Paul under arrest in Rome
Wintering on Malta Isle1Safely ashore, we eventually found out the island was Malta. 2Local folks were extraordinarily kind to us. They welcomed us, and they quickly started a fire because it was cold and some rain had started to fall. 3Paul picked up a bundle of sticks and tossed it onto the fire. A venomous snake was in that bundle. When the snake hit the fire, it lurched out and latched onto one of Paul’s hands. 4When local folks saw this particular brand of critter hanging from Paul’s hand, they said to each other, “Wow, this has to be one bad guy—perhaps a murderer. He escapes a shipwreck like this, but justice catches up with him and gives him what he deserves: death.” 5Paul shook the critter back into the fire and was just fine—no problem. 6Local folks had expected to see him swell up and drop dead. They waited a long time, watching Paul. When nothing happened to him, they changed their minds about him. He wasn’t a murderer, they decided. He was a god. 7There were fields near the beach where we landed. Publius, leader of the people, owned the land. He welcomed us and took good care of us for three days. 8His father was sick at the time, suffering from intermittent bouts of fever accompanied by the bloody diarrhea of dysentery. Paul went to see him. Paul prayed for him and then put his hands on the man and healed him. 9Word got around. Everyone else on the island suffering from diseases came to see Paul and got cured. 10These people treated us with deep respect and honor. When it came time for us to sail away, they brought supplies to the ship—whatever they thought we might need.
One more ship to sail11After three months on the island, we left. We boarded a ship that had wintered on the island with us. It, too, was a ship from Alexandria. On the front of the ship was a carved figurehead of two gods known as the Twin Brothers. 12We sailed up to Syracuse and stayed there for three days. 13From there we sailed up to Rhegium. A day later a south wind blew in. It pushed us on up to Puteoli, where we arrived the next day. 14We found fellow believers there. They invited us to stay with them for seven days. After that, we headed on up to Rome. 15When the brothers up in Rome got word that we were coming, they came as far south as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. When Paul saw them coming, his spirits lifted and he thanked God for them.
Paul under house arrest in Rome16When Paul got to Rome, he was allowed to stay where he wanted as long as a soldier guarded him. 17After three days in Rome, Paul set up a meeting with Jewish leaders in town. He told them, “My brothers, I haven’t done anything wrong. Not to our people or to our traditions that have been handed down from our ancestors. Yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and turned over to the Romans. 18The Romans interrogated me and wanted to free me. They said I didn’t do anything that warranted the death penalty. 19But the Jews objected. So I had no choice but to appeal to Caesar’s supreme court. Yet it’s not because I have some complaint to litigate against my own people. 20I’ve asked you here so we can talk about this. I’m in chains because of Israel’s hope." 21The Jews told Paul, “We haven’t gotten any letters about you from Judea. And we haven’t heard anything bad about you from fellow Jews who came from there. 22But we certainly want to hear what you think about this new sect. Frankly, from what we can tell, everyone is condemning it.”
Paul’s all-day meeting with Jews of Rome23Paul and the Jewish leaders scheduled a meeting. Many Jews came. They met where Paul was staying. He launched right into teaching them about God’s kingdom. He also tried to convince them to believe in Jesus by drawing from Bible passages in the books of Law by Moses and in the writings of the prophets. Paul talked with them from morning until night. 24Paul managed to convince some of the Jews. Others refused to believe him and to adopt his interpretation of the Bible. 25The Jews simply couldn’t agree among themselves. As they left, Paul offered one parting shot. He said, “The Holy Spirit got it right when he used the prophet Isaiah to say this to your ancestors,
‘Go to the people. Tell them this:
You will hear me. But you’ll never understand me.
You will see me. But you’ll never recognize me.
Their ears are hard of hearing. Their eyes are closed.
Otherwise their eyes would see me, their ears would hear me, and their hearts would sense me.
Then they would come to me, and I could heal them.’ 28I want to make sure you know this. God has now extended his salvation to everyone—including the people who aren’t Jews. Even the non-Jews will be able to listen.” 29When Paul was done, the Jews left—arguing furiously with each other. 30Paul lived there in Rome two full years. He stayed in a rented house, where he welcomed all who wanted to visit him. 31He never stopped telling people about God’s spiritual kingdom or about the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a boldness to his words and not a bit of hesitation. He was free to say what he wanted.
Malta is about 50 miles (80 km) south of Italy, and about 500 miles (800 km) south of Rome. A popular tourist destination today, it’s smaller than most medium-sized American cities. With a footprint of about 122 square miles (316 sq km), it’s smaller than Atlanta (133 sq mi; 345 sq km).
There are reportedly no snakes on Malta that are venomous enough to kill an adult. The writer of Acts said that 2,000 years ago there was at least one.
Amoebas in the intestinal tract can produce these symptoms. In Malta, a microbe in goat’s milk caused fevers that could last for months.
The twins are sons of Zeus, the boss god on Mount Olympus: Castor and Pollux. Some people taught that these gods rescued sailors in trouble.
Syracuse is on the island of Sicily, roughly 100 miles (160 km) north of Malta.
Rhegium was on the southern tip of Italy, some 75 miles (120 km) north of Syracuse.
Puteoli was a port town about a 120-mile (190-km) walk south of Rome, about a week-long trip on the stone road called the Appian Way.
The Forum of Appius was a small town about 40 miles (64 km) south of Rome. Three Taverns, probably a rest stop, was about 35 miles (56 km) south of Rome. Both were about a two-day walk from Rome.
Paul seemed to be talking about the hope that Jews had that the Messiah would come and restore freedom and glory to Israel.
The books of Law are the first five books in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. All the books are anonymous, but Jewish tradition attributes them to Moses.
Paul was referring to Isaiah 6:9-10.
Ancient copies of the book of Acts that are oldest and considered most reliable don’t have this verse.
Isn’t it ironic that the people of Malta first thought Paul was a murderer and later a god (28:4-6), while years earlier people in the city of Lystra in what is now Turkey first thought he was a god, but later stoned him nearly to death (14:12, 19)? People had intense feelings about Paul: love him or hate him. How do you think that affected him during his three decades of ministry?
When Paul healed the father of Publius, Paul did it by praying for him and putting his hands on him (28:7). What’s up with the hands? Do you think there was some mystical transfer of power in the touch? Or was it more of a psychological thing, to assure and comfort the person?
Wherever Paul went, he either seemed to find believers or to make believers of the people (28:14). Do you see any evidence in the story of Paul’s trip to Rome that this made an impression on the soldiers guarding him?
Paul tells the Jewish leaders in Rome, “I’m in chains because of Israel’s hope” (28:20). He didn’t say what he meant by that. Given what Paul has been saying and doing throughout the stories in Acts, what would you guess he was talking about?”
When Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah to the Jews (28:26-27), what kind of an effect would you guess it had on the Jews?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Paul got snakebit, people assumed he deserved it: “This has to be one bad guy” (28:4). That seemed to be common in ancient times—the belief that when something bad happened it’s because the gods were punishing the person. Even many Jews believed this. When Jesus’ disciples saw a man born blind, they asked Jesus, whose sins caused it. “Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 New Living Translation). Do you think people today sometimes wonder if they deserve the bad thing that happened to them? If so, what’s the counterpoint?
LIFE APPLICATION. When the 276 shipwrecked people made it to shore, the folks of Malta “were extraordinarily kind” (28:2). When have you seen someone with nowhere to turn, but who found help waiting for them?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul spent most of his adult life trying to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. Why do you think Jews back then as well as Jews today have a hard time believing that the Messiah has come and gone without them realizing it?
LIFE APPLICATION. As we’ve studied the story about how the Christian church got started after the death and resurrection of Jesus, what one scene or teaching or quotation has intrigued you or perhaps moved you most of all?