A Commentary by John Stott
Acts (28:11-16). Arrival in Rome.
The shipwrecked men spent the three months of winter on the island, perhaps from mid-November to mid-February. By then navigation would be beginning again, and they were ready to board their third ship, another Alexandrian vessel (cf. 27:6), which had itself wintered in one of Malta’s safe harbours. Its carved and painted figurehead was a representation of the *Dioskouroi*, that is, ‘the Twin Brothers’ (RSV) or the ‘heavenly twins’ (JBP), namely, *Castor and Pollux* (11), who in Graeco-Roman mythology were the sons of Jupiter (Zeus), the gods of navigation and patrons of seafarers.
Luke makes use of his log again and plots the remaining part of the journey to Rome, by sea and land, in four stages. First, they sailed from Malta in a north-easterly direction to Syracuse, the capital of Sicily, where they stayed three days (12).
Secondly, they sailed further north and put in at Rhegium on the ‘toe’ of Italy (13a). The phrase ‘made a circuit’ (RSV) or ‘sailed round’ (NEB) probably means that the winds made a zigzag course or ‘tacking’ necessary.
Thirdly, the next day they sailed on with the benefit of a southerly wind, and made such excellent progress that the following day they had travelled the approximately two hundred miles to Puteoli, which is on the gulf of Naples (13). Here they stayed a week with some Christian brothers and sisters, possibly while Julius was awaiting final instructions regarding his prisoners.
The fourth lap of their journey was by land, not sea. After only a few miles they will have joined the famous Appian Way which led straight north to Rome, and which Richard Lonenecker has called ‘the oldest, straightest and most perfectly made of all the Roman roads’. Christians in Rome had heard of their coming, however, and a delegation set out to meet Paul and his party. Some of them travelled the thirty and more miles to the Three Taverns, while others persevered a further ten miles to the market town called the Forum of Appius. Being Roman place names, NEB is right to spell them *tres Tabernae* and *Appii Forum*. It must have been an emotional experience for Paul to meet personally the first residents in the city of his dreams and the first members of the church to which he had addressed his great theological and ethical treatise. It is not surprising that at the sight of them ‘he thanked God and took courage’ (15b,RSV). They then escorted him back along the Appian Way by which they had come. On arrival, Luke tells us that Paul was accorded *custodia militaris* which permitted him to live in his own lodgings, while remaining under the surveillance of a Roman soldier, to whom he was chained by the right wrist (16). The Western text inserts before this, however, that ‘the centurion delivered his prisoners to the *stratopedarch*’, which BAGD translates ‘military commander, commandant of a camp’. There has been much discussion as to who this was. It used to be thought that the *stratopedarchos* was the Prefect (commander) of the Pretorian (imperial) Guard, who had responsibility for provincial prisoners and was at that time Afranius Burrus. But according to Sherwin-White, ‘the most likely identification…is…with the officer known as *princeps castrorum*, the head administrator of the *officium* of the Pretorian Guard’, for this official is the person most likely to be in executive control of prisoners awaiting trial at Rome…’.
Tomorrow: Acts 28:17-31. 6). The gospel for Jews and Gentiles.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.