III. The Method and Message of the Serpent

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Method and Message of the Serpent

Series: Unmasking the Python Spirit

 

So far in this series, we have discovered that the “spirit of Python” being touted by the false prophets and deliverance ministers is a misnomer, at best. We see that the true spirit of Python was directly related to the spirit that worked through the Oracle at Delphi during the time of the apostles (and much of ancient history).

Armed with this information, we need to go back to addressing the slave girl who operated under the influence of Python in Acts 16.

Let’s read the text again, to refresh our memories.

Act 16:16-18
Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination [G4436 – python] met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling [G3132 – manteuomai]. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God [G2316 – theos], who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

Now, if you look at this passage and rely solely on the translated text, things can really get lost in translation. Words can often have more than one meaning, and the translators chose what they thought fit the best within the context of the surrounding passage. But were they correct in their judgment?

“Python” is not “divination”

sorceress python
photo by Pixabay

First, they replaced “python” with “divination” which is rather misleading. The Greek word for “divination” is actually “manteia,” not “python.”

From the verse above, we can see that “manteia” or its derivative “manteuomai,” [1] is more closely related to the means by which the girl brought her handlers “much profit,” not the spirit itself.

Now, slow down a minute and really look at the passage. While divination/fortune-telling, or “manteuomai,” is the means by which the girl brought her masters much profit, “Python” is the actual name of the spirit that was possessing the girl. It was the same spirit that possessed the Pythia – only 325 miles (give or take) away.

I’ll prove this in a moment.

When this passage of Scripture was actually playing out in front of Paul, he didn’t have to quiet himself, access his spiritual discernment and get this “inner sense” of what spirit was working.

He never said “I discern by the Holy Spirit that the spirit of Python is at work here,” because there was no need to.

The signs of Python were external and obvious.

Paul:

  1. Looked at what was taking place (with his natural eye); ~ and ~
  2. Listened to the words coming out of her mouth.

These were the two outward manifestations on which he based his analysis.

Paul could SEE the Spirit of Python with his Naked Eye.

In order to understand what Paul was seeing, as the slave girl followed them around shouting “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!” we have to take a closer look at the word “manteuomai,” translated “fortune-telling” in this passage.

“Manteuomai” can mean “predicting the future for someone,” but if you stop there, you will have an incomplete picture.

This Greek word is translated “fortune-telling” or “soothsaying” in most Bible translations, but I found the Darby translation the best, as “manteuomai” is also defined as “to deliver an oracle” and “act like a seer/prophet.”

Acts 16:16 DBY
And it came to pass as we were going to prayer that a certain female slave, having a spirit of Python, met us, who brought much profit to her masters by prophesying [G3132 – manteuomai].

The Greek root word for “manteuomai” is “mainomai” [G3105] [2] which means “to rave” and “to speak like you’re out of your mind.”

“Mainomai” can be found in the following Scriptures:

Act 12:15
But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” [G3105 – mainomai] Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

Act 26:24
Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! [G3105 – mainomai] Much learning is driving you mad!”

So we can see that this girl was not just trying to act like a prophet by “prophesying” or “fortune-telling,” she was exhibiting the same outward signs as the Pythia when she straddled the crack in the earth and became possessed by the spirit of Python at Delphi.

To further drive home this point, let’s refer back to Acts 16:17.

This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out [G2896 – krazo], saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

The Greek word for “cried out” is “krazo” [G2896] [3]. The primary definition of this word means “to croak or shriek.” This girl wasn’t just following Paul and speaking in a loud voice, she was really putting on a show, croaking and shrieking in “otherworldly” tones.

We’ll talk more about these outward manifestations later on, meanwhile, let’s return to our focus on the word “manteuomai.”

When you look for references to “manteuomai” in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament/Tanakh), you will find that this word is directly connected to the Hebrew word “qecem” [H7081] which can mean divination, false prophecy or straight up witchcraft. [4]

You can find this word in the following verses:

Deuteronomy 18:10-11
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft [H7081 – qecem, G3132 – manteuomai], or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

Ezekiel 13:6
They have envisioned futility and false divination [H7081 – qecem, G3132 – manteuomai], saying, “Thus says the LORD!” But the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed.
2 Kings 17:16-17
So they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft [H7080 – qecem] and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger.

We must make this connection from here to the end of this series. The actions and words of the slave girl in Acts 16 were the exact same thing as witchcraft. There’s no getting around this.

YHWH’s true prophet Samuel sealed this tie between false prophecy, divination, rebellion and witchcraft [H7081 – qecem] when he said:

1 Samuel 15:23
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft [H7081 – qecem], and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.

The Hebrew root word for “qecem” is “qacam” [H7080] and it also means to practice divination, false prophecy, witchcraft, etc.

Jeremiah 29:8
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners [H7080 – qacam] who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.

Ezekiel 13:9
My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine [H7080 – qacam] lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
Micah 3:11
Her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine [H7080 – qacam] for money. Yet they lean on the LORD, and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No harm can come upon us.”
Pythian priestess of Delphi
photo by Wikipedia Commons

So let’s wrap this section up.

We have a spirit called “Python” who possesses a young girl who has a reputation for (and makes a lot of money at) “delivering oracles” and “acting like a seer/prophet” (“manteuomai”). (Don’t forget, this is equated with witchcraft.) While she was following Paul around, she was “ranting and raving” like a lunatic (mainomai), croaking and shrieking (krazo) like she was possessed by the same spirit that worked through the Pythia at Delphi.

Because she exhibited the same outward manifestations of one possessed by Python, the populace revered (or at least were too intimidated to challenge) her because they perceived her as having the authority of the Delphic oracle as well as the sun god, Apollo.

Does this sound a little far-fetched? Stick with me…

Python’s Message was Telling

Now that we’ve covered the visual aspect of this encounter, let’s move on to the message.

In analyzing the message from the young girl possessed by the Python spirit, we must remember that Philippi had not heard the gospel yet. Some say that it was the jailer who started the first church, but we can’t be sure.

Prior to his journey to the region, Paul had received orders in a vision to come to Macedonia (Philippi was the “chief city” in the region – v12) and preach the gospel to them.

Acts 16:9-10
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul and Silas entered the city and the girl started to put on a show, proclaiming “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!”

That’s what our English translations say, anyhow, and if we take it at face value, it seems like this young lady at Philippi was saying all the right things.

But we’ll soon find out that that’s not what is going on here.

Ponder this a moment.

If you were going into a city to preach the Good News, would it be so bad to have a local celebrity with a “prophetic gift” follow you around and plug your message? Of course not.

Then what was it about this girl that vexed Paul so much? Was it simply because Paul didn’t want a demon supporting his ministry, like conventional teaching tells us?

Remember, this was the same guy who said:

Philippians 1:18
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

That kind of conflicts, doesn’t it? So what was it about her message that caused Paul to be so irritated?

In order to answer this question, we have to ask several more questions.

Would a demon ever preach the Gospel?

traditional view of the devil
photo by Pixabay

I think we can all agree that the answer is “No, he wouldn’t, because Satan is the father of lies and there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44)

We also know that demons are cut from the same cloth as satan, so there is no reason to believe that the gospel is being preached here. [5]

So why does it appear that Python is leading people to look at Paul as “the guy” who would show people the way of salvation?

This has been a source of confusion for people who study this passage of Scripture, but it is easily answered when you research the Greek behind the translation and have a little knowledge as to the Greco-Roman culture during that time.

Their god is not our God

The translators really did a number on the Scripture when they decided to capitalize “God.”

Act 16:17
This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God [G2316 – theos], who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

When we see the word “God” with a capital “G,” we automatically associate it with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the Greek word “theos” can mean both God (capital “G”) and god (lowercase “g”) or gods, just like the Hebrew word “elohim” can mean God, god or gods.

Act 7:40
…saying to Aaron, “Make us gods [G2316 – theos] to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

Galatians 4:8
But then, indeed, when you did not know God [G2316 – theos], you served those which by nature are not gods [G2316 – theos].

In translating “theos” into “God” (capital “G”), the translators made us assume that the Python-possessed girl would have the ability and the willpower to direct the citizens of Philippi to the Truth.

Apollo was also known as “the Most High”

What people don’t realize is that, in the Greco-Roman empire, Apollo – the same god whose temple was at Delphi – was also known as “the Most High God.” We, of course, know better, but the citizens of Philippi did not. They were used to Apollo being “the Most High God.”

So you might be wondering now what is the big deal between the Greek word Python and divination or fortune telling. Actually it is a very big deal and one of the reasons Paul’s encounter became a major power battle. It was something he would later describe as a battle against principalities and powers. Around the middle of Greece there was a special place that was thought to be the center of the world, well more accurately it’s naval. In some ways that is true as several tectonic plates come together there making it geologically active and beautiful. It was believed to be the home of the Greek God Apollo and the place where he killed a great dragon / snake called Python. Apollo was the son of Zeus who in Greek mythology was the “most high God”. That is the phrase that the slave girl used when she said Paul was a servant of God most High. There is a temple shrine over a deep crack in the rock there and a priestess was said to be possessed with the python who would speak the words of Apollo in answer to your questions. Kings and anyone who could would seek out answers. It didn’t matter what what side you were on as long as you made an offering. When she spoke it sounded like the voice came from somewhere else so these mediums were also called ventriloquists. [6]

Several gods were described as “the Most High,” in this region Apollo as well as Zeus were referred to as the “most high god.” [7]

16:17 Most High God. Her utterance may relativize the uniqueness and necessity of faith in Christ by making Paul’s God simply the greatest in a pantheon. Jewish people spoke of “the Most High God” (Da 5:18, 21), but so did Gentiles, who often applied it to Zeus and/or to the Jewish God. [8]

Salvation is also a generic term.

drowning hand
photo by Pixabay

Due to the church culture that many of us were raised in, we also associate “salvation” with asking Jesus into our hearts and receiving salvation in the form of no longer having to worry about going to hell and making it into heaven. But salvation [G4491 – soteria] doesn’t mean only that.

You can be saved from drowning in a river, or saved from any other form of penalty.

Zechariah spoke of Israel being saved from their enemies.

Luke 1:71
That we should be saved [G4491 – soteria] from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…

Paul spoke of being saved from death by starvation.

Acts 27:34
Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival [G4491 – soteria], since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.

The citizens of Philippi, even though they had never heard the gospel, still believed that the gods they served had the ability to save them from the everyday troubles that life would throw at them. It’s a basic human desire to want to be free from trouble and pain.

The people of Philippi did not know God.

So, knowing that the Philippians had not had the gospel preached to them yet, the following questions become a little easier to answer.

  • When the girl referred to the Most High God, did the citizens of Philippi automatically think of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? – No, they didn’t. They were used to hearing Apollo being referred to as the Most High God. To the Philippians, the spirit of Python in the girl was just promoting the sun god, Apollo.
  • When the girl referred to Paul showing the citizens of Philippi the way of salvation, was she promoting salvation through Yeshua the Messiah? – No. At that point in time, the citizens of Philippi had not heard the gospel yet. They had no clue who Yeshua was and any mention of “salvation” meant something other than the kind of salvation Yeshua could bring. Additionally, demons have never been in the business of guiding people to repentance and salvation through the Messiah. In fact, the opposite has always been true.

Given all of this information, the story should make a lot more sense.

Python preached “another gospel”

As you can tell from the evidence provided, the behavior and words of the possessed slave girl are veiled, from our point of view, by the mistranslation of Scripture and 2,000 years, but to Paul and the citizens of Philippi, these signs of the spirit of Python were evident from the start.

Unlike the modern day church, they knew Python by sight! They were exposed to this spirit’s influence daily. They weren’t deluded into thinking “big snake that chokes its prey by constriction.”

But we have just discussed the familiarity of the people with the Python spirit and we have just analyzed what the slave girl was saying. Let’s go back to the original question.

Why was Paul so irritated at the demonic spirit behind this prophetic celebrity?

Remember, this wasn’t a one-time demonic encounter. The girl had been following Paul and Silas around “for many days.”

Python did not want to assault Paul and go on its merry way . . . it wanted to exert its influence and twisted message over the purity of the Gospel that the Father instructed Paul to teach in Macedonia.

Python knew that if it could get an inroad, it could take control later. So it appeared on the surface to support the Gospel by elevating Paul and using dualistic terms to work its way in.

As mentioned before, the influence of the Oracle at Delphi (and by extension the spirit of Python) appeared to be on the decline between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. This spirit was trying to infiltrate and pollute the Gospel by elevating Paul and using words that could be taken different ways. (Dualism)

It was speaking the truth . . . and yet it WASN’T speaking the truth. It was preaching “another gospel” centered around its god, Apollo.

Paul’s encounter with the spirit in Acts 16 was a failed attempt to attach itself to the worship of the true “Most High God” and twist it to its own advantage.

We see the same thing happening clear back in the Garden of Eden, with Eve’s encounter with the serpent, and we’ll see the same thing happen in later chapters, when I talk more about the influence of the church fathers.

It’s a repeated pattern.

In this encounter, however, Python’s attempt was thwarted by Paul, who turned around and cast the spirit out of the girl, proving the might of the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

And her handlers were livid.

Acts 16:19-21
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”

This is a dynamic that you will see today as well.

Those who worship the sun god Apollo (and operate under the spirit of Python) have hearts full of greed and are against any customs that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob may esteem. They take advantage of the vulnerable and gifted and exploit them for their own gain.

Lion and Serpent
photo by Pixabay

If you truly follow the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and you threaten that source of income, they violently attack and their complaint is telling . . .

“These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”

You see, when you take away the veil and show the true face of Python, you’ll also show the true nature of the conflict.

This is all about a showdown of words between the God of Israel and the God of Rome.

References:

  • [1] BlueLetterBible entry for “manteuomai” [G3132] (Source)
  • [2] BlueLetterBible entry for “mainomai” [G3105] (Source)
  • [3] BlueLetterBible entry for “krazo” [G2896] (Source)
  • [4] BlueLetterBible entry for “qecem” [H7081] (Source)
  • [5] One might possibly bring up the verses that mention demons “worshipping” Yeshua (ie. Mark 5:6). There is a difference between performing an act of worship and speaking truth. Demons were originally angels, and they worship God by nature. Once they fell with Lucifer, their worship became invalid. Their nature became like Lucifer’s and they too became filled with lies.
  • [6] Beaver Valley Christian Fellowship, “More on Python” (Source)
  • [7] Cornerstoneweb.org, “Our Study Begins in the Book of Acts” (Source)
  • [8] NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Source)
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7 replies on “III. The Method and Message of the Serpent”

  1. I can tell you studied hard on this. While true, if we simply look at the context of the story all we have to do is ask why would Paul cast out a demon who proclaimed who he was and Who he represented. The answer should be apparent. The word study augments the answer. The demonized girl was pointing to a different salvation just as many denominations do. Blessings in Christ Jesus.

  2. Very well done. For those who seek truth we appreciate your study. First time on your site, won’t be the last.

  3. Truthseeker here as well, but I am confused. I am confused at the use of the proper noun version of Python as if that was the demons name? The Greek mythology makes sense as that was the snake’s name but are you suggesting that this Greek-originated Python nomenclature remains relevant throughout the bible?

    Second, The picture is of a pit viper but the title says python. Is there any difference in these snakes? I read that pythons kill via snare and constriction method while pit vipers primarily use powerful venom. I also read that baby pit vipers are actually more dangerous because they cannot control the amount of venom they inject whereas adult pit vipers eventually learn to conserve the amount of venom they use on prey? They can even tell the difference between a warning strike and a kill strike based on the amount of venom injected and the depth to which their fangs penetrate? Pythons can grow very large but they are unimaginative killers who simply camouflage themselves and wait for prey to come along. They snare using lots of small teeth and then wrap and constrict their prey until it suffocates or it’s bones are crushed causing internal hemorrhaging which eventually kills the prey animal. Symbolically, considering these animals different behavior, Which of these two snake spirits do you think was actually inhabiting the slave girl? Python or Pit Viper?

    1. Excellent observation on both counts… but I have to ask, did you get a chance to read all 3 posts? Because the prior 2 gave more of a backdrop on this and I think that maybe you might be able to answer your own question if you had read the prior. Having said that, I am suggestion that “Python” was the actual name of the spirit possessing the girl, like your name is “Zachariah” and my name is “Kevin.” Both Paul and Barnabas knew the name of that spirit, it was prevalent throughout the Greco-Roman empire and was perceived by many to be the most authoritative prophetic spirit in existence.

      As far as the viper for the picture goes, you’re right, it’s not a constrictor. Python was the name of a “serpent” … and the constrictor was not called “Python” until the 1800’s. I picked the image because I think it conveyed the sinister quality the enemy. Hope this helps.

  4. Very good, I could understand a little more about this scripture.

    Thanks!

    God (The truly One) Bless you through all of your days,

    First time here and, for sure, won’t be the last!

  5. Very, very insightful. Sheep in wolves clothing!
    So, you could re write it as:
    “These people, being torah keepers, exceedingly trouble our church; and they teach customs that we as Christians no longer have to observe”

    I so enjoy reading your blog. I do admire how tou put your thoughts into words.
    Much shalom

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