Paul and the Fortune Teller

Had an interesting discussion this week about the passage in Acts 16 that describes the Apostle Paul becoming annoyed with a fortune-telling slave girl and commanding the demon within her to depart.

Acts 16:16-18 (NIV) Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

I had read this passage many times, but usually I rushed on to the part about Paul and Silas being imprisoned, and tended not to think much about the situation surrounding the slave girl. However, the discussion with my bride encouraged me to dig more deeply, and raised several questions (there are lots more questions, but these will suffice for now).

  • Was God directing Satan’s minion to proclaim the truth?

First, one thing must be made absolutely clear; God does NOT need Satan as an ally and supporter! If God wanted a supernatural pronouncement in support of Paul and Silas, then He would have provided it Himself; He has no need of assistance from the evil one.

  • Why was Paul so perturbed about this girl’s pronouncements, were they untrue?

Paul was not annoyed at the girl, he was annoyed at the loud and persistent demon within her. The pronouncements seemed true, but if Paul accepted them and said nothing it would have appeared that he was linking the gospel with demonic activities. It has been speculated that the girl was actually proclaiming the truth in a mocking manner, similar to those who mockingly greeted Jesus with “Hail! King of the Jews”. Perhaps she was not referring to the same “God Most High” that Christians assume; in Philippi Zeus was the supreme god.

  • And, why did Paul wait for several days before taking action?

It is unclear why Paul waited for several days before taking action and commanding the demon to depart. Perhaps he had been waiting for an opportunity that would not endanger the girl or the disciples, or antagonize the local officials. Additionally, Paul was concerned for the girl’s well-being and safety (she was used and objectified by her owners); demon possession cannot be ignored. Perhaps Paul was waiting for Holy Spirit direction on dealing with the situation. Whatever his original thinking, it seems obvious that a tipping-point had been reached and he was willing to proceed regardless of the consequences.

  • Why was Satan (the girl was demon possessed) promoting the way of salvation?

We have no way of knowing the whys of Satan’s involvement, but we can speculate. Perhaps there is at work here some of the same interaction between God and Satan as described in the account of Job (Satan had God’s permission to act). Perhaps, as the liar and father of lies, Satan is attempting to start a process that would eventually discredit the gospel and/or its messengers (a process thwarted by Paul’s exorcism). Perhaps the demon was constrained to speak the truth in the same manner that Baalam could only bless Israel, not curse them.

  • What is more important in this situation; the proclamation of truth, or the source of the proclamation? Is truth from an evil source still truth?

Matthew’s gospel states that good cannot come from an evil source, that good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:16-18). So, it would seem that the girl’s pronouncements were in fact NOT good, NOT truthful (as they seem). Perhaps Paul discerned something that is not immediately obvious to us (i.e.; not referring to God but to Zeus). In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul said, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

I really like it when someone points out something I had previously missed in Scripture. However, I must be careful because I have a tendency to get caught up in the trap of trying to analyze every nuance of Scripture. But scripture itself cautions us to not have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people“ (1 Timothy 6:4). So, with that in mind, I think that although these exercises are fun (and usually enlightening), it is safe to say that if it were really important, if God felt we needed to know the details, it would have been spelled out more clearly for us.


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