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:
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(16) As we went to prayer.—Better, perhaps, to the oratory, or place of prayer. (See Note on Acts 16:13.) It should be stated, however, that the Greek noun is used without the article, and that this is so far in favour of the Received rendering. On the other hand, we find the noun ecclesia, or church, used without the article in 1Corinthians 14:4; 1Corinthians 14:19; 1Corinthians 14:35; 3John 1:6, and it is, therefore, probable that proseucha might be used in the same way, just as we speak of “going to church, or to chapel,” without the article. This was probably on the following Sabbath, or possibly after a longer interval, when the mission of the Apostles had become known, and had caused some excitement.

A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination.—Literally, as in the margin, a spirit of Python, or, as some MSS. give it, a Python spirit. The Python was the serpent worshipped at Delphi, as the symbol of wisdom, from whom the Pythian priestesses took their name, and from whom Apollo, as succeeding to the oracular power of the serpent, took the same adjective. The fact that St. Luke, who in his Gospel describes like phenomena as coming from daemonia, “evil spirits,” “unclean spirits,” should here use this exceptional description, seems to imply either that this was the way in which the people of Philippi spoke of the maiden, or else that he recognised in her phenomena identical with those of the priestesses of Delphi, the wild distortions, the shrill cries, the madness of an evil inspiration. After the manner of sibyls, and sorceresses, and clairvoyants of other times, the girl, whom Augustine describes as fæmina ventriloqua—the phrase probably-expressing the peculiar tones characteristic of hysteria—was looked on as having power to divine and predict (“soothsaying,” as distinct from “prophesying,” exactly expresses the force of the Greek verb), and her wild cries were caught up and received as oracles. Plutarch (de Defect. Orac., p. 737) speaks of the name Python as being applied commonly, in his time, to “ventriloquists” of this type. As she was a slave, her masters traded on her supposed inspiration, and made the girl, whom prayer and quiet might have restored to sanity, give answers to those who sought for oracular guidance in the perplexities of their lives.

Acts 16:16. As we went to prayer — Or to the place of prayer, mentioned before; a certain damsel met us (that is, met Paul and his three companions) possessed with a spirit of divination — Greek, εχουσαν πνευμα πυθωνος, having a spirit of Python, or Apollo. This title, it is generally said, was given to Apollo, on account of his having destroyed a monstrous serpent that was called Python; or a person who for his cruelty was surnamed Python, that is, serpent or dragon, from whence Apollo had the name of Pythius. Plutarch tells us, that those who were inspired with this spirit were εγγαστριμυθοι, persons who spake as seeming to send the voice from their bellies; and Galen mentions the same fact. The manner in which Luke relates the story, plainly implies that he thought this to be a real possession, and that Paul himself viewed it in that light. Nor can the girl’s behaviour, or his, or that of her masters afterward, be accounted for, without allowing this to have been the case. It is well known that the Hebrews called the spirit with which such persons were supposed to be agitated, אוב, ob, because the bodies of those who appeared to be possessed by it were violently distended, like leathern bottles full of wine, and ready to burst. Compare Job 32:18-19. Which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying — That is, by pretending, with the assistance of a familiar spirit, to discover stolen goods, and to point out the concealed authors of mischiefs, and to disclose the general good or ill-fortune of the persons who applied to her, and their success in particular affairs, with other secrets, for which many ignorant persons, in all countries, are willing to give money. See notes on Deuteronomy 18:10-11; 1 Samuel 28:7.

16:16-24 Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers. Those who do good by drawing men from sin, may expect to be reviled as troublers of the city. While they teach men to fear God, to believe in Christ, to forsake sin, and to live godly lives, they will be accused of teaching bad customs.As we went to prayer - Greek: as we were going to the proseuche, 'the place of prayer, Acts 16:13. Whether this was on the same day in which the conversion of Lydia occurred, or at another time, is not mentioned by the historian.

A certain damsel - A maid, a young woman.

Possessed with a spirit of divination - Greek: Python. See the margin. Python, or Pythios, was one of the names of Apollo, the Grecian god of the fine arts, of music, poetry, medicine, and eloquence. Of these he was esteemed to have been the inventor. He was reputed to be the third son of Jupiter and Latona. He had a celebrated temple and oracle at Delphi, which was resorted to from all parts of the world, and which was perhaps the only oracle that was in universal repute. The name Python is said to have been given him because, as soon as he was born, he destroyed with arrows a serpent of that name, that had been sent by Juno to persecute Latona; hence, his common name was the Pythian Apollo. He had temples on Mount Parnassus, at Delphi, Delos, Claros, Tenedos, etc., and his worship was almost universal. In the celebrated oracle at Delphi, the priestess of Apollo pretended to be inspired; became violently agitated during the periods of pretended inspiration; and during those periods gave such responses to inquirers as were regarded as the oracles of the god. Others, it is probable, would also make pretensions to such inspiration; and the art of fortune-telling, or of jugglery, was extensively practiced, and was the source of much gain. See the notes on Acts 8:8-10. What was the cause of this extensive delusion in regard to the oracle at Delphi it is not necessary now to inquire. It is plain that Paul regarded this as a case of demoniacal possession, and treated it accordingly.

Her masters - Those in whose employ she was.

By soothsaying - Pretending to foretell future events.

16-18. as we went to prayer—The words imply that it was on their way to the usual place of public prayer, by the river-side, that this took place; therefore not on the same day with what had just occurred.

a … damsel—a female servant, and in this case a slave (Ac 16:19).

possessed of a spirit of divination—or, of Python, that is, a spirit supposed to be inspired by the Pythian Apollo, or of the same nature. The reality of this demoniacal possession is as undeniable as that of any in the Gospel history.

Went to prayer; went towards the place where their public prayers were usually made.

Of divination; or, of Python, the name of Apollo, from the place where he was worshipped, (which was afterwards called Delphi), and from whom all evil spirits, that pretended to divination, were called Pythons; as that the woman made use of to delude Saul by, 1 Samuel 28:7.

And it came to pass as we went to prayer,.... That is, to the house of prayer, or to the oratory, as they were in the way to it; for this is not to be understood of their just going to the act, or duty of prayer; for the damsel that now met them, is said to follow them, and to do so for many days, one after another; and it was by their going to the prayer house, that she knew what they were; and besides, the phrase of "going to prayer", as used by us, for the act or duty of prayer, is a mere Anglicism, and unknown to the eastern writers: now this their going to the oratory, was after they had been at Lydia's house, and had been entertained and refreshed there; whether this was on the same day that she was converted and baptized, is not certain: however, so it was, that

a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination, met us; in the Greek text it is, "the spirit of Python"; the Alexandrian copy and the Vulgate Latin version read, "the spirit Python"; the same with Apollo, who was called Pythius, as was his oracle, from the people coming to him, to inquire of him and consult with him, about difficult matters (y); or rather from the Hebrew word which signifies a serpent; and so Apollo is said to have his name Pythius, from his killing the serpent Typhon, or Python (z); hence the city of Delphos, where was the oracle of Apollo, was called Pytho (a); the prophetess that sat upon the golden tripos, and delivered out the oracles, Pythia; and the feasts and plays instituted to the honour of Apollo, were called the Pythian feasts and plays, and the place of the oracle Pythium (b): and so this maid, or the spirit in her, pretended to divine and foretell things to come; and the Arabic renders it, "an unclean spirit, foretelling future things": the Jews (c) make this spirit of Python, to be the same with Ob, which we render a familiar spirit, Leviticus 20:27 and the Septuagint by "Engastrimythos", a ventriloquist, one that seemed to speak out of his belly, and pretended to predict future events; and most of the versions in the Polyglot Bible render it by "Python", the word here used: so the Jews say (d), that a master of Ob (as the woman of Endor is called the mistress of Ob), , this is "Python": and so Jarchi on Deuteronomy 18:11 explains the word, and adds, that it is one that speaks out of his arm holes, as those sort of people did from several parts of their bodies, and even from their secret parts: the word signifies a bottle, and they were called masters or mistresses of the bottle; either because the place on which they sat, and from whence they gave forth their oracles, was in the form of one; or they made use of a bottle in their divinations; or as Schindler (e) observes, being possessed, they swelled and were inflated like bottles; and being interrogated, they gave forth answers out of their bellies, concerning things past, present, and to come: and this speaking out of their bellies might be done, without the possession of a real spirit, and much less was it from God, as Plutarch (f), an Heathen himself, observes;

"it is foolish and childish, to think that God, as the ventriloquists formerly called Eurycleans, and now Pythonists, should hide himself in the bodies of the prophets, using their mouths and voices as instruments to speak with, for this was done by turning their voices down their throats.''

The first of this sort was one Eurycles, of whom Aristophanes (g) makes mention; and the Scholiast upon him says, that he was a ventriloquist, and was said by the Athenians to prophesy by a "demon" that was in him, when it was only an artificial way of speaking; Tertullian affirms he had seen such women that were ventriloquists, from whose secret parts a small voice was heard, as they sat and gave answers to things asked: Caelius Rhodiginus writes, that he often saw a woman a ventriloquist, at Rhodes, and in a city of Italy his own country; from whose secrets, he had often heard a very slender voice of an unclean spirit, but very intelligible, tell strangely of things past or present, but of things to come, for the most part uncertain, and also often vain and lying; and Wierus relates of one Peter Brabantius, who as often as he would, could speak from the lower part of his body, his mouth being open, but his lips not moved, whereby he deceived many by this cunning; and there was a man at court in King James the First's time here in England, who could act this imposture in a very lively manner (h): but now whether the spirit that was in this maid was a cheat, an imposture of this kind, is not so easy to say; it seems by the dispossession that follows, that it was a real spirit that possessed her; though some think it was no other than a deluding, devilish, imposture:

which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: divining or prophesying; it seems she had many masters, who had a propriety in her, and shared the gain she brought; unless by them are meant her master and mistress: vast treasures were brought to the temple at Delphos, by persons that applied to the Pythian oracle there; and great quantities were got by particular persons, who pretended to such a spirit, by which they told fortunes, and what should befall people hereafter, or where their lost or stolen goods were, and such like things; and of such sort were the magical boys and servants Pignorius (i) makes mention of, out of Apuleius, Porphyry, and others, who either for gain or pleasure, performed many strange things.

(y) Phurnutus de natura deorum, p. 94. Vid. Schol. Aristoph. Plut. p. 6. & Macrob. Saturnal. l. 1. c. 17. (z) Homer. Hymn. in Apollo, v. 372, &c. (a) Pausan. l. 10. p. 619. (b) Alex. ab. Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 6. c. 2.((c) R. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. neg. 36, 38. (d) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 7. sect. 7. (e) Lex. Pentaglott. Colossians 34. (f) De defectu oracul. p. 691. (g) Vespae, p. 502. (h) See Webster's Displaying of supposed Witchcraft, p. 122, 124. (i) De Servis, p. 355.

{10} And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of {f} divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:

(10) Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and covets to enter by undermining, but Paul openly stops him, and casts him out.

(f) This is a sure sign of the god Apollo, who would give answers to those that asked him.

Acts 16:16. That Paul and his companions accepted this pressing invitation of Lydia, and chose her house for their abode, Luke leaves the reader to infer from καὶ παρεβιάσατο ἡμᾶς, Acts 16:15, and he now passes over to another circumstance which occurred on another walk to the same προσευχή mentioned before. What now follows thus belongs to quite another day. Heinrichs and Kuinoel assume that it attached itself directly to the preceding: that the conversion and baptism of Lydia had occurred while the women (Acts 16:13) were waiting at the προσευχή for the commencement of divine worship; and that, when they were about to enter into the προσευχή, this affair with the soothsaying damsel occurred. In opposition to this it may be urged, first, that Acts 16:15 would only interrupt and disturb the narrative (especially by καὶ παρεβιάσατο ἡμᾶς); secondly, that the beginning of Acts 16:16 itself (ἐγένετο δέ) indicates the narration of a new event; and thirdly, that the instruction and baptism of Lydia, and still more of her whole house, cannot naturally be limited to so short a period.

According to the reading ἔχουσαν πνεῦμα πύθωνα (see the critical remarks), the passage is to be interpreted: who was possessed by a spirit Python, i.e. by a demon, which prophesied from her belly. The damsel was a ventriloquist, and as such practised soothsaying. The name of the well-known Delphic dragon, Πύθων (Apollod. i. 4. 1), became subsequently the name of a δαιμόνιον μαντικόν (Suidas, who has the quotation: τάς τε πνεύματι Πύθωνος ἐνθουσιώσαςἠξίου τὸ ἐσόμενον παραγορεῦσαι, but was also, according to Plut. de def. orac. 9, p. 414 E, used appellatively, and that of soothsayers, who spoke from the belly. So also Suidas: ἐγγαστρίμυθος, ἐγγαστρίμαντις, ὅν τινες νῦν πύθωνα, Σοφοκλῆς δὲ στερνόμαντιν. This use of πύθων, corresponding to the Hebrew אוֹב (which the LXX. render by ἐγγαστρίμυθος, Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27; see Schleusner, Thes. II. p. 222), and also passing over to the Rabbins (R. Salomo on Deuteronomy 18:11; Sanhedr. f. 65. 1 in Wetstein), is to be assumed in our passage, as otherwise we could not see why Luke should have used this peculiar word, whose specific meaning (ventriloquist-soothsayer) was certainly the less strange to him, as the thing itself had so important allusions in the O.T. and LXX. suggesting it to those possessed of Jewish culture (1 Samuel 28:7), just as among the Greeks the jugglery which the ventriloquists (the Εὑρυκλεῖς or Εὑρυκλεῖδαι) practised was well enough known; see Hermann, gottesd. Alterth. § xlii. 16. Without doubt, the damsel was considered by those who had their fortunes told by her as possessed by a divinity; and that she so regarded herself, is to be inferred from the effect of the apostolic word (Acts 16:18). Hers was a state of enthusiastic possession by this fixed idea, in which she actually might be capable of a certain clairvoyance, as in the transaction in our passage. Paul, in his Christian view (comp. 1 Corinthians 10:20), regards this condition of hers as that of a demoniac; Luke also so designates it, and treats her accordingly.

τοῖς κυρίοις] There were thus several, who in succession or conjointly had her in service for the sake of gain. Comp. Walch, de servis vet. fatidicis, Jen. 1761.

Acts 16:16. If we add the article τὴν, see critical note: “to the place of prayer,” R.V.—πνεῦμα Πυθῶνος: in R.V., accusative, see critical note, “a spirit, a Python,” margin, i.e., a ventriloquist (Ramsay). The passage most frequently quoted in illustration is Plutarch, De defectu Orac., ix., from which it appears that ventriloquists who formerly took their name from Εὐρυκλῆς a famous ventriloquist (cf. Arist., Vesp., 1019) were called Πύθωνες. The word ἐγγαστρίμυθος, ventriloquist (Hebrew אוֹב), of which Πύθων is thus used as an equivalent, is the term employed in the LXX, Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27, 1 Samuel 28:7, etc., for those that have a familiar spirit (cf. also the use of the two words ἐγγαστρ. and Πύθων amongt the Rabbis, R. Salomo on Deuteronomy 18:11, and instances in Wetstein), i.e., a man or a woman in whom is the spirit of divination; Gesenius uses אוֹב for the divining spirit, the python, supposed to be present in the body of a sorcerer or conjurer, and illustrates from this passage in Acts, and adds that the LXX usually render אֹבוֹת correctly by ἐγγαστρίμυθοι, ventriloquists, since amongst the ancients this power of ventriloquism was often misused for the purposes of magic. But in addition to ventriloquism, it would certainly seem from the narrative in Acts that some prophetic power was claimed for the maiden, μαντευομένη, so Blass in describing the ἐγγαστρ. “credebatur dæmon e ventre illorum loqui et vaticinari,” cf. τὴν Εὐρυκλέους μαντείαν, Arist., u. s.); so too Suidas explains Πύθων as δαιμόνιον μαντικόν, connecting the word directly with the Pythian serpent or dragon, the reputed guardian of the oracle at Delphi, slain by Apollo, the successor to the serpent’s oracular power. If therefore the girl was regarded as inspired by the Pythian Apollo, the expression in T.R. simply expresses the current pagan estimate of her state; this is the more probable as the physicians of the time, e.g., Hippocrates, spoke of the way in which some symptoms of epilepsy were popularly attributed to Apollo, Neptune, etc.; article “Divination,” B.D.2, i., 490; C. and H., p. 231, smaller edition; Lightfoot, Phil., p. 54; Plumptre and Wendt, in loco, and Page on the derivation of the word.—ἐργασίαν: only in Luke and Paul; A. and R.V. “gain,” although primarily the word denotes work done, so Rendall, “business”; Wis 13:19 well illustrates its use here. The word is used of gain (quæstus), Xen., Mem., iii., 10, 1.—τοῖς κυρίοις αὐτῆς, Acts 16:19, seems to imply not successive but joint owners (on the plural in Luke see Friedrich, p. 21).—μαντευ.: if Luke had believed in her power he would more probably have used προφητεύειν. μαντευ. used only here in N.T., but it is significant that in LXX it is always employed of lying prophets or of divination contrary to the law, e.g., Deuteronomy 18:10, 1 Samuel 28:8 (9), Ezekiel 13:6; Ezekiel 21:29 (34), Micah 3:11, etc. The Greeks themselves distinguished between the two verbs and recognised the superior dignity of προφητεύειν; e.g., Plato contrasts the μάντις who more or less rages (cf. derivation μανία, μαίνομαι, thus fitly used of Pythonesses, Sibyls, and the like) with the προφήτης, Timæus, 71 E, 72 A, , Trench, Synonyms, i., 26.

16. as we went to prayer] Better, as we were going to the place of prayer, see on Acts 16:13. For though the Greek noun here is without the article it is clearly to be rendered as in the previous verse. This must have been on another occasion than that on which Lydia was converted. For in the expression “she constrained us” it seems implied that they had already taken up their abode there before the events recorded in this verse.

possessed with a spirit of divination] More literally, and according to the oldest MSS. which make the two nouns in apposition, having a spirit, a Python. According to Plutarch (De def. Orac. 9) those persons who practised ventriloquism, called also ἐγγαστρίμυθοι, were named Pythons. But the damsel in this history clearly laid claim to some prophetic power, and was used as a means of foreknowing the future. So that word Python is here better referred to the name of Apollo, the heathen god of prophecy, and the A.V. “spirit of divination” gives the correct idea.

her masters] Some persons, who having found a strange power in the maiden, made use of it, as has oft been done, for their own purposes of gain, and persuaded the people to resort unto her with their questions.

by soothsaying] The word is only found here in the N. T., and wherever it occurs in the LXX. it is always used of the words of lying prophets (Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 28:8; Ezekiel 13:6; Ezekiel 13:23; Micah 3:11); so that here we are constrained to take it in the same sense “by pretending to foretell the future.”

Acts 16:16. Πύθωνα) Hesychius explains πύθεν as ὁ ἐγγαστρίμυθος, ventriloquist diviner: although πύθων in a wider sense denotes any one whatsoever, from whom one may πυθέσθαι, inquire.—ἐργασίαν) Fraud nourishes such gain: true religion does away with it.

Verse 16. - Were going to the place of prayer for went to prayer, A.V. and T.R.; that a certain maid for a certain damsel, A.V.; having for possessed with, A.V. The place of prayer. The ἡ προσευχή of the R.T. undoubtedly means "the place of prayer," the proseuche. They went there, doubtless, every sabbath. What follows happened on one occasion after Lydia's baptism. A spirit of divination (πνεῦμα Πύθωνος, A.V.; Πύθωνα, R.T.). "Πύθων denotat quemlibet ex quo πύθωσθαι datur," "any one of whom inquiry may be made" (Bengel). It was a name of Apollo in his character of a giver of oracles. Delphi itself, where his chief oracle was, was sometimes called Pytho (Schleusner, s.v.), and Pythius was a common epithet of Apollo. The name Python (Plut.,' De Defect. Orac.,' cap. 9) came thence to be applied to a ventriloquist (Hebrew אוב), or to the spirit that was conceived to dwell in ventriloquists and to speak by them, just as in Hebrew the ventriloquist was sometimes called בְעַל אוב (or בַעֻלַת if a woman), the owner of a spirit of divination, or simply אוב, a diviner (see 1 Samuel 28:7 (twice) for the first use, and Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:11; 1 Samuel 28:3; for the second). In some passages, as 1 Kings 28:6 and Isaiah 29:4, it is doubtful whether אוב means the ventriloquist or the spirit. The feminine plural אובות (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; 1 Samuel 28:3, 9; Isaiah 8:19) seems always to denote the women, who, like the damsel in the text, practiced the art of ventriloquistic necromancy, whether really possessed by a spirit or feigning to be so. The word πύθων is only found here in the New Testament. The LXX. usually render אובות by ἐγγαστρίμυθος. Gain (ἐργασία), literally, work, craft, or trade; then, by metonymy, the gain proceeding from such trade (Acts 19:24, 25). By soothsaying (μαντευομένη). So one name of these ventriloquists was ἐγγαστρίμαντις. Acts 16:16Damsel

See on Acts 12:13.

Spirit of divination (πνεῦμα Πύθωνα)

Lit., a spirit, a Python. Python, in the Greek mythology, was the serpent which guarded Delphi. According to the legend, as related in the Homeric hymn, Apollo descended from Olympus in order to select a site for his shrine and oracle. Having fixed upon a spot on the southern side of Mount Parnassus, he found it guarded by a vast and terrific serpent, which he slew with an arrow, and suffered its body to rot (πυθεῖν) in the sun. Hence the name of the serpent Python (rotting); Pytho, the name of the place, and the epithet Pythian, applied to Apollo. The name Python was subsequently used to denote a prophetic demon, and was also used of soothsayers who practised ventriloquism, or speaking from the belly. The word ἐγγαστρίμυθος, ventriloquist, occurs in the Septuagint, and is rendered having a familiar spirit (see Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, 27; 1 Samuel 28:7, 8). The heathen inhabitants of Philippi regarded the woman as inspired by Apollo; and Luke, in recording this ease, which came under his own observation, uses the term which would naturally suggest itself to a Greek physician, a Python-spirit, presenting phenomena identical with the convulsive movements and wild cries of the Pythian priestess at Delphi.

Soothsaying (μαντευομένη)

Akin to μαίνομαι, to rave, in allusion to the temporary madness which possessed the priestess or sibyl while under the influence of the god. Compare Virgil's description of the Cumaean Sibyl:

"And as the word she spake

Within the door, all suddenly her visage and her hue

Were changed, and all her sleeked hair and gasping breath she drew,

And with the rage her wild heart swelled, and greater was she grown,

Nor mortal-voiced; for breath of god upon her heart was blown

As he drew nigher."

Aeneid, vi., 45 sq.

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