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Acts 28 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Acts 28 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.

2 And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.

3 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.

(28:3-8) Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake and yet lives. The "barbarians" who were shipwrecked with him thought he must be a murderer since he was bitten; but then they changed their minds and thought him to be a god since he didn't die. (The snake story is especially interesting since there are no poisonous snakes on Malta, and there is no evidence of their existence in the past.)
That Paul didn't get hurt was one of the signs Jesus prophesied would follow believers, see Mark 16:17.
On if the viper was poisonous, Malta at this time also barely does have trees. Which seems to have been quite different in the first century, else Paul wouldn't have been gathering sticks. So the situation now does say little about the situation of two thousand years ago. There also is a legend that after St. Paul was bitten, all snakes and scorpions on Malta are non-poisonous. However, that would change their anatomy I suppose, so we would have vipers that are non-poisonous on Malta, but poisonous elsewhere. So that leaves us with looking for past evidence: either fossils or images. Fossils generally don't form unless quickly buried (think global flood). However, I was unable to unearth any article about snake fossils on Malta, nor any artifacts that would shed light on snakes that once might have lived on Malta. From Jackie from Heritage Malta I received the following information:

Four species of snakes are present (in the wild) in the Maltese Islands of which three are relatively recent additions. The only indigenous snake is the Western Whip Snake Coluber viridiflavus which is a non-poisonous species. The other three, namely Algerian Whipsnake Coluber algirus, Leopard Snake Elaphe situla and Cat Snake Telescopus fallax have been introduced by man. Of these only the latter has some form of poison. Although snakes appear in the archaeological context (eg. the stone slab in Mus of Archaeology of Gozo - from ggantija, which has a snake on its side) this does not imply that they were poisonous. On the other hand, poisonous species such as Natrix natrix which occurs in nearby Sicily may have been eradicated by man through time.

Researcher Heinz Warnecke believes that Paul did not shipwreck on Malta, but near Celaphonia, which has poisonous vipers.

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.

5 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.

7 In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.

8 And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.

(28:8-9) By praying and touching the sick people of Malta, Paul cures them of their diseases.
Would they have come to Paul if he didn't heal them? Paul didn't use television advertising and billboards nor did he ask for money. Unlike today's ‘healers’ Paul did actually cure people. They didn't have to come back for a second ‘treatment’.

9 So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed:

10 Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.

11 And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.

12 And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days.

13 And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli:

14 Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.

15 And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.

16 And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.

17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

18 Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.

19 But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.

20 For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.

21 And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.

22 But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.

The Jews of Rome refer to Paul's new religion as a sect.
And so it has been treated for all centuries afterward. What the author of the SAB does not realize is that these Christians were willing to die for their faith. And being called a sect was just the most kind way of describing them. Usually the stories the heathens made up were far, far worse. For example they claimed the Christians slaughtered children and ate them.

23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.

24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,

26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:

27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

"The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles."
In Matthew (10:5), Jesus orders his disciples to stay away from the Gentiles. Yet here we are told that "the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles."
Should the gospel be preached to everyone?
An entirely different occasion, see Matthew 10:5.

29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.

30 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,

31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.