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Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and the Unpardonable Sin

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I have often been asked about what Jesus declares is the “unpardonable sin” – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-30, and Luke 12:10). Specifically, people wonder why this particular sin is “unpardonable” as opposed to others – for example, murder or heinous abuse – what it is, whether it can be committed today, and if a person is in danger of committing it. While there are good resources available on the topic (for example, this article on the Gospel Coalition website by Andrew NasellIi), the fact that there are still so many questions led to me to study the topic anew and to think it could be a good blog post to capture some of my thoughts.

Before discussing the topic, it is good to read the biblical texts that prompt this concept of the unpardonable sin (the ESV translation is being used here) and note key things about these passages that can be overlooked or forgotten in these conversations.

Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Mark 3:28-30: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”

Luke 12:10 – “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

Observations About the Passage
The context of Matthew and Mark also shows that this sort of accusation is malicious – not accidental – and comes from those who have hardened hearts and are seeking to oppose Jesus (see Matthew 12:14 and Mark 3:6 in which they have made a plan to kill Jesus). This does not stem from ignorance, but occurs after continually seeing Jesus at work and deciding not only to reject him, but to stand against him and offer a contradictory explanation of his ministry. The context of Luke 12:10 may indicate that the blasphemy might happen when one simply fails to confess Christ when asked, but also offers an alternative perspective on who Jesus is. Continually failing to confess Jesus will lead to final rejection, but actively opposing the work of the Spirit puts one in a place where one can never turn from sin to the Savior.

So What Is It And Why Is It Unpardonable?
Having examined the passages a bit more, I feel better equipped to address some of the common questions and concerns about this sin. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not simply saying or thinking a bad word about Jesus, but effectively saying – and spreading the claim – that his ministry is of the devil because he is empowered by an evil spirit. We see in Scripture that people will say words against Jesus, but are then able to repent and be forgiven. However, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a fine line that when crossed, one is never able to return, thus forgiveness in this life or the life to come is not possible. This is because one is not simply resisting the Spirit, who draws people to Christ, but completely denouncing His work as evil; one is hardened beyond repair. The primary example of this sin is the religious leaders, who see the work of Jesus and do not simply reject it for themselves, but actively oppose it. Having struggles or doubts – or even denying Jesus for a time – is not an  unpardonable sin. The reason that blasphemy against the Spirit rather than blasphemy against the Son of Man is what falls into this category seems to me that the Son of Man’s identity is a bit veileed and thus confusing, while the work of the Spirit is meant to elevate Jesus and show us who He is. One might reject the claims of the Son of Man out of ignorance or misunderstanding, while speaking against the Holy Spirit is a willful decision. 

Some Practical and Pastoral Implications
This conversation should not be theoretical but rather have practical and pastoral implications for us. Here are a few that came to mind as I thought about the topic.

  1. Those who teach need to be on guard against this sin.

Because the religious leaders are the ones who commited the sin in Matthew and Mark means that teachers and leaders in the church are the ones who most likely need to be on guard against this. While someone who is not a teacher could commit this sin, it seems influence and authority could make one more susceptible to doing this. Therefore, teachers should be on guard and be aware of how influencers can also push people away from Christ.

  1. This sin could be part of a category of sins from which there is no repentance.

At first glance, it may seem like Jesus teaches that this sin is the only sin which cannot be forgiven in this life or the life to come. However, as I was studying the passage – particularly the version in Matthew – I remembered Matthew 19 and Jesus’s teaching on divorce in which he says that whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery unless it was on the grounds of sexual immorality (the Greek word is porneia), yet we see in 1 Corinthians 7 that desertion is also grounds for divorce. Could it be that Jesus was not seeking to give every “exception” in this context but to make the point of the seriousness of this sin, as it is one from which one cannot come back to repentance? There are other places in the Bible that seem to refer to such actions. Numbers 15:30-31 speaks about a “high-handed sin” for which there is not a way to atone. Hebrews 6:4-6 talks about how those who apostatize are not able to be renewed to repentance. 1 John 5:16 speaks about sins that do not lead to death, but also a sin that leads to death. Many have tried to connect the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit with these sins with mixed results. I don’t think we need to equate them, per se, but rather could see them all being in the same general category — sins in which one has made a conscious choice to actively and defiantly oppose God’s revelation. It is a reminder that we can so actively run from God that we can come into a state in which we can not return.

  1. Let the discussion of “unforgivable” not eclipse the possibility of forgiveness.

We can be so focused on the unpardonable sin that we forget that the passage highlights how gracious God is. Words spoken against the Son of Man as well as other vile words can be forgiven when one repents. The Apostle Paul was a blasphemer who opposed the church and experienced forgiveness, as does the criminal crucified with Jesus. The passages noted above (Numbers 15:30-31; Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 John 5:16) similarly speak about sin(s) that one is not able to turn from but also have positive notes. Numbers 15 talks about offerings (including for sin) for when the people are in the Promised Land after they rejected God’s invitation. 1 John 5:16 tells us to pray for our fellow believers when they commit sin, and the author of Hebrews says that he does not think that they will fall into the danger of apostasy he notes. We may need the reminder of what can happen when hardened to sin, but we also need to remember the hope of forgiveness. There is a warning here not to presume upon God’s grace — we should not think that no matter what we do, He will forgive us, but the overall context gives encouragement.

For those who wonder if they have committed the unpardonable sin
I’ve known people who struggle reading about the reality of this “unpardonable sin,” as they wonder if they have committed this sin. I think such wrestling is likely an indication that they have not done this, as the Spirit is at work in terms of convicting them of sin and helping them recognize they fall short of God’s glory. In addition, they are aware of sin and struggle to believe the immeasurable riches of God’s grace. Those who commit this sin do not struggle with their sin or with God’s grace – they presume God’s grace or think they are not greatly in need of it. Those who worry if they have committed this sin should be reminded of the words before the passage  where we read that Jesus does not break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick (Matthew 12:28) — these are reminders that Jesus is gentle and lowly to those who struggle with sin, offering comfort to those with sensitive consciences. 

May this discussion of the unpardonable sin both prevent us from becoming complacent in God’s grace but also remind us of God’s grace and kindness towards fallen sinners who struggle to follow Him and take Him at His Word.

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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