27 June 2024

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Our English word blasphemy comes from the Greek word βλασφημία/vlasfimía, and largely means the same thing: It’s irreverence towards, and slander against, people and things we oughta reverence. We Christians tend to only use it to describe irreverence towards God (and bibliolaters to describe irreverence towards the bible), but the ancients applied it to all sorts of things. Like irreverence towards the temple, Moses, the prophets, and the scriptures. Even kings and emperors; yes you could blaspheme a king. Especially when they were one of those kings who claimed godhood. Some politicians still kinda get that way.

Some blasphemy is totally unintentional, like when we claim stuff about God that’s not so. Like when we claim, “God’s gonna send you to hell for that!” and no he won’t. Or when we claim God’s secret will is for evil to happen, and no it’s not.

Other times it’s totally intentional, ’cause we’re pissed at God over something he did or didn’t do, so we yell at him a bit, or otherwise throw a tantrum and say some evil things. God is fully aware we’re just acting up. And once we snap out of it, he forgives us. He’s gracious like that.

But then Jesus said this:

Mark 3.28-30 NASB
28“Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons and daughters of men, and whatever blasphemies they commit; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”30because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Said much the same thing in two other gospels. In context, it’s part of the story where Jerusalem scribes visiting the Galilee gave their expert opinion, and declared Jesus did his exorcisms by the power of Beelzebub (in Aramaic Baal Zevúl, a local pagan god; their euphemism for Satan). Not the Holy Spirit. Jesus pointed out their reasoning was stupid: Satan’s not gonna fight itself, and if it is, it’s falling apart. And this is where he said blaspheming the Holy Spirit means you committed an αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος/eoníu amartímatos, “sin of the age,” or “eternal sin.” Mt 12.31-32, Lk 12.10

Historically, Christians have taught this means a sin which disqualifies you from Kingdom Come. Your friends and family are gonna join Jesus at his second coming—and you are gonna sit on the bench. Or stay dead till Judgment Day. Then go into the lake of sulfur and fire.


Hence some Christians are terrified of committing it. Afraid they might accidentally, unintentionally commit it. So afraid, they’re afraid of critiquing any miracle or prophet—even though we’re supposed to double-check these things, and make sure they’re really God. But they refuse to, lest they say “It’s devilish” when it’s really the Spirit, and stumble into blaspheming the Spirit. And that’s why so many Christians let so many phonies get away with so much evil.

On the other extreme, some Christians claim blasphemy of the Spirit never, ever happens. Not anymore. ’Cause cessationism! As soon as “that which is perfect has come,” 1Co 13.10 which cessationists insist refers to the bible, God switched off the miracles: He doesn’t need ’em to confirm his message anymore, ’cause now the bible does that. The conditions under which blasphemy of the Spirit could happen, no longer does. So whenever you see a “miracle,” or hear a “prophecy,” feel free to say it’s from Satan. The blind and deaf and paralyzed aren’t cured anymore; that’s Satan. Jesus doesn’t appear to people anymore; that’s Satan. And when those people respond by repenting, transforming their lives, producing good fruit, likewise praying for people and curing ’em: Yep, more Satan—hoo boy is that devil tricky, acting exactly like the Holy Spirit does in the bible, just to confuse people.

And on yet another axis you have those Christians who are quick to point to other scriptures which state God forgives every sin. 1Jn 1.7, 9 Every single possible potential sin; no exceptions. If you’re worried about the scriptures’ warnings against blaspheming the Spirit, relax! God forgives all.

Lastly we have the Christians who try their darnedest to redefine blaspheming the Spirit so it’s not what Jesus warned the scribes against doing. It’s some other thing. It’s apostasy. Or it’s numbing your conscience so much, you can’t tell the difference between good and evil anymore; confounding the Spirit with Satan is just a symptom of the real problem.

I think instead of convenient little answers which make us calm down and stop worrying about committing this sin, we oughta figure out for real what it is, whether we do it, and whether we can still get into God’s kingdom even if we did it.

What it is, and whether we can do it.

Blaspheming the Spirit is pretty clearly defined in that verse I quoted—“because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ ” Mk 3.30 NASB The Pharisees claimed Jesus’s spirit, the Holy Spirit, God himself, is unclean. He’s evil, ritually impure, leads people astray, leads ’em to hell… basically everything the Holy Spirit is not. Stuff they should know better than to say about God. But they were so anti-Jesus, they couldn’t recognize God in action. They were too blinded by their animosity.

Whenever cessationists claim today’s miracles and prophecy are the product of Satan, they’re likewise too blinded by their animosity towards prophets, faith healers, tongues-speakers, and other miracle workers. They don’t recognize God when he appears in their midst. They can’t!—they insist he doesn’t do that anymore, and they know him so well, so it can’t be him. Must be some other powerful, supernatural being.

What other, powerful supernatural beings are there? (Outside of fiction, of course.) Well… the only one they know of is the devil. Must be the devil.

Same problem. Same blasphemy.

Cessationists claim it’s not the same problem, ’cause we’re in a different dispensation: God created different rules for salvation in different historical eras. King David ben Jesse, fr’instance, lived under the dispensation of Law, in which David earned his salvation by obeying God and racking up good karma; and of course when he cuckolded and murdered a guy so he could take his wife, he had to earn God’s favor back by watching his newborn son die, surviving a coup by his secondborn, and of course a whole bunch of ritual sacrifices. Thankfully we live under the dispensation of Grace, in which Jesus took on our sins on the cross and vanquished them, so we don’t have to earn salvation anymore. Don’t even try.

But. Because Jesus’s life and teachings almost entirely took place before his death on the cross, it means the dispensation of Grace didn’t kick in till then. Meaning Jesus’s teachings took place during the dispensation of Law. His entire Sermon on the Mount was taught during that dispensation. And it only applies to that dispensation. Not ours. So, don’t worry about following it and obeying Jesus! You’re under grace now.

Likewise what Jesus taught about blaspheming the Holy Spirit: Wrong dispensation! Chill out.

Ugh. If your defense for committing the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is “We can safely ignore Jesus”… I’ll try to say this as kindly as I can: I’m pretty sure you’re not Christian. I don’t care if you identify yourself as Christian; Jesus doesn’t, ’cause he expects Christians to follow him. Even though his new covenant supersedes the old, his words will never pass away. Mt 24.35 Including his warnings about sin.

I’ve actually heard non-cessationists borrow cessationist arguments, and claim, “The scribes’ sin was they personally witnessed Jesus’s miracles, yet said he did it by Satan. We can’t commit the same sin, ’cause we can’t personally witness his miracles, ’cause he’s in heaven now.” Well we’ve no idea whether the scribes personally witnessed anything, or judged entirely on hearsay. But regardless, I remind you Jesus intentionally didn’t say the unforgivable part was about blaspheming him.

Matthew 12.31-32 NASB
31“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

If anybody else is throwing out demons, particularly in Jesus’s name, and an unbeliever claims, “That’s not the Holy Spirit at work; it’s Satan”—it’s the same sin. Same blasphemy, against the same person. With the same consequence: This sin doesn’t get forgiven. Not now, not later.

The reason cessationists strive mightily to redefine this sin, or insist it can no longer be committed, is pretty simple: They don’t wanna be accused of committing it! Because they’re comitting it. Every time they claim a miracle isn’t of God but of Satan, they’re committing it.

Some of them—like John F. MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, editor of the MacArthur Study Bible, and host of the “Grace to You” radio program—have made blaspheming the Holy Spirit a central speciality of their ministry. MacArthur’s a cessationist, and believes he’s wholly justified in saying every present-day miracle-worker and prophet is working by the power of Satan. He figures he’s not blaspheming the Holy Spirit; they are. They’re claiming to work by the Spirit’s power, and they’re not.

MacArthur particularly likes to go after the folks in the New Apostolic Reformation movement. And y’know, I share many of MacArthur’s concerns about that group. Some of ’em are big on the prosperity gospel. Some of their prophets have forgotten they’re to proclaim God’s kingdom, not American conservatism, and have bound themselves to conservative American politicians, and are knee-deep in civic idolatry and Christian nationalism. Some aren’t, and rebuke all that stuff, but MacArthur tends to ignore the orthodox ones and paint ’em all with the same brush.

And while MacArthur begins with his concerns about the New Apostolic movement, he regularly goes on to criticize any and every present-day prophet. Because his cessationism can’t fathom anything but phonies exist. They’re all cut from the same cloth; they’re all devilish.

We Christians are instructed (in the parts of the bible written after Jesus died on the cross, so dispensationalists should figure they apply!) not to despise prophecy. 1Th 5.19 We’re meant to test it, and hold onto what’s good. 1Th 5.20 Not prejudicially dismiss the entire practice as something the Spirit no longer enables, all because we adopted a worldview founded on unbelief, and comforted by the idea of a distant, non-interventionist God.

So: Can people still blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Yes. And some of ’em do it all the time.

Is it really unforgivable?

There are three sins described in Christendom as unpardonable:

  1. Apostasy.
  2. Blaspheming the Spirit.
  3. Refusing to forgive others.

And as I said, a number of Christians claim apostasy and blaspheming the Spirit are one and the same sin. They figure you don’t really blaspheme the Spirit unless your denial of the Spirit’s work includes Jesus’s atonement and your own salvation. So basically you’ve quit Christianity. Quit Jesus. Rejected God’s kingdom. “Blasphemy of the Spirit” is just a fancy term for apostasy. (What’re the chances the Christians who came up with this explanation, are cessationists who are trying to claim they don’t really blaspheme the Spirit? Hundred percent.)

Now the idea of unpardonable sins seems to contradict the idea of grace. If God’s forgiving attitude towards us means he’s gonna forgive us absolutely positively everything, shouldn’t this also include apostasy and blasphemy of the Spirit? If you quit Jesus, but you come to your senses like the prodigal son eventually did, Lk 15.11-32 won’t the Father eagerly take you back? If you’ve blasphemed the Spirit and claimed his activity was devilish, but later realize you were wholly wrong and take it back, won’t he let you take it back? Paul, fr’instance: When he persecuted the ancient Christians before he met Jesus, I’ve no doubt he believed and said the miracles among them were frauds and devilry. And yet Jesus saved him too.

Here’s how I reconcile the ideas. You may disagree; feel free to.

The way most Christians describe God’s grace, is not as radical as it actually is. Grace forgives and saves people on one condition, and one alone: We trust him. When we have this faith in him, it justifies us; God notes this faith, counts us as righteous, considers us one of his, adopts us as his kids, and forgives us everything.

Everything. This’d mean sins we’ve confessed… and not. That’d mean sins we probably don’t even realize we’ve committed, so we never repented of ’em. That’d also mean sins we’re not so sure even are sins. And while karma may demand such sins tip the scales of justice in the wrong direction, and send us to hell, grace means they don’t.

With three exceptions. You already know which three exceptions. They’re things God can’t bring himself to overlook, because they interfere with his grace too much. Apostasy rejects his grace entirely. Blaspheming the Spirit rejects the person of the trinity who teaches us grace and applies it to our lives. And unforgiveness means we’re not letting God’s grace overflow to the way we treat others. In the case of these three sins, there’s no salvation, because we’d rather have the sins.

If we commit these things, and continue to commit them, and even justify and elevate them and turn them into our twisted ministries, we’ve broken our relationship with God. We have no relationship with God. We’re not part of his kingdom. That’s why Jesus said we “never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Mk 3.29 NASB Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit isn’t apostasy, same as yanking the television plug out of the wall isn’t the same thing as throwing a television into a Dumpster. It just happens to have the very same effect: No TV.

But is it undoable? Sure: You gotta repent. You can often get away with not repenting your other sins, because God’s forgiven you already. But these you definitely gotta repent.

Yeah, I know other Christians are gonna insist we repent all our sins. As we should! I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m only saying God’ll still forgive us if we unintentionally overlook those other sins. But not these three. These are make-or-break sins. Ones we should never commit in the first place—but if we do, we do still have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 If you stumble into blaspheming the Holy Spirit, repent immediately. Till then, you don’t get your usual blanket forgiveness of grace, because these make-or-break sins mean you’ve cut yourself off from grace altogether.

Other Christians are gonna gracelessly say no; once you commit these sins you’re totally boned. And other Christians are gonna go overboard and say they’re no different, no less forgivable, than any other sins. But I’m pretty sure if they were no different than other sins, they wouldn’t get the extra-special warnings in scripture… and if committing them absolutely doomed us, we wouldn’t get all the verses in scripture which tell us God can forgive all. So there’s how I sort ’em out. Take or leave it.

Am I saying cessationists are doomed? Only when they claim present-day miracles, without exception, without obeying the apostles’ instructions to test stuff but just offering a prejudiced judgment against ’em, are devilish across the board. If they insist on saying the works of the Spirit are the works of Satan, yes I am. If you think that’s harsh of me… you do realize they’re calling our beloved Holy Spirit “Satan.” What else are we supposed to conclude?

But if they repent, God is gracious.