Exegetical Notes: Acts 28:17-28

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

“after three days” – Meaning 3 days after his arrival in Rome (see v. 16). Paul’s house arrest prevents him from going to the local synagogue as is his usual custom, thus he arranges a meeting for them to come to him. 

Even in the midst of unpleasant circumstances (to say the least) Paul continues with the mission of teaching and sharing the gospel to those within his sphere of influence.

“local leaders of the Jews” – Unlike Jerusalem, although Rome had a considerable Jewish presence, they are not closely linked together, but probably are more centered around individual synagogues. The exact make up of this group is unknown, but is possible that those assembled are elders from the various Roman synagogues.

Paul’s speech begins with a summary of the events covered in chapters 22-26 of Acts. In his talking, he proclaims his innocence and clarifies the exact nature of his present circumstances.

18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”

“the hope of Israel” – Through this reference, Paul identifies Jesus as Messiah (fulfillment of OT coming one) and Lord (God in flesh). Sharing this hope is Paul’s primary objective for this meeting, the proclamation of his innocence is secondary.

In a broader sense, we certainly do not limit Jesus as being a hope solely to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles as well (Rom. 1:16-17). 

In a more personal spiritual understanding, Christ provides certain hope in a world that all to often appears uncertain and hopeless.

21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you.

The Roman Jews’ response to Paul is somewhat troubling to some scholars and they theorize that the Jewish leaders are trying to distance themselves from Paul, just in case his imprisonment becomes embarrassing for them. It is, however, quite possible that correspondence has not reached Rome because of winter travel conditions (There is little need to take the biblical text for anything but face value here).

22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

The second response of the Roman Jews is somewhat more puzzling. Their knowledge of the Christians did not seem to be very intimate, only a sort of hearsay acquaintance that “people everywhere are talking against this sect.” Christians were well established in Rome. Paul had written an epistle to the church there, and Luke had just referred to the “brothers” who met Paul on his way to Rome (v. 15). The edict of Claudius seemed to have involved a dispute within the Jewish synagogue over Christ, and that only some ten years or so prior to this. It is altogether likely that in the aftermath of Claudius’s edict the Jewish synagogues kept themselves completely separate from the Christians, but it seems equally likely that they would have had some acquaintance with the movement. Perhaps the Roman Jews were being “a model of diplomacy,” maintaining as much distance as possible from the whole matter of Paul.
 John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 540.

We can only guess at the external reason given for their statement. At worst, they may be guilty of attempting to trap Paul in order to accuse him of heresy. Or genuine curiosity may be at work. Verses 23-24 informs us that on a spiritual and sovereign level, God is opening doors for Paul to effectively discuss the gospel of Christ with this group.

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.

A familiar pattern reappears, where Paul was first heard favorably by them, then was resisted, and finally turned to the Gentiles
. John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 538.

25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet

26  “ ‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27  For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

This quote comes from Isa. 6:9-ff. After Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne and his call into service. Paul uses this verse to demonstrate that the hardness of Israel was not limited to the Jews of Isaiah’s day, but found it’s ultimate completion in the present day Jew’s rejection of the gospel.

Obstinate refusal to believe results in calloused hearts, deafened ears, and spiritually blinded eyes.
 Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 431.

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

Paul concludes his presentation with a bit of feather ruffling. Yet, Jesus himself predicted this truth in John 10:16.

In his sovereignty, God is spreading his gospel over the world.