Acts 28:4

ESV When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
NIV When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, 'This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.'
NASB When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, 'Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.'
CSB When the local people saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "This man, no doubt, is a murderer. Even though he has escaped the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live."
NLT The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, 'A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.'
KJV 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.

What does Acts 28:4 mean?

Once again (2 Corinthians 11:25), Paul is recovering from a shipwreck. This one was preceded by a storm so fierce he hasn't seen the sun in two weeks (Acts 27). Now, he is trying to dry himself by a fire the locals of the island of Malta started for the 276 survivors (Acts 28:1–2). It's raining. Paul hasn't eaten much in the last few weeks. As he reaches for some sticks to place on the fire, a snake of some kind has attached itself to his hand (Acts 28:3). Luke's terminology, the Greek echidna, is less specific than the English term "viper." Likewise, he refers to the snake "clinging," without saying it was "biting." Whether this was a truly deadly snake, or whether it bit or simply wrapped around his hand, Luke's description is unclear. His emphasis is on how the Maltese locals react.

Seeing a shipwreck survivor almost immediately attacked by a snake, those natives think the gods are paying him back for some evil he has committed. They probably know Paul is a prisoner, but not that his only crime was being falsely accused, beaten, and held without justice. He's been a victim of a political game between the Roman governors of Judea and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27–36; 24:27). He has appealed his case to Caesar because he is innocent (Acts 25:1–12). Getting to Caesar has proved challenging.

Even now, he clings to the assurance that Jesus told him he will get to Rome to share the gospel there (Acts 23:11). If Judaean politics and a Mediterranean winter storm can't stop him, a snake certainly won't. He shakes his hand, and the snake falls into the fire. When the locals realize he's not going to die, they change their minds and decide he must be a god. Despite this new misidentification, it does provide Paul with the opportunity to provide healing for the locals who respond by seeing to the castaways' needs for the next three months (Acts 28:5–11).
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