Through the Bible in One Year

Paul’s Journey to Rome (

Day 244

Acts 28:1-10

We have now seen Paul and his traveling companions survive this massive hurricane like storm in the Mediterranean.  They have been shipwrecked on an island, that we are going to learn today is called Malta.  And we are going to see two important things happen while Paul and traveling companions are on the island of Malta.  We are going to see Paul be bitten and survive that bite from a “Viper” and we are going to see Paul ministering to the inhabitants of the island of Malta.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 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.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.—28:1-6

The natives of Malta were extraordinarily kind to the group.  They built a fire for the shipwrecked people, for it was rainy and cold.  In the process, though, Paul was bitten by a viper.  Knowing that Paul was a prisoner led the people to assume he was the worst kind of criminal—a murder.  Thus, justice demanded his death, which should have come in the sea but which would now through the snakebite.  When Paul did not die, they jumped to the conclusion that he was a god.  Idolatry as a worldview was dominating their perception of reality.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  The fact that there are no venomous snakes on the island of Malta today.  This problem is very simply addressed in this quote:

Now there are no more snakes on the island of Malta because, as in other relatively small islands, they were got rid of by human settlers.  This was aided and abetted by the introduction of predators like domesticated cats.  However, at the time the apostle Paul was there, there were many of them, as can be observed in the Biblical text.1

Now that we know that the possibility of venomous snakes being on Malta is quite real during Paul’s time, let’s explore what type of venomous snake could have possibly bitten Paul.  We know that there are three types of vipers found in Europe.

The vipera berus could be the viper that bite the Apostle Paul. / Photo: Piet Spaans.
Vipera aspis, the snake that in all probability bit Paul
  1. Vipera berus—The common European adder or common European viper which is extremely widespread and can be found throughout most of central and eastern Europe and as far as East Asia.  Its range includes northwestern Europe, across parts of Southern Europe and most of eastern Europe.  However, it is not generally found in southern Italy, which makes this particular snake an unlikely, but probable candidate for biting Paul.
  2. Vipera aspis—The asp, asp viper, European asp, and aspic viper.  Bites from this particular snake can be more severe than from the European adder, not only can they be very painful, but also about 4% of all untreated bites are fatal.  This particular snake is native to France, Andorra, northeastern Spain, extreme southwestern Germany in the southern Black Forest, Switzerland, Italy and northwestern Slovenia, which makes it the most likely candidate for being the “Viper” that bit Paul.
  3. Vipera ammodytes—horned viper, long-nosed viper, nose-horned viper, sand viper—is found in southern Europe, mainly northern Italy, the Balkans and parts of the Middle East.  It is considered to be the most dangerous of the three vipers native to Europe, but due to its limited range it is extremely unlikely that this is the type of snake that bit Paul.

There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.—28:7-10

After the Maltese had been so hospitable to the crew, a wealthy landowner named Publius showed the team even more graciousness.  His title, meaning “Leading Man,” is known from inscriptions on the island, but it is unclear whether he was a Roman or local official.  Paul’s healing of Publius’s father led to the rest of the islanders coming to the apostle if they were ill.  The islanders honored the new group, either through praise or pay or both.  Not only was God providing for the islanders, he was also providing resources for the team, as they were in for a lengthy stay in Rome.  And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as conclude Acts with Paul’s arrival Rome.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Ecclesiastes 1-3, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Psalm 46:1-11 and Proverbs 22:15


1. Antonio Cruz, “The Viper That Bit Paul,” Evangelical Focus Europe (blog), June 12, 2022,


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