Blaspheming the Holy Spirit: The unforgiven sin.

Yep, it’s a big big deal.

Mark 3.28-30 • Matthew 12.31-32 • Luke 12.10

Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor going round that there’s such a thing as an unpardonable sin: If we commit it, we’re doomed. God’s grace apparently has a limit, and this crosses it. Do it and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.

Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell people what this unpardonable sin is. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. (Nope; Moses and David were murderers, y’know. Arguably so was Paul.) Others figure any of the seven deadly sins are unpardonable. (Nope; still not it.) When I was a kid, I thought cursing God would do it. (Still nope.) According to Jesus, it’s when we commit the sin of blasphemy—but not against the Father nor himself, but specifically against the Holy Spirit.

Turns up in the gospels, right after Jesus had to correct the Pharisee scribes for accusing him of using Satan to perform exorcisms.

Mark 3.28-30 KWL
28 “Amen! I promise you every sin will be forgiven humanity’s children,
and every blasphemy, however often people blaspheme.
29 But when anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit they aren’t forgiven in the age to come:
In that age, they’ll be liable for a crime.”
30 For the scribes were saying, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”
Matthew 12.31-32 KWL
31 “This is why I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.
But blaspheming the Spirit won’t be forgiven.
32 Whenever one says a word against the Son of Man, it’ll be forgiven them.
But whenever it’s said against the Holy Spirit, it won’t be forgiven them.
Neither in this age, nor in the next.”
Lk 12.10 KWL
“And anyone who’ll say a word about the Son of Man will be forgiven.
But speaking in blasphemy about the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven.”

So there y’go: Everyone can be forgiven anything and everything. But the single, massive exception is when people blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you’re sitting out the age to come. No New Jerusalem for you. Just weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Scary, right? Hence people wanna make sure they never, ever commit this crime.

Problem is, instead of learning what blasphemy is and avoiding it, and particularly avoiding it when it comes the Spirit, many foolish Christians have invented some strange explanations and redefinitions of what blaspheming the Spirit means. Largely because what they and their friends are currently doing comes mighty close to it. If not actually goes there already. And they’re in deep denial about it.


Did the scribes blaspheme Jesus?

Gotta remind you: Blasphemy isn’t merely sacrilege. That’s how our popular culture defines it: If you treat God or sacred things irreverently, you’ve committed blasphemy. And by that definition, if you tell a Holy Spirit joke, you’ve blasphemed him, so I guess we won’t be seeing you in Kingdom Come. Nice knowing you.

No. Blasphemy is when you’ve intentionally slandered God. That’s what the Greek word vlasfiméo means; you’re deliberately trying to damage someone’s reputation, and get people to no longer trust them. You know, like the Pharisee scribes were trying to do with Jesus by claiming he performed exorcisms through the devil.

Now we legally define slander as any lie which damages a person’s reputation. Your only defense is that it’s not a lie; that it’s totally true. That’d be the difference between mere slander and blasphemy. If you think it’s true but it’s not, you haven’t violated your conscience; you aren’t being malicious. That’s sorta the dividing line between blasphemy and slander. Blasphemy is lying with the intent to wound. Otherwise you’re just unwittingly wrong.

So there’s the question: When the scribes ruled Jesus “threw out demons by the head demon,” Mk 3.22 of course they were wrong, and Jesus was able to puncture that faulty logic easily. Mt 12.25-26 But today’s question is whether they were blasphemers. Scribes weren’t morons; did these guys know their logic was faulty, yet were hoping to take advantage of the crowds’ ignorance? Were they simply providing the local Pharisees any excuse at all to condemn Jesus? Were they deliberately lying about Jesus so as to drive people away from him?

Obviously driving people away from Jesus has grievous consequences. Jesus is the only way to the Father, Jn 14.6 and we gotta go to him to receive eternal life. But various religious Jews didn’t wanna, Jn 5.40 and didn’t want others to go to him either. If people believed the scribes, they’d likewise stay away from Jesus. That’s a big deal: Getting in the way of people’s salvation means you’re sending them to hell.

The scribes saw Jesus the Nazarene as a massive stumbling block. They really didn’t like the way he doesn’t teach like them. They really didn’t like the way he ignores Pharisee customs. So they were more inclined to rule against him than not. Already looking for any explanation which’d let ’em condemn him, instead of judging him fairly and properly.

They couldn’t deny Jesus performs amazing acts of healing and exorcism. But they needed an explanation as to how he could do such things, yet teach what they considered absolutely wrong. How could a false teacher produce such good fruit? Makes it a lot easier when you claim the fruit isn’t really good; that it falls from a poisonous tree, that it’s devilish, and therefore corrupt. And if the fruit is bad, you needn’t deal with the uncomfortable idea that maybe you’re the one who’s wrong.

It’s the very same stumbling block false teachers trip over nowadays.

But again, it’s not blasphemy unless they knew Jesus was truly empowered by God’s Spirit, and deliberately lied about it. Me, I figure they did know better, and were blaspheming. ’Cause as Jesus points out, they already knew how exorcism worked.

Matthew 12.27-28 KWL
27 “If I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl,
by whom do your sons throw them out?—it’s why they’ll critique you.
28 If I throw out demons by God’s Spirit,
then God’s kingdom took you by surprise.”
Luke 11.19-20 KWL
19 “If I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl,
by whom do your sons throw them out?—it’s why they’ll critique you.
20 If I throw out demons by God’s finger,
then God’s kingdom took you by surprise.”

Their sons (which could either mean their literal sons, or their pupils) performed exorcisms. They had to. Demons were everywhere, taking advantage of lousy healthcare and people’s desperation. Pharisees imagined themselves quite familiar with all the prayers necessary to get the critters out of people. Jesus driving ’em out with a mere command… well, that was different. But if Jesus was driving out unclean spirits through devilish power, how on earth was his power greater than that of Pharisee exorcists?

Yeah, these scribes had to be willfully self-blinded if they honestly thought Jesus conspired with Satan. Deep down, they totally knew better. They ignored their consciences because they were just so peeved with Jesus. So it’s deliberate slander. In other words blasphemy.

Which, Jesus graciously said in Matthew, is forgivable. Mt 12.32 Awful, but forgivable.

Did the scribes blaspheme the Spirit too?

Now the way bigger question: Were these scribes also guilty of committing the unpardonable sin, and blaspheming the Holy Spirit?

Bet your bippy they were:

Mark 3.30 KWL
For the scribes were saying, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”

They knowingly called the Holy Spirit an unclean spirit. In what way isn’t that blasphemy?

Pharisees specialized in loopholes, so the scribes might’ve figured this didn’t count as blasphemy. They weren’t calling the LORD anything; just his Spirit. Thing is, the Holy Spirit is the LORD, so you can’t weasel out of the consequences thataway. Jesus calls him “God’s finger,” Lk 11.20 so we’re not talking an impersonal force or a separate entity. He’s as God as God is.

Kind of a huge error when you can’t tell the difference between the Holy Spirit and Satan. Kinda proves you don’t know the Holy Spirit as well as you think you do. When cessationists claim the very same thing about Spirit-filled Christians, they’re making the very same error as these scribes. The only reason I won’t say they’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit, is because I give them the benefit of the doubt: They don’t realize how profoundly wrong they are. But if any of ’em do know, deep down, the Spirit of God is among us, and nevertheless claim our miracles are devilish: No matter their excuse, they’ve blasphemed the Spirit.

’Cause there’s no good excuse. Their condemnation is getting in the way of people embracing the Holy Spirit. Following his instructions. Accepting his baptism for power. Growing in his gifts. All because they’re jealous of supernaturalist Christians, or because our teachings strike ’em funny. I mean, you can dislike someone for all sorts of reasons, but interfering with the Holy Spirit who leads people to Jesus? The one who directly applies Jesus’s salvation to people’s lives, and you’re telling people he’s actually the devil? Man alive have you got trouble, with a capital T that rhymes with B that stands for blasphemy. That’s the worst sort of rebelliousness.

That’s what makes it unpardonable. It’s not simply because it’s such a bad sin. It’s because you’ve gotta have a seriously corrupt heart to wanna bollix someone’s salvation and Christian growth. You’ve gotta be too bitter, too selfish. So entirely resistant to grace, you don’t want anyone to share it. And arguably haven’t even accepted it yourself.

Bending the definition.

Christians tend to misdefine blasphemy, and figure it’s any sort of insult to God. Simply resisting the Holy Spirit would therefore count as blasphemy. But they don’t want blaspheming the Spirit to be all that easy to commit, so Christians tend to claim it’s not simply a one-time offense. It’s gotta be persistent, continual defiance of the Spirit’s will. It’s a lifestyle of resisting the Spirit. So if you refuse to believe him when he leads you to Jesus, or refuse to keep following him thereafter, that’d be the unpardonable sin. You’ve quit Jesus, so there’s no hope for you.

Other Christians claim blasphemy of the Spirit is defined, and only defined, by the scribes claiming Jesus used devilish power: If you believe Jesus’s miracles are devilish or fake, you’ve blasphemed his Spirit. And since only pagans would figure Jesus’s miracles weren’t real, stands to reason a true Christian wouldn’t have committed such a sin.

In seminary I learned the popular Calvinist redefinition of blaspheming the Holy Spirit: If you’re not Christian, and never intend to become Christian, it’s because you’re willfully, determinedly opposed to him. You know, same as any reprobate sinner. You’re never gonna listen to him, follow him, repent, be saved, get forgiven of all your sins: You’re gonna die with all your sins on you, and never be forgiven. Just like Jesus describes. Lk 12.10 Therefore everybody who rejects Christ has “blasphemed the Spirit,” and every Christian has not. And never will, ’cause Calvinists believe once saved always saved.

Another I’ve been taught is that “blaspheming the Spirit” is what happens when we get a sinner who’s so depraved, so self-focused, they honestly can’t tell the difference between good and evil. You know, like someone with an antisocial psychological disorder; a “psychopath,” as they’re called. If their conscience is so damaged they can’t even hear the Spirit, they’re doomed.

Anyway, we Christians aren’t in any of these boats, right? Seems a true believer can never, ever blaspheme the Spirit. So stop stressing about it. Lie about him all you please; God forgives all.

Like I said, yikes.