The Unpardonable Sin

Matthew 12:31-32

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2021

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mathew 12:31-32 NIV)

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29 NIV)

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:10 NIV)

Today, we want to look at the scariest passage in the NT. It comes from the lips of Jesus. It is the saying about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  It is mentioned in three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Perhaps no saying of Jesus has been more abused and misunderstood than this one.  Many have been terrified by this verse.  People who suffer from OCD, in particular, have been tortured by these words of Jesus.

They are afraid that at some time in the past, they said something about the Holy Spirit, perhaps even by accident, and now their fate is sealed.  They are doomed to hell.  They cannot be saved. They have no hope.

Are they right?  We will find out.  First, we want to look at the context of the passage.  The biggest mistake that people make today is that they take this saying of Jesus out of its context.  People pull verses out of context all of the time in the Bible.  That is one way to misinterpret the Bible every time.

What is the context of this saying?  What is the specific situation which led to this sin?  An incredible miracle, a healing miracle.  It is also an exorcism.  Matthew and Luke describe it.  You can read about the context in Luke 11 and Matthew 12.

An Incredible Miracle

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. (Luke 11:14 NIV)

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see (Matthew 12:22 NIV).

The story begins with a man with problems.  He had three problems.  Anyone of these problems would be big enough but he had three of them.  The man was completely blind.  He couldn’t see.  He was mute.  He couldn’t talk and he was demon-possessed.  He was a blind, mute demoniac.

He was the biblical Hellen Keller.  Hellen Keller could talk but she could not see or hear.  This man could hear but he could not see or talk, only he was much worse, because he was demon-possessed.  The demon actually CAUSED his physical problems.  It caused his medical problems.

Now every time you have a headache does not mean you are demon-possessed but in some cases medical problems can be demonic in origin.  This one was.  How do we know?  The way Jesus healed the man was by casting out the demon.  We know that from Luke.

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. (Luke 11:14 NIV)

Jesus healed the man and that led to two completely different reactions: one was positive, and one was negative.  One group of people were completely open minded and just looked at the facts and the other group was close minded and hard-hearted.

Both sides agreed on four things.  There was no debate about these four things.

1. Everyone agreed that this man had real physical problems.  He was not faking an illness.

2. Everyone agreed that the man got better.  He could see and hear.

3. Everyone agreed that this healing was completely supernatural. This man was not healed by natural medicine.  He did not get better slowly over a long period of time.  He got better instantly and miraculously.

4. Everyone also agreed that Jesus was responsible for the healing.  The man got better because of what Jesus did to him.

Two Different Reactions

There were two different reactions to these set of facts.  You can agree on the FACTS and disagree on the CONCLUSIONS.  Just ask Republicans and Democrats today.

A mass shooting takes place and people die.  Everyone agrees on the facts.  One side says that we have a crime problem.  The other side says it is not a crime problem.  It is a gun problem. We need to get rid of these evil guns.

Abortion is a real issue in America.  We can agree on the facts.  One side says the issue is the taking of human life, innocent human life.  The other side says the issue is the right of women to control their own bodies.  Same facts, different conclusions.  What were the two reactions?

The people on the street had one reaction saw this incredible miracle and were amazed.  It is one thing to heal a man who was blind.  That would be incredible enough, but Jesus healed a man who couldn’t see, couldn’t talk and was demon-possessed.

First, they said that they had not seen anything like this (Matthew 9:33).  It happened again and they said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23).  Could this be the Messiah? The Jews believed that there were certain miracles that only the Messiah would be able to do. This must be one of them.  That was one reaction.

The Pharisees had a different reaction.  They said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” (Matthew 12:24 NIV).  This was not said by just anybody.  They had the same facts, but a different reaction.  Why?

It was not because of a lack of evidence.  The evidence was powerful.  It was undeniable. The Pharisees witnessed Jesus heal a man with multiple disabilities.  They just witnessed an exorcism.   It happened right before their eyes.  They were completely unmoved.

It was not because they were just ignorant and did not know any better. The ones who said this were the religious experts.  They were the scholars of the day.  They knew the Bible.  God has mercy on people who say things out of ignorance.

Paul said, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (I Timothy 1:13 NIV)

They had a revelation about Jesus being the Messiah.  They understood it.  They saw the miracles with their own eyes.  The evidence was overwhelming.  They could not deny the evidence, so they tried to discredit it.

They said that this was not messianic.  It was demonic.  Jesus did these thing by the power of Beelzebub.  He did it, not just any demon, but by the top demon, the head demon, Satan himself.

They did not just reject Jesus as the Messiah, like many do today.  They said that He was actually demon-possessed and performed His miracles by the power of Satan.

Jesus did answer them with a Bible verse but with logic. He said, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:23).  “If I am working for Satan, then Satan would be fighting Satan.”  In essence he says, ‘Satan may be evil, but he’s not stupid!’”  It is in this context, that Jesus gives us the warning about the unpardonable sin.

Today, we want to look at ten things from Scripture that you need to know about the unpardonable sin.

Ten Truths about the Unpardonable Sin

1) There is such a thing as an unforgivable sin

Jesus said so.  We think today that there no such a thing as an unforgivable sin.  All sins are forgivable.  That is what most preachers will tell you.  Jesus said emphatically, “every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, BUT blasphemy against the Spirit will NOT be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31 NIV).

Now this is strange.  You hear all of the time in church that God is a forgiving God.  What you hear is absolutely true.  God is a forgiving God.

He casts all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 NIV).

He has removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:1 NIV).

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12 NIV)

God is forgiving.  He does not just forgive our sins; He forgets them.  He is merciful.  He is full of compassion.  He gives people second chances, but with this sin, there is NO second chance.  There is NO forgiveness.  There is NO hope, not in this life and not in the next life.  This will be with you forever.  It is an ETERNAL SIN (Mark 3:29 NIV, ESV)

2) The worst moral sins imaginable can be forgiven

We tend to think that if there is an unforgivable sin, it must be really bad.  It must be some monstrous crime.  What is strange is that the worst sins that you can possibly think of in your mind can all be forgiven.

The worst sexual sins and perversions CAN be forgiven. Adultery can be forgiven (John 8).  Homosexuality (I Corinthians 6:9-11) can be forgiven.  Rape, incest and child abuse can all be forgiven.

Murder can be forgiven. David committed murder and he was forgiven (Psalm 32:1-2). Murder is not the unpardonable sin, contrary to what the Mormon Church teaches.[1]

Murder is not the unpardonable sin.  Not even suicide is the unpardonable sin.  Abortion is not the unpardonable sin.  Abortion can be forgiven.  King Manasseh committed child sacrifice in the OT, and he was forgiven.

Even mass murder is not the unpardonable sin. Serial killers can get saved.  In fact, some have, such as the Son of Sam (David Berkowitz).

Not only can murder be forgiven; the worst murder ever committed on the planet can be forgiven.  Nailing Jesus to the cross could be forgiven.

The Apostle Peter preached to some people who were responsible for the death of their Messiah and he did not say that they could not be forgiven.  Peter did not say that they had committed the unpardonable sin.

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge and YOU, with the help of wicked men, PUT HIM TO DEATH by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NIV)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38 NIV)

Even blasphemy is not the unpardonable sin.  You can blaspheme God and still get saved.  The Apostle Paul said that he used to be a blasphemer (I Timothy 1:13).  He persecuted the church and he was forgiven.  Only a certain kind of blasphemy cannot be forgiven.

3) The unforgivable sin is more than just verbal

Blasphemy is a verbal sin, but this is no ordinary verbal sin.  This was not an accidental failing.  It was not misguided moment of irreverence.  It was not just a slip of the tongue. Jesus said in this very chapter, “Out of abundance of the HEART the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 KJV).

This sin is not just saying some bad words about the Holy Spirit.  If that was the case, then every preacher who read Matthew 12 as the Scripture reading would be guilty of the same sin.

“Speaking against the Spirit was not merely a sin of the tongue.  The Pharisees not only sinned with their words.  It was a sin of the heart, expressed in words.”[2] What the Pharisees said in their heart on the inside came out in words on the outside.

An accidental slip of the tongue does not come out of the heart.  When you say something accidentally or misspeak, it is unintentional.  It is saying something that you do not mean to say.  This was a heart issue.  This was an intentional, deliberate and willful sin.

4) You can still commit this sin today

Some teach 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. This was the view of Charles Ryrie (1925-2016), the author of the Ryrie Study Bible.

“To commit this particular sin required the personal and visible presence of Christ on earth; to commit it today, therefore, would be impossible.”[3]

“The special circumstances involved in this blasphemy cannot be duplicated today; therefore this sin cannot now be committed.”[4]

I have great respect for Charles Ryrie.  He is great writer and theologian.  I have a signed book from him, but there are many flaws with this view. Jesus did NOT call this a DISPENSATIONAL sin.  He called it an ETERNAL sin (Mark 3:29).

Jesus NEVER said, “If you commit this sin before 70 A.D., you won’t be forgiven.”  He said, “If you commit this sin at all, you will not be forgiven.” Jesus does not give a time limit or expiration date for this sin.

You will not be forgiven if you commit this sin in the first century.  You will not be forgiven if you commit this sin in the twentieth century.  You will not be forgiven in this life or the next life.  He says it in the strongest possible language.

Furthermore, this is NOT a sin against Jesus.  This is a sin against the Holy Spirit, so does NOT require the physical presence of Jesus on the earth.  In fact, when Jesus left the earth, He said that the Holy Spirit would come to replace Him.

People can still blaspheme the Spirit today.  The Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today.  He is the active force of God in the world today.  His person and His work can still be blasphemed. Hebrews 10:29 says that people can still insult the Spirit of Grace.

However, only unbelievers can commit this sin.  This is something everyone agrees on.  Even John Calvin said that no Christian could commit this sin.[5]  He is absolutely correct.

Christians can sin.  They can sin against the Holy Spirit.  The Bible mentions three sins they can commit against the Holy Spirit.

  • Christians can GRIEVE the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
  • Christians can QUENCH the Holy Spirit (I Thessalonians 5:19).
  • Christians can LIE to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3).

Christians CANNOT blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  There is no example of any Christian blaspheming the Holy Spirit in the NT. There is only one example in the Bible of people committing this sin and they were not believers.  They were not any of His followers.

They were the Scribes and Pharisees who hated Jesus. The enemies of Jesus were the ones accused of this sin.  Jesus said to them, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?” (Matthew 12:34 NIV).

He did not call them SHEEP.  He called them SNAKES (Matthew 23:33). He did not call them children of God.  He called them children of the devil.  He said that Satan was their father (John 8:44).  He called them “children of hell” (Matthew 23:15).

5) You can be moral and commit this sin

We tend to think that if that the only ones who could commit this sin must be really bad people.  The shocking truth is that those accused of this this sin in the Bible were outwardly moral people.

The Pharisees were not known as notorious sinners.  They did not have a criminal record.  They were not ax-murderers.  They were not drunkards or crack heads.

The Pharisees were outwardly moral.  Outwardly, they looked great.  They were upstanding individuals.  They had a good reputation in the community. They were well-respected.  They lived exemplary lives.

6) You can be religious and commit this sin

This sin was not committed by skeptics and atheists.  It was committed by religious people.  The Pharisees were religious.  They were extremely religious.  They went to church, which they called synagogue.

They studied the Bible.  They studied the Bible for hours each day. They were scrupulous about keeping religious rules.  The people who should be more concerned about committing this sin are religious people.

7) You can be a leader and commit this sin

Religious leaders are the only ones said to commit this sin in Scripture.  The Pharisees and scribes were not just religious.  They were religious leaders.

They were distinguished rabbis.  The Scribes were the professional Bible scholars of the day.  They were the experts on the Bible.  They were the ones who knew the prophecies of the OT about the Messiah.  They were highly educated.

This sin was not committed by the ordinary church members.  It was committed by the pastoral staff.  It was committed by the senior pastor.

As one NT scholar put it, “Those who should most particularly heed the warning of this verse today are the theological teachers and official leaders of the churches.”[6]

8) If you are worried about committing it, you haven’t committed it

There are many people worried about committing this sin.  As D.L. Moody once said, “Those who think they have committed the unpardonable sin seldom worry themselves about other sins.”[7]

On the other hand, if you are worried about committing this sin in the past and feel guilty and think there is no hope for you, there is good news.  If you are humble, broken, and repentant, you have not committed this sin.  Everyone agrees on this point.  That is important to know practically.  It is important to know pastorally. How do we know this is true?

9) The unpardonable sin makes repentance impossible

All sins are forgivable.  The blood of Jesus cleanses us from ALL sin.  The only sin God will not forgive is the sin we will not confess but the person who commits this sin is incapable of confessing it.

This sin can never be forgiven, because in order to commit it, the heart has to be beyond repentance, as A.W. Tozer says.[8]  This sin makes one incapable of asking for a pardon.   F. F. Bruce says, “The nature of this sin is such that one does not repent of it.”[9]

John Walvoord put it, the thought is not “that one seeking pardon will not find it, but rather that one who rejects the Holy Spirit will not seek pardon.  It is the ultimate in unbelief.”[10]

Charles Ryrie agrees.  He says that this sin “can never be forgiven, not because God withdraws His grace but because people withdraw themselves from all contact with God.”[11]

It is scary to think that you can actually get to a point where your heart is so hard that you are unable to even ask for a pardon.  No matter how much evidence you place before some people, they will never believe.

We like to tell people that they always have hope as long as they are alive.  The Bible teaches that some do NOT have hope.  The Bible teaches something different.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”39 For this reason they COULD NOT BELIEVE, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (John 12:37-40 NIV).

For it is IMPOSSIBLE TO RESTORE AGAIN TO REPENTANCE those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6 RSV)

The Bible teaches that you can get to a point where repentance and faith is literally impossible. You can get to a point where you CANNOT believe and to a point where you CANNOT repent.

The Pharisees did not just REJECT Jesus.  They did not just DISCREDIT Jesus and say that His miracles came from Satan.  They wanted to SILENCE Jesus.  They wanted to KILL him.

They had a meeting on how they could kill Jesus.  In the same chapter, we see the words, “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” (Matthew 12:9 NIV).  They were at a point of no return.  The same thing can happen to people today

10) Deliberately speaking evil of the clear and undisputed work of the Holy Spirit is very dangerous.

It is extremely dangerous to do this.  It was dangerous two thousand years ago and it is dangerous today.  Why?

As Grant Osborn puts it, The Holy Spirit is “the divine tool of salvation.”[12]  Holy Spirit is the one who makes faith and repentance possible. The Holy Spirit’s job is to bring people to Christ.

It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict the world “of sin, of righteous and of judgment” (John 16:8 KJV).  The Spirit is the one who bears witness to Christ (John 15:26).  You cannot even say that Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:3)

A person who blasphemes the Spirit is slandering and rejecting the only one who can lead them to a place of saving faith.

[1] Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, said, “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, which is shedding innocent blood after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant.” (Doctrines and Covenants 132:26–27).

[2] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Moody Press, 1981), 352.

[3] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Moody Press, 1981), 352.

[4] Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible Expanded Edition (Moody Press, 1995 update) on Matthew 12:31, p. 1534

[5] Calvin wrote, “As we maintain, that he who has been truly regenerated by the Spirit cannot possibly fall into so horrid a crime” (Commentary on Matthew 12:31 in https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/matthew-12.html)

[6] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 1983), 143.

[7] D. L. Moody, Notes from my Bible: from Genesis to Revelation (Kindle Locations 1670-1671). Sequor Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[8] A. W. Tozer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9AwHUwulqE).

[9] F. F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus, The Jesus Library (InterVarsity Press, 1983), 90.

[10] The quote comes from Walvoord’s book Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come Moody Press, 1974) accessed online at https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-12-jesus-rejected-pharisees.

[11] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Miracles of our Lord (Thomas Nelson, 1984), 69.

[12] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament series (Zondervan, 2010), p. 680.

2 Responses to The Unpardonable Sin

  1. Thanks Alan for writing this message. I have been watching The Chosen and upon reflection of this message and the movie, I can see the Scribes and Pharisees of that time being offended by Jesus and proclaiming Him as a devil, mainly because they were offended that God had NOT shown the Messiah to them first.

    I also think of the plan that God brought together, knowing these men of biblical knowledge would reject Jesus as the Messiah.

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