An Example of Man’s Best Guesses

We see a fascinating event happen when Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. The people gather wood and build a fire to warm the bedraggled passengers. And a thing happens to Paul that adds some level of insult to injury. And in that happening, we can see a solid example of why we ought not trust human conclusions without divine revelation.

Acts 28:3-6 – 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 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.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

OK, Paul is bitten by a snake. The thing just latched on. Paul shakes it off, and he lives. All things considered, this is a rough day.

But watch the assumptions made by the observers. First, the people draw a conclusion from the evidence they see. They assume that Paul is a criminal getting justice. Even though he survived the wreck of the ship, he is still going to die from the poison of the snake. HE is getting what is coming to him. This is what the natives assume.

Then, after Paul does not die, the people amend their assessment of the situation. He survives a shipwreck and the bite of a viper. Now the people assume that Paul must be a god.

The fact is, the people of Malta were wrong, badly wrong, twice. They used their best guess based on the evidence available to them and their understanding of the world. And what we discover is a simple truth. Mankind, apart from the perfect revelation of God, will misinterpret the world around him time and time again.

Christians, let a passage like this one cause you to give God great thanks for Scripture. After all, without God revealing himself in his holy and inspired word, you too would interpret the world around you wrongly. Either you would have superstition all over you like the people of Malta, or you would be given into the folly of a naturalistic worldview. Either way, you would be very wrong. Thank the Lord for speaking to us in his word. Thank the Lord for speaking to us in the person and work of Jesus. It would be totally just of God to simply destroy us for our sin without ever speaking to us in any way whatsoever. Thank God for choosing to tell us who he is, who we are, and what we must do to be made right with him. Thank God for the Bible.

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