Acts: Chapter 28
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 28:1-10).
(Verses 1-2) “And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita (“Malta”). (2) And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness (“extraordinary” – NASB): for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.”
“Malta” – (“Melita” the Greek / Roman name) The name “Malta” comes from the Greek word “meli,” which means “honey.” John Gill says Malta “was a very pleasant and fruitful island, bringing forth great plenty of wheat, rye, flax, cummin, cotton, figs, wine, roses, thyme, lavender, and many other sweet and delightful herbs, from whence bees did gather great plenty of honey.”
The island of Malta is about 17 miles long, and 9 miles wide. In Paul’s time, it had a fairly sparce population, however, today it has a population of over 500,000 people! (“Pulpit Commentary” says, “about 1200 people per sq mile!”) As we mentioned in the previous chapter, in Paul’s time, it had a very prominent port in the capital city of “Valetta,” which still exists today. However, the ship Paul was on missed that port, and shipwrecked about 7 miles past it. The place where they shipwrecked now has a port today, and it is called “St. Paul’s Bay.” Malta is about 60 miles south (near the toe) of Sicily. (Note: The island of Malta is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible.)
“barbarous people” – (Gr: “barbaros” – also used in 1 Cor 14:11, Col 3:11, Acts 28:2,4, Rom 1:14) This word was not used in those times like it is today. “Strong’s” gives us this definition for their time: “It then came to denote any foreigner ignorant of the Greek language and culture.” “Barnes” adds, “It does not denote, as it does sometimes with us, “people of savage, uncultivated, and cruel habits, but simply those whose speech was unintelligible.” Malta was colonized by the Phoenicians in about 1000 B.C., and the language spoken there was likely some sort of Phoenician dialect.
“no little kindness” – The Greek word used here for “kindness” is “philanthropia.” It is used only one other time in the NT in (Titus 3:4).
“kindled a fire” – It is likely that some of the islanders witnessed the shipwreck, and helped the passengers get to shore. Afterwards, because of the cold (it was likely October [see: Acts 27:9]), they started a fire for them.
(Verses 3-4) “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. (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 hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.”
“Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks” – Notice that even in this tragedy, cold and wet, Paul is still serving others, obeying the command of Jesus to be a “servant of all” (Mk 9:35)(Mk 10:44-45)(Jn 13:12-17)(Mt 23:11-12). Paul also speaks of this in (1 Cor 9:19)(NKJV) “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.” (Also see: 2 Cor 4:5, Gal 5:13)
“a viper came out of the heat, and fastened on his hand” – The Greek word for “viper” is “echidna.” From “Strong’s: “Echidna is probably a generic term for “poisonous snakes.” (As opposed to “non-poisonous snakes.”) John the Baptist (Mt 3:7)(Lk 3:7), and Jesus (Mt 12:34)(Mt 23:33) used this in describing the Sadducees and Pharisees. Interesting in light the “poisonous” emphasis. (The Greek word “therme” is used for “heat” here. This is the only time it is used in the NT.)
The belief of many here is that due to the time of season (with it being cold), the snake was in partial hibernation, but was quickly revived by the heat of the fire.
***Note: Apparently, poisonous snakes can no longer be found in Malta.
***Note: As I discuss here: https://jesusalive.cc/pauls-thorn-in-flesh, I believe that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was an eyesight problem, and here he mistook the snake for a stick.
“fastened on his hand” – The snake bit him on the hand, and did not let go.
“the venomous beast” – The Greek word “therion” is used for this term here. It literally means “a wild beast.” Other than its uses in verses 4 & 5 here, and once in (Heb 12:20), it is used only in the Book of Revelation, where it is used 37 times. From “Strong’s” – “Therion, in the sense of wild “beast,” is used in the Apocalypse for the two antichristian potentates who are destined to control the affairs of the nations with Satanic power in the closing period of the present era.”
“they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer” – Why do you suppose that they thought of all crimes, Paul must be a murderer?
(Verses 5-6) “And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. (6) 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.”
“and felt no harm” – Miraculously, the poison of the snake caused no harm to Paul. God said Paul was going to Rome, and nothing would stop that, not even a poisonous snake!
“they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” – Because Paul did not die from the poisonous bite, the “barbarians” went from believing that the “gods” were killing him for his crime, to believing he “was” one of the “gods.”
Remember the fickleness of the people of Lystra, who did the reverse of what happened here in (Acts 14:8-20)? After Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man, they declared them to be “gods” (Barnabas – “Zeus” & Paul – “Hermes”). However, shortly afterwards, they changed their minds, and stoned Paul to death (he came back to life).
(Verse 7) “In the same quarters were possessions of (“lands belonging to” – NASB) the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.”
“the chief man… Publius” – (“chief man” = Gr: “protos“) Publius was likely the governor of the island. (From the “Cambridge Commentary”) – “The Greek word is “Protos,” which is known from inscriptions to have been the official title of the governor of Melita.” (Since the island was under the control of the Romans, Publius was likely given this position by them.) “Publius” was a Roman name, and a common one (“Gill”).
“lands belonging to… and lodged us three days courteously” – By “LANDS,” it appears that Publius was wealthy enough to own a lot of land. The fact that he had the ability to “lodge” ALL of the shipwrecked men (276 men – Acts 27:37) for 3 days would certainly back up that he was wealthy. (***Note: Some believe that by “lodged us,” Paul was simply speaking of him, and those traveling with him i.e. Luke, Aristarchus.)
***Note: Publius lodging them for “3 days” was likely to give them time to find more permanent accomodations on the island for the 3 months (verse 11) they would be staying. Tradition says that Publius later became the bishop of Malta.
(Verses 8-9) “And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux (“dysentery” – NKJV): to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. (9) So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed”
“a fever and bloody flux (“dysentery”)” – (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “This fever was possibly Malta fever, which was common in Malta, Gibralter, and other Mediterranean islands. The microorganism has since been traced to the milk of Maltese goats. The fever usually lasted four months, but sometimes could last as long as two or three years.”
“prayed, laid hands on him, healed him” – Of course, we always need to “pray” when asking for “healing.” Miraculous healing comes from the Lord (Jer 17:14)(Ps 30:2)(Ps 103:2-3)(Mk 5:34)(James 5:14-15). In this instance, Paul’s praying may have had added significance, in that because many of the people believed he was a “god,” his praying would show that the coming healing did not come from him, but from a different God.
“Laying hands” on people in conjunction with “healing” is seen throughout the New Testament: (Mt 9:18)(Mk 5:23)(Mk 6:5)(Mk 7:32)(Mk 8:22-25)(Lk 4:40)(Lk 13:11-13)(Acts 9:17-18).
***Note: “Laying hands” on people was also done throughout the Bible in conjunction with things such as: blessing, commissioning, receiving the Holy Spirit, and the giving of spiritual gifts. I discuss this in more detail here: https://jesusalive.cc/laying-hands-in-bible.
“many others who had diseases… came, and were healed” – Word of the miraculous healing spread throughout the island, and people came from every part to be healed as well. (See similar with Jesus in Mt 4:23-25)
***Note: Tying together what has happened here with the miraculous healings, and Paul’s being bitten by the poisonous viper, and surviving, we have a picture of what is said in (Mk 16:17-18):
(Mk 16:17-18)(NKJV) “And these signs will follow those who believe… (18) they will take up serpents; and if they drink anythng deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
(Verse 10)(NASB) “They also showed us many honors, and when we were about to set sail, they supplied us with everything we needed.”
“showed us many honors” – (“honors” = Gr. “timeo“) This likely included “gifts” and “money.” Of course, Paul was not healing people in order to receive “gifts and money” (unlike some “faith healers” today – see Mt 10:8). However, the people truly wanted to thank Paul for all that he did for them, and for Paul to refuse their gifts would likely have resulted in hurt feelings.
“they supplied us with everything we needed” – They also supplied the ship with “everything” that would be useful on their continued voyage to Rome.
As Paul now leaves, what effect do you think his 3 months on the island had on the people?