After Sunday's message, I wanted to post the thoughts I shared about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Thanks for all the encouraging feedback. Many of you stated that you've wondered about this passage, some of you for years. Here is a repost from a few years ago on my blog, pastorglenn.wordpress.com.
I have often been asked questions about “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” as it is called in the New Testament. This sin, which is called an eternal sin that cannot be forgiven, naturally raises questions for followers of Jesus, who understandably don’t want to be guilty of it. This grievous sin is mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; and Luke 12:10. The passage I’m most familiar with is the one in Mark, so I will refer specifically to that passage. The context in Matthew is identical. The context of the Luke version is similar enough that the same argument holds there too. To arrive at the correct understanding, we must look at the entire story in Mark 3:20-30 rather than jump immediately into verse 29.
Jesus was drawing a crowd everywhere he went in his Galilean ministry. Rightly so, because word had gone out that he was healing many and casting out demons (Mark 1:28; 1:45; 3:8). Because he was gathering such a large crowd, the religious leaders were jealous of him and wanted to kill him (3:6). Killing Jesus would have been hard since he was so popular, so they tried first to discredit him in the eyes of the crowd. They did so by saying his works were from the devil (3:22 – You might notice that these Pharisees were from Jerusalem, not Galilee, probably because they were more influential Pharisees who had gone to Galilee with the sole purpose of trapping or discrediting Jesus). Jesus answered their charge with two parables, one about a divided kingdom and one about the strong man. The first demonstrates that Jesus has an authority that is other than Satan; the second demonstrates that he has an authority that is greater than Satan. Both of these truths are things the Pharisees in the story refused to admit. In other words, they stubbornly refused to admit who Jesus really was.
Jesus follows these two stories with some encouraging words about forgiveness and then a warning about blasphemy. “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’” (29-30)
Don’t ignore the good news in the passage. Every sin and blasphemy of men will be forgiven them! Sometimes we miss that promise and jump right to the problem issue. However, with that said, there’s no way to water down the next phrase. Whatever this blasphemy is, it is unforgivable. This is a serious matter, and we best know what Jesus was talking about. I’ve have heard four possibilities suggested.
First, this blasphemy could be speaking against the Holy Spirit or, more pointedly, cursing the Holy Spirit. This fits the common understanding of blasphemy. However, it simply doesn’t fit this context. There is no reason why Jesus would say that here, especially in light of the closing comment in verse 30, that Jesus said these words because of the accusations of the Pharisees.
Second, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has been said to be unconfessed sin. One job of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of sin; ignoring that conviction would be a rejection of the Holy Spirit. Like the first option, this too does not fit this context, especially in light of verse 30. However, this option has a deeper problem; it makes our confession of sin the basis of our forgiveness of that sin. This is absolutely not biblical. The basis of forgiveness is always Jesus’ death as the substitute for our deserved punishment. And on that basis, God forgives his people whether they confess everyone of their sins or not! (For some of you this is a radical statement. I would encourage you to read the following verses and especially note the tenses of forgiveness – it is an already done deal! Romans 8:1-4; Ephesians 1:7-8, 2:1-10; Colossians 1:13-14, 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-13. Right now some of you are saying, “But what about 1 John 1:9? Doesn’t it say that we must confess our sins?” Since this is not the topic of this post, I don’t have time to go into depth on 1 John 1:9; suffice it to say that passage deals with the believers attitude toward sin – one is not a true believer unless he readily admits he is a sinner. Maybe that can be a topic for another post someday! Now back to the main topic for this post.) If the basis of forgiveness is my confession, then I am trusting in myself rather than in Christ.
Third, some have said blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is crediting God’s work to Satan. This option certainly fits the context of the passage; that’s exactly what the Pharisees were doing. However, churches do this all the time. One theological expression calling another heretical, even when God is at work in both situations! Even the Apostle Paul was guilty of this! In his early career, he said the Jesus movement was an evil work of the devil (Acts 9:1-2). He even calls himself “a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man,” yet “the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly!” (Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17) Certainly Paul is an example proving that crediting God’s work to the devil is not unforgivable.
Fourth, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit could be a stubborn refusal to recognize who Jesus is. This explanation fits the context of this passage; it’s what the Pharisees were doing. It fits the entire biblical teaching on forgiveness and salvation; note some of the passages in option 2. This fits the biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit also. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to teach people who Jesus is; a stubborn refusal to see that is a stubborn rejection of the Holy Spirit.
Do you recognize who Jesus is? Do you recognize that he is God in human form? Have you accepted his death on the cross as the substitute for your deserved punishment? If you answer no, then a prolonged stubbornness in that position is eternally dangerous. However, you can still come to Jesus, and all who come to him will be accepted and forgiven. If you can answer yes, then blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not a possibility for you. Take God at his word and believe it. The one believing in him has eternal life! (John 3:18, 36; 1 John 5:11-13)