Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
THERE--PROSECUTION OF THE
ROME--SUMMARY OF THE
THERE FOR THE
1. knew the island was called Melita--(See on
The opinion that this island was not Malta to the south of Sicily, but
Meleda in the Gulf of Venice--which till lately had respectable support
among Competent judges--is now all but exploded; examination of all the
places on the spot, and of all writings and principles bearing on the
question, by gentlemen of the highest qualification, particularly
SMITH (see on
having set the question, it may now be affirmed, at rest.
2. the barbarous people--so called merely as speaking neither the
Greek nor the Latin language. They were originally Phœnician
showed us no little--"no ordinary"
kindness, for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because
of the present rain--"the rain that was on us"--not now first falling,
but then falling heavily.
and because of the cold--welcomed us all, drenched and shivering, to
these most seasonable marks of friendship. In this these "barbarians"
contrast favorably with many since bearing the Christian name. The
lifelike style of the narrative here and in the following verses gives
it a great charm.
3. when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks--"a quantity of dry
sticks." The vigorous activity of Paul's character is observable in this
comparatively trifling action [WEBSTER and
and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat--Having
laid itself up among the sticks on the approach of the cold winter
season, it had suddenly recovered from its torpor by the heat.
and fastened--its fangs.
on his hand--Vipers dart at their enemies sometimes several feet at a
bound. They have now disappeared from Malta, owing to the change which
cultivation has produced.
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.
5. shook off the beast and felt no harm--See
6. they looked--"continued looking."
when he should have swollen or fallen down dead--familiar with the
effects of such bites.
and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said
. . . he was a god--from "a murderer" to "a god," as the
Lycaonian greeting of Paul and Silas from "sacrificing to them" to
(Ac 14:13, 19).
What has not the Gospel done for the uncultivated portion of the human
family, while its effects on the educated and refined, though very
different, are not less marvellous! Verily it is God's chosen
restorative for the human spirit, in all the multitudinous forms and
gradations of its lapsed state.
7, 8. possessions of the chief man--"the first man."
of the island--He would hardly be so styled in the lifetime of his
father, if his distinction was that of the family. But it is now
ascertained that this was the proper official title of the Maltese
representative of the Roman prætor to Sicily, to whose province Malta
belonged; two inscriptions having been discovered in the island, one in
Greek, the other in Latin, containing the same words which Luke
who received us--of Paul's company, but doubtless including the
and lodged us three days courteously--till proper winter lodgings
could be obtained for them.
8. the father of Publius lay sick of a fever--"fevers." The word was
often thus used in the plural number, probably to express
and of a bloody flux--"of dysentery." (The medical accuracy of
our historian's style has been observed here.)
to whom Paul entered in, and prayed--thereby precluding the supposition
that any charm resided in himself.
and laid his hands on him, and healed him--Thus, as our Lord rewarded
Peter for the use of his boat
(Lu 5:3, 4,
&c.), so Paul richly repays Publius for his hospitality. Observe the
fulfilment here of two things predicted in
--the "taking up serpents," and "recovering of the sick by laying hands
9. this . . . done, others . . . came and were healed--"kept coming
to [us] and getting healed," that is, during our stay, not all at once
10. who also honoured us . . . and when we departed they
laded us, &c.--This was not taking hire for the miracles wrought
but such grateful expressions of feeling, particularly in providing
what would minister to their comfort during the voyage, as showed the
value they set upon the presence and labors of the apostle among them,
and such as it would have hurt their feelings to refuse. Whether any
permanent effects of this three months' stay of the greatest of the
apostles were left at Malta, we cannot certainly say. But though little
dependence is to be placed upon the tradition that Publius became
bishop of Malta and afterwards of Athens, we may well believe the
accredited tradition that the beginnings of the Christian Church at
Malta sprang out of this memorable visit.
11. we departed in a ship of Alexandria--(See on
which had wintered in the isle--no doubt driven m by the same storm
which had wrecked on its shores the apostle's vessel--an incidental mark
of consistency in the narrative.
whose sign--or "figurehead"; the figure, carved or painted on the
bow, which gave name to the vessel. Such figureheads were anciently as
common as now.
was Castor and Pollux--the tutelar gods of mariners, to whom all
their good fortune was ascribed. St. Anthony is substituted for them in
the modern superstitions of Mediterranean (Romanist) sailors. They
carry his image in their boats and ships. It is highly improbable that
two ships of Alexandra should have been casually found, of which the
owners were able and willing to receive on board such a number of
We may then reasonably conceive that it was compulsory on the owners to
convey soldiers and state travellers [WEBSTER and
12, 13. landing at Syracuse--the ancient and celebrated capital of
Sicily, on its eastern coast, about eighty miles, or a day's sail, north
we tarried there three days--probably from the state of
the wind. Doubtless Paul would wish to go ashore, to find out and
break ground among the Jews and proselytes whom such a mercantile
center would attract to it; and if this was allowed at the outset of
much more readily would it be now when he had gained the reverence and
confidence of all classes with whom he came in contact. At any rate we
cannot wonder that he should be regarded by the Sicilians as the
founder of the Church of that island.
13. from thence we fetched a compass--that is, proceeded circuitously,
or tacked, working to windward probably, and availing themselves of
the sinuosities of the coast, the wind not being favorable
What follows confirms this.
and came to Rhegium--now Reggio, a seaport on the southwest point
of the Italian coast, opposite the northeast point of Sicily, and at the
entrance of the narrow straits of Messina.
after one day the south wind blew--a south wind having sprung up; being
now favored with a fair wind, for want of which they had been obliged
first to stay three days at Syracuse, and then to tack and put in for a
day at Rhegium.
the next day to Puteoli--now Pozzuoli, situated on the northern
part of the magnificent bay of Naples about one hundred eighty miles
north of Rhegium, a distance which they might make, running before their
"south wind," in about twenty-six hours. The Alexandrian corn ships
enjoyed a privilege peculiar to themselves, of not being obliged to
strike their topsail on landing. By this they were easily recognized as
they hove in sight by the crowds that we find gathered on the shore on
such occasions [HOWSON].
14, 15. Where we found brethren--not "the brethren"
from which one would conclude they did not expect to find such
and were desired--"requested."
to tarry with them seven days--If this request came from Julius, it
may have proceeded partly from a wish to receive instructions from Rome
and make arrangements for his journey thither, partly from a wish to
gratify Paul, as he seems studiously and increasingly to have done to
the last. One can hardly doubt that he was influenced by both
considerations. However this may be, the apostle had thus an opportunity
of spending a Sabbath with the Christians of the place, all the more
refreshing from his long privation in this respect, and as a seasoning
for the unknown future that lay before him at the metropolis.
so we went toward Rome.
15. And from thence, when the brethren--of Rome
heard of us--by letter from Puteoli, and probably by the same
conveyance which took Julius' announcement of his arrival.
they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum--a town forty-one miles
and the Three Taverns--thirty miles from Rome. Thus they came to greet
the apostle in two parties, one stopping short at the nearer, the other
going on to the more distant place.
whom when Paul saw, he thanked God--for such a welcome. How sensitive
he was to such Christian affection all his Epistles show
and took courage--his long-cherished purpose to "see Rome"
there to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, and the divine
pledge that in this he should be gratified
being now about to be auspiciously realized.
16. when we came to Rome--the renowned capital of the ancient world,
situated on the Tiber.
the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the
guard--the Prætorian Prefect, to whose custody, as
commander of the Prætorian guard, the highest military authority
in the city, were committed all who were to come before the emperor for
trial. Ordinarily there were two such prefects; but from A.D. 51 to 62, one distinguished general--Burrus
Aframus, who had been Nero's tutor--held that office; and as our
historian speaks of "the captain," as if there were but one, it
is thought that this fixes the apostle's arrival at Rome to be not
later than the year 62 [WIES]. But even though
there had been two when Paul arrived, he would be committed only to one
of them, who would be "the captain" who got charge of him. (At
most, therefore, this can furnish no more than confirmation to the
chronological evidence otherwise obtained).
but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a--"the"
soldier that kept him--"guarded" him. (See on
This privilege was allowed in the case of the better class of
prisoners, not accused of any flagrant offense, on finding
security--which in Paul's case would not be difficult among the
Christians. The extension of this privilege to the apostle may have
been due to the terms in which Festus wrote about him; but far more
probably it was owing to the high terms in which Julius spoke of him,
and his express intercession in his behalf. It was overruled, however,
for giving the fullest scope to the labors of the apostle compatible
with confinement at all. As the soldiers who kept him were relieved
periodically, he would thus make the personal acquaintance of a great
number of the Prætorian guard; and if he had to appear before the
Prefect from time to time, the truth might thus penetrate to those who
surrounded the emperor, as we learn, from
Php 1:12, 13,
that it did.
17-20. Paul called the chief of the Jews together--Though
banished from the capital by Claudius, the Jews enjoyed the full
benefit of the toleration which distinguished the first period of
Nero's reign, and were at this time in considerable numbers, wealth,
and influence settled at Rome. We have seen that long before this a
flourishing Christian Church existed at Rome, to which Paul wrote his
Epistle (see on
and the first members of which were probably Jewish converts and
yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the
Romans--the Roman authorities, Felix and Festus.
19. I was constrained to appeal . . . not that I had aught to accuse
my nation of--"I am here not as their accuser, but as my own defender,
and this not of choice but necessity." His object in alluding thus
gently to the treatment he had received from the Jews was plainly to
avoid whatever might irritate his visitors at the first; especially as
he was not aware whether any or what information against him had reached
20. For this cause . . . have I called for you
. . . because . . . for the hope of
Ac 26:6, 7).
I am bound with this chain--"This cause is not so much mine as yours;
it is the nation's cause; all that is dear to the heart and hope of
Israel is bound up with this case of mine." From the touching allusions
which the apostle makes to his chains, before Agrippa first, and here
before the leading members of the Jewish community at Rome, at his first
interview with them, one would gather that his great soul felt keenly
his being in such a condition; and it is to this keenness of feeling,
under the control of Christian principle, that we owe the noble use
which he made of it in these two cases.
21, 22. We neither received letters out of Judea concerning thee,
&c.--We need not suppose (with THOLUCK and others) that there was any
dishonest concealment here. The distinction made between himself,
against whom they heard nothing, and his "sect," as "everywhere spoken
against," is a presumption in favor of their sincerity; and there is
ground to think that as the case took an unexpected turn by Paul's
appealing to Cæsar, so no information on the subject would travel from
Jerusalem to Rome in advance of the apostle himself.
22. we desire--"deem it proper"
to hear of thee what thou thinkest--what are thy sentiments,
views, &c. The apparent freedom from prejudice here expressed may have
arisen from a prudent desire to avoid endangering a repetition of those
dissensions about Christianity to which, probably,
alludes, and which had led to the expulsion of the Jews under Claudius
23, 24. there came many--"considerable numbers"
into his lodging--The word denotes one's place of stay as a
not "his own hired house," mentioned in
Some Christian friends--possibly Aquila and Priscilla, who had returned
would be glad to receive him, though he would soon find himself more at
liberty in a house of his own.
to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God--opening up the
great spiritual principles of that kingdom in opposition to the
contracted and secular views of it entertained by the Jews.
persuading them concerning Jesus--as the ordained and predicted Head
of that kingdom.
out of the law . . . and the prophets--drawing his materials and
arguments from a source mutually acknowledged.
from morning till evening--"Who would not wish to have been present?"
exclaims BENGEL; but virtually we are present while listening to
those Epistles which he dictated from his prison at Rome, and to his
other epistolary expositions of Christian truth against the Jews.
24. and some believed . . . some not--What simplicity and candor are
in this record of a result repeated from age to age where the Gospel is
presented to a promiscuous assemblage of sincere and earnest inquirers
after truth, frivolous worldlings, and prejudiced bigots!
25-29. when they--the Jews.
agreed not among themselves--the discussion having passed into one
between the two parties into which the visitors were now divided,
respecting the arguments and conclusions of the apostle.
they departed--the material of discussion being felt by both parties
to be exhausted.
after Paul had spoken one word--one solemn parting testimony, from
those Scriptures regarded by both alike as "the Holy Ghost speaking" to
26. Hearing, ye shall hear, &c.--(See on
With what pain would this stern saying be wrung from him whose "heart's
desire and prayer to God for Israel was that they might be saved," and
who "had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart" on their
(Ro 10:1; 9:2)!
28. the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will
"This departure to the Gentiles" he had intimated to the perverse Jews
and at Corinth
now at Rome: thus in Asia, Greece, and Italy"
29. the Jews departed, and had great--"much"
reasoning among themselves--"This verse is wanting in many manuscripts
[and omitted by several recent editors], but certainly without reason.
Probably the words were regarded as superfluous, as they seem to tell us
what we were told before, that Paul "departed" (see
it is the breaking off of the discourse that is meant, here the final
departure from the house"
30. in his own hired house--(See on
yet still in custody, for he only "received all that came to
him"; and it is not said that he went to the synagogue or anywhere
31. with all confidence, no man forbidding him--enjoying, in the
uninterrupted exercise of his ministry, all the liberty of a
guarded man. Thus closes this most precious monument of the
beginnings of the Christian Church in its march from east to west,
among the Jews first, whose center was Jerusalem; next among the
Gentiles, with Antioch for its headquarters; finally, its banner is
seen waving over imperial Rome, foretokening its universal triumphs.
That distinguished apostle whose conversion, labors, and sufferings for
"the faith which once he destroyed" occupy more than half of this
History, it leaves a prisoner, unheard, so far as appears, for two
years. His accusers, whose presence was indispensable, would have to
await the return of spring before starting for the capital, and might
not reach it for many months; nor, even when there, would they be so
sanguine of success--after Felix, Festus, and Agrippa had all
pronounced him innocent--as to be impatient of delay. And if witnesses
were required to prove the charge advanced by Tertullus, that he was "a
mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the [Roman] world"
they must have seen that unless considerable time was allowed them the
case would certainly break down. If to this be added the capricious
delays which the emperor himself might interpose, and the practice of
Nero to hear but one charge at a time, it will not seem strange that
the historian should have no proceedings in the case to record for two
years. Begun, probably, before the apostle's arrival, its progress at
Rome under his own eye would furnish exalted employment, and beguile
many a tedious hour of his two years' imprisonment. Had the case come
on for hearing during this period, much more if it had been disposed
of, it is hardly conceivable that the History should have closed as it
does. But if, at the end of this period, the Narrative only wanted the
decision of the case, while hope deferred was making the heart sick
and if, under the guidance of that Spirit whose seal was on it all, it
seemed of more consequence to put the Church at once in possession of
this History than to keep it back indefinitely for the sake of what
might come to be otherwise known, we cannot wonder that it should be
wound up as it is in its two concluding verses. All that we know of the
apostle's proceedings and history beyond this must be gathered from the
Epistles of the Imprisonment--Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians,
and Philemon--written during this period, and the Pastoral Epistles--to
Timothy and Titus, which, in our judgment, are of subsequent date. From
the former class of Epistles we learn the following particulars: (1)
That the trying restraint laid upon the apostle's labors by his
imprisonment had only turned his influence into a new channel; the
Gospel having in consequence penetrated even into the palace, and
pervaded the city, while the preachers of Christ were emboldened; and
though the Judaizing portion of them, observing his success among the
Gentiles, had been led to inculcate with fresh zeal their own narrower
Gospel, even this had done much good by extending the truth common to
both (See on
(2) That as in addition to all his other labors, "the care of all the
churches pressed upon him from day to-day"
so with these churches he kept up an active correspondence by means of
letters and messages, and on such errands he lacked not faithful and
beloved brethren enough ready to be employed--Luke; Timotheus;
Tychicus; (John) Mark; Demas; Aristarchus; Epaphras; Onesimus;
Jesus, called Justus; and, for a short time, Epaphroditus
Phm 23, 24;
to Philippians, and
That the apostle suffered martyrdom under Nero at Rome has never been
doubted. But that the appeal which brought him to Rome issued in his
liberation, that he was at large for some years thereafter and took
some wide missionary circuits, and that he was again arrested, carried
to Rome, and then executed--was the undisputed belief of the early
Church, as expressed by
in the fourth century, up to
the "fellow laborer" of the apostle himself
in the first century. The strongest possible confirmation of this is
found in the Pastoral Epistles, which bear marks throughout of a more
advanced state of the Church, and more matured forms of error, than can
well have existed at any period before the appeal which brought the
apostle to Rome; which refer to movements of himself and Timothy that
cannot without some straining (as we think) be made to fit into any
prior period; and which are couched in a manifestly riper style than
any of his other Epistles. (See
to First Timothy,
to Second Timothy
to Titus and Notes). All this has been called in question by
modern critics of great research and acuteness
and others]. But those who maintain the ancient view are of equal
authority and more numerous, while the weight of argument appears to us
to be decidedly on their side.