On Paul’s journey to Rome, his ship was wrecked on Melita, or Malta. There he was bit by a poisonous snake, but he didn’t die (Acts 27:39–28:6)
Luke picked up the account after the shipwreck, where they learned that the island they had safely reached is called Malta. He said that the natives were kind and welcoming, and even helped them with a fire. But a snake came out because of the heat, and fastened himself to Paul’s hand. The sight of the deadly creature hanging from his limb just after he had been rescued from a life-threatening shipwreck made them suppose that he must be a murderer, getting his just reward (Greek and Roman tales had long spoken of just such events – “The Argonautica”, for example). But God was certainly not going to let anything happen to him. When he neither died nor showed any ill effects from the bite, they then thought Paul himself to be a god.
Publius in verse 7, is described as a “chief man” – the Greek term for which is “protos,” of which term several inscriptions have been found. Several references to Publius and this chapter, along with photographs can be found in this article at BiblePlaces.com. Publius’ father was ill with fever and dysentery (the description of which ills fit those of an infection caused by goat’s milk called “Malta fever”). Paul healed him, as well as others of the island with diseases that were brought to him afterward (verses 8-9).
The shipwreck occurred on Malta, where the ship’s company spent three months. Finally, another ship gave them passage for the 100 miles to Syracuse, capital of Sicily, then sailed on to Rhegium, finally dropping anchor at Puteoli. Paul was taken to the forum on the Appian Way and to The Three Taverns before arriving in Rome.
After three months, they again set sail in a ship from Alexandria that had been wintering there. Luke describes the ship as having a figurehead of the “twin gods” (Castor and Pollux, the mythological twin sons of Zeus and Leda, were seen as the protectors of seamen). They put in at Syracuse for three days, then ended up in Puteoli, where they stayed with brethren they had found for seven days, then to Rome. The brethren there heard, and came from as far away as “The Three Taverns” and the “Forum of Appius” (hence, the name, the Appian Way) (verses 12-16).
Paul spent considerable time preaching and trying to convince the Jews there of the good news of Jesus through the words of Moses and the prophets. Some believed, but others did not – the latter leaving disagreeably (verses 23-25). Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 to them in verses 26-27; and then told them that now this news of the salvation of God will be brought to the Gentiles, for they will listen.
Verses 30-31 close out the book of Acts with the word that Paul remained there two full years, at his own expense, “teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” No further word is given of Paul’s appearance before Caesar, or any confirmation of secular writings that suggest he fulfilled his desire to go and preach in Spain, nor of a second imprisonment before his martyrdom. As much as we would like to know of the rest of Paul’s story, the inspired word of God does not tell us because the book of Acts is not Paul’s biography, but the word “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
So, one might wonder, if it was so important for Paul to appear before Caesar, why is there nearly a chapter and a half about the journey and shipwreck, and not a word about what was so important about that appearance? The answer is that first, God had some reason for Paul to go to stand before Caesar that fulfilled His purpose, but there have been countless events since creation important to Him that are not important for us to know about for teaching, for reproof, for correction, or for training in righteousness. But the journey and shipwreck teach a couple of important lessons. One is that when God wants something done, it gets done, period! Nothing will stop it from completion. The other is that God, as we have seen since Genesis, always keeps His promises. Paul was imprisoned, betrayed, the target of assassination, 2,000 miles away from his destination, shipwrecked, stranded on an island, and had a deadly snake bite him severely enough to have hung from his hand. Yet God wanted him to be in Rome, and had promised that he would get there safely. We can take comfort, knowing that His will is going to be done, and that He has promised salvation for His faithful.
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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