Blasphemy: Slandering God’s character.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 July

It’s not the same thing as sacrilege. It’s worse.

Blaspheme /blæs'fim/ v. Say something about God (or holy things) which isn’t true. Slander.
2. Speak irreverently about God or holy things. Sacrilege.
[Blasphemer /blæs'fim.ər/ n., blasphemous /'blæs.fə.məs/ adj., blasphemy /'blæs.fə.mi/ n.]

That second definition tends to be how popular culture defines blasphemy: Means the same thing as sacrilege, when one treats the sacred profanely. When you make fun, or make light, of holy things. When we tell jokes about God, or treat our bibles like any other book, and set ’em on the floor or doodle in them for fun. When people take God’s name in vain. When I treat him like my dad instead of OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN. (Heck, when I don’t capitalize all the Almighty’s pronouns.)

That’s what people consider blasphemy. That’s why they go utterly ape when Christians won’t take off our hats in church, or wear jeans. Business attire only!—and only Jesus gets to wear a toga.

By this definition, I commit blasphemy a lot. More than one Christian has got their knickers in a knot over my titling this blog Christ Almighty! To them, Christ Jesus is holy, and anything which makes our king sound too familiar is lèse-majesté.

Y’might not know that term. It comes in handy. It’s French for “less majestic”—it’s when people don’t treat the king with the dignity he merits. (Or, more accurately, imagines he merits; I’m an American and the only king I respect is Jesus. The rest, whether they know it or not, are usurpers of his title.) Lèse-majesté is the invention of petty, insecure despots, who wanted everyone to suck up to them under pain of death. Esther slammed into it when she had to petition the shah of Persia for her people, but if she showed up unannounced the shah could interpret it as an insult. Es 4.11 Good thing he thought she was hot.

The reason Christians keep propping up lèse-majesté as their definition of blasphemy, is because there’s a bit of despotism in them. It’s not that God’s insulted or offended when his kids boldly approach the throne of grace. He 4.16 He has a thick skin—and a sense of humor. It’s these Christians who don’t. They take offense because deep down they wanna be treated with rarified respect, and if that’s how we’ve gotta be with God, it makes it all the easier for them to suggest maybe we oughta treat them, “the Lord’s anointed,” with similar respect.

Hence they attempt to enforce divisions and ranks and barriers in God’s kingdom—all the stuff Jesus abolished by making every single one of us into God’s children, priests, and kings.

Well, enough about what blasphemy’s not. Let’s get to what it is.


The Greek word vlasfimía means inappropriate speech, which Plato of Athens contrasted with effimía/“appropriate speech.” This is the leg Christians attempt to stand on when they claim lèse-majesté is blasphemy: It’s not appropriate for slaves to treat their king like a friend—

John 15.15 KWL
“I no longer say you’re slaves, since a slave never knows what their master is doing.
I say you’re friends, since I’ve explained to you everything I heard from my Father.”

—despite Jesus’s clearly expressed statements to the contrary.

Yeah, there are appropriate and inappropriate things we can say. But Plato didn’t use the word to speak of propriety, culture, refinement, or majesty. He spoke of good and evil. Vlasfimía is evil; effimía is good.

Democritus of Abdera used vlasfimía to describe lying, slanderous speech, evil gossip, intentional or unintentional lies, things generally meant to outrage people against the slandered person.

The Septuagint used vlasfimía and its related verb vlasfiméo to translate the Old Testament word naqáb/“puncture.” When someone punctured the LORD’s name, Lv 24.16 they injured it or hurt it: They made people think ill of the LORD.

Leviticus 24.10-23 KWL
10 An Israeli woman and Egyptian man’s son went out in the midst of Israel’s descendants.
The Israeli woman’s son fought with an Israeli in the camp.
11 The Israeli woman’s son slandered the LORD’s name, showing God contempt.
They brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Šelomít bat Divrí, tribe of Dan.
12 They set ben Šelomít under guard, till the LORD’s mouth clarified things for them.
13 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring the curser outside the camp.
All who heard: Place their hands on his head. All the community: Stone him.
15 Declare to Israel’s descendants, saying, ‘Man, man!
When he curses his God, he bears all his own sin!’
16 The slanderer of the LORD’s name dies, dies. All the community: Stone him.
Alien same as native, who slanders the LORD’s name, dies.
17 When a man strikes down a human soul, he dies, dies.
18 If he strikes down an an animal’s soul, he pays back soul for soul.
19 When a man gives injury to his neighbor: As he did, so do to him.
20 Break for break. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. What injury he gave a human, thus give him.
21 One who strikes down an animal pays it back. One who strikes down a human dies.
22 One ruling for everyone, alien and native alike. I’m your LORD God.”
23 Moses declared this to Israel’s descendants. They brought the curser outside the camp.
They stoned him with stone. Israel’s descendants did as the LORD commanded through Moses.

The reason I quoted this whole passage, including the bit in the middle about eye for an eye, is because it’s relevant to this story: God considered it equitable that this person who cursed him die. Slandering God, cursing him, is just as bad as death. Because when people clearly demonstrate they want nothing to do with God… who’s gonna save them from death? You’ve doomed yourself to die in your sins. Lv 24.15

Likewise when we blaspheme God—when we slander him, tell lies about him, depict him as anything other than who he is—we stand a really good chance of driving other people away from him. And again, who’s gonna save them from death? If you’re the one spreading lies about God, that’s entirely on you. If I convince people God’s evil, or hates them, or won’t save just anyone, or can’t save them, it’s more than mere heresy. My false teachings, my blasphemy, has put their eternal lives at risk. It’s like attempted homicide.

Not that God can’t forgive blasphemers, but it ain’t gonna happen at this rate. Not if we remain unrepentant.

Slander is intentional, y’know.

When I point out the link between blasphemy and untruth, Christians get nervous: “You mean every time I say something wrong about God, I’m committing blasphemy?”

Not unless you know better. The thing about slander is it’s intentional: People are deliberately, maliciously spreading these untruths about other people. They’re trying to destroy their reputation, their career, their lives. They’re trying to drive people away from them. When people blaspheme God, it’s because they’re trying to get people to stop following him, and start following them. The guy in Leviticus who slandered God wasn’t merely bashing God; his motive was to pull people away from their savior. Even though he knew better—and that’s what makes it blasphemy instead of simply a different religion.

Yeah, you’re sometimes gonna say the wrong thing about God. We all are. We’re all wrong. But the thing about God is he’s gracious. He’s willing to work with, and correct, those who humbly seek him and wanna be corrected of our errors. Our mistakes aren’t blasphemy. Because blasphemy is a deliberate, malicious attempt to hurt God.

And by this proper definition—it’s not sacrilege nor lèse-majesté—relax. You know you’re not blaspheming God.

(Unless you are. Then repent!)