Philippian Fortune Teller

Philippian Slave GirlBible Reference: Acts 16:16-38

Heart of the Story: A demon-possessed slave girl identified that Paul and companions were God’s servants. Paul demanded the demon leave the girl.

Storyline: Paul had a vision of a man telling him to come to Macedonia and help the people there. At once Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke traveled by boat to Macedonia landing at Neapolis and traveled overland to Philippi. A leading city in Macedonia, Philippi was a Roman colony which meant it was independent of provincial administration and had a government organized after that of Rome. Few Jews had settled in Philippi; there was no synagogue. The few Jews who lived there often met for prayer along the banks of the Gangites River.

As Paul and companions were going to the place of prayer, they met a slave girl. The girl had a spirit of divination, e.g., a demonic spirit lived in her and gave the girl information about the secret lives of people. She earned her owners a lot of money by foretelling. The girl followed Paul and his companions, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17 NIV). She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became exasperated with her harassment. He said to the demonic spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her” (Acts 16:18 NIV). Immediately, the demon left the girl.

When the slave girl’s owners realized they could no longer make money on the girl’s fortune telling, they seized Paul and Silas and took them before the Philippian magistrates. The result was that Paul and Silas were severely beaten and spent the night in prison.

Pondering Relationships: Luke who recorded this incident identified the fortune-teller as a girl. This means that she was younger than the marriageable age of 12-13 years. Possibly she was 8-10 years old. We have no information on whether she was born or sold into slavery. Likely, she was a Macedonian Greek.

Although the Jewish culture forbids fortune telling, the Greek and Roman cultures did not. In fact, Greeks valued the girl’s ability. Greeks believed the slave girl possessed a pythoness spirit. The python was a mystical snake worshipped as the Delphi oracle. For money a priestess at Delphi interpreted answers when petitioners questioned the oracle. The Delphi oracle focused on larger national issues, e.g., where to build a colony or who would win a battle. Individuals—mostly girls or women—with a python spirit focused on foretelling secrets in individual lives, e.g., who would get a job, win a race, or marry.

The slave girl’s owners gave her some freedom to move about Philippi. After she met Paul and his companions, she follow them. Luke gave no indication that the girl’s actions were hateful or mocking; however, she definitely distracted the missionaries who were trying to teach the Philippians about Christ.Likely, the girl’s owners wanted—even expected—the missionaries to pay money to stop the girl from being a nuisance to them. Unfortunately their expectation wasn’t realized. Instead, Paul expelled the demon from the girl and she was left without foretelling power.

We are given no information on the girl’s reaction to the demon’s expulsion. Maybe she felt relief. On the other hand, she could have felt alone, even empty. If the demon lived inside her since she was small, e.g., 3-4 years of age. Possibly, she had no idea how to live without its presence. Further, she may have worried how her owners would treat her now that her foretelling ability was gone. Would they punish her for following the apostles and losing her ability? Would they see her as useless? Would she be just another young female slave, worth little in the slave market? Because she was demon possessed, probably she had few if any friends in her owner’s household. No one would speak up for her.

The slave girl’s owners were so angry that Paul exorcised the girl’s demon that they dragged Paul and Silas before city magistrates. The magistrates ordered them flogged and imprisoned. Imagine the magistrates’ humiliation when they learned Paul and Silas were Roman citizens who demanded an apology for the unlawful way they were treated.
The Bible indicated that Paul and companions left Philippi soon after being released from prison. Apparently they had no further interaction with the slave girl, the demon who possessed her, or the girl’s owners.

Reflection: Do you think that the young slave girl was happy or unhappy to have the demon gone from her body? What would be the best and worst possible scenario for her future?

Copyright October 11, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

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