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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Acts 28

 

 

Verses 1-31

Acts 28:1. Melita, now Malta. This island seems to have been inhabited by runaways, for melim, in the language of Carthage, is to escape. It was inhabited by a colony of refugees from Carthage, a people of Phœnicia. So Dr. Lightfoot. Others say it was so called from its abounding with honey. It is about twenty miles in length, and eleven in breadth. Julius Cæsar is said, with great difficulty, to have taken it from the Carthaginians. It was given to the knights of St. John, who were driven by the Turks from the island of Rhodes. Buonaparte treacherously surprised it on his way to Egypt; and it has since been taken by the English, to whom it still belongs.

Acts 28:2. The barbarous people, a people of strange language, showed us no little kindness. Perhaps more than the polished Romans showed to the company wrecked with Simonides, the Greek poet. While the passengers were lamenting that they had lost their all, Simonides laughed at their complaints; and said, though almost in a state of nudity, he had lost nothing. He had all his riches about him, his poetic genius being unimpaired. The gentry of Rome hearing of this speech, soon supplied his wants.

Acts 28:3. There came a viper out of the heat, a venomous beast, for the Greeks gave that name to reptiles, as well as to beasts of prey. The first thoughts of the Maltese, on seeing him loaded with a chain, and bit by a serpent, were that he was a murderer. The idea of a God of mercy and love, of judgment and equity is ever associated with the moral admonitions of conscience. But when they saw that no harm followed, they thought he was a god; for he sometimes looked like an angel, as is said by the priest of Asia, who wrote the sufferings of Thecla. He had been taken for a god at Lystra, but in the same place was presently stoned by the jews. These Maltese might know the case of Orestes, who had killed his mother, and was bit by a serpent, and died. The jews also have a record in the Gemara, that when Simeon found a manslayer, but had no witness to convict him, he prayed thus, “May he who knows the thoughts of men punish thee; and presently a serpent bit him and he died.”

Acts 28:7. The chief man of the island, whose name was Publius, received us. The Lord turned the bonds of Paul to glory; he stayed here three months, and many were healed and converted to the Lord. The master was with his servant.

Acts 28:11. A ship of Alexandria — whose sign was Castor and Pollux. διοσκουροις, sons of Jupiter and Leda, twin brothers of Helen. Some of the ancients placed them among the celestial stars, whence the constellation Gemini, the twins, which, when seen by the sailors, were thought to be favourable to navigation. The judicious Tertullian calls them phantoms: “we know that an idol is nothing.” Others have made them gods of the sea, and thought they caused the infinitude of sparks of fire, ever seen in dark nights at the bow of the ship in time of tempests. Perhaps I am solitary in thinking them to be galvanic effects produced by the violence of salt water against the ship, while making a rapid course through the waves.

Acts 28:12. Syracuse, the capital of Sicily. It was once very large, having walls about sixteen miles in circumference; the theatre of great revolutions in government and wars.

Acts 28:13-14. Thence we came to Rhegium. The city takes its name from the promontory, which exhibits marks of disruption from the Sicilian shore. — We came the next day to Puteoli, now Pousol, a city and port eight miles south of Naples, where we found brethren. Peter, Mark, and Barnabas, to say nothing of the thousands that had fled on Stephen’s persecution, had all preached in Italy.

Acts 28:15. When the brethren in the city of Rome heard of us, they came to meet us on the great military road, called the Appian way, as far as Appii forum, fifty miles from Rome on the road to Naples, built by Appius the consul, and near the present town of Piperno. Others waited for us meanwhile at the three taverns, seventeen miles nearer to Rome. This ebullition of brotherly love rejoiced the soul of Paul. Hail, thrice hail, to the day when after the storms and bitter events of life, we shall meet on the heavenly shore. Death will dissolve the chains of earth, and love will give the liberation of heaven.

Acts 28:16. When we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; the captain of the prætorian cohort. The guard was a fortified camp in the suburbs of Rome. A wise and regular government will not leave the lives and property of a metropolis to the mercy of an enfuriated and drunken mob, which a spark may kindle to vengeance in a moment. Robbers and murderers must be afraid of the sword, which supports the magistrate in the severer exercises of duty.

But Paul, no doubt in consequence of the good offices of the centurion, who during the whole voyage had acted on a principle of benevolence, was suffered to dwell by himself, kept by a soldier, and bearing a chain. Great grace, that he might preach Christ with the greater interest and power. After three days he called the jews together, and recited his case, adding as follows:

Acts 28:20. For the HOPE of Israel I am bound with this chain. Jeremiah 14:8. The Hope of Israel, the Messiah. “The fathers having this Hope, served God day and night.” But in Babylon they mourned, saying, our Hope is lost. Ezekiel 37:12. Christ, the hope, the blessed hope set before us, the hope of the gospel, is like an anchor, sure and stedfast. Titus 2:13.

Acts 28:23. When they had appointed a day, there came many of the principal jews to his lodging. Christ had appeared to Paul, and he was a debtor to all men, to turn them from darkness to light. The more pious jews believed, while the wicked, being hardened, sought to kill him.

Acts 28:26-27. Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand. This text is often translated in a very different way from the reading of the LXX, which St. Luke here adopts. He justifies God, and wholly blames the jews for their wilful obduracy. So Dr. Whitby adds. The prophecy of Isaiah here referred to stands thus in our translation. Go, and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Isaiah 6:9-10. In order to the right understanding of this text, and some others of the like import, it may be proper to take notice, that interpreters and commentators have remarked two rules which translators should be careful to observe.

(1) That a person is sometimes in scripture said to do a thing, when the meaning is that he only declares that the thing will be done, or that it is done already, by those who are capable of doing it. Thus God says to Jeremiah, I have this day set thee over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy: Jeremiah 1:10. But it is evident that it was not the work of a prophet to root out, or pull down, or destroy, but only to declare and foretel what was to come to pass. So likewise the actions here mentioned, not being in the prophet’s power, it is certain that this order only signified that he was to declare to this people that their heart is fat, that their ears are stopt, and their eyes shut. Hence, where the priest is commanded to make him clean, whose flesh the leprosy had covered all over, so as to be all turned white, our translators have very well rendered it, that he shall pronounce him clean. And so also in other places.

(2) That a thing is often said to be done by a person, who only permits, or at most grants that it shall be done; as may be seen in Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:7; Exodus 9:35; Exodus 14:8, Isaiah 63:17, and many other places of scripture. Both which rules may be comprehended in this one, that when a scripture seems to express any thing contrary to right reason, we are to conclude that it must admit of another meaning; and by these we may easily rectify most of the faults which are to be found in all versions; especially those which ascribe to God such actions as are unworthy of him, and incompatible with his holiness, justice, goodness, and the rest of his divine attributes.

The translators make Moses say, in Deuteronomy 29:4, that God had not given the Israelites a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear; from which, libertines take occasion to disculpate themselves, and lay all their sins at God’s door. Yet he who but opens the book may find, that God highly upbraids that people for their unbelief, their stupidity, and obstinacy in their sins; notwithstanding all the admonitions he had given them, all the promises he had made of blessing them, if they hearkened to his counsel; the terrible threatenings of giving them over to their enemies, and to utter misery and ruin; and in fine, notwithstanding all the miracles he had wrought in their favour, since the beginning of their Egyptian bondage, to engage them to observe his laws. How then is it possible to imagine that God, after all this, for justifying his dealing towards them, and to convince them of their wickedness, should say that he had not given them a heart to perceive his designs, nor eyes nor ears to consider them. We must therefore reform all the versions in that place, and say with Moses, hath not God given you a heart, &c. There is scarcely any person who can without astonishment read what the translations make Jesus Christ and his apostles say, with reference to the same prophecy of Isaiah, in Matthew 13:14. Mark 4:12. Luke 8:10. John 12:40. Romans 11:8.

Our Lord spoke in parables, but these versions and interpretations give them a meaning which is quite opposite to the nature and design of a parable, which is a plain and simple way of speaking, proportioned to the understanding of persons of the meanest capacity; an example or comparison borrowed from what the most ignorant can understand, to explain something that might have some difficulty in it. Now it looks very odd, that our Saviour should speak to the multitude in parables, that is, in a plain and familiar way, that they might not perceive or understand him. The true way not to be understood by them, was to speak in mysteries; but the text tells us, that for this very reason he did not speak to them in mysteries, as he did to the disciples, but by parables.

Such translations are contrary to the design of Christ’s coming into the world, and continuing so long in it; which was, in a great measure, to reform mankind, and to make them wiser and better. Acts 10:38. 1 Timothy 2:4. Titus 2:12. 2 Peter 3:9. And as he designed the good of mankind in general, so in a most particular manner he designed the good of the jewish nation, of the lost sheep of Israel, whom these words of Isaiah especially concern. Among them he lived, to them he preached, before them he wrought many mighty works. At the sight of their approaching ruin he wept, for them he prayed, after they had rejected all his calls and invitations, and even when crucifying him, and treating him with all the indignities and injuries that their malice could invent, or their power inflict. To them he first sent his apostles, who did not turn to the gentiles till the jews had proved altogether obstinate and incurable.

Now, how is it possible to imagine, that he could have a design to blind and harden them for whom he had done and suffered so much? Indeed, if this had been true, they might with good reason expostulate with God, as our translators make their forefathers to do. Isaiah 63:17. “Oh Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our hearts from thy fear?” At such divinity I shake and tremble. Some philosophers indeed have taken pleasure in expressing themselves obscurely: but far be it from us to attribute any such design to the Saviour of the world, who was no respecter of persons; who adapted his doctrines to all capacities, because he would have all to be saved, and became a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. In short, this hardening does not infer a necessity of doing evil, as appears from what St. Paul plainly declares, concerning the idolatrous heathens, and the stiff-necked jews.

Acts 28:30-31. Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house — preaching the kingdom of God, till it pleased the Lord to deliver him from the mouth of the lion, having made his bonds subservient to the success of the gospel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 28:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/acts-28.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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