Acts 28:4
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 has escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffers not to live.
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(4) The venomous beast.—The adjective, as the italics show, is not in the Greek, and can scarcely be said to be necessary.

No doubt this man is a murderer.—They knew, we may believe, that St. Paul was a prisoner. It is hardly conceivable, indeed, that he could have come on shore bound by two chains, or even one, to his keeper, but, looking to the jealous care which the soldiers had shown in the custody of the prisoners (Acts 27:42), it would be natural that they should resume their vigilance over him as soon as they were all safe on shore. And so the natives of Melita, seeing what they did, and ignorant of the prisoner’s crime, and with their rough notions of the divine government of the world, rushed to the conclusion that they were looking on an example of God’s vengeance against murder. It was in vain that such a criminal had escaped the waves; a more terrible death was waiting for him.

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.The venomous beast - The English word "beast" we usually apply to an animal of larger size than a viper. But the original θηρίον thērion is applicable to animals of any kind, and was especially applied by Greek writers to serpents. See Schleusner.

No doubt - The fact that the viper had fastened on him; and that, as they supposed, he must now certainly die, was the proof from which they inferred his guilt.

Is a murderer - Why they thought he was a murderer rather than guilty of some other crime is not known. It might have been:

(1) Because they inferred that he must have been guilty of some very atrocious crime, and as murder was the highest crime that man could commit, they inferred that he had been guilty of this. Or,

(2) More probably, they had an opinion that when divine vengeance overtook a man, he would be punished in a manner similar to the offence; and as murder is committed usually with the hand, and as the viper had fastened on the hand of Paul, they inferred that he had been guilty of taking life. It was supposed among the ancients that persons were often punished by divine vengeance in that part of the body which had been the instrument of the sin.

Whom, though he hath escaped the sea - They supposed that vengeance and justice would still follow the guilty; that, though he might escape one form of punishment, yet he would be exposed to another. And this, to a certain extent, is true. These barbarians reasoned from great original principles, written on the hearts of all people by nature, that there is a God of justice, and that the guilty will be punished. They reasoned incorrectly, as many do, only because that they supposed that every calamity is a judgment for some particular sin. People often draw this conclusion, and suppose that suffering is to be traced to some particular crime, and to be regarded as a direct judgment from heaven. See the notes on John 9:1-3. The general proposition that all sin will be punished at some time is true, but we are not qualified to affirm of particular calamities always that they are direct judgments for sin. In some cases we may. In the case of the drunkard, the gambler, and the profligate, we cannot doubt that the loss of property, health, and reputation is the direct result of specific crime. In the ordinary calamities of life, however, it requires a more profound acquaintance with the principles of divine government than we possess to affirm of each instance of suffering that it is a particular judgment for some crime.

Yet vengeance - ἡ δίκη hē dikē. "Justice" was represented by the pagan as a goddess, the daughter of Jupiter, whose office it was to take vengeance, or to inflict punishment for crimes.

Suffereth not to live - They regarded him as already a dead man. They supposed the effect of the bite of the viper would be so certainly fatal that they might speak of him as already, in effect, dead (Beza).

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.

Venomous; so the viper is called by that appellative word, from whence also comes theriaca, or treacle, which is made out of flesh, or trochusses, of vipers. And if men can make an antidote out of poison, much more can God bring good out of evil.

This man is a murderer; it is a strange sense that men by the light of nature had of Divine vengeance, especially of God’s revenging of murder. Hence they called one of their furies Tisiphone, as one that punished and revenged murder. Yet they were to blame in this case:

1. Because they confine the punishment of wicked men wholly unto this life.

2. In that they did not expect the event; they judged before they knew what would be the end of Paul afterwards.

3. They erred, in that they measured the goodness or badness of a man’s state or cause by his prosperity or adversity. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast,.... The viper is called "Therion", a beast, it being of the viviparous kind; and hence comes "Theriaca", or "Venice treacle", the foundation of which composition is vipers' flesh; and it is called venomous, because it is of all serpents the most venomous: this when the country people saw

hang on his hand, having wrapped itself about it,

they said among themselves, no doubt this man is a murderer: they might see he was a prisoner by his chain, or might learn it from some of the company, and therefore took it for granted he had been guilty of some crime; and by the viper's fastening on him, they concluded it was murder he was guilty of; for the same notion might obtain among them, as among the Jews, that a murderer that could not be legally convicted, was sometimes punished this way.

"Says R. Simeon ben Shetach (l), may I never see the consolation, if I did not see one run after his friend into a desert place; and I ran after him, and I saw the sword in his hand, and the blood dropping, and he that was slain panting; and I said to him, O wicked man, who has slain this? either I or thou; but what shall I do? for thy blood is not delivered into my hand; "for the law says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses he shall surely die" (#De 17:6): may he that knows the thoughts take vengeance on that man that slew his friend; they say, they did not remove from thence, , "till a serpent came", and bit him, and he died.''

So the Jews observe, that when the execution of capital punishments was taken away from them, yet such who deserved them were punished by God in a way equivalent to them: so for instance, if a man committed a crime, for which he deserved to be burnt, either he fell into the fire, or , "a serpent bit him" (m); or if he deserved to be strangled, either he was drowned in a river, or died of a quinsy. There is a kind of an asp which the Egyptians call "Thermuthis", which they reckon sacred, and worship: this they say will not hurt good men, but destroys the wicked; and if so, says the historian, then "vengeance", or justice has honoured this creature, to be so sharp sighted as to discern the good from the bad; and they say, Isis sends it to the most wicked (n). Agreeably to which these men reason,

whom though he hath escaped the sea: has not been drowned there, when shipwrecked,

yet vengeance suffereth not to live. The Greek word "Dice" rendered "vengeance", is the name of a goddess among the Heathens, said to be the daughter of Jupiter and Themis (o). She is represented as sitting by her father Jupiter; and when anyone does injury to another, informs him of it (p). She is painted sorrowful, and with a contracted forehead, a grave countenance, and a rough aspect, to strike terror in unrighteous persons, and give confidence to righteous ones (q), agreeably to her name, which signifies "justice". This deity the barbarians supposed pursued Paul; and though she let him escape the sea, she will not suffer him to live any longer; for they looked upon the viper's fastening on him, as to be sent by her, so to be immediate death to him.

(l) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 37. 2. & Shebuot, fol. 34. 1.((m) Bemidbar Rabba, fol. 214. 2. & T. Bab. Sanhedrin, ib. & Sota, fol. 8. 2.((n) Aelian de Animal l. 10. c. 31. (o) Apollodarus de Deorurn Origon. l. 1. p. 6. Phurnutus de Natura Deorum, p. 80. (p) Hesiod Opera, &c. v. 254, 255. (q) Chrysippus apud Geilium, l. 14. c. 4.

{2} 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 {b} vengeance suffereth not to live.

(2) Although adversity is the punishment of sin, yet seeing that God in punishing men does not always punish because of sin, they judge rashly who either do not wait for the end, or who judge and esteem of men according to prosperity or adversity.

(b) Right and proper.

Acts 28:4-5. Ἐκ τῆς χειρ. αὐτ.] from his hand, so that it hung fastened with its mouth in the wound. Comp. Kühner, § 622 c.

πάντως φονεύς ἐστιυ κ.τ.λ.] he is at all events a murderer, etc. From the fact that the stranger, though he had escaped from shipwreck, yet had now received this deadly bite, the people inferred that it was the work of Δίκη, who was now carrying out her sentence, and requiting like with like, killing with killing. Perhaps it had been already told to them, that Paul was a prisoner; in that case their inference was the more natural. The opinion of Elsner, to which Wolf, Kuinoel, and Lange accede, that the people might have deduced their inference from the locality of the (supposed) bite, according to the idea that punishment overtakes the member with which a crime is committed (Spanheim, ad Callim. in Cer. 64), is to be rejected for the very reason, that in fact from a bite on the hand any other crime committed by the hand might quite as well be inferred.

εἴασεν] not sinit (Vulgate, Luther, and others), but sivit; they regard the bite as so certainly fatal.

On the goddess Δίκη), the avenger of crime (Hesiod. Op. 256 ff.), Justitia, the daughter of Zeus (Hesiod. Theog. 902), and ξύνεδρος or πάρεδρος (Soph. Oed. Col. 1384; Arrian. iv. 9), see Mitscherlich, ad Hor. Od. iii. 2. 32; Ellendt, Lex. Soph. I. p. 432; Jacobs, ad Anthol. IX. p. 345. How the islanders named the goddess to whom Luke gives the Greek name Δίκη, or whether perhaps they had received the Greek Δίκη among their divinities, is not to be decided.

On the active ἀποτινάσσειν, to shake off, comp. Luke 9:5; Lamentations 2:7.Acts 28:4. τὸ θηρίον: “the beast,” R.V. Although this is the meaning of the Greek word, it is to be noted that St. Luke uses it here exactly as the medical writers, who applied it to venomous serpents—in particular, to the viper, ἔχιδνα (so Aristotle), and an antidote made chiefly from the flesh of vipers went by the name ἡ θηριακή (Hobart, Zahn, Knabenbauer), and those bitten by a viper were called θηριόδηκτοι.—κρεμ. ἐκ: “hanging from,” R.V., it clung by its mouth to the hand of Paul, construction as in classical Greek, cf. 2Ma 6:10.—πάντως: only in Luke and Paul, expressing strong affirmation, cf. Acts 21:22, and Luke 4:23; cf. Tob 14:8, 2Ma 3:13.—φονεύς, a murderer, and therefore justice demands his life, death for death; they saw that he was a prisoner perhaps from his chains (Bengel); at all events the solders would have guarded him, as we may infer from Acts 27:42.—ἡ Δίκη: “justice,” R.V., cf. Hesiod, Theog., 902; so in Soph., Ant., 544; Œd. Col., 1384; for the personification cf. Wis 1:8; Wis 11:20, and several instances in 4 Macc., see Grimm-Thayer, sub v. The Maltese may have heard the name from the Greeks or Romans, or they may have honoured a goddess of their own, whose name Luke here represents by ἡ Δ., “debile lumen naturæ … nec quis sit ὁ Δίκαιος Justus Ultor norunt”, Bengel.—διασωθέντα, see on Acts 27:43.—οὐκ εἴασεν: “hath not suffered,” they thought of him as already dead, as if the deadly bite had already done its work; not sinit, as Vulgate, but sivit.4. saw the venomous beast] There is nothing in the Greek to represent “venomous,” though it was because the inhabitants knew that such was its character that they were so astonished at what happened.

Vengeance suffereth not to live] [R. V. “Justice hath not suffered to live”] This is an instance in which the A.V. expresses far more truly than the R. V. the sense of the Greek. The indefinite meaning of the Greek aorist is often more like what we call the English present than the perfect. “I eat” does not necessarily mean “I am eating” and covers more time than “I have eaten.” It may be present, but it can refer both to past and future time. What the people meant to say was that Justice, as her wont is, is finding out the wrong-doer.Acts 28:4. Ἔλεγον, they said) forming a hasty judgment. They saw his chains.—φονεὺς, a murderer) A most inhuman crime, murder, which of all crimes is most openly punished in this life.—ἡ δίκη, Vengeance) They recognise the fact, that there is some vengeance; but they account her as a goddess, and do not know who is ὁ Δίκαιος, the Just avenger. How feeble is the light of nature!—ζῆν, to live) They recognise the law of retribution in kind.—οὐκ εἴασεν, hath not suffered) They suppose Paul to be already dead.Verse 4. - Beast for venomous beast, A.V.; hanging from for hang on, A.V.; one to another for among themselves, A.V.; escaped from for escaped, A.V.; justice for vengeance, A.V.; hath not suffered for suffereth not, A.V. The beast (τὸ θηρίον). It is peculiar to medical writers to use θηρίον ασ synonymous with ἔχιδνα, a viper. So also θηριόδηκτος, bit by a viper, θηριακή, an antidote to the bite of a viper (Dioscorides, Galen, etc.). Justice (ἥ Δίκη). In Greek mythology Dice (Justitia) was the daughter and assessor of Zeus, and the avenger of crime. In her train was Poena, of whom Horace says," Rare antecedeutem scelcstum Deseruit pede Poena claude" ('Od.,' 3:2, 32). "The idea of Dice as justice personified is most perfectly developed in the dramas of Sophocles and Euripides" (article "Dice," in 'Dict. of Greek and Roman Biog. and Mythol.'). It does not appear whether the islanders had learned the name and office of Dice from the Greeks in Sicily, or whether they had any native divinity whose name St. Luke translates into that of Dice. The gods whose names are found in ancient Maltese inscriptions are Melkarth, another name of Hercules, the tutelar god of Tyre; Osiris, and Baal. Other Phoenician divinities are named in the Carthaginian inscriptions (see Gesenius, 'Monument. Phoenic.'). Had not suffered. They assume that death will certainly follow from the bite. Justice (Δίκη)


Suffereth not (οὐκ εἴασεν)

The aorist tense: did not suffer. His death is regarded as fixed by the divine decree.

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