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Matthew 12:22-32 and Mark 3:22-30 both tell the account of the Christ casting out devils while Pharisees accused Him of being possessed by Beelzebub. The Christ rebukes them and declares the following from Matthew 12:31-32:

31Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32And 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.

It appears that the Christ is telling us that blasphemy against the Father or the Son (i.e. "God damn it!" or "Jesus Jumping Christ!") is forgivable, but not of the Holy Spirit. However, most preachers and theologians I have listened to believe that it really means that it means living an unrepentant life. My question is how Christian theologians have made this conclusion and if it holds up to biblical doctrine.

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  • This is a good question. If I had to guess, it would have to do with the role of the Holy Spirit in the church age or something along those lines. Hopefully someone can answer this!
    – Luke Hill
    Jul 10, 2023 at 0:33
  • The question doesn't specify a view point. From a trinitarian position, the answer can be complicated. From a unitarian or binitarian position the answer is almost trivial: holy spirit is a tool or medium through which God interacts with humans, so if one rejects the mechanism of salvation and doesn't repent of it, one cannot be saved. Jul 10, 2023 at 1:00
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    Blasphemy is a bit more than just misusing the Name. When Jesus claimed God as his own Father he was accused of blasphemy. Jul 10, 2023 at 11:06

2 Answers 2

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The task of a theologian is to bring together the many parts of scripture into a consistent whole. Passages may appear to be contradictory, at least on the surface, and so the theologian seeks an understanding of both passages together, to identify the intention of the one divine author of God of both passages. Some passages may initially appear very simple, but become more complex when we read them in the light of the rest of the scriptures.

When we think about the Bible's general teachings on salvation it's clear that God forgives and saves sinners guilty of great and heinous sins: Moses who murdered the Egyptian guard. David who committed adultery (and many would say with a woman who could not consent) and then murder to cover it up. Peter who disowned knowing Jesus himself. Paul who persecuted and murdered the Church itself. If God can forgive lies, adultery, persecution, and murder, then it would be rather odd for mere verbal blasphemy to be unforgivable. Most Christians would see the whole Bible as indicating that all sins can be forgiven of the sinner who genuinely repents and turns to God in faith. That leads us to think that Jesus must have meant something else other than literal verbal blasphemy.

Well what can't be forgiven? Most Christians would say that any specific sin can be forgiven. The people we (not counting Christian universalists) know for certain won't be forgiven are those who consciously and deliberately reject God's offer and call of salvation. So this is why many say that the "unforgivable sin" is the sin of unrepentance.

Why does Jesus highlight the Holy Spirit in this passage? I think it is because of the particular role of the Spirit in salvation. While all persons are involved in salvation, they each have a particular focus: the Father whose masterplan it is to send the Son for our sake, the Son who died and rose for us, and the Spirit who in particular applies the Gospel to us as individuals. It is the Spirit who convicts us of our sin and who witnesses within us to the truth of the Gospel and the worthiness of Christ to receive the worship of our lives. So this may be why blasphemy against the Father and Son can be forgiven, for their role in salvation is a step removed, while the Spirit's role is within our souls. We may temporarily reject the Father and the Son, but what brings eternal death is to reject the Spirit when he calls us to repent. If we say that the Spirit's attempts to convict us of sin and call us to righteousness are from the devil, then we will want no part of the Gospel.

Would this understanding make sense of the context of Matthew 12? What has happened here is that the Pharisees have seen Jesus free a demon possessed man, and instead of praising God, they say that it was a demon-vs-demon struggle, with Jesus being able to free the man only because he serves a more power demon than the one who had possessed the man. While we think of the witness of the Holy Spirit primarily as an internal witness, at this time during the life of Jesus, the Spirit was also witnessing to the nation through the acts of Jesus, acts like casting out demons. Those who witnessed Jesus heal this man should have recognised that God was powerfully at work here to accomplish good, and that's what most people did, as they then ask whether Jesus is the son of David (a messianic reference.) But the Pharisees refuse to see the good of this act, and insist it is the work of Beelzebul. Their outward blasphemy - calling the Holy Spirit who indwells Jesus the prince of demons - is the expression of their inward stubborn unrepentance, for only someone who has so thoroughly blinded themselves to the ways of God could mistake God's loving miraculous acts for the acts of Satan. When Jesus says blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven I don't think he means that any slander against the Spirit irreversibly damns someone, but that these Pharisees have just demonstrated that they are totally opposed to listening to God to the very core of their being.

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  • Point of order: killing a violent aggressor in self-defense (including the defense of another) is not murder.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Jul 11, 2023 at 16:32
  • @MasonWheeler Whether it was justified force or excessive is a matter of opinion. I'm on the side that the text implies it was excessive.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 11, 2023 at 21:20
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The real sin of blasphemy against the Spirit is often misunderstood. The word "blasphemy" evokes thoughts of railing, cursing, profanities, or sacrilegious talk. At least, this is what the meaning of the word evolved to be. Let's look at the Biblical context.

Example 1

When Jesus said:

Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26:46, KJV)

The high priest's response was:

Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. (Matthew 26:47, KJV)

What could be even close to "blasphemy" by our modern standards? Yet the high priest claimed Jesus had spoken blasphemously.

Example 2

Jesus' Statement:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. (Mark 2:5, KJV)

The scribes' response:

But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? (Mark 2:6-7, KJV)

Jesus had offered the palsied man forgiveness for his sins. Only God can forgive sins, so what the scribes thought was correct. But Jesus was so obviously a human, and not God, standing there among them that they took his words to be blasphemy in that they were a claim to deity.

Jesus, however, was speaking the Father's words; they were the words of God. The scribes did not wish to acknowledge this, and railed against it. Ironically, they were committing blasphemy, by speaking against the Spirit. They did not want to accept the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. They persistently refused to accept this truth.

Fast forward to the next chapter in Mark.

Jesus said:

28Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. (Mark 3:28-29, KJV)

Why are these sins never forgiven?

Consider the condition of the high priest and of those scribes who blasphemed against the Spirit. Were their sins ever forgiven? Why not?

It is because they had so persistently rejected the truth, that they were in a self-deceived state of mind in which they saw no need of forgiveness. They did not repent, confess their errors, and seek Jesus' forgiveness. That is why they could not be forgiven.

And this helps us to understand exactly what Jesus meant by the use of "blasphemy." Essentially, it boils down to one thing: Persistent rejection of truth; i.e. speaking against the truth.

The Spirit teaches truth. Rejecting the truths of the Spirit, and adding our voice against them, is to commit blasphemy against the Spirit. There is no unforgivable sin--but there are sins which will never be forgiven because no forgiveness is sought. If we do not repent, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness, we remain in an unforgiven condition.

So when theologians conclude that blasphemy means a refusal to repent, they are on the right track. It might be more accurate to indicate that by speaking against the truth, one becomes self-deceived into actually believing that said truth is wrong--and it is this self-deception that prevents one from ever seeing a need for repentance.

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  • Good answer...it is the Spirit of truth. +1 John 10:30-33 is noticeably absent? Jul 10, 2023 at 11:16

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