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In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus says:

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. (Matthew 12:31-32 ESV)

In the KJV, this is called "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost".

What does this refer to?

PS: I have taken a look at a related question(Are there unforgivable sins?), but I would like more answers to this specific question.

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2 Answers

Mark's answer is certainly true, but there is more to the story. To find out, we realy need to read this passage in context.

Matthew 12:22-37(NIV):

22 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. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” 25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 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. 33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

So if we look at the context of this, we can clearly see what provoked Jesus to say this. It was when the Pharisees were calling the work of the Spirit the work of beelzebul. When Jesus performed the miracle, they denied it as being from God. Jesus explained that 1. it was really stupid to say that the devil would cure somebody since he's the one that cursed them. and 2. The Holy Spirit is the one who was giving Him the power to drive out the deamons, and calling the work of the Holy Spirit evil, is the worst thing you could ever do and you will be held accountable for it. He was making it clear that they had crossed the line from just discrediting Him(they thought he was only a man, so it was nothing for them to speak against Him), to blaspheming the Spirit of God.

So in context, we see that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when the Holy Spirit is doing something miracules and you turn around and say that it is of the devil.

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I would say it is knowingly ascribing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Knowingly in the biblical sense of being intimately familiar with and having experienced them. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 25 '11 at 20:08
    
So would you say that the Pharisees had already committed the unforgivable sin? –  stringo0 Oct 2 '11 at 17:07
    
@strin i would say no because that sin can only be committed after pentecost. Before that event, the holy spirit could not be insulted by people because it was out of reach. –  Johannes Schaub - litb Dec 25 '11 at 10:29
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Why can this sin only be committed after Pentecost? Every doctrine I know of on this topic would say that Satan committed blasphemy of the holy spirit, which clearly happened prior to Pentecost. –  Flimzy Dec 25 '11 at 10:36
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The Holy Spirit was "within reach" throughout the old testament. It was just on a more limited basis. In fact, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as early as the second verse of the Bible. The Holy Spirit also interacted directly with people on multiple occasions in the OT. And the fact that Matthew 12:31 describes events that took place prior to Pentecost suggests that Jesus believed that blasphemy of the holy spirit was at least a concept worth teaching about prior to Pentecost. –  Flimzy Dec 25 '11 at 10:43
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To understand blasphemy against the Spirit, one first needs to understand what blasphemy is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it thusly:

Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God - inwardly or outwardly - words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one's speech; in misusing God's name. St. James condemns those "who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called." The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ's Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God's name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God's name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion.

Basically, it's going against God's will and treating Him with anything less than the respect and love He deserves.

The Holy Spirit, being one part of the Holy Trinity, is what confers the gift of grace upon people. So, to blaspheme against the Spirit is to willfully reject God's grace and forgiveness. Or as the Catechism puts it:

"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

The analogy I've heard is that it's to know God exists and know His power, but to believe you can do better. If you're familiar with the story of the fall of Lucifer/Satan, it's essentially his actions in a nutshell: he knew God exists and he knew God's divine grace, yet he openly rejected it.

And thats why it's so unforgivable: God can't forgive you or save you if you reject His ability to do so.

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s/can't/doesn't want to/ in the last sentence. If God wants to change someone's mind it's certainly in His power. Besides that, I am curious as to why the Holy Spirit is different from Christ or God in this respect. –  Sklivvz Sep 24 '11 at 10:49
    
@Sklivvz That's not how free will works: you might want to ask another question about that if you're interested. But regarding your question, the Holy Spirit is God: He's the part of the Holy Trinity—consubstantial with the Father and the Son—that confers the gift of grace upon people: rejecting that gift (or the Spirit's ability to give it) is rejecting the grace of God-as-a-whole. –  user72 Sep 24 '11 at 17:56
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Meh, I think you are still not addressing the concern. If insulting the foot of God was particularly bad, asking why that part in particular is not sufficiently answered by saying the foot is God. That's not my point! I know who/what the HS is. However one can be blasphemous against either part of the trinity. Why is is the HS special? –  Sklivvz Sep 25 '11 at 7:21
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@Sklivvz I suggest re-reading my answer. The Holy Spirit is the aspect of the Holy Trinity that gives the gift of salvation. Rejecting its gift means you can't, by your own choices, be saved and therefore is unforgivable because you're actively rejecting the Holy Trinity's ability to forgive you. The Father and the Son have other parts to play, but giving the gift of grace is the domain of the Holy Spirit. –  user72 Sep 25 '11 at 18:13
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