Matthew Poole's Commentary
And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.Acts 28:1,2 Paul and his company, after their shipwreck, are
kindly entertained by the barbarians of Melita.
Acts 28:3-6 A viper fastening on his hand without hurting him,
the people, who at first thought ill of him, believed
him a god.
Acts 28:7-10 He healeth the father of Publius, and other sick
persons by the island.
Acts 28:11-16 Paul and his company depart, and arrive at Rome; where
Paul is left with a guard in a house of his own.
Acts 28:17-22 He calleth the Jews together, and showeth the
occasion of his coming.
Acts 28:23-29 He preacheth Christ to them, of whom some believe,
others believe not.
Acts 28:30,31 He continueth for two whole years to preach the
gospel without interruption.
The island; this was foretold by Paul, Acts 27:26; and therefore though the mariners knew not the land, Acts 27:39, and were not able to direct the ship, as Acts 27:15, yet God so ordered it, that not a word spoken by Paul did fall to the ground, but the wind and sea obey him.
Melita; now called Malta, a little island between Sicily and Africa. There is another obscure island in Illyricum that was called by this name, which some have mistook for this place of Paul’s shipwreck, by reason that this tempest was in the Adriatic Sea: but not only the Gulf of Venice, but the sea about Sicily, and this coast, was so called, as Strabo witnesseth. See Acts 27:27.
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.The barbarous people; so the Grecians and Romans called all other nations that did not receive their customs, nor speak their language, 1 Corinthians 14:11; and to this day the African coast over against this island is called Barbary.
For they kindled a fire, &c.: how far is this humanity of heathens beyond that inhumanity which some that are called Christians use towards those that are shipwrecked, and their goods that come on shore!
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.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 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.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 he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.As Daniel in the lion’s den. God is the God of nature, and the most natural properties are restrained when he pleases, and cannot be exerted without his concurrence. Thus the promises our blessed Saviour made, in Mark 16:18 Luke 10:19, were fulfilled according to the letter.
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.Should have swollen; the word signifies primarily to be burnt, and then by burning or scalding to swell, which is accounted the ordinary symptom of the biting of a viper; to swell or blister, as if the part was burnt with fire.
Or fallen down dead suddenly; in those places where there is much more heat, there is more venom in these vipers. And though some are said to live several days after they are bit by them, yet others die very suddenly upon their biting; as the known story of Cleopatra testifies; and condemned persons were sometimes put to death by vipers set unto their breasts.
And said that he was a god; a strange extreme; so uncertain and unequal are men’s minds.
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.This Publius is thought to have been governor for the Romans in this island. Howsoever, he was a man of great account and estate, that could provide for so many as were in the ship, and receive them into his own house.
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.A bloody flux; a painful and dangerous disease; the torment in the bowels frequently causing a fever.
And prayed; Paul could do nothing of himself, and therefore begs of God the recovery of Publius’s father. It is God only that kills and makes alive, 1 Samuel 2:6.
Laid his hands on him; this imposition of hands was commonly used in miraculous cures, as Matthew 9:18 Mark 6:5; and is joined with prayer, Matthew 19:13, which it might be a symbol of. Thus Publius was well paid for what he did for Paul and his company. Relieving of the poor and distressed is frequently rewarded in this world, and not only in the world to come. And God now recommends the gospel and the ministry of Paul by this miracle also: for none could do such things as these, unless God were with him.
So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed:The fame of this cure, wrought so suddenly, perfectly, and only with the laying on of Paul’s hands, could not but spread far and near; especially being done upon the governor: and men are usually very careful about their bodily health and welfare. So that their diseases were blessed occasions to bring them to the knowledge of God in Christ, whom Paul preached; and they might have perished eternally if they had not perished (or been thus near unto perishing) temporally.
Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.They who were cured, rewarded or presented the apostle and his company very liberally. And this was the effect of that inward respect and real esteem they had for them; and was a fruit of their faith.
And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.These three months that St. Paul staid at Malta, he spent like a true labourer in the Lord’s vineyard, planting a church that was famous for its stedfastness in the truth.
Had wintered in the isle; it was their wont to lay up their ships all the winter season; as we may see, Acts 27:12. And to this day the galleys seldom go out on those seas in winter.
Castor and Pollux; feigned to be the sons of Jupiter, and to have the ordering of tempests, and the care of mariners, and were chosen for the patrons of that ship, by the pagan owners of it.
And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days.Syracuse; the chief city of Sicily, famous for Archimedes.
We tarried there three days; probably to sell some of their wares, the ship making a trading voyage.
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:Rhegium; a city in the kingdom of Naples, over against Messina in Sicily; so called because that Sicily was believed to be thereabouts rent and plucked from the main land, unto which they held it to have been formerly joined, until by a tempest it became an island.
Puteoli is a sea town not far from Naples.
Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.Where we found brethren; Christians, as some think, for so they mutually called one another. But it is not so probable that any should profess Christianity so near unto Rome, and that it should be no more known or believed in Rome. Others therefore think that the apostle means Jews, whom he calls brethren (being, as himself, descended from Abraham); for so he calls the Jews he found at Rome, Acts 28:17; who yet called the Christians a sect, adding, that it was every where spoken against, Acts 28:22.
Rome is known to be the chief city in Italy, and to have been the empress of the world, and famous for the church to whom St. Paul wrote his Epistle, known by its inscription unto them.
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.Appii forum; a place about one and fifty miles, or seventeen leagues, from Rome; so called from Appius Claudius, who made a way from Rome thither, called from his name: The Appian Way; and had his statue there set up; which is the reason why it is called thus: for the Romans did call those places fora, were such statues were placed. (The concourse to see those statues might bring them to become markets).
The three taverns; as that was a place of resort for the buying and selling of other commodities, so this for the affording of necessary provision; a little town, hence so called, about three and thirty miles, or eleven leagues, from Rome. So that some came a greater, some a lesser way to meet with Paul, and show their respect unto him. These brethren are thought to have been converted by such as at the day of Pentecost were present when those miracles were wrought, Acts 2:10, it being expressly said, that there were strangers from Rome.
Took courage; God moving so many not to be ashamed of his bonds.
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 captain of the guard; the praefectus praetorio, being commander-in-chief over the soldiers, and unto whom the prisoners of state were usually committed.
Paul was suffered to dwell by himself; God by this means giving Paul an opportunity to go abroad at his pleasure; though chained, as Acts 28:20, yet he might preach the gospel, and that was not bound, 2 Timothy 2:9. And now God is with Paul, as he was with Joseph, in prison, Genesis 39:21, and procures him favour.
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.Paul called the chief of the Jews together; Paul does this not only out of an extraordinary love which he had for that people, but also because the apostles were commanded to go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matthew 10:5,6. The whole economy of the gospel is a doing good for evil. So did our Saviour, who is the author and subject of it; and so must his messengers or ministers do, or they are not like to do any good at all; for the world will hate them, 1Jo 3:13.
Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.Examined me; as Festus did in the presence of king Agrippa, Acts 25:26, who, they were both unbelievers, yet justified Paul, acknowledging that he had not committed any thing worthy of bonds, much less of death. Thus our Saviour was declared innocent by Pilate, Luke 23:4,14.
But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.The Jews spake against it; the Jews used all their oratory and interest against Paul, both before Felix and Festus. And had it been in Festus’s power, (which after Paul’s appeal it was not), he would have sacrificed Paul to the malice of the Jews; and by that means got their favour, whom he had so incensed against them.
Not that I had aught to accuse my nation of; Paul did not so much want matter, as mind, to accuse the Jews; and he declares, that whatsoever he had suffered, his intentions were not to calumniate them, but to vindicate himself.
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.For the hope of Israel: see Acts 23:6 24:21. This hope is either,
1. Of the resurrection, as in the forementioned places; and Acts 26:6,7; or:
2. The Messiah; Christ is the hope of Israel, so they pretended for many ages, and him now Paul preached.
I am bound with this chain; for though he had his liberty to go abroad, yet he was chained with his right hand to the soldier’s left hand who went with him, and could not possibly be loosened unwittingly from him.
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.The high priest, and the rest of them that had persecuted Paul, did either despond of their cause, when it should come to be impartially heard; or were supine and negligent in a matter which they pretended so highly to concern their religion; but self-ends, their present ease and reputation, were the main matters they contended for.
But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.Sect, or heresy, for so they called the Christian religion, Acts 24:5,14.
Every where it is spoken against; of all conditions of men, governors and people, and in all places; as, Luke 2:34, Christ is said to be a sign that shall be spoken against.
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.His lodging; the house which he had hired, as Acts 28:16, and Acts 28:30.
He expounded and testified the kingdom of God; Paul expounded the Scriptures, and by them proved our Saviour to be the Messiah; and that the kingdom of the Messiah, which God had promised, and Moses and the prophets had foretold, was now come.
Persuading them concerning Jesus; using such proofs and arguments as were cogent enough to prove what he asserted; and which also did thoroughly persuade or prevail with several of them.
From morning till evening; thus Paul laboured more abundantly, 1 Corinthians 15:10.
And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.Thus there are different soils into which the word is cast, as appears in the parable of the sower, Matthew 13:19,20, &c. Thus Paul found by experience what he says, 2 Thessalonians 3:2, that all men have not faith; and the word preached doth not profit, unless it be mixed with faith in them that hear it, Hebrews 4:2.
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,They agreed not among themselves; thus Christ came to send fire on the earth, Luke 12:49: not that the gospel does this in itself; for it is the gospel of peace, Ephesians 6:15, not only betwixt God and man, but betwixt man and man; and if its precepts were observed, love, meekness, and goodness would banish all hatred, pride, and contention out of the hearts and lives of men; but this arises out of the corruption that is in man, and from the evil one that sows his tares amongst us.
After that Paul had spoken one word; Paul spake this eminent and remarkable word, or sentence, that they might (if possible) be pricked in their hearts at the hearing of God’s judgments denounced against them.
Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:As their fathers did hear the many prophecies concerning the miseries and calamities which for their sins were to come upon them, as also concerning the Messiah which was to come, but did not believe them or entertain them as they ought; so these their children (through the righteous judgment of God) inherited their fathers’ sins, and should be heirs also of their punishments. Thus we see, that Scriptura prophetica saepius impletur; and what was spoken and fillfilled in that generation so long before, was also in this so many hundred years after.
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.Though God did forsake this people, (being first forsaken of them), and withdraw his gratuitous assistance from them, yet it is all justly charged upon them, they having by their sins said unto God, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways, Job 21:14.
Their eyes have they closed; they winked, as those that were loth to see, though they could not but see, the truths Paul preached concerning the Messiah; prejudicate opinions and self-conceit hindering them from coming unto the acknowledgment of them.
I should heal them, or pardon them; for by guilt the soul is wounded.
Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.The salvation of God; so the gospel is called; because:
1. The finding of it out.
2. The preparing of it by sending his Son.
3. The revealing of it, and;
4. Its efficacy, is only of God.
Is sent unto the Gentiles; as by our Saviour’s commission, Matthew 28:19, and Luke 24:47, does appear. And Paul had by experience found the effects of it, as may be seen in all this book of his travels, where we may find many of the Gentiles were obedient unto the word, which the Jews gainsaid and blasphemed.
And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.Some accusing of Paul, others vindicating of him; some believing, as Acts 28:24, others not believing; our Saviour, and his gospel too, being for the rising and falling of many.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,Of what nation or quality soever they were, Paul preached salvation to them upon the gospel condition of faith and holiness; and in that imitated God and our Saviour, who refuse none that thus come unto him. And though Paul might have had greater security from trouble by the Jews if he would have desisted, yet a necessity was laid upon him, and a woe unto him if he did not preach the gospel, as 1 Corinthians 9:16, which may abundantly excuse and justify him.
Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.The kingdom of God; the gospel is so called; as also Paul preached that kingdom of God which is to come at the end of the world, which falls in with the subject he was so often upon, concerning the resurrection; which if men did but believe effectually, all the other ends of preaching would be easily obtained.
Those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ; Christ’s precepts and miracles, his death and resurrection.
No man forbidding him: God, who puts bounds to the raging sea, had stopped the Jews’ malice, and bidden it go no further; and he who delivered Daniel from the lions, had delivered Paul from Nero, and would have delivered him, had not his death been more for the glory of God, and the good of Paul himself, than his life; which at last he offered in confirmation of the truths which he had preached; which he foresaw, 2 Timothy 4:6, and, as Eusebius says, it came to pass accordingly.
This book may be called, not only praxeiv, but terata; not only the Acts, but the wonders, of the Apostles: though the holy penman and the apostles meekly contented themselves with that name by which at present it is called, yet what wonders are contained in it! Not only such as were wrought by the apostles, but for them, to deliver, preserve, and encourage them; insomuch as the attempt to silence them, and to hinder the progress of the gospel preached by them, proved as vain as if men had endeavoured to hinder the sun from shining, or the wind from blowing.
Now unto him, who is able to work so as none can hinder, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, for ever and ever. Amen.