And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)

καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκε τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, (ΠΡΟΣ ΕΦΕΣΙΟΥΣ 4:11)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)

God continues to select certain instruments like unto the Prophets of the Old Law to make known His will in an extraordinary manner and to foretell coming events: such, for instance, are the Prophets of Antioch (Acts 13:1,8), Agabus, the daughters of the Evangelist Philip, etc. And among the charismata (cf. Prat, ‘La theologie de Saint Paul”, 1 pt., note H, p. 180-4) conferred so abundantly to hasten and fortify the incipient progress of the faith, one of the principal, next after the Apostolic, is the gift of prophecy. It is granted “unto edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). The writer of the “Didache” informs us that in his day it was fairly frequent and widespread, and he indicates the signs by which it may be recognized (xi, 7-12). Finally the Canon of the Scriptures closes with a prophetic book, the Apocalypse of St. John, which describes the struggles and the victories of the new kingdom while awaiting the return of its Chief at the consummation of all things.

The Prophetic Vocation — “For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). The Prophets were ever conscious of this Divine mission. I am not a professional or a voluntary Prophet, Amos practically said to Amasias, who wished to prevent him from prophesying at Bethel. “I am a herdsman plucking wild figs. And the Lord took me when I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (vii, 14 sq.). Again “the lion shall roar, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who shall not prophesy?” (iii, 8). Isaias saw Yahweh seated on a throne of glory, and when a seraph had purified his lips he heard the command “Go!” and he received his mission of preaching to the people the terrible judgments of God. God made known to Jeremias that he had consecrated him from his mother’s womb and appointed him the Prophet of nations; He touched his lips to show that He made them His instrument for proclaiming His just and merciful judgments (i, 10), a duty so painful, that the Prophet endeavoured to be excused and to conceal the oracles entrusted to him. Impossible; his heart was consumed by a flame, which forced from him that touching complaint: “Thou hast deceived me, O Lord, and I am deceived: thou hast been stronger that I, and thou hast prevailed” (xx, 7). Ezechiel sees the glory of God borne on a fiery chariot drawn by celestial beings. He hears a voice commanding him to go and find the children of Israel, that rebellious nation, with hardened heart and brazen face, and without prevarication deliver to them the warnings he was to receive.

“Writing on the recipients of prophecy, Benedict XIV (Heroic Virtue, III, 144, 150) says: “The recipients of prophecy may be angels, devils, men, women, children, heathens, or gentiles; nor is it necessary that a man should be gifted with any particular disposition in order to receive the light of prophecy provided his intellect and senses be adapted for making manifest the things which God reveals to him. Though moral goodness is most profitable to a prophet, yet it is not necessary in order to obtain the gift of prophecy.”

Which did prophesy – See the notes on Acts 2:17; Acts 11:27. That females sometimes partook of the prophetic influence, and foretold future events, is evident from various places in the New Testament. See the notes on Acts 2:17.

Four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy – Probably these were no more than teachers in the Church: for we have already seen that this is a frequent meaning of the word prophesy; and this is undoubtedly one thing intended by the prophecy of Joel, quoted Acts 2:17, Acts 2:18, of this book. If Philip’s daughters might be prophetesses, why not teachers?

And the same man had four daughters,…. So that he was a married man, which may be observed against the Papists, who forbid marriage to ecclesiastics: and they were,

virgins: not under any vow of virginity, but they had not as yet changed their state of life, and were pure and incorrupt:

which did prophesy; not explain and interpret Scripture, or preach in public assemblies; for these were not allowed women, neither in the Jewish synagogues, nor in Christian assemblies; but they were endowed with a gift of foretelling future events, as was promised such should have in Gospel times.

From The Prophets, by Abraham Heschel:

To a person endowed with prophetic insight, everyone else appears blind.

To be a prophet is both a distinction and an affliction. . .
The prophet bears scorn and reproach (Jer. 15:15). He is
stigmatized as a madman. . . he is a lonely man. He alienates
the wicked as well as the pious. (p. 18)

Ezekiel was told not to entertain any illusions. . . ‘I (God) send you
to them. . . whether they hear or refuse to hear.’ Ezekiel 2&3 (p.19)

The prophet claims to be far more than a messenger. He is a
person who stands in the presence of God (Jerermiah 15:9). (p. 21).

The gift he is blessed with is not a skill, but rather the gift of
being guided and restrained. (p. 22).

He not only conveys but reveals. (p. 22).

The fundamental experience of the prophet is a fellowship with
the feelings of God, a sympathy with the divine pathos. (p. 26).

“False prophets were usually paid staff under the king. . . They
“prophesied” what the king wanted to hear. . . he preaches of peace. . .
They steal the name of the Lord, use their own authority in His name and
claim their own self-exalted status. . . They lead the people with false
assurance. (p. 269).

True prophets. . .do not begin with a message of peace because god-like
peace comes only through holiness, righteousness and repentance. The
theme of the true prophet has been set by Moses, which is the theme of
God’s law. The true prophet is commissioned by God and speaks in His
name, with His authority. . . He challenges his hearers head on to examine
themselves. (p. 270).”

See: Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1972 (see quotes: here).

The Pythia (pronounced /ˈpɪθiə/ or /ˈpaɪθiə/, Greek: Πυθία [pyːˈtʰi.a]), commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo. The Delphic oracle was established in the 8th century BCE.[1] The last recorded response was given during AD 393, when the emperor Theodosius I ordered pagan temples to cease operation.

During this period the Delphic Oracle was the most prestigious and authoritative oracle among the Greeks. The oracle is one of the best-documented religious institutions of the classical Greeks. Authors who mention the oracle include Aeschylus, Aristotle, Clement of Alexandria, Diodorus, Diogenes, Euripides, Herodotus, Julian, Justin, Livy, Lucan, Ovid, Pausanias, Pindar, Plato, Plutarch, Sophocles, Strabo, Thucydides, and Xenophon.

The name ‘Pythia’ derived from Pytho, which in myth was the original name of Delphi. The Greeks derived this place name from the verb, pythein (πύθειν, “to rot”), which refers to the decomposition of the body of the monstrous Python after she was slain by Apollo.[2] The usual theory has been that the Pythia delivered oracles in a frenzied state induced by vapors rising from a chasm in the rock, and that she spoke gibberish which priests interpreted as the enigmatic prophecies preserved in Greek literature.[3]

¶Ἐγένετο δὲ πορευομένων ἡμῶν εἰς { προσευχήν ♦ τὴν προσευχὴν }, παιδίσκην τινὰ ἔχουσαν πνεῦμα { Πύθωνος ἀπαντῆσαι ♦ πύθωνα ὑπαντῆσαι } ἡμῖν, ἥτις ἐργασίαν πολλὴν παρεῖχεν τοῖς κυρίοις αὐτῆς, μαντευομένη.


In what sense did the slave girl of Acts 16:16 have “the spirit of Python”?

Q. What do you think about the slave girl who was able to foretell the future? The easy answer is that she had some form of mental illness, but this doesn’t seem to fit with the way it reads given that her owners were able to make profit from her illness… it seems to be quite a consistent illness. The text seems to alude to Greek mythology, ‘spirit of Python’?

This is an ‘advanced’ question, and the answer assumes you have already read other Q&As on demons on this site. If you have not, please first read these answers on demons.

The event takes place in Philippi:

Acts 16:16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.

In Greek, as the question notes, the text introduces a girl “having a spirit of Python” (ekhousan pnuema Pythonos, ἔχουσαν πνεῦμα Πύθωνος). Here the ESV is more accurate than KJV in saying “had” a spirit rather than “possessed by”, but there are several other NT verses where “had an unclean spirit” is not greatly different from “possessed by” (Luke 4:33 has a man who “had the spirit of an unclean demon” who also cried out similar comments).

VIDEO – Jesus teaching in the temple, casting out demons

So who or what is the Python? Originally in Greek legend the demi-god Python guarded the oracle at Delphi, and was killed by Apollo, thereby establishing Apollo’s control over the oracle. But by the time of Paul the name Python had become a generic term for any spirit of prophesy in the Apollo religion, and a related meaning python (pythonist) came into use for human oracles of a python spirit (plural. Πύθωνες, ventriloquists, in Plutarch Vol.II 414e, also in the Lexicon of Hesychius, 5thC CE).

The best documented late example of a python oracle is Alexander of Abonoteichus (c.105-170 CE) who formed a new branch of Apollo religion around his own pet serpent, whom he proclaimed the snake god Glycon, through whom Alexander performed prophecies. We know far more about Alexander of Abonoteichus than any other pythonist since he was the subject of an investigation by the sceptic Lucian of Samosata (125-180 CE), who wrote a revealing and humorous account of Alexander’s scams, such as how Lucian caught Alexander steaming open and resealing the sealed questions of the questioners. However, from what we see in Acts 16:16-17 it seems that the slave girl was as much the victim of her owners’ use of her as herself deliberately deceiving anyone. In this she resembles more the oracles, at Delphi and later elsewhere, where traditionally a woman oracle made obscure prophecies which were interpreted (for a fee) by the custodians of the shrine.

A few years later than this event in Philippi the high priest of Apollo at nearby Delphi, Plutarch (c.46-122 CE), wrote an apology for why the oracle no longer prophesied in tongues or verse but in his day now gave mundane commerical advice. But the rather staid formal prophecies at the main Apollo temple are not necessarily much of a guide to the prophesies of a slave girl who was out on the streets of Philippi for many days, to the point of eventually “greatly annoying” Paul. But we should note that even what was annoying to Paul “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” was an example of a lucid oracle, and the fact that “she kept doing for many days” probably indicates that when she started doing this Paul did not find the endorsement of a known local oracle a great embarrassment, at least Paul did not at first, since otherwise it is reasonable to assume that he would have silenced her immediately. This suggests that, as the question has it, it was indeed a consistent behaviour on the part of the slave-girl, one which, if she had been about her owners’ business would indeed have enabled them to earn money in the way that a completely insane person (such as “Legion” of Mark 5:9 raving and cutting himself among the tombs) would not have been.

So what conclusions can we draw from Luke’s description of the girl? That a physician like Luke seriously believed that a minor Greek god was possessing the girl? Clearly not, Greek doctors had varying ideas about spirits, some believed, some did not, but as a disciple of Paul and as an inspired writer Luke is simply using the language of the day, like Matthew twice uses the phrase “moonstruck” (KJV lunatick, Greek selēniazomenos) for what is probably a form of mental illness or perhaps epilepsy. There is no reason to think that Luke literally believed that Python gave the girl oracles, any more than Matthew necessarily believed that the moon really caused illness. We know this since Exodus 4:11 and other OT teaching is very clear in ascribing all illness to God. We can also probably conclude that the New Testament writers were not squeamish about “demons” reflecting local geography. So in 1st Century Galilee Jewish people suffered Jewish demons, from “Beelzebub” (according to the OT a god which does not exist and cannot make ill or cure), while in Greek Philippi a Greek servant girl suffered a Greek demon “Python”.

As a final comment it is a possibility that the girl in Philippi may not have been the only worshipper of the Pythonist religion who entered the early church (assuming that she herself did become a Christian, which is not recorded), since in 1Co12:2 Paul says to some in Corinth “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.” which probably has some relation to the problems with tongues and prophecy in Corinth, yet the point is that the Python cult was one of the idols which was not mute, since the whole religion was built around the mystical oracles of the Python, through the pythonists. Paul’s comment, far from being immediately obvious fact recognised by all pagans – was the exact opposite of what worshippers of Apollo believed. Which is why the religion of Apollo was in crisis and decline 30 years after Paul wrote 1Corinthians when Plutarch was moved to explain the apparent failing of Python.


Spirit of Python

Acts 16:16

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying : The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

Understanding the Spirit of Python

Puthon (according to the Strong’s Concordance)

The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon

Strong’s Number: 4436

Original Word: puvqwn

Word Origin: from Putho (the name of the region where Delphi, the seat of the famous oracle, was located)

Transliterated Word: Puthon

Phonetic Spelling: poo’-thone

Parts of Speech: Noun Masculine

Definition: 1. in Greek mythology, the name of the Pythian serpent or dragon that dwelt in the region of Pytho a the foot of Parnassus in Phocis, and was said to have guarded the oracle at Delphi and been slain by Apollo 2. a spirit of divination

KJV verse: Acts 16:16

Py·thon (pthn, -thn)


1. Greek Mythology A dragon or serpent that was the tutelary demon of the oracular cult at Delphi until killed and expropriated by Apollo.

2. python

a. A soothsaying spirit or demon.

  1. A person possessed by such a spirit.

puthón: Python, a mythical serpent slain by Apollo, divination

Original Word: Πύθων, ωνος, ὁ

Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine

Transliteration: puthón

Phonetic Spelling: (poo’-thone)

Short Definition: a divining spirit

Definition: a divining spirit, Python, called after the Pythian serpent said to have guarded the oracle at Delphi and been slain by Apollo.

pythoness (n.)

late 14c., “woman with the power of soothsaying,” from O.Fr. phitonise (13c.), from L.L. pythonissa, used in Vulgate of the Witch of Endor (I Sam. xxviii. 7), and often treated as her proper name, lit. fem. of pytho “familiar spirit;” which ultimately is connected with the title of the prophetess of the Delphic Oracle, Gk. pythia hiereia, from Pythios, an epithet of Apollo, from Pytho, older name of the region of Delphi (see python).

Apollo was the cause at once of the glory and the downfall of Delphi. Partly in reaction against him, partly in imitation of him, other oracles were restored or created. In our brief limits we cannot describe or even enumerate these. We may mention the extremely ancient oracle of Dodona, where the spirit. Of Zeus (ho tou Dios semainei—the oracles began) spoke to the priestesses in the oak, the echoing bronze, the waterfall; the underground Trophonius oracle in Lebadaea, with its violent and extraordinary ritual (Paus., IX, 39, 11: Plut., “Gen. Socr.”, 22); and the incubation oracles of Asklepios, where the sleeping sick awaited the epiphany of the hero, and miraculous cure.

“She was known as the Kansas pythoness in those days before women’s suffrage made such references to a woman’s sex politically incorrect.” The Huffington Post: Ken Blackwell: Piddler on the Roof

“Each one was sharp enough to weaken a normal man, render him helpless and send him to his knees begging for mercy in the face of a powerful Wiccan pythoness like Mysti.” Simon & Schuster: The After Wife

“Like a pythoness possessed by the demon, she inspired awe rather than pleasure.” The Magic Skin

“It is only necessary to have a spirit like the pythoness; and, to bring this spirit of pythonism into successful operation it is only necessary that one party should be a knave and the other a fool; and no one can deny that such rencontres very frequently occur.” A Philosophical Dictionary

“The modern Chams find no difficulty worshipping the Hindu Trinity,the linga, the bull of Siva, a pythoness, Allah– who is believed to have been an eleventh century Cham king– plus Mohammed and a number of uncomprehended words taken from the Muslim invocations and regarded as the names of deities, each with its special function.” Archive 2005-07-01

“Alone like a pythoness on her tripod, like the oracle alone above the fissure into the unknown.” Kangaroo

“He had approached the family mansion in so blindly buoyant a spirit as to have set up his camera to photograph his first sight of it; and even the camera had taken on the semblance of the tripod of a tragic pythoness.” The Complete Father Brown

“[Castro] We will have to go to Greece to see a pythoness, to hear what she has to say about it.” Fidel Castro Interviewed by Uruguayan Daily

“Mademoiselle Lenormand, and he resolved that Madame de Girardin, Mery and Theophile Gautier should drive with him to the abode of the pythoness at Auteuil.” Women in the Life of Balzac

“Euangelidai, etc. These usually elected the staff of resident priests, the schools of prophets (at the oracle of Zeus Ammon, e.g., under an arch-prophet), and even, at times, the pythoness.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11: New Mexico-Philip

VIDEO – Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, Exuberance, The Passion for Life

προφήτας (prophētas)

Matthew 5:12 N-AMP
BIB: ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ
NAS: they persecuted the prophets who were before
KJV: persecuted they the prophets which
INT: they persecuted the prophets who [were] before

Matthew 5:17 N-AMP
BIB: ἢ τοὺς προφήτας οὐκ ἦλθον
NAS: or the Prophets; I did not come
KJV: the law, or the prophets: I am not
INT: or the prophets not I came

Matthew 23:31 N-AMP
BIB: φονευσάντων τοὺς προφήτας
NAS: of those who murdered the prophets.
KJV: of them which killed the prophets.
INT: having murdered the prophets

Matthew 23:34 N-AMP
BIB: πρὸς ὑμᾶς προφήτας καὶ σοφοὺς
NAS: I am sending you prophets and wise men
KJV: unto you prophets, and wise men,
INT: to you prophets and wise [men]

Matthew 23:37 N-AMP
BIB: ἀποκτείνουσα τοὺς προφήτας καὶ λιθοβολοῦσα
NAS: who kills the prophets and stones
KJV: [thou] that killest the prophets, and
INT: kill the prophets and stone

About ajmacdonaldjr

writer, author, blogger
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