for my own preservation and safety, not that I wished to accuse my countrymen. Paul had been unjustly accused and injured; yet, with the true spirit of the Christian religion, he here says that he cherished no unkind feelings toward those who had done him wrong.

Verse 20

Because that for the hope of Israel - On account of the hope which the Jews cherish of the coming of the Messiah; of the resurrection; and of the future state. See this explained in the notes on Acts 23:6.

I am bound with this chain - See the notes on Acts 26:29. Probably he was attached constantly to a soldier by a chain.

Verse 21

We neither received letters ... - Why the Jews in Judea had not forwarded the accusation against Paul to their brethren at Rome, that they might continue the prosecution before the emperor, is not known. It is probable that they regarded their cause as hopeless, and chose to abandon the prosecution. Paul had been acquitted successively by Lysias, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa; and as they had not succeeded in procuring his condemnation before them, they saw no prospect of doing it at Rome, and resolved, therefore, not to press the prosecution any further.

Neither any of the brethren that came - Any of the Jews. There was a very constant contact between Judea and Rome, but it seems that the Jews who had come before Paul had arrived had not mentioned his case, so as to prejudice them against him.

Verse 22

What thou thinkest - What your belief is; or what are the doctrines of Christians respecting the Messiah.

This sect - The sect of Christians.

Spoken against - Particularly by Jews. This was the case then, and, to a great extent, is the case still. It has been the common lot of the followers of Christ to be spoken “against.” Compare Acts 24:5.

Verse 23

Appointed him a day - A day when they would hear him.

Into his lodging - To the house where he resided, Acts 28:30.

He expounded - He explained or declared the principles of the Christian religion.

And testified the kingdom of God - Bore witness to, or declared the principles and doctrines of the reign of the Messiah. See the notes on Matthew 3:2.

Persuading them concerning Jesus - Endeavoring to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah.

Both out of the law of Moses - Endeavoring to convince them that he corresponded with the predictions respecting the Messiah in the books of Moses, and with the types which Moses had instituted to prefigure the Messiah.

And out of the prophets - Showing that he corresponded with the predictions of the prophets. See the notes on Acts 17:3.

From morning till evening - An instance of Paul’s indefatigable toil in endeavoring to induce his countrymen to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Verse 24

And some believed ... - See the notes on Acts 14:4.

Verse 25

Had spoken one word - One solemn declaration, reminding them that it was the characteristic of the nation to reject the testimony of God, and that it was to be expected. It was the last warning which we know Paul to have delivered to his countrymen the Jews.

Well spake - Or he spoke the truth; he justly described the character of the Jewish people. The passage here quoted was as applicable in the time of Paul as of Isaiah.

The Holy Ghost - A full proof of the inspiration of Isaiah.

By Esaias - By Isaiah, Isaiah 6:9-10.

Verses 26-27

Saying ... - See this passage explained in the Matthew 13:14 note, and John 12:39-40 notes.

Verse 28

The salvation of God - The knowledge of God’s mode of saving people.

Is sent unto the Gentiles - Since you have rejected it, it will be offered to them. See the notes on Acts 13:46.

And that they will hear it - They will embrace it. Paul was never discouraged. If the gospel was rejected by one class of people he was ready to offer it to another. If his own countrymen despised it, he never allowed himself to suppose that Christ had died in vain, but believed that others would embrace its saving benefits. How happy would it be if all Christians had the same unwavering faith and zeal as Paul.

Verse 29

And had great reasoning - Great discussion or debates. That is, the part which believed that Jesus was the Messiah Acts 28:24 discussed the subject warmly with those who did not believe. This whole verse is missing in the Syriac version, and in some Greek mss., and is supposed by Mill and Griesbach to be spurious.

Verse 30

Paul dwelt two whole years - Doubtless in the custody of the soldiers. Why he was not prosecuted before the emperor during this time is not known. It is evident, however Acts 28:21, that the Jews were not disposed to carry the case before Nero, and the matter, during this time, was suffered quietly to sleep. There is great probability that the Jews did not dare to prosecute him before the emperor. It is clear that they had never been in favor of the appeal to Rome, and that they had no hope of gaining their cause. Probably they might remember the former treatment of their people by the emperor (see the notes on Acts 18:2); they might remember that they were despised at the Roman capital, and not choose to encounter the scorn and indignation of the Roman court; and as there was no prosecution, Paul was suffered to live in quietness and safety. Lardner, however, supposed (vol. v. p. 528, 529, ed. 8vo, London, 1829) that the case of Paul was soon brought before Nero and decided, and that the method of confinement was ordered by the emperor himself. Lightfoot also supposes that Paul’s “accusers, who had come from Judea to lay their charge against him, would be urgent to get their business despatched, that they might be returning to their own home again, and so would bring him to trial as soon as they could.” But nothing certainly is known on the subject. It is evident, indeed, from 2 Timothy 4:16, that he was at some time arraigned before the emperor; but when it was, or what was the decision or why he was at last set at liberty, are all involved in impenetrable obscurity.

In his own hired house - In a house which he was permitted to hire and occupy as his own. Probably in this he was assisted by the kindness of his Roman friends.

And received all ... - Received all hospitably and kindly who came to him to listen to his instructions. It is evident from this that he was still a prisoner, and was not permitted to go at large.

Verse 31

Preaching the kingdom of God - See the notes on Acts 20:25.

With all confidence - Openly and boldly, without anyone to hinder him. It is known also that Paul was not unsuccessful even when a prisoner at Rome. Several persons were converted by his preaching, even in the court of the emperor. The things which had happened to him, he says Philippians 1:12-14, had fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, so that his bonds in Christ were manifested in all the palace, and in all other places; and many brethren in the Lord, says he, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear. In this situation he was remembered with deep interest by the church at Philippi, who sent Epaphroditus to him with a contribution to supply his needs. Of their kindness he speaks in terms of the tenderest gratitude in Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:18. During his confinement also, he was the means of the Conversion of Onesimus, a runaway servant of Philemon, of Colosse in Phrygia Philemon 1:10, whom he sent back to his master with a letter to himself, and with an epistle to the church at that place. See the Epistle to the Colossians, Colossians 4:8-9, Colossians 4:18. During this imprisonment, he wrote, according to Lardner, the following epistles, in the order and time mentioned, namely,:

Ephesians, April of 61 a.d.
2 Timothy, May of 61 a.d.
Philippians, before the end of 62 a.d.
Colossians 62 a.d.
Philemon 62 a.d.
Hebrews, the spring of 63 a.d.

Here closes the inspired account of the propagation of Christianity; of the organization of the Christian church, and of the toils and persecutions of the apostle Paul. Who can but be deeply affected when he comes to the conclusion of this inspired book recording the history of the spread of the Christian religion, and the labors and trials of that wonderful man, the apostle Paul. Who can help heaving a sigh of regret that the historian did not carry forward the history of Paul until his death, and that henceforward, in the history of the church, we want this faithful, inspired guide; and that, from the close of this book, everything becomes at once so involved in obscurity and uncertainty? Instead, however, of pouring forth unavailing regrets that the sacred historian has carried us no further onward, we should rather employ the language of praise that God inspired the writer of this book to give a history of the church for 30 years after the ascension of the Saviour; that he has recorded the accounts of the first great revivals of religion; that he has presented us the examples of the early missionary zeal; that he has informed us how the early Christians endured persecution and toil; that he has conducted us from land to land, and from city to city, showing us everywhere how the gospel was propagated, until we are led to the seat of the Roman power, and see the great apostle of Christianity there proclaiming, in that mighty capital of the world, the name of Jesus as the Saviour of people.

Perhaps there could be no more appropriate close to the book of the inspired history than thus to have conducted the apostle of the Gentiles to the capital of the Roman world, and to leave the principal agent in the establishment of the Christian religion in that seat of intelligence, influence, and power. It is the conducting of Christianity to the very height of its earthly victories; and having shown its power in the provinces of the empire, it was proper to close the account with the record of its achievements in the capital.

Why Luke closed his history here is not known. It may have been that he was not afterward the companion of Paul; or that he might have been himself removed by death. It is agreed on all hands that he did not attend Paul in his subsequent travels; and we should infer from the conclusion of this book that he did not survive the apostle, as it is almost incredible, if he did, that he did not mention his release and death. It is the uniform account of antiquity that Luke, after the transactions with which the Acts of the Apostles closes, passed over into Achaia, where he lived a year or two, and there died at the age of 84 years.

Everything in regard to the apostle Paul, after the account with which Luke closes this book, is involved in doubt and uncertainty. By what means he was set at liberty is not known; and there is a great contradiction of statements in regard to his subsequent travels, and even in regard to the time of his death. It is generally agreed, indeed, that he was set at liberty in the year of our Lord 63 a.d. After this some of the fathers assert that he traveled over Italy and passed into Spain. But this account is involved in great uncertainty. Lardner, who has examined all the statements with care, and than whom no one is better qualified to pronounce an opinion on these subjects, gives the following account of the subsequent life of Paul (Works, vol. v. pp. 331-336, London edition, 1829). He supposes that after his release he went from Rome to Jerusalem as soon as possible; that he then went to Ephesus, and from thence to Laodicea and Colosse; and that he returned to Rome by Troas, Philippi, and Corinth. The reason why he returned to Rome, Lardner supposes, was that he regarded that city as opening before him the widest and most important field of labor, and that, therefore, he proposed there to spend the remainder of his life.

In the year of our Lord 64 a.d., a dreadful fire happened at Rome which continued for six or seven days. It was generally supposed that the city had been set on fire by order of the Emperor Nero. In order to divert the attention of the people from this charge against himself, he accused the Christians of having been the authors of the conflagration, and excited against them a most furious and bloody persecution. In this persecution it is generally supposed that Paul and Peter suffered death, the former by being beheaded, and the latter by crucifixion. Paul is supposed to have been beheaded rather than crucified, because he was a Roman citizen, and because it was unlawful to put a Roman citizen to death on a cross. Lardher thinks that this occurred in the year 65. Where Paul was beheaded is not certainly known. It is generally supposed to have occurred at a place called the Salvian Waters, about 3 miles from Rome, and that he was buried in the Ostian Way, where a magnificent church was afterward built. But of this there is no absolute certainty.

It is far more important and interesting for us to be assured from the character which he evinced, and from the proofs of his zeal and toil in the cause of the Lord Jesus, that his spirit rested in the bosom of his Saviour and his God. Wherever he died, his spirit, we doubt not, is in heaven. And where that body rested at last, which he labored “to keep under,” and which he sought to bring “into subjection” 1 Corinthians 9:27, and which was to him so much the source of conflict and of sin Romans 7:5, Romans 7:23, is a matter of little consequence. It will be guarded by the eye of that Saviour whom he served, and will be raised up to eternal life. In his own inimitable language, it was “sown in corruption, it shall be raised in incorruption; it was sown in dishonor, it shall be raised in glory; it was sown in weakness, it shall be raised in power; it was sown a natural body, it shall be raised a spiritual body,” 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. And in regard to him, and to all other saints, “when that corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and that mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory,” 1 Corinthians 15:54.

To Paul now, what are all his sorrows, and persecutions, and toils in the cause of his Master? What but a source of thanksgiving that he was permitted thus to labor to spread the gospel through the world? So may we live - imitating his life of zeal, and self-denial, and faithfulness, that when we rise from the dead we may participate with him in the glories of the resurrection of the just.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 28". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-28.html. 1870.
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