First Corinthians 12:4



These first three verses are important because they set the direction for the next three chapters.  Many times these three verses are skipped and study of the gifts begins in 12:4.  The problem with skipping these verses is that we may miss Paul’s attitude and purpose for writing and saying what he does.



The idols were mute but demon spirits still spoke through these idols when the demon spirit would manifest in a worshipper.


            The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God.

(1 Cor. 10:20)


So, the stone or metal idol was mute but the demon still led people through manifestations.



Since demons can speak through mute idols not every spiritual utterance is Christian or from the Holy Spirit.


Therefore I tell you” isdio gnwrizw uminor “Therefore I make known to you”.  This must be a response to verse 1 or the information that Paul wants to supply when he says in verse 1 “I do not wish you to be ignorant.”


This actually comes across as corrective information to off set their preconceived ideas concerning spiritual things of the pagan world. 

Verses 1-3 then could be understood as saying:


“Because I do not want you ignorant about spiritual manifestations (12:1)

and because you already have experience with demon spirits (12:2),

I am going to correct your thinking by first telling you that manifestations of the Holy Spirit have a different focus than the manifestations of demon spirits (12:3).  Then I am going to tell you how and why the Holy Spirit manifests among the believers (12:4-end of the section).”


anaqema ihsous or “A curse is Jesus”


What is Paul referring to when he refers to “Jesus be cursed” and “Jesus is Lord”:

Option One: Someone in a church service spoke under the influence of a spirit of a demon or the Spirit of God and said these things.  Problems with this include:

  1. Why is Paul not more aggressive in speaking out against someone in the church service saying “Jesus be cursed”.
  2. What kind of circumstances in church would have led to, allowed and accepted a spiritual utterance of “Jesus be cursed” to be spoken.  It is hard to imagine any.
  3. It is hard to imagine Paul having to instruct a Christian group that saying “Jesus be cursed” is not good


Option Two: Someone in a pagan service had said or heard something like this being said by means of ecstatic utterances.  In verse 2 Paul mentioned the experiences the Corinthians had when they worshipped idols and demons.  This is where the Corinthians had seen spiritual manifestations and heard spiritual utterances but not from the Holy Spirit.  The point here would be developed later concerning tongues.  Paul would be saying an ecstatic utterance such as tongues is no proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit since ecstatic utterances similar to tongues occurred in the Pagan temples.  What matters is if the ecstatic utterance glorified Jesus and recognized his Lordship. 


Option Three:  Paul is using a hypothetical illustration to point out the vast difference of intent between a demon spirit and the Holy Spirit.  Both can manifest ecstatic utterances like tongues or prophecy but they have different intents, messages, attitude and lords just like they originate from two different kingdoms.  So the reason Paul uses “Jesus be cursed” and “Jesus is Lord” is not as a test of the spirit’s (the content of the ecstatic utterance is to be tested in 1 Co. 14:29) but to establish the fact that an ecstatic utterance or inspired speech (prophecy, tongues, spiritual songs, even a sermon) is not necessarily from God.


The Corinthians may have heard “Jesus is cursed” spoken in their pagan temples or Jewish synagogues, but Paul is probably using these statements as illustrations of potential content of inspired speech.


The main point is:  Inspired speech or ecstatic utterances are no proof in themselves that the Spirit of God is present or manifesting.


Verse 3 is not a formula for testing the spirits since it is easy for a non-believer to say “Jesus is Lord” if there is some benefit or motivation for saying it.  Even demons will say of Paul and his message, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” as was the case in Philippi in Acts 16:17.


Verse 3 instead is establishing the fact that an ecstatic utterance is not in itself necessarily from God.  There are two kingdoms at battle and two kingdoms giving ecstatic utterances.  Paul then explains the nature and attitude of the Holy Spirit’s manifestations beginning in 12:4 through 14:40.  Paul ends this discussion in 14:37 saying,


If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted (“pneumatikoV”), let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.”


The phrase “spiritually gifted” ispneumatikoVwhich is the same word as 1 Cor. 12:1 where it says:


“Now about spiritual matters” (or “spiritual gifts” or “spiritual manifestations”)


“Spiritual matters” is the word pneumatikwn


q       12:1 sayspneumatikwn (Genitive Plural Neuter) The genitive shows possession. The plural refers to the several things or gifts that are spiritual manifestations.  The neuter form refers to spiritual things or in this case manifestations or gifts.

q       14:37 sayspneumatikoV (Nominative Singular Masculine) The nominative shows the noun as the subject of the verb.  The singular refers to the one person Paul is referring to. The masculine refers to spiritual people.



In Other Words Paul is saying. . .


“Now about what is spiritual and what is carnal or what is from the Holy Spirit and what is demonic.”


“you yourselves have heard inspired speech by demons or saw supernatural manifestations in pagan temples so there isn’t really anything too ‘spiritual’ or ‘Holy’ about an utterance.”


“the difference is in the content, purpose and attitude of the utterance.  Only the Holy Spirit can produce the spiritual that we are looking for.”


Paul begins to describe the

  • where,
  • who,
  • what,
  • why 
  • when

of the spiritual that comes from the Holy Spirit. 

This goes on until chapter 14.


Paul says if you are one of the “spiritual people” who is showing the “Holy Spirit’s spiritual manifestations” then you will agree with what I have written.  If you do not then your utterances, gifts or manifestations are demonic and carnal.







Spiritual manifestations and spiritual people who are inspired by the Holy Spirit will say things and do things that exalt, point to, promote and indicate that Jesus is Lord. 


The statement “Jesus is Lord” can be broken down as:

  1. “Jesus” – Jesus is the man from Nazareth
  2. “is” – means he is existing or a reference to his resurrection
  3. “Lord” – is recognition of deity and sovereign rulership in heaven and in the universe.

These ideas combined are saying: “The man Jesus has been rejected, crucified and resurrected from the dead as the absolute God and ruler of heaven and earth.


Spiritual gifts that lead away from this doctrinal proclamation are becoming carnal and demonic.  The opposite is to be proclaiming “Jesus is cursed”.


The statement “Jesus is cursed” can be broken down as:

  1. “Jesus” – is a man
  2. “is” – existing as
  3. “curse” – “anathema” refers to something that is set apart for a deity and is abandoned by the gods.  “Anathema” is the Greek word used to translate and express the Hebrew word “herem” which refers to a thing devoted to God for destruction and burning like Jericho or Achan after he sinned.

These meanings combined say: “The man Jesus died on the cross cursed and abandoned by the gods or by God.”

This would have been something that may have been said in pagan temples in Corinth and it is not unlikely that it was said in Jewish synagogues.  It is possible that these words were even uttered by the Paul himself when he persecuted the church and tried to stop the faction of Jews who worshipped Jesus as Lord.


NOTICE that as we begin this section, Paul’s focus is on the inspired speech of demons and the Holy Spirit.


12:4-11 – An Overview

It becomes clear that the first problem Paul is going to address is the lack of diversity of the types of manifestations or gifts that appear in the Corinthian church.


Examples of Paul’s stress on diversity:

  • 12:4 – “different kinds of gifts”
  • 12:5 – “different kinds of service”
  • 12:6 – “different kinds of workings”
  • 12:7 – “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given”
  • 12:8-10 – lists nine different gifts of the Spirit
  • 12:11 – “all these are the work of one and the same Spirit”
  • 12:12-27 – the church is compared to a body with different parts with statements like:
    • 12:12 – unit with many parts
    • 12:14 – not one part but many
    • 12:15-18 – parts can’t compete and separate
    • 12:19-20 – diversity of parts produces one unified body
    • 12:21 – one part can’t say “I don’t need this other part”
    • 12:25 – diversity without division
    • 12:28-30 – another list of the gifts focusing on diversity of gifts and also the inability of an isolated gift without the others.


The diversity in the body of Christ originates in the diversity in God himself.  Even the trinity itself is a union described as “one” (Dt. 6:4-9 – the great shema) but the three are different persons with different roles.


These are the two things necessary for efficiency then:

  1. Unity
  2. Diversity

Any thing less than the above would be a monster as Paul refers to latter in chapter 12:17: “If the whole body were an eye!!??” or “If the whole body were an ear!!!???”


Diversity with unity is necessary.

The problem comes if:

1)     You are so diverse that you do not function with the body.

2)     You are so unified that there is no variation


We can assume that the Corinthians were violating both of these principles as has been seen already in this book:

1)     They are so diverse that they are out of step with the apostolic doctrine and practice:

a.      “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God.” (11:16)

b.      “This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.” (7:17)

c.      “He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” (4:17)

d.      “As in all the congregations of the saints.” (14:33)

e.      “Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?” (14:36)

f.        Numerous other examples including their understanding of wisdom, power, freedom, rights, morality, marriage, the Lord’s Supper, eschatology.

2)     They are so unified around the pursuit of a few gifts that there is no variations:

a.      “All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (14:26)

b.      “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak.” (14:27)

c.      The fact that this section begins with discussion of inspired utterances (12:3) and ends with an entire chapter explaining tongues and prophecy (14) we can safely assume that they were pursuing and practicing tongues to the level that many other gifts were being neglected. (In fact, there were so many speaking in tongues it is safe to assume that many of them were ignoring their God given gift and replacing it with inspired utterances that were either carnal or demonic.


In verses 4-11 you can see the stress that is placed on diversity and unity in


Below is a break down of the literal Greek of 1 Corinthians 12:4-11:





Now differences of gifts there are

But the same Spirit


And differences of ministries there are

And the same Lord


And differences of operations there are

But the same God


operating all things

In all


But to each one is given

The manifestation of the Spirit to the profiting


For To one

Through the Spirit is given a word of wisdom


And to another

A word of knowledge according to the same Spirit


To another

Faith by the same Spirit


And to another

Gifts of cures by the one Spirit


And to another

Operations of powers


To another

And prophecy


And to another

Discernings of spirits


To another

Kinds of tongues


And to another

Interpretation of tongues


And all these things

Operates the one and the same Spirit


Distributing separately to each one

As he purposes



It is noticeable in the above chart that the focus and flow of Paul’s discussion is not to provide an exhaustive list of the gifts nor is it even to explain or describe the gifts mentioned.  It is frustrating and confusing to try describing these nine gifts mentioned here with the information provided because Paul is not doing a systematic discussion of the spiritual gifts but instead is trying to get the Corinthians in the correct balance with the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of the list that Paul provides is to show the variety off gifts that the Corinthians are ignoring because they are over pursuing a few.