16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.
17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”
18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.
spirit of divination (v.16) — Literally, “a spirit, a python.” Python was the name of a great dragon at Delphi which was slain, according to Greek mythology, by Apollo who received, in consequence, the title “Pythius” and was supposed to inherit its oracular power. This slave girl was possibly regarded as inspired by the Pythian Apollo, and credited with powers of divination. It should be added that evidence is adduced from Plutarch and others to show that ventriloquists were called “Pythons,” ventriloquism being attributed to powers of magic, or demon possession. — Walker, pages 350-351.
Even if the slave girl was a ventriloquist, her possession was genuine.
fortune-telling (v.16) = soothsaying, lit. “to be frenzied” The practice is forbidden in the law (Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 28:8; 2 Kings 17:17; Ezekiel 12:24)
followed (v.17) = continually followed
cried out (v.17) — used elsewhere of demon-possession (Mark 1:26; 3:11; 5:5,7; Luke 4:41; 9:39)
Most High God (v.17) — The expression “God most high” is found in pagan inscriptions, and was in use among the heathen Greeks. It is suggested that it may have been the usual Gentile designation for the God of the Jews. — Walker, page 352.
greatly annoyed (v.18) = grieved (at her condition) and annoyed (by her actions)
What she [the slave girl] said was, of course, true, but why she said it is another question. Perhaps it was to gain a reward from them for advertising them thus, or to gain more influence over their hearers by having discerned and declared the truth, or perhaps, the evil spirit prompted her to cry this lest he be expelled. There is still another possible explanation which may well be the correct one: that this was the sad cry of one who was spirit-possessed and knew it and recognized in the One whom Paul proclaimed her only hope of deliverance. Yet, in any case, this knowledge came from an evil spirit and her continual crying impeded the work being done for Christ.
Finally the apostle, “being grieved,” commanded the spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her. Doubtless there were several factors in the case which distressed the apostle. First, the implications of her declaration were bad. Was he in league with heathen gods? Surely a compliment from such a source was questionable to say the least. This whole system was Satanic and must be discredited. Then, the fact that people were placing their trust in this priestess of Apollo, the base motives of her masters and pity for the damsel herself — all these doubtless combined to cause the apostle to rebuke the demon and command him to depart. Our Lord had similarly refused the testimony of the demon-possessed, for He would have no dealings with Satan (Mark 1:34).
At this point it should be noted that while we read so much about demon and spirit possession and the casting out of demons in the Gospels and the Acts, we find no mention of these in the epistles of Paul; not even by implication in his later epistles. It would seem that demon possession, at least in the form in which we find it in the Gospels and the Acts, was characteristic of that day, when the kingdom of Satan was being challenged by the kingdom of Christ (See Matthew 12:24-29).
Those who seek to go “back to Pentecost” instead of “on to perfection” with Paul sometimes make claims of demon expulsion, but true evidence of it is lacking as it is in their other claims of miraculous power. — Stam, pages 48-49.
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