The Unpardonable Sin: What Is The Blasphemy Of The Holy Spirit?  

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

There is perhaps no greater trepidation that man can conceive than that what is conveyed in the simple word: ‘unforgivable.”

There are many who believe that they have committed an “unpardonable” sin, a sin which is beyond the desire and power of God to forgive.

Several times in our church’s jail ministry, I have met with and studied with individuals who believe that they have committed the “unpardonable” sin.

Friends from years gone by have died, while believing they had committed this “unpardonable” sin.

Usually, these pitiable souls have in mind a teaching from the Bible which has often been greatly misunderstood and extremely exaggerated.

I am talking, of course, about the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.”

In this article, we will carefully examine the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the Gospel.

Matthew’s Account  

Matthew 12:22-37-22    Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw.23    And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”24    Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”25    But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.26    If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?27    And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.28    But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.29    Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.30    He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.31    “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.32    Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.33    “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.34    Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.35    A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.36    But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.37    For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Mark’s Account  

Mark 3:22-30-22    And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”23    So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan?24    If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.25    And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.26    And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.27    No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.28    “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter;29    but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”—30    because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Luke’s Account  

Luke 11:14-26-14    And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled.15    But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”16    Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.17    But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.18    If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub.19    And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.20    But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.21    When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.22    But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.23    He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.24    “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’25    And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order.26    Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

The Word “Blasphemy”  

The word “blasphemy” is a word that simply means “evil speaking.”

Describing the word “blaspheme,” Mounce informs us:

“…to slander, blaspheme, insult, especially with regard to speech. Scripture uses blasphemo in various ways, almost all of which have a direct or indirect reference to God…Blasphemy against God is a sin against his majesty and detracts from his holiness…In the first century, blasphemy was still a capital offense, and the sentence of death on Jesus was in part for this sin.” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, 3158-3172 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

As such, blasphemy in its’ most general sense could take several forms.

It could be slander, malicious wording, gossip, etc.

The passage before us, however, speaks of a certain kind of blasphemy, a specific sin which may be readily discernible by recognizing its’ three basic elements.

One: Blasphemy Of The Holy Spirit Was Attributing The Power Of Christ To The Devil 

The first element in the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was in attributing the power of Christ to the power of the devil. (The word “Beelzebub” was a Hebrew word that was used to describe Satan; it is referenced in the second century B.C. book, The Testament Of Solomon).

All of the passages mentioning the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit show that this was the primary factor involved in this transgression, and this is the major element in its’ identification.

Jimmy Jividen has well said:

“The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is identified in the New Testament as being the Pharisees attributing the power by which Jesus worked miracles to Beelzebub instead of the Holy Spirit. In a technical sense it cannot be committed today because Jesus is not physically present in the world.” (Jimmy Jividen, Alive In The Spirit: A Study Of The Nature And Work Of The Holy Spirit, 107; Nashville, TN; Gospel Advocate Company)
Jividen (along with others) believes that the blasphemy of the Spirit cannot occur in our day and age (since the miraculous age of the church has come to an end). However, this fails to take into account that the same faith produced by the eyewitnesses of the miracles of Christ is the same faith produced by the Bible today when its’ historical authenticity is revealed (John 20:30-31).

Regardless of whether this was limited to the Apostolic age or not, the first element of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is seen to be attributing the power of Christ to the power of Satan.

Two: Blasphemy Of The Holy Spirit Was Continually Attributing The Power Of Christ To The Power Of The Devil  

The second element to understanding the nature of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit lies in the continual nature of this sin.

Simply stated, the Greek text of these passages show that the people doing the blaspheming would not stop what they were doing; this was an ongoing action.

Notice especially what Mark tells us:

Mark 3:30-because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Commenting on Mark 3, one scholar tells us:

“The use of the imperfect tense of the verb in the explanatory note, ‘because they were saying that he is possessed,’ implies repetition and a fixed attitude of mind, the tokens of callousness which brought the scribes to the brink of unforgivable blasphemy.” (William Lane, The New International Commentary On The New Testament: The Gospel of Mark, 1567 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Notice how this fact is brought out by various Bible translations:

Mark 3:30 (Contemporary English Version)-Jesus said this because the people were saying that he had an evil spirit in him.

Mark 3:30 (Amplified Version)-For they persisted in saying, He has an unclean spirit.

Again, this same idea is shown to be used in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 12:33-35).

Speaking of the wording in Mark’s account, Wayne Jackson has written:

“The sin under consideration was not a mere impulsive exclamation that denigrated the Holy Spirit, i.e., blasphemous words uttered rashly that, once they leave the lips, condemn a person forever-no matter what his disposition in the future. Instead, the verb ‘say,’ emphasized above, is a imperfect tense form, which indicates an abiding disposition, a persistent maliciousness. There can be forgiveness for sustained unbelief. (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary, 28; Stockton, CA; Christian Courier Publications)

The passage in Mark (3:30) is in the imperfect tense.

“The biggest difference between Greek and English is that Greek has two distinct past tenses, one (the imperfect) to denote continuous past action (‘I was read that book yesterday after’), the other (the aorist) to denote simple past action (‘I read that book,’ or ‘I have read that book’).” (L. William Countryman, Read It In Greek: An Introduction To New Testament Greek, 579 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

So, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was not where one attributed the power of Christ to Satan and then STOPPED (i.e., REPENTED); instead, it is where a person continually attributes the power of Christ to the power of the devil WITHOUT STOPPING (i.e., without repenting).

Three: Blasphemy Of The Holy Spirit Witnessed The Hardened Heart Of Sinners Who Refused To Change

The third element which may be examined in connection with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the condition of heart manifested by such a refusal to repent.

The real problem here was the hardened hearts of the scribes and Pharisees who made these charges against Jesus.

In the first century, there were many magicians and sorcerers; yet the power of Christ was of such a different and higher caliber that it should have been easily discernible.

In fact, the evidence was so clear that Jesus was NOT a sorcerer that the Jews were hard-pressed to make this case.

Commenting on the events of John 9 (where Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth), William Cooper points out:

“Interestingly, Jewish law made a clear distinction between illusionists, conjurors, and street-magicians for whom the death penalty did not apply, and sorcerers who employed real spiritual powers and entities to work their ‘miracles,’ and for whom the law did prescribe death. But they made sure first of all by forensic examination that what was being performed was indeed just an illusion, and if any doubt existed then they would commonly assume that it was merely an illusion and give the suspect or accused the benefit of the doubt. Tellingly, when they examined Jesus’ miracles, they found absolutely no evidence of illusion or sleight of hand. His miracles were real and they were profoundly shocked by that fact.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The New Testament: Part One-The Gospels, 2005-2015; Kindle Edition).

Only one hardened in unbelief (i.e., willful refusal to accept the truth despite the evidence) could attribute the power of Christ to Satan. Jesus clearly shows this was the case of the Pharisees:

Matthew 12:34-Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

The phrase, “being evil,” is a present active participle. The significance of the present participle is very important to consider here.

In examining this, we are reminded:

“present:…The tense that normally expresses progressive action occurring in the present.” (Matthew S. DeMoss, Pocket Dictionary For The Study Of New Testament Greek, 1158 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)

Thus, these Pharisees are described by Jesus as being continually in the state of wickedness. This had arisen from their own decisions to make “the tree” bad (Matthew 12:33).

Thus, the reason why they were continually attributing the power of Christ to the power of the devil is because they were in the process of continually and habitually rebelling against God, i.e., being evil.

As long as a person continues in rebellion against God, choosing to reject Him and to rebel against Him, he will be shut out from Heaven.

This is not due to a refusal of God to extend mercy to the penitent; but from a stubborn rejection of the truth by unrepentant sinners.

As such, one who is concerned that he has committed the “unpardonable sin” need not be so troubled; for those who commit the unpardonable sin are those who refuse to repent of sin in order to be forgiven.

Conclusion

In conclusion, consider the words of the famous scholar William Barclay:

“That is the stage to which these scribes and Pharisees had come. They had for so long been blind and deaf to the guidance of God’s hand and the promptings of God’s Spirit, they had insisted on their own way for so long, that they had come to a stage when they could not recognize God’s truth and goodness when they saw them. They were able to look on incarnate goodness and call it incarnate evil; they were able to look on the Son of God and call him the ally of the devil. The sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin of so often and so consistently refusing God’s will that in the end it cannot be recognized when it comes even fully displayed. Why should that sin be unforgivable? What differentiates it so terribly from all other sins? The answer is simple. When anyone reaches that stage, repentance is impossible. If people cannot recognize the good when they see it, they cannot desire it. If they do not recognize evil as evil, they cannot be sorry for it and wish to depart from it. And if they cannot, in spite of failures, love the good and hate the evil, then they cannot repent; and if they cannot repent, they cannot be forgiven…It would save much heartbreak if people would realize that the very people who cannot have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit are those who fear that they have, for the sin against the Holy Spirit can be truly described as the loss of all sense of sin. It was to that stage the scribes and Pharisees had come. They had for so long been deliberately blind and deliberately deaf to God that they had lost the faculty of recognizing him when they were confronted with him. It was not God who had banished them beyond the pale of forgiveness; they had shut themselves out. Years of resistance to God had made them what they were.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: Volume Two-The Gospel Of Matthew, 1047-1063 (Kindle Edition); Edinburgh, England; Saint Andrew Press)

Friends, there is no sin which God will not pardon save that sin for which one will not repent.

In Acts 2, believers are called upon to repent of their sins and be baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38).

Why not heed that Gospel message today?

If you are an erring child of God, then why not come back to the Lord in repentance and prayer ((1 John 1:9)?

The grace of The Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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