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Print Version Main Index : Commentaries : JFB Commentary : Acts Index : Chapter 28

Acts, Chapter 28
Chapter 27 | No More
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Matthew Henry
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      1. knew the island was called Melita--(See on Ac 27:39). The opinion that this island was not Malta to the south of Sicily, but Meleda in the Gulf of Venice--which till lately had respectable support among Competent judges--is now all but exploded; examination of all the places on the spot, and of all writings and principles bearing on the question, by gentlemen of the highest qualification, particularly SMITH (see on Ac 27:41), having set the question, it may now be affirmed, at rest.

      2. the barbarous people--so called merely as speaking neither the Greek nor the Latin language. They were originally Phoenician colonists.
      showed us no little--"no ordinary"
      kindness, for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain--"the rain that was on us"--not now first falling, but then falling heavily.
      and because of the cold--welcomed us all, drenched and shivering, to these most seasonable marks of friendship. In this these "barbarians" contrast favorably with many since bearing the Christian name. The lifelike style of the narrative here and in the following verses gives it a great charm.

      3. when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks--"a quantity of dry sticks." The vigorous activity of Paul's character is observable in this comparatively trifling action [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].
      and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat--Having laid itself up among the sticks on the approach of the cold winter season, it had suddenly recovered from its torpor by the heat.
      and fastened--its fangs.
      on his hand--Vipers dart at their enemies sometimes several feet at a bound. They have now disappeared from Malta, owing to the change which cultivation has produced.

      4-6. No doubt this man is a murderer--His chains, which they would see, might strengthen the impression.
      whom . . . vengeance suffereth not to live--They believed in a Supreme, Resistless, Avenging Eye and Hand, however vague their notions of where it resided.

      5. shook off the beast and felt no harm--See Mr 16:18.

      6. they looked--"continued looking."
      when he should have swollen or fallen down dead--familiar with the effects of such bites.
      and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said . . . he was a god--from "a murderer" to "a god," as the Lycaonian greeting of Paul and Silas from "sacrificing to them" to "stoning them" (Ac 14:13,19). What has not the Gospel done for the uncultivated portion of the human family, while its effects on the educated and refined, though very different, are not less marvellous! Verily it is God's chosen restorative for the human spirit, in all the multitudinous forms and gradations of its lapsed state.

      7, 8. possessions of the chief man--"the first man."
      of the island--He would hardly be so styled in the lifetime of his father, if his distinction was that of the family. But it is now ascertained that this was the proper official title of the Maltese representative of the Roman prætor to Sicily, to whose province Malta belonged; two inscriptions having been discovered in the island, one in Greek, the other in Latin, containing the same words which Luke here employs.
      who received us--of Paul's company, but doubtless including the "courteous" Julius.
      and lodged us three days courteously--till proper winter lodgings could be obtained for them.

      8. the father of Publius lay sick of a fever--"fevers." The word was often thus used in the plural number, probably to express recurring attacks.
      and of a bloody flux--"of dysentery." (The medical accuracy of our historian's style has been observed here.)
      to whom Paul entered in, and prayed--thereby precluding the supposition that any charm resided in himself.
      and laid his hands on him, and healed him--Thus, as our Lord rewarded Peter for the use of his boat (Lu 5:3,4, &c.), so Paul richly repays Publius for his hospitality. Observe the fulfilment here of two things predicted in Mr 16:18--the "taking up serpents," and "recovering of the sick by laying hands on them."

      9. this . . . done, others . . . came and were healed--"kept coming to [us] and getting healed," that is, during our stay, not all at once [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].

      10. who also honoured us . . . and when we departed they laded us, &c.--This was not taking hire for the miracles wrought among them (Mt 10:8), but such grateful expressions of feeling, particularly in providing what would minister to their comfort during the voyage, as showed the value they set upon the presence and labors of the apostle among them, and such as it would have hurt their feelings to refuse. Whether any permanent effects of this three months' stay of the greatest of the apostles were left at Malta, we cannot certainly say. But though little dependence is to be placed upon the tradition that Publius became bishop of Malta and afterwards of Athens, we may well believe the accredited tradition that the beginnings of the Christian Church at Malta sprang out of this memorable visit.

      11. we departed in a ship of Alexandria--(See on Ac 27:6).
      which had wintered in the isle--no doubt driven m by the same storm which had wrecked on its shores the apostle's vessel--an incidental mark of consistency in the narrative.
      whose sign--or "figurehead"; the figure, carved or painted on the bow, which gave name to the vessel. Such figureheads were anciently as common as now.
      was Castor and Pollux--the tutelar gods of mariners, to whom all their good fortune was ascribed. St. Anthony is substituted for them in the modern superstitions of Mediterranean (Romanist) sailors. They carry his image in their boats and ships. It is highly improbable that two ships of Alexandra should have been casually found, of which the owners were able and willing to receive on board such a number of passengers (Ac 27:6). We may then reasonably conceive that it was compulsory on the owners to convey soldiers and state travellers [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].

      12, 13. landing at Syracuse--the ancient and celebrated capital of Sicily, on its eastern coast, about eighty miles, or a day's sail, north from Malta.
      we tarried there three days--probably from the state of the wind. Doubtless Paul would wish to go ashore, to find out and break ground among the Jews and proselytes whom such a mercantile center would attract to it; and if this was allowed at the outset of the voyage (Ac 27:3), much more readily would it be now when he had gained the reverence and confidence of all classes with whom he came in contact. At any rate we cannot wonder that he should be regarded by the Sicilians as the founder of the Church of that island.

      13. from thence we fetched a compass--that is, proceeded circuitously, or tacked, working to windward probably, and availing themselves of the sinuosities of the coast, the wind not being favorable [SMITH]. What follows confirms this.
      and came to Rhegium--now Reggio, a seaport on the southwest point of the Italian coast, opposite the northeast point of Sicily, and at the entrance of the narrow straits of Messina.
      after one day the south wind blew--a south wind having sprung up; being now favored with a fair wind, for want of which they had been obliged first to stay three days at Syracuse, and then to tack and put in for a day at Rhegium.
      the next day to Puteoli--now Pozzuoli, situated on the northern part of the magnificent bay of Naples about one hundred eighty miles north of Rhegium, a distance which they might make, running before their "south wind," in about twenty-six hours. The Alexandrian corn ships enjoyed a privilege peculiar to themselves, of not being obliged to strike their topsail on landing. By this they were easily recognized as they hove in sight by the crowds that we find gathered on the shore on such occasions [HOWSON].

      14, 15. Where we found brethren--not "the brethren" (see on Ac 21:4), from which one would conclude they did not expect to find such [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].
      and were desired--"requested."
      to tarry with them seven days--If this request came from Julius, it may have proceeded partly from a wish to receive instructions from Rome and make arrangements for his journey thither, partly from a wish to gratify Paul, as he seems studiously and increasingly to have done to the last. One can hardly doubt that he was influenced by both considerations. However this may be, the apostle had thus an opportunity of spending a Sabbath with the Christians of the place, all the more refreshing from his long privation in this respect, and as a seasoning for the unknown future that lay before him at the metropolis.
      so we went toward Rome.

      15. And from thence, when the brethren--of Rome
      heard of us--by letter from Puteoli, and probably by the same conveyance which took Julius' announcement of his arrival.
      they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum--a town forty-one miles from Rome.
      and the Three Taverns--thirty miles from Rome. Thus they came to greet the apostle in two parties, one stopping short at the nearer, the other going on to the more distant place.
      whom when Paul saw, he thanked God--for such a welcome. How sensitive he was to such Christian affection all his Epistles show (Ro 1:9, &c.).
      and took courage--his long-cherished purpose to "see Rome" (Ac 19:21), there to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, and the divine pledge that in this he should be gratified (Ac 23:11), being now about to be auspiciously realized.

      16. when we came to Rome--the renowned capital of the ancient world, situated on the Tiber.
      the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard--the Prætorian Prefect, to whose custody, as commander of the Prætorian guard, .the highest military authority in the city, were committed all who were to come before the emperor for trial. Ordinarily there were two such prefects; but from A.D. 51 to 62, one distinguished general--Burrus Aframus, who had been Nero's tutor--held that office; and as our historian speaks of "the captain," as if there were but one, it is thought that this fixes the apostle's arrival at Rome to be not later than the year 62 [WIES]. But even though there had been two when Paul arrived, he would be committed only to one of them, who would be "the captain" who got charge of him. (At most, therefore, this can furnish no more than confirmation to the chronological evidence otherwise obtained).
      but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a--"the"
      soldier that kept him--"guarded" him. (See on Ac 12:6). This privilege was allowed in the case of the better class of prisoners, not accused of any flagrant offense, on finding security--which in Paul's case would not be difficult among the Christians. The extension of this privilege to the apostle may have been due to the terms in which Festus wrote about him; but far more probably it was owing to the high terms in which Julius spoke of him, and his express intercession in his behalf. It was overruled, however, for giving the fullest scope to the labors of the apostle compatible with confinement at all. As the soldiers who kept him were relieved periodically, he would thus make the personal acquaintance of a great number of the Prætorian guard; and if he had to appear before the Prefect from time to time, the truth might thus penetrate to those who surrounded the emperor, as we learn, from Php 1:12,13, that it did.

      17-20. Paul called the chief of the Jews together--Though banished from the capital by Claudius, the Jews enjoyed the full benefit of the toleration which distinguished the first period of Nero's reign, and were at this time in considerable numbers, wealth, and influence settled at Rome. We have seen that long before this a flourishing Christian Church existed at Rome, to which Paul wrote his Epistle (see on Ac 20:3), and the first members of which were probably Jewish converts and proselytes. (See Introduction to Romans.)
      yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans--the Roman authorities, Felix and Festus.

      19. I was constrained to appeal . . . not that I had aught to accuse my nation of--"I am here not as their accuser, but as my own defender, and this not of choice but necessity." His object in alluding thus gently to the treatment he had received from the Jews was plainly to avoid whatever might irritate his visitors at the first; especially as he was not aware whether any or what information against him had reached their community.

      20. For this cause . . . have I called for you . . . because . . . for the hope of Israel--(See on Ac 26:6,7).
      I am bound with this chain--"This cause is not so much mine as yours; it is the nation's cause; all that is dear to the heart and hope of Israel is bound up with this case of mine." From the touching allusions which the apostle makes to his chains, before Agrippa first, and here before the leading members of the Jewish community at Rome, at his first interview with them, one would gather that his great soul felt keenly his being in such a condition; and it is to this keenness of feeling, under the control of Christian principle, that we owe the noble use which he made of it in these two cases.

      21, 22. We neither received letters out of Judea concerning thee, &c.--We need not suppose (with THOLUCK and others) that there was any dishonest concealment here. The distinction made between himself, against whom they heard nothing, and his "sect," as "everywhere spoken against," is a presumption in favor of their sincerity; and there is ground to think that as the case took an unexpected turn by Paul's appealing to Cæsar, so no information on the subject would travel from Jerusalem to Rome in advance of the apostle himself.

      22. we desire--"deem it proper"
      to hear of thee what thou thinkest--what are thy sentiments, views, &c. The apparent freedom from prejudice here expressed may have arisen from a prudent desire to avoid endangering a repetition of those dissensions about Christianity to which, probably, SUETONIUS alludes, and which had led to the expulsion of the Jews under Claudius [HUMPHRY]. See on Ac 18:2.

      23, 24. there came many--"considerable numbers"
      into his lodging--The word denotes one's place of stay as a guest (Phm 1:1:22), not "his own hired house," mentioned in Ac 28:30. Some Christian friends--possibly Aquila and Priscilla, who had returned to Rome (Ro 16:3), would be glad to receive him, though he would soon find himself more at liberty in a house of his own.
      to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God--opening up the great spiritual principles of that kingdom in opposition to the contracted and secular views of it entertained by the Jews.
      persuading them concerning Jesus--as the ordained and predicted Head of that kingdom.
      out of the law . . . and the prophets--drawing his materials and arguments from a source mutually acknowledged.
      from morning till evening--"Who would not wish to have been present?" exclaims BENGEL; but virtually we are present while listening to those Epistles which he dictated from his prison at Rome, and to his other epistolary expositions of Christian truth against the Jews.

      24. and some believed . . . some not--What simplicity and candor are in this record of a result repeated from age to age where the Gospel is presented to a promiscuous assemblage of sincere and earnest inquirers after truth, frivolous worldlings, and prejudiced bigots!

      25-29. when they--the Jews.
      agreed not among themselves--the discussion having passed into one between the two parties into which the visitors were now divided, respecting the arguments and conclusions of the apostle.
      they departed--the material of discussion being felt by both parties to be exhausted.
      after Paul had spoken one word--one solemn parting testimony, from those Scriptures regarded by both alike as "the Holy Ghost speaking" to Israel.

      26. Hearing, ye shall hear, &c.--(See on Mt 13:13-15 and Joh 12:38-40). With what pain would this stern saying be wrung from him whose "heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel was that they might be saved," and who "had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart" on their account (Ro 10:1 9:2)!

      28. the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear--(See on Ac 13:44-48). "This departure to the Gentiles" he had intimated to the perverse Jews at Antioch (Ac 13:46), and at Corinth (Ac 18:6); now at Rome: thus in Asia, Greece, and Italy" [BENGEL].

      29. the Jews departed, and had great--"much"
      reasoning among themselves--"This verse is wanting in many manuscripts [and omitted by several recent editors], but certainly without reason. Probably the words were regarded as superfluous, as they seem to tell us what we were told before, that Paul "departed" (see Ac 28:25). But in Ac 28:25 it is the breaking off of the discourse that is meant, here the final departure from the house" [OLSHAUSEN].

      30. in his own hired house--(See on Ac 28:23), yet still in custody, for he only "received all that came to him"; and it is not said that he went to the synagogue or anywhere else.

      31. with all confidence, no man forbidding him--enjoying, in the uninterrupted exercise of his ministry, all the liberty of a guarded man. Thus closes this most precious monument of the beginnings of the Christian Church in its march from east to west, among the Jews first, whose center was Jerusalem; next among the Gentiles, with Antioch for its headquarters; finally, its banner is seen waving over imperial Rome, foretokening its universal triumphs. That distinguished apostle whose conversion, labors, and sufferings for "the faith which once he destroyed" occupy more than half of this History, it leaves a prisoner, unheard, so far as appears, for two years. His accusers, whose presence was indispensable, would have to await the return of spring before starting for the capital, and might not reach it for many months; nor, even when there, would they be so sanguine of success--after Felix, Festus, and Agrippa had all pronounced him innocent--as to be impatient of delay. And if witnesses were required to prove the charge advanced by Tertullus, that he was "a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the [Roman] world" (Ac 24:5), they must have seen that unless considerable time was allowed them the case would certainly break down. If to this be added the capricious delays which the emperor himself might interpose, and the practice of Nero to hear but one charge at a time, it will not seem strange that the historian should have no proceedings in the case to record for two years. Begun, probably, before the apostle's arrival, its progress at Rome under his own eye would furnish exalted employment, and beguile many a tedious hour of his two years' imprisonment. Had the case come on for hearing during this period, much more if it had been disposed of, it is hardly conceivable that the History should have closed as it does. But if, at the end of this period, the Narrative only wanted the decision of the case, while hope deferred was making the heart sick (Pr 13:12), and if, under the guidance of that Spirit whose seal was on it all, it seemed of more consequence to put the Church at once in possession of this History than to keep it back indefinitely for the sake of what might come to be otherwise known, we cannot wonder that it should be wound up as it is in its two concluding verses. All that we know of the apostle's proceedings and history beyond this must be gathered from the Epistles of the Imprisonment--Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon--written during this period, and the Pastoral Epistles--to Timothy and Titus, which, in our judgment, are of subsequent date. From the former class of Epistles we learn the following particulars: (1) That the trying restraint laid upon the apostle's labors by his imprisonment had only turned his influence into a new channel; the Gospel having in consequence penetrated even into the palace, and pervaded the city, while the preachers of Christ were emboldened; and though the Judaizing portion of them, observing his success among the Gentiles, had been led to inculcate with fresh zeal their own narrower Gospel, even this had done much good by extending the truth common to both (See on Php 1:12-18; Php 4:22); (2) That as in addition to all his other labors, "the care of all the churches pressed upon him from day to-day" (2Co 11:28), so with these churches he kept up an active correspondence by means of letters and messages, and on such errands he lacked not faithful and beloved brethren enough ready to be employed--Luke; Timotheus; Tychicus; (John) Mark; Demas; Aristarchus; Epaphras; Onesimus; Jesus, called Justus; and, for a short time, Epaphroditus (See on Col 4:7; Col 4:9-12; Col 4:14; Phm 1:23,24; see Introduction to Ephesians, Introduction to Philippians, and Introduction to Philemon). That the apostle suffered martyrdom under Nero at Rome has never been doubted. But that the appeal which brought him to Rome issued in his liberation, that he was at large for some years thereafter and took some wide missionary circuits, and that he was again arrested, carried to Rome, and then executed--was the undisputed belief of the early Church, as expressed by CHRYSOSTOM, JEROME, and EUSEBIUS, in the fourth century, up to CLEMENT OF ROME, the "fellow laborer" of the apostle himself (Php 4:3), in the first century. The strongest possible confirmation of this is found in the Pastoral Epistles, which bear marks throughout of a more advanced state of the Church, and more matured forms of error, than can well have existed at any period before the appeal which brought the apostle to Rome; which refer to movements of himself and Timothy that cannot without some straining (as we think) be made to fit into any prior period; and which are couched in a manifestly riper style than any of his other Epistles. (See Introduction to First Timothy, Introduction to Second Timothy Introduction to Titus and Notes). All this has been called in question by modern critics of great research and acuteness [PETAVIUS, LARDNER, DE WETTE, WIESELER, DAVIDSON, and others]. But those who maintain the ancient view are of equal authority and more numerous, while the weight of argument appears to us to be decidedly on their side.

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