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 and fortune-teller 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 doubly exploited: both by her owners who profit from her fortune-telling abilities and by a demon or evil spirit who possesses her and speaks through her. This demonic force is literally designated a “spirit of the Python,” associated with the god Apollo and the oracle at Delphi. Surprisingly, this demon-possessed slave-girl accurately identifies Paul and Silas as “slaves of the Most High God” who have come to reveal “a way of salvation” (16:17). Nonetheless, because the slave-girl keeps annoying Paul with her repetitive (mindless?) announcements “for many days,” he exorcizes her demon “in the name of Jesus Christ” (16:18). By casting out the irritating demon, Paul witnesses to the superior power of the God he worships.

Because it occasions their economic loss, Paul’s action 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 contrary to the Roman way. In short, they accuse Paul and Silas of being meddling interlopers, opposed to all that is good and civilized, and a serious threat to civic order. The two are thrown into jail, from which they escape after an earthquake and the conversion of the Roman-employed jailer and his household.

This episode illustrates the tendency of people  to conspire against any who threaten their self-interests. It also demonstrates the good character of  Christ’s missionaries, who do not escape from  jail at first opportunity but rather stay behind after the earthquake to minister to the distraught jailer, who was about to kill himself for failing to guard the prisoners.