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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Acts 28

III. THE WITNESS TO THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE EARTH 9:32-28:31

Luke next recorded the church’s expansion beyond Palestine to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Ethiopian eunuch took the gospel to Africa, but he became a Christian in Judea. Now we begin to read of people becoming Christians in places farther from Jerusalem and Judea.

Verses 21-31

D. The extension of the church to Rome 19:21-28:31

"The panel is introduced by the programmatic statement of Acts 19:21-22 and concludes with the summary statement of Acts 28:31. Three features immediately strike the reader in this sixth panel: (1) the disproportionate length of the panel, including one-third of the total material of Acts; (2) the prominence given the speeches of Paul in his defense; and (3) the dominance of the ’we’ sections in the narrative portions (cf. Acts 20:5-15; Acts 21:1-18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16). It cannot be said that the length is related to the theological significance of the material presented. It seems rather to be related to the apologetic purpose of Luke, particularly in the five defenses, and to the eyewitness character of the narrative with its inevitable elaboration of details (cf. the Philippian anecdotes of Acts 16:11-40). The events narrated here span the time from approximately 56 through 62." [Note: Longenecker, p. 499.]

"This ending of the Acts forms a striking parallel to the ending of the [third] Gospel. There the passion of the Lord with all its immediate preparation is related in great detail; so here the ’passion’ of Paul is on a scale altogether disproportionate to the rest of the book. The Acts however does not end in fact with S. Paul’s death, but with a condition of renewed life; similarly at the end of Part I the ’passion’ of S. Peter had ended with a deliverance. Thus in each case there is a parallel to the resurrection in the Gospel." [Note: Rackham, p. 358.]

Verses 1-15

4. Ministry on the way to Rome 27:1-28:15

For a number of reasons Luke seems to have described this stage of the gospel expansion in detail. He evidently wanted to demonstrate God’s protection of Paul, to illustrate the increasingly Gentile nature of gospel expansion, and to document the sovereign Lord’s building of His church.

"Ever since the purpose of going to Rome had been planted in Paul’s mind by the Holy Spirit, his plans had been formulated with that goal in view (Acts 19:21). No warnings of dangers to come could make him deviate from that ultimate aim, nor from the intermediate stages (Macedonia, Achaia, Jerusalem). The intervening weeks had stretched into months and then into years, and Paul had been confronted with one crisis after another, but he had divine assurance that Rome would yet be reached (Acts 23:11). The means were not what Paul could have foreseen nor what he might have chosen, but God was in control and the apostle was fully willing to leave the details in His hands." [Note: Kent, p. 184.]

God led Luke to record Paul’s journey to Rome in a way that is very similar to the biblical record of Jonah’s journey. He may have done this so Luke’s readers would note these similarities and connect the purposes for both journeys, namely, the salvation of lost Gentiles.

The amount of detail in this section also raises the possibility that Luke, as a good storyteller, was building to his climax by emphasizing the improbability of Paul ever reaching Rome. He probably did this to produce a feeling of great relief and satisfaction in the reader when Paul finally did get there. Ancient Greek novelists often used this literary device for this purpose. Storms and shipwrecks were favorite obstacles heroes had to overcome to win their prizes, as in Homer’s Odyssey, for example. Luke purposely built to his climax in this section as he did in his Gospel. There he described in detail Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem and His last days there, a feature peculiar to the third Gospel. [Note: See the map of Paul’s journey to Rome in Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 251, or in Toussaint, "Acts," p. 425.]

"The story is told with such a wealth of detail that in all classical literature there is no passage which gives us so much information about the working of an ancient ship." [Note: Rackham, p. 476.]

This story also throws more light on the personality and character of Paul. Though he was a prisoner, he became the leader and savior of all those who travelled with him. Though he was weak, God made him strong (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He was God’s man, the Holy Spirit working in and through him, for the blessing of everyone he touched. Paul is the main subject. Some people on the trip even concluded that he was a god (Acts 28:6; cf. Luke 8:25; Luke 23:47).

Toward the end of the nineteenth century a group of Scottish unbelievers decided to expose errors in the Bible. They designated one of their number to visit all the places Luke mentioned that Paul visited with a view to proving the record in Acts inaccurate. The man chosen was Sir William Ramsay who, after thorough study of the matter, concluded that Luke was accurate in every detail. [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., pp. 618-19.] Ramsay became a Christian and wrote several books on Acts and Paul in defense of God’s Word, some of which appear in the bibliography of these notes.

Verses 1-2

Malta, also called Melita (meaning refuge, which it proved to be for Paul and his companions), lies about 60 miles south of the island of Sicily. It is about 18 miles long and 8 miles wide. It is also about 500 miles west of Crete and 180 miles northwest of Africa. People of Phoenician origin inhabited it in Paul’s day. Luke called them "barbarians" (Gr. barbaroi) meaning people whose culture was not Greek. These people were not savages or uncultured, however, as is clear from their hospitable treatment of the shipwreck victims.

Verses 1-6

Paul’s preservation on Malta 28:1-6

Verse 3

Paul made himself useful by gathering firewood; he did not sit around expecting others to take care of him. Evidently he unknowingly picked up a small snake with his wood. It would have been sluggish because of the cold weather, but the heat of the fire woke it up. This snake is a "viper" in Greek. A viper is, of course, a specific variety of poisonous snake. The fact that there are no vipers on Malta now, which has been a stumbling block to some, simply shows that this variety of snake became extinct there after Paul’s visit. [Note: See Ramsay, St. Paul . . ., p. 343.] Vipers do not normally fasten on what they bite; they strike and then retreat. However in this case the snake was evidently still somewhat lethargic and did not behave normally. Perhaps it got hung up on Paul’s hand by its fangs.

This was the third life-threatening situation that Paul faced on his journey to Rome, the others being the storm at sea and the shipwreck.

Verses 4-6

"These people thought that calamity was proof of guilt, poor philosophy and worse theology." [Note: Robertson, 3:479.]

People had mistaken Paul for a god previously (Acts 14:8-18). Perhaps his reaction here was the same as it had been at Lystra. Probably he used the opportunity to preach the gospel. Luke’s purpose in recording this incident was probably not to supply a background for what Paul said. It was to show that God would even miraculously heal His servant to enable him to fulfill God’s purpose that he bear witness in Rome (cf Acts 23:11; Acts 27:24).

"Paul did not deliberately pick up this viper. Paul was not tempting God. . . .

"The promise of God in Mark 16:18 [and Luke 10:19] was fulfilled in Paul’s experience. He suffered no ill effects from the venom. When folk today deliberately pick up snakes and claim that promise as their protection, they are far afield from what God had in mind." [Note: McGee, 4:635, 636.]

Verses 7-8

God not only healed Paul miraculously, He also enabled him to heal the father of the island’s leading citizen (cf. Acts 3:1-10; Luke 4:38-44). "The leading man of the island" was a title indicating that Publius was the Roman governor of Malta. [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," pp. 563, 564.] During World War II British General Darby was the governor of Malta. He was an outspoken Christian whom I had the privilege of meeting in England in 1949.

This is the only instance in Acts of the combination of praying and laying on hands in a miracle story.

Verses 7-10

The healing of Publius’ father 28:7-10

Verse 9

Word of this healing spread across the island, and Paul was able to heal many other sick people. Doctor Luke had an obvious medical interest in physical recovery. However the Holy Spirit seems to have included these healings in the text to show that God’s power was still working through Paul. God was working as strongly as ever in spite of the physical exhaustion caused by the sea voyage and shipwreck. Paul could heal anyone that God wanted healed, though not everyone (cf. 2 Timothy 4:20).

"Paul could exercise the gift of healing; and yet Paul had forever to bear about with him the thorn in the flesh. He healed others while he could not heal himself. Like his Master, in another sense, he saved others when he could not save himself." [Note: Barclay, pp. 207-8.]

Verse 10

Paul was no god, but he was a messenger of the true God. His ministry to the people of Malta benefited them physically and spiritually, and they expressed their gratitude by honoring him in many ways. Even though Paul was a prisoner, his service of God resulted in blessing for others and for himself (cf. Matthew 6:33; Philippians 4:19).

"The account of Paul’s healings on Malta is quite similar to the account of Jesus’ healings at Capernaum at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:38-40). In both cases the healing of an individual is followed by the healing of ’all’ or ’the rest’ in a region. The individual, a relative of the healer’s host, has been ’seized (sunexomene, sunexomenon)’ by fever. There is also reference to laying on of hands. The similarities show that Jesus’ healing ministry still continues through his witnesses, with benefit both to the host who receives the healer and to the whole community. A scene from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is echoed in the last description of healing in Acts, suggesting a chiastic relationship." [Note: Tannehill, 2:341-42.]

Verse 11

Paul and his companions spent the winter on the island of Malta. Ships began to sail again toward the middle of February. The centurion was able to secure passage on another Alexandrian ship, perhaps another grain ship, that had wintered in one of the Maltese ports. Valetta was the largest of these ports. Paul still had about 210 miles to go before he reached Rome.

Luke’s reference to the figurehead of this ship, from which it took its name, is unusual. This is the only ship’s name that he recorded in Acts. The twin brothers were Castor and Pollux who were two gods thought to guard the safety of sailors. They were the sons of Zeus and Leda, queen of Sparta, whom Zeus transformed into gods, according to Greek mythology. The constellation Gemini represents them, and anyone who saw it during a storm supposedly would have good luck. [Note: Toussaint, "Acts," p. 429.] Perhaps Luke mentioned them to contrast God’s real protection, as illustrated in the previous chapter and this one, with the protection the pagans superstitiously thought these gods provided. I can imagine Paul saying to Luke as they got ready to board this ship, "We have a better Protector than the twin brothers!"

Verses 11-15

The trip from Malta to Rome 28:11-15

Verse 12

Syracuse stood on the east coast of the island of Sicily. It was a busy port and the most important city on the island.

Verse 13

The site of Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) was near the tip of the "toe" of Italy’s "boot" opposite Sicily, about 75 miles from Syracuse. It, too, was an important harbor. Puteoli (Modern Pozzuoli) stood about 200 miles farther north on the "shin" of the "boot." Its site occupied the most protected part of the bay of Naples. It was a very large port and the final destination of many Egyptian wheat ships at that time. There dock-hands unloaded the cargo.

Verse 14

It is not strange that a church existed there. Puteoli had a Jewish colony. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:7:1; Idem, Antiquities of . . ., 17:11:1.] Perhaps Roman Christians had planted this church, or perhaps Jewish converts had done so. The local Christians were very generous with their hospitality to Paul and his companions. "And thus we came to Rome" expresses Luke’s eagerness to reach Paul’s goal city. They had not really arrived in Rome (cf. Acts 28:15-16). However, Luke viewed Puteoli as close enough to warrant this enthusiastic announcement of their arrival, even though Paul still had 130 miles to travel.

Verse 15

News of Paul’s arrival preceded him to Rome. An entourage of believers travelled down the Appian Way, one of the major roads in Italy, 33 miles south to the Three Taverns, a resting spot. There some of them waited while the more energetic among them proceeded another 10 miles to Appii Forum, a market town. There Paul met his first Roman Christians. He had sent them his epistle to the Romans three years earlier (in A.D. 57) from Corinth during his third missionary journey. This group of greeters would have been a great encouragement to Paul who had looked forward so long to ministering in Rome (Romans 15:22-29). Their reception led Paul to thank God. The trip from Malta probably took three weeks. [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 746.]

"It [Paul’s growing party of friends proceeding to Rome] becomes almost a triumphal procession [cf. Jesus’ triumphal entry]." [Note: Neil, p. 256.]

Paul would have passed the tomb of the Roman poet Virgil between Puteoli and Neapolis. In his poems Virgil anticipated a savior, and Paul came with the message that God had provided one. [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 569.]

These last verses bring Luke’s account of the spread of the gospel to a climax. It had gone from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and now to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Paul was now able to bear witness in the capital of the empire.

Tannehill suggested that Luke’s purpose in his account of Paul’s voyage to Rome was to illustrate the cooperative relationships that are possible between Christianity and pagan society. [Note: Tannehill, 2:341.] This may have been part of his purpose. The journey from Caesarea to Rome probably covered about 2,250 miles and took well over four months. [Note: Beitzel, p. 177; Bock, Acts, p. 746.]

Verse 16

Paul’s situation in Rome 28:16

Paul was a Roman citizen who had appealed to Caesar and had gained the respect (to say the least) of his centurion escort. Therefore he was able to reside in a private rented residence with a Roman guard (Acts 28:30).

This is the end of the last "we" section of Acts (Acts 16:10-40; Acts 20:5 to Acts 21:18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16). We know that Luke and Aristarchus remained with Paul for some time, and Paul had other visitors including Timothy, Tychicus, and Epaphroditus. Luke and Aristarchus were with him when Paul wrote his epistles to Philemon and to the Colossians (Philemon 1:24; Colossians 4:14), which he composed during his detention in Rome. This imprisonment probably lasted from A.D. 60 into 62 (cf. Acts 28:30). Thus Acts ends about A.D. 62, 29 years after the death and resurrection of the Savior and the day of Pentecost.

Verses 16-31

5. Ministry in Rome 28:16-31

Luke’s purpose in recording Paul’s ministry in Rome included vindicating God’s promises to Paul that he would bear witness there (Acts 23:11; Acts 27:24). Even though a church already existed there, Paul’s ministry in Rome was significant in Luke’s purpose because he was the apostle to the Gentiles. The apostle to the Gentiles was now able to minister in the heart of the Gentile world.

"Gentiles saw Rome as the center of the earth." [Note: Ibid., p. 726.]

Verses 17-20

Paul began immediately to prepare to witness. He wanted to see the leaders of the Jewish community soon for two reasons. He wanted to preach the gospel to them as Jews first. He also wanted to take the initiative in reaching out to them with an explanation of why he was in Rome. He wanted to do so before they arrived at false conclusions concerning his reasons for being there. Estimates of the Jewish population in Rome in the first century vary between 10,000 and 60,000. [Note: Levinskaya, p. 182.] Undoubtedly before sending for these Jews Paul satisfied himself that they were not antagonistic to him already. He would hardly have invited to his house men who just might have been as hostile as the Jerusalem assassins. Paul may have been unable to go to the synagogues because of his prisoner status. On the other hand he may have chosen to explain his situation to a small group of Jewish leaders on his own turf. He could have done this to preclude another riot that would have complicated his formal acquittal. So, only three days after his arrival in Rome, Paul sent for these men.

"Paul’s statement in Acts 28:17-20 is a summary of the preceding trial narrative and imprisonment speeches in Acts 22-26. It presents what the narrator most wants readers to retain from that long narrative." [Note: Tannehill, 2:344.]

Paul emphasized these points in his explanation. He had done nothing against the Jews or their customs (Acts 28:17). The Roman authorities in Judea had already declared him innocent (Acts 28:18). He had appealed to Caesar because the Jews in Judea challenged the Romans’ verdict, not because Paul had any grievance against the Jews (Acts 28:19). His present condition grew out of the promises God had given Israel (i.e., concerning her Deliverer and deliverance, Acts 28:20; cf. Acts 23:6; Acts 24:21; Acts 26:6-8).

Verses 17-22

Paul’s first conference with the Roman Jewish leaders 28:17-22

Verses 21-22

It may be that the Jewish leaders were being completely honest and straightforward with Paul in what they said. If so, God had miraculously kept these Jews from hearing about Paul’s case since Jews in Jerusalem and Rome communicated frequently with each other.

"Very possibly the Jews in Rome preferred to remain ignorant of the case; they would not have forgotten that earlier disputes over the Messiah had led to their temporary expulsion from the city (Acts 18:2 note)." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 423.]

Perhaps the Jewish leaders realized that Paul’s release was inevitable since the Jews had no real case against him in Roman courts. They may have decided to start from scratch in their campaign to do away with him. In any case, they were eager to hear what Paul had to say.

Verse 23

Luke’s concern in this pericope was to emphasize what Paul preached to these men and their reaction to it. The term "kingdom of God" probably means the same thing here as it usually does in the Gospels and Acts, namely, Messiah’s rule on earth during the millennial kingdom (cf. Acts 1:3-8; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:31).

"He [Paul] was seeking a communal decision, a recognition by the Jewish community as a whole that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish hope. The presence of significant opposition shows that this is not going to happen." [Note: Tannehill, 2:347.]

"Is there any example of undefeatable hope and unconquerable love like this act of Paul when, in Rome too, he preached first to the Jews?" [Note: Barclay, p. 211.]

Verses 23-29

Paul’s second conference with the Jewish leaders 28:23-29

Verses 24-27

Luke recorded for the third and last time what had become the Jews’ characteristic response to hearing the gospel (Acts 28:24; Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; cf. Romans 11:7-10). Paul’s parting word was a quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 in which God told the prophet that his Jewish hearers would not believe God’s message through him (cf. Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40-41). Paul saw that this word to Isaiah was as applicable in his own day as it had been in Isaiah’s. He also regarded it as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

"In every instance in Acts where a scriptural quote is introduced by a reference to the Spirit, the Spirit is described as having spoken (cf. 1.16; 4.25). In this manner the written Word is shown to be a dynamic, ’living’ Word." [Note: Polhill, p. 543.]

"Note how the failure to respond to the message of the gospel is seen as a failure to turn." [Note: The NET Bible note on Acts 28:27.]

Verses 28-29

Acts 28:28 is probably the ultimate climax of Acts. It summarizes the main theme of the book. Having presented the gospel to the Jews in Rome, and having witnessed their rejection of it, Paul now focused his ministry again on the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46-52; Acts 18:6; Romans 1:16). Until "the times of the Gentiles" run their course and Messiah’s second advent terminates them, Gentiles will be the primary believers of the gospel (cf. Romans 11:19-26).

"Luke-Acts is basically a story about a mission. Acts 28:28 comments on the mission’s future. The narrative prepares for this comment by reports of the Gentiles’ friendly response to Paul on the voyage and the Roman Jews’ contrasting response. When we recognize the careful reflection on the possibilities of mission among both Gentiles and Jews in Acts 27-28, the impression that the ending of Acts is abrupt and unsuitable is considerably reduced." [Note: Tannehill, 2:343. See also Ladd, "The Acts . . .," pp. 1177-78.]

Verses 30-31

Gentile response to the gospel 28:30-31

Paul’s innocence of anything worthy of punishment is clear from his living a relatively comfortable life in Rome for the following two years (A.D. 60-62). [Note: Bruce, "Chronological Questions . . .," pp. 289-90.] Paul was able to preach (Gr. kerysso, to proclaim as a herald) the kingdom of God and to teach (didasko, to instruct others) about the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke began Acts with a reference to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:6) and ended it with another (Acts 28:31). Acts 28:23 clarifies Acts 28:31. Preaching the kingdom of God involves solemnly testifying about it, and teaching concerning Christ includes persuading people about Him. Paul could do this openly and without hindrance by the Roman authorities. This was Luke’s final testimony to the credibility and positive value of the Christian gospel.

"With this expression [i.e., unhindered], which is literally Luke’s last word in Acts, he is saying that largely through Paul’s activities, the Church is now on the march, and nothing can stop it. Paul has built the vital bridge from Jerusalem to Rome. The Cross is in the field." [Note: Neil, p. 30. Cf. Matthew 16:18.]

"In seeming to leave his book unfinished, he [Luke] was implying that the apostolic proclamation of the gospel in the first century began a story that will continue until the consummation of the kingdom in Christ (Acts 1:11)." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 573.]

These verses contain the last of Luke’s seven progress reports (Acts 2:47; Acts 6:7; Acts 9:31; Acts 12:24; Acts 16:5; Acts 19:20).

"What is the one outstanding impression made by the study of the life and work of the Apostle of the Gentiles? Is it not this:-The marvelous possibilities of a wholly-surrendered and Divinely-filled life?" [Note: Thomas, p. 83.]

What happened to Paul following the events recorded in Acts? There is disagreement among scholars, as one might expect. Some believe the Roman authorities condemned Paul and put him to death. However most believe they released him and he left Rome. In support of the latter view are references in other New Testament books to Paul’s activities. These are difficult to incorporate into the events of his life that Acts records. We can explain them if he continued his ministry. Also Eusebius, the early church historian who died about A.D. 340, wrote the following.

"After pleading his cause, he is said to have been sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and after a second visit to the city [Rome], that he finished his life with martyrdom." [Note: Eusebius, p. 74.]

"The tradition from Clement to Eusebius favors two imprisonments with a year [at least] of liberty between them. It has been pointed out that the leaving of Trophemus sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) could not have been an occurrence of Paul’s last journey to Jeruselem, for then Trophimus was not left (Acts 20:4; Acts 21:29); nor could it have been on his journey to Rome to appear before Caesar, for then he did not touch at Miletus. To make this incident possible, there must have been a release from the first imprisonment and an interval of ministry and travel." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1208.]

While Paul was in Rome during the two years Luke mentioned (Acts 28:30), he evidently wrote the Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon). After his release and departure from Rome, he wrote the Pastoral Epistles. He probably wrote 1 Timothy between A.D. 63 and 66 to Timothy who was ministering in Ephesus, but we do not know from where he wrote it. He spoke of meeting Timothy in Ephesus later (1 Timothy 3:14; 1 Timothy 4:13). Paul also wrote the Book of Titus probably from Illyricum or Macedonia during the same period to Titus who was on Crete (cf. Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:10). Perhaps Paul visited Spain as he longed to do between A.D. 62 and 67 (Romans 15:23-24) though there is no Scriptural record that he did or did not do so. From Rome he wrote 2 Timothy to Timothy in Ephesus shortly before his martyrdom in A.D. 68 (2 Timothy 1:16-18; 2 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:19; 1 Timothy 1:20). Geographer Barry Beitzel estimated that Paul’s travels between his release in Rome to his return and death there would have involved a minimum of 2,350 travel miles. He also calculated that Paul probably traveled a total of at least 13,400 airline (as the crow flies) miles during his years of ministry. [Note: Beitzel, pp. 176-77.]

". . . the end of Acts directs attention to the missionary situation that Paul leaves behind and to Paul’s courage and faithfulness as example for the church. It points to the opportunity among the Gentiles. It underscores the crisis in the Jewish mission. It presents Paul continuing his mission by welcoming all, both Jews and Gentiles, and speaking to them ’with all boldness’ in spite of Jewish rejection and Roman imprisonment. This is the concluding picture of Paul’s legacy." [Note: Tannehill, 2:356.]

"What almost seems like the unfinished character of the book of Acts, from a merely literary standpoint, is doubtless intended to teach us that until the fulfillment of the angels’ prophecy that ’this same Jesus’ shall return even as He went away, the work of evangelization for this age will not be completed. We are to heed the Word-’Occupy till I come.’" [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p. 651.]


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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 28". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-28.html. 2012.