Acts 16:16

Artwork by Douglas Kallerson

Thursday, 27 April 2023

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. Acts 16:16

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

Note: The verbs in the NKJV don’t give the sense of the Greek. A closer rendering would be, “Now it happened of us going to the prayer, a certain girl, having a spirit of Python, met us, who was bringing her masters much gain by fortune-telling” (CG). This will be used for the analysis.

In the previous verse, Lydia asked Paul and those with him to stay at her house. The events that now take place occur during that time. Luke’s words say, “Now it happened of us going to the prayer.”

The meaning of “the prayer” is argued whether it means a specific place of prayer, such as “to the place of prayer,” or if it is simply a way of saying they were going out to pray as we might say, “we are going to the church” or simply, “we are going to church.” Either way, the point is that they were heading out and were going for the purpose of prayer. On their way, it next says, “a certain girl, having a spirit of Python, met us.”

The Greek word puthón is seen only here. It comes from Putho, the region where the famous oracle of Delphi was located. Thus, it is a spirit of Python. Of this spirit, Vincent’s Word Studies gives a detailed explanation –

“Python, in the Greek mythology, was the serpent which guarded Delphi. According to the legend, as related in the Homeric hymn, Apollo descended from Olympus in order to select a site for his shrine and oracle. Having fixed upon a spot on the southern side of Mount Parnassus, he found it guarded by a vast and terrific serpent, which he slew with an arrow, and suffered its body to rot (πυθεῖν) in the sun. Hence the name of the serpent Python (rotting); Pytho, the name of the place, and the epithet Pythian, applied to Apollo. The name Python was subsequently used to denote a prophetic demon, and was also used of soothsayers who practised ventriloquism, or speaking from the belly. The word ἐγγαστρίμυθος, ventriloquist, occurs in the Septuagint, and is rendered having a familiar spirit (see Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, 27; 1 Samuel 28:7, 8). The heathen inhabitants of Philippi regarded the woman as inspired by Apollo; and Luke, in recording this case, which came under his own observation, uses the term which would naturally suggest itself to a Greek physician, a Python-spirit, presenting phenomena identical with the convulsive movements and wild cries of the Pythian priestess at Delphi.”

Of this girl, it next says, “who was bringing her masters much gain.” As such, this made her a valuable asset to them. The source of the ability to make a profit from her was less important to them than the profit they made. How that source was able to make this profit through her was “by fortune-telling.”

The Greek verb is only found here, manteuomai. The word is derived from the word mainomai, raving mad, or to speak as a madman. One can see the root of the modern word mania or maniac. Of this word, Cambridge states –

“The word is only found here in the N. T., and wherever it occurs in the LXX. it is always used of the words of lying prophets (Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 28:8; Ezekiel 13:6; Ezekiel 13:23; Micah 3:11); so that here we are constrained to take it in the same sense ‘by pretending to foretell the future.’”

This is an incorrect analysis. The account in 1 Samuel 28 is that of the witch of En Dor. There, the text is clear that the prophet Samuel was raised. Whether the witch raised him or whether the Lord allowed it to happen can be debated. She certainly seemed surprised when it occurred. Also, when the practice is forbidden in Deuteronomy 18, it makes no distinction between a lying prophet or one who truly taps into the supernatural realm –

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” Deuteronomy 18:10, 11

These words of Deuteronomy simply forbid the practice, but they do not speak as to whether these things are false or not. In this case here in Acts, the words of the girl will be true. How she determined what to say can be debated, but what happens as a result of her continued words demonstrates that the spirit she possessed, had possession of her.

Life application: Whether such a spirit is real or not is less important than the fact that the matter is not of God. If it is the act of a charlatan, it is not of God. If it is a true evil spirit, it is not of God. Debating which spirit is real and which is false is pointless. What matters is that we are not to seek out such things. Their purpose is to direct people’s attention away from what is good. This is why the law of Moses forbids them. Likewise, Paul warns against associations with such things as well. For example, he says –

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Our allegiances are to be directed to Jesus Christ. Our thoughts are to be centered on Him and His word. To mix our lives with any other supposed spiritual realm, whether true or false, can only lead us away from a sound walk with Him. The Lord, through Isaiah, says it beautifully –

“And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:19, 20

Let us pay heed! Let us focus on God’s word. In this, we will do well.

Heavenly Father, help us to keep our focus on that which is right and proper. May we not get distracted by those things which can never profit our walk with You. In all things, may our lives be filled with You and Your goodness. Amen.