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Acts 16:16-19 by Robert Dean
Demons! Fortune tellers! Witches! Are they real or just something in scary movies, TV shows, and books? Listen to this lesson in Acts to learn how the Bible describes a very real spirit world and God's warning against the occult. Find out how worshiping anything in creation rather than the Creator opens us to demonic thoughts and influences. Discover God's assurances that He is in control and we have nothing to fear.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 14 secs

Demonism and Fortune Telling. Acts 16:6-


One of the hardest things for anybody in any kind of argument is to challenge somebody on the basis of their experience. People say, "Well I was in China witnessing to somebody who said they were a believer in Christ, and they started manifesting all kinds of demonic threats; so obviously Christians can be demon possessed." Some form of that narrative is very common. Then there are others who want to extrapolate everything to always identify problems in terms of evil spirits. That is true, it is a component of everything in creation because of the angelic rebellion against God. But the Bible doesn't present everything that way. We understand human volition, human interaction. And on the other side there are too many Christians who want to limit everything to human interaction and human circumstances, not recognizing the influence of the demonic. So there is a balance there between overloading our sense by saying everything is related to demons, everything is related to evil spirits, everything is related to Satan, and that everything is just related to human negative volition and the sin nature.

Ultimately it is true: all evil comes from Satan. So in some sense we could about Satan as the one who is behind every attack against Christians. But by saying that it also communicates an idea that Satan is omnipresent or omniscient, which is false. So there has to be a balance in all of this without sacrificing different areas of truth. Often error comes because one area of truth is overemphasized from another area of truth.

Another thing happened in Acts 16. The second personage emphasized in Paul's ministry, and this one is a slave girl. In Greek culture and in some of Jewish culture some of the most looked down upon people in the society were women and slaves. The first person to come to salvation in Philippi was a woman merchant, Lydia, and the second was this slave girl who has a spirit of divination.

Acts 16:16 NASB "It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer …" This was probably the next Sabbath, the first being the one where Paul met Lydia. "… a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us …" This is the foundation of a problem we have that has developed in the whole theology of demonism and demon possession. In the English we have developed this vocabulary where we talk about these things as either demon possession or demon influence. The words "demon possession" is a poor word choice in English today. At the time of the King James translation the concept of possession had the idea of someone inhabiting something. That fits the biblical idea of demon possession, which is defined as a demon internally controlling a person or taking up residence inside of a person's body. So demon possession and the idea of inhabiting something is a valid concept.

But too often today the word "possess" doesn't convey that nuance in modern language. Possess usually conveys the idea of ownership, and so many people have distorted views of this doctrine from Scripture because when they hear that word they think ownership, and they think demon possession means the demon or Satan owns the person. That is not the idea from the Greek at all. In the Greek there is no word for possession at all. That was just an English word that was used to try to convey the idea of demonic habitation within a body. So that is not a good choice of words. 

"… who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling." The word in this verse translated in some versions "possessed with a spirit of divination" is literally translated from the Greek "having," the Greek word echo which simply means to have something." So if you have a Bible, you have a Bible; if you have a car, you have this, you have that, it is something you have. So it is something she had. It is a very broad word, not very technical. "… having a puthonos spirit," the Greek word for python. A large python was also a symbol of this spirit, especially at the Oracle of Delphi, a priestess at the temple in southern Achaia, who had this python with her. In the legend the python was destroyed by the god Apollo. So this became a term in Greek for someone who was demon possessed, someone who was controlled internally by a demon.

In Delphi what would happen was that the priestess would take her seat over a hole in the ground, and smoke came up through this hole. When this happened this spirit would control her and she would utter these prophecies, and she would do it in some sort of ecstatic utterance. It wasn't a known language; nobody could understand her. Then it would be translated afterward. This is typical of the counterfeit of a gift that God gives later on, the gift of tongues. It was no wonder that the Corinthians, who were just across the Gulf of Corinth from Delphi, were confused about the gift of tongues because it was similar to what appeared to be going on with the Oracle of Delphi. This is the same language that was used to describe the activity of this python. This was a confusion throughout the Greek world because of their pagan religion.

Acts 16:17 NASB "Following after Paul and us …" First person plural. Luke is writing, so this indicates that Luke is with him and has been with him since Troas. This includes the party of Silas and Timothy as well. "… she kept crying out, saying, 'These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.'" This demon- possessed girl is making a true statement. But the apostle Paul doesn't want his message validated by a demon. He understands what is really going on. Even though what she is saying is true he doesn't need to have his message and his apostleship validated by this priestess of false religion. Eventually he becomes very irritated at this.

Acts 16:18 NASB "She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!' And it came out at that very moment." Notice in these contexts where a demon is cast out that Paul, and in the Gospels, Jesus, addresses the spirit. "Spirit" is the Greek word pneuma, the same word of the Holy Spirit, used for various attitudes, and so the word has a lot of different nuances.

We will find to day in what I call the doctrines of neo-spiritual warfare is these ideas that you don't really have a problem with lust for alcohol, a problem with the sin of drunkenness, the sin of anger, the sin of bitterness; you have a spirit of bitterness, a spirit of anger, a spirit of jealousy; that is not really your fault, it is a demon that is influencing you. So in a lot of the neo-spiritual warfare terminology it is basically the old Flip Wilson line: The devil made me do it! The solution is to case out the demon that is within me and then I won't have this sin problem anymore. What this reveals is a shallow view of sin and total depravity. And that comes out of the Arminian theology of Pentecostalism. It has always had a problem with that: It is never my fault, it is something else, because if I am redeemed I shouldn't do that. It is this false belief that Christians aren't going to be susceptible to certain kinds of sins. 

We see a similar problem at the other end of the spectrum with Lordship salvation. For them it is not that you lose your salvation but it is that you were never truly saved. Christians have always had this problem with Christians who commit horrible sins, or continue to sin after they are saved. And yet the Bible makes it clear that Christians continue to sin unless they are going to take in the Word of God and walk by the Holy Spirit. 

So Paul addresses the demon and says, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" So it is not Paul addressing the issue, he doesn't have an attitude that it is him. It is in the name of the Lord Jesus to come out of her. The language here to come out is the Greek word exerchomai—the verb erchomai, which means to come, and the preposition ex affixed as a prefix to the word, and it means to come out. That is very important because the technical language in demon possession is language of going in and coming out. "…And it came out at that very moment." Twice Luke uses that term exerchomai, emphasizing that what is going on here, having a puthonos spirit, is the same as having this spirit indwelling inside the person. Because what the demon has to do is come out of the person. 

Once this spirit evacuates her body then she doesn't have the power to tell the future anymore. She is left empty but freed spiritually. She is no longer under the dominion and control of this evil spirit. But this now affects her masters because they have no lost the golden goose and there is no more money going to come in. Acts 16:19 NASB "But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities."

Activities that are associated with demonism. Over the years we have all heard and read about certain kinds of activities that are sponsored by Satan. They are mentioned in the Scripture as different activities that are associated with demonism. However, in what I call pop-demonism it is often presented that if you get involved in these activities you can pick up a demon. If you go into a séance with someone who is bringing up the dead, that is demonic activity and you may walk out of there with a demon. If you get involved in reading horoscopes you may pick up a demon.

But demonic influence is everywhere. We are surrounded by demons and demonic influence all the time. There is demonic influence in the TV shows we watch, the news shows that we watch; it is everywhere. Demonic influence is the arrogant thinking of Satan, as well will see. It is not necessarily the kind of stuff that is portrayed in films like The Exorcist. Satan wants people to think that he is going to offer them happiness and joy and prosperity. All of this superstitious nonsense that is seen in films and in some Christian circles is just a diversion. We have to go back and understand that there are certain activities that are associated with demonism that may give opportunity for demons to express themselves in divination and other such things. But when we look at some of the examples in the Scripture of a child that is being controlled by a demon, being thrown in the fire, that child was probably not going to the fortune teller and having his fortune told. He wasn't involved with a Ouija board. He had been demon possessed from a very young age, since infancy.

The fallen world is under the control of Satan. What opens people to the demonic is carnality. We are born spiritually dead and are under the power and enslaved to our sin nature, and so any of us come under the influence of demonism from the moment that we are born. There are things that happen for unbelievers that may lead to certain kinds of demon control or deep demonic possession. I think it is very rare and not a major problem, because it is not even mentioned in any of the epistles in the New Testament. The Scripture is sufficient to teach us how to handle every problem. These church age epistles are written to teach Christians how to handle all the problems of life. If demon possession for Christians is the problem that many people today say it is, then why is the Bible so loudly silent? If it was a problem it would be mentioned at least once in the epistles, but it is not mentioned at all. If it is not mentioned at all what we can conclude is, it is not an issue. 

The only times we see these huge activities of demons are during the incarnation and during the end times in Daniel's seventieth week, the Tribulation. We don't see this happening very much other than a few times in Acts, and we see other kinds of supernatural things—miracles, intervention of God, intervention of the Holy Spirit—which happen with greater frequency at the beginning of the book, but if we track their mention as we go through Acts they become less and less and less until the last ten chapters or so where there is virtually no mention of these kinds of things. 

Idolatry, which is the worship of any god—self, material things, greed, various deities (including Allah and the god of Mormonism).

Thought: Allah is a cognate of the Hebrew word El, the plural of which is Elohim. What is the name of the god that the Mormon's worship? Elohim, which is just a generic word for God, like the English word G-o-d. Yahweh has a distortion, Jehovah—the Hebrew is four consonants (JHWH). If you take Hebrew from anybody who is Jewish, they pronounce the W as a V; they don't pronounce it as a W. In the Hebrew it is YHWH but it is usually transliterated as YHVH. That is where you get this Jehovah. In the Hebrew Bible there weren't any consonants. The Masoretes put the consonants from the Hebrew word Adonai under the consonants for Yahweh to remind the reader not to mention the name of God but to read instead Adonai. In contemporary Judaism it is more common to use Hashem than even Adonai. So Jehovah is a mix of the consonants of Yahweh and the vowels of Adonai.

It is interesting that the term Elohim is the foundation for both the god of Islam and the god of Mormonism. It is just another idolatrous system.

What does the Bible say about idolatry? Exodus 20:3-5 NASB "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me."

Romans 1:25 talks about the pagan masses of those who have rejected the invisible witness of God, His creation, and says, "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator …"  That is the basic definition of idolatry—worshipping something in creation, whether it is self, your ideas, something you made out of wood or metal or stone. You are worshipping something: nature, money, intellectual ideas; something like that. But the worship of idols is not neutral. It is not just a stone, a wood thing that has no significance. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:19 NASB "What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? [20] {No,} but {I say} that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons." There is something associated with those false gods: demons. If you are worshipping a false god you are buying into a demonic system of worship, and many of these false systems have their ideas and their powers coming ultimately from demons.

Demons are fallen angels. They were originally created holy and righteous with all of the angels. The highest of the angels, Lucifer, when he rebelled against God, influenced one third of the angels to follow him in his rebellion against God. So this rebellion, this antagonism to the authority of God, is at the core of demonism. It is the core of demonic thinking, the core of anything that is satanic. So the worship of any kind of false god is in rebellion against God, and therefore it is demonic and is associated with demons and demonism. Paul says, [21] "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." These are categorically opposed to one another.

Idolatry is prohibitive. Everybody has been involved in idolatry. Everybody has worshipped self, money, something in the creation at some point for some reason. The basic orientation of the sin nature is idolatry. We are all involved in some kind of demon influence. Any form of human thought system that is not related to the one true living God, any human thought system that isn't biblical, is in fact the worship of demons and is demon influence thought. Those are the only options, because what is at the root of the worship of God is humility toward God and anything else is idolatry. It is the thinking of Satan and is comparable to the rebellion of the demons.

We see this in 1 Samuel 15. The background is Saul's rebellion against God which has finally come to its climax in his life. Saul has been increasingly dominated by his sin nature for almost 20 years. He was never really focused in his relationship with God and he is in a battle where God directs him to destroy all of the Amalekites, a traditional enemy of Israel, including the animals. This was the last part of the biblical holy war that began with Joshua's destruction of the Canaanites at the beginning of Joshua. But what does Saul do? He kills most everybody but he keeps a few alive, including their king Agag, and some of their cattle. He couldn't figure out why he had to kill everyone.

Samuel is God's enforcer of the law. That was the role of the prophet. He kills Agag and then says to Saul: 1 Samuel 15:23 NASB "For rebellion is as the sin of divination [witchcraft], And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from {being} king." Why is rebellion like the sin of witchcraft?" It is because Satan's original sin was rebellion against the authority of God. That is what is at the root of everything. That is at the root of satanic thought. Satanic thought influenced Adam and Eve in the garden. Just think about it. What happens in the garden of Eden? Satan comes along and possesses or indwells this beautiful creature, comes up and talks to Eve and says, "Well, did God really says this?" This is satanic influence—demon influence in its initial form in the garden of Eden. The result of it is sin.

Whenever we are influenced to think like Satan thinks, in arrogance and antagonism towards God and rebellion, it is demonism, demon influence. Demonism is a broad term; it covers demonism as well as demon possession. At the low end of the spectrum it is a form of demon influence to act like Satan and think like Satan.

"And insubordination [stubbornness] is as iniquity and idolatry." Stubbornness is resisting the authority of God. Then the condemnation: "Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from {being} king." This is 1 Samuel 15. Saul doesn't die until the end of 1 Samuel when he commits suicide on Mount Gilboa. So this connects us to the principle: Any thought system that rejects the authority of God is demonic. It is the rejection of the one true, living God and therefore is the worship of demons (witchcraft: demon influence thought).

When God and His control of history is rejected (i.e. in the pagan, unbelieving world) and that vacuum is created where God isn't in control anymore, someone has to be found some way to control. Otherwise life is unbearably chaotic. And we feel there has to be some sort of control. As part of that idolatrous humans seek other avenues to try to regain control of their life. This may take a number of different forms (and does) but some forms are more overtly demonic than others. Among these are various forms of fortune telling. We want to know the future so that we can control what happens. If something bad is going to happen we want to try to control things so something good will happen instead. If God is not in control we have to be in control—just a bunch of control freaks. 

Divination is the attempt to foresee of foretell future events in order to control the circumstances of one's life. Forms of divination include astrology, dousing (using branches of a tree to foretell the future), tarot cards, reading horoscopes, necromancy, and other things.

One example of pagan divine guidance through demonism given in the Old Testament is when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, has just significantly defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish. The question for him was, should he give chase and pursue the defeated Egyptian Army, or should he besiege Jerusalem? So he called for his wise men to come and tell him about the future. Ezekiel 21:21 NASB "For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver." 

The prohibitions of Scripture reflect a reality. It is not just about the Mosaic Law, this reflects the universal principle embodied in the Mosaic Law because it relates to the overall universal problem that we face in this life: living in the devil's world as part of the angelic conflict.

Leviticus 19:26 NASB "You shall not eat {anything} with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying."

Deuteronomy 18:10 NASB "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, [11] or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead."

Leviticus 19:31 NASB "Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God."

Leviticus 20:27 NASB "Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them."

Divination was widely practiced in the ancient world. Today we have many of the same kinds of things going on. Many of them have been debunked. In America since the mid-nineteenth century there has been a huge rise in the popularity of spiritism.

Another form of divination exposed in the Bible was that of necromancy, which is consulting the dead through mediums and witches. Tow verses from the Old Testament prohibit this: Isaiah 8:19 NASB "When they say to you, 'Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,' should not a people consult their God? {Should they} {consult} the dead on behalf of the living?" In the Hebrew the word was ob (spirit), translated with the word engastromuthos in the Greek which had the idea of throwing the voice. Isaiah 29:4 NASB "Then you will be brought low; From the earth you will speak, And from the dust {where} you are prostrate Your words {will come.} Your voice will also be like that of a spirit from the ground, And your speech will whisper from the dust." Israel is condemned because of going to mediums and wizards trying to find help from somewhere other than the Bible.

This sets us up now for understanding one of the great episodes from the Old Testament, which is when Saul went to the witch at Endor to call up Samuel.