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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Acts 28

Verse 1

28:1 "And when they had been brought safely through" Compare with 27:44. The expression brought safely through was a "regular way of stating the idea of passing through extreme danger and still being alive. They have drifted for two weeks without any reckoning where they were; the storm was so violent they have had to take precaution after precaution just to keep their ship afloat; after it struck on the mudbar and was beginning to break up, they had to swim the last several hundred years to safety, but they made it and all 276 were still alive!" (Reese p. 919). "We found out that the island was called Malta" Apparently they learned this when they asked the people who had come to help, "Where are we?" Remember, while they were still aboard ship they could not tell where they were (27:39). The island of Malta was originally a Phoenician colony; it is about 20 miles long and about 10-12 miles wide. The word Malta is actually of Canaanite origin and means "refuge", "and no doubt they found it a true refuge on more than one occasion" (Bruce p. 521).

Verse 2

28:2 "The natives" Literally the term here is barbarians and anyone in the ancient world at this time that did not speak Greek was termed a barbarian. "Barbaroi is an onomatopoetic word, indicating the confused sound which a strange language has in a man's ears. 'Barbarian' does not indicate, as the word sometimes doe with us, that the people were savage, uncultured, and of cruel habits" (Reese p. 920). "Showed us extraordinary kindness" That is, rushed down to the beach and immediately tried to make these shipwrecked, wet and exhausted souls comfortable. "Because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold" Which is a very miserable combination, especially is one is outside, tired and hungry. "They kindled a fire and received us all" This must have been a large fire or more than one fire to provide warmth for all 276 persons.

Verse 3

28:3 "But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire" In order to keep such a fire going fresh fuel is constantly needed and Paul immediately does what he can. Remember, he is probably just as wet, exhausted, sore and cold as everyone else. "Paul was not a preacher after the style of a modern clergyman, who is particular not to spoil his hands with menial labor, and who expects everybody to be ready to serve him, while he preserves his dignity and looks on" (McGarvey p. 275).

28:3 "A viper came out" Critics have accused Luke of making a mistake here seeing that there are no poisonous snakes on the island of Malta in the 20th century. Yet, this is due to the growth of human population on the island. "The island now has a denser population than at any previous time, and such animals are driven away and destroyed by man as the population increases" (Reese p. 922). In like manner, the Old Testament also mentions lions as existing in Palestine, but they do not dwell in Palestine today. In 1853 a writer believed that he actually saw a viper in a bundle of sticks on the island of Malta. "Because of the heat" The viper that has been motionless because of the cold now because far more active because of the heat of the fire. "Fastened on his hand" "Lenski suggests that this was God's way of turning all eyes on Paul right from the first moment on Malta" (Reese p. 923).

Verse 4

28:4 "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live" Notice that these non-Christian natives are not inherently depraved. First they treated the shipwrecked victims with extraordinary kindness and secondly they had a sense of divine justice. "These barbarians reasoned from great original principles... that there was a God of justice, and that the guilty (eventually) will be punished" (Reese p. 923). One mistake they did make was to assume that all calamities are directly related to a specific sin in the life of the one suffering (see Joh_9:1-3 ). Some feel that by the term justice these natives mean a goddess who was called justice, the daughter of Jupiter; and it was her duty to take vengeance and to inflict punishment for crimes. "This man is a murderer" Why they thought he was a murderer is not revealed. It might be that murder was one of the most terrible crimes that one could commit and they simply assumed he had done something really bad. It might be that they assumed that justice would punish one in like manner as the type of crime they had committed. Or, seeing that murder is often committed with the hand, and as the viper had fastened to the hand, "they inferred that he was guilty of taking a life (with that very hand). It was supposed by the ancients that persons were often punished in the part of the body which had been the instrument of the sin" (Reese p. 923). "Allowed" They considered Paul as good as dead.

Verse 5

28:5 Paul immediately shakes off the creature (a natural reaction) and goes on with his business.

Verse 6

28:6 While the natives are waiting for Paul to drop dead at any moment, nothing is happening. Not only was there no swelling or inflammation, but also nothing at all was happening. The poison of the viper acts very quickly, in fact, the venom works so quickly that the antidotes they had seldom could be applied in time. Yet remember that Jesus had promised His apostles protection from such things ( Mar_16:18 ). "They changed their minds and began to say that he was a god" In Lystra the people had first declared Paul to be a god and then they stoned him ( Act_14:11-19 ), now we have the opposite reaction. "But the truth was at neither extreme (Paul is neither a murder or a god). Instead of being drowned or poisoned by 'justice', Paul had actually been protected from both fates by Jesus" (Stott p. 394).

Verse 7

28:7 "Now in the neighborhood of that place" That is near the place where the shipwreck occurred. "Were lands belonging to the leading man of the island" The island of Malta was a part of the province of Sicily, and seeing that Sicily was ruled by a governor, Publius was the legate under the Sicilian governor. The expression leading man was an official title and has been found in both Greek and Latin inscriptions at Malta. This verse tells us that Publius owned an estate near this particular bay. "Named Publius" His name is pronounced puhb lih uhs. "Welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days" Which means that he treated them as guests for three days.

Verse 8

28:8 "Recurrent fever and dysentery" The combination of the two made his case all the more serious. In addition, the island of Malta was known for having a very unpleasant fever of its own, "Malta fever".

Verses 9-10

28:9 The response here is natural. 28:10 "Honored us with many marks of respect" This many have taken the form of gifts. Remember, Paul and his companions had lost their entire luggage and only escaped with the clothes on their backs. These very thoughtful gifts would once more increase their wardrobes and pocketbooks. Carefully note, nothing is said about Paul charging people to be healed, rather this verse is speaking of gifts freely given as a token of their appreciation. The Greek word here for honored may also mean honorarium. "They supplied us with all we needed" Including food and clothing. Yet, nothing is said about any of these people obeying the gospel. It could be though that once in Rome Paul would get the message out that someone needed to go to Malta and preach.

Verse 11

28:11 "At the end of three months" These were probably the winter months when all sailing ceased. Pliny the Elder says that navigation begins to be resumed when the west winds start to blow on February 8th, while Vegetius says that the seas are closed till March 10th but this might only refer to voyages far from shore. "In actual practice, the state of the weather would determine the resumption of navigation in nay particular year" (Bruce p. 525). Thus, they remained on Malta during the months of November, December and January and now it is late February or early March in the year 61 A.D. "On an Alexandrian ship which had wintered on the island" This is a ship just like the one that sank three months earlier, it is another grain ship. "Which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead" "It was the practice of the age to put an image of the person or thing after which the ship was named on the plow (and sometimes on the stern). Luke is telling us this Alexandrian ship had the name Dioscuri ("twin brothers"). According to mythology, Zeus and Leda, the wife of Tyndarus, king of Sparta, had twin sons, whose names were Castor (he was a horsetamer) and Pollux (he was the prince of boxers). After their death, so the fable goes. Because of their brotherly love, they were translated by Zeus into the heavens where they became the constellation we call Gemini. Neptune also wanted to honor them, and so gave them power over the winds and waves so that they might assist shipwrecked sailors. Castor and Pollux thus came to be known as the tutelary gods of sailors" (Reese p. 929). Such eyewitness detail simply reminds us that first century Christians were surrounded by pagan myth and idolatry even in the everyday common actions of life. They lived in the world just like we do.

Verse 12

28:12 "Syracuse" The trip from Malta to Syracuse, the capital city on the island of Sicily was a distance of about 80 miles due north, ships headed from Alexandria to Puteoli commonly stopped here.

Verse 13

28:13 "Rhegium" Pronounced ree jee uhm, this was a seaport on the coast of southern Italy, across the Strait of Messina from the island of Sicily. "Sailed around" Due to the wind they may have been forced to sail in the pattern of a half-circle, rather than a straight line. "A day later a south wind sprang up" The term sprang up denotes a change in the wind patterns, such a wind was what they needed to sail without undue changer between the famous rocks of Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. "Puteoli" Pronounced poo tee uh lih, here is where the great grain ships from Alexandrian were finally unloaded. In modern times this city goes by the name of Pozuoli, and is across the Bay of Naples from Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. The distance between Rhegium and Puteoli is about 180 miles.

Verse 14

28:14 "There are Christians in Puteoli! How much the teachings of Jesus have been spreading through the empire is indicated by notes like this. The gospel had been preached for some time in Italy, and congregations established in many towns, before Paul ever arrived there" (Reese p. 931). What a welcome sight this must have been to Paul! "For seven days" Which would have included the first day of the week ( Act_20:7 ). "We came to Rome" At last, Paul's burning ambition to preach the gospel in Rome is being fulfilled. Rome was approximately 150 miles by the Appian Way highway from Puteoli.

Verse 15

28:15 Word has reached the brethren in Rome that Paul is on his way. The seven days that Paul had spent in Puteoli would given Christians in this town plenty of time to send word to Rome that Paul had arrived. "Came from" The practice of traveling a far distance to meet one that men delighted to honor was a common one. "As far as the Market of Appius" The Market of Appius was about 45 miles from Rome. The Appii forum was a convenient place for travelers on the Appian Way to stop for refreshment, that's why it was called the Market of Appius. "Three Inns" Which was about 33 miles from Rome. The older translations use the word taverns, which gives the wrong impression in our time. The Latin word tavern has a different meaning than the English word; the Latin simply means a shop of any kind. "A few miles journey from Puteoli brought them to the Appian Way, one of the great Roman roads of south Italy, called after Appius Claudius, in whose censorship it was planned (312 B.C.)" (Bruce p. 527). "When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage" For a long time he has wished to visit Rome ( Rom_1:9 ; Rom_15:23 ). It had been three years since he wrote the epistle to the Romans, and now after such a dangerous journey his prayers had been answered. Notice that Paul is grateful to God even though the trip had been anything but smooth. Are we thankful merely to arrive safely or do we demand from God no complications and no discomforts?

Verse 16

28:16 "Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier who was guarding him" That is, he was allowed to live in a private dwelling, while remaining under constant supervision. Paul was treated with kindness for he was an uncondemned Roman citizen, he came with a letter from Festus, and a good word from Julius concerning his conduct on the voyage, must all have contributed to his relatively mild confinement. Apparently Paul was guarded by different soldiers as they changed shifts, which means that many soldiers were forced to listen to him preach and teach and as a result a good number were converted ( Php_1:13 ). When Paul writes letters from Rome he often speaks of being a prisoner in chains ( Eph_6:20 ; Php_1:7 ; Php_1:13 ; Php_1:17 ; Col_4:18 ). "What must it have meant to a Roman soldier to be chained by the wrist to a man like Paul?" (Bruce p. 529).

Verse 17

28:17 "He called together" Paul took the initiative and set up a meeting with the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome. There were at this time no less than seven different synagogues in Rome. Even though years before Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome ( Act_18:2 ), this edict had expired and many Jews as returned. This is approximately 10 years later from that decree. 28:17-19 Paul summarizes why and how he had ended up in this situation. First, he had done nothing against the Jewish people or the customs (rather he had been participating in one when arrested). The Romans had examined him and found him innocent. Paul had been forced to appeal to Caesar not because of any guilt but because the Jews in Judea had kept constant pressure on the Roman governor to bring him back to Jerusalem (and kill him on the way). "I was forced to" "It was something quite unavoidable, but the only way to avoid being handed over to a prejudiced tribunal (the Sanhedrin), or to the plots of assassination ( Act_25:3 )" (Reese p. 938).

Verse 20

28:20 "For I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel" Compare with Act_23:6 ; Act_26:6-7 . Paul's message, far from undermining the truthfulness of the Old Testament, is actually the fulfillment of what the prophets said. "In Rome as in Jerusalem he emphasized that the Christian message which he proclaimed, far from undermining the religion of Israel, was its divinely appointed fulfillment" (Bruce p. 530).

Verse 21

28:21 "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you" These Jews claimed that they had received no communications from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem concerning accusations against Paul, yet they do not claim that they had never heard of Paul. Some feel that this claim is false, but remember during his two years in Caesarea the Jews in Jerusalem may have not sent out any letters warning other synagogues against Paul seeing that he was in confinement. When he did finally appeal to Caesar, it was late in the sailing season, and the Jews would have difficult getting mail to Rome before Paul arrived.

Verse 22

28:22 "But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere" Give this Jewish leaders credit, they are willing to listen even though they have heard many second-hand rumors about Christianity. Rather than being influenced by rumor they want to hear for themselves and make up their own mind. "If they had acted as many do now, they would have refused to hear him at all because of the evil report of his sect; but the fact that the latter was everywhere spoken against was the very reason they wished to hear Paul in reference to it" (McGarvey p. 284). Even though there had been a church in Rome for many years from the above statement it appears that these Jewish leaders had either had very little contact with the Christians in Rome (many may have been Gentiles) or had refused to listen thus far to the gospel message.

Verses 23-24

28:23 When the Jews arrived Paul spent all day seeking to persuade these Jews from the Old Testament that Jesus was indeed the one predicted by Moses and the Prophets and that the kingdom of God had actually arrived and that it was the church. 28:24 As in any audience, some believed and some did not. "Others would not believe" Notice the wording, they would not. They could have believed if they wanted to. The only thing that stood between these Jews and faith in Christ was their own will.

Verse 25

28:25 As they began to leave, Paul gave one parting word. 28:26-27 "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet" Paul here affirms that Isaiah was an inspired man. "What the Spirit led Isaiah to record fits this situation beautifully" (Reese p. 944). This is a quotation from Isa_6:9-10 . Jesus used the same Scripture ( Mat_13:14 ). Paul is quoting here from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Thus, how the Jews in Isaiah's day had responded to his preaching is exactly how many of the Jews had responded to the gospel - they had rejected it. A willful blindness was virtually a national characteristic. Isaiah was right, he had predicted that many of the Jews would not believe. Notice where God places the blame when it comes to unbelief. The problem is not in a lack of evidence or a poor presentation of the gospel, rather it is in the heart of the unbeliever (28:27). No one is born with a bad heart, rather the heart of this people has become dull. These people were not born sinners, rather they have closed their eyes. Yet, this situation can change, for at any given moment the sinner can repent if they so decide. God is still willing for offer salvation to such stubborn individuals.

Verse 28

28:28 As a result, Paul will evangelize the Gentiles in Rome and they will really listen. That is, they will appreciate this message ( Act_13:48 ).

Verse 29

28:29 The Jews left but as they left there was a tremendous amount of friction and disagreement among themselves.

Verses 30-31

28:30-31 Paul is now spoken of as living in rented quarters which may infer that Paul has moved to another location in Rome (compare with 28:23). During this time span of two years Paul will write letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and a personal note to Philemon. "Welcoming all who came to him" This may mean that Paul could not go and preach in the synagogues, but rather that this audience had to come to him. From the epistles written at this time we learn that the following Christians from one time or another where with Paul: Luke, Mark, Timothy, Aristarchus, Demas, Epaphras, Tychicus ( Col_4:12-14 ; Eph_6:21 ; Col_4:7 ). "Preaching the kingdom of God" Not some millennial kingdom but rather that the kingdom of God had arrived ( Col_1:12-14 ; Mar_9:1 ). "With all openness, unhindered" Paul's preaching which seemed to be stopped for a moment by Jewish persecution is actually now being protected by the Roman Empire. "The apologetic value of the fact mentioned in the last words of the book was considerable. Luke is suggesting that it is unlikely that if the gospel were illegal and subversive propaganda, it would have been taught for two years in the heart of the empire without hindrance, and by a Roman citizen who had appealed to Caesar, and was waiting under guard for his case to be heard. The authorities must have known what Paul was doing all along, and yet they put no obstacle in his way. Acts is brought to a close, then, on this triumphant note. The Kingdom of God and the story of Jesus are openly proclaimed and taught in Rome itself" (Bruce p. 535).

This two year period could involve the period of time that the Roman government would allow the prosecution, the Jews from Judea to arrive and state their case against Paul. Seeing that God promised Paul that he would appeal before Caesar, it looks like that Paul did have an opportunity to defend himself and preach directly to the emperor (27:23).

The reason that the book of Acts ends at this point without telling us the final verdict is that this book was written before the final verdict was given.

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Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Acts 28". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.