“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 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.
A cursory reading of these verses might lead one to conclude that few passages of scripture could be more threatening or terrifying. Actually, few passages are more misunderstood, and ironically, Christians are the primary group concerned with having committed “the unpardonable sin”. This fear, then, seems to be a satanic tactic being “raised up” against the minds of the church to rob them of the spiritual blessing of assurance. Therefore, the following comments will attempt to set forth this single liberating truth: Christians, by definition, are incapable of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
The Surrounding Context
In this section of Matthew’s narrative, Jesus’ words are recorded immediately following the miraculous healing of a man previously both blind and mute (12:22). The eyewitnesses to this exorcism rightly wondered if Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah (12:23). A group of Pharisees hearing talk of the Messiah quickly squashed any budding faith in the crowd determining, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” (12:24 NIV). Jesus then rebuts the Pharisees with a logical argument for the impossibility of their assertion (12:25-30). Lastly, Jesus condemns his religious antagonists with the scripture in question (12:31-32), and Matthew ends this text with Jesus’ blistering words of final judgment (12:33-37).
The Broader Context
In the passage in question, Jesus says God is willing to forgive anyone for any sin and any blasphemy except for the specific sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Although all blasphemy is sin, the text treats the two separately with blasphemy representing the most extreme form of sin.
Blasphemy is the unique sin of intentionally and openly speaking evil against, defaming or mocking holy God (c.f. Mark 2:7). Under the Old Covenant, the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (Lev. 24:16). Blasphemy, in the last days, will be an outstanding characteristic of those who rebelliously and insolently oppose God (Rev. 13:5-6; 16:9; 17:3).
Any unbeliever or disbeliever who blasphemes God can be forgiven (1 Tim. 1:13-14). Peter blasphemed Jesus with curses, yet he was forgiven and restored (Mark 14:71; John 21:15-19). Even Christians living under the New Covenant are capable of blasphemy when we remember that blasphemy constitutes any thought or word that sullies God’s character.
Blasphemy against Jesus Christ
Blasphemy against Jesus Christ is forgivable, just as any other sin is forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him (Matt. 12:32a). Son of Man is a title highlighting the Lord’s humanity. A person’s perception may not allow them to see more than Christ’s humanity, and if they only misjudge at that level and speak against Jesus in His humanness, such a word against the Son of Man can be forgiven. In other words, when a person rejects Christ with less than full exposure to the evidence of His deity, he may be forgiven of that sin if, after gaining fuller light, he then believes.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit before the Cross
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, however, was something more serious and irremediable. It revealed not only unbelief, but determined unbelief—the refusal, after having seen all evidence necessary to complete one’s understanding—to even to consider believing in Jesus. This was blasphemy against Jesus in relation to His deity, against the Spirit of God who uniquely indwelt and empowered His words and works.
In Matthew 12:32 the text reads more literally, “...whoever speaks down against [Gr. 2596 kata] the Holy Spirit... In Mark 3:29 the text reads more literally, “...whoever blasphemes in the face of [Gr. 1519 eis] the Holy Spirit... The preposition “eis” includes the concept of “kata” but makes blasphemy worse. In Matthew, the HS is being spoken down against to people. In Mark, blasphemy is spoken to the HS Himself. In the case of the latter, the person is blaspheming the HS to His face, asserting that he will not be diverted in the way he chooses to live his life, regardless of what Jesus’ gospel teaches. This offense revealed one’s permanent rejection of Jesus and refusal to receive His forgiveness, which resulted in loss of opportunity to ever be forgiven either in this age [of human history], or in the age to come [throughout all eternity].
Historically, to speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was to openly accuse Jesus of being demon possessed instead of Spirit-filled. This blasphemy cannot be duplicated today. The unsaved Pharisees were in a unique moment in history in that they had the witness of the Law and Prophets, the Holy Spirit stirring their hearts, and Jesus Christ performing miracles personally before their eyes. Never in world history nor ever since has so much divine light been granted to any generation. Yet even with complete and overwhelming proof, rather than confessing Jesus as Lord, the Pharisees knowingly and purposely credited Jesus’ work to the devil though the evidence was incontestable. Jesus declared their willful blindness to be unforgivable. Their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was their final rejection of God’s grace. They had set their course for eternity. As Mark 3:29 puts it, “They are guilty of an eternal sin.”
The immediate result of the Pharisees’ public rejection of Christ [and God’s rejection of them] is seen in the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, for the first time, “told them many things in parables” (Matt. 13:3 NIV). The disciples were puzzled at this change in teaching method (13:10), but Jesus proceeded by explaining His parables to them while leaving the truth veiled to the Jewish leaders as a direct result of their official denunciation of Him (Matt, 13:11-13).
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit after the Cross
The equivalent unpardonable sin today is the state of continued unbelief. Since Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit has worked uniquely on earth to convict sinners concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). Satan’s work is to counteract the Spirit’s conviction, i.e. to prevent the unsaved from recognizing their sins and moving them toward salvation. To resist that conviction and willfully remain unrepentant is to “blaspheme” the Spirit. There is no pardon, either in this age or in the age to come for a person who rejects the Spirit’s promptings to trust in Jesus Christ and then dies in unbelief. Therefore, the reason this sin is unforgivable is because it demonstrates one’s refusal to be forgiven—an attitude and reality totally opposed to and impossible for those in Christ.
To unsaved Jews who had heard the full gospel message and seen its supernatural evidence, and to all who would come after them with similar exposure to the truth and the biblical record of miraculous evidence, the writer of the book of Hebrews gave a stern warning: 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Heb. 2:3-4)
The generation immediately after Christ’s ascension was ministered to by the apostles, enlightened by their teaching and supplied proof by their miracles. That generation had evidence equivalent to those to whom Jesus personally ministered. They had the highest possible revelation from God, and if they refused to believe in the face of such overwhelming evidence, there was nothing more God could do for them. They did not blaspheme; they simply turned away. The guilt of the Pharisees who added blasphemy to unbelief was greater than that of those who saw the same evidence and disbelieved but did not speak against the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the rebels in both groups left themselves no future but perdition.
In a similar way people today can so totally turn their backs on God’s revelation that they permanently cut themselves off from salvation. There was an exceptionally dark night during WWII when an American naval force in the North Atlantic was engaged in heavy battle with enemy ships and submarines. That night six planes flew from the carrier to search out those targets, but while they were still in the air a total blackout was ordered for the carrier to protect it from attack. The planes couldn’t possibly land with no lights on deck, so they made a radio request for illumination just long enough to come in. However, no lights were permitted since the entire carrier, including thousands of men plus other planes and equipment, would have been put in jeopardy. When the six planes ran out of fuel, they had to eject into the freezing water where all crew members perished into eternity.
There comes a time when God turns out the lights, when further opportunity for salvation is forever lost. One who rejects full light can have no further light—and no forgiveness. God gives such sinners [not Christians] over to themselves leaving them permanently hardened. That is why the Holy Spirit implores us declaring, Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— (2 Cor. 6:2)
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Gotquestions.org “What is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?” https://www.gotquestions.org/blasphemy-Holy-Spirit.html
John MacArthur, Matthew 8-15: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Moody Press