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In 1 Samuel 16:14-16 we see the contrast between the Spirit of the LORD leaving Saul and an evil spirit being sent by God instead to torment him:

14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.

15 And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.

16 Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.

[1 Samuel 16:14-16, KJV]

However, Matthew 12:43-45 reveals that evil spirits have minds and make willful decisions of their own:

43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.

45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

[Matthew 12:43-45, KJV]

Other examples of evil spirits showing evidence of personhood are:

15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? [Acts 19:15, KJV]

7 And cried with a loud voice, and said, 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. 8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. 9 And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. [Mark 5:7-9, KJV]


Question: If evil spirits have personhood, does this mean that the Holy Spirit of God also has personhood? More generally, is it an inherent property of all spirit beings (evil or otherwise) to have personhood? Is there such a thing as an unconscious, mindless and lifeless spirit?

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Let us here define "personhood' as an entity having independent sentience = ability to think, act and decide independently.

There are numerous places where we see evil spirits given the attribute of sentience such as 1 John 4:1-3, Eph 6:10-12, 2 Cor 11:14, 1 John 3:8, Luke 10:17, etc.

However, (and this is a significant logical BUT!) that does not necessarily say anything about the Holy Spirit either positively or negatively. That is, the fact that evil spirits including Satan have sentience does not mean that the Holy Spirit has sentience, nor does it mean that the Holy Spirit does not have sentience.

The personhood (ie, sentience) of the Holy Spirit is established independently from the following considerations:

  • The passages in John 15:26 – 16:14 repeatedly talk about the Holy Spirit as a separate person from either the Father or Jesus.
  • 1 Cor 2:10, 11 (see also Isa 40:13, 14) also identifies the Holy Spirit as a separate person because of His teaching and instructing function. See also Rom 15:19 and Ps 104:30.
  • In Matt 12:31, 32, Mark 3:28, 29, and Luke 12:8-10 the unforgivable sin is defined as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is an expansion of Isa 63:10-14 where people grieved the Holy Spirit. Such a sin would not be even possible if the Holy Spirit were not both a person and divine. Note further, that these passages make a clear distinction between sinning against the Son or Father as opposed to the Holy Spirit, again, showing that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person.
  • In 1 Cor 12:11 it is the Holy Spirit who decides about spiritual gifts and their distribution. This passage attributes volition and sentience to the person of the Holy Spirit.
  • In Acts 7:51, 1 Thess 5:19, Eph 4:30 we have various people resisting or spurning the Holy Spirit and in Acts 15:28 the Holt Spirit’s opinion is consulted. Possibly the best verses to demonstrate the individuality, personhood of the Holy Spirit is found in Rom 8:26, 27, which says –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

APPENDIX - Function of the Holy Spirit

Jesus bequeathed the Gift of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4) to His church for several reasons:

  1. To produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22 & 23, see especially v24-26) and so to sanctify (make distinct) the church members.
  2. The above changed life is to be a distinguishing sign or seal of God’s ownership of our lives and a guarantee of better things to come (Eph 1:13, 4:30). See Seal of God.
  3. To provide specific guidance for the church (John 16:7-12, 14:17, 15:26) namely
  • . Convict of sin
  • . Instruct in Righteous (= right doing)
  • . Convict of judgement to come
  1. To build up the church with spiritual (supernatural) gifts and abilities, 1 Cor 12:7, 14:12, and to influence/teach others John 7:37-39. See Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30, Eph 4:11, 1 Peter 4:10, 11, 1 Tim 4:14, Ex 35:30-33, etc.
  2. To strengthen the members in their daily walk to live the Christian ideals, Eph 3:16, 17, Heb 2:4, and maintain unity in the Christian community (Eph 4:3-6). The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18). In short, the Holy Spirit is the only way we can know God, 1 Cor 2:10, 11, 14, John 16:13.
  3. To teach the church more of the character and work of Jesus and thus, imitate Jesus, John 7:38, 39, 15:26, 16:12-15, Rom 8:4, 11, Eph 3:17, 18, 4:3-6, 1 Thess 1:6, 4:8, 1 Cor 2:14.
  4. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to write Scripture, and explains such spiritual truths to us. John 14:16, 17, 15:26, 1 Cor 2:6-16, Eph 1:17-19, 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Tim 3:15, 16, 1 Thess 1:5, Heb 9:8, 1 Peter 1:12, Ps 119:18.
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This question not only assumes that the Israelites believed in literal demon posession, but that the English "spirit" translation refers to the same concept as understood by Christianity.

… Saul's possession by the ruah raah (I Samuel 16:14) would be a demonic possession. However, like most other things, there is not a single Rabbinic tradition on the matter. For that reason it is unsurprising that other Jews, such as the Meiri, and most famously, Rambam (cf. commentary to Avoda Zara 4:7) did not believe in demons at all. Indeed, Rambam omits every Talmudic mention of demons from his Mishneh Torah, or quotes it in some altered non-demonic form. In his commentary to Eruvin (4:1), he explains that the ruah raah refers to mental illness:

רוח רעה, קורין לכל לקיון בכח ההבחנה של אדם

Accordingly, he would presumably explain Saul's ruah raah, not as demons, which he did not believe in, but as depression, or some other mental illness.

Demon Possession in Judaism

The Hebrew word רוּחַ (rûaḥ) is commonly translated as "spirit", or even worse, as "Spirit", and can have many different meanings, such as wind, breath, mind, etc. In particular, it can mean "spirit (as seat of emotion) desire" (H7307 — rûaḥ — Strong's Hebrew Lexicon — Outline of Biblical Usage).

In the original Hebrew, verse 14 doesn't even have the definite article "the" before "spirit", and the verse could be translated as:

But desire of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil desire from the Lord troubled him.

This question begins with "If evil spirits have personhood". But is there legitimate evidence in Hebrew scripture to believe that this "if" condition could be true?

The translation into the English word "spirit" loses many of the possible meanings of the original. The English translators were likely highly influenced by the belief (or familiarity with) the Trinity doctrine. This is especially apparent when "Spirit" is capitalized, like a proper noun.

Interpreting the Hebrew word "ruah" as having the restrictive English meaning of "spritual being", assuming that the Israelites had the same understanding as Christians do now, and capitalizing the word to respect the Trinity doctrine, are all examples of eisegesis (interpretation influenced by one's existing beliefs) and not exegesis (deriving belief from the textual and environmental evidence).

As such, this question is much better suited for Christianity.SE.

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  • perhaps a conclusion is in order as I'm not sure what your point is. In fact does this answer the Q re. 'personhood'? not my -1 – user48152 Apr 16 at 5:24
  • @user48152, thanks, I've added something to make my point more obvious. (And neither of the question's down-votes are from me, it's only the OT section I'm objecting to.) – Ray Butterworth Apr 16 at 13:44
  • @RayButterworth - did the 'desire of the LORD' make Saul prophesy in 1 Samuel 10:9-10: 9 When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. 10 When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. – Spirit Realm Investigator Apr 17 at 6:35
  • 1 Cor 14:1-3: Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. – Spirit Realm Investigator Apr 17 at 6:40

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