Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Acts 28:1-7
Pastor Steve Schell
Sunday: Acts 28:1-2
vs1-2: Even after arriving safely on shore, they still had no idea where they were, but thankfully some of the people who lived on the island spotted the shipwreck and came down to help. They spoke a language no one on the ship understood, probably a dialect of Phoenician (J. Rawson Lumby, The Acts of the Apostles, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1904, p.448). Yet somehow the two groups were able to communicate, and Luke says, “…we learned that the island is called Melita (Malta).” Those who came to help truly welcomed them and were unusually kind. They must have brought some dry wood and hot coals with them, because in spite of the pouring rain and cold wind, they lit a bonfire, undoubtedly in a place nearby with some sort of shelter from the storm.

Monday: Acts 28:3
v3: Paul must have been free to move about because at some point he left the warmth of the fire to go in search of more wood. He found some dead bushes and collected a large bundle of them, but in the process he didn’t notice that there was a snake in one of the bushes. And probably because of the cold weather, the snake did not react immediately. But when Paul went to put the pile of brush on the fire, the snake felt the heat and struck at him, driving its fangs into his hand and not letting go. At this point we should remember that Luke was a doctor and would have had quite a bit of knowledge about snakes and snake bites. They were very common in ancient, agricultural societies. What’s significant here is that Luke did not use the general term for a snake; he used a technical term that specifically means a viper (or adder), which is a very poisonous variety of snake.

Tuesday: Acts 28:3-4
v3 (continued): Luke also used a medical term to describe the way the viper struck Paul’s hand. The word means it fastened on his hand and introduced poison into it (Rienecker/Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1980, p.343). v4: Luke said the “beast” hung there until Paul shook it into the fire. When the local inhabitants saw what happened they said to one another, “This man is indeed a murderer, whom, having been rescued out of the sea, [the goddess] justice did not allow to live.” Both ancient Greeks and Romans had their own versions of a goddess who was responsible to enforce moral fairness in the human race. Today, many of us might still recognize the Roman depiction of her as a blindfolded woman with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.

Wednesday: Acts 28:4-6
v4 (continued): For Paul to escape a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a venomous snake, was proof, in their minds, that this goddess had weighed him in her scales and found him guilty of death. So, if the sea didn’t kill him, she would swing her “sword” by sending a viper to do it. vs5-6: But after Paul shook the snake loose and it fell into the fire, he did not initially appear to suffer any negative reaction to the poison. Yet they were sure he would, so they all began to watch him closely, expecting his hand to swell up and become inflamed (Luke uses a medical term for this), or that he might collapse suddenly and die (another medical term). After waiting expectantly for a long time, they realized nothing was happening to him; he was showing no harmful symptoms at all, then they completely changed their minds and decided he must be a god.

Thursday: Acts 28:5-6
vs5-6 (continued): There has been much discussion among students of the Bible about the fact that today, on the island of Malta, there is no species of snake with venom strong enough to kill a human. This is taken, by some, as proof that no species of viper could have existed on the island 2,000 years ago. To believe that, a person would have to assume two things: first, that Luke, a physician, did not know the difference between a viper and a non-venomous snake; and second, that the local population, which had been in existence on that island for centuries, had not yet discovered that when a snake bit them, nothing happened. Both assumptions are quite insulting and are based on the idea that people who lived a long time ago were naïve and easily misled which, of course, isn’t true. What is far more likely is that as the human population expanded to cover the entire island; as forests and wooded areas were cleared and cultivated; and as non-native species were introduced through shipping and other means, some species may have become extinct. A glance at a list of extinct or endangered species will show how tragically possible this is. And since Luke has proven to be very reliable in the facts he reports, we would be wise to trust him here as well, and assume that Paul was, indeed, struck by a viper.

Friday: Acts 28:5-6
vs5-6 (continued): There is one more observation we should make about Paul’s encounter with the snake: It fulfills one of the promises the Lord Jesus made in the final verses of the gospel of Mark. After commanding His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” He listed some of the “signs” which He said would accompany them and would serve to prove that the message they preached was from God (Mk 16:20). One of these signs is that “… they will lift up snakes…” (Mk 16:18) and they will not hurt them. The idea behind such a statement is that God will protect Jesus’ disciples, as they “go into all the world” from being harmed during accidental encounters with wild animals. This promise, and the one that follows it about drinking poison (Mk 16:18), was not meant to be used as a test of one’s salvation but as an encouragement for believers to fearlessly carry the gospel into dangerous places. And it seems we’re watching this promise at work for Paul. After being bitten by a viper, no harm came to him and inhabitants of the island saw it as a sign that he was being divinely protected.

Saturday: Acts 28:7
v7: One of the main landowners in that part of the island was a man named Publius. Luke says he was the “protos” or “first man” of the island. That title is very unusual. It is not found in literature or in inscriptions anywhere outside of Malta, but archaeologists have found on Malta two inscriptions containing it (F.F. Bruce. Acts. Eerdmans, reprint, 1974, p.523). The island of Malta was so small it had been placed by the Romans under the jurisdiction of Sicily (J. Rawson Lumby, Acts, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1904, p.450), so it may be that one of its citizens had been designated to serve as the local representative of the Roman government. It’s not certain what duties he performed or what authority he held, but at least, he held a very privileged position; it was this man who warmly welcomed these castaways and took responsibility for their well-being. He even personally housed and fed them for three days. 

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