Acts 16:16-40 – Tumult in Philippi


Acts 16:16-40


Paul casts a prophetic spirit out of a slave girl who is being used as a profitable seer by her owners. The ensuing ruckus over the loss of her value to the owners results in the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, who use the opportunity to convert the jailer and his household by their steadfast witness.


In Philippi a slave girl is being used by her owners as a seer or fortune teller. The young woman is possessed by a demon who quite accurately identifies Paul and Silas as “slaves of the Most High God” who have come to reveal “a way of salvation.” What is remarkable is the accuracy and understanding of the possessing spirit. It may be an Apollonian or oracular spirit, given its description. But whatever the nature of the spirit, it gets right who Paul and his companions are and what their mission is. Yet, it can be cast out by a mere mortal who relies on the power of the one God. By casting the less powerful demon out of the girl, Paul witnesses to the power of the God he worships.

Because it occasions their economic loss, Paul’s deed enrages the girl’s owners. They lose no time in arousing the local magistrates by complaining that Paul and Silas are “Jews” who teach unlawful customs that are contrary to the Roman way. In short, they complain that Paul and Silas are interlopers and opposed to all that is good and civilized, namely, all that is Roman. Paul and Silas and their kind represent a danger to the well-being of civic life. The two are thrown into jail, from which they escape after an earthquake and the conversion of the Roman-employed jailer and his household. We learn a lot about the way people choose to defame others, most often not for the stated reasons. We also see how the good character of the Christians (who do not leave the jail even when they might make an escape) is a witness to others concerning the power of their God. Both themes will continue in Acts and in early Christian history.