In Paul's chapter concerning spiritual gifts (1 Co 12), with the "bookends" being the subject of the Corinthians' appalling behavior at their love feasts (chapter 11) and the nature and importance of love (chapter 13), Paul seemingly out of the blue says:

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

This verse comes immediately after Paul's stated desire that the Corinthians not be ignorant of "spirituals," and that they recall their pre-conversion background in idol worship.

How do we contextualize Paul's inclusion of the phrase "Jesus is accursed"? As it stands, it seems to me to be a bit out of place, a bit of a non sequiter. Were the Corinthians so backslidden that some of them were guilty of saying "Jesus is accursed"?

I know some of them were abusing their love feasts by chowing down while others went hungry and by getting drunk, but saying "Jesus is accursed" seems to me to be over the top. What is on Paul's mind here? Yes, the context is all about unity and diversity through the Spirit, but to me this "Jesus is accursed" sticks out like a pregnant pole-vaulter!

It seems almost that we could elide verses 2 and 3 without doing violence to the text, but of course that would be a last-resort move and would be warranted only if there were doubts among a majority of Bible translators as to whether the verses were in fact in the original manuscripts. That scenario does not seem to pertain here.

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    (1) Perhaps, it is the version that I am using, but the verse 3 has actually never struck me as out of context here. In verse 2 Paul reminds them of their spiritually chaotic past, of how they were "led" and "carried away" as "they were led", having no guidance in the spiritual realm due to the objects of their worship (idols) being numb (v.2). Now the situation has changed - now they are being led by the Spirit that speaks. Now it is very easy to be oriented in the spiritual realm - just look at what things are being said. If (the spirit of) a man says "Jesus is the Lord", then
    – brilliant
    Jun 28, 2013 at 4:26
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    (2) rest assured that that spirit is being led by the Holy Spirit. So, Paul is kind of giving them a spiritual guidance and at the same time narrows down the scope of spiritual diversity to the scope of the things pertaining only to the Holy Spirit. Having done that, he continues in verse 4 by looking now only at this new scope (the scope of the Holy Spirit) and telling them that this scope is also quite diversified (in terms of having different gifts and works), yet, unlike in verse 2, it all belongs to and is the realm of the Holy Spirit.
    – brilliant
    Jun 28, 2013 at 4:33
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    @brilliant: Thank you for your comments/answer. I feel right now that "we're almost there" (in pinpointing the answer), but not quite. Rest assured I've read your response carefully and I'll let it percolate in my mind for awhile. Thanks again. Don Jun 28, 2013 at 15:00
  • @Ali: If it directly answered the question, please use that information to answer the question below. Remember, our goal is to understand Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Jul 3, 2013 at 2:58

11 Answers 11


There is a parallel to between the passage in question and Galatians 4:8, which talks about the unbeliever who is impelled to idolatry.

Galatians 4:8 (NASB)
8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

The parallel is that the unbeliever is "led astray" toward idolatry (1 Cor 12:2), and the power behind this idolatry is spiritual. That is, there is spiritual power behind idolatry, which is demonic, and which Paul incidentally had already just mentioned (1 Cor 10:20).

In other words, in the immediate context, an idol is nothing; and therefore an idol is a "non god" (1 Cor 8:4), which hearkens to the passage in Galatians (just cited above)... BUT, there is spiritual power behind the idol which is demonic (1 Cor 10:20; Lev 17:7; Deut 32:7; Ps 106:37), to which and by which the Corinthians were "led astray" (as were the Galatians). It is this very demonic influence that would aver that Jesus is accursed.

Thus anyone convinced and who suggests that Jesus is accursed is someone under the influence of the spiritual power associated with idolatry. That is Paul's point. The Apostle John picks up on the same line of thinking about demonic power.

1 John 4:1-3 (NASB)
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

So the conclusion is that any dogmatic assertion concerning the Son of God, which is unbiblical, is therefore "inspired" by demonic power. (Thus the allusion to "spirits" by the Apostle John, since any such teaching is "inspired.") For example, the denial of the humanity of the Son of God is unbiblical (1 Jn 4:1-3) as is the conviction or assertion that Jesus is accursed (1 Cor 12:2). On the other hand, the conviction that the Son of God is in fact divine (as attested by the words that "Jesus is Lord") is in fact biblical, and therefore that conviction comes by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

One might counter and say that the Christian New Testament actually asserts that Jesus was accursed (Gal 3:13), but to ignore his resurrection, which had reversed the curse, is also to ignore biblical truth. So one who says that Jesus is accursed (at this current time in the present) would have to include those who would deny his resurrection (which was what conquered the curse of sin and death).

  • Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful answer, particularly for the cross references (although I'd re-check the De 32:7 reference). To be honest, I'm still kind of stuck as to the relevance of the phrase "Jesus anathema." I can see how Paul is drawing a contrast between the Corinthians' roots in paganism and their new lives in Christ. Moreover, since the speaking gifts were of particular importance to the Corinthians (at times to their detriment), Paul contrasts the muteness of idols and demonically inspired utterances on the one hand, and Spirit inspired utterances on the other. Jul 1, 2013 at 17:10
  • Demonic spirits and idols have nothing to offer except curses, while God's Holy Spirit offers spirituals in a multi-skein fabric of diversity and unity. Things are beginning to make sense, so perhaps after percolating for awhile in my little brain, they'll all come together eventually. Jul 1, 2013 at 17:32

Except for the comment of Novatian (d. 258), comments I've seen on 1 Cor. 12:3 by the Ante-Nicean Fathers appear off-topic. Novatian might have been the only such proto-Orthodox writer to have addressed this seeming curse, alluding that:

Established in this Spirit [of God], "none ever calleth Jesus anathema" (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity 262).

P46 (ca. 175-225 CE) is, from what I've found, the only extant pre-Nicene manuscript containing the words ANAΘAMAIHN (αναθεμα ιηv / anathema Jesus), although the later codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus read similarly as ANAΘAMAIC (αναθεμα ιc / anathema Jesus).

You asked: "Were the Corinthians so backslidden that some of them were guilty of saying "Jesus is accursed"? According to Dr. Constable:

Probably no one in the Corinthian church had (Expository Notes 2012).

Robertson (Word Pictures in the NT) explained:

This blasphemous language against Jesus was mainly by the Jews (Acts 13:45; 18:6). It is even possible that Paul had once tried to make Christians say Anathema Iesous (Acts 26:11).

Were the words Anathema Iesous in the original manuscripts? We'll never know. But the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 12:1-3 that remind the Corinthian assembly of how they lived and worshiped before converting to Paul's version of Christianity--and how Paul thought and acted before his Damascus Road experience--seem apropos here.

  • Thanks for your answer. Your last paragraph is helpful in that it has given me something to think about. Perhaps you are on the right track about the possibility that Saul, before his conversion, tried to get the Christians whom he hated so much to renounce Christ. Still, in the context of spirituals, his harking back to his pre-conversion days seems out of place--a non sequiter. Jun 28, 2013 at 0:10

“Ἀνάθεμα Ἰησοῦς” - While Paul’s use of Ἀνάθεμα in Galatians 1:8 is clearly connected to the LXX translation of חֵרֶם (eg. Leviticus 27:28: a devoted thing to destruction), in 1 Corinthians 12:3 this meaning is not so clear, especially in the passive sense of “Jesus is accursed.” While this is the way Jewish unbelievers would view Christ’s crucifixion (A. T. Robertson’s point; some have even speculated that Paul tried to force Jewish Christians to say this to renounce their faith before his road to Damascus experience), the context appears to be pagan worship rather than Jewish worship. Thus, some have suggested the curse is related to the emperor worship, in which only the Roman Emperor is lord. However, all this seems strange to Christian worship. The church fathers seem to be mostly mute on this. Either the exact meaning was of little concern or so well understood it needed no explanation.

Utley brings up something that seems to better fit the context:

… that it has a pagan worship setting where the curses were called on people by the use of a god’s name. This could then be translated, “May Jesus curse ______” (cf. 16:22); …

Recent studies from Corinth (cf. footnote #1 on p. 164 of Bruce Winter’s After Paul Left Corinth) document the curse tablets found on the ancient acropolis at Corinth. Biblical scholars have assumed that a linking verb “is” should be provided in the phrase, “Jesus is accursed,” but this archaeological evidence clearly shows that these first century Roman period curses from Corinth lack the verb (as do some of the curses in the LXX of Deut. 22:15–20), as does v. 3. There is further archaeological evidence that Christians in first century Roman Corinth used curse formulas in burial curses (Bysantine period) found on Christian graves (J. H. Kent, The Inscriptions, 1926–50. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 1966, vol. 8:3, no. 644).

Utley, R. J. (2002). Paul’s Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians (Vol. Volume 6, p. 141). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

This explanation does seem very plausible. The only thing that makes me hesitant is apparently no major translation has adopted this meaning. Utley does apply this in a way that fits well with the setting in the church a Corinth:

Some segments of the church were reverting to pagan curses in Jesus’ name against other members of the church. Not only is the method a problem, but also the hateful motive. This is another example of the tension within this church. Paul wants them to build up the church, edify the church. They want to curse part of the church!

Utley, R. J. (2002). Paul’s Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians (Vol. Volume 6, p. 141). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.


Paul is making a subtle reference to the Ten Commandments. He refers to the command to make no idols, and then the command against taking the Lord's name in vain. Thus, it is "word-and-response." The spoken Word comes from God (idols are dumb) and His people "take His name" upon them through the Covenant oath, a legal, public profession.

"Amen" seals the vow. It is a self-malediction that makes the agreement binding. Those swearing the oath agree to be cursed if they break it. This is why Jesus in Revelation is the "Amen." He has kept the Law for us. And He has sent His Spirit that we may keep the Law through that Spirit.

Paul is saying that no man who has received the Spirit can curse Jesus. And no man who has not received the Spirit can truly bless Jesus. Blessing and cursing was God's job (beginning in Genesis 1-3). Every Covenant has Sanctions, but in the New Covenant, God's people have become prophetic, speaking as His legal Covenant representatives. We can bless and curse, which is no more than calling evil evil and calling good good. This is because those who believe and have received the Spirit have not taken Jesus' name in vain. The true saints always persevere, and this perseverance is one of the gifts of the Spirit.

  • Thank you for your answer and for taking the time to write. Though your points are good, I am still left a little puzzled. Perhaps since the Corinthians were particularly proud, if not inordinately proud, of their verbal gifts, Paul is attempting to warn them of the perils of putting too much stress on those gifts to the derogation and neglect of other gifts which though less "flashy" (and behind the camera, as it were, and not in front of it), were still important. To me the "Jesus is accursed" seems somehow out of place. Jun 28, 2013 at 17:47
  • @rhetorician This is going to sound weird but one of Paul's literary conventions (found throughout the Bible) is to use the Tabernacle as deep structure. Based on what I've seen elsewhere, I'd say he's just finished with the Bronze Altar and the Golden Table and moved on to the Lampstand (the Spirit). So sudden changes in subject are quite common.
    – Mike Bull
    Jun 29, 2013 at 2:33

I see what you are getting at and think Paul is using extremes to show that falling under the leading and influence of the Holy Spirit is not a morally neutral experience separate from true doctrine. In other words if a person is claiming to encounter the Spirit, yet they deny Christ, such a person is not experiencing the Spirit. On the other hand if a person genuinely confesses the divinity and humanity of Christ, they can only do this by the influence of the Spirit.

Two verses that seem to illuminate this one are:

And Jesus answered him, “ Blessed are you, Simon Bar- Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (ESV, Matthew 16:17)

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (ESV, 1 John 4:2-3)

I do not think this is to be understood as literally about people muttering curses under their breath. We are not to imagine someone foaming at the mouth using some formal 'curse'. Its about the extreme opposite of faith where people mention any kind of words sincerely expressing the thought that Jesus was just a mortal who deserved to die as he did. It is about contrasting under a formula, those who do not really believe him among those that do, as evident in the words that they say. The polar opposites of the 'formula' is just used as an extreme contrast needed to clearly link truth with Spirit. Where the truth is in plenty so is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is in plenty, so is the truth. Where both exists Christ alone is magnified, higher and higher. When either is missing, yet religion remains, this is the spirit of antichrist. Antichrist simply pretends to please God without Christ as the means to do so, which does not come from the Spirit but from the Devil. The Devil governs the world giving it a strong delusion to arrange their souls for hell. The only way to be free of this bondage is to be filled with a different impulse by the Spirit that arises and manifests itself from a right confession.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful answer. I've been going back over some "old" questions of mine and read your answer just now (8/10/13). The pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together for me--almost. What if some unbelievers had insinuated themselves into the Corinthians' fellowship and started speaking in tongues? Instead of praising the Lord and speaking truth by the Holy Spirit, they were actually cursing Jesus. The church at Corinth was messed-up, by any standard, and the believers really loved their speaking in tongues--maybe too much! They needed discernment. Aug 10, 2013 at 18:32
  • @rhetorician - yes, I agree that something along that line could/would have been going on in the background which necessitated the division of true utterances and teaching from false ones, in the context of a christian gathering with various elements of sharing, singing and the freedom of various religious expressions and gifts. They needed discernment in their charismatic experience.
    – Mike
    Aug 11, 2013 at 13:44

By making these seemingly simple statements a matter of speaking by the holy spirit or not, the Apostle is telling the Corinthian ekklesia that their emphasis on intellectuality misses the more important thing: to be filled by the Spirit of God.

The joy of the Spirit is not the tickling of ears. It is the respect for what is holy and true that leads to a unifying love among the disciples.

The thing about cursing Jesus he probably added to make them aware and even warn them how easily one can lose what he has (i.e. the Spirit) and be overcome by evil (i.e. to be cursing the Son of God). Paul was probably one of the most intelligent teachers that ever trod on this earth, and his words went deeper than we can know and imagine.

  • What you say is true. Thank you for your comments. Don Jul 1, 2013 at 17:35
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    Thank you. And for the good question. (Paul is amazing and never fully to be comprehended by us, born late and far away.)
    – hannes
    Jul 1, 2013 at 18:00

How should we contextualize Paul's “Jesus is accursed” in I Co 12:3?

Jesus came announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand. This was the long awaited "day of the Lord". However, he was not the first because he was preceded by a forerunner: John the baptizer. He in turn had been preceded by the prophets who even predicted his arrival:

Mal 4:2  But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.  Mal 4:3  And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.  Mal 4:4  Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.  Mal 4:5  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:  Mal 4:6  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

So Malachi announces the day of the Lord where the messiah will both come with healing in his wings and, if does not find the people repentant he will put the land "under the ban". This is the same concept as "anathema".

So John came preaching that the kingdom was at hand, the messiah was going to follow him and people must repent a get ready or they will be accursed. John's preaching charged the air with electricity and all of the Jews were coming to be cleansed to prepare to meet the messiah and enter the kingdom. When Jesus came he continued John's ministry, preaching the kingdom and his disciples were baptizing people.

After his resurrection the apostles continued preparing people for the imminent return of Christ. However, because the leadership did not acknowledge the Christ as the Christ the nation fell under the ban and the temple was destroyed in 70AD.

First Corinthians was written between the resurrection and the execution of the judgment. So there was still the question of who was ready to meet the messiah and who would fall under the ban:

Mat_3:10  And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Those Jews who denied that Jesus was the messiah would say that he was under the ban (accursed) while those who recognized Jesus would say that he was Lord.

This is how I understand the context of Paul's warning about prophets, as John also said:

1Jn 4:1  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.  1Jn 4:2  Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:  1Jn 4:3  And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.


In Galatians 3.13 we read, "Christ [Moshiach - the anointed] hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:"

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21.22, 23 reads, "And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree; his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him the same day; for he that is hanged is a reproach unto God; that thou defile not thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance."

Paul is saying that one cannot speak of Jesus being cursed, and bringing redemption from the curse of the law except by the gift of faith.

Only those under the Covenant would have heard the pronunciations of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28:15-68 on Mount Ebal and been placed under a curse if they failed to keep the whole of the Law given a Mount Sinai.

In context, only Jews were placed under a curse for violating the obligations detailed in the "Book of the Law" (Devarim/Deuteronomy) and only those Jews who fulfilled the obligations of the "book of the law" would be Blessed with the Blessings found in 28.1-14.

Now that the curse of the law is "done away with" (according to Christianity) there only remains the blessings of the book of the law for the Jews (Bnai Yisrael) in the context of the "Blessing of Avraham" (Galatians 3.14) which is the Promise of the Spirit.

(And Moses said unto him: 'Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the L-RD'S people were prophets, that the L-RD would put His spirit upon them!' Numbers 11.29)

  • I think it is great that you considered how the curse might be related to the Torah. However, isn't Paul's comment more negative than positive since he seems to be saying that Jesus being accursed is not from the spirit of God? Or did I misunderstand your point? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 19, 2018 at 11:26

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." Gal 3:13

Paul is very familiar with being cursed.

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. 1 Cor 4:12-13

When Paul is talking about saying "Jesus be cursed" is a phrase saying Jesus was wrong, deserving of judgement for sin, in some way worthy of denegration. So Paul is saying no one can take this position and speak with the Holy Spirit.

I have had interaction with people who claim to follow the Lord yet deny the need for us to obey His word or follow His principles. Their line of argument is Jesus was being sarcastic and putting up an impossible objective.

So rather than Paul being strange saying this, he is addressing a problem faced within the church over the difficulty of Jesus's commands and our inability to comprehend or follow in our own strength. One answer is to denegrate Jesus which is not of God.

As far as denying a verse from scripture because it is difficult to put into context, rather than only where there are conflicting sources, we would all end up with different bibles and stay lost.


Benson Commentary is most helpful here:

1 Corinthians 12:3. Wherefore — Since it was so with you once, and it is otherwise now, this is a full demonstration of the truth of the Christian religion, through your faith in, and reception of, which, you received these gifts, which none of the heathen idols, blind, and dumb, and lifeless as they were, could possibly confer upon you. I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God — Who is endued with these spiritual gifts, or is at all inspired by the Holy Spirit; calleth Jesus accursed — Pronounces him to be an impostor, and therefore justly punished with death. It seems that some, who pretended to be inspired, did this; probably the Jewish exorcists, together with the heathen priests and priestesses, who in their enthusiastic fits reviled Jesus. Now the apostle intended here to teach the Corinthians, that if any such persons were really inspired, that is, if they spake by any supernatural impulse, it certainly proceeded from evil spirits, and not from the Spirit of God, who never would move any one to speak in that manner of Jesus. By this the apostle cuts off all who spoke blasphemously and irreverently of Christ, whether Jews or heathen, from all pretences to the possession of spiritual gifts, or of any supernatural influence from the true God. These gifts and inspirations could only be found among true Christians. On the other hand, no man can say that Jesus is the Lord — Can receive him as such; can think or speak reverently of him; can make profession of his name, when that profession would expose him to imprisonment and martyrdom; can worship him aright, and heartily acknowledge his divinity and lordship, (against which there was then the greatest opposition made,) so as to subject himself sincerely and entirely to his government: but by the Holy Ghost — By his directing, renewing, and purifying influences. The sum is, None have the Holy Spirit but true Christians; true believers in, and disciples of, the Lord Jesus; and all such have the Spirit, at least in his enlightening and sanctifying graces.

  • On this site one is not supposed to just cite a single source without comment. Can you, in your own words say why this man's opinions are accurate as opposed to the reasons and scriptures provided by others? As it stands you have merely provided an opinion piece. Can you provide primary sources?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 19, 2018 at 11:20
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    Ruminator - thanks for pointing this out. I will correct the entry and make additional comments / primary sources etc. Your helpful advice is appreciated.
    – Richard
    Apr 19, 2018 at 12:44
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    I appreciate your gracious reception of my correction Richard.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 19, 2018 at 14:17

I have always believed that Paul's statement reflects a Gnostic teaching or proto-Gnostic, with an aspect of Adoptionism, whereas Gnostic 'christians' held that the man Jesus--was accursed on the cross, but the Logos Himself never suffered death but departed. It's hard to establish this as a 1st century view or even that there was enough of an established Gnosticism for this to be uttered in the middle of the 1st century, but it seems to me to be the best context. Paul is saying that when there is chaos in worship, a lone 'gnostic' thinking person could utter what the utterer consider spiritual insight into the nature of Christ, i.e. that he is only exalted and never fully human and never died. This would go along with 1 John 4:1-3.

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