By Tyson Thorne

September 9, 2014

Python large

The rest of this chapter (Acts 16.16-.40) is packed with interesting concepts and teachings, so we’re going to go slowly and try to gain as much understanding as possible from the text. We begin with Paul’s encountering a woman possessed by a spirit of divination. In the Greek this is literally the spirit of Python, which is not surprising when one considers the location of these events.

Not far from Philippi was the ancient Oracle of Delphi, a sect of witches that resided in a cave overlooking the sea of Corinth. It was said that the oracles would breathe in vapors that rose from a vent in the cave floor before telling the future and answering questions of prophecy. While this is related to Greek mythology (the god Apollo supposedly defeated the Python that guarded the witches).

Regardless of the mythological trappings, the temple used by the witches of Delphi is real, and was inhabited by people who really did prophesy. It was destroyed after Paul’s time, but fell out of use before his arrival. In the myths, the python would whisper into the ear of the witch answers about future events, and the witch would speak the words in a voice not her own. This is a depiction of some forms of demonic possession not unlike what we see in Acts 16.

The connection of the location, the Python spirit and the slave girl’s ability to foretell the future all align with the Greek legend and lend some credence to the events described by ancient Greeks. In this case, however, it did not take a god to defeat Python, only a spirit-filled man of God. Paul, using the authority of God, cast the spirit from the slave girl. It is unknown what became of the spirit after this.

There is a large amount of misinformation about this spirit entity on the Internet, and I caution anyone wanting to do further research on Python. Many groups discuss the spirit doing its work in the church and attribute a draining of a believer’s spiritual life to the being, which is found nowhere in Scripture. In fact the demon was only an annoyance to Paul and his troup and had no other effect on them whatsoever. Furthermore, the only power that we know the spirit can provide is that of fortune telling.

Which brings us to another warning about fortune tellers, mediums and soothsayers. Most are mere charlatans and the only danger one incurs from visiting them is losing money. A few, however, are involved in darker practices and may have contact with real demonic entities. Visiting such a place may cause problems for the unsuspecting, including demonic oppression (which is different from demonic possession, but that’s a discussion for another time). It is never a good idea to seek answers to life’s questions from any source other than God’s Word and through prayer.

While encounters with the demonic are rare in today’s world, we are told that such experiences will increase as we get closer to the time of Christ’s return. For practicing Christians an encounter with such a being is likely to occur during their lifetime, even if it is not a recognized encounter.

It may appear that Paul’s handling of the spirit is flippant, but nothing could be further from the truth. He did not address the creature until such a time that he was lead to do so. Notice too that his reaction to the spirit was not what you see in movies from Hollywood. He did not ask it questions nor strive to gain any information from it. He cast it away and considered the matter settled, leaving the demon’s fate to God’s authority rather than his own.

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