The Spirit of Python Promoted Paul in Acts 16:16
In Acts, Paul encounters a demon possessed woman known as Python. She was popular at Philippi as a soothsayer whom people paid for prophecies. Those aspiring to be kings and rulers would vie for her endorsement to gain acceptance from among the people. Large parts of Greece fell to Philip of Macedon because Philip bribed the Python priestess to prophesy he would conquer. (See infra.) The Pythoness thus was a 'rock-star' -- to use a modern equivalent.
When Paul is at Philippi, this Python female-soothsayer followed him around for many days in the city. Everywhere Paul went she proclaimed him a man of God who declared "to us a way of salvation." Her intent was obvious: this demon-possessed woman hoped many would recognize and accept Paul as God's prophet, and accept his plan of salvation. (She said nothing about the true Jesus.) Paul did nothing to stop her for many days. Luke records:
16And it came to pass in our going on to prayer, a certain maid, having a spirit of Python, did meet us, who brought much employment to her masters by soothsaying [manteuomai, "practice divination as in a 'false divination or false prophet'" - Strongs G3132. Cf. mantis = seer]
17she having followed Paul and us, was crying, saying, `These men are servants of the Most High God, who declare to us a way of salvation;'
18and this she was doing for many days, but Paul having been grieved, and having turned, said to the spirit, `I command thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come forth from her;' and it came forth the same hour. (Acts 16:16-19 YLT.)
Paul's casting out in the name of Jesus the Spirit of Python from the young girl after "many days" of delay doing so does not prove Paul knew the true Jesus. For our Lord specifically said that many who call on His name and use His name to cast out demons will be told by Jesus that "I never knew you." We must keep this passage in mind as we study whether the Spirit of Python's behavior proves Paul's salvation doctrines -- faith-alone / no works necessary / anti-law aka anomianism -- did not come from the true Christ:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of [ANOMIA (Greek for "lawlessness" or "negation of the Law."] (’ (Matt 7:21-23 ESV.)
An anomian message of salvation means one predicated upon the negation of the Law which God gave Moses. For discussion of "Anomia" in Matthew 7:21, see ch. 5 of Jesus Words Only. Jesus warns us in this quote that those coming with an anomian message who teach a salvation message that you need not obey the will of "my Father" and yet you will be saved anyway may cast out demons in Jesus' name, but this does not validate their false message.
What Is The Spirit of Python?
A "spirit of Python" meant a specific type of demonic spirit. The NLT of Acts 16:16 translates it simply as she is a "demon-possessed girl." In 1 Sam. 28:7, when it is translated "Lo, a woman possessing a familiar spirit in En-dor," it is rendered as a "spirit of Python (OBH in Heb.) of Endor." (Jacques de Daillon (comte du Lude), Daimonologia: or, A treatise of spirits: Wherein several places of scripture expounded (Printed for the author, 1723) at 114-115.) The Hebrew word "OBH" is oftened rendered as sorcerer" or "necromancer" and was "often translated Python in the Vulgate [Bible]." (M. Oldfield Howey, The Encircled Serpent a Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries And Ages (1900) at 142.) However, OBH was short for the Hebrew word ABADDON which John in Revelation 9:11revealingly tells us is APOLLYON in Greek. Scholars concur APOLLYON means APOLLOS, the Sun-god (son of Zeus, the head god) whose temple was at Delphi where the Python statue with multiple heads of serpents spoke through the priestess. See our article "Apollyon." So who is the Python in relation to APOLLOS?
"Python in Greek mythology was the serpent who guarded the Delphic oracle....Apollo's prophetic seer was called Pythia." (Rick Strelan, Strange Acts; Studies in the Cultural World of the Acts of the Apostles (Walter de Gruyter, 2004) at 113.) Apollo was known as "Apollo Pythius because his symbol was the Python." (Dr Elsie Clark, Spiritual Warfare: Vol. 2 Battling Against Carnality (2010) at 189.) Apollo was the Sun-god among the Greeks. At the core of Apollo's temple was a pyramid known as the "tripod" to symbolize the Sun's rays. (Technically, the god Phobus was the god of light, and he morphed into "Apollo Pythia." See link.) On this tripod sat a coiled serpent statue with three heads known as the Python.
(Technically, in Greek mythology, Apollo previously slayed the prophesying Python, but now through his female Pythia priestess at Delphi, also known as Python, the Python spirit spoke. See Leadbetter, "Apollo," Pantheon.org.) Thus, we find the Python was identified now as Apollo Pythius at Delphi:
"As the cone or pyramid was a symbol of the sun's rays, this typified the worship of Apollo, the Sun-god with that of the Serpent, the python, the earth deity." (M. Oldfield Howey, The Encircled Serpent a Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries And Ages (1900) at 143.)
Clearly, the spirit of Python is the spirit of Satan / Apollos / Lucifer -- the "blinding light" (see "Who Is Blinding Angel of Light") -- even worshipped as a large three-headed Serpent. The "pythoness" -- the young virgin who would speak the Serpent's prophecies -- had to sit on the tripod at the Temple of Python / Apollo at Delphos / Delphi. Eventually there were always three young virgins who would alternate at the task. (Howey, Id., at 144.)
Delphos of Greece and its oracle became linked to Philippi in Macedon because in the 300s BC Macedon under Philip II seized parts of Greece by bribing the Python oracle to give prophecies of his success. It was said by Demosthenes that the oracle had become "Philipized." Id., at 146.
[Painting to right is 'Apollo slaying the Python' by Eugene Delacroix - died 1863]
Python Priestess of Phillipi
The Python priestess at Philippi within Macedon thereby was just another sister-prophetess to the three who rotated the role at Delphi. The Philippian Python is the one whom Paul met:
12 thence also [we came] to Philippi, which is a principal city of the part of Macedonia -- a colony. And we were in this city abiding certain days,...16 And it came to pass in our going on to prayer, a certain maid, having a spirit of Python, did meet us, who brought much employment to her masters by soothsaying, (Acts 16:12, 16 YLT.)
She was equally an "agent of Satan" explains Chr. Wordsworth, D.D., Canon of Westminster, in his The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the original Greek (Ed. Ch. Wordsworth, D.D., Canon of Westminster)(Rivington 1862) at 120. He explains what this label of Python applied to this young girl represented:
"A remarkable expression. The damsel was possessed by an evil spirit....Python spirit, a word never occurring in the gospels....[T]he word Python would sound a note strong on the Greek and Roman ear. How much was contained in those words? Python was the prophetic serpent at Delphi, the center and focus of Gentile divination. The Python gave his name and place to the prophetic deity of the Gentile world. The successor of the Serpent of Delphi was the Pythian Phoebus or Apollo. And from him all who claimed the powers of divination received their title, and were called Pythons. [Author provides numerous examples from Greek literature.] Therefore this damsel at Philippi with her Pythonistic possession was, according to her degree, a representative of Pythia who sat on the tripod of Delphi, and who delivered the responses in the name of Pythian Apollo, the successor of the Serpent, and brought much gain and renown to her masters, at that place, and deceived the world by her sorceries. Hence. St. Luke calls the Spirit at Philippi, Python....The Python was an agent of Satan." Id., at 120.
Predictably, this devout Christian author blinds himself to the importance that for "many days" this influential Python counterpart to the one at Delphi was endorsing the plan of salvation from Paul. This author simply goes on to say by virtue of Paul casting out the demon later that Paul teaches the Python was an "unclean spirit," and is "denounced and ejected by St. Paul." It never dawns on this author to question the significance of Paul's delay and the interim endorsement by what this author admits is a popular and influential "agent of Satan."
How Is This Verse Typically Mistranslated?
Obviously aware of the problem we are about to expose, most translations other than Young's Literal never properly translate this as "spirit of Python." So the King James simply has it the "spirit of divination." (Acts 16:16-19 KJV.) The NIV is even wimpier, saying simply she had a "spirit." (Acts 16:16 NIV.) Virtually all the rest are in line.
The Obvious Problem Being Avoided
Now if this woman is demon possessed and Paul were following the true Christ, then her declaration to others to listen to Paul for salvation represents a house divided against itself. It makes no sense. But if Paul were following unwittingly a false Christ, then this makes perfect sense.
As Boulanger in 1746 first exposed, this means a famous demon was promoting Paul's plan of salvation "for many days" before Paul casts out the demon in her - thus confirming Paul's plan of salvation could not be from God if demons endorsed it:
he there cured a girl, who had a spirit of Python, and being by that means possessed of the power of divination, gained great profit to her masters. These, far from acknowledging and admiring the power of a man who reduced to silence Apollo, one of the most powerful gods of paganism, brought Paul and Silas before the magistrates, and excited the people against them.  It is right to remark in this place, that Apollo (i. e. the Devil) who resided in this prophetess, laboured to destroy his own empire. In fact having perceived Paul and his comrade, the girl followed them, crying, 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." (Acts16:17-18.) (Boulanger, A Criticial Examination of St. Paul (1746) at 52.)
Please distinguish this demon-possessed woman from the demons who recognized Jesus was Christ for the demons did nothing to consistently promote to others that Jesus was Messiah, Son of God, etc. Nor were the demons who recognized Jesus looked upon with high favor, and thus their recognition did nothing to help Jesus' ministry. See, Mark 3:11-12. But look at the very different evidence that 'the rock-star' demon Pythia (the priestess) promoted Paul for "many days" as having the true plan of salvation. In ancient Greece-Macedon, there was no more influential prophetess than the Python-priestess. She was routinely paid for her prophecies.
But look how Paul for days took advantage of her endorsement while never questioning himself why would the prophetess-Pythia who was serving Satan be endorsing specifically Paul's plan of salvation. Paul never asked himself if it were possible he actually met an imposter Jesus on the road to Damascus. Thus, as Luke tells the story, Paul at Philippi did not think through this problem but was glad even demons endorsed his message: "It may be noted that the missionaries did not question the genuiness of her inspiration by the spirit of Python, and also that it spoke the truth...." (M. Oldfield Howey, The Encircled Serpent a Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries And Ages (1900) at 142.)
But they should have questioned it, as this demon-oracle in the service of Satan was well-regarded by the pagans of the area. Why would Satan through her deliberately try to promote Paul's ministry? Luke's account does not give this a second-thought even though the account clearly requires the Berean in us to do so.
Thus, let's now look at the key aspect of this verse one more time:
"A young girl...having a Spirit of [the demon] Python...having followed Paul and us, was crying [to the public many days], saying, 'These men...declare to us a way of salvation.'" Acts 16:16-17
Hence, one can see that if Paul were serving the true Christ, demon spirits like Python who were popular and influential would not for "many days" go around following Paul telling people to accept Paul's "plan of salvation."
And notice, the demon spirit of Python did not say to follow Christ, but specifically to follow Paul's plan of salvation. In Acts 16:17, the demon Python-spirit says: " `These men are servants of the Most High God, who declare to us a way of salvation;'" So the message of Christ on salvation was not being promoted, but instead the demon was promoting Paul's very different plan of salvation. On the difference between these two gospels, see our page "Paul's Contradictions of Jesus."
Hence, Acts 16:16-17 is further confirmation that Paul was unwittingly serving Satan. We already deduced this about the appearance to Paul and others with him of someone saying "I am Jesus" on a wilderness road when Jesus warned us not to trust when someone "comes in my name" in the wilderness (see Matt 24:5, 24-27) because the only way Jesus will be seen on earth after the Ascension was if every eye on earth sees Him. (See link.) But that is not what happened on the road to Damascus, is it?
Then what about Paul casting out the demon in Jesus' name? Does this prove Paul knew the true Christ? Emphatically NO!
In Matthew 7, Jesus said many who work "ANOMIA" (negation of the Law) will be able to say they did many miracles and cast out demons in His name, but Jesus will say He never knew "you" to them.
It thus proves nothing. Jesus may indeed have cast the demon out as a mercy to this young girl. His name is powerful.
What is important to take away from the passage is Paul, the avowed worker of appearing ANOMOS (see link), did not know the true Christ because if Paul did, then why would a popular and influential demon promote for many days Paul's plan of salvation? That would be a kingdom divided against itself, and Jesus said, in essence, that such things would not be true. Hence, it logically follows Paul did not "know" Christ, contrary to Paul's assumption of whom he met on the wilderness road outside Damascus.
Was This Experience at Philippi a Turning Point?
Paul in his epistle to the Philippians mentions only one region supported Paul financially in his early career ... those of Philippi:
As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. (Philippians 4:15. NLT.)
Then remember that the first Christians at Philippi were only positively directed to Paul initially by the Python priestess of Philippi. She was the most influential prophetess of the ancient world -- to whom many paid for her prophecies.
Yet, we concluded above -- which Luke apparently chose to overlook the implication to a Christian audience -- that when she endorsed Paul's "plan of salvation," she was under the influence of a demon until Paul "many days" after her endorsement then finally cast out that demon. So Pauline Christianity first received its financial boost from a group of Gentiles who were first influenced toward Paul by a demonic spirit!
How Important Was The Python Fact to Victory?
Luke addresses both his gospel and book of Acts to the same person: Theophilus. The account ends with Paul heading to Rome for a trial. The legality of Christianity stood in the balance. If it is just a sect of Judaism, and Paul is not a radical who committed a crime against Judaism, Christianity will survive as a legal sect. If Paul is founding a new religion outside of Judaism, and Paul committed an offense at the Temple against a legal sect, then Christianity may be outlawed. Christian scholars agree that how Luke addresses Theophilius indicates this was a trial brief to advise Theophilus for the upcoming trial of Paul. See link.
Thus, Luke is addressing PAGANS, not Christians, to win an acquittal for Paul in a pivotal trial for the survival of Christianity. Luke succeeds. This first trial in front of Nero ends in an acquittal according to early church historian Eusebius in his The Church History 2:22 written ca. 325 AD.
Hence, Luke might have known among Christians that a demon endorsing Paul is a negative fact. However, Luke at the same time knew that among Pagans, to tell them the Python Priestess of Phillipi had "endorsed the way of salvation" taught by Paul, that is all they have to hear. If this proves confirmed, the case is over. Christianity survives to a pagan court because the Greco-Roman world's fused pagan religion will obey and listen to the Python as the light to emperors and peoples everywhere.
Luke thus made a calculated risk to reveal something that Bible-astute readers would see as a problem, knowing that a Pagan court would instead use as a key fact to rule in favor of Christianity. It would no longer matter who Paul offended or did not offend. Accordingly, it is likely that Luke did see this issue, but the legal survival of Christianity was more important than shielding Paul from the embarassing aspect which Christians would readily recognize once pointed out.
Why did Paul get annoyed with the Spirit of Python promoting him after "many days" instead of initially? For why would a man of God want a demon promoting him? Scholars concede this while trying to flip it the other way: "it is something of a puzzle why he resented the girl's cries [of support]." (Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge University Press: 2006) at 56.) The best explanation is Paul let this go on many days without rebuking the demon because it was helping until Paul realized that people would start wondering why demons were promoting Paul.
Contrast the situation with Jesus in Matthew. At every encounter with demon-possessed people, Jesus cast them out of the person. Jesus did not leave them in their state "many days" to serve any personal advantage if they would identify Him as Messiah.
A unique situation is presented in Mark that did not appear in Matthew. This is the Gospel scholars have deduced was written by a Paulinist, eliminating all prophecies critical about Paul in Matthew. See "Marcan Priority Claim."
While at first blush, Mark 3:11-12 appears similar to what happened with Paul in Acts 16, on reflection it still markedly differs. Jesus in Mark's account apparently leaves the demons in place (unlike Matthew where Jesus always cast them out.) What happens is per Mark Jesus during a healing activity of many people tells "unclean spirits" who cried out "You are the son of God" not "to make him known."
Unlike Paul, Jesus in Mark 3 did not want anyone to perceive these "unclean spirits" as declaring His identity, so as to prevent the endorsement of demons. By contrast, Paul welcomed the support of demons.
Python. The Roman historian Lucian records that "the dragon under the tripod spoke" at the Temple of Python. In the temple were kept a host of snakes. It is assumed "dragon" here meant one of the snakes.
What is curious is that Apollo was the Sun god and the symbol of his power was a three-headed snake. When one considers the Sun-god at Rome became known as Sol Invictus, it actually traces back to the popular Apollo-Python god of the Greeks. Here is what M. Oldfield Howey, The Encircled Serpent a Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries And Ages (1900) at 143 says:
The tripod on which the pythoness sat was another relic of the religion which it had superseded, for it was formed of a serpent of bronze, coiled spirally upwards in the form of a cone, and terminated in three heads. As the cone or pyramid was a symbol of the sun's rays, this typified the worship of Apollo, the Sun-god with that of the Serpent, the python, the earth deity.
Glossalia / Excited Utterances / Prophetic Words of Knowledge
The method of words of prophecy by the Python have a chilling similarity to modern 'words of knowledge' and 'glossalia' that I have personally witnessed in certain churches. I can verify words of knowledge are often amazingly accurate depictions of people, with their past excellently described by pure strangers, mixed in with some future promises that often are safe bets.
Now remember, the gift of tongues of the 12 apostles was different: it was the ability to speak to foreign language speakers, and the listeners would hear it in their own language. See Acts 1.
So here is what is so chilling to consider to explain how our modern behavior may have entered the church from copying practices of the Pythonesses of ancient Greece.
Anarcharsis in a travel journal of the 6th Century before Christ identified that "toward the middle [of the temple] is an aperture from whence came the prophetic exalation." (Howey, id.., at 144.) The young virgin would drink some water which "it is said [has] the virtue of disclosing futurity." Id. Interestingly, the young prophetess would have her limbs suffer "involuntary motions," and she uttered "plaintiff cries and deep groans" (id.) She then uttered "dreadful howlings which were eagerly collected by the priests." Then the priests went to work. Anarcharsis continues: "They arranged them in proper order, and delivered them to us in writing." Id.
Leadbetter summarizes it even more pointedly, unaware how this might educate Christians to problems about Paul's glossalia instructions: "After she mumbled her answer, a male priest would translate it for the supplicant." (Ron Leadbetter, "Apollo," Pantheon.org (2012).)
What is interesting is how similar this is to Paul's version of the gift of tongues. The true apostolic gift of tongues was the ability of an apostle to speak and those of another language to hear their own language spoken. Luke notes this is its nature in Acts 1. However, Paul gives the same name to something totally different -- something identical to the ecstatic utterances of the "spirit of Python" where another would interpret and write it down. The words were not readily understandable as they were supposed to be had they been the true apostolic gift revealed in Acts 1. But Paul discloses his very different version from the original gift of tongues in the following quote, and please note how strikingly similar it is the "spirit of Python" and her interpreters:
"If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that in turn; and let one interpret." (1 Cor. 14:27 KJV.)
One must thus wonder if Paul's stinger in the flesh from Satan impaled him somehow with Satan's spirit of Python -- what Paul unwittingly reveals when he describes the glossalia-spirit, of which Paul says in very modest terms (I am being facetious):
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. (1 Cor. 14:18 NIV.)
Python: As Ventriloquist
The Greek term "python" had a secondary meaning of divination and the "belly talking," as if a ventriloquist speaking in a strange voice. See Mark Nanos, at 24.
Maps of Delphi & Philippi
Philippi is in Macedonia, while Delphi is in Greece 100 miles north of Athens.
Further Study Notes
Stephen A writes:
The word translated as "vipers" in NT may mean python.
EKHIDNA (or Echidna) was a monstrous she-dragon (drakaina) with the head and breast of a woman. She probably represented or presided over the corruptions of the earth : rot, slime, fetid waters, illness and disease.
She was often equated with Python (the rotting one), a dragon born of the fetid slime left behind by the great Deluge. Others call her the Tartarean lamprey, and assigned her to the dark, swampy pit of Tartaros beneath the earth. Hesiod, makes her a daughter of monstrous sea-gods, and presumably associates her with rotting sea-scum and fetid salt-marshes.
In all cases, she was described as the consort of Typhoeus, a monstrous storm-daemon who challenged Zeus in heaven. Together they spawned a host of terrible monsters to plague the earth.
Other closely related she-dragons included the Argive Ekhidna and Poine, the Tartarean Kampe, and the Phokian Sybaris.
In the image (right), Ekhidna is equated with Python. Apollo seated on the omphalos stone slays her with his arrows : in the motif of healing god (Paian) destroying plague-bringing demon.
This word EKHIDNA is used 4 times in the NT:
??????? (echidn?n) — 4 Occurrences
Matthew 3:7 N-GFP
BIB: ?????? ????????? ??????? ??? ?????????
NAS: to them, You brood of vipers, who
KJV: O generation of vipers, who
INT: to them Brood of vipers who forewarned
Matthew 12:34 N-GFP
BIB: ????????? ??????? ??? ???????
NAS: You brood of vipers, how can
KJV: O generation of vipers, how can ye,
INT: Offspring of vipers how are you able
Matthew 23:33 N-GFP
BIB: ????? ????????? ??????? ??? ??????
NAS: you brood of vipers, how
KJV: [ye] generation of vipers, how
INT: [You] serpents offspring of vipers how shall you escape
Luke 3:7 N-GFP
BIB: ????? ????????? ??????? ??? ?????????
NAS: by him, You brood of vipers, who
KJV: O generation of vipers, who
INT: him Offspring of vipers who forwarned