Posted by: mattcolvin | November 17, 2011

Acts 28:1-16

Friday of the 21st week after Trinity: Acts 28:1-16.

The account of Paul’s arrival on Malta is made spectacular by the episode of the serpent that attacks him, but inflicts no harm, in a fulfillment of Mark 16:18 (“They will take up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”). Pointedly, he shakes the snake off “into the fire”, in a symbolic prefiguration of the final fate of the Serpent. The serpent in this passage is an εχιδνα, not an οφις or a δρακων. It would be a medium-sized, poisonous snake, like an asp or a viper, not a large constrictor. There is no mention of Paul panicking, only a calm “shaking it off into the fire.” It is interesting that the verb used of Paul’s action of “shaking it off” is the same verb (apotinassw) that is so often used of the apostles “shaking off the dust from their feet” or “shaking out their garments against a place.” It is a gesture of disgusted separation.

We may contrast that hand gesture with the other in 7-10: Paul “lays his hands on” the father of Publius and heals him, and then practically opens a clinic, doing the same for all the sick on the island. It is a gesture of union and communication, which establishes a flow of power, almost like an electrical contact. (See David Daube’s article, “The Laying on of Hands” in CWDD 2, New Testament Judaism for the distinction between this sort of laying on of hands, and that used to ordain ministers in the church.)

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