Why do all the translations I know of mistranslate 1 Kings 22:21? In Hebrew there is the expression הרוח or ha ruah or “a spirit” in the translations, and in the Hebrew there is the definite article ה in the text, the correct would be “the spirit” and not “a spirit”.

Don't the translators want to correlate the context of God wanting to deceive the prophets using a divine attribute but an entity alien to God himself? This is an intentional adulteration, worse than several modern translations are emerging and nothing to correct this aberration.

  • And the spirit goeth out, and standeth before Jehovah 1 Kings 22:1 Young's Literal Translation.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 11:12
  • I had forgotten about this version, I thought that none would fix it, the most acclaimed by the public keep this crass error. Is there only YLT? I'm impressed that only one noticed the obvious and went against the others.
    – Thales
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 12:09

3 Answers 3


The literal Hebrew is, obviously, the spirit, which is found in a few translations:

“Then the Spirit stepped forward, stood in front of the LORD, and said, ‘I will deceive him.’ “ ‘How?’ the LORD asked. (GW)
Finally, a spirit came forward and stood in front of the Lord. The spirit said, ‘I’ll get Ahab to do it.’ (NIRV)
'And the spirit goeth out, and standeth before Jehovah, and saith, I -- I do entice him; and Jehovah saith unto him, By what? (YLT)

ויצא הרוח ויעמד לפני יהוה ויאמר אני אפתנו

The are several reason why most English readings are simply "spirit."

Since English has both definite and indefinite articles, a passage with "the" spirit, is typically understood as "the Spirit" not "the spirit." The definite article typically is understood to mean the Spirit not simply a singular spirit. Even if "the" spirit was not the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit, as is the case in this passage, "the" in English is not understood as simply as an ordinary spirit. [In English that would be conveyed using the indefinite article, "a" spirit.]

The NJPS does a good job of expressing the idea in the original text:

until a certain spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' 'How?' the LORD asked him.

What is stated is a singular spirit came forth. One could say, it was definitely only one spirit, but the writer omitted further identification.

Additionally, First and Second Kings often uses an article in a manner which is different from English usage. The best example of this is seen in the repeated use of הרע to describe the actions of someone:

and Solomon doth the evil thing in the eyes of Jehovah, and hath not been fully after Jehovah, like David his father. (1 Kings 11:6 YLT)
ויעש שלמה הרע בעיני יהוה ולא מלא אחרי יהוה כדוד אביו

Even the YLT struggles to convey the literal literal Hebrew: the evil,doesn't make sense. The English requires an ellipsis, thing. In English, "the" evil means something singular, yet "the evil" done by Soloman is plural. Again, the NJPS does a good job of expressing the passage

Solomon did what was displeasing to the LORD and did not remain loyal to the LORD like his father David. (1 Kings 11:6 NJPS)

הרע is found 93 times in the OT, 10 of which are in First Kings, and 22 in Second Kings. In each case there is no singular "evil" the person did; rather the use of the article functions as a means of giving emphasis. It should not be understood as intended as a numerical count, even in cases where the meaning is singular.


The use of the definite article in Hebrew is more grammatically significant than might first meet the eye. It is not equivalent to English. Because there is an article in Hebrew does not necessarily mean there should be one in its English translation. More about the usage of the Hebrew article can be found in my response to the question posted here:

Do translators leave out the definite article of Satan in the New Testement?

The asker of that question assumed that because the article is used with "Satan" in the Old Testament, the Greek should follow. But articles in Hebrew are not the same as articles in Greek, and neither are the same as articles in English. See the answers (both mine and Dottard's) to that question for more details.

In this particular instance, because God does not lie (see Numbers 23:19), and because this "spirit" spoken of in 1 Kings 22:21 is a "lying spirit," this cannot be the Spirit of God.

21 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. 22 And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. (1 Kings 22:21-22, KJV)

In fact, the article here is what makes the common noun "spirit" advance to name status in Hebrew, becoming a definite/proper noun, and it could potentially be translated as "Satan." Usually, "Satan" is the translation for "the adversary" in the Old Testament, as the answer to the above-linked question explains. Because this is not the typical word used for Satan, the KJV translators, and others, have chosen to say "a spirit" to avoid confusion with "the Spirit" improperly designating God's Spirit here.


While the Hebrew does indeed contain a definite article before "spirit" in this verse, "a spirit" is likely the best possible rendering in English because "the Spirit" or even "the spirit" would mislead the reader to think it was addressing God's Spirit when, in fact, this is "a lying spirit" instead.

  • That right there is a theological explanation that goes against the whole conception of what is understood by Hebrew. There is no capital letter in Hebrew as most translators with a theological background introduced it, so spirit or Spirit does not make sense, it only makes a difference for us with our vision today but never for the writers of the time. It is clear that the spirit mentioned in 1 Kings 22 refers to something from God himself, for there is the angel of the Lord, something specific, and there is the evil spirit from the Lord mentioned in 1 Samuel 16:14-15 that torments Saul.
    – Thales
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 12:57

That the correct translation of 1 Kings 22:21 is "the spirit" is widely recognized, eg:


(21) A spirit.—It should be the spirit. The definite article is explained by some, perhaps rather weakly, as simply anticipatory of the description which follows. Others take the phrase to signify “the spirit of prophecy,” a kind of emanation from the Godhead, looked upon as the medium of the prophetic inspiration, which is an expression conceivable, but certainly unprecedented. ...


  1. And there came forth a spirit The Hebrew has ‘the spirit’ as is noted on the margin of the R.V. It seems therefore to imply some definite power which imparted to prophets their gifts; the prophetic spirit. That God allowed this power to delude Ahab was because of the king’s persistence in evil. God therefore gives him over to it, and causes the prophets whom he has chosen for himself, to the rejection of Micaiah and such as he, to be the instruments of his destruction. Thus when Isaiah is sent to rebellious Israel (Isaiah 6:10) his mission is described as of this nature. God says to him ‘Make the heart of this people fat and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts.’ In this wise and with like effect comes the spirit from God into the mouths of Ahab’s four hundred.


Verse 21. - And there came forth a spirit [Heb. the spirit. By some, especially of the earlier commentators, understood of the evil spirit. But the view now generally adopted (Thenius, Keil, Bahr) is that "the spirit of prophecy" is meant, "the power which, going forth from God and taking possession of a man, makes him a prophet (1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 1 Samuel 19:20, 23). The נָביא is the אִישׁ הָרוּחַ (Hosea 9:7)" Bahr. This power is here personified], and stood before the Lord, and said, I [emphatic in the Hebrew] will persuade [or entice] him. 1 Kings 22:21

Who was "the spirit"? As can be seen from the above, opinion is divided. However, we should not forget Isa 45:7 -

I form the light and create the darkness; I bring prosperity and create calamity. I, the LORD, do all these things.

As the Cambridge commentary observes, "the spirit" may have been the Spirit of God who allowed the deceiving to occur in a receptive heart. However, this is outside the scope of this question and should be the subject of a separate query.

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