Pastor David B. Curtis


Paul Exorcizes the Python

Acts 16:16-21

Delivered 09/20/2009

We are in the 16th chapter of Acts, and the Gospel has just reached Europe. It started in Jerusalem, then spread to Judea, then to Samaria, and now it is penetrating the uttermost parts of the earth. In our last study the missionary team crossed the Aegean Sea and landed on the shores of Europe. What city are they now in? Philippi! Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia.

Paul had seen a vision of a man of Macedonia asking them to come and help him. So they immediately head for Macedonia, but when they get there they end up with several women at a river. Paul preaches the Gospel, and Lydia comes to faith in Christ as the Lord opened her heart. This opening of Lydia's heart was a supernatural work of God.

As we said last week, In Acts 16, Luke has woven together three separate but related incidents. The first is the conversion of Lydia (16:13-15). The second is the encounter with the demon-possessed slave-girl, from whom Paul eventually casts out the demon (16:16ff.). The third incident is the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his household. We have already looked at the conversion of Lydia, and this morning we are going to look at the deliverance of the slave girl:

And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune telling. (Acts 16:16 NASB)

As the missions team was going to the place of prayer, probably to give further teaching to these new believers, a slave girl with a spirit of divination met them. The Greek word makes clear that this was a girl, not a grown woman.

There were more than sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire--men, women, and children who were denied all their civil rights. This slave-girl's masters were getting rich at her expense through her fortune-telling.

Now, this woman has what Luke calls a "spirit of divination." The literal Greek reads, "She had a spirit, a python." That's the same term as a python snake. This referred to the legendary snake in Greek mythology that guarded the Delphic Oracle in Central Greece. Apollo supposedly killed this snake, and the snake's spirit dwelled in the priestess there. So a "python spirit" referred to a spirit that enabled someone to predict the future. Such people generally spoke with the mouth closed, uttering words completely out of their control and were known as "ventriloquists."

And when they say to you, "Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter," should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19 NASB)

In the Septuagint the words "whisper and mutter" are from the Greek word eggastrimuthus, which means ventriloquist. The term "python" then became synonymous with ventriloquist. Ventriloquists were called pythons.

The word "fortune-telling" at the end of the verse comes from the root word which means frenzy. They would go into almost like a fit, and in this frenzy they would become totally distorted.

This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo. She was seen as having contact with the gods and as being able to foresee the future. It seems that the slave- girl could really see into the future, and so her owners earned money from her. But the power came from Satan, by an evil spirit. This girl was possessed by a demon:

Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." 18 And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment. (Acts 16:17-18 NASB)

The demon (Gr. pneuma pythona) within her knew of Paul and announced through her who he was and what he was doing. Paul's response was the same as the response which Jesus made to the possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum. This man had said to the Lord, "I know who you are, the Holy One of God...." As was the case with Jesus, the apostle did not want this kind of message coming from a demon-possessed person lest the people think that his own proclamation of the Gospel was associated with Satan.

"Paul was greatly annoyed"--the word in Greek is not really "annoyed." That makes it sound as if he were merely irritated by this woman who kept following him around. It does not mean that at all. The word means, he was "deeply troubled." So Paul turned around and said to the spirit (not to the girl), "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" The results are immediate.

"And it came out at that very moment"--this demon obeys the words of Paul. Here Luke is demonstrating Paul's authority over the fallen spirit world. What we have here are servants of the Most High God defeating the python spirit, revealing that Jesus was more powerful than Apollo. I see here a picture of Yahweh crushing the serpent's head.

The view of many today is that the book of Acts is intended to describe Christianity as it ought to be in every age. So is it normal for people to cast out demons? I've been a Christian for 34 years and I have never seen a demon cast out. So how normal is this? Let's talk a little about demon possession. This is a big issue today, and something we need to have a grasp on.

The first thing we need to understand is that most of the New Testament references to demon possession appear in the Gospels and represent the outburst of satanic opposition to God's work in Christ. We have no reference to demon possession after the book of Acts, and we don't have much reference to it in the latter half of the book of Acts. This is one of very few accounts of an evil spirit in the book of Acts. We encounter occult practices, magicians, and others who dabble in dark power, but seldom an evil spirit that has taken over a life. We have no reference whatsoever to demon possession in the Epistles, not in any of them. We have no reference in the First Testament to demon possession either.

Demon possession seems to be something that happened only during the time of Christ and the apostles for the purpose of manifesting the power of Christ over the demon world.

What about all those today who claim to be casting out demons? Do they fit the Biblical pattern? The exorcisms in the Bible concerned those clearly recognized as possessed. The signs of demon possession in the New Testament include: speechlessness (Matt. 9:33), deafness (Mark 9:25), blindness (Matt. 12:22), fierceness (Matt. 8:28), unusual strength (Mark 5:4), convulsions (Mark 1:26), and foaming at the mouth (Luke 9:39).

And when He had come out onto the land, He was met by a certain man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. 28 And seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, "What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me." 29 For He had been commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard; and yet he would burst his fetters and be driven by the demon into the desert. (Luke 8:27-29 NASB)

Notice the supernatural strength he exhibited. This man had been bound with chains and fetters, but he had snapped the chains and torn off the fetters, and no one had the strength to subdue him--a remarkable demonstration of demonic power.

The exorcisms in the Gospels and in Acts were not nebulous cases of the demon of drugs, alcohol, or postnasal drip, or nicotine demons like we see today. In his book,Diary of an Exorcist, Win Worley describes a woman who was possessed by two demons: the demon of "dry hair" and the demon of "oily hair." When she would try to treat her oily hair, the demon of dry hair would take over and vise versa thus tormenting her. Does this fit the Biblical pattern?

You can blame all of your problems and all your sins on demons. You could have the demon of pornography, or lying, or stealing. This seems to be the trend of our day to blame our problems on someone else. We all seem to want to escape from personal responsibility. Earnest Angle is constantly helping people to quit smoking by casting out the nicotine demon. He says, "You don't need Nicorette gum or the patch, you need an exorcist. It's not your fault you smoke, it's the demons."

In the book, Exposing Satan's Devices, Betty Miller says, "Some children are born under a curse and have demons that cause their erratic behavior. Parents are in ignorance as to why some children beat their heads on the floor in rages, scream and yell uncontrollably, bite themselves, or have continual nightmares. Many children do have demons and need to be set free."

I would disagree, it is not some children, but all children that are born under a curse. And it has nothing to do with demons, it is the Adamic sin curse:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- (Romans 5:12 NASB)

Miller also says, "One of the deadliest misrepresentations of the truth of God is that a Christian should not be concerned with thoughts that a demon could be their problem. This is taught within many churches and gives the devil a "field day" to bring fear, mental torment, jealousy, hatred, lust, pride, self-pity, addiction, gluttony and many other forms of bondage, oppression, and defilement."

Well, I guess that your bad behavior is not your fault, you have a demon. So you don't need to repent, you need to see an exorcist according Miller.

Televangelist, Bob Larson, said, "I have had my physical appearance duplicated by demons." Really! I like that one. When I act in a rude and thoughtless manner towards my wife, I can tell her, "That wasn't me, it was a demon impersonating me to get me in trouble."

When you think of the Charismatic movement, you think of speaking in tongues, or Benny Hinn knocking people down, and things like that. But there are some underlying things in the Charismatic world-view that are really very, very terrifying. They have a preoccupation with Satan and demons.

A common myth is that Satan is the source of all our trials, problems, and difficulties. Back in the late 60's and early 70's, Flip Wilson had a saying: "The devil made me do it." And more recently Andrea Yates, the mother that killed her five children, said the same thing. She said that the devil made her do it. Is the devil the cause of all our problems?

What does the New Testament teach about dealing with demons today? Nothing! Does it tell us to call the exorcist? No! Are we told to plead the blood? No! Don't reduce Christianity to a bunch of hocus pocos. The New Testament teaches very clearly that the devil and his demons have been defeated and destroyed by Christ.

We see from the teaching of the Gospels that the demons are to be destroyed:

And when He had come to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs; they were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by that road. 29 And behold, they cried out, saying, "What do we have to do with You, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:28-29 NASB)

The demons understood the mission of Jesus--to destroy them. Notice the final words in this verse--"the time"--presumably the time of judgment at the consummation of the ages. The destruction of Satan and demons was prophesied from the beginning:

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." (Genesis 3:15 NASB)

This is a prophecy of Christ overcoming Satan. Peter and Jude spoke of this judgement that the demons were to experience:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4 NASB)
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:6 NASB)

Christ came to destroy the devil:

Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14 NASB)

One of the aspects of Christ's earthly mission was to destroy the devil. The Greek word for "render powerless" is katargeo, which means: "to be entirely idle (useless), lit. or fig.:abolish, cease, destroy, do away, make of no effect, bring to nought." Was Christ a failure in this mission? Most Christians act like He was, they're still worried about the devil. I think we want him to still be around so we have someone to blame for our sin.

the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8 NASB)

The Greek word for "destroy" is luo, which means: "to loosen, destroy, dissolve, put off." Christ is said to have destroyed the devil and his works. Do you believe the Bible?

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:15 NASB)

According to my Bible, Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus Christ has conquered the devil.

All Christians believe that Satan and his demons will be destroyed, but when does it happen? Most Christians look for this event to happen at a future day when the earth and everything physical is destroyed. Perhaps a review of the Scriptures will help clarify the matter:

And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:20 NASB)

The Greek word used here for crush is suntribo, it means: "to crush completely, i.e. to shatter." When is it that Satan is to be crushed completely? It's at the end of the Old Covenant, when the Lord returned in judgement on Israel. Paul said here to the Roman Christians that it would happen "soon." The Greek word translated "soon"' is tachos. According to Arndt and Gingich Lexicon, tachos is used in the LXX and certain non-canonical writings to mean: "speed, quickness, swiftness, haste."

Remember, audience relevance! Do you think that the believers at Rome could have conceived of 2,000 plus years as "soon?" If it was to be some 2,000 plus years, how could He crush him under "their" feet? The people to whom this was written are dust now, they have no feet.

Paul told the first century Roman Christians that Satan would soon be crushed completely. If Satan is still around, then we have a problem with inspiration, which is a huge problem, because if the Bible is not inspired by God, it is of no value to us. I believe that Satan is a defeated foe. I believe this because I believe in inspiration.

The Bible talks about the judgement at the end of the age, not the end of the world:

"Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. (Matthew 13:40 NASB)

So, Jesus is here talking about something that will happen at the "end of the age" He was living in. Notice what was to happen at the end of the age:

"So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49-50 NASB)

Notice that judgement was to happen at the "end of the age." I believe this speaks of the Judgement of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The "end" that Jesus is talking about was the end of the Jewish age when the wicked Jews were burned in the destruction of Jerusalem. We see the end of the age attached to the destruction of the Jewish temple in:

And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He answered and said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down." 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:1-3 NASB)

So Satan and his demons were to be destroyed at the end of the Jewish age when the temple was destroyed, signaling the end of the age. The Jewish age ended in A.D. 70 and so did demonic activity.

Another proof that demons are no longer an issue to us is the cessation of the supernatural gifts. In 1 Corinthians, which is one of the earliest New Testament books written, we have a list of the supernatural sign gifts:

and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:10 NASB)

The Greek word used here for "miracles" is dunamis, which means: "power or inherent ability." It is used of works of a supernatural origin and character such as could not be produced by natural agents and means. The Greek word here for "effecting" is energema, which means: "to work in, to be active, or operative." Verse six of 1 Corinthians 12 uses this word in connection with God working, and verse eleven uses it of the Holy Spirit working in the gifts. When put together, dunamis and energema describe the gift as the active operation of the power of God in an individual's life, giving inherent ability to perform supernatural works.

I believe that the gift of miracles or power was primarily the supernatural and instantaneous ability to cast out demons, although I would not limit it to that.

Jesus entrusted this same power to His disciples as they went out on their mission for Him. We see the disciples using the gift of power on certain occasions to cast out demons:

And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was much rejoicing in that city. (Acts 8:5-8 NASB)

So these gifts were important in the New Testament times. The apostles and disciples used them to cast out demons. I believe that the Bible teaches that these spiritual gifts ended at A.D. 70.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10 NASB)

What is "that which is perfect"? This is the crucial phrase in the whole passage. How you interpret verse 8 and verses 11 &12 is all dependent on how you interpret, "when the perfect comes."

"When the perfect comes," refers to the consummation of the New Covenant when the Old Covenant ended, which happened at the coming of Christ in A.D. 70; bringing in the New Heavens and New Earth, which closed the cannon of Scripture. Just like the manna ceased when Israel entered the land of promise, so spiritual gifts ended when the Church entered the fullness of the New Covenant.

Now if the spiritual gift of power ended in A.D. 70, then we must not need it anymore, and the reason we don't need it is because Christ has destroyed Satan and his demons.

There is a lot of confusion today about spiritual gifts; do you know why that is? It's because they were for the Transition Period, the last days, and when the last days ended, so did the gifts. This is why so many believers have no clue as to what their gift is, they don't have one.

Alright, back to Acts:

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, (Acts 16:19 NASB)

Paul and Silas are taken into the market place before the authorities. At the center of the market place of Philippi was the forum. On the north side of the forum stood a raised platform. It was known as the Bema--the seat of judgment. It was here that Paul and Silas were brought.

This is a rare case of Gentiles opposing the team, but the issue was cash and not convictions. These owners cared nothing about the girl and the fact that she was in bondage to a demon. They were occultic "pimps," prostituting her spiritually. Her "powers" meant money in the pocket for them. She was a business venture, a source of income as long as she possessed these powers, or better, as long as some "power" possessed her.

and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." (Acts 16:20-21 NASB)

The Jews and their religion were particularly obnoxious to the Romans, and hence, when the accusation was made by men of wealth and influence that these men, "being Jews," were introducing customs contrary to the religion and laws of Rome, it was easy to excite the populace against them.

What had happened would cause them to lose a great deal of money and the result was that they were angry. They were a picture of the greed and lack of compassion of people over things that concerned themselves.

What is it that Christians do today that affects evil men's profit margin and therefore causes great anger against Christians? We speak out against abortion! In April the annual report of Planned Parenthood Federation of America revealed that the abortion giant had a total income of $1.02 billion--with reported profits of nearly $115 million.

The "Freedom of Choice" act amounts to de-regulation of the abortion industry and provides free federally funded abortions on demand.

Planned Parenthood's slogan last year--"Why should I be punished with a baby?"-- was featured in television commercial campaigns. Obama mouthed this very slogan at a campaign speech in Johnstown, PA: "I have two daughters. If they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

With our President backing abortion and with all the money it generates, we are going to come under attack if we oppose it. And oppose it we must! Abortion is murder! May our prayer be the same as what we have seen in the book of Acts; may we pray for boldness. God give us the boldness to stand against the evils of our society no matter what it costs us.

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