(Malʹta) [refuge (in the Phoenician tongue)].
An island in the Mediterranean lying over fifty miles (80 kilometers) S of Sicily and having an area of about ninety-five square miles (246 square kilometers). It was at Malta that the apostle Paul was shipwrecked and there he remained for three months. During this time he healed Publius’ father and others afflicted with sicknesses.—Acts 28:1, 7-9, 11.
In the past some associated the Greek word rendered “Malta” (Me·liʹte) with Meleda (Mljet) off the coast of Yugoslavia, because anciently this island was also called Me·liʹte. But tradition and the evidence of Scripture points to Malta as the place where Paul experienced shipwreck. The designation “sea of Adria,” where the boat was said to be as it approached Malta, came to include the waters of the Mediterranean E of Sicily and W of Crete and, therefore, it could be said that Malta was bounded by this sea.—Acts 27:27.
Sometime after atonement day (in September or October) the ship on which Paul was traveling as a prisoner left the Cretan harbor of Fair Havens and was seized by a tempestuous wind (Euroaquilo), apparently from the E-NE. It drove the ship away from the coast of Crete to Cauda, and the mariners feared being run aground on the “Syrtis,” the quick-sands along the shores of northern Africa. (Acts 27:8, 9, 13-17) An E-NE wind could not have caused the vessel to drift toward Meleda, over 600 miles (960 kilometers) N-NW of Cauda. Evidently the boat, after drifting some two weeks, neared Malta, about 540 miles (869 kilometers) W-NW of Cauda.—Acts 27:33; see EUROAQUILO.
What is today called St. Paul’s Bay, situated on the NW end of Malta, could have been reached on an E-NE course without previously touching any other part of the island. Perhaps when their trained ears heard breakers dashing against rocky Koura Head, which juts out into the Mediterranean from the eastern side of St. Paul’s Bay, the sailors began to suspect that they were approaching land. The depths of “twenty fathoms” and “fifteen fathoms” ascertained by them basically correspond to soundings made in the mid-nineteenth century in the St. Paul’s Bay area.—Acts 27:27, 28.
Possibly because of being familiar with another of Malta’s harbors, the mariners did not recognize the land as Malta even in daylight. The island’s largest and best-known harbor is at Valetta, some eight miles (13 kilometers) SE of St. Paul’s Bay.—Acts 27:39.
Along the western side of St. Paul’s Bay there are two inlets. Today the more southerly one has a beach. Anciently this may also have been true of the other inlet. Probably at one of these the sailors hoped to “beach the boat,” but were unsuccessful, the reason for the failure (according to the literal Greek text) being their ‘having fallen around into a place of two seas.’ This may mean that the ship struck “a place where two seas met” (AS) or “a shoal washed on each side by the sea.” (NW) Or, the vessel was caught between crosscurrents and ran aground. (Compare JB, NE.) The ship’s bow became immovably stuck, perhaps in the mud and clay that lie less than three fathoms below the surface in parts of St. Paul’s Bay, while the stern was broken in pieces by the waves.—Acts 27:39-41.
Paul’s experience in Malta
At this time the soldiers determined to kill Paul and the other prisoners. This may have been because of the strict Roman military discipline that held guards accountable for the escape of prisoners under their control. (Compare Acts 12:19; 16:27.) Since the army officer (centurion) restrained the soldiers on account of Paul, all those aboard, numbering about 276, survived the shipwreck, either by swimming ashore or getting safely to land upon planks and other floatable items from the wrecked vessel.—Acts 27:37, 42-44.
The non-Greek-speaking inhabitants of Malta showed extraordinary human kindness to the survivors, even building a fire for them so that they might warm themselves. When the apostle Paul placed a bundle of sticks on this fire a venomous viper came out and fastened itself to his hand. Amazed that Paul did not swell up or die, the people of Malta began to view him as a god.—Acts 28:1-6.
Today there are no vipers indigenous to Malta. Great changes have taken place since the first century C.E. Whereas now Malta is one of the most densely populated lands in the world, with 2,770 persons per square mile (2.59 square kilometers), extensive wooded areas may have existed there in Paul’s time. The population increase would have had a marked effect on the habitats of wildlife. This could easily have caused all vipers to disappear, as was the case in Arran, an island off the SW coast of Scotland. As late as 1853, however, a viper is reported to have been seen near St. Paul’s Bay.