Summary: It treats demonic avenues through which people are deceived and enslaved even with the supernatural. It calls on believers for discernment and confrontation through prayers
In Acts 16:16, Paul and Silas encountered a young woman who prophesied to them through what Luke calls a “spirit of divination.” However, the Greek word from which “divination” is translated is python. “Python” was a word associated with prophecy amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans. Because it was so well known in the ancient Greco-Roman world, the original readers of Acts would have made an immediate association when they read the words “spirit of python.” Here is how they would have understood it.
The most famous ancient oracle (prophetic center) was at the city of Delphi in Greece and was known as the “Oracle at Delphi.” According to legend, the Greek god, Apollo, had slain a large female serpent--a python--at that site and the spirit of the python had remained. According to the legend, it now possessed the prophets and prophetesses who fun ctioned there, “taking possession of their organs of speech moving and compelling them to give prophetic utterances.”[iii] This was commonly known as the “python spirit” or the “spirit of python.” At the height of its popularity, the prophetic oracle at Delphi maintained three priestesses/prophetesses who offered advice and counsel through the pythian spirit to a continual stream of visitors including generals and government officials.
pýthœn is the name of the snake that guards the Delphic oracle, and it is also used from the early imperial period for a ventriloquist, through whom, as many think, a god is supposed to speak, and who is thus regarded as a soothsayer. The Delphic Pythia, like the ventriloquist, speaks in strange sounds. Ventriloquist - one who speaks through another just as in divination, soothsaying and witchcraft. 1 Sam 28:8 Saul seeks witch of Endore, 2 Chronicles 33:8 Manasseh sacrifices children while consulting witches and the like, Is. 8:19,20 Rebellious people consult the dead, witches, with whispers and mutterings.
Pythons are of the constrictor type of snake. The python will strangle its food with its coils to kill it before eating it. Pythons are not poisonous and are generally not aggressive unless provoked
Manner of Activity of python spirits (Characteristics)
Luke uses “spirit of python” in regards to this slave girl probably because the spirit operating in her was like the one at Delphi. There is, of course, the possibility that she had actually been to Delphi and that is where she picked up this false spirit. It is important to note that what she said was true. Satan and demons have some knowledge and will reveal their “secrets” in order to impress and draw people into their destructive web. Only our God, however, is omniscient, i.e., all knowing. Here are some of the traits of a spirit of python that are obvious in this narrative.
1. It loves to flatter. The prophecy of this young woman was not given to encourage or affirm, but to flatter. We all need to give and receive affirmation and encouragement, but flattery is sweet talk that is insincere and self-serving. So many today, including leaders, are so starved for affirmation and approval that they are vulnerable to the flatteries of a deceiving, python spirit. Our security is in being so settled in God’s acceptance and approval that we are no longer susceptible to the flatteries of a false prophetic spirit. Beware of those who use prophecy to flatter and, thereby, gain advantage.