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Published Date: May 2, 2024

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The Myth of the Jezebel Spirit

Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in the author’s “Jackie David Johns: Just a Thought Series” FaceBook page on March 6, 2021.

The concept of a “Jezebel spirit” has been around a long time. I don’t know how long, but during my childhood I occasionally heard evangelists refer to women who had “the spirit of Jezebel.” They tended to focus on women who had their husbands “henpecked” and/or those who wore makeup and jewelry; apparently, in my spiritual tradition during the 1950s and 60s, you couldn’t get much worse than that! I don’t believe the preacher was ever referring to some type of spirit possession; I took it to mean simply that a woman was acting like Jezebel acted. I may have misunderstood what was meant, but I don’t think so. In recent years, however, the words have risen to this new level of use and meaning—particularly though not exclusively in Pentecostal and charismatic circles.

Biblical References to Jezebel

In fact, the name Jezebel only appears in two contexts in the Bible. There is the relatively short story of a queen of Israel named Jezebel. The story is recorded in I Kings 16–21 and II Kings 9. There is only one other reference to anyone named Jezebel in the Bible, and that is in Revelation 2:18–29 (with only one appearance of the name in those verses). Most scholars consider this reference to Jezebel to be a metaphorical reference to the Old Testament queen, but a few allow the possibility the text is referring to a real person at Thyatira named Jezebel.[1] In any case, she is a woman at Thyatira who presents herself as a prophetess and leads many into immorality and eating meats offered to idols (Revelation 2:20).

The “Jezebel spirit” myth portrays Queen Jezebel as the controlling influence over her husband, King Ahab, leading him to do evil. A person with the Jezebel spirit is thus one that supposedly “usurps authority.” But the story of Jezebel is only a portion of the longer reign of Ahab. Throughout most of his reign, Ahab is described as acting with evil intent without any reference to Jezebel. In fact, Ahab was described as doing great evil before he married Jezebel: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him” (1 Kings 16:30–31, NIV).

There is no indication in the Biblical text that Jezebel usurped the authority of Ahab. All indications are that she acted with Ahab’s full knowledge and his implied endorsement. Jezebel did not cause Ahab to do evil. She did not act contrary to his authority; she merely brought her own evil heart and deeds into her marriage with an evil king. They were partners in their abominable acts. On this point, it should also be noted that the Jezebel in the Book of Revelation is also seen as being immoral and influential, but she is not accused of usurping authority.

Also, Jezebel in the Bible was never said to be possessed by an evil spirit or even under the influence of one. The Bible does not even call her evil, though it does describe some great evils that she did: killing the prophets of the Lord, inciting the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth (1 Kings 16:31–33), threatening the life of Elijah (1 Kings 19:2), and having Naboth killed (1 Kings 21). She was very evil in her actions.

The Phrase “Jezebel Spirit” Is Demeaning to Women

Furthermore, while most who use the phrase would no doubt deny it, every use of “Jezebel spirit,” past and present, denigrates women. For those who see it as referring to an actual demonic presence, it suggests that women are more easily influenced by evil spirits than are men, while the evils done by men are more often considered to be the products of free will and the sin nature that all humans share.

Some argue that the phrase “Jezebel spirit” is not in reference to being possessed or even controlled by an evil spirit but rather that it speaks of a spiritual archetype that controls the patterns of behavior of those who share it. That is, a person with a Jezebel spirit is one whose personality type functions in a way that disrupts divine order.[2] While this approach may to some seem less demeaning, the results are the same. Naming the personality type after the historic Jezebel serves to assign a negative personality type to one gender. Those who argue that “the Jezebel spirit” is not gender-specific should be willing to acknowledge that giving it the name of a woman implies it is feminine in its essence and that it further implies that its presence in men is an anomaly.

In my over fifty years of ministry, I have encountered some cantankerous people in the church. I have endured a few who thought their money should ensure their desires would prevail; some who thought for other reasons their voice should carry more weight than anyone else’s; and I have had to address sexual immorality in the lives of church members. But these problems have been few and far between, and they didn’t even scratch the surface of the evil done by Ahab and Jezebel. I suspect there are women and men alive today whose sins are comparable with those of Ahab and Jezebel. There may even be some in the church—but I haven’t met them.

Nor have I met anyone who has been called a “Jezebel” who could legitimately be compared with her on any level. I know dozens of women who have been told they have a Jezebel spirit. Not one of them at the time was living a sinful life; most were very devout and lived their lives to please God. Instead, their “sins” have been that they don’t defer to men. They dare to look people in the eye when talking with them. They express opinions that are not popular with people in positions of power and their followers. These women speak with confidence and clarity. They sound more like the Old Testament prophets of God than like Jezebel. They are the Deborahs, Priscillas, Elizabeths, Marys, Ruths, and Miriams of our time. In my experience, they are most often faithful servants of God, who dare to speak the truth to those who do not want to hear it.

This pejorative terminology is doing harm to many in the church. It perpetuates a false teaching that women are the origin of all that is evil: Eve tempted Adam, Delilah tempted Samson, Bathsheba tempted David, and Jezebel tempted Ahab, or so it is argued. (As for Bathsheba, it seems clear that she was the victim and not the perpetrator.) The “weaker vessel,” it is implied, is continually leading men to do wrong. This is unscriptural, and it is just plain bad theology. It ignores all the evil that men have done without the influence of women—especially the evil they have perpetrated against women. And it diminishes the God-given place of women believers as joint heirs with Christ.

There are no biblical grounds for the existence of a “Jezebel spirit.” There are no biblical grounds for naming any evil spirit after a human being. There are references in the Old Testament to Middle Eastern minor gods that had names, and people were frequently named after them, but not vice versa. And those references are primarily figures of speech. The only evil spirit that I can think of who is named in the New Testament is the “prince of devils”—that is, Satan, who was also called Belial and Beelzebub. If preachers must personify the evil associated with Jezebel, let them more accurately call it the spirit of Baal and/or Ashtoreth, even though we know their evils were nothing but the evils that men and women projected onto them. False gods don’t exist.

Finally, powerful women in public life are also routinely described as having a Jezebel spirit. Again, there is no biblical basis for this concept. In public life it serves no purpose other than demonizing a woman because of her political philosophy. For the misguided, she becomes the embodiment of evil, a force that must be stopped. Never attribute opposing views to demonic forces if they can be understood as the fruit of human depravity. And never assume opposing views are sinful just because you disagree with them!

Let the concept of a Jezebel spirit vanish. Treat strong women the way you want to be treated: with respect. Listen to what they have to say. Disagree with them if you wish. But stop the name-calling. As I was told in my youth, “Profanity and name-calling are both signs of either a limited intellect or intellectual laziness . . . use your words, use them accurately, and use them wisely.”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko.

[1]For example, Robert H. Mounce raises the possibility that Jezebel is the actual name of a woman at Thyatira. See Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Revised) in The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series (Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co.: 1998). Ultimately, Mounce rejects this view and supports the metaphorical interpretation.

[2] It is legitimate to see in the Old Testament some prophetic types of New Testament realities. For example, Joseph was a type of Christ, i.e., a suffering servant who brought salvation to his people. But this differs significantly from a theory that there are personality archetypes.

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