Acts 28:3
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.
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(3) And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks . . .—The act was characteristic of the cheerful energy which had been shown throughout the previous night. The fact thus mentioned has been dwelt on as militating against the identity of Melita and Malta, no wood being now found in the island except at one spot (Bosquetta), not near St. Paul’s Bay. The Greek word, however, is applied to the dry stalks of herbaceous plants rather than to the branches of trees, and, as such, exactly describes the stout, thorny heather that still grows near the bay. It is clear, however, apart from this, that the people of Malta did not live without fire, and, not having coal, must therefore have had wood of some kind as fuel.

There came a viper out of the heat.—There are said to be no venomous serpents now in Malta, and this again has been pressed into the question of the identity of the island. Mr. Lewin, however (St. Paul, ii. 208), states that he saw a serpent, near St. Paul’s Bay, that looked very like a viper; and even if he were mistaken in this, it would be natural enough that venomous snakes should disappear under the influence of culture, as they have done elsewhere, in the course of 1800 years.

Acts 28:3-4. And when Paul — Who had learned to make himself servant of all, and would stoop to any thing by which he might be serviceable, was laying on the fire a bundle of sticks — Which he had gathered; there came a viper — Which had been concealed among the wood; out of the heat, and fastened on his hand — Round which it probably twisted itself, and bit it. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast — Or the fierce animal, as θηριον should rather be translated; the word beast being a very improper term for it; they said — Seeing also his chains; No doubt this man is a murderer — “They concluded he was a murderer, (says Elsner,) rather than a person guilty of any other crime, because they saw the viper hanging on his hand, which therefore they judged to have been the offending member, according to the rule which prevailed among the ancients, that persons were often remarkably punished in that part of the body which had been the immediate instrument of their sin;” whom, though he hath escaped the sea — Hath not been destroyed by the tempest and shipwreck; yet vengeance suffereth not (Greek, ουκ ειασεν, hath not suffered) to live — They looked upon him as, in effect, a dead man already, after having been bit by that venomous creature. The poison of a viper so inflames the blood, that a person infected with it is usually tormented as with fire, and quickly dies. For this reason, the ancient Scythians, in war, used to dip their arrows in the blood and gaul of vipers, that their enemies wounded by them might die a painful and sudden death. And, in some remote times, some condemned criminals were put to death by vipers set to their breasts: by this means Cleopatra despatched herself. Though δικη, (justice, or judgment,) here rendered vengeance, may be understood of the divine vengeance in general; yet, as these were the words of heathen idolaters, possibly they might refer to a deity worshipped among them under that name; as we know the Greeks and Romans had a goddess whom they termed Νεμεσις, Nemesis, the daughter of Justice, who, they supposed, punished the wicked. It must give us pleasure to trace among these barbarians the force of conscience, and the belief of a particular providence; which some people of more learning have stupidly thought it philosophy to despise. But they erred in imagining that calamities must always be interpreted as judgments. Let us guard against this error, lest, like them, we condemn, not only the innocent, but the excellent of the earth.28:1-10 God can make strangers to be friends; friends in distress. Those who are despised for homely manners, are often more friendly than the more polished; and the conduct of heathens, or persons called barbarians, condemns many in civilized nations, professing to be Christians. The people thought that Paul was a murderer, and that the viper was sent by Divine justice, to be the avenger of blood. They knew that there is a God who governs the world, so that things do not come to pass by chance, no, not the smallest event, but all by Divine direction; and that evil pursues sinners; that there are good works which God will reward, and wicked works which he will punish. Also, that murder is a dreadful crime, one which shall not long go unpunished. But they thought all wicked people were punished in this life. Though some are made examples in this world, to prove that there is a God and a Providence, yet many are left unpunished, to prove that there is a judgment to come. They also thought all who were remarkably afflicted in this life were wicked people. Divine revelation sets this matter in a true light. Good men often are greatly afflicted in this life, for the trial and increase of their faith and patience. Observe Paul's deliverance from the danger. And thus in the strength of the grace of Christ, believers shake off the temptations of Satan, with holy resolution. When we despise the censures and reproaches of men, and look upon them with holy contempt, having the testimony of our consciences for us, then, like Paul, we shake off the viper into the fire. It does us no harm, except we are kept by it from our duty. God hereby made Paul remarkable among these people, and so made way for the receiving of the gospel. The Lord raises up friends for his people in every place whither he leads them, and makes them blessings to those in affliction.Had gathered a bundle of sticks - For the purpose of making a fire.

There came a viper - A poisonous serpent. See the notes on Matthew 3:7. The viper was doubtless in the bundle of sticks or limbs of trees which Paul had gathered, but was concealed, and was torpid. But when the bundle was laid on the fire, the viper became warmed by the heat, and came out and fastened on the hand of Paul.

And fastened on his hand - καθῆψεν kathēpsen. This word properly means to join oneself to; to touch; to adhere to. It might have been by coiling around his hand and arm, or by fastening its fangs in his hand. It is not expressly affirmed that Paul was bitten by the viper, yet it is evidently implied; and it is wholly incredible that a viper, unless miraculously prevented, should fasten himself to the hand without biting.

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.

A viper; a creature so venomous, that not only its biting, but (some say) its breath, is deadly: this, upon the warmth of the fire, being benumbed with the cold, and now refreshed, began to stir itself.

Fastened on his hand; as it used to do when it biteth. God by this miracle prepares this people not only to be civil and courteous unto Paul, but to believe the gospel which he preached, wheresoever he went. And this wonderful work of God was (as God’s seal to his ministry) to show his authority to be from him. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks,.... Had picked up some sticks, and put them in a bundle fit for the fire, as everyone was busy to assist in this extremity; nor did the apostle think such an action below him, who in all things was a man of great humility and condescension:

and laid them on the fire; to increase it:

there came a viper out of the heat: a viper is a kind of serpent, which brings forth its young living, to the number of twenty, only one in a day, which come forth wrapped up in thin skins, which break on the third day, and set them at liberty; and so is reckoned among viviparous animals, from whence it seems to have its name, whereas other serpents lay eggs and hatch them. It is said (k), that this remarkable reptile has the biggest and flattest head of all the serpent kind; its usual length is about half an ell, and its thickness an inch; its snout is not unlike that of a hog; it has sixteen small immovable teeth in each jaw, besides two other large, sharp, hooked, hollow, transparent, canine teeth, situate at each side of the upper jaw, which are those that do the mischief: these are flexible in their articulation, and are ordinarily laid flat along the jaw, the animal never raising them but when it would bite The roots or bases of these teeth, or fangs, are encompassed with a vesicle or bladder, containing the quantity of a large drop of a yellow insipid salivous juice.--It has only one row of teeth, whereas all other serpents have two; its body is not at all fetid, whereas the inner parts of the bodies of other serpents are intolerable.--It creeps very slowly, and never leaps like other serpents, though it is nimble enough to bite when provoked.--Its body is of two colours, ash coloured or yellow, and the ground speckled with longish brown spots; the scales under its belly are of the colour of well polished steel. Its bite is exceeding venomous, and its poison the most dangerous. Now when this viper here is said to come out of the heat, the meaning is, that it came out from the sticks, which were laid upon the fire, being forced from thence by the heat of it: and so the Syriac version renders it, "there came out of them" (the sticks) "a viper, because of the heat of the fire"; it lay quiet among the sticks, among which, and such like things, this creature often lies; but when the fire began to heat it, it sprung out:

and fastened on his hand; or wrapped itself about his hand: the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, "bit his hand"; but that does not seem so likely, since he felt no harm by it; the Ethiopic version, "hung upon his hand"; which agrees with what follows; nor is it inconsistent with its wrapping itself about his hand, which is the more proper signification of the word used.

(k) Chambers's Cyclopaedia in the word "Viper".

{1} 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.

(1) The godly are sure to have danger upon danger, but they alway have a glorious outcome.

Acts 28:3. Ἀπὸ τ. θέρμ.] (see the critical remarks) on account of the heat.[176] See Winer, p. 348 [E. T.465]; Hermann, ad Arist. Nub. 834. The reading ἐκ would have to be rendered: from out of the heat.

διεξελθοῦσα] Plat. Pol. iii. p. 405 C; Phaed. p. 109 E; Xen. Anab. vi. 6. 38; 2 Samuel 2:23. It denotes that the viper came out from the brushwood in which it was, and through the layer of the same which was above it. See Bornemann, and Kühner, ad Xen. Anab. vi. 6. 38.

καθῆψε τῆς χειρὸς αὐτοῦ] it seized on his hand. Comp. Arr. Epict. iii. 10. 20; Lobeck, ad Aj. 700. The reading καθήψατο, recommended by Griesbach, following C, min. Chrysostom, al., appears to be an emendation. That this καθῆψε took place by means of a bite, Luke himself makes sufficiently evident in Acts 28:4 by κρεμάμενονἐκ τῆς χειρὸς αὐτοῦ; but it follows decidedly, and without rashly leaping to a conclusion, from the judgment, from the expectation, and from the subsequent ἜΛΕΓΟΝ ΘΕῸΝ ΑὐΤ. ΕἾΝΑΙ of the Melitenses, Acts 28:4; Acts 28:6, in all which it is necessarily presupposed that they, the near bystanders, had actually seen the bite of the serpent. From this at the same time it follows just as certainly, that the animal must have been definitely known to the islanders as a poisonous viper. Hence we must reject the view of Bochart, Hieroz. ii. 3, p. 369: “illigavit se etc., nempe ut … morderet, sed earn cohibuit Deus, sicut leones illos, Daniel 4:22,” and of Kuinoel (comp. Heinrichs): “erat autem vipera ista aut non venenata, etsi Melitenses eam pro venenata habuerint, aut si erat, insinuavit quidem se Pauli manui, non vero momordit.” The latter (also hinted at by Ewald) follows least of all from ἔπαθεν οὐδὲν κακόν, Acts 28:5, by which the very absence of result (brought about by special divine help) is placed in contrast with the poisonous bite. Nevertheless, Lange (apost. Zeitalt. II. p. 344 f.) supposes that the reptile may have hung encircling his hand without biting, and Lekebusch, p. 382, that Luke had in view the alternative contained in Kuinoel’s explanation. Indeed, according to Hausrath, the judgment in Acts 28:5 is only ascribed to the islanders by Luke. They were, as he thinks, aware that there were no poisonous serpents with them, and that thus the bite was not dangerous.

[176] On the late form θέρμη, instead of θέρμη, see Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 331.Acts 28:3. συστρέψαντος: here only in Acts, but cf. Acts 11:27, Acts 16:39, in [425] text; = exemplum αὐτουργίας, Bengel. Cf. Matthew 17:22, W.H[426], R.V. margin; of collecting men, 2Ma 14:30.—φρυγάνων: brushwood, copse; the furze still growing near St. Paul’s Bay would well afford material for a fire (Lewin), and it may be quite true that wood is found nowhere else but in a place at a distance from the Bay; in classical Greek used in plural for dry sticks, especially firewood; here only in N.T., but several times in LXX, for straw, stubble, and bramble.—τι before πλῆθος, see critical note: implying as much as he could carry, Weiss; πλ. used elsewhere of persons.—ἔχιδνα: the objection that no poisonous serpents are found to-day in Malta, like that based on the absence of wood in Acts 28:2, may well be dismissed as “too trivial to deserve notice; such changes are natural and probable in a small island, populous and long civilised,” Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 343, Breusing, p. 191, Vars, p. 243; so too J. Smith, p. 151, 4th edition, refers to the gradual disappearance of the viper in Arran as the island became more frequented, and cf. Hackett’s note for similar proof. Mr. Lewin, as late as 1853, believed that he saw a viper near St. Paul’s Bay, St. Paul, ii. 200.—ἐκ: “out of,” but if ἀπό “by reason of,” R.V. margin, “from the heat,” the viper numbed by the cold felt the sudden heat, and was restored to activity, cf. on its habits (Hackett), ἀπό “in causæ significatu sæpe apud Græcos,” Grotius, Bengel. cf. Acts 20:9, and Luke 21:26.—ἐξελθοῦσα, see critical note. διεξ. supported by Meyer and Alford, as if the serpent glided out through the sticks.—θέρμης: only in Luke in N.T., but in classics and in LXX, Job 6:17, Psalms 18(19):6, Ecclesiastes 4:11, Sir 38:28; often used in medical writers instead of θερμότης (Hobart), but the latter is also used in Hipp.—καθῆψε: only here in N.T., but frequent in classical Greek, and usually in middle, although not found in LXX, cf. however Symm., καθάπτεσθαι, Cant. i. 6, cf. Epict., Diss., iii., 20, 10, i.e., τοῦ τραχήλου: (Grimm): Blass, Page, Felten render “bit,” momordit. So Nösgen and Zöckler, who think that this is evidently meant from the context, although not necessarily contained in the verb itself; Dioscorides used it of poisonous matter introduced into the body (Hobart, p. 288). Blass thus expresses the force of the aorist, “momento temporis hoc factum est, priusquam . manum retraxisset”.

[425] R(omana), in Blass, a first rough copy of St. Luke.

[426] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.3. And [R. V. But] when Paul had gathered] This is only another sign of the active spirit of the Apostle. Whatever was to be done, if he were able to take a part in it, he was never wanting, whether it was in counselling about a difficulty, in comforting under danger, or helping by bodily labour to relieve the general distress.

a bundle of sticks] The word in the original would apply very fitly to the brushwood and furze which is said to be the only material growing near St Paul’s Bay of which a fire could be made.

there came a viper] Dr Farrar (Life of St Paul, ii. 384, note) has noticed that the viper has disappeared from the isle of Arran, as it is now said to have done from Malta.

out of the heat] [R. V. by reason of the heat] The original has the preposition usually rendered “from.” The R.V. gives the better explanation of its meaning here. The creature had been numbed by the cold, and feeling the sudden warmth, woke up and sprang away from it.Acts 28:3. Συστρέψαντος, when Paul had gathered) An example of his working with his own hands (αὐτουργία): ch. Acts 27:19. He did the office of a prisoner submissively, helping others also thereby.—φρυγάνων, of sticks, brushwood) in which the viper lay hid in the cold season.—τὶ πλῆθος) τὶ is omitted by more modern copies.[155]—ἀπὸ) ἐκ is the reading of more recent copies.[156] Ἀπὸ τῆς θέρμης, from the heat [owing to the heat], is considered by Grotius to be clearer. So, saith he, ἀπὸ τοῦ ἰοῦ, ἀπὸ τῆς λύπης, are often used among the Greeks in signifying a cause.—καθῆψς) viz. ἑαυτὴν, attached itself to his hand. See Suicer’s Thesaurus. Presently there follows κρεμάμενον, hanging, Acts 28:4.

[155] ABC support τί. Vulg. Amiat. MS. omits it. as also later Syr. and Rec. Text.—E. and T.

[156] ABC, ἀπό. Rec. Text, ἐκ.—E. and T.Verse 3. - But for and, A.V.; a viper came for there came a viper, A.V.; by reason of for out of, A.V. Had gathered; συστρέψαντος, only here and in the LXX. of Judges 11:3 and Judges 12:4, for "to collect," "gather together." But συστροφή (Acts 19:40; Acts 23:12) means "a concourse," "a conspiracy." In classical Greek συστρέφειν is "to twist up together," to "form into a compact body," and the like. A bundle of sticks; φρυγάνων πλῆθος. The word only occurs in the New Testament here; it means "dry sticks," "kindlers," any combustible material. In the LXX. it is used as the equi- valent of קַשׁ, straw or stubble (Isaiah 40:24; Isaiah 41:2, etc.), and for "nettles" (Job 30:7). Theophrastus seems to use it for plants smaller than a shrub ('Hist.,' Plant., 1:3, 1, quoted by Hobart). Lewin (vol. it. p. 208) writes as follows: - "When in Malta in 1853, I went to St. Paul's Bay at the same season of the year as when the wreck occurred .... We noticed eight or nine stacks of small faggots, they consisted of a kind of thorny heather, and had evidently been cut for firewood." This is a conclusive answer, if any were needed, to the objection to Melita being Malta, drawn from the absence of wood in the island. But besides this, it is not a fact that even now there is no wood at all (see Lewin). A viper came out. It is objected that there are no vipers in Malta. But it is obvious that the condition of Malta now, a very thickly inhabited island (one thousand two hundred people to the square mile, Lewin, p. 208), is very different from what it was with a sparse population in the days of St. Paul. Vipers may well have been destroyed during one thousand eight hundred and sixty years. Lewin mentions that his traveling companions in 1853 started what they thought was a viper, which escaped into one of the bundles of heather. Came out. Διεξελθοῦσα is the reading of Tischendorf, Alford, Meyer, eta., "came out through the sticks." It is a frequent medical term. The heat; τῆς θέρμης. This form of the word is only used here in the New Testament, instead of the more common θερμότης. It occurs, however, repeatedly in the LXX. (Job 6:17; Psalm 19:7; Ecclus. 38:34, etc.), and was the usual medical word for feverish heat. Fastened; κάθηψε, here only in the Bible; but not uncommon in classical Greek, and of general use among medical writers. Of sticks (φρυγάνων)

Only here in New Testament. From φρύγω, to roast or parch. Hence, dry sticks.

Out of (ἐκ)

The best texts read ἀπό, by reason of.

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