Jesus's Words

Chapter 13: Paul's Supposable Miracles Explained

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Section 4: Supposable Miracle III.—Divineress Silenced.—Acts 16.

While Paul and his suite,—of whom, according to the author of the Acts, he himself was one,—were at Philippi,—a Roman colony, and capital of a part of Macedonia,—among their hearers, is Lydia—a purple-seller of the City of Thyatira. Being converted, she receives the whole party into her house.

From this house, on their way to prayers,—probably in a Jewish synagogue,—they are met by a certain damsel, as nameless as the lame-born cripple, who, being possessed of a spirit of divination, or of Python, brings to her masters, for masters it seems she had more than one, much gain by soothsaying. Here then is a female, who, by being possessed by or with a spirit,—a real spirit, whether devil or a spirit of any other sort,—is converted into a prophetess, and, doubtless, in the main a false prophetess.

In the present instance, however, she is a true prophetess: for, following Paul and his suite, she runs after them, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days.Acts 16:17b-18a

If, instead of a demon, it had been an angel, that took her vocal organs for the instrument of his communications, it is difficult to say, in what manner he could have deserved better at the hands of these "servants," real or pretended, "of the Most High God."

Yet, from some cause or other that does not appear, so it was it seems,—there was something about her with which Paul was not well pleased. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said —not to the damsel herself, but to the spirit, which possessed her, or rather, since for the benefit of her masters, it brought her so much gain, which she possessed, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.Acts 16:18b

Amongst the superstitions of that and other ages, one was—the notion of a property, possessed by such and such words—possessed, by these mere evanescent sounds—by the air of the atmosphere, when made to vibrate in a certain manner:—a property, of working effects in endless abundance and variety, and those, too, supernatural ones. In some instances, the wonders would be wrought by the words themselves, whatsoever were the mouths by which they were uttered. In other instances, they required, for the production of the effects, a person, who being possessed of a particular and appropriate power, should, for the purpose of giving exercise to such his power, give them passage through his lips. Of this latter kind was the present case. The command issued as above, "he," for it was a he-spirit, "came out of her," the damsel, "the same hour."

When the devil that Josephus saw expelled, came out of the man, the channel at which he made his exit, being manifest, it was accordingly specified: it was the man's nose. This was something to know: especially, in relation to an occurrence, the time of which was at so great a distance from our own. At the same time, however, other particulars present themselves, by which curiosity is excited, and for want of which, the information thus bestowed must be confessed to be rather imperfect. What the shape of the devil was? what the substance? whence he last came? to what place, to what occupation, after being thus dislodged, he betook himself, and so forth: not to speak of many others, which howsoever instructive and satisfactory it would have been to be acquainted with, yet now that all acquaintance with them is hopeless, it would be tedious to enumerate.

In the present instance, not only as to all these particulars, has the historian,—eyewitness as it should seem he was of everything that passed,—left us in the dark; but, neither has he vouchsafed to afford us that single article of information, scanty as it was, for which, as above, in the case mentioned by Josephus, we are indebted to Josephus: to Josephus—that most respectable and instructive of the uninspired historians of his age.

In relation to this story, as well as to those others, the same question still presents itself:—if told of the present time,—if spoken of in some newspaper, as having happened in the present year,—exists here any person, even among the most ignorant populace, with whom it would obtain any permanent credence?

But, a reported state of things—which, if reported as having had place in the present century, would, by its disconformity to the manifest state of things, and the whole course of nature, be regarded as too absurd and flagrantly incredible to deserve to be entitled to a moment's notice,—what is there that should render it more credible, when reported as having happened in this same world of ours, at any anterior point of time?

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