By Dan Petty
“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven” (Matt. 12:31). What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Why is this an unpardonable sin?
The context of this passage (Matt. 12:22-37) is essential to understanding Jesus’ statement. Jesus had demonstrated his divinity by healing the demon-possessed (vv. 22-23). The multitudes marveled at his power, but the Pharisees (scribes who came from Jerusalem to Galilee, Mark 3:22), unable to deny that miracles had been performed, attributed them to the power of Beelzebub, “the ruler of the demons” (v. 24).
Jesus responded that the accusation of the Pharisees that represented Satan as divided against himself was absurd (vv. 25-26). Why would the evil one rob himself of his greatest achievement, his triumph over the souls of men? By so arguing, the Pharisees had also entangled themselves in gross inconsistency, since they claimed that some of their own could cast out demons (v. 27).
Their argument was actually a deliberate attempt to deny the truth. Jesus was able to cast out demons, not by the powers of evil, but by the “Spirit of God” (“finger of God,” Luke 11:20). By God’s power Jesus had entered a “strong man’s” (Satan’s) house and plundered him of his goods; far from being in league with Satan, Jesus had overpowered him (v. 29). The mighty works of Christ indicated the coming of the kingdom of God (v. 28). He had given clear and irrefutable evidence of the truth of his message; in the light of such evidence neutrality is impossible (v. 30). Yet the scribes willfully and deliberately assigned to Satanic origins what the Holy Spirit was actually doing, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
In Mark 3:22-30 Jesus’ saying about blasphemy against the Spirit appears in the same context as in Matthew. The statement is also found in Luke, but the context is different. The Pharisees’ charge that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub is recorded in Luke 11:14-26, but Jesus’ words about blaspheming the Spirit do not appear until 12:10. Here they come immediately between his warning that “he who denies Me before men shall be denied before the an-gels of God” (vv. 8-9), and his assurances to his disciples that the Spirit would be their helper when they stood before earthly powers, that they might know what to speak (vv. 11-12). In reviling the power through which Jesus worked, the scribes were blaspheming the very Spirit who was promised to be their Comforter in difficult times.
What is Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?
The word blasphemy (blasphemia), “impious and reproachful speech injurious to the divine majesty” (Thayer), in this context denotes an attitude of “defiant irreverence.” The scribes who accused Jesus were guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit because they defied the truth. They treated his miracles with something worse than indifference; they blasphemously attributed them to Satan. They were like those condemned by Isaiah the prophet (5:20): “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Philo thus commented that those who blaspheme against the divine and ascribe the origin of evil to God and not man can expect no forgiveness. By accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan when he was really acting through the power of the Holy Spirit, they had blasphemed the Spirit, hardening their hearts against the Spirit’s influence.
Why is This an Unpardonable Sin?
Jesus said that every other sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven. “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him . . .” (Matt. 12:32). Christ referred to himself as the “Son of Man” to emphasize his humanity. To speak evil words against Jesus as a man working among men, though deplorable, was an evil that could be forgiven. The Son of Man in his earthly ministry was as liable to misunderstanding and ill treatment by others as any new messenger. When the source of evil speaking against Christ is ignorance, misconception, or ill-informed prejudice, then that blasphemy is as pardon-able as any sin. Men could repent of their careless neglect of his work or their mistaken opposition to it, and when they did repent, they were forgiven. There are many examples in the New Testament of people who first opposed Jesus but later turned to accept him. Peter, perhaps through fear, denied Jesus in his hour of trial (Mark 14:71-72), but he found forgiveness, and when he was restored he was able to strengthen others (Luke 22:31-32). Paul marveled at the mercy extended to him even though he had been “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Tim. 1:12-16, emphasis mine, dwp). The apostle described himself as the “chief of sinners” to show, in fact, the perfect patience of Christ as the Savior of all.
The person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, however, places himself beyond the reach of forgiveness. This is true because the Holy Spirit is the agent in the revelation of divine truth (2 Sam. 23:2; John 15:26; 16:13; Eph. 6:17; 2 Pet. 1:21). It is only through the work of the Spirit that we come to know of God, our sins, the atonement provided through Christ, and our need for repentance and obedience. Blasphemy against the Spirit is unforgivable because its source is a heart of malice, selfish preference of wrong over right and evil over good, and a willful refusal to believe. The Pharisees had revealed that their hearts were evil, and Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 12:34). Such a perverse spirit consciously and deliberately rejects the truth and thus the salvation it brings. “Either in this age, or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32) simply means “never.” In Mark’s account, Jesus called it an “eternal sin” (3:29). As long as a person persists in this state, genuine repentance is impossible. There is no room in this person’s heart for penitence, which is a prerequisite for forgiveness. His sin is unpardonable simply because he is unwilling to travel the road that leads to pardon. The only sin that God is unable to forgive is the unwillingness to accept forgiveness.
Mark’s use of the imperfect tense in 3:30, “because they were saying,” implies a continued rejection of the truth on the part of the scribes: they “kept on saying” that he had an unclean spirit. The continuous refusal to respond to the guidance of the Spirit of God as revealed in his word may eventually lead to a state of moral insensitivity. Grieving (Eph. 4:30), resisting (Acts 7:51), and quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) the Holy Spirit may lead one to become so calloused that he will not even hear the truth.
There is such a thing as opposition to divine influence that is so persistent and deliberate, because of continual preference of darkness to light, that repentance, and there-fore forgiveness become impossible. The Law of Moses made a distinction between sins committed unintentionally, for which atonement could be made, and sins committed in open defiance of God. The person who acts “defiantly … , is blaspheming the Lord … , has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment . . . , shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him” (Num. 15:30-31). The Hebrews writer said it is impossible to renew to repentance those who crucify the Son of God afresh, placing themselves in a state of open repudiation of the only way of salvation (Heb. 6:4-6). For them “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (10:260. They have sinned the sin “unto death” (1 John 5:16).
The gospel is God’s power to salvation. But we must have an honest and good heart to receive it. “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Guardian of Truth XL: 3 p. 14-15