16 June 2021

Jesus warns against blaspheming the Spirit.

Mark 3.28-30, Matthew 12.31-32, Luke 12.10.

Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor there’s such a thing as “the unpardonable sin.” Or multiple unpardonable sins. Certain things we can do which push God’s grace to the limit, ’cause apparently it has a limit, and these sins cross it. Do ’em and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.

Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell us what the unpardonable sin is. When I was a kid I thought it was saying, “F--- God,” and Dad had committed it a bunch of times, so he was surely going to hell. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. Or Catholics tell me it was one of the seven deadly sins, ’cause what made ’em deadly was they’d send you to hell.

There are in fact multiple unpardonable sins, and today I’m get to what Jesus teaches about one of them, namely blasphemy of 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 one 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 actually avoiding it, many foolish Christians have chosen to redefine and re-explain blaspheming the Spirit till it no longer means what, at face value, Jesus is talking about. Largely because they and their favorite preachers are blaspheming the Spirit. Regularly. I’m not kidding.

So… does that mean they’re going to hell? Not necessarily. But I’ll get to that.

Did the scribes blaspheme Jesus?

The word βλασφημία/vlasfimía means irreverence towards, and slander against, people and things we oughta reverence. Namely God, though some Christians will consider it blasphemy if you don’t show proper reverence for church, your bible, the pastor, and all sorts of things they consider solemn and holy. For those folks, the very title of this blog is blasphemy, because they consider the exclamation “Christ Almighty!” to be taking the Lord’s name in vain—which I’m not doing, at all, so relax.

Blasphemy is an intentionally harmful act. You’re trying to hurt or damage someone or something. You’re trying to wreck God’s reputation, and get people to no longer trust him. You know, like the Pharisee scribes tried to do with Jesus by claiming his exorcisms were performed through an evil spirit.

We legally define slander as any lie which damages a person’s reputation. The only defense to a charge of slander, is to prove it’s not a lie; it’s totally true. Doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to damage a person’s reputation; harm was done, and a slanderer is liable for the harm done. And while our laws won’t let you off the hook if you unintentionally slander someone, God often does, ’cause he’s kind like that.

But there’s no question about the scribes’ intent. When they ruled Jesus “threw out demons by the head demon,” Mk 3.22 they were deliberately trying to harm Jesus’s reputation. Because their reasoning was ridiculously easy for Jesus to puncture: Why on earth would Satan empower an exorcism? Because it’s all part of a big, elaborate, massive con, and so it’ll willingly free people in order to really trick and destroy us? No… because the devil sucks at faking good fruit. When Jesus frees people, they’re free. Jn 8.36 When the devil “frees” people, strings are still attached, and are so obvious they might as well be chains.

Scribes aren’t morons. These guys should’ve immediately realized their logic was faulty. But Jesus the Nazarene was a massive stumbling block for them: 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. Willing to accept sloppy logic; anything which drove people away from Jesus.

Obviously driving people away from Jesus has grievous consequences. Jesus is the only way to the Father, Jn 14.6 and we gotta go through 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. And that’s a major crime: Getting in the way of people’s salvation means you’re sending them to hell.

The scribes 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 false. 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 they knew better than this. 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. Deliberate 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.

It’s 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. And every time cessationists claim the very same thing about Spirit-filled Christians, they making the very same error as these scribes. They’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Now like I said earlier: Our laws don’t make any distinction between intentional and unintentional slander. You might get a more lenient sentence if you didn’t mean it, but you’re still guilty. And whenever cessationists blaspheme the Spirit, I’m pretty sure most of ’em don’t mean to; they’re just repeating what their preachers taught, and don’t realize what they’re doing. But they are still guilty, y’know.

’Cause actions, even unintentional ones, have consequences. 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.

So… are they doomed?

I spelled most of this out in my article on blaspheming the Spirit, so if you wanna read it, be my guest. But in short, I believe in grace. God easily forgives all. But when we commit “unpardonable sins,” these aren’t sins he pardons easily. When we never do repent, and we end up before him in judgment, those sins doom us. But when we do repent, they may not be sins God can easily forgive… but he can forgive them. Still, it’s better to never do ’em in the first place!

So could the scribes someday repent and follow Jesus? Yes. No doubt Paul, when he first began persecuting Christians, dismissed their miracles and said they were all rubbish; said God couldn’t empower such things, and it must be the devil. Yeah, there are gonna be Christians who insist, “Oh he can’t have; if he blasphemed the Spirit, Jesus would never have appeared to him!” But that’s just how radical grace is: Jesus appears to lots of rotten sinners, and flips ’em. It’s his specialty.

My concern is that cessationists who currently blaspheme the Spirit, are making it especially hard for themselves to repent. ’Cause they redefine what “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” actually means. Some of ’em claim it’s apostasy, and the only way you can actually blaspheme the Spirit is to reject his grace and quit Jesus. Others claim it’s a lifestyle of resisting the Spirit’s grace… so unrepentant pagans are really the only ones blaspheming the Spirit; since they’re Christian of course they’re not, and they insist no Christian does. In general if you’ve redefined “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” to be something you don’t do, and would never do, you can go right on blaspheming the Spirit and never know it. Yikes.

So don’t you misdefine what it means. It’s right there in the gospels, in black and white and sometimes red.

Mark 3.29-30 KWL
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.”

When you say the Spirit is an unclean spirit; when you say the acts of the Holy Spirit are the works of the devil, you’ve slandered him. It’s blasphemy. Take it back, apologize, and follow him. Because without him you’re not inheriting the kingdom.