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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 28



Other Authors
Verse 1

Paul on the Isle of Malta, Acts 28:1-11.


1. Escaped—The wreck of a great merchantman, and the escape of two hundred and seventy-six persons to the shore, would attract a large company of the rural population to the shore. The city of Valetta, the present capital, was but five miles distance.

They knew—Either because some of them recognised some aspects of the place, or because they learned it from the inhabitants.

Melita—Malta. (See map.) It is about sixty miles south of Sicily. Originally peopled by the Phoenicians, it was conquered by the Greeks, and subsequently, as in Paul’s time, belonged to the Romans. In the ninth century it was conquered by the Saracens, from whom it was won, with a heroism celebrated in history, by “the Knights of Malta.” It now is owned by England. (Note Acts 27:27.)

Verse 2

2. No little kindness—To these refugees from the terrors of the storm the beaming faces even of barbarians were a welcome sunshine.

Rain… cold—The wet November blasts were sweeping their bodies, ill-clad, and perhaps some of them unclad.

Verse 3

3. Paul had gathered—The prisoners, safe on an island from which they could not escape, were probably not yet chained again.

A viper—The viper is the only viviparous species of serpent, and very venomous. There are no vipers at the present day in Malta. On that island, as in our own country, the increased density of a civilized population exterminates venomous reptiles.

Out of the heat—The viper stiffens with a small degree of cold, and recovers his activity with warmth. Supposing himself assaulted, he made a fierce assault. The enraged viper will dart several feet upon his victim.

Fastened—With his teeth, and, as appears by the next verse, hung to Paul’s hand until flung off.

Verse 4

4. Beast—Animal. The Greek word is applied to any noxious animal, quadruped, or reptile.

Vengeance—The remarkable Greek term here is δικη, Dike, Justice, or Retribution. If it does not imply Justice to be a goddess, it certainly constitutes a strong personification. Homer is quoted by Kuinoel as saving, “Wise men of old said that Retribution is the co-assessor of Jove;” and Hesiod, “A virgin is Dike, born from Zeus.” And here Paul found a striking illustration of his own doctrine, “The Gentiles which have not the [written] law are a law unto themselves.”

Verse 6

6. Swollen… dead suddenly—The two stages of dissolution from the bite of the viper are: First, a highly inflamed swelling beginning at the bitten place, and then a rapid death. The pain is exquisite, especially when the patient is touched. Lucian, the satirist, says of the viper, “His bite is violent, his venom thick, quickly bringing on agonies, for it burns and rots and swells, and the victim screams as if burned in fire.” The Scythians dipped their weapons in vipers’ venom, and, says Pliny, “they brought death by a light touch.”

A god—A supernatural of any class.

Verse 7

7. Possessions—Landed estates.

Chief man—A πρωτος, a Primus, Primate or first man. Two ancient coins have been discovered at Civita Vecchia on which the very phrase “First and patron of the Miletans” is inscribed. This remarkable fact is quoted as illustrating Luke’s accuracy in designating the title of the governor of this obscure island. But it appears, in fact, that the term primus, or first, did not designate the title of the governor, but something still more peculiar. It seems to have been an honorary title like patron or prince in some Italian towns.

Verse 8

8. Fever… bloody flux—Dysentery with paroxysms of fever, diseases, as attested by modern physicians, prevailing in Malta at the present day. Passages like this and Acts 12:23; Acts 13:11; and Luke 22:44, are quoted as illustrating Luke’s exactness as a physician. Dr. Hackett thinks them so quoted with reason. “No other writer of the New Testament exhibits this sort of technical precision in speaking of diseases.”

Of this rude isle Paul must have retained pleasant recollections. It is permanently honoured in having its Christianity planted by his hands, and by this imperishable record of the free heart with which he and it were received.

Verse 11

Paul’s Journey to Rome, Acts 28:11-16.

11. It was about the beginning of February in the year 61 that, after a three months’ wintering in Malta, Julius embarked for Rome.

Ship of Alexandria—Malta was in the direct line of the great corn commerce from Alexandria to Puteoli and Rome. This ship, detained probably at Valetta, like Paul’s ship from Alexandria, was more fortunate in escaping shipwreck, though arrested in its career by winter. When the spring of this southern clime approached and navigation opened the Castor and Pollux was ready for Julius’ use.

Sign—A carved and gilded statue, (figure head,) sometimes a bas relief or painting, called by the Romans tutela, at the bow of the ship, and from which the ship usually received its name. The figure head of the present ship, Castor and Pollux, represented the deified twin brothers of the beautiful Helen who caused the fall of Troy. They were the fabulous patrons of sailors, and were by them identified with the heavenly constellation, the Gemini or Twins, and were supposed to be the meteoric fire balls (called by modern sailors the “fires of St. Elmo”) which are seen at sea. It was in a vessel consecrated to this complicated pagan superstition that our Christian hero sailed toward the pagan capital.

Verse 12

12. Syracuse—A trip of a hundred miles. This celebrated city was situated on a broad promontory on the eastern coast of Sicily.

Three days— Probably for the purpose of trade, for the present ship still bore its corn freight from Egypt.

Verse 13

13. A compassA curve in the ship’s course. According to Mr. Lewin the wind was from the west; but Mount Etna obstructing the breeze left them becalmed, and obliged them to make an outward circuit in order to fill their sails.

Rhegium—Here, as the north wind blowing down through the strait made navigation impossible, they were detained for one day, after which the favourable south wind blew, and the next day, after a sail of one hundred and eighty-two miles, they arrived at Puteoli.

A corn ship now arrives at Puteoli, the earliest of the spring! It was always a great arrival, and of all that sailed into this the great Roman harbour, the Alexandrian ship alone was not required reverently to lower her topsail, but might sail into port in towering triumph.

It was the bay still renowned as the Bay of Naples into which Paul now sailed. Celebrated for its beauty, this wonderful bay had another celebrity derived from its performing the office (for which the small port of Ostia at the month of the Tiber was wholly insufficient) of harbour to the imperial city. Through this harbour of Puteoli passed the great current of intercourse by sea between Rome and the whole world.

Verse 14

14. Found brethren—Jews were plenty at Puteoli, as a commercial town, and Christians were not wanting. It is a proof of Julius’ high regard for Paul that he delayed an entire week in deference to the wishes of his Christian friends. The week suggests that it was the wish of the Christian Church at Puteoli that Paul should pass a Sabbath with them that his preaching might be heard by a general gathering of a widespread brotherhood. By the delay, as intimated in the verse following, intelligence of the apostle’s arrival surprised the Church at Rome, and drew a joyous delegation thence to meet and escort the “ambassador in bonds” to the capital.

Toward Rome—From Puteoli they would go twelve miles eastward to intersect the great Appian Way at Capua, (see map,) the luxurious city which melted away the hardihood of Hannibal’s veteran army. The Appian Way was titled in ancient times the “Queen of Great Thoroughfares.” It was built by Appius Claudius four hundred and eleven years after the founding of the city. It stretched from Rome, the length of southern Italy, until, as seen on the map, it reached Brundusium at the extremity of the heel of the boot-like shape of Italy. From Brundusium a water route across the Adriatic connected it at Dyrrachium on the west coast of Greece with the great Egnatian Way, (see notes on Acts 16:14-40,) and thence formed an unbroken line to the northeastern extremity of Macedonia. From the intersection at Capua to Rome was one hundred and twenty-five miles.

Verse 15

15. Brethren heard of us—To the Church at Rome, Paul had three years previous addressed the greatest of his epistles. To all appearance it was eminently a Pauline Church. They heard the sudden news that the apostle of the Gentiles, adorned with fetters gloriously earned in the cause of the blessed Jesus, was on his way within a hundred miles or more of Rome, we might well anticipate, with rare delight.

Appii Forum—About forty miles from Rome. Leaving Capua, on arriving at the celebrated Pomptine Marshes Julius would have his choice to keep the Appian Way in its circuitous route around the Marshes, or take the canal across in a boat dragged by mules. Both routes united at Appii Forum. The Roman Christians not knowing (any better than we) which of the two routes the apostle would take, met him at the junction at Appii Forum. Appii Forum, or Appius’ Market, was probably a cluster of houses formed at the junction originally, around a station where articles were retailed to travellers.

Three Taverns—A tavern, taberna, (derived from trabs, a plank,) was primitively a wooden hut, derivatively not an inn, but rather a grocery, a restaurant, “a retail shop where all sorts of eatables and drinkables were kept.”

Took courage—Christian sympathy quickened the heart of our genial apostle. It is very possible that many if not all this little band of Roman Christians were within three or four years driven into exile or cruelly murdered by the execrable Nero. On the night of July 19, A.D. 64, a fire burst out in Rome which continued a week, and laid nearly one quarter of the city in ashes. Popular opinion fixed the charge of originating the conflagration on Nero himself. To exculpate himself from this suspicion Nero laid the charge upon the Christians of Rome, and forthwith commenced a series of cruelties which appalled that and every other age. From causes mentioned in our note on Acts 28:22, the Christians were now the object of pagan hatred. Esteeming them as helpless victims, and hoping that popular hatred would sustain his cruelty, Nero inflicted tortures which even a pagan historian, Tacitus, records with abhorrence. Of those who refused to call the emperor Lord, to swear by his name, to offer sacrifices to his image and to the heathen deities, “some,” says Tacitus, “were disguised in the skins of wild beasts and worried to death by dogs, some were crucified, and others were wrapped in pitched shirts by night that they might serve as lights to illuminate the night.” No longer protected by Roman power, the Church, condemned as holding an unlawful religion, was exposed both to the violence of the populace and the severity of the magistrate.

Verse 16

16. Came to Rome—Starting from the Three Taverns, our ambassador, with his company of bondsmen and escort of freemen, would pass the celebrated Alban Hills, and on a summit a little beyond Aricia would cast his first glance upon the imperial ROME. It was itself a magnificent nation, the head of the nations of the earth. He entered the city by the Appian Way, where many a conqueror had entered in triumphal procession, but none with a name so notable to posterity as this “prisoner of Christ.”


The guard—Every absolute monarch usually finds it necessary to secure a competent body of troops upon whose fidelity to his own person he can rely in case of rebellion. Such for the emperor of Rome were the pretorian troops. The Pretorian Camp, situated outside of the northwest wall of the city, was a large square lined with military barracks, the lodgings of the soldiery, and strongly fortified on all sides. Its commander, captain of the guard, at this time was the celebrated Burrhus, who, in connection with Seneca, endeavoured to support the fortunes of the empire under the reign of the mad and bloody Nero. But in fact the whole clause— the centurion… but—is omitted from so many manuscripts that Tischendorf and other high authorities reject it as spurious.

Dwell by himself—The usual place for prisoners would be in the barracks of the Pretorium; but such would be the reports both of Festus and Julius that respect for Paul’s high character might secure him a better condition. Sustained by the Churches both at Rome and elsewhere, he would find it easy to secure apartments not only sufficient for his personal convenience, but to receive friends and inquirers hospitably, and to accommodate a congregation to listen to his preaching. Welcomed as he most certainly was by the Roman Church, he was secluded from its congregations except as they gathered to him.


Verse 17

Offer of Gospel to Jews, Acts 28:17-29.

17. And—According to his own motto in his epistle to the Romans, “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile,” Paul first makes his appeal to the Jews at Rome. Unable to go to them, he invites them to himself. The usual result occurs; here in the world’s metropolis a minority believe, the majority harden themselves, and he announces his future and final departure to the Gentiles.

After three days—Spent in recovering from fatigue and seeing his special Roman friends.

Chief—In character and influence rather than office. Paul’s purpose was not mainly to exculpate himself from infidelity to Judaism. This exculpation is but preparatory to the pressing Jesus the Messiah upon their faith.

Yet was I delivered—He states the proceedings of the Sanhedrin against him in the most gentle terms possible, giving the fact passively without holding any body responsible.

Verse 19

19. Not… accuse my nation—The fact of his being compelled to appeal implicated the heads of his nation; but he repudiates the feeling or purpose of accusing. The terms brethren, constrained, my nation, all indicate the deep affection for his kinsmen expressed in his epistle to the Romans, and his burning desire to win them to the Gospel. (Romans 9:1-6.)

Verse 20

20. For this cause—From the fact of his being a true brother Jew in undeserved bonds.

Hope of Israel—A deeper underlying cause, the real cause of his chain, is the hope of Israel, the Messiah. And that brings up the main point of discussion, not himself, but Christ.

Verse 21

21. Neither received letters—Paul’s voyage from Jerusalem to Rome was latest in fall and earliest in spring, so that probably he outstripped any other intelligence to the Roman Jews.

That came—In the same ship with Paul. His fellow passengers brought no charge against him. This does not imply that his career as a leader of a sect is unknown to them, but that no charge of a judicial nature had been reported to them. As the head of a sect they desire to hear his thinkings. This does not imply, as some have inferred, that there was little or no Christian Church now at Rome, or that these head Jews were unaware of its existence; but that in their view Paul, the celebrated pupil of Gamaliel, was such an expositor as had never been at Rome, such an expositor as it might be worth their while to hear.

Verse 22

22. Spoken against—Elsewhere and here at Rome. Frankly, then, though they will listen, their prepossessions are against the argument.

The hatred and calumny now poured upon Christians, by which Nero was em