Elon, North Carolina
Today, we want to look at one of the hard sayings of Jesus. Without question, this is one of the most difficult question Bible question to answer. What is the blasphemy of the Spirit? I have received more feedback from this topic than from any other of my posts. Many people have questions about this subject. There are many myths about this sin. Even some Bible-believing Christians have said some crazy things about this.
Importance of the Topic
Some of these questions that will be raised here do not have definitive answers. The Bible simply does not answer all of the questions that we ask. This is a very controversial topic. Not all Christians agree on the topic. Some would say that this topic may cause divisions. Why should we even study it? There are two reasons why every Christian should study this topic.
One, it is a serious topic. It is not just part of the Word of God; it is an important part of the Word of God. Jesus said it was. This sin results in damnation. Don’t all sins result in damnation? Yes, but Jesus said that this sin is UNFORGIVABLE. All sins can be forgiven, except this one. Jesus said that anyone who commits this sin “will NOT be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).
He said that if you commit this sin you will “NEVER be forgiven” because you are “guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). Jesus gives a very serious warning in this passage. This is one of the most solemn warnings that Jesus ever uttered. It is important theologically.
Two, it is a relevant topic. Many people are worried that they have committed this sin. It is important from a counseling standpoint people who are afraid that they have committed this sin and believe that they have no chance of being saved. This has practical value from a pastoral standpoint. It is not only important theologically, it is important pastorally. What do you say to people who feel guilty because they think that they have committed this sin and have no hope of salvation?
Let’s begin by looking at the historical background. The sin is mentioned three times in the NT (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10). Matthew and Mark gives us the historical background to this situation. Luke takes the saying out of its historical background and records the saying by itself.
Luke has the exorcism of the demon by Jesus in one chapter and the statement about the blasphemy of the Spirit in another chapter but Matthew and Mark tell us exactly what led Jesus to give the warning about the blasphemy of the Spirit. Matthew gives us even more details than Mark. This story has four parts of the story are as follows:
The Condition of the Man
This was a man who could not talk and could not see and was demon possessed (Matthew 12:22). He had multiple problems. He had multiple disabilities. He was like Helen Keller. In addition to that, he was demon possessed. His problem was not just physical and medical but spiritual. It was demonic in nature.
The Response of Jesus
Jesus supernaturally healed him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus instantly does three things for the man. He cast the demon out. He gave him the ability to see and He gave him the ability to speak (Matthew 12:22).
The Reaction of the Crowd
The people were shocked. They were astonished. They thought that surely this must be the Messiah (Matthew 12:23). This was not just a case of Jesus casting out a demon possessed man. It was the case of Jesus casting out a demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute. Other Jews in the first century also performed some exorcisms. Jesus said they did (Matthew 12:27).
But, in order for them to do that, they had to find out the name of the demon in order to cast it out. If you can’t communicate with the man, there would be no way to cast out the demon. The Jews believed that this was something that only the Messiah would be able to do and now Jesus is doing it. That is why all of the people said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23).
The Response of the Leaders
Matthew mentions the Pharisees (12:24-25). Mark mentions the scribes (3:22). The scribes were the teachers of the law. They were very well educated. These were the professional biblical scholars of the day and not just any scholars but the ones who came down from Jerusalem (Mark 3:22). That is sixty three miles away. It would have been a four day trip.
They said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew 24:24). They did not question that Jesus healed the man but went right to the source of his power. According to them, this supernatural power did not come from God but from Satan.
The Type of Sin Involved
1. This was a DELIBERATE sin
This is the biggest misunderstanding about this sin today. Many worry if they committed it accidentally by a slip of the tongue. This sin is NOT accidental or unintentional. It is deliberate, intentional. This was NOT a casual remark. This is clear from the context. This commented was intended to smear and slander the reputation of Jesus to prevent people from accepting him as the Messiah.
Matthew 12:34-34 says, “All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” BUT WHEN THE PHARISEES HEARD THIS, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons that this fellow drives out demons.” The Pharisees were not happy that people were following Jesus. They did not want people to think that he was the Messiah. They intentionally said this to try to keep people from believing in Jesus.
2. This was a VERBAL sin.
It is NOT a sexual sin or some great moral depravity. The unpardonable sin is NOT premarital sex or adultery or homosexuality or incest. It is NOT a sin of violence (murder or suicide). Contrary to some Baptists, the unpardonable sin is not divorce. You can be outwardly moral, like the Pharisees, stay married to your spouse and still commit this sin.
The blasphemy of the Spirit was a verbal sin. It involved saying some things. Some have denied this (e.g., Calvin) but the text backs this up. Jesus says, “Anyone who SPEAKS a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who SPEAKS against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”. He did not say that anyone who thinks bad thoughts about the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
That’s what the Scribes and Pharisees were doing. They were not just thinking bad thoughts. They were saying some things. Calvin is right that thoughts are involved. Jesus said that words are just an expression of your heart (Matthew 12:34).
This sin did NOT involve slandering the PERSON on the Holy Spirit. They didn’t curse the Holy Spirit. They did not even mention his name. It involved slandering the WORK of the Holy Spirit. This sin involved BLASPHEMY of the Spirit’s miraculous work.
They did not just say that Jesus’ teaching was a little off or that his miracles were not genuine. They did not simply call Jesus a charlatan or a fraud. They said that His miracles were demonic in nature. In fact, they did not just come from demons but from “the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34; 24:24). They said it not only came from demons but from the head demon.
The men who committed this sin were did this more than once (Matthew 9:32-34). This was not a careless word that was spoken one time in ignorance by people who did not know any better. Mark uses the imperfect tense in Greek and says this is what the Jewish leaders “were saying” (Mark 3:22, 30). In Greek, the imperfect tense is usually used to show repeated and continuous action in the past and not an isolated act.
3. This was a DISHONEST sin.
Many today are worried that they have committed this sin out of ignorance. The people who committed this sin in Jesus’ day knew the truth. They saw Jesus perform this miracle and it was not the first time that he did it. He had done this kind of thing many times before. This was a case of willful unbelief in the face of undeniable evidence.
This was not the case of someone who does not have enough evidence to make a decision and makes the wrong decision. It was not a sin of ignorance. These people had the evidence staring them in the face and they chose not to accept it. It was a case clearly of people who suppressed the truth.
It was said by men who hated Jesus. They were not neutral. They were not open minded. They began with a bias against Jesus. This sin was not motivated by ignorance but by hatred.
In fact, they did not just dislike Jesus or even hate Him. They wanted to kill him and wanted to kill him (Matthew 12:9-14). There was an ulterior motive to this charge. They had absolutely no proof of this accusation and even knew that it was false.
4. It was a DAMNABLE sin
It was a sin that not only condemned to hell but was unforgivable. This sin involved rejection of Christ. It was the official rejection by the leaders of Jesus as the Messiah. The leaders say that Jesus is from Satan. They say that he is not the Messiah. Matthew 12 is a turning point in the life of Christ. It is a crucial incident in the Gospel of Matthew.
What the Pharisees said here was their way of rejecting Christ. The people asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23) and this was their answer.
However, most people who reject Christ do not commit this sin. Most people who reject Christ do not think that he was demon possessed. This sin did not just involve unbelief, it involved blasphemy. Many people reject Christ. This sin is not just unbelief, it is extreme unbelief. It is the most extreme form of rejection. It involved slandering the works of the Holy Spirit.
Why is this Sin Unforgivable?
Is it the worst sin on the planet? No. How could blasphemy be the worst sin on the planet? Are verbal sins worse than moral sins? How could what you say be worse than what you do? It is not worse than nailing the Incarnate Son of God to the cross. It is not worse than worshiping an idol. It is not worse than incest or murder.
Is a sin that Jesus did not die for? No. The Bible says that Jesus died for all sins. I believe this sin is unforgivable, not because people do not repent but because they can’t repent. The Bible teaches that people can get to a point where repentance is IMPOSSIBLE (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6).
If repentance is impossible, then forgiveness and salvation is impossible. Since you can’t repent of it, you can’t be forgiven. It is unforgivable, not because God will never forgive you but because you will never ask for forgiveness and you will not ask because you can’t ask.
Why is sin against the Son forgivable but not blasphemy against the Spirit? That seems strange. The only sin that is unforgivable is not a sin against Christ but a sin against the Holy Spirit. People can blaspheme Jesus (and call him a liar, deceiver, Sabbath breaker or a lunatic) and still be forgiven. Remember, before Paul became a Christian he said that he was a blasphemer (I Timothy 1:12-13).
Why would blasphemy against God the Son be something that CAN be forgiven, while blasphemy against God the Holy Spirit is something that CANNOT be forgiven? Why are crimes against the Son worse than crimes against the Spirit? Is the Spirit greater than the Son? Is the Son less important than the Spirit? No. They are all equal members of the Trinity. The Spirit is not greater than either the Father or the Son.
One common view is that the reason that the guilt of the Spirit is greater than the guilt of the Son is the Son is that the Son took the form of a servant and became a man. People might fail to recognize his true identity. The problem with this is that the Father also did not become a man, as Augustine pointed out.
My personal opinion is that this has something to do with the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christ and to convict the world “of sin, of righteous and of judgment” (John 16:8). Blasphemy of the Spirit removes a person from the sphere in which forgiveness is even possible.
The Holy Spirit’s job is to bring people to Christ. A person who blasphemes the Spirit is slandering and rejecting the only one who can lead them to a place of saving faith. How do you know if you have committed this sin? Only God would know.
However, if you accept Christ as Savior, that is proof that you have NOT committed the sin. Repentance would then be possible. Anyone who wants to be saved has NOT committed this sin. Jesus promised that whoever comes to Him in genuine faith, he will never drive away (John 6:37).
Can this Sin be Committed Today?
There are two basic views here. Some believe this can be committed today and some believe that the sin cannot be committed today. Let’s look at the first view.
Many believe that the sin cannot be committed today. The argument is that since Christ is not on the earth, casting out demons, people cannot commit this sin today. It is a very popular view in some circles to say that Jesus has to be on earth to commit this sin.
Many teach that this sin requires the physical presence of Christ on the earth. That is how the sin was being committed in the context of Matthew 12. The strength of this view is the historical context. The other view is that this sin can still be committed today. The latter view is more likely for three reasons.
1) The language of the warning is general.
The language Jesus uses is quite general. “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who SPEAKS against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” He does NOT say, “The person that says my power to perform miracles comes from Satan will never be forgiven.” That would be very specific but the language Jesus uses is very general.
The text does NOT say that the ONLY way that the sin can be committed is to attribute Christ’s miracle to Satan. That is what the Pharisees were doing but Jesus said “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” There is more than one way to speak against the Holy Spirit.
There is more than one way to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Some have blasphemed the Bible which is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some have blasphemed the Virgin Birth or (in more proper terminology) the virginal conception, a pregnancy which took place because of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her.”
2) There is no timeline put on this warning
There is no indication from the text that some of the most solemn words that ever came out of his mouth ONLY apply for a period of three years or until 70 AD. There is no hint of that in the text. In fact, the general language of the passage supports the opposite viewpoint.
3) Other passages in the NT imply that the sin can still be committed today
The Book of Hebrews implies that this can still be committed. Hebrews 10:29 says that people can still insult the Spirit of Grace. Hebrews 6:4 says that there is a sin which people can commit today which makes repentance impossible.
3) This is NOT primarily a sin against Christ but a sin against the Holy Spirit
Since it is a sin against the Holy Spirit, it does not require the physical presence of Christ on the earth. The Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today and his person and work can still be blasphemed today. The early Christians performed miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus did. In fact, Jesus said that they would be able to do the very same miracles and even greater ones (John 14:12).
If people said the same thing about the miracles of Peter or Paul, would not the same thing apply? In fact, people today can still attribute the miracles of Christ to demons. They do not have to see the miracles. They can read about them in the pages of Scripture and say the same thing.
Can a Christian Commit this Sin?
The answer to this question is clearly No. There is universal agreement on this. Even John Calvin says this. The only example of anyone committing this sin was the Pharisees and they were unbelievers. Jesus called them “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34). He called them evil (12:34).
We know that this warning applies to Christians for two reasons.
1) The warning is open to everyone.
Jesus said, “ANYONE (or whosoever) who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Anyone means anyone (Jew, Gentile, Christian, saved or unsaved, male or female).
2) Luke’s account of the blasphemy of the Spirit (Luke 12:10) is not addressed to the Scribes and the Pharisees but to the disciples (Luke 12:1).
How can this apply to Christians, if they cannot commit the sin anyway? An analogy may help here. The Bible also warns the church about the dangers of apostasy (See the Book of Hebrews).
At the same time, it also teaches that a true believer cannot commit apostasy (cf. Hebrews 10:39; I John 2:19) but the warning is still given to believers. The lesson is for all of us to examine whether we are genuinely saved (II Corinthians 13:5).
1. John R. Rice, Dr. Rice, Here are More Questions…, vol II, 523.