SUMMARY.--Thrown on the Island of Malta. The Kindness of the People. A Viper Fastens on Paul's Hand, but Hurts Him Not. Paul Heals the Father of Publius. After Three Months Leave in the Castor and Pollux. Land and Meet Brethren at Puteoli. Met at Apii Forum by Brethren from Rome. Paul Suffered to Dwell by Himself Under Charge of a Soldier. Preaches to the Jews of Rome. Preaches with Full Liberty for Two Years in His Own Hired House.
1-6. The island was called Melita. They had no idea where they were cast until they were ashore, but were told by the inhabitants. It is conceded by scholars that it is the island so well known in our time as Malta. It is sixty miles from the southern point of Sicily, 200 miles from Africa, and is about sixty miles in circumference. The barbarians. So called because they were neither Greeks nor Romans. The word did not anciently mean uncivilized. The island was governed by the Romans, but the people were of African and Asiatic stock. The modern Maltese speak Arabic, mixed with Italian and English. Kindled a fire. It was winter, stormy, and the shipwrecked strangers were drenched. The fire was what a considerate kindness would suggest. Paul had gathered . . . sticks. Instead of looking on, he helped. So while on the ship he helped to throw out the tackling. A viper came out of the heat. In the bundle of driftwood or brush the serpent lay, chilled with the cold, but as soon as it was carried to the fire it was awakened to activity by the heat and struck its fangs into the hand that was disposing of the sticks. This man is a murderer. The people pronounced it a judgment. Though he had escaped the sea, divine justice would not let him escape. They waited to see his hand swell, and him to fall dead, but when he shook it off in the fire and experienced no harm they changed their minds and in their superstition called him a god. We are hear reminded of the sudden revulsion of feeling among the Lycaonians (14:18, 19). It is said that there are now no venomous serpents in Malta, but this is due to the enormous increase of the population and their extinction. The same fact has occurred in many places.
7-10. The chief man of the island. His name, Publius, is Roman, and he was doubtless the Roman governor of the island. It would be simply his duty to take care of the Roman officer Julius and his company. Hence, he "lodged them courteously" for three days until they could provide for themselves. Lay sick of a fever, etc. Dysentery was the disease. Paul, by prayer and laying on of hands, healed him. This miracle naturally was followed by others, and it is not strange that Paul was honored, and that the people "laded them with all things necessary" for their further voyage.
11-14. After three months. They remained here most of the winter. As soon as the weather would justify they would go forward. It was probably February or March when they departed. A ship of Alexandria. So was the one shipwrecked. This, no doubt, was also laden with wheat. It had put into Malta, driven by bad weather, and wintered there in the excellent harbor. Castor and Pollux. Two favorite sea gods of the Greeks and Romans. Their figures were carried on the prow, and probably gave name to the vessel. "The great twin brothers" were famous in Roman legend. Landing at Syracuse. Then the leading city of the great island of Sicily, about eighty miles north of Malta. Three days. Probably waiting for a fair wind. Fetched a compass. Did not sail a straight course. To Rhegium. On the Italian side of the straits of Messina, opposite Messina on the Sicilian side. At this place they waited one day and then the south wind blew, just the wind they wanted, as their course lay north. Came the next day to Puteoli. About 180 miles north of Rhegium, on the bay of Naples, near the city of Naples. It is now called Pozzuoli. Ostia, near Rome, and Puteoli were the two ports where the Egyptian corn ships landed with their cargoes. In one of Seneca's letters (he was then living) he describes the crowds that would gather at the wharf of Puteoli when a great corn ship came in. Where we found brethren. We know from the Epistle to the Romans that there was a church at Rome that Paul was anxious to visit, and that the brethren were numerous (see chap. 16). Here we find also a church at a great seaport on the route from Palestine to Rome. Were desired to tarry with them seven days. Compare also 20:6, 7 and 21:4. In all these cases the object must have been to pass a Lord's day and to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The courteous Julius consenting, there was no difficulty in Paul's delay here.
15, 16. After the week they started toward Rome. Their route was along one of the great roads for which the Romans were so famous, the Consular Way to Capua, and the along the celebrated Appian Way to Rome. When the brethren heard of us. The church in Rome. They determined to meet the great apostle on the way. They had already received from him the Epistles to the Romans. No doubt some of his Asiatic or European converts were in the church. Aquila and Priscilla had returned to their old home (Rom. 16:3) in the Imperial city, and perhaps were of those who met him on the way. As far as Appii Forum. Some met them at Appii Forum, which is forty-three miles from Rome, and another band met them at the Three Taverns, which is ten miles nearer the great city. Both these places are mentioned by Horace and Cicero (Hor. Sat. 1:5, 4; Cic. Letters to Atticus 2:12). Thanked God. As the apostle traveled as a prisoner amid these strange scenes, along the crowded Appian Way, with so many evidences of colossal power on every hand, and of such luxury and corruption, it was a glad sight to meet a welcome from loving brethren, already numerous in Rome. See Rom. chap. 16. It seemed a cheering omen that the church of the capital of the world should meet and greet him. The distance traveled by land from Puteoli to Rome as about 135 miles. Delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard. The commander of what was called the Prætorian Guard, the Prætorian Prefect; at this time this great officer was named Burrhus. The Prætorian camp was the permanent garrison of Rome. But Paul was suffered to dwell by himself. Sometimes state prisoners, sent from the provinces, awaiting trial, were thrown into a prison adjoining the Prætorian camp, and sometimes were allowed to choose their own residence under the guard of a soldier. Paul was permitted the latter course, no doubt on account of the kindly reports sent from Cæsarea by Festus and King Agrippa to Rome. The soldier was fastened to the prisoner by a chain. See verse 20.
17-22. After three days. We see indicated his restless activity. In three days after his arrival as a prisoner he begins his work. The first three days had probably been devoted to the brethren. Called the chief of the Jews. The leading Jews. Josephus says that fifty years earlier there were 8,000 Jews in Rome. A quarter of the city north of the Tiber was given up to them. In A. D. 49, they had been banished by decree of the Emperor Claudius, but shortly after were allowed to return. At this time they enjoyed favor, Poppæa, the wife of Nero, being a proselyte to the Jewish faith. These chiefs would include the rulers of the synagogues, the scribes, and the heads of the leading families. Men, brethren. In a short speech, of which we have only an abstract, he told them how he came to be there as a prisoner. No doubt he fully explained the ground of enmity and his appeal; so fully that when he said, For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. They knew that it was the hope of Christ and the resurrection. This chain is a reference to the one that bound him to the soldier. We neither received letters, etc. They mean official letters from the authorities at Jerusalem. They have no official tidings warning them against him. They must have known of him, and of the charges made against him. His fame was such that they desire to hear what he thinks, or holds; to hear him explain the gospel. For as concerning this sect, we know that it is every where spoken against. Everywhere the Jews "spoke against" the Christians with malignant hatred. Paul's treatment illustrates this. The Jews of Rome had known but little of the Christians, but they knew the odium of the church elsewhere. The Pagans also were beginning to regard the Christian religion as "a detestable superstition" (Tacitus), and matters were shaping for the bitter persecution of Nero, which came a few years later.
23-29. When they had appointed him a day. On the appointed day "many" came. The whole day was spent persuading them concerning Christ. Arguing from Moses and the prophets, that Jesus was he of whom the law and the prophets spoke. Some believed, . . . and some believed not. As usual, some accepted and some rejected, and this difference of opinion was openly expressed among themselves. Probably the majority expressed themselves with extreme bitterness. Paul's one word seems to imply this. Well spake . . . Esaias the prophet. The passage quoted is found in Isa. 6:9, 10. It is quoted six times: in the Gospels, here in Acts, and in Romans. No other Old Testament passage is so often quoted in the New Testament, and it is always applied to Jewish unbelief. The terrible prediction of the stubborn, willful unbelief of the nation was fulfilled in Isaiah's time, in the time of Christ, in that of his apostles, and eighteen centuries of Jewish history illustrate the same fact to our times. For notes on the passage, see Matt. 13:14-17. These are the one final word of Paul to the Jews before beginning his work among the Gentiles in Rome. After the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves, we can hope that the result was that they believed and consorted with Paul and the church.
30, 31. Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house. His expense was met during this period by the church in Rome and elsewhere. See Phil. 4:18, where the Philippian contributions are acknowledged. Here he was permitted to see and preach freely to all who came unto him. Here he wrote four of his epistles; the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and the short letter to Philemon. Here, from notices in these epistles, we know that Luke, Timothy, Epaphros, Mark, Aristarchus and Tychius were with him at least part of the time. Nor is there doubt but these two years produced great results in Rome. It was at a later period, when Nero fell under the influence of the cruel Tigellinus, that he became a persecutor, and Paul had at this time full liberty. A few years after, at the time of the Neronian persecutor, the church embraced vast numbers in the city of Rome. The Roman historian, Tacitus says: "An immense multitude" were converted and put to death.
ACTS comes to an end with these two years, and was almost certainly completed during this time. Why it paused here is unknown. We cannot repress a regret that it was not continued to the end of the career of its great missionary hero. His subsequent life and work can only be learned from incidental allusions in his later epistles and from tradition. The testimony of the primitive church affirms that he was acquitted when his appeal, after long delay, came to trial, probably in A. D. 63; that for several years he labored earnestly in other lands, visiting the old scene of his labors in Asia Minor once more. Prior to this visit he is supposed to have gone west to Spain, and crossed from thence into North Africa, then one of the most flourishing parts of the empire. Somewhere about A. D. 65-67 he visited once more the Greek and Asiatic churches he had founded, and from Macedonia wrote the First Epistle to Timothy, then at Ephesus, and also to Titus at Crete. The incidental allusions in these epistles confirm the view that he had been acquitted, and was at work for Christ. At Nicopolis, in Epirus, he was again arrested and taken to Rome. See Tit. 3:12. While in prison awaiting trial, he wrote Second Timothy, his last words, solemn with the shadow of death. From hence he was sent to the scaffold by Nero in A. D. 67 or 68, and entered his eternal rest. While we cannot be certain of the facts of this Post-Actian outline, they are so probable that they may be reasonably accepted as the outline of the last years of the greatest hero of the faith that ever fought the good fight and won the crown.