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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Holy Spirit: How He Works

Don Stewart :: What Is the Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

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What Is the Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? (The Unpardonable Sin)

The Holy Spirit: How He Works – Question 14

During His earthly ministry, in a confrontation with the religious rulers, the Lord Jesus spoke of an unforgivable sin called the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” He said that whoever commits this terrible sin would never be forgiven. Indeed, they could not be forgiven in this life or in the next. Since there is such thing as an “unforgivable sin” it is vital that we know exactly what this sin is.

What Does It Mean to Blaspheme?

To begin with, it is important that we understand what is meant by the term “blasphemy.” Basically it has the idea to “speak against, insult, or curse.” In Scripture, the word is used for insults hurled at both God and humans.

For example, the Greek noun “blaspheme” is used of people slandering one another. Paul used it in his letter to the Ephesians. He encouraged the believers not to “slander” others. He put it this way.

All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness (Ephesians 4:31 HCSB).

The word translated as “slander” is the Greek word “blaspheme.” In this context, it speaks of insults or curses one person directs at another. Paul says this is something which believers should not do. Thus, blasphemies, slanderous or insulting accusations, can be directed at people.

The word translated blasphemy can also be used of strong insults or curses directed against God. Scripture records a number of examples of people cursing the God of Scripture.

The people of Israel who left Egypt in the Exodus were accused of insulting of blaspheming God. Indeed, not only did they build a golden calf, they claimed that it was the god which brought them out of Egypt. Scripture says.

Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt, and had committed great blasphemies’ (Nehemiah 9:18 ESV).

These acts by the people were considered insults or blasphemies against God.

In fact, we find that Jesus Himself was accused of blasphemy by the religious rulers. He claimed the ability or the right to be able to forgive sins. Yet this was something which God alone could do. We read the following response of the religious leaders to Jesus’ claim to forgive the sins of a certain paralyzed man.

Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mark 2:7 NKJV).

They realized that God alone forgive sins. Consequently, they assumed Jesus was blaspheming or insulting God by claiming the same authority.

Therefore, the word is not a special term which refers to cursing or insulting God. Instead, the context must determine whether the insult or curse is against God or another human being.

Cursing God Was a Serious Offense

In the Old Testament, we find that cursing or insulting God was an extremely serious offence. Those who openly defied the Lord were to be cut off from the people. Scripture says.

But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the LORD and must be cut off from their people. Because they have despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them (Numbers 15:30-31 TNIV).

Notice this includes native-born Israelites as well as foreigners. Anyone who blasphemes the Lord was to be cut off from the people.

In another place, we read that those who cursed the Lord were worthy of the death penalty. Moses wrote.

And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death (Leviticus 24:15-16 ESV).

Therefore, simply stated, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would involve some type of insulting or cursing the work of the Holy Spirit. The Jewish audience which Jesus addressed certainly knew the serious nature of such a sin.

The Background of Jesus’ Statement

This brings us to the setting, or occasion, of Jesus’ statement. The background of Jesus’ statement can be found in Matthew 12:22–30. Jesus healed a man who was possessed by a demon. His demon possession made him blind, mute, and probably deaf. This combination of illnesses made it impossible for anyone to cast the demon out of the man because there was no way anyone could communicate with him. When the people saw Jesus heal the man, they wondered if He could be the Messiah. Indeed, who else but the Messiah could perform such a miracle? However, not everyone was convinced.

The Accusation That Was Made against Jesus

The suggestion that Jesus could be the long-awaited Messiah brought a quick response from the religious leaders. Matthew records the following.

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24 NASB).

They accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. In other words, they could not deny His power but rather they attributed it to some evil or demonic source. Who would want to follow someone who is working with Satan? Since the religious leaders were supposedly in a position to determine the source of Jesus’ miracles, this accusation had to be answered by the Lord.

The Response by Jesus: Satan Does Not Work against Himself

Jesus responded by showing how illogical their arguments were. He made it clear that Satan would not cast out Satan. We read what took place.

Since Jesus knew what they were thinking, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is ruined. And every city or household divided against itself will not last. If Satan forces Satan out, he is divided against himself. How, then, can his kingdom last? If I force demons out of people with the help of Beelzebul, who helps your followers force them out? That’s why they will be your judges. But if I force demons out with the help of God’s Spirit, then the kingdom of God has come to you. How can anyone go into a strong man’s house and steal his property? First he must tie up the strong man. Then he can go through his house and steal his property (Matthew 12:25-29 God’s Word).

Satan was not in the business of casting out himself. The power to exorcise demons belongs to God and to Him alone. The fact that Jesus could cast out demons made it plain that the power of God was operating among them. Therefore, these people were held responsible to respond to God’s miraculous power in their midst.

To reject God’s work among them was insulting or cursing God. It was blaspheming the work of the Holy Spirit. As we mentioned, the Old Testament prescribed the death penalty for those who did such things. Consequently, attributing Jesus’ Spirit-led miracles to a demonic source was the worst sin which they could commit. Indeed, by doing so, they were cursing the God of the Bible.

Jesus’ Response to Those Who Commit Such a Sin

Jesus further responded to their false accusations. Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus’ words about the fate of those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. Matthew writes.

Every sin or blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which can never be forgiven. Anyone who blasphemes against me, the Son of Man, can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come (Matthew 12:31, 32 NLT).

No forgiveness is possible for those who commit this sin.

Mark records Jesus’ words in this manner.

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” (Mark 3:28-30 ESV).

These religious rulers attributed Jesus’ exorcism to a demonic source as well as saying that He had an “unclean spirit.” Mark calls records Jesus calling this an “eternal sin.”

In another context, Luke records the following words of Jesus about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:8-12 NASB).

From these sources, we can make a number of observations from Jesus’ statements about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The Sin Was Unforgivable

First, this sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was unforgivable. Matthew records Jesus saying that there would be no forgiveness in this life or in the next for what these religious leaders had done. The seriousness of their sin was made plain to them.

In fact, Mark records Jesus as saying that this is an “eternal sin.” In other words, it has everlasting consequences. There would be no forgiveness for those who engage in such insults to God.

It Seems to Be a Public Rejection of Jesus and His Message

From Luke, it seems that this also consists of some public rejection of the ministry of Jesus as well as that of His disciples. Indeed, in His next statement, after speaking of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Jesus says that the Spirit will be with His disciples as they testify about Him before the religious authorities. It is, therefore, seemingly more than a lack of belief in Christ. It is also the public denial of the testimony of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.

Sins Done in Ignorance against Jesus Can Be Forgiven

Interestingly, we find that Jesus said that sins against Him could be forgiven but there would be no forgiveness of those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit. This seems to mean that people could ignorantly or unintentionally say things against Jesus without committing the unpardonable sin. Forgiveness is still possible for those who do this.

However, if a person knowingly and defiantly speaks insults against the power of the Holy Spirit, who is testifying to the truth of Jesus and His message, there is no forgiveness possible. This was an especially terrible sin which the religious leaders were committing. Indeed, they were publicly attributing Jesus’ miraculous power to the devil. This was not done in ignorance. In fact, it was a willing rejection of the God of the Bible; the God whom they were supposed to be serving. Furthermore, they were doing it publicly; in front of the multitude. They were pitting their authority against His.

It Was an Insult to God

Thus, specifically, in this particular context, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was a denial of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was working in Jesus as well as through Jesus. The Spirit of God was testifying to everyone that Jesus was the Messiah. Rejecting the message of the Spirit was the same as rejecting or insulting the God of the Bible.

Theirs Was a Continual State of Sin

There is something else we must note. These religious leaders were in a continuous state of denying that the miracles of Jesus were accomplished through the power of God. Consequently they were in a continuous state of sin or rebellion against God. What made matters worse these were the religious authorities; the spiritual leaders. Their testimony carried great weight with the people. Their false accusations could not go unchallenged.

The Nature of the Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in this context, is the public attributing of the work of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to Satan. The Holy Spirit testified of Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah. Refusal to acknowledge this obvious testimony of the work of God was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

This sin could not be forgiven. In other words, someone who would consciously and publicly reject that God was working through the Person of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, could not be forgiven of this sin. This was what Jesus meant when He spoke of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. These religious leaders were committing the unpardonable sin. No forgiveness was possible as long as they were doing this.

Summary – Question 14
What Is the Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? (The Unpardonable Sin)

In the gospels, we read of Jesus speaking about the “unpardonable sin” This means that there is a sin which people can commit that cannot be forgiven. It is also known as the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” Since this sin is unpardonable it is important that we know exactly what it is so that we do not commit it.

To begin with, we should look at what it means “to blaspheme.” Blasphemy basically has the idea of insulting, cursing or speaking against someone. Depending upon the context, this insult can be directed against either humans or God. Indeed, the same word is used in Scripture of insults hurled at God as well as at other humans. In the Old Testament, those who cursed or defiantly insulted the God of Israel were given the death penalty. Therefore, it was an especially horrific sin in God’s eyes. Consequently, the people to whom Jesus spoke would be aware of the gravity of such a sin.

With this understanding of the background of the word we can have a better understanding of its meaning when Jesus used it. The context of Jesus’ statement about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit involved a certain miracle which He did. Jesus performed a mighty deed of healing a man who was demon-possessed, blind and mute. The religious leaders, instead of acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, attributed this, as well as all of His other miracles, to the power of the devil. Therefore, while recognizing that some power allowed Jesus to do this miraculous work, they claimed that His power was demonic rather than the work of the Holy Spirit of God. This was not done in ignorance.

Jesus responded to their accusations. He made the statement that human beings may be forgiven for every sin which they commit. This includes blaspheming or insulting Christ Himself. However, there is one sin from which they can never be forgiven; the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In this particular instance, the sin was attributing the work of Jesus Christ, which was done by the power of the Spirit, to the devil. In other words, it was insulting the Holy Spirit who was testifying to Christ as well as testifying through Christ.

We should note that the religious leaders were continually attributing these miraculous works of Jesus to the devil. Their verbal denouncing of Christ was public and it was ongoing. Therefore, they were consciously and knowingly rejecting the testimony of the Spirit as to the identity of Jesus Christ. The result of such insulting the Holy Spirit was that the person could not be forgiven for their sin neither in this life nor in the life to come.

In another context, Jesus used the term “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in reference to the message of His disciples. They preached His message with His authority. Those people who heard the message of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, but publicly and defiantly rejected it, were also guilty of committing this unpardonable sin. No forgiveness was possible for them as long as they were doing this.

Therefore, we can conclude that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was more than one particular sin which these religious leaders were committing. Indeed, it is a continuous state of publicly insulting or cursing the work of the Holy Spirit which was done in the Person of Christ. Since there could be no real question that the miracles of Jesus had been brought about through the power of the Holy Spirit, those who attribute His work to Satan or some demonic force cannot expect to be forgiven.

Indeed, the consequences of blaspheming the Holy Spirit meant eternal damnation. There could be no forgiveness in this life or in eternity for rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit through the Person of Jesus Christ.

How Does the Holy Spirit Work in a Worship Service? ← Prior Section
How Does Someone Today Blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
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