While 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, particularly the priestesses who were associated with the Delphic Oracle. Keener points out that 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.
On 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.