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Bible Commentaries
Acts 28

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

Paul’s prophecy is brought to pass. All the passengers escape the ship to be delivered safely to the island referred to as Melita. In the next few verses, we will again be made witness to the miraculous abilities of Paul as he deals with a venomous serpent and the healing of assorted maladies. Then it is on to Paul’s inevitable destiny: an appointment with Caesar.

Verse 1

And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.

Although the ship is lost, being grounded upon a sand bar and subsequently being torn apart (27:41), all those aboard safely reach the land. The island is called Melita. Barnes provides the following:

The island is 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 twenty miles in length from east to west, and twelve miles in breath from north to south, ... It is about sixty miles from the coast of Sicily (534).

Verse 2

And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.

And the barbarous people: The word "barbarous" used here "means neither savages not barbarous people. In the language of the day mankind was made up of three groups of people: Jews, Greeks, and barbarians. All who did not speak Greek but native languages were termed ’barbarians’ in the sense of foreign people" (Lenski 1098).

shewed us no little kindness for they kindled a fire, and received us every one: Luke, never one to waste words, is saying these hospitable natives show them great kindness. It should be remembered this company involves some 276 persons (27:37). Luke emphasizes the fact that they "received us every one." It certainly would have been no small job to build a fire big enough to provide a measure of comfort for such a number.

because of the present rain, and because of the cold: One can almost feel the discomfort of the survivors. They are soaked to the skin from the sea and the cold autumn rain. A warm fire would certainly cheer the body and elevate the spirit.

Verse 3

And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.

Luke allows us another glance at the character of the Apostle Paul. Paul is not like many of the soft-handed, coiffured clergy of today who prefer not to get their hands dirty. He is gathering wood to add to the fire. Surely the survivors realize Paul is someone special by now, but that does not prevent him from working as everyone else is.

During the process of gathering wood, Paul inadvertently picks up a venomous snake that bites him. The snake fastens his fangs into Paul’s hand.

Verse 4

And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.

Upon seeing the snake bite Paul after his escape from the hazards of the sea, the natives conclude Paul must be guilty of murder for which the "gods" will not allow him to escape justice.

Verses 5-6

And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

Here is another place in scripture where the scoffers, mockers, and nay sayers jump up to say, "There is no wood or poisonous vipers on the island of Malta; thus, this Bible account is false." Others will say, "The snake did not really bite Paul but merely coiled around his hand." Lenski says, "Take the miracle out of this record and a pointless story is left" (1100). The truth of the matter is the snake does bite Paul, and the natives of the island are not mistaken about the identification of a deadly danger with which they have to contend on a daily basis. It may be true that there is no wood or deadly snakes on Malta now ("The population density of Malta is now over 1200 people to the square mile") (Hervey 319), but the event under consideration occurred almost two thousand years ago!

How fickle is the mind of man. How easily can come the reversal of one’s fortune. One day the crowd cries, "Hosanna to the Son of David" (Matthew 21:9), and a few days later the same crowd cries, "let Him be crucified" (Matthew 27:23). Paul, thought to be a murderer a few minutes before, is now hailed as a god.

As a tangent, we cannot pass a humorous conclusion reached by Coffman:

People who are impressed with efforts to impose humane methods of killing rattlesnakes in Texas should take note of this. Burning the viper alive appeared to Paul as a suitable form of extermination; and none of the people who had to contend with such reptiles complained of it (509).

Verse 7

In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.

Luke introduces us to a new character by the name of Publius. This "chief man of the island" shows his compassion for these hapless travelers by stepping up and taking charge of their needs and accommodations in a most friendly way.

Verse 8

And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.

The rewards of the hospitality of Publius are quickly seen in the mercies of God being poured out upon his stricken father.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).

Publius’ father has fever and dysentery. Dr. Luke uses these two words together with the professionalism of a physician to diagnose the man’s malady. This ailment was and still is common and can be deadly because of the dehydration of the patient.

For all the scoffers who would explain away all the miracles of the Bible, we have a professional diagnosis of a significant disease and a miraculous cure.

For our modern day "faith healing" charlatans, take note: there is no requirement on the father of Publius to "have faith"; the cure is instant and complete; no one leaves this "healing meeting" disappointed (see notes on 4:30; 3:16).

Verse 9

So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed:

Luke records that many enjoy the benefits of the healing powers of Paul. It must also be assumed, although not mentioned by Luke, that the gospel is preached. The primary purpose of miracles is to confirm the word of God (4:30; 8:17; 14:3). For the people of Melita, it is truly a physical and spiritual windfall to have the "tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon" dash the ship containing the Apostle Paul upon their shore.

Verse 10

Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.

Who also honoured us with many honours: It would not be in keeping with the tenor of divine scripture to assume that the people of Melita "paid" Paul for their miraculous healing with "gifts" (Matthew 10:8). "The word (honours) was applied to payments for professional services, and that fact may have influenced Luke in selecting it; but it is evidently not used in that sense here" (Vincent 599). The "honours" under consideration here involved the utmost respect, highest esteem, and greatest appreciation that can be shown to Paul for the wonderful blessings that his presence has brought to these people. Who can estimate the everlasting impact the great apostle brought to the lives of these people? How many former pagans now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Paul and Luke as brothers and sisters in Christ?

and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary: The people of Melita supply Paul and company the necessities to continue their trip. The fact that there is a distinction made between gifts put on board ship and the "honours" given Paul further indicates no material payment is made for miraculous blessings.

Verse 11

And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.

After a three-month layover, waiting for a change in the weather, it is determined to continue the trip to Rome. Again, a government grain ship from Alexanderia, much like the ill-fated vessel that brought them to Melita, has wintered on the island and is available to continue the trip.

The Twin Brothers, whose wooden images, stand at the bow or stern, constituted her sign, or, as we would say in modern phraseology, her name, were Castor and Pollux, the two fabled sons of Jupiter who were the special guardians of sailors (McGarvey, Vol. II 279).

Verse 12

And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days.

Syracuse is a town on the eastern coast of the island of Sicily. It is about eighty miles from Melita, a trip of less than twenty-four hours. Unger says the city was "founded about 735 B.C. and was very prosperous" (1055). What happens during the three days at Syracuse is left to our imagination.

Verse 13

And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli:

Since the port of Rhegium lies about seventy miles to the north of Syracuse and the wind is blowing from the north, it is necessary to employ a method of sailing that is called "tacking." By zigzagging back and forth, the ship is able to sail into the wind. The term "fetched a compass" indicates this type of sailing "in a circuitous route" (Plumtre 179).

Rhegium is now the modern Italian town of Reggio. It is located on the very "toe" of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula.

The following day a more favorable wind from the south arises, and the journey is completed to Puteoli.

Puteoli was a regular port of entry for the fleet of grain ships operating between Rome and Egypt, and was in those days a seaport of great importance. Just eight miles NW of Naples, it was the greatest port in Italy. The large pier had twenty-five arches, of which thirteen ruined ones remain (Coffman 512).

Verse 14

Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.

It is not surprising that Paul finds brethren waiting for him in Puteoli. One of the true "perks" of being a child of God is in being a part of the Christian family here on earth. It is a blessing indeed to enjoy the company of brothers and sisters in Christ who truly love you and have a real concern about your welfare.

There is considerable speculation as to the reason for remaining in Puteoli for seven days. There is much credibility in the conclusion that Paul and company tarry in order to observe the Lord’s supper with the brethren before pushing on to Rome. Would the Roman centurion have allowed for such a delay? It is quite possible that Julius is a Christian himself by this time; and, at the very least, who could deny the one who has saved the whole party from the brink of death such a small request? Coffman says:

Thus Paul and his party would be with the Christians at the Lord’s table on the Lord’s Day, as they had been at Troas (20:6, 7) and at Tyre (21:4). There can hardly be any doubt that all three instances of these seven-day periods of waiting were caused by the apostle Paul’s arrival on a Monday, in each case, and that a week’s delay was necessary to afford the opportunity of taking the Lord’s supper on the Lord’s Day (513).

After what must have been a week of both spiritual and physical refreshment for Paul, the fateful journey resumes. With a certain inevitable conclusion awaiting some 150 miles ahead, Paul walks with determination and singleness of heart up the Appian Way, the world’s most modern highway. This ambassador of Christ has an appointment to plead the case for Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, before the incarnation of unbridled heathenism, Nero, Caesar of Imperial Rome!

Verse 15

And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.

Paul is refreshed again and encouraged by the support of his brethren. Some brethren from Rome travel about forty miles to "Appii forum" to meet Paul while others travel about thirty miles to "The three taverns."

Both appii forum and The three taverns are small wayside stops established to take advantage of the large amount of traffic up and down the Appian Way. Much like our "Quick Stops" along major highways of today, these places provide food, drink, and overnight provisions for travelers.

Verse 16

And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.

The more notorious prisoners bound to Rome for crimes such as robbery and murder are turned over to the proper guards for incarceration and later punishment while Paul is allowed a type of house arrest. He takes up residence in a rented house(verse 30). "Here again the question of Paul’s undeniable financial ability comes to mind, but we have no certain solution. Luke may very well have been wealthy; or Paul himself, ... might have inherited wealth" (Coffman 520). It is certain that Paul has many rich and generous brethren who visit him in Rome, as well as gifts he receives from the Philippians by way of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:10-14). Whatever the means, the cause of Jesus does not suffer for lack of material support.

The only restraint taken on Paul is the "mild form of custodia militaris" (Lenski 1112). This type of custody involves the assigning of a Roman guard who is literally chained to Paul, thus Paul’s reference to "this chain" in verse 20. What begins as a mundane duty for these guards turns into the opportunity of a lifetime. In their efforts to constrain Paul, they learn the "words of life, " which can forever free them from the bonds of sin and save their souls.

The soldier guard was changed at regular intervals so that during the space of two years Paul became acquainted with many of these men. Philippians 1:13 shows that the impression made upon these men was far-reaching. While Paul was confined to his dwelling, many kept coming to him daily, which enabled him to keep on testifying, and each soldier guard heard everything that was said during his hours on duty, to say nothing about the conversations which Paul had with such individual guards (Lenski 1112).

Verse 17

And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

It is quite interesting that in spite of the rejection and persecution he suffers at the hands of the Jews, Paul always makes an appeal to them first. It seems he never gives up on the concept "to the Jew first" (Romans 1:16). Here, once again, Paul reaffirms he is innocent of any and all charges against him; yet, because of the Jews, he stands to give answer in the courts of the Romans.

Verses 18-19

Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.

Paul explains that the Romans (25:24-25; 26:32) "would have let me go"; but because of the Jews, he is a Roman prisoner.

Verse 20

For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.

What a wonderful introduction Paul has made to these Jews in Rome. He has made neither accusations nor harsh charges; rather he explains that because he bears the "hope of Israel" he is chained to this Roman soldier. We can be sure these Jews do not yet understand the "hope of Israel" to which Paul refers, but they are soon to learn.

Verse 21

And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.

This verse holds a certain amount of intrigue. Can we really believe that this tightknit Jewish hierarchy has not received notice of the actions of the famous Apostle Paul? The Jews of Judaea have certainly had enough time to get word to their Roman brothers. As Coffman says, "If they had wished to press charges, Paul’s three months delay after the shipwreck gave them plenty of time to have crawled to Rome..." (516). What reasons can there be for this lack of follow-up on the charges against Paul? Following is a summation provided by Bruce that may answer some of these questions:

The answer of the Jewish leaders to Paul is a model of diplomacy. They denied all knowledge of his case; no visitor or letter had come from Jerusalem about him, they assured him. This might be thought surprising enough, but we cannot say confidently that it cannot be true. The leaders of the Sanhedrin may have realized that if they could not proceed successfully against Paul before provincial magistrates, there was still less chance of a successful prosecution in Rome. A year or two later they might have been more hopeful; Poppaea Sabina, whom Nero married in A.D. 62, was very friendly to Jews; Josephus, indeed, goes so far as to call her a God-fearer. But, in view of the regular communication between Rome and the East, we should have expected the Roman Jews to have some inkling of the trouble that had arisen over Paul; we may bear in mind, however, that under the present circumstances they would be anxious not to be associated with the prosecution of a Roman citizen who had secured a favourable hearing from Festus and Agrippa and was now to be heard by the emperor. They wished, in fact, to have as little to do as possible either with Paul or with his Christianity (530-531).

Verse 22

But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.

The disingenuousness of the Roman Jews is made even more apparent with the statement made in this verse. Can it be that they know nothing of Christianity except that it is "this sect" held in universal disdain?

But we may be quite sure that they had quite an extensive experience of Christianity in Rome itself. When the Christian community in Rome came into being is a matter of conjecture, but when Paul wrote his epistle to the Roman church early in A.D. 57 it was already a well-established church and its Christian faith and loyalty were renowned throughout all the churches (Romans 1:8). It may well have been one of the earliest churches to be founded outside Palestine, and we have seen ground for believing that ten years before Paul’s arrival the advance of the gospel in the Jewish community at Rome led to riots which brought imperial displeasure upon the community. But on this occasion the leaders of the community judged it politic not to commit themselves on the subject–at any rate not until they heard Paul’s account of himself and the message to which he had dedicated his life (Bruce 531).

We would add that the Lord’s church is not a sect in the sense that it is a split or schism off the old Jewish religion as the Jews regard it. Rather Christianity is a far superior successor to the Jewish religion (Hebrews 8:6-13). The Old Covenant predicts the coming of the Messiah; the New Covenant confirms Jesus as that promised Messiah (Hebrews 10:1-10). We will carry this one step further by affirming the Lord’s church is not a sect, neither is it a denomination.

Verse 23

And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.

On the day of this marathon study, "from morning till evening, " Paul’s rented house is filled to capacity with the Jewish leadership from Rome. We can only imagine the careful presentation made by Paul. All loose ends must be tied; every effort must be made to answer the questions that are sure to arise in the minds of these contentious Jews. Paul labors to expound the word of God. Vine says the word "expound" means "to set out" or "to expose" (Vol. II 63). As solemnly predicted by Jesus, Paul is "bearing witness in Rome" (23:11).

The expression "Moses and the prophets" is a common way to refer to the entire Old Testament.

For a detailed explanation on the "kingdom of God, " see notes on 8:12.

Verse 24

And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

Luke certainly wastes no words on his assessment of the results of Paul’s efforts. As is always the case when the gospel is presented, some believe it while others reject it.

Verses 25-27

And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

At the close of the day and apparently also at the close of Paul’s efforts to expound God’s word, there appears to have been many animated and perhaps loud discussions among the Jews. Paul surely is exhausted and frustrated in his struggle with unbelief and prejudice; yet he gives his audience one last thought to ponder.

As a final thought, Paul quotes this passage from Isaiah 6:9-10. The point is a reminder that the same self-imposed blindness that caused the Jews to reject Jesus is now causing them to reject the gospel. It is not the fact that the Jews cannot hear but rather that they will not. It is not that they cannot see but that they "closed their eyes." They can also understand, but they choose not to.

It might be beneficial to make a modern application. The Jews were satisfied with their religion to the point that they were unwilling to listen to anything else. Today there are untold thousands who also have a self-imposed blindness because they are satisfied with their religion or lack of it. They are unwilling to "try" what they believe against the word of God. They choose not to see, hear, and understand the gospel.

Jesus also uses this passage from Isaiah, quoted here by Paul, in reference to the Jews in Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; and John 12:38-41.

It should also be noticed that the Holy Spirit spoke the will of God through Isaiah the prophet. Lenski makes the following comment:

He names "the Holy Spirit" as though the Jews knew this Third Person of the Godhead fully. They did. The Old Testament revealed the Trinity. In the days of the Baptist we find no Jew objecting to the Three Persons. The Jews have not yet become Unitarian (1126-1127).

Verses 28-29

Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.

This is the final rejection of the gospel by the Jews. Paul boldly declares, "the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it." This statement likely supplies us with the "one word" referred to in verse 25 that serves to disperse the Jews. That "one word" is the word "Gentile." It is the word "Gentile" that signals the end of Paul’s speech before the mob at the temple in 22:22. It is totally inconceivable to the Jewish mind that God will show any religious favor to these heathen nations derisively known as the Gentiles. No one word can so quickly prejudice the Jewish mind and incite frenzy like the word "Gentile."

We have reached a major milestone in the book of Acts. The gospel has reached the end of the original restriction "first to the Jews" (Romans 1:16). Now the apostle, in the same spirit that he deals with the blasphemous Jews in Antioch in Pisidia, says: "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (13:46).

Verses 30-31

And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

It is with these last two verses that we bring to a close this dramatic narrative of the preaching of the gospel in the first century. Luke informs us that for a total of "two whole years" Paul is allowed the unobstructed opportunity to preach and teach the glorious "kingdom of God." (See notes on "teaching and preaching" in 15:35 and notes on the "kingdom of God" in 8:12.)

Conclusion

It is with a certain sadness that we close this study, which has been so inspiring. We have watched through the divinely inspired words of Dr. Luke the cause of the only begotten Son of God rise from a thrilling beginning on Pentecost Day (2:1) to a crescendo that "turned the world upside down" (17:6). We are left here, one might say, at the end of the road. What is going to be the ending to this amazing saga of human devotion to a divine calling? The human mind is really not happy without an ending. The human mind wants to know:"What happens to the Apostle Paul? Is he released to make a trip to Crete or perhaps even Spain as some would say? Does he get his audience before Caesar? Do the Romans execute him by beheading? Is his head cut off with a sword? An axe?"

The truth of the matter is this is all the evidence we have. It is futile to overwork our imaginations with groundless assumptions. And really what finally happens to the physical existence of this great apostle is not important. From a spiritual standpoint, what is important is revealed. We leave this great man of God doing what he is called to do, "preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ."

Is there any way that our questions will ever be answered? Oh, yes, there is a way. By the grace of God, we can look forward to taking up again the company of the apostle along with the saved of all ages on the other side of death, beyond the resurrection morning, in the splendors of an eternity in heaven.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and NOT TO ME ONLY, but unto ALL THEM also that love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 28". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-28.html. 1993-2022.
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