While walking through the marketplace, Paul and Silas encounter a girl possessed with the “spirit of Python.” The spirit was associated with Apollo, the god behind the oracle at Delphi, therefore those that told the future were said to be possessed of the spirit of the Python. Was this slave girl able to really predict the future? Possibly, but there are a number of charlatans in the ancient world who preyed on people using magic. It is possible she was accurate, but that does not really matter in this case since the source of the information is a demon.
Why does the demon force the girl to identify Paul and Silas in this way, and why does Paul cast out the demon if it is not actually telling a lie at the time? Perhaps the demon as a witness was not the type of testimony that Paul was after, but as to why the demon was identifying Paul is a bit tougher. Maybe it was an indication of power over Paul, “I know who you really are, etc.”
On the other hand, she describes Paul as a servant if the Most High God, a phrase which, in Philippi, might be taken as a reference to Zeus (Schnabel, Paul the Missionary, 94). When Christians hear the phrase they assume that the reference is to the God of the Bible. But the people of Philippi would not make this assumption. The demon is therefore very misleading since Paul does not serve the “most high god” from the Roman perspective, but the “most high God” from a Jewish perspective.
This pronouncement is not a single occurrence, but rather an ongoing problem for Paul. Luke uses the verb διαπονέομαι (diaponeomai), “to be deeply distressed” or “to be greatly annoyed.” This is the same verb used earlier in Acts 4:2 to describe the feeling of the Sanhedrin over the preaching of the apostles (ie., that Jesus was raised from the dead), and it is the word found in LXX Gen 6:6 for God’s grief over the sin of the world prior to the flood.
Without the demon the girl was useless as a fortune teller. As an oracle, the girl was apparently lucrative to her owners since she was owned by multiple owners. Paul is accused of throwing the city into an uproar and advocating foreign, Jewish practices that are unlawful for Romans to accept. At this point in history, Judaism was a “legal religion” which was permitted to worship in their own way without including the Roman gods in their sacrifices.
What is interesting is the accusation that Paul is advocating Jewish practice. From the Jewish perspective, Paul is not Jewish enough, from the Roman perspective he is just another Jew. Obviously it is difficult to tell the difference between Jews in the Synagogue and Paul’s communities at this point in the history. In this case, it is a disadvantage since Paul is arrested, but in Corinth the confusion will be an advantage since Gallio will dismiss charges against Paul since he cannot see any difference between Paul and the Jews.