Lecture 16: Acts Chapters 15 and 16
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There's a debate whether the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is the same time as Galatians chapter 1 or Galatians chapter 2. God uses real, fallible people. Barnabas' strength and Paul's strength came into conflict because Paul wanted to not take Mark and Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance. They split, with Barnabas travelling with Mark and Paul travelling with Silas and Timothy. The Lord leads Paul in a dream to go to Macedonia. In Philippi and they encounter a slave girl who had a spirit of divination.
Lecture 16: Acts Chapters 15-16
1. Chapter 15 – Continued
There is a debate as to whether this happened at the same time as Galatians 2; some people think that it is the same and Galatians 1. Different views include: Galatians 2:1-10 is not Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas took the collection from Antioch to Jerusalem in Act 11:30-12:25, but William Ramsey states along with many other evangelical scholars that it is the same as Act 15. While, others say that Galatians 2:1-10 are two different sources looking at it differently, some say that they don’t care about Acts at all and so Galatians 2 doesn’t have anything to do with any of them. Some say it is Acts 15 with added elements. Paul would not have admitted the famine visit in Galatians. There wasn’t any reason to mention it in Galatians; they may have even been in hiding at that time if it is chronologically the same as Acts. And if it was delivered to the elders, there was no reason to mention it. Well, why not mention the decree if the decree had already happened by the time Galatians was written. Regardless of when you date Galatians, it isn’t mentioned in 1 Corinthians and Romans which would surely come after the decree by the council. Also, Acts specifies the range of the decree which was Syria and Cilicia. It really didn’t go as far as Galatia where it hadn’t been an issue yet. The further you go from Jerusalem, the most the appeal of the 1st principle rather than the appeal of centralized authority. Some say that there are too many discrepancies to not identify this with the famine visit of Acts 15. Actually, I think that you would have more discrepancies if you identify it with the famine visit. The comments about the famine visit in Acts are so brief that you can only make comparisons from silence. There is nothing in common with the famine visit and Galatians 2 except that both Barnabas and Paul are present which is also true in Acts 15. In addition, why would they say in Galatians 2 to remember the poor during the famine visit when that is exactly what they were doing?
Another reasonable argument, in Galatians 2:2 they have identified that with the prophecy in Acts 11:28-30. But if you look in the context of Galatians, the phrasing of the revelation is revealing. In Galatians 1:12-16, it refers to Paul’s own encounter with Christ, and so when he is speaking of going up because of a revelation in Galatians 2:2, he is probably speaking of the Gospel that was revealed to him which he is defending in Galatians 2:1-10. Another argument for Galatians 2 in identifying it with the famine visit; it allows for an earlier date for Galatians. It sounds more like it is from the period in Paul’s life of Romans although somewhat earlier, not the same period as 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. So if you are trying to do it based on date, it might actually be easier to argue the other way. In Acts 15, the conflict had just reached Antioch in Syria. It hadn’t yet reached Galatia as the decree was only addressed to Syria and Cilicia and not to Galatia. A sixth argument says that perhaps Acts 15 which talks about circumcision revisits an earlier subject that was raised during a famine visit. In logic, you have something called Ockham’s razor supposing that there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. The more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely the explanation is. So, the simplest solution is that Galatians 2 and Acts 15 which address the same topic are the same visit rather than saying perhaps this topic was broached during the famine visit.
Some arguments beside those that I gave against the famine visit, you hear some arguments on why it represents Acts 15. The Jerusalem council in Acts 15 is the same as in Galatians 2:1-10. First, Titus is mentioned in Galatians 2:1-3 and Titus is probably known to the Galatians, if not, he was probably with Paul on his visit there. Titus may have been a Galatian. Acts 11 & 12 took place before Paul’s missionary journeys; so the famine would have been before Titus’ conversion if he was a Galatian. Acts 13 and 14 was the first missionary journey. Titus was probably not yet converted when the famine visit took place, but he was surely converted by Acts 15. Also, there are a number of commonalities between Acts 15 and Galatians 2; both councils have the same basic object and both have the same basic outcome. Paul’s mission is recognized in both and the leaders agree in both that the gentiles don’t need to be circumcised. Peter was involved and James was involved as well, of course, Paul and Barnabas were. Granted, there are some omissions, but you can’t argue from silence. Luke is not bound to mention everything that Paul mentions or vice-versa. Luke knows of Paul’s collection; he mentions it in 24:17 but almost completely omits it as not relevant to his account. It isn’t his point and not what he going to be stressing. Personally I think that it didn’t achieve all that Paul was hoping to achieve, namely the reconciliation of Jewish and gentile churches. Perhaps it was simply a non-issue by the time Luke was writing his two books; so there were many other things that happened that were more significant. Perhaps the Jerusalem church itself was not so much of an issue at that point. Luke knows of Paul’s collection but it almost completely omits it as not being relevant to the story. Joseph Fitz Myer, a leading commentator on Acts, points out that none of the differences is significant enough to undermine the substantial agreement of the two reports. So this gives us multiple attestations to the Jerusalem council. This answers those who think that Acts 15 is Luke’s fiction to make it look like the church could get along. Actually, they did come to a consensus in Galatians 2, even though it had to be revisited in unfortunate circumstances when Peter visited in Antioch in 2:11-14 of Galatians.
f. Paul and Barnabas Disagree
Paul and Barnabas return to the mission field separately. This section 15:36-41 reminds us that God uses real and thus fallible people to do his work. In this case, it was the strength of Barnabas and Paul that came into conflict with each other. Their gifts came into conflict with each other and sometimes our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. Israelite literature recorded the failure of heroes. It was during the epic period in the Book of Judges being full of that. By now it was also standard for Greco-Roman biographers to admit hero’s weaknesses. Greek epics had been doing this for a long time. Achilles and Agamemnon had this conflict, so it wasn’t something that they tried to hide. Yet, we see God’s blessing. On the new Paul and Silas team that go out; probably on the Barnabas and Mark team as well as they went on to Cyprus to revisit the places where they had connections. Paul had a vision to reach new areas; he didn’t want to take someone who wasn’t totally committed and he didn’t trust Mark. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance; Mark had matured as we normally do. They split and the language that is used here in Greek; it showed that it was rather a severe split, but it doesn’t mean that they became perpetual enemies. Paul’s letter later cites Barnabas as someone who worked with him. Paul wasn’t hostile to him. But they couldn’t work together at this point in their lives. Yet, God used this and blessed these two ministry teams of Paul and Silas. It was also providential because probably unlike Barnabas who doesn’t have a Roman name, Silas was apparently also a Roman citizen which was going to help in Philippi. But none of this means that the split between Paul and Barnabas which even though wasn’t planned was good because you can contrast it with the proceeding context. Look at how God brought about consensus in the council and we see that they split right after the council.
2. Chapter 16
a. Paul, Timothy and Silas
In chapter 16, we are going to find out that Paul wants a younger person to work with. Not Mark but he is going to get Timothy instead who is from the region previously evangelized. He goes north probably to Cilicia although Luke doesn’t say that much. Perhaps things hadn’t gone as well in Cilicia. So, he goes north; apparently, the season is well enough that he can cross the Tarsus Mountains through the Cilician Gates. He goes back to the region previously evangelized with Barnabas. Paul is now in the lead himself; he doesn’t have Barnabas with him. He hasn’t had to do this by himself before. So he starts by going back, confirming the churches that are already there. In Lystra, apparently, he finds Timothy who has been a believer since Paul was there before. He was raised with the knowledge of the Torah and in Judaism by his mother, but his father, a gentile, would not allow him to be circumcised as it was considered brutal and uncivilized by Greeks and Romans standards. Judeans believed normally that outside marriage with gentiles invited God’s wrap. Some of the diaspora Jews were less strict, especially in a place like Lystra or Derbe where there weren’t very many Jews.
So in chapter 16:3 we see that Timothy would be viewed as a gentile because he wasn’t circumcised. According to later Talmudic law if the mother is Jewish, the children would count as Jewish but that probably wasn’t in effect yet at this point and plus, he hadn’t been circumcised. Interestingly gentiles would have viewed him too Jewish to be a gentile. So, for the sake of mission, Paul had him circumcised. It was important for the sake of status both from the viewpoint of Roman law and Jewish Law. Keep in mind, Paul would not let Titus be circumcised. The difference, one was for the sake of defending the Gospel of showing that the gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised. The other was for the sake of mission, for the sake of contextualization. We need to make a distinction between what we do for mission and a requirement for salvation. You can’t add requirements for salvation, other than being in Christ. We can’t add requirements to being part of God’s covenant people. Paul would remind us of that and James would have agreed. But for the sake of mission, there are sacrifices we must be willing to make. The mission team is now augmented with Silas and Timothy. They go into a new region and Paul isn’t hearing positive guidance from the Holy Spirit on exactly what they are supposed to do. Sometimes, life is like this; we don’t know exactly what we are supposed to do but we trust that God will let us know. Now the area they had spent most of their time was in the southern part of Galatia which was the most populated. North Galatia doesn’t appear in Acts and we have no evidence that it appears in Galatians either. Some scholars say that Paul ministered in North Galatia but it was simply left out of Acts; however, there is no evidence of this and there was no reason to go to North Galatia as it had a lower population; it was less advanced in terms of Roman colonies and neither did it have a very high Jewish population compared to the south Galatia.
b. Phrygians verses Ethnic Galatians
Paul was speaking of ethnic Galatians which were of the north, while Phrygians were of the south. However, he usually uses titles of provinces; so when Paul says, ‘you Galatians’, he is talking about the province of Galatia which did include much of Phrygian where he ministered in the Book of Acts. Those who are experts on the interior of Anatolia, not just William Ramsey, but there is also Steven Mitchel, a leading Anatolian archeologist today. There is Barbara Levitt, the leading Anatolian archeologist of the previous generation. So these people agree that Paul went to South Galatia, not North Galatia. Paul was still in South Galati, in Phrygian Galatia. Verses 6 and 7 we see that he gets negative guidance. He is forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go in certain directions; he is forbidden to go to Asia. This is the Roman province of Asia which was west of Galatia, in western Asia Minor. Sometimes, God’s no is sometimes a temporary no as we see later on there a huge revival there. Paul wasn’t ready for that yet. According to verse 7, the next place he goes is Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia in the north. He travels through Mysia, but you need to realize that some of the labels are listed differently by different people. He proceeded northwest to Troas which is in Northwest Mysia. Troas was an important Roman colony during this period. Its full name was Alexandria Troas and consisted of approximately a hundred thousand people. This was considered large for that time period. The name does appear in Paul’s letters and it was situated near old Troy. If you are familiar with Homer’s Iliad and Greek literature in general’ Homer’s Iliad was kind of regarded as the Greek Canon. This speaks of the Trojan War (which is considered more legend than fact) that took place around 1196 BC. From a Greek and Roman perspective, the Trojan War was a European invasion of Asia. The way we talk about continents today is a kind of a Eurocentric invention. The Greeks defined everything to their east as Asia with themselves and the west was Europe. To the South of the Mediterranean Sea was Africa. Of course, they didn’t know about the continents of America that were named after Amerigo Vespucci a long time after that.
The boundary between the Greek world and what became the Persian world was between Greece and what is now called Turkey. The place where they usually invaded along with Alexander the Great who saw himself as the new Achilles; tried to do something similar as the Trojan War, saw themselves as Europe invading Asia. It was Greece invading Asia.
So Paul comes to Troas and God is going to do something that leaders in the Mediterranean world may have viewed as the opposite. After Alexander, Greek culture was influenced by Asian culture and that in turn was influenced by Greece. Despite the cultural overlap, Greeks and Romans were still using these geographic dividers. Launching out from Troas into Macedonia, we have an Asian faith spreading into Europe but as opposed to being a militant conquest, this is bringing the good news of peace. So the influence is positively going the other way, not from conquerors but the Good News of Salvation. Judaism and Christianity were seen as Asian faiths. The Holy Spirit had been forbidding them but finally in Troas, Paul had a dream. He and the others gathered together and concluded that they were to go into Macedonia. Paul sees a man telling them to come over to Macedonia. How did he know that this was a man of Macedonia? There could be various reasons, clothing, etc. but the man simply said to him to come over to Macedonia to help us. Guidance is important and this is what this dream was. They had to have something to hold on to. They sail for Philippi where they get beaten as well as in Thessalonica also. They get chased out of Berea; they basically get run out of Macedonia. So it is good that you have some guidance going into places of difficulty. So they sail from Troas taking only two days because of favorable winds. They pass the island of Samothrace which is about half way to Philippi. There is a huge mountain there which enabled a person to identify Samothrace from a distance. They may have anchored there overnight. But they probably didn’t do much there as their goal was to get to Macedonia. We read this in chapter 16:11-20. We read about the initial response in Philippi in verses 11-15. They come to Neapolis, one of the two best ports in South Macedonia. The other was Thessalonica in chapter 17:1.
Neapolis was the port town that directly served Philippi. Except in the winter, sea travel was quicker and less expensive. Philippi was about ten miles northwest of Neapolis along the Eastern end of the Egnatian Way. The western end was the Asiatic port of Dyrrhachium from which one could sail on to Italy. Philippi had been a proud Roman colony since 42 BC. They emphasized using Latin with Latin inscriptions with a devotion to the goddess Diana. Traditionally, Macedonians identified more with the Greeks and Diana would have been called Artemis instead. But in Philippi it was Diana. If you were a citizen of Philippi, as not all residents were, you were an honorary citizen of Rome, even if you had never lived in Rome. That is part of what it meant to be a Roman colony. That is why when Paul writes to the Philippians (Philippians 3:20) he can speak of our citizenship being in heaven. The Philippians certainly understood what it meant to be a citizen of a place where they had never lived. Philippi was more agricultural rather than a commercial center. This was unlike many of the urban areas Paul had visited. Now, Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia, but Luke calls Philippi the first citizen of the province. Sometimes People used the first to mean the top one, but usually in ancient literature this means that it was the chief city. So, it was a major city of the province; one of the most imminent alongside Thessalonica. Paul and Silas are looking for connections as there was no synagogue there. They thought if there was anyone practicing Judaism, they would be near water as they would need to practice their washing of hands, etc. for their prayer time. So they go looking for a place of prayer. This could have meant a synagogue but Luke would have said a synagogue if he had meant that. What they do find are some women. Normally you need at least ten Jewish men to make up a synagogue. Excavations show this to be true in regards to synagogues and their locations.
If you didn’t have enough people to have a synagogue, you could at least have a prayer meeting. According to verse 13, they go to the river looking for Jewish people. The nearest actual river was Angitis, a tributary of the Strymonas river. It was about two km from Philippi, more than a Sabbath day’s journey. The women there were probably not too concerned about Pharisaic tradition and Paul was more concerned about teaching people. So, they go there and find somebody. It was outside the city gates, most likely the colonial archway of Philippi near the Roman road that ran from the Italian side of Northern Greece through Macedonia from which you could catch a ship to Troas; that ran through Philippi. In chapter 16:14, they find these women there. Women tended to be more open to non-local faiths because they had less status to lose. Conservative Romans often complained about this; that women were pursuing Eastern Religions of which Judaism was included along with the Christian movement. Josephus says that far more women than men followed Judaism. This applied to full converts as circumcision could be a painful experience as an adult. So, it isn’t surprising that the people they find are women. Women had often been restricted in Greek culture, not so much in Macedonia. But the one sphere where the public gave women any responsibility was in religion and so women were heavily involved especially in the Dianic cult. Macedonian women historically had been freer than Greek women. So, Paul is teaching women and focusing on those women. Some Judeans would consider that suspicious. In fact, if you had enemies and had women as your supporters as Jesus did back in Luke 8:1-3, conservative Judeans were down on that and anyone who didn’t like you would look down on that. They would use that as a cause of complaint. But in any case, Paul reaches the people who were there.
e. Lydia of Thyatira
One such woman was Lydia from the city of Thyatira. It says that God opened her heart to the Gospel. Lydia was a common name but it especially fits Thyatira because it was in ancient Lydia. If someone had a servant from Lydia, they would often give that name to the servant. Thyatira was known for Dyer’s guilds and textiles. An inscription shows that other Thyatira business agents also sold purple dye in Macedonia. So it isn’t surprising that this would be Lydia’s occupation. Often they would become prosperous in doing so, even though the majority of Macedonians were poor, there were some rich Macedonians. This was a very profitable trade. The name and the trade suggest that she may have been a freed woman. When we speak about things like this, we are talking about levels of probability. There may have been a freed woman that was a former slave. Freed people often continued to work as agents for their former slave holder’s businesses. We know that this is true from inscriptions that we have found. This may also be true of Lydia. So, by this period, women were sometimes engaged in business and even slave women could become managers. Probably, she was a well-to-do person; the use of purple on cloth was a luxury item in the Mediterranean world and had been for over a thousand years. The main source of purple dye was the Murex shell fish near Tyre. You would have had to crush a lot of this to squeeze out the purple from it. This was why it was so expensive. As it came from the squeezed guck of mollusks, it didn’t smell so good. There was imitation purple dye also. You could get red dye from Kermes Oak and near Macedonia, you could imitation purple. So, she may not have been selling the most expensive form of purple during this period.
Until Paul met Lydia, he and Silas and Timothy and Luke who was with him at this point, may have been staying at an Inn until then. That wasn’t really ideal as it was better to find hospitality from a Jewish family. That was normally how it was done. But Inns were notorious for immoral Inn owners who sometimes robbed people. Inns were also notorious in Jewish culture for their immortality. A lot of times there were taverns associated with it as the bar maids were often slave prostitutes. So, this wasn’t an ideal place for Jewish people to stay. There were also problems with things like bed bugs. In the Acts of John in the late 2nd century, a novel where there are all of these bed bugs that John wants to get rid of. So, he commands them in the name of the Lord and they line up single file leaving the room! In any case, hospitality was a major value in the ancient Mediterranean world and even more so in Judaism. Lydia provides hospitality; it was considered an honor to provide hospitality for a man or woman of God. She functions as their patriot or benefactor in the way it is used in the New Testament. This is very similar to what you see in 2nd Corinthians 4:8-11 where the Shulamite woman made room for Elisha to stay at her place. Also for the widow of Zarephath in 1st Kings 17; but for Lydia, apparently she was the head of her household and perhaps this means that she had a lot of servants. If someone was looking for a cause of scandal, accusers would use this for scandal. It was just like Jesus having women following along with his disciples along with his teaching. It is fairly clear from the descriptions we get of Jesus and Paul, that these were highly moral people. Sometimes, for the sake of the Gospel, they did have to break some traditional boundaries. Not that this wasn’t ever done, for it was done. But, this is not what they get slandered for in Philippi.
f. The Slave Girl, Exorcism and Evil Spirits - Chapter 16:16-22
Sometimes people have other motives for accusing you of things, especially if it cost them something. Here, we have a slave girl, Predeskay by name, probably very young. This term is used in a couple of other places in Luke and Acts. It is used for Peter’s critic back in Luke 23:56 who say that you also are a Galilean. I saw you with Jesus. It is also used for Rhoda, the servant in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother back in 12:12-13. Her name means Rose. She is very positive, contrasted here with a vigorous kind of ambiance. She is being exploited by her slave holders; those are the ones who are the negative figures here. She is also being exploited by them because he is being exploited by a spirit. As far as Luke’s view of women, some have said that Luke was trying to suppress this female voice. Paul commands her to be silent, it is exactly parallel to what we have in Luke 4 where you have a male demonic crying out and Jesus silences him. It is not that he is silencing women; you remember the women at the tomb? So, Lydia and her household appear very favorably here and also Rhoda. There is humor in that narrative about Rhoda and some think that this was at Rhoda’s expense, but this isn’t so. She is the only one who knows the truth in this narrative. It was at Peter’s expense and at the expense of other people in the household. Rhoda is comparable to the women at the tomb in Luke 24 who tell the truth and initially not believed. When he doesn’t do anything at first because perhaps he doesn’t want to stir up trouble which does come after he cast out the spirit. She was going around saying that that these men were servants of the Most High God and were proclaiming the way of salvation. Well, you think that wasn’t harmful, it was actually correct, but in a gentile context that could mean that there are many gods. Neither do you want a demon testifying for you; just like Jesus didn’t want a demon testifying about his identity in Luke 4 where he cast it out. So finally, Paul cast the demon out of the girl. He spiritually liberates her, but physically she is still a slave to her masters. On account of this, afterwards, she becomes economically worthless to her masters. So perhaps Lydia and the others could carry on what Paul had done and physically liberate her afterwards. They perhaps could afford to buy her freedom at this point.
In the 2nd century church, Pliny, the governor of Bithynia actually said that two of the leaders in the church that he was interrogating were slaves who appeared to have been deacons of the church, depending on how you translate the language. That is why the church had to often meet early in the morning before official duties. Anyway, what is said in this passage was the spirit of python or inspiration, referring to soothsaying. This was a very powerful spirit of divination; a pythoness was a term applied to the Delphic oracle of Apollo, to the priestess of the Delphic oracle of Apollo. So, she was called a pythoness; she was mantic, that is she prophesized in frenzy or at least it was often said to have been in frenzy. The oracle of Delphi was so famous, even Herodotus talks about how Croesus, the King of Lydia, who wanted to know who he could make war against. He would inquire of different oracles to find out which one would be most accurate. The Oracle of Delphi was able to tell him what he had hidden under his bed. So, he wanted to make war against the King of Persia, against Cyrus. He asked whether he could make war or not. The response was, ‘make war and you will destroy a great kingdom.’ Unfortunately, Croesus didn’t catch the ambiguity of that response. He did make war against Sirius and he was defeated with his kingdom becoming part of the Persian Empire. As he was being burned at the stake, he said that he then understood. He had destroyed a great kingdom; my own. Cyrus wanted to hear more about this; so he had Croesus brought to him. This may or may not be true, but that is how the story goes.
So, the Delphi Priestess of Apollo was famous. There were others, like the Oracle of Zeus and also Apollo was famous as a prophetic deity. She had to be young and she had to be a virgin. This is not saying anything negative; contrast the virgins of Acts 21, the four virgin daughters of Philip who do prophesize. They are probably in the young teens actually. They are viewed positively, but this Delphic Oracle is viewed different as she is captive to a different kind of prophetic spirit, not the Spirit of God. The pythoness of Delphi would sit in a tripod with acidic vapors that would come up. These supposedly inspired the woman and then the priest would have to interpret, arranging her wording making it more eloquent and poetic and sometimes, even more ambiguous. Luke depicts pythoness possession in very graphic terms; not everybody agrees with this, but it does appear elsewhere in ancient literature. She would become frizzed with her hair standing up on edge as she was possessed by the spirit of Apollo. The reason she was called pythoness was due to a name that came from Pietro Apollo who was the slayer of the great dragon python. You can read about this in Revelation 12. This is not to say that she had ever been in Delphi; if she is said to have the spirit of a pythoness, this is no minor demon; this is a high powered demon; perhaps not legion but high powered nevertheless. Verse 17, here message, these are servants of the Most High God and indeed they were. This name, the Most High God, is common in Jewish texts in the Bible. It also appears in pagan sources. It can refer to the Jewish God or to Zeus, so there is a degree of ambiguity in a gentile context. In pagan magic, the supreme god who was often identified with the Jewish God was seen as the most powerful. So, in magic, people would like to invoke this most high god.
She further said that they are proclaiming to you the way of salvation. Interestingly enough, even though the demon may have been stirring up trouble; God can even use the demon’s testimony for good. We see this in Acts 19. But you don’t want to go listening to demons and you don’t want to assume that demons will always tell the truth. Even with the Star of Bethlehem, the Magi were astrologers, who followed the stars; this is forbidden in Scripture. But sometimes God will use something, even something pagan. How does he use this? Well, later on when the jailer asks Paul and Silas, what must I do to be saved? Where does he get this language, especially saved? He probably heard the story about this young woman who was going around proclaiming that Paul and Silas were proclaiming the way of salvation. Now, he believes in this after the earthquake. So we see in chapter 16:18 that exorcists often tried to use the name of higher spirits to evict lower spirits. We see this in 19:13 in regards to the seven Sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva tried to invoke the name of Jesus, but there, the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ Paul, however, does have the right to use that name. Here, Acts gives us an example of one of his actions in that regard. Paul uses Jesus’ name; Paul is acting as Jesus’ agent speaking for Jesus. He is a representative of Jesus. He commands the Spirit to come out and it comes out. Some people who are more skeptical will make fun of people who believe in spirits or demons. But it is interesting that anthropologists have widely documented spirit possession.
Now, probably, still most anthropologists don’t believe that these are actual spirits. Some are more open when dealing with indigenous understanding; not to evaluate it. But they have widely documented possession of demons to the extent the denial of it is regarded as the anthropological equivalent of believing in a flat earth. Seventy four percent of societies have spirit possession beliefs. This is from a source back in 1970 and it could be even higher now. There are some different cultural expressions of it in those societies. A lot of them look very suspiciously like what we see in the Gospels and Acts. But there is a consistent cycle of physiological substrate when these states occur. Anthropologists typical define it as any altered state of conciseness indigenously or locally interpreted in terms of the influence of an alien spirit. There is an altered neural physiology during possession and trances where people have been tested by EEG readings of hyper arousal, etc. I don’t want you to think that all cases of hyper arousal are due to that; there are other causes of that. And there are other causes of states of trance even. There are different kinds of brain activities, but you have an altered neural physiology that does typify this possession trance, even if sometimes you can have it doing other things that are not due to that.
Possession behaviors: Rayman Firth says that sometimes it has been hard for the anthropologists to persuade him or herself that it is really the same person as before; whom he is watching or confronting. So, markedly, there is a personality change in their behavior with a change in the pitch of their voice, etc. Eugene McCrory was a traditional African exorcist in traditional religions. This was before he became a Christian. He told some stories to me about things that he had witnessed, that should have been humanly impossible where actual possessed people moved up a wall like a snake to the ceiling. This should be humanly impossible from what we know of the human body. He was converted to Christianity and now finished his master’s degree from Gorgon Conwell and now he is doing his PhD in the UK or perhaps he has finished it by now. In some cases, like Legion and in case of the seven Sons of Sceva, possession trances is expressed in violent behavior such as banging one’s head, jumping into a fire (Mark 9), cutting themselves in places like Indonesia, fire walking or immunity to pain; sometimes it can be expressed in violence toward others. Now, some of these things can happen under other kinds of circumstances. Obviously people can be violent without having a demon and people can have altered states of conciseness due to other things as well. Our state of conciseness is altered when we are asleep! Something that clearly signals a demon, although not always; there are certain occult phenomena like the before mentioned person slithering up a wall. Many supposed cases of demonism may be personality disorders or physical ailments. Some of them are more extreme when you have objects moving with not being touched or flying through the room, etc. I have friends who have witnessed some of these things. I have also witnessed some things that I don’t want to mention because they are really unpleasant. But, in any case, exorcism also appears in anthropological literature. In some cultures, it is considered the only cure for possession of illness. Psychiatrist and psychologists who don’t believe in spirits, of which the majority doesn’t, debate whether to accommodate local beliefs.
Among Christians, we see exorcism very frequently. Around seventy four percent of Christians in Ethiopia claim to have witnessed an exorcism. My student, Paul MacConkey, a Baptist from Cameroon described a woman moving like a serpent as spirits were cast out. There are others who have described these kinds of things to me. Locally, they are considered sea spirits or water spirits which may just be the local tradition or interpretation. They appear to be spirits of some sort. Nepalese pastor Mina Kaycee recounts a case of three sisters who were mute for three years. I am not implying that muteness is normally caused by spirits or by demons. You can have physical ailments for a variety of different reasons. You can also have emotional and mental stress for a variety of different reasons. We are not built for other personalities to live inside us. So, when you have a spirit that will sometimes afflict a certain part of the body or the nervous system or mind. It is not to say that those aren’t the only thing that can afflict the body. So these sisters were all mute at the same time; the pastor cast out a demon and then they were healed. Robin Snelger, the head of development of Industrial Phycology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth; earlier in his life, he recounts his own former experience with an alien personality controlling him. Nothing helped him; medicine didn’t help nor anything else until spontaneously he was exercised. Usedeliana Acosta Estevez; I interviewed her in Cuba. She said back in 1988, she had been invoking spirits; she was too sick to walk. Pastors prayed for her one day; she fell back; the severe heart and kidney malfunctions that were so bad suddenly were healed and she is still okay to this day.
So, when people ask questions about the reality of spirits; some anthropologists have explored this. They are mostly interested in what local culture says. Edith Turner, a widow of a famous anthropologist by the name of Victor Turner, she is now a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Virginia. She is also the editor of the journey of Anthropology in Humanism. During a Zambian traditional African spirit ritual, not Christian; they didn’t want Christians present, but during this she witnessed spirit substances ejecting. She actually saw this blob come out from the person’s back. Now, she doesn’t approach this from a conventional Christian perspective; she actually teaches her students to experience spirits. Most Christians would have problems with this as well as others, even non-Christian anthropologists. She believes in the reality of spirits and has argued forthrightly for that and has dealt with that among the Ennui population in Alaska, etc. Anthropologist Sowed Kimball, doing field work in Ireland said that an apparition starting moving toward him; he put his hand out to protect himself, but his hand went through it. He thought that it must have been a hallucination. But later he discovered that many others had seen the same figure in the area independently at times. His explanation was the perhaps culture affects hallucinations. Globally, the majority of Christians do accept the reality of spirits; they have convinced an increasing number of others of this. A person from Peru said that a Bible translator in South America where people believed that there were spirits all around them. But the Bible translator said that those things were real. The locals told him that the Gospel of Mark talks about them. They said that they could see them all around.
Our proper response to superstition and with spirits altogether; this was pointed out by a very well-known missionary anthropologist and said that his theological training helped him understand about God and his anthropological training helping him understand culture and humans. But it was when he was in India, they helped him understand that there is this intermediate realm as well that Western culture had gone overboard to deny. Psychiatrist Scott Peck said that there were a lot of things he could explain in terms of psychiatry; most things that people think are demons are just psychological problems. But he encountered two cases that couldn’t be explained any other way other than demons. William Wilson, professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and many others have said similar things. David van Gilder, professor of counselling published in a counselling journal said that there was a sixteen year old who was acting like an animal. The crucifix was hanging on the wall fell. The nail actually melted which was something not a psychological disorder. He and some other Christians came together and they weren’t able to deal with this person by traditional psychological ways. Finally, they said to him to say, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ A voice that came out of him, ‘you fools, he can’t say that.’ So, they cast the spirit out in the name of Jesus. But they recognized that this wasn’t epilepsy or psychosis but had to be a real spirit. David Brewer, a well-known scholar who teaches at Tyndale House at Cambridge; in earlier times he was studying to be a psychiatrist before doing what he does now. He said that one time as he was making his rounds in the hospital, he was praying for this man who seemed to have been asleep. He was just praying that God would help him when suddenly the man bolted upright and pointed in his face and yelled, ‘he is mine, let him alone!’ He said that this was a very interesting experience. So, what we read about in the New Testament is very creditable and even today people have reasons for believing in spirits. This is a fairly wide spread belief in many parts of the world.
So this information is given to support the idea of what is in Acts 16 is very plausible. The up-shot of this is persecution which isn’t just plausible but also mentioned by Paul in Thessalonians about what he suffered in Philippi.
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