Sin City LogoI visited Corinth in January, and the leader of the tour made a big deal out of Corinth’s reputation as a “sin city” in the first century. He repeated the usual evidence along with the evidence from 1 Corinthians. I tried to object this was a “classic Pastor’s preaching point,” but he totally disagreed with me and went back to his lurid description of first century Corinth. Sometimes Corinth is described as a “San Francisco of the ancient world.”  I think Chuck Swindoll said this, so many pastors in the 1980s picked it up and tried to illustrate how bad Paul’s church was by comparing it to Haight-Ashbury circa 1967 or Las Vegas (“what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth”?)

This is one of those points that gets picked up in popular commentaries and repeated with little additional research. This salacious description makes for good preaching, but it is not exactly accurate.

Usually the evidence for this sexual freedom is that the city was built around two ports and attracted sailors. In addition, there is usually some reference to the temple of Aphrodite with 2000 prostitutes.  While the reputation is deserved, it has little to do with the city that Paul visited – all of these sorts of things were true of Greek Corinth, almost 400 years prior to the time of Paul!  I cite Jerome Murphy-O’Connor:

Such success inevitably provoked the envy of those less fortunate in their location and less industrious in their habits, and so in the 5th–4th centuries b.c., Athenian writers made Corinth the symbol of commercialized love. Aristophanes coined the verb korinthiazesthai, “to fornicate” (Fr. 354).  Philetaerus and Poliochus wrote plays entitled Korinthiastes, “The Whoremonger” (Athenaeus 313c, 559a). Plato used korinthia kore, “a Corinthian girl,” to mean a prostitute (Rest. 404d). These neologisms, however, left no permanent mark on the language, because in reality Corinth was neither better nor worse than its contemporaries. (Murphy-O’Connor, ABD 1:1135).


In fact, the whole Roman empire at the time Paul visited the Corinth had sexual morals significantly different than those of the Jews and the early Christians. Corinth was no less moral that Ephesus or Thessalonica. This is not to say that the city of Corinth was virtuous, no one was singing “I Wish They Could All Be Corinthian Girls.” Perhaps it is better to think of the Greco-Roman world as having a radically different sexual ethic as Christianity.  The type of sexual morality Paul’s gospel demands simply cut across the grain of the culture of the Greco-Roman world, as it should in the modern world.

When we teach that the Corinthian believers struggled with a culture that was oppose to Christianity in this way, we someone imply that things were better in Ephesus or Rome.  That is absolutely not the case!  All Christians struggled to relate this new faith to the culture in which they live, in A.D. 55 Corinth or modern America.

In fact, I think the problem in Corinth was not that the city was ‘sinful,” but that the church had members who were wealthy and powerful.  The problems reflected in the letters to the Corinthians are not the result of living in a city full of sinners who tempting the pure-at-heart Christians. The real problem was Christians insisting on living as wealthy powerful members of the Greco-Roman world, not as humble servants of other believers in Christ.

If we are going to accurately preach Corinthians, we need to stop relating the city of Corinth to San Francisco or Las Vegas. Rather, we need to start comparing the church at Corinth to the (wealthy, politically powerful) American church.

Paul’s ministry in Corinth is his biggest success up to this point in Paul’s missionary career.  The Romans founded a colony on the site of ancient Corinth in 44 B.C.  The new city of Corinth was populated by freed slaves ( Strabo (8.136) cf., Appian (Hist 8.136)).  Socially this means that the new population has been given freedom, a fresh start, and the opportunity to advance far beyond what they might have hoped for as slaves.

Temple of Apollo at Corinth (January 2019)

The town was laid out in the Roman style, completely ignoring the layout of the old city, although the forum follows the outline of the old agora.  The cardo (main street)  cut through the old city.  All of the architecture and design reflected the Roman style, not Greek.  Even the Greek temples were “modernized” after the fashion of the Romans, including an imperial cult temple overlooking the forum.   The foundations of the temple were higher than the other temples, even that of Apollo.  Clearly the settlers were making it clear that Corinth was to be a Roman city, loyal to the Empire rather than the memory of the Greek city of Corinth.

The buildings for the Isthmia Games were done in a Roman style and Roman games were added to the Greek contests. The first Isthmian Games of New Corinth were held sometime between 7 B.C. and A.D. 3. in honor of L. Castricius Regulus, who had re-built the athletic facilities of Corinth.  Regulus offered a banquet to all the inhabitants of city to honor the games.  These games are important to an understanding of the problems of the Corinthian letters since the games were not simply athletic events.  They were dedicated to the gods, the chief of which was the Roman Emperor Nero himself. It was in the A.D. 50’s that the city of Corinth was honored with an Imperial Cult center.  This is a major factor in Paul’s arrest and hearing before Gallio.

It is the combination of the games and imperial cult that put enormous pressure on the Corinthian church.  The whole city would have participated in the banquets honoring the Roman Emperor, the elite of the city would be invited to the most important banquet honoring the Emperor as a god.  There are both political and spiritual aspects to consider in refusing to attend this meal or social events like it.

The city of Corinth was an important cosmopolitan city in the middle part of the first century.  It was economically stable, attracting a wide range of businesses from all over the Empire. Paul established the church in this city for this very reason.  Once Christianity takes hold in Corinth, the local churches themselves can continue the mission of spreading the gospel throughout the region.  Yet of all of Paul’s churches, this one seems to have had the most difficulties assimilating Christianity and their culture.  For this reason Corinth is probably the church of the New Testament that is most like the modern church.

In choosing as one of his main missionary centers a city in which only the tough were reputed to survive, Paul demonstrated a confidence oddly at variance with his protestations of weakness. Corinth, however, offered advantages that outweighed its dangers. In addition to excellent communications, the extraordinary number of visitors (Dio Chrysostom, Or. 37.8; Aelius Aristides, Or. 46.24) created the possibility of converts who would carry the gospel back to their homelands. In contrast to the closed complacency of Athens, Corinth was open and questioning, eager for new ideas but neither docile nor passive, as Paul’s relationship with the Christian community there amply documents (Murphy-O’Connor, ABD 1:1138)

What are the potential implications for modern mission strategy?  Paul targeted one of the most modern of the urban centers in the world at the time.  Should this speak to where we plant churches?  How we plant churches?

I have an extra copy of James L. Papandrea, A Week in the Life of Rome (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019). This is the latest addition to IVP Academic’s “A Week in the Life of” series, which now includes Ben Witherington’s A Week in the Life of Corinth (2012) and Gary M. Burge, A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion (2015). John Byron, A Week in the Life of a Slave is coming in July 2019.

Since the “week in the life of” series are novels by biblical scholars, about half the book is academic side-notes explaining the background details of the story. I have read all three of the currently available volumes and find them to be entertaining and easy reading. These are not academic books, but they do present the history and archaeology of the Roman world for a popular audience. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago, concluding “this book offers an entertaining insight into the relationship of Christianity and Rome in the mid-first century. Papandrea draws out the agonizing decisions a person living in the Roman world would have to make in order to be a Christian in an entirely pagan world. The book will be an easy introduction for readers interested in the background of the Roman world and early Christianity.”

To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on March 26, 2019 (one week from now). Good Luck!

Paul quotes two Greek sources here as support for his point that the creator God does not need temples or service from humans.  The first allusion is to Epimenides the Cretan, a poet also cited in Titus 1:12.  The original poem no longer exists, but it appears in a number of other ancient writers. The second citation is from Aratus, a Cilcian poet (Phaenomena 5).  The original line, “in him we move and live and have our being,” was pantheistic, but Paul spins this line into a statement about God as the source of our life.

We might ask how Paul came to know these lines of poetry.  There are not many modern readers who can quote freely from current poets or philosophers.  One possibility is that he had some secular education which could be applied to the preaching of the gospel. We might imagine Paul thinking through his task of being a light to the Gentiles and researching possible points of contact in order to preach to pagan audiences.  This is in fact a typical way of doing apologetics today.  Christians will study philosophy for the purpose of interacting with the philosophical world in their own terms.  While I do not think this is a bad idea at all, that may not be Paul’s point in using these sources.
On the other hand, these may very well have been well known bits of proverbial wisdom that were more or less “common knowledge.”  If so, then the allusion to Greek poets is more like the preacher who uses a common phrase in order to make his point.  Or better, Paul is quoting lyrics of popular songs to make his point.  I occasionally use a line from a popular movie or song in order to make a point (although with my taste in music, it usually does not work very well.)  This comes down to knowing your audience.  I have found that I can get a lot further with college age group with a Simpsons reference, while the same line is lost on an older adult group.  Perhaps that is what Paul is doing here in Acts 17 – he is riffing on the culture.

(Let me comment here that most of the books which try to use movies to teach the gospel with a popular movie are lame and probably only read by Christians who like the movie in the first place.  I cannot imagine that a pagan picks up “Finding Jesus with Frodo” and gets saved as a result.)

In both of the allusions Paul simply intends to show that his thinking is not all that far from authorities which the audience would have understood and appreciated.  To cite the Hebrew Bible would have been fruitless since the audience did not know it, nor where they well disposed to hearing from Jewish texts! Paul does not think that Jewish or Christian theology can be added to Stoicism in order to put one right with God – there must be a conversion to an entirely new worldview.

Does this mean that Acts 17 is permission to quote The Simpsons and Bob Dylan in sermons and Bible studies? Perhaps, but we need to couple cultural reference with a serious point from the text of the Bible.  It is one thing to mimic culture to attract attention to you point, but it is a fairly worthless strategy is if there is no point behind the reference. I think that you can (and should) illustrate serious theological points via cultural artifacts (like poets, books, movies, etc.)  If the point is obscured by the fact that you rolled a Family Guy clip in church, then you have missed Paul’s point.

The Athens of the first century was a shadow of its glorious past. The golden age of Athens was some 500 years before Paul visited the city, but it was nevertheless an impressive city. The emperors Augustus and Claudius both made generous donations to maintain public buildings and even Herod the Great donated statues to the city. Jews lived in Athens as early as the fourth century B.C. 2 Maccabees 6:1-2 refers to an Athenian senator sent by Antiochus IV Epiphanes to Jerusalem to persuade the Jews to give up on their traditions (Schnabel, 2:1174).

EpicurusDespite the reputation of the city, there is a certain amount of prejudice in Luke’s description of Athens. “All they do is sit around and talk philosophy all day!” (Acts 17:21). Even though this might have been respectable to some, Luke’s description of the philosophical activity seems negative.

As for Paul, he is distressed by the idolatry of the city. Luke uses a phrase here which means something like “shaken in his spirit,” but can also mean “provoked to wrath”(παροξύνω, BDAG).  In the LXX, both Hos 8:5 and Zech 10:3 use the word for God’s anger over the idolatry of his people (cf. PsSol 4:21). As a Jew, Paul was not just annoyed by the idolatry he saw, but increasingly angry! Yet Paul follows his usual ministry pattern, reasoning with people in the synagogue and in the marketplace.  The synagogue and marketplace were the two places he thought he would meet groups interested in his gospel.

In the marketplace, Paul encounters a group of philosophers who recognize Paul as presenting a new teaching. Luke specifically mentions Stoics and Epicureans, two popular philosophical traditions. Although the Stoics were a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium (335-263 B.C.), they continued to have an influence on Roman society in the middle of the first century. Seneca represents the Later Stoa, or Roman Stoicism. Seneca (A.D. 1-65) was born into an equestrian family and was the tutor of Nero until he was forced to commit suicide for allegedly plotting against the emperor. Because Seneca talks about God in very warm and personal terms some early Christian writers “adopted” Seneca (Tertullian referred to him as “always our Seneca” and at least one apocryphal tale was written concerning letters exchanged between Paul and Seneca.

The Epicureans take their name from their founder, Epicurus (341-270 B.C.).  He argued “good” was pleasure and the avoidance of pain, so a person ought to live their life in such a way as to seek the “good” – pleasure.  His statement “It is not possible to live happily without living prudently, honorably, and justly” is remarkably close to the Judeo-Christian ethic, similar to Micah 6:8 in fact.

Epicureans and Stoics were the chief rivals for the hearts of intellectual people in the Hellenistic age. Both emphasized a high level of moral values and both looked to the philosophical way of life the only way to be truly happy and content.  And both have some affinity with early Christianity, but is it clear from Paul’s speech that Christianity is a rival to these two great philosophies? In what ways does Paul’s sermon create connections to Greek philosophy yet remain clearly distinct from them? In other words, how does Paul function in the “marketplace of ideas” the Greco-Roman world?



Bibliography: Charles, J Daryl. “Engaging The (Neo) Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter With Athenian Culture As A Model For Cultural Apologetics (Acts 17:16-34).” Trinity Journal 16 (1995): 47-62.

Luke’s description of Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill is well known from the many modern ministries which have taken their name from this chapter.  The intention is quite good, since Paul on Mars Hill attempts to meet the culture the Greek world where it is, granting a few of their premises and arguing on their own ground that there is a God who created all humans and that God is about to judge sin left unpunished before this time.

The fact that Paul cites Greek poets is often used as an foundation for doing ministry that uses our culture as a starting point.  This is an excellent method and does in fact work well, but it there are some dangers from taking only one element of the sermon in Acts 17 as a “mission statement.”  Culture is only one side of the equation, Paul is clearly teaching biblical theology on Mars Hill!

While it is true that Paul could stand in the Aeropagus and discuss Stoic and Epicurean philosophy, and even cite Greek poets, he cannot be confused with a Greek philosopher.  His point is the story of the Bible, told without direct reference to the Bible since the audience simply does not know the scriptures.  He is not saying that a Greek can add Jesus on to their Stoic beliefs and they can be right with God; he is not saying that an Epicurean is “almost saved” and just needs a little bit of Jesus to get them into the Body of Christ.  As Witherington observes, Paul is using somewhat familiar idea in order to pass judgment on the idolatry of the Athenians – he is not meeting polytheism halfway! (Witherington, Acts, 518)

Let me illustrate this with one key element of the speech.  Paul says that God has determined where men should live over the whole earth (Acts 17:27).  This is a phrase which would resonate with Stoics, but it is entirely possibly Paul is alluding to Deut 32:8.  He is using the idea of a single God who has created all people and determines the times and seasons for them to argue for a single God.

This seems to run counter to Romans 1 (all men suppress the truth of God), but the syntax used by Luke at this point indicates the unlikeliness of the possibility of men seeking God.  Luke uses an aorist optative of ψηλαφάω, “to grope for” and an optative of εὑρίσκω, to find.  An optative expresses wish or hope:  “would that men would grope around in the darkness for God and find him!”  It is a hope, but of all the ways this idea could be expressed, this is the least likely possibility.

Ironically, the name Mars Hill is commonly associated with a seeker-sensitive congregation, but Paul says here that the seekers are in such total darkness that there is very little possibility they will find what they are looking for, they are incapable of finding God in the darkness.  If we are going to persist in using Mars Hill as a model for ministry, we need to realize that the task of the church is to take a light into the dark world and help those lost in the dark to find the truth. The church cannot “meet them half way,” we need to go all the way to where the darkness is and shine the light.

In Acts 17, Luke contrasts the response of some Jews in Thessalonica with those in Berea. In fact, all three episodes in Acts 17 show that the gospel was presented in a rational and reasonable fashion. Some accept that rational message (Berea), others act in a disorderly fashion to oppose Paul’s message (Thessalonica). While some in Athens scoff at Paul’s message, there is some respect given to him by those who hear his message on Mars Hill.

Paul engages in rhetoric in the synagogue at Thessalonica and Berea, and in a public philosophical discussion in Athens. Luke describes him as persuading people with positive arguments for the truth of the gospel and the evidence of scripture and reason. This was an important theme for Luke if he was addressing a Roman who is likely from the upper-levels of society. Christianity is not at all like a mystery cult which hides the “real doctrine” from outsiders. Nor is Paul like a sophist orator, a teacher who convinces a crowd on the basis of his personal charisma. Christianity is a “reasonable faith” which can be accepted by intelligent and rational people when presented with a clear argument.

BibleSearchLogo2Paul success angered the Jews, who arranged for a mob to start a riot in the city, placing the blame on Paul and Silas (v. 5-9). The Jews of the synagogue were jealous. Once again, this is the verb “to be zealous” and can have a connotation of strong or even violent response to a false teaching (Phineas, Elijah, Judas Maccabees, etc).

They form a mob made up of “bad characters from the marketplace,” probably day-laborers who were at the time unemployed. Luke very carefully describes this group as a disorderly mob, irrational and violent. This is in contrast to how Christianity entered the city (rationally, in the synagogue, and accepted by prominent people), and in contrast to the people of Berea in the next paragraph. This mob rushes Jason’s house in order to arrest Paul and Silas, but settle for Jason instead. It is possible that Jason was a leader in the church and therefore was arrested as a representative of the Christians.

Paul presents similar arguments in Berea, but with different results. Just as in Thessalonica, Paul visits the synagogue and reasons with the Jews and God- Fearing Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ. But in Berea, Paul’s message was received with goodwill. The difference is that this congregation “searches the scripture” to confirm Paul’s message.

Luke describes the Berean Jews as “more noble,” a phrase which might be glossed as “more open-minded” (BDAG). The word εὐγενής is used by Josephus (Antiq. 12.5, 255) for those “better men” who rejected Antiochus and the Hellenists. Luke is therefore described the reception of Paul’s message as attracting intellectually competent and well born individuals. Those who accept Paul’s message are described as men and women of “high standing,” (εὐσχήμων).

Luke’s point in all this is to show that the message Paul proclaims is attractive to the intellectuals of the day. Those who are thoughtful and noble in their thinking will see the light of Paul’s gospel, those who reject it are troublemakers and make false accusations about Paul, stirring up strife and discord.

I think that there is ample opportunity to apply this text to the present day church, which unfortunately stirs up quite a bit of strife and discord and fails to present the claims of Christianity in a rational, reasonable light.  Paul laid his gospel out in a compelling and culturally relevant way and found success.  The acerbic noise coming from some quarters of the Church (on a variety of issues) is not at all presenting a “reasonable faith” to a world which needs the Gospel.

After Paul spends some time in Thessalonica, including three Sabbaths teaching in the local synagogue, The Jews stir up trouble, form a mob and rush to Jason’s house in order to bring Paul and Silas before the city officials. When the do not find Paul and Silas they drag Jason before the officials and make their accusations against Paul, pointing out that “Jason welcomed them.” Jason posted bond and was released (Acts 17:5-8).

Jason suddenly appears in the story in Acts 17 as Paul’s host in Thessalonica. Jason is a common Greek name and it is possible some Jews used it as a rough equivalent to Joshua. One of the rival high priests prior to the Maccabean Revolt was named Jason. This is usually explained as an example of Hellenization, rather than using the Hebrew name Joshua, he uses a Greek equivalent, Jason. It is impossible to know if the Jason in Acts 17 is Greek or Jewish simply from his name.

Since he hosts Paul, Silas, and Timothy in his home, commentaries often assume he was prosperous. But this may not be the case. In Acts 18:3 Paul stayed and worked with Aquila and Priscilla. As tent-makers they may have rented a workshop and lived in rooms attached to the workshop. Jason’s situation may have been better in Thessalonica; if he was a craftsmen with several storerooms he could have hosted several people in his home. For an illustration of the range of homes for early Christians, see Peter Oakes, Reading Romans in Pompeii (Fortress 2009).

On the other hand, Jason was able to post bond not only for himself but also for Paul and Silas (17:9). In the oft-quoted opinion of A. N. SherwinWhite, “What is happening to Jason is clear enough: he is giving security for the good behaviour of his guests, and hence hastens to dispatch Paul and Silas out of the way to Beroea, where the jurisdiction of the magistrates of Thessalonica was not valid” (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford, 1963], 63). Although we have no clue how much was required, that he could make any sort of payment is an indication he had some wealth.

I would also suggest Luke hay be drawing a parallel between Lydia in Philippi and Jason in Thessalonica. Both respond to the Gospel and host Paul’s ministry team in their homes. Luke often uses pairs of similar stories, one featuring a female and the other featuring a male. For example, in Acts 9:32-43 Peter heals Aeneas and raises Tabitha from the dead. Perhaps Luke gives us two examples of relatively wealthy patrons who host Paul in their homes and continue to host the church after Paul leaves the city.

Is Jason the same person Paul mentions in Romans 16:21? He refers to a Jason along with Sopater “my kinsmen.” The noun συγγενής can refer to a relative, but this can be as broad as saying “fellow Jew” (Keener, 3:2550). It is likely Romans was written from Corinth during the three months Paul stayed in Corinth in Acts 20:2-3. In 20:4 Luke indicates Paul was accompanied by Sopater of Berea and Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica. Although this is possible, but since Luke is ready to identify a relative of Paul in Acts 23:16, it is more likely this Jason is not a relative of Paul. He is likely a Jew or God-fearing Gentle who heard Paul’s preaching in the synagogue and was among those who joined Paul and Silas (17:4).

That Paul and Silas are forced out of Thessalonica leaving Jason with a financial burden is an issue which likely haunted Paul. One of the main themes of 1 Thessalonians dealing with the charge Paul was a huckster who came to Thessalonica for personal gain and left Jason in financial and legal danger.

After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities (Acts 17:1-9). The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  Given the recent history of Thessalonica, these are dangerous charges indeed.

Augustus-Caesar-StatueFirst, Paul and his companions are troublemakers. This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers. In fact, this phrase (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες οὗτοι) literally means the ones who are turning the world upside down.” C Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on Acts 17, to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 21:38). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”

Second, they subvert the decrees of Caesar. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.” Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped. But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult.  If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty.  It is possible then that Gentile God-fearers still participated in some form of official cult, despite worshiping in the synagogue.

Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In 1 Thess 4 and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (1 Thess 2:19, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).

Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth of pax Romana. In 1 Thess 5:3, Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.

All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

DelphicWhile walking through the marketplace, Paul and Silas encounter a girl possessed with the “spirit of Python” (πνεῦμα πύθωνα). The Python was the serpent or dragon that guarded the Delphic oracle at Mt. Parnassus. Apollo was also the god most associated with prophecy in the Greek world, but particularly the priestesses who were associated with the Delphic Oracle.  Keener points out most Greek readers of this story would find the story perplexing since a spirit like this giving clearly identifying Paul in this way would be viewed more or less positively (3:2429). A Greek might think this particular oracle was a positive witness.

If this is the case, why does Paul cast out the demon if it is not actually telling a lie at the time? Or, why does the demon force the girl to identify Paul and Silas in this way? Perhaps Paul was not interested in having the spirit of Python as a witness. The true witness in Acts is the Holy Spirit. The demon may have identified Paul in this way in order to show its power over Paul, in the sense of “I know who you really are, etc.” In Luke 8:28 a demon identifies Jesus as the Most High God. In both cases the demon is attempting to express power over a potential exorcist.

CoinOn the other hand, Paul as a “servant of the Most High God” may have been understood in Philippi as a reference to Zeus (Schnabel, Paul the Missionary, 94).  When Jews or 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.

The slave girl’s pronouncement is not a single occurrence, but rather an ongoing problem for Paul. It is as if this slave girl is following him around all day! 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. Paul is not merely annoyed, he is deeply distraught at the situation and casts out the demon without any ritual at all.

What is the point of this story? Keener suggests this story contributes to Luke’s overall theme that “nothing can hinder the Gospel” (3:2420). This includes a very powerful demonic spirit, the “most high god” and even the local political leaders in Philippi. Perhaps Luke includes the story to draw a literary parallel to Luke 8:26-33 where another demon identifies someone as the Most High God.

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