28:1-10 Paul and the whole ship's company land safely in Malta
With obvious appreciation Luke reported the welcome they received during their time in Malta. Not only was Paul himself preserved from a deadly snake bite, but the father of the leading person on the island was healed by Paul praying for him, and many others also came for prayer for healing. The result was that, having landed through the surf with nothing, their needs were provided for during the next three months till the end of winter, and they could go on their journey towards Rome.
28:1-2 After two weeks of being driven across the Mediterranean, Paul and Luke (note the "we" and "us") landed on the island of Melite (Malta), by tradition at St. Paul's Bay northwest of modern Valletta. It was winter (see 27:9), and pouring with rain, and the local people built a fire to dry out their clothes.
28:3-6 Paul was helping to gather firewood, when a deadly viper latched on to his arm, and the natives assumed that he must be a murderer and justice was going to catch up with him. But when he shook off the snake into the fire, and was unharmed, he was viewed as a god (as happened in 14:11-13).
28:7-8 The leading Roman official on the island was named Publius. He worked in Valletta, the main port and capital of the island, and he had property near where they landed. He generously welcomed the whole ship's company to stay for three days. While they were there, Paul visited his father who was very ill. Dr. Luke noted he was in bed seized by a high fever and dysentry (perhaps cholera, which had no cure in those days). Paul prayed for him and laid hands on him for healing.
28:9-10 Hearing about this remarkable miracle, people from all over the island of Malta came for healing, and showed their appreciation with many gifts.
28:11-16 The journey via Sicily up the coast to Rome
There was a large Jewish community in Rome (see 18:2), and there were Jewish visitors from Rome on the Day of Pentecost (2:10). The constant travel to the capital of the empire would inevitably have brought Christians there on business. So already before Paul's arrival there was a strong church in Rome (see his letter to that church, Romans 15:23-24). He had hoped to visit the imperial capital during his third missionary journey (see note on 20:2). And he probably knew some of those who came to meet him on the Appian Way (28:15).
28:11-12 There were still three months of winter before the spring sailing season. And the Centurion found a ship that probably had to take shelter in the port of Valletta from the same hurricane that Paul's ship had encountered. This ship was from Alexandria and was engaged in bringing grain from Egypt to feed the people who swarmed into Rome from all over the empire. The sign of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus (dioskouroi) was often used as a figurehead on the prow of a ship. It had no theological significance, but it again illustrates Luke's fascination with every detail of the seafaring world he was experiencing as Paul's companion. Notice again the ten "we" passages (in 28:7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16) as Luke describes his impressions, obviously as an eye-witness.
28:13 After three days in Syracuse (Sicily) the ship came to Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) at the southern tip of Italy, where it was becalmed for a day. Then a south wind took them two days (200 miles) up the coast to Puteoli on the Gulf of Naples. We can imagine the Centurion listening to Paul as he took the opportunity to ask the sailors how Zeus could take the form of a swan to seduce and commit adultery with Leda, the wife of the King of Sparta, and have Castor and Pollux as his children (see the figurehead in 28:11). Paul would have explained about "God who made the world and everything in it" as he had done in Lystra (14:15) and Athens (17:24).
28:14 The port city of Puteoli had a church, and the Christians (see note on 11:26) must have persuaded the Centurion to stay with them for a week. I like to think the Centurion and some of his soldiers were baptized there and had a communion service on the Sunday (as in Troas, 20:7-11).
28:15 By then a runner would have traveled the ninety miles to Rome with the news of Paul's arrival. And it seems that large numbers of the Christians there hurried out, and met the Centurion and his soldiers and prisoners marching up the Appian Way. They met in a small town named the Forum of Appius where there were three taverna (still the name for a simple eating place). By then Paul must have been tired, and perhaps discouraged and apprehensive of what awaited him in Rome, so Luke remembered his first reaction on seeing them was to give thanks.
28:16 To Paul's relief, instead of being clapped in a Roman jail, the Centurion must have arranged for him to live in a rented room (28:30) with a single soldier to guard him.
28:17-31 Paul's ministry from his rented room in Rome
Paul's first act was to call the elders of the Jewish synagogues in Rome to explain his case. Then for two years he "welcomed all who came to him" which would have included both members of the Church in Rome and Jewish and Roman inquirers. Meanwhile Nero (emperor, 54-68 AD) made no attempt to call Paul for a hearing. He was rebuilding the city of Rome, and faced continual conspiracies to dethrone him. He had his own mother murdered in 59 AD, and his wife in 62 AD. That was the year Paul probably arrived in Rome. So Nero was too pre-occupied to deal with the case of a preacher from a distant province. Two years later (64 AD) there was the great fire of Rome (probably set by Nero to make room for another building project), and Nero blamed the Christians for this. Hundreds of them were burned as living torches, and their leader Peter was crucified, and Paul as a Roman citizen was beheaded (as reported in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, I.25).
28:17-19 On arrival Paul immediately invited the elders of the synagogues in Rome to come and meet him. They probably gathered in the atrium (open-air patio) at the back of the house, and he rehearsed the facts of his case (as previously recorded in detail by Luke in Acts 21:17-26:32).
28:20 Paul wanted them to hear these facts, and know that he was a prisoner, not for some crime against Rome but because of his hope in the resurrection (24:15, 26:6-8). The Sadducee model of scepticism was common among the priestly class in Jerusalem, but had very little following in the diaspora, and even less among the Jewish business community in Rome whose sympathy would have been with a Pharisaic model. Paul also wanted them to hear about the "hope of Israel"(see 28:23-24).
28:21-22 No bad reports in writing or in person had come from Judea to the Jewish community in Rome. But they wanted to hear more as they had heard that the Christian faith in Jesus as the Messiah was criticized indirectly by Jewish visitors from Greece and Asia Minor (as we would expect from what Luke recorded in 17:5-6, 18:12-13, 19:26).
28:23-24 Three days later a large number of Jews came to spend a whole day in the atrium of Paul's lodgings (see 28:17-19). He explained about the reign of the Messiah in the Old Testament, and Jesus as the Messianic King (as in 2:25, 30-31, 34-36, 4:24-25, 15:16-17, 19:8, 20:25, 28:31). As usual among Jews in every place, some were persuaded, and others rejected the message (17:4-5, 32-34, 18:6-8).
28:25-27 Quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10, Paul takes it for granted that the Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah the prophet, and comments that when God's Word is spoken some people's heart is dulled so that they cannot hear what is being said, and their eyes cannot see the obvious truth that can save them. Jesus used the same text from Isaiah to explain why hardness of heart made it impossible for some people to see the point of his parables (Matthew 13:14-15).
28:28 In conclusion he pointed out that God's message of salvation was already being received by Gentiles (non-Jews), in many places, and they had been opening their hearts (10:45, 11:1, 15:19, 18:6) to the good news. They would soon be coming into the Messiah's Kingdom in Rome.
28:29 This verse is omitted in NRSV, but some manuscripts read that the Jews "departed arguing among themselves."
28:30-31 Nero was already behaving abominably by killing his own mother (59 AD) and his wife (62 AD) and many others who threatened him. So he was at this time too pre-occupied to hear Paul's case (see the introduction to this section). But in God's providence Paul was left free to live quietly under Nero's very nose in hired lodgings for two years. The main topic of his teaching was the reign of the Son of God as Lord King Messiah in the Old Testament. And he demonstrated that Jesus was the same Person who had taken birth in recent history, and had lived and died and been raised to plant his church in every place.
Many commentators have assumed (from Titus 1:5) that Paul must have been released after the two years that Luke reported in 28:30. They imagine he would then have gone out on another missionary journey, including to Crete, perhaps even to Spain (Romans 15:28). From what we know of Nero, and this very troubled time in Rome, this is very unlikely. We have demonstrated that a visit by Paul to Crete fits very well after he left Ephesus (18:21) on his way back from the second missionary journey. We have also shown that the references to Paul being in prison in the prison epistles (Philippians 1:7, 12-14, Colossians 4:18, 2 Timothy 1:15-17 where we read en ropy meaning in the nick of time instead of en romy, Philemon 1:1 ) all refer to his time in prison after the riot in Ephesus (see the notes under 20:1). It is impossible to imagine all the co-workers of Paul in these epistles being in Rome six years later, rather than in and around Ephesus in Asia Minor. The linguistic arguments for a late date for the Pastoral Epistles have all been dissolved since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Paul had written his Epistle to the church in Rome at the end of the third missionary journey five or six years before. And we know a copy was given to the church in Ephesus (see the appendix in Romans 16). It is possible the Christians in Rome never received it, or it was confiscated, or they did not risk sharing it with others in the city. In any case Luke makes no reference to it when Paul arrived in Rome (perhaps the welcome in 28:15 was sufficient)..
Finally we wonder why Luke's Book of Acts is obviously left unfinished? My tentative guess is that when the great fire of Rome occured (64 AD - probably set by Nero for another building project), Paul knew that the church in Rome would be blamed, and he told Luke to leave the city immediately. Luke would have taken the precious manuscript (which he must have brought through the surf in Acts 27:43-44) to be copied and distributed from his home in Troas (the "we" passages begin there, 16:10-11).
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