What is 1 Corinthians 12:3 talking about?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The Bible opens 1 Corinthians chapter 12 with the following: “[1] Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. [2] Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. [3] Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” What exactly is verse 3 talking about? “For what saith the Scriptures?”

Remember, the context is “spiritual gifts” (verse 1). In fact, chapters 12 through 14 cover the operation and abuse of spiritual gifts, various special capacities the Holy Spirit gave the early Christians. Verse 2 of chapter 12 here speaks of “dumb idols”—idols that do not have the ability to speak. These dead idols, because of satanic deception in pagan religion, were believed to communicate “divine” words to their worshippers (Psalm 115:4-8; Psalm 135:15-18; Habakkuk 2:18-19).

Now we get to verse 3, the passage under discussion: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost through the Apostle Paul issues some understanding as related to “speaking” in religion. Actually, the theme is speaking in tongues (dealt with extensively in chapter 14—although chapter 12 here briefly touches on it in verses 10, 28, and 30—chapter 13 references tongues in verses 1 and 8).

While it is often claimed that speaking in tongues is strictly a Christian practice—supposedly “the initial evidence of the baptism with the Holy Ghost”—this is really a misconception. For instance, the heathen (spiritually-darkened, satanically-inspired Gentiles!) of the Old Testament had their own “ecstatic utterances,” “heavenly languages,” “private prayer languages.” The God of the Bible had absolutely nothing to do with these phenomena. Consequently, we cannot automatically assume a modern-day episode of “speaking in tongues” is the work of God the Holy Spirit.

Turn to Isaiah chapter 8: “[19] And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? [20] To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” This “peeping and muttering” involved various guttural sounds, chirping (yes, like a bird), high-pitched (but barely audible) utterances, incantations that supposedly summoned the dead. God told the nation Israel to go “to the law and to the testimony”—the Law of Moses, the Word of God, is the standard. If Israel encountered any “peeping and muttering” in religious circles, she was to ignore the “speaking phenomena” and listen to the Word of God. Satan was attempting to corrupt her with witchcraft, devil worship, necromancy, et cetera. The Bible was to take preeminence over the experience!!

It was this “peeping and muttering” religious system out of which the Corinthians came. Back to 1 Corinthians 12:2 for the proof: “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” The only reason these idols are said to be “dumb” is to emphasize the fact that they are mute; they cannot talk! Many commentators, though, have no idea how to handle verse 3: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Dear friend, as long as we keep verse 2 in mind, verse 3 is ever so easy to grasp.

The Corinthians had allowed various religious experiences, supernatural encounters, and emotional highs, to distract and entertain them. You can see this dominate the Charismatic Movement today. The authority in that system is not the Holy Bible, sound Bible doctrine. It is all about emotions and experiences. They “felt” a certain way (warm, fuzzy feelings; great love; inexplicable peace; and/or abundant joy) and/or they “saw” a certain event (miracle healing, vision, dream, angelic appearance, speaking in tongues), and this caused them to believe it must be from the God of the Bible. Scripture means nothing to them—unless it teaches something they want to teach or do. They completely disregard verses that are contrary to their claims. Indeed, they may be sincere or kind people, but remember Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” No what they say, or believe, they are deceived! Their emotions have misled them! The experience is their authority, not the Bible. Such dangerous ground on which they tread!

“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” In 1 Corinthians 12:3, the Holy Spirit urges the saints at Corinth to look beyond experiences because they are not the final authority. We gauge whether or not the God of the Bible is involved with a particular system or activity by looking at its underlying doctrine. In other words, it does not matter what the phenomenon is, it must align with the Word of God rightly divided. Again, this is not something new with the Apostle Paul. Remember, we can find the idea in the Old Testament. Isaiah the Prophet spoke of it; Moses talked about it as well.

Deuteronomy chapter 13: “[1] If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, [2] And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; [3] Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. [4] Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. [5] And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.”

The LORD God warned Israel to be extremely careful concerning people who would perform miracles, claim to have supernatural dreams, or say they had received a supposed “word from God.” No matter what the experience was, if the message being taught did not conform to the Mosaic Law, the experience was from Satan and thus Israel was to ignore that person. Yea, rather, God Himself commanded Israel to execute that false prophet by stoning! When you think about it, such a procedure would rid us quite quickly of today’s false teachers! The standard is not the miraculous or supernatural experience, but the Holy Bible. This is what God is teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:3; the verse is a test to expose false teachers. Speaking in tongues alone does not automatically validate it as the work of the Holy Spirit. The message is what matters most. What is being communicated by the speaking in tongues?


“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3). When the tongue speaker was talking, was Jesus said to be accursed (separated) or was He said to be Lord? That is, was He being slandered/criticized or praised/glorified? What is most important is the doctrine being conveyed, rather than the experience itself. The Holy Spirit will never lead someone to say in tongues that Jesus is accursed, but the Holy Spirit will lead someone to say in tongues Jesus is the Lord. Again, speaking in tongues alone was not necessarily validation! The message is what mattered, and if it did not agree with God’s Word through the Apostle Paul, it was false. Some people in Corinth “speaking in tongues” were frauds, pretenders (like “tongue-speakers” of today). If Jesus was being accursed, spoken evil of, the charlatan “tongue-speakers” were exposed!


By the way, as for the gift of tongues operating today, the answer is no. Tongues was a temporary spiritual gift operating during the Acts period. It ceased when Paul’s provoking ministry to Israel ended (Acts closed), when the Bible canon was completed.

First Corinthians chapter 13 says: “[8] Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. [9] For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. [10] But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. [11] When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. [12] For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. [13] And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Spiritual gifts were temporary; they were not meant to last forever. When they were operating, God laid out guidelines that were to be followed concerning their exercising (see 1 Corinthians chapter 14—below). God wanted them to focus on the message rather than on the experience. No matter how enjoyable the experience was—awesome, appealing, fascinating, exciting—the words said were most important. If the message could not be understood, then there was no way to ascertain a meaning. It was false, Satan’s counterfeit. If it were gibberish or inaudible sounds (like today), it would profit nobody. There is no edification, no spiritual enlightenment, and no understanding imparted. No sound Bible doctrine is being communicated. It is nothing but a satanic mockery of God’s ministry.

First Corinthians chapter 14: “[1] Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [2] For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. [3] But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. [4] He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. [5] I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

“[6] Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? [7] And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? [8] For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? [9] So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. [10] There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

“[11] Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian [foreigner], and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian [foreigner] unto me. [12] Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. [13] Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

“[15] What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. [16] Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? [17] For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.”

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Also see:
» Should I speak (or pray) in tongues?
» What about modern “faith healing?”
» What is the “that which is perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10?