Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 28:11-16

Paul Arrives at Rome

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods[a] as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers[b] and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

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Last week’s post discussed the healing miracles that Paul performed for the people on Malta through the divine power that God had granted him.

With winter over (verse 11), it was time to resume the journey to Rome.

Luke gives us a bit of information about the ship (verse 11). It was from Alexandria, the breadbasket of Egypt at the time, an important source of grain for Rome. The ship also had a figurehead of Castor and Pollux, gods which were widely worshipped in Greece and Rome. These are the twins for the astrological sign Gemini, but in the ancient world, they represented much more.

Wikipedia explains (emphases in the original):

Castor[a] and Pollux[b] (or in Greek, Polydeuces[c]) were twin half-brothers in Greek and Roman mythology, known together as the Dioscuri.[d]

Their mother was Leda, but they had different fathers; Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Pollux was the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Though accounts of their birth are varied, they are sometimes said to have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.

In Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini[e] (literally “twins”) or Castores,[f] as well as the Tyndaridae[g] or Tyndarids.[h] When Castor was killed, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo’s fire. They were also associated with horsemanship, in keeping with their origin as the Indo-European horse twins.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia tells us (emphases mine):

The twins were considered the protectors of the home and hospitality, oaths, friendship, and sporting activities. Castor was held to be a skilled horse-tamer while Pollux possessed great boxing skills. Both were thought to protect warriors in battle and sailors at sea, especially those in life-threatening situations, and they would often appear in person at such times. At sea they were thought to appear in the form of St. Elmo’s fire.

In Italy the cult of the twins went back to the mid-6th century BCE. For the Romans the twins were the offspring of Jupiter and Leda; both were particularly associated with cavalry and Castor was adopted by the Roman knights (equites) for their patron. In addition, the twin brothers were represented in the constellation Gemini. Other associations were the dokana symbol (two vertical wooden posts connected by two horizontal beams), pairs of amphorae, snakes, and bossed shields.

Matthew Henry says that a Bible scholar, Dr Lightfoot, reckoned that Luke included the detail to indicate that the centurion Julius and his crew might have believed they would have better sailing conditions with these deities notionally watching over them:

Dr. Lightfoot thinks that Luke mentions this circumstance to intimate the men’s superstition, that they hoped they should have better sailing under this badge than they had had before.

They first landed on Sicily, which is fairly close to Malta geographically. They anchored at Syracuse, where they stayed for three days (verse 12). Syracuse had long been the most important port in Sicily, although, after the 7th century, Palermo overtook it in importance.

John MacArthur is quite sure that Paul wasted no time in Syracuse and began preaching the Good News:

Tradition says that Paul founded a church there too. Now I don’t know whether that’s true but it sounds like him. I mean I’ve got 3 days here I might as well start a church. Amazing, I’m telling you. There’s no way to calculate the man’s spirit. And, incidentally, Sicily is an island about 80 or 90 miles away from Malta and a 3-day layover there.

From there, the wind caused them problems, so they tacked then docked at Rhegium (verse 13), which is known as Reggio di Calabria today. It is at the toe of Italy’s ‘boot’ — the region of Calabria — not far from Sicily.

A more favourable southerly wind blew in and they were able to dock at Puteoli (verse 13), which is now called Pozzuoli. It, too, was an important port and more protected than the coastline near Rome. Its name comes from the volcanic sulphur which comprises its terrain.

Bible Map explains:

The region in which the town was situated is of volcanic formation, the name Puteoli being due to the odor of the sulphureous springs or to the wells of a volcanic nature which abound in the vicinity. The volcanic dust, called pozzolana today, was mixed with lime to form a cement of the greatest durability, which was weatherproofing against the influence of seawater.

Its sheltered location made it a resort for Roman nobility:

The region about Puteoli together with Baiae became the favorite resort of the Roman nobility, and the foundations of many ancient villas are still visible, although partly covered by the sea.

Luke states that he, Paul and their friends found Christians there with whom they stayed before journeying on to Rome (verse 14). Recall that the centurion Julius was favourably disposed towards Paul and no doubt allowed him this liberty. It could be that Julius himself had business to do and/or friends to visit in this city.

MacArthur describes the small Christian community in Puteoli:

There was a large Jewish community in Puteoli. It was a trade center like Corinth or Ephesus or Antioch and it would be occupied by Jews who were there for the trade business. And they found some Christians there and they had a terrific time for 7 days with a Christian. Some think the church at Puteoli and at Rome could have been founded as early as 50 to 60 A.D. so that’s very possible. It wasn’t a church that Paul founded. They were already there, and it must have been a blessed fellowship – an exciting time as they shared together. And Paul, finally, he was just 145 miles from Rome and here was a group of Christians. It must have thrilled his heart.

They made the journey to Rome on foot at that point. MacArthur says they would have travelled via the famous Appian Way:

The end of verse 14, “And so we came to Rome.” “So we came to Rome.” At last! Now they would have had to go from Puteoli on the very famous Appian Highway. The Appian Way. Name[d] for Claudius Appia who was the commissioning builder in 312. It led to Rome and so off they go on the Appian Way.

At this point, Paul had already written his letter to the Romans. He had never seen them before, but he would now. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for him. His lengthy letter helped those Christians better organise their growing community, structurally and doctrinally.

So, grateful members of the church in this great city travelled to nearby cities along the Appian Way to greet Paul. It is possible that the believers of Puteoli sent word that the Apostle was there. That he was a prisoner of Rome was no matter to them. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and ‘took courage’ (verse 15).

Henry explains:

They had heard much of his fame, what use God had made of him, and what eminent service he had done to the kingdom of Christ in the world, and to what multitudes of souls he had been a spiritual father. They had heard of his sufferings, and how God had owned him in them, and therefore they not only longed to see him, but thought themselves obliged to show him all possible respect, as a glorious advocate for the cause of Christ. He had some time ago written a long epistle to them, and a most excellent one, the epistle to the Romans, in which he had not only expressed his great kindness for them, but had given them a great many useful instructions, in return for which they show him this respect. They went to meet him, that they might bring him in state, as ambassadors and judges make their public entry, though he was a prisoner. Some of them went as far as Appii-forum, which was fifty-one miles from Rome; others to a place called the Three Taverns, which was twenty-eight miles (some reckon it thirty-three miles) from Rome. They are to be commended for it, that they were so far from being ashamed of him, or afraid of owning him, because he was a prisoner, that for that very reason they counted him worthy of double honour, and were the more careful to show him respect.

MacArthur gives us this insight:

Paul saw thanked god and what? Took courage. Was encouraged. Oh, he was thrilled at this reception. It had been three years since he wrote the Roman letter. Three years since he said I want to come to you on minister to you and impart a spiritual gift and mutually be comforted by you. Three years had gone by and they remembered him and they were eager for him.

Mercifully, Julius must have given Paul permission to stay by himself in Rome with only one soldier to guard him (verse 16).

MacArthur says that it was horrible for Paul to have been chained to his guard the entire time:

He was chained all the time to a Roman soldier. Verse 20 tells us about that, and verse 30. He had his own house and his own private guard was chained to him. But whenever I think about him being chained to the guard I always think about the guard being chained to him and I think that’s probably worse – never being able to get away from that guy would really be tough.

However, Henry posits a more optimistic view, and based on Julius’s lenient treatment of Paul from the beginning, I rather side with Henry’s perspective:

He is a prisoner, but not a close prisoner, not in the common jail: Paul was suffered to dwell by himself, in some convenient private lodgings which his friends there provided for him, and a soldier was appointed to be his guard, who, we hope, was civil to him, and let him take all the liberty that could be allowed to a prisoner, for he must be very ill-natured indeed that could be so to such a courteous obliging man as Paul. Paul, being suffered to dwell by himself, could the better enjoy himself, and his friends, and his God, than if he had been lodged with the other prisoners. Note, This may encourage God’s prisoners, that he can give them favour in the eyes of those that carry them captive (Psalms 106:46), as Joseph in the eyes of his keeper (Genesis 39:21), and Jehoiachin in the eyes of the king of Babylon, 2 Kings 25:27,28. When God does not deliver his people presently out of bondage, yet, if he either make it easy to them or them easy under it, they have reason to be thankful.

Indeed, the remainder of Acts 28 gives witness to the fact that Paul was able to preach and teach ‘with all boldness and without hindrance’ (verse 31).

Next time — Acts 28:17-22