A Substitutionary (Python) Spirit

A Substitutionary (Python) Spirit 
Robert Wurtz II

Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. (Acts 16:16)

We have the familiar story of Paul the Apostle encountering a woman that was possessed with a demon. A spirit of divination is the Greek pneuma puthoœna. Hesychius defines it as daimonion manikon (a spirit of divination). The etymology of the word is not clearly known (Robertson). Vincent suggests a Python. Python, in 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 (puqei√n) in the sun. Hence the name of the serpent Python perhaps means “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 practiced ventriloquism, or speaking from the bellyBengel suggests puthesthai from punthanomai, to inquire. Certainly Luke does not mean to credit Apollo with a real existence (1 Cor. 8:4). Plutarch (A.D. 50-100) also says that the term puthoœnes was applied to ventriloquists (eggastrimuthoi). In the LXX those with familiar spirits are called by this word ventriloquists (Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27, including the witch of Endor 1 Sam. 28:7). (see Vincent, A.T. Robertson)

False Inspiration

It is possible that this slave girl had this gift of prophecy “by soothsaying” (manteuomeneœ). Present middle participle of manteuomai, old heathen word (in contrast with propheœteuoœ) for acting the seer (mantis) and this kin to mainomai, to be mad, like the howling Dervishes of later times. Dervishes were Muslim’s first appeared in the 12th century; they were noted for their wild or ecstatic rituals and were known as dancing, whirling, or howling dervishes according to the practice of their order. (Webster) This young woman was moving in a demonic spirit that was substituting itself for an operation that can only justly and rightly be occupied by the Holy Spirit of God. The demon that possessed this woman was an unholy spirit, in an unholy person, speaking true statements. 

The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. (Acts 16:17, 18b) 

Paul’s reaction? He was grieved after listening many days. Vincent suggests rather, worn out. Both grieved at the sad condition of the woman, and thoroughly annoyed and indignant at the continued demonstrations of the evil spirit which possessed her. It is not fully known why Paul waited to cast this demon out. Certainly it verifies the testimony of the demon that attacked the sons of Sceva, “Paul I know and Jesus I know, but who are you?” The demons knew who Paul was. Paul did not need the affirmation of demons. It was of no benefit to the preaching of the Gospel. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be carried not under the inspiritation of unclean spirits, but by the inspiritation of the Holy Spirit of God. 

Deceiving the People

At some point in this woman’s life, she became possessed by this demon. That is common sense. She obviously opened herself up to it by being continually subjected to its influence. Every human being on the face of the earth is a temple: the question is, they are a temple of what or who? Not all people are demon possessed that do not know Christ, but they are still indwelt by the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2). Those that are demon possessed have obviously underestimated the spiritual nature of the world we live in. Some have gone far enough to invite the demon to possess them. This is why it is foolish and dangerous to subject yourself to the influence and working of demonic spirits that operate in this present evil age. Multitudes come under demonic influences as they subject themselves to secular activities that move upon the people. The Holy Spirit strives with man, but so do demon spirits. 


Paul spoke of the Corinthians being “carried away” unto dumb idols. Music has the ability to “carry one along.” This is why the Israelites danced and carried on before the Golden Calf. Their is a spiritual dynamic to these things, just as there is a Spiritual dynamic when believers sing praises unto God. The Psalmist spoke of God “inhabiting” the prises of the people: do we not understand that the enemy desires to “inhabit” the places where men are being lifted up? The time would fail to give example after example of Rock star, Rap singer, and other genres that admit to having “sold their soul to the devil” or “made a pact with the devil” in order to be successful. Rock bands speak of “feeding off of the energy” that they draw from the crowds as they play. Any desire to venture a guess where this energy comes from? Unclean spirits? This is how the enemy substitutes a spiritual need to worship – with a counterfeit of himself. People “feel” something and it is often more than soulish, it is spiritual (demonic). It is earthly, sensual or demonic or it is earthly+sensual+demonic. In either case, Christians should be vexed by it, even as Paul was. 


All demonic spirits are “pythonian” in nature. That is to say, they want to influence you away from God, to distract you, to squeeze you, until you have no desire for God and His Spirit. He wants to create a scenario where God is not welcome so he can come in and influence in His place. This is the great danger. Once it starts happening the people begin to resent the entire notion of holiness. They have subjected themselves to the demonic until they are in agreement with that demons rebellion against God. That is the simplest way to say it. Any person that resists holiness is under the influence of the demonic whether they know it or not. it does not matter that they cry day and night “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” The Holy Spirit will always lead us to separate ourselves from these type of things. He cleansed Heaven of them and as Temples of the Holy Spirit He wants us cleansed of them as well. What folly is it that a Christian would want to subject themselves to the spirit that was cast out of heaven? It is because they are under its influence and stand in need of repentance and deliverance. If the desire for God is leaving or is gone; if the desire for holiness and righteousness is gone; if there is a general desire to live in the world and agree with it – there is a demonic influence that has taken hold. Renounce all behavior leading up to this effect! Renounce it forever. God is well able to deliver, but one must not be fooled into believing they can eat at the table and drink of the cup of devils and serve God at the same time. Hell will be full of such people. 

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