The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Salvation preached to evil spirits?

Noticed in a passage in Acts 16, where Paul and Silas encountered a “certain damsel” who had powers of divination, who went about seemingly to mock Paul and Silas while they preached in Phillipi. Paul eventually had the evil spirit cast out of her, which led to her and other’s unemployment, which in turn landed Paul and Silas famously in prison.

What intrigued me is what the damsel said while mocking Paul and Silas:

“The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” - Acts 16:17

Since the damsel was possesed by a spirit of divination, which Paul cast out of her, then the word “us” in the above verse as Paul preached implies a possibility that Paul was showing the way of salvation to the evil spirit as well as the damsel.

Could this mean that the evil spirit could be saved?

I realize that the spirit within the damsel was making nuisance of Paul and Silas, and that there are lying spirits, but the fact of the matter is that in this case, the spirit in question was speaking the truth. Paul and Silas preached the way of salvation in one of the first stops of the Macedonian call.

What say you?

Hi, Dondi

I do actually think that the evil spirits are included in the creation that will be delivered from the bondage of sin and corruption at the revelation of the sons of God (Romans 8), but I don’t think I’d use this scripture to argue that point. (I’m not sure that I’d argue that point at all, actually, though I personally think they do have to eventually be reconciled.)

The evil spirit did know who Paul was and who Jesus was, and it was telling the truth, sort of. I imagine it being said in a mocking and belittling way, but we can’t know that from the bare text. I also imagine that the demon spoke through the girl, but that it spoke in character AS the girl. Pretend her name is Delia. Delia says, “These men are proclaiming to us the way of salvation!” To the hearer, Delia is saying, that Paul proclaims the way of salvation to her personally and also to all the others hearing her. She’s including herself in the group “us,” but I don’t think the demon necessarily intends to include ITself in that group if you see my meaning. No one can see the demon – they only see Delia. Unless she’s speaking in a deep scary Halloween/Hollywood voice, I think the expected understanding of the hearers would be that “us” referred to all the human beings who could hear Delia, including Delia but not including demons or dogs or birds or cattle or etc.

So I guess that’s my take on it. Another scripture that seems to include rebellious spirits as well as humans (and literally everything else, for that matter) is 1 Colossians.

Love and blessings,

Hi Dondi,

I think it could be taken that way – though I wonder if the demon was mocking the message and didn’t believe in the way of salvation that they were preaching. Personally, I wouldn’t try to argue salvation for demons from this passage, even though I do believe they will all be saved.


Cindy & SLJ,

I wasn’t trying to form a doctrine over this one verse, I’m simply implying that the door may have a crack, however small, to that possible interpretation. Of couse, we must take the whole council of God into account. I would agree, however, that if God is set to redeem all of mankind and all creation, then there is no reason to believe that He wouldn’t afford the same opportunity for his other fallen derivatives, for they too are His creation.


I thought as well about the aspect that the damsel was referring to “us” as the rest of Paul’s human audience, which consisted mainly of certain women down by the riverside near Phillipi . Maybe so. Yet the more I think about this girl, and the situation with this incident, the more questions arise as i examine the text and the context (and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but bear with me for a moment).

First, it is obvious that in order to quiet this woman that Paul necessitated the expulsion of the evil spirit. She quit mocking them after that. So it seems to me that it was this spirit that was propelling her to speak in that fashion. But why would the evil spirit be proclaiming that Paul and Silas were showing the way of salvation? It seems at first glance that this damsel comes seemingly out of nowhere. But it is very probable that she was among these women, another of whom was Lydia, who gathered that Sabbath to hear Paul and Silas preach. Secondly, the passage very clearly is emphasizing that this incident occurs at the time of prayer, mentioning that fact not once, but twice (vs 13, 16).

Would it not be out of the realm of possibility that the damsel’s cries, whether prompted by the spirit or by some inner yearning of herself, could have been sparked by the outpouring of prayers made during that time? We don’t know the exact nature of those prayers, but if we know the heart of Paul and SIlas, you can be sure it included the salvation of everyone they preached to.

If you know anything about spiritual warefare, prayer, as well as fasting, are essential components. Jesus told the disciples just so when they failed to cast the lunatick spirit out of the boy in Matt 17. But Paul apparently had no trouble in this particular case. Why? Because he was prepared. (Paul admits to the practice of fasting in 2 Cor 6:5, and there is no reason to believe that it wasn’t a normative practice in his ministry).

We tend to think of the Devil and his angels as wholescale liars and so when we see incidents like this we think that there must have been so sinister motive for demons crying out in possessed humans. But I’m led to believe that the power of the Gospel is such that even the devils can be affected in ways other than just in trembling fear or merely prone to decepting or mocking.

When Jesus was approached by the deranged man at Gergesenes, He spoke to the “Legion” directly, not to the man. But this Legion cried out, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.” (Mark 5:7) Now at the surface, it seems like this is a typical picture of demons shivering in fear of God, awaiting some judgement. But the passage tells us that this man with the Legion had come and worshipped Jesus. Yet it wasn’t the man crying out and worshipping Jesus, it was the Legion! They knew who he was and correctly addressed Jesus as the Son of the Most High. The man wasn’t in his right mind nor would he have recognized Jesus as such. And what is unusual in this case is that Legion made a request to Jesus, and Jesus granted it to them!

Why would Jesus show mercy the evil spirits in granting their request to be cast into the swine? Why did they want to be cast into the swine in the first place only to be drowned? And it begs the question of where Jesus originally intended to cast them, in this case “out of the country” (Mark 5:10). (It is possible that the Legion wanted to stay in the region because it was an area inhabited by a large demographic of Greeks, who wouldn’t be observing Jewish dietary laws, hence the pigs. I think there is something to the idea of demons possessing certain areas of land as strongholds, but that’s another study. At any rate, the demons wanted to stay local because it may have been easier to possess another being who may have Greek pagan influences than where Jesus orginally wanted to send them.)

My point being that there are hints here and there that are worth exploring concerning devils and demons apart from our conventional conception of them, that could allow us to think more broadly of the scope of God’s love in extending His grace toward them. The demons in both the case of the deranged man of Gergesenes and the case of the damsel with the divining spirit spoke the truth about those they encountered. There was no deception involved in either case. And it may be in both cases, the Presence of God in Jesus and in Paul caused something to happen to these evil spirits for the to cry out in such manner.

I’ll have to give this some more thought, Dondi. You bring up some interesting points. Meanwhile, [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] or [tag]Paidion[/tag] or [tag]AlecForbes[/tag] or [tag]DaveB[/tag] might be more likely to have a ready answer for you.

I got nuthin’ :blush: :smiley: What an interesting way to raise the question, though!

I will echo Cindy in thinking that the entire creation will be reconciled to God. I think He loves his angels too, just like He loves his enemies (us, at one time)

The demonized girl is certainly an interesting question, one I hadn’t considered before. She had been doing it persistently, too, becoming a bother and thus hindering their ministry. A lot of people naturally don’t want demons to be saved (or any of their enemies really, and the greater the enemy the less they want them saved), and Origen used to say that he picked up the doctrine of reserve from Jesus (although I forget how at the moment); perhaps this is a case where the demons were screwing with Paul’s (and Silas’) efforts by bringing out the logical consequence! – that would be tactically twisted.

Someone could however take the incident another way around: the demons were falsely claiming Paul was preaching their salvation, and eventually Paul nuked them for it – though why he waited so long to do so when they were being annoying, this theory wouldn’t be able to cover. :wink:

In the case of the Legion, I’m not sure there’s anything special in that incident pointing to Jesus getting them to repent and return to loyalty to Him, although He was in the habit of exorcising demons (including the tornado on the lake!) by telling them (translated into Greek) “Phimeroo!” which can mean either “Be strangled” or “Be muzzled” – if the latter, that could fit things like Leviathan being eventually muzzled by YHWH, not merely quieted, much less strangled, but tamed. (Although the militant side of my mind loves the macho “Be strangled” more. :mrgreen: )

So while I do think there are numerous scriptural testimonies about God bringing rebel spirits back to loyalty, I’m not sure about the Acts incident, and less sure about the Legion incident.

For what it’s worth, I am sure the three temptations of Christ involve an intention that Satan should line up behind and follow Christ again! – the Greek can definitely be read that way; in one version of the story (I can never remember which Gospel has which temptation order) Satan takes it in a trivially literal sense and stands behind Jesus to tempt Him with jumping from the Temple (into Gehenna!–i.e. off the highest wing of the temple); and Jesus uses the exact same command on St. Peter later, even going so far as calling him Satan, where the intention is obviously to yank Peter back in line.

So there’s one colorful and well-known (though frequently misinterpreted) example from the Gospels. :slight_smile:

When did the term ‘demon’ come into popular usage - the intertestamental period? Was it brought back by the returning exiles?

Here is the way Acts 16:17 reads in the English Standard Version:

She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

There are only two uncials of the New Testament prior to the 6th century, which, in Acts 16:17 have ἡμιν (to us). They are A (Alexandrinus) and C (Ephraemi Rescriptus) from the 5th century. The following uncials of the New Testament from the 4th century have ὑμιν (to you): א(Sinaiticus) and B(Vaticinus)

However there in a very early papyrus dating somewhere from 200-250 A.D called Papyrus 45. It also has ὑμιν (to you). This is what makes me think that ὑμιν (to you) was the way it was written by Luke in his original autograph.

The following Greek editions of the New Testament have ὑμιν (to you):

Tischendorg, Tregelles, Weymouth, Westcott-Hort, The British and Foreign Bible Society edition 1964, and the edition edited by Aland, Black, Martin, Metzger, and Wikgren 1975.

Translations which have “to you” are:
ASV, BBE, CLV, Darby, Douay, ESV, Geneva Bible, HCSB, NASB, Philips, RSV, Rotherham, Williams, WNT

The King James and related translations based on Alexandrinus have “to us”.

So, Dondi, if the original autograph read “to you” as in the ESV translation above, then the idea of this verse indicating the proclamation of salvation to evil spirits fails.

My guess is that the spirit was mocking Paul and Silas with these words. Just as today, someone might mock a political leader in a third world country, by saying, “This man is the mighty leader of the country! He is going to save you all from starvation!”

I call upon my recuperation from various bleh as an excuse for not having looked up the text-crit data! :mrgreen:

Seriously, I’m usually much more on the ball than that, sorry.

By the way, where are you finding the reference to Pap45, Paidion? My Nestle-Aland and UBS include it, and even reference it for earlier text variations in this verse (Acts is the book with by far the most textual variations, and this verse in particular is a mess), but don’t reference it for this term in the verse either way (and Metzger’s notes for the UBS opinions don’t mention any specific texts at all, which is a little weird for him on questions like this).

I’m not questioning your accuracy, by the way; I’m always on the lookout for another apparatus with a significant difference in witness reports than the ones I already have. (Or possibly my NA and/or UBS needs updating again…)

I did notice the UBS apparatus mentions Greek Origen for the “to us” reading (and the much later Latin Origen, probably through Rufinius, for the “to you” reading!); but it’s admittedly hard to tell with Origen whether he’s really testifying to an actual textual reading from his day (mid-3rd century) or before, or whether he’s quoting freely for his own interpretative purposes. :wink:

Jason, I have a book entitled The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. It contains transcripts of ALL extant Greek texts of any part of the NT prior to the year 300. The transcripts are arranged in such a way that they correspond to the arrangement in early papyrii. (I checked this out against Papyrus 66 for example, which contains most of the gospel of John and is available online).

Leaf 29 verso is the leaf of Papyrus 45 which contains the passage. The transcript of the leaf is found on p.200 of The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts.

Sweet!! Who publishes this?

I bought my copy around the turn of the century. Here is what is printed near the front of the book:

I just went to the website above, did a search, and was able to find the book! Costs about $70.

When I first examined the book in a Bible College book store, I came soooooo close to not buying it. Now I am soooooo glad I did! It’s the #1 Greek reference which I use in order to be aware of the wording of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the NT—all prior to the year 300.

That’s a photo of a dashing young man, Paidion!

I guess 53 years ago, I was a little easier to look at, eh Dave?

Weren’t we all? :laughing:

Okay, there’s a less expensive version on Amazon, still clocks around $55 + shipping (though I pay for all my shipping once a year with Prime).

Well, I appreciate everyone’s effort in confronting this question, particularly Paidion and Jason.

What I like about this site is a persistence at getting to the truth. I’m glad people didn’t just placate me with a hardy “Amen” in mutual agreement about this passage. And while it may have busted my bubble of enthusiasm in thinking I “discovered” something, it is refreshing to see opposing views which allows more learned minds than me to present a fair, balanced approached to the question.

At any rate, I’m still hopeful, but cautious, that God’s Reconciliation is complete, including all rebel beings. Perhaps further research will eventually reveal as such.

Thanks again, everyone.

Paidion, I may just have to get my hands on that book. I’d love to have a reference of that sort.

Did you happen to read our little study on Colossians 1.13-23? Some good encouragement there for the hope of UR.