by Richard Speights
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as an unpardonable sin has caused no little confusion. Conduct an Internet search, and the results present a plethora of diverging explanations even among members of the church of Christ. After all the confusion, though, there is an answer; and that answer is really rather simple.
This paper will not counter each explanation. Otherwise there would be no end to words. This paper will also refrain from a detailed explanation of the meaning of the word “blasphemy”; it is the epitome of speculation to assume the word “blasphemy” means something other than a verbal sin, a sin of communication. Blasphemy can be spoken, written, or signed. It can also be insinuated.
Many of the things said concerning the unpardonable sin are an attempt to explain it away as having everything to do with events in Jesus’s day pertaining to miracles, unrelated to today’s Christians. Explaining away a thing does not make that thing go away. A dismissive toss of the hand does not lead to truth.
First, and most importantly, we can’t reach the true meaning of the symbolic language in scripture if we decipher symbolic language incorrectly. I used the word decipher on purpose, because the very nature of this type of language, where a man says one thing but means another, is cryptic. Sometimes symbolic language (including parables) is easy to decipher. Sometimes it is not. Although the language contained in Matthew 12:22-37 seems at first glance somewhat convoluted, it is, in the end, really rather straightforward.
Nonetheless, the reader cannot decipher biblical symbolic language through guesswork or casual thinking (this is true of all the symbolic language in the Bible, not just the language in Matthew 12). Symbolic language, like the language in Matthew 12, can be understood only when the reader understands related issues. For instance, although casting out the demon started the dialog between Jesus and the Pharisees, there is more to the story behind the Pharisees’ castigation, “he cast out demons by the power of demons,” than is explained in Matthew 12.Second, one must consider to whom Jesus was speaking concerning this sin. He wasn’t talking to the common people or His disciples. He was talking to the Pharisees (and by proxy, the Sadducees, errant priests and scribes, and King Herod). Familiarity with the history of the Pharisees helps the reader understand the passages in Matthew 12:22-37. Understanding their history also helps the reader understand the full implications of Jesus's other disagreements with the Pharisees.
Imagine a husband and wife. They are English professors at a local university. As language snobs, they have decided to scrub their speech of certain superlatives, words like “great”, “wonderful”, and “fantastic”, which they consider linguistically vulgar. One evening, they go to a party; and while the husband is chatting with colleagues, the wife approaches, presenting a pleasant, happy smile. She gently takes his arm and says, “Oh, darling, I’m having such a fantastic time.”
Within minutes, the husband makes their excuses; and they leave. Their friends heard the wife say she was having a good time. She was even smiling. The husband, however, correctly deciphered her words and understood her message—she was having a terrible time and wanted to go home.Without knowing the husband and wife’s history, it would be nearly impossible to understand why the husband and wife left the party. Discovering the meaning of symbolic language is similar. Jesus did not intend for readers to guess the meaning of His words. It’s important not to guess the meaning of any of the symbolic language populating the scriptures. Guessing creates divergent explanations. Proper decryption creates consensus of understanding.
The Pharisees and Sadducees wormed their way into the Seat of Moses in the years before the birth of the Christ by supporting Herod the Great’s rise to the throne. Although they did not overturn the Law of Moses, they did overlay God’s laws with layers of their own laws (Matthew 23). They were illegitimate leaders of Judah along with King Herod, causing disobedience to flourish in the land.
When the Messiah came, it was the responsibility of the leadership in Judah to gather the children of Israel together to Him. However, upon the Messiah’s birth, the King tried to kill Him. When the child grew into manhood, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to discredit Him.
They didn’t do this in ignorance. (This is so very important to understand, not just for these passages but also for all the passages wherein Jesus argues with the Pharisees.) The Pharisees were students of the prophets and the law, and knew all the scriptures by heart. But they were not interested in obedience. They ignored the obvious to indulge their desire for power and position. Isaiah spoke to this: ““Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear”.” (Isaiah 42:20) And, “…‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive”’.” (Isaiah 6:9)
That Jesus was the Messiah was obvious to everyone, and the Pharisees' knowledge of scripture would make this especially clear to them. Their knowledge of the prophets also guided their arguments with Jesus. For instance: The Pharisees never spoke specifically against the miracles of healing Jesus performed. They did this for two reasons: the people would have condemned them, and, more importantly, healing the ill and maimed was a prophetic sign of the Messiah. And speaking specifically against a prophetic sign would have condemned themselves by their own words.
Therefore the only times they condemned the miracles of healing was when Jesus healed on the Sabbath—(John 9, Matthew 12, Mark 1, Mark 3. Luke 4, Luke 6, Luke 13, Luke 14).Note this: The prophets never said a single word about Jesus casting out demons. Therefore the Pharisees took advantage of this absence and condemned Jesus for casting out demons (Matthew 9:34, Matthew 12:24). It also appears from these two verses the Pharisees claimed Jesus cast out demons by the power of demons every time they faced the fact that Jesus had cast out a demon.
With these things in mind, consider the following verse-by-verse explanation of Matthew 12:22-37:
22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
Verse 22 speaks only of His having healed the man’s blindness and mutism.
The prophets prophesied the Messiah would heal the sick. The prophets say nothing about Him casting out demons. Remember how Jesus answered John’s question, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matt 11:3) “4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matt 11) Jesus said not a word about casting out demons in His answer to John.
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
Notice the Pharisees did not speak against Jesus's having healed the blindness and mutism. They knew better than to say something against signs that fulfilled prophecy, so they focused only upon Jesus casting out the demon, of which the prophets had said nothing. This was also an ongoing castigation—in Matthew 9:34, they also said, "...He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”
25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation [reduced to nothing], and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
People read verse 25 and miss the connections Jesus made in His statement. He talked about the kingdom, cities, and houses. Remember, Jesus was speaking to Jews in Judah about things they knew well and understood. When He said, “kingdom,” they would have made the connection to the kingdom of Israel. When He said, “cities”, they would have made the connection to Jerusalem, the chief city and center of the kingdom. When He said, “house,” they would have made the connection to the house of God, the Temple. Jesus is addressing the divided Kingdom of Judah, where the majority lived disobedient to God and the minority obeyed. The Pharisees were some of the chief ringleaders in this division.
26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
Juxtaposition against the Pharisees dividing the kingdom, the statement recorded in verse 26 has horrible implication. Satan was not divided against himself. But God’s people were divided and had a long history of dividing—the majority doing whatever they wanted while the minority obeyed. Although Jesus presents verse 26 in the form of an argumentation, it’s more a verbal slap in the Pharisees’ face. Nonetheless, this verse and the next are the only two that can be considered a counter-argument to the casting-out-demons-by-the-power-of-demons assertion.
27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.
Jesus and His disciples were not the only people casting out demons. In Mark, we read: “…Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us’.” (Mark 9:38) The fellow casting out demons in the name of Jesus would have had a thing or two to say to the Pharisees about their blasphemous accusation concerning the source of the power. Moreover, it further shows the division between the disobedient Pharisees and the faithful Jews.
28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Even though casting out demons was not necessarily prophesied beforehand, it was obvious to anyone watching it had been done by the power of God, which meant it was performed in association with the prophesied miracles of healing, which meant Jesus was truly the Messiah, which meant the kingdom of God was upon them.That's the message Jesus preached from the very beginning, the coming kingdom (Mark 1:15). However, the Pharisees would have none of it, rejecting the Son and His coming kingdom. Moreover, they were doing everything in their power to prevent others from following the Son and or entering the coming kingdom (Matt 23:13), just as Herod had tried to prevent the coming King by murdering children.
29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
First note the word phrase, "Or how can." This connects what is about to be said to what has just been said. Jesus is making a strong connection between verse 29 and the previous verse 28, between the strong man entering and spoiling the house and the coming kingdom of God.
The house in this verse is not the man’s body, as so many people currently believe and teach. The house, alluded to at the beginning of Jesus’s dialog, is the house of God, which the Pharisees had subverted by teaching commandments of men and by their resistance to the coming kingdom and the Son of God (Matthew 15:9). Jesus is relating the strong man to the Pharisees. Jesus is the stronger man, able to overcome these disobedient men and spoil the goods (the children of Israel) by bringing redemption to the Jews (and later, of course, to the Gentiles).
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4, 5)
30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
With a better understanding of the preceding verses, verse 30 now makes sense. The Pharisees, who as leaders in Israel, were supposed to have gathered the people to the Messiah. Instead, the Pharisees worked hard to scatter them. They were not with Jesus but against Him. They did not gather but scattered the flock.
31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
When a speaker uses the adverb, “therefore,” he is linking his previous statements to his next. The word therefore means “for that reason” or “consequently”. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has to do with the Pharisees disobedience and is not related, except through circumstance, to the miracle of casting out the demon.
The Pharisees, in their role as leaders of Israel, were resisting God—they were in full rebellion. In their rebellion, the Pharisees purposefully lead others away from God’s will and purpose (“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Matt 23:13)).
Thereafter, in their rebellion and while leading others away from God’s commandments, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Make no mistake; calling the Holy Spirit “Beelzebub” is absolutely blasphemy).
All these conditions must come together to constitute an unpardonable sin. The unforgivable sin is not a casual collection of words, accidentally spoken in a moment of anger or stupidity. There is a prerequisite. First, it is limited to those leading others, the leaders. Second, these leaders must be in rebellion. Third, they must be promoting others to pull away from God’s will.
32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
If the Pharisees had blasphemed only God and Jesus, it could have been forgiven. But in this instance, since they fit the prerequisites, their blasphemy was unpardonable.
This has become a difficult thing for some people to accept. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) If “all unrighteousness” is cleansed, then how is it possible that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not?
Consider marriage and divorce. Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt 19:6) But to this firm rule, he gave an exception: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery…” (Matt 19:9) God makes an exception to His hard-and-fast rule on marriage and divorce. God also makes an exception to the forgiveness of all sin—the unpardonable sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as described in Matthew 12:22-37 and alluded to in Mark and Luke.
Some people say blasphemy of the Holy Spirit could happen only during the time of Jesus while he performed miracles. In order for people to say this, they have to misrepresent the word phrase, “this age or in the age to come.” They must conclude since the sin was limited to Jesus’s time then the “age to come” must mean heaven. Furthermore, along this same thinking, they say eternal life comes only after Judgment Day, due to Mark 10:30:
“who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:30
However, eternal life begins the very moment we are brought to life—at baptism—not post Judgment Day. Eternal life wasn’t available to the children of Israel until after Calvary. Therefore, they would not receive eternal life until the Christian age, the "age to come".
1 John 3:15—“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
Consequently, if a man loves his brother, he has eternal life abiding in him.
1 John 5:11—“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
God has given us eternal life (not will give us eternal life in the future). Moreover, eternal life is in His Son, Jesus, and we Christians have Jesus. Without Him is death, and through Him we are alive.
1 John 5:13—These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
John says clearly we have (as to possess) eternal life. He does not say we will possess
eternal life in the future.
(Don’t misunderstand. I’m not promoting once saved always saved. A Christian can walk away from his inheritance, just like the twelve had walked away from their God-given physical inheritance (“Then Peter began to say to Him, ‘See, we have left all and followed You’.” Mark 10:28) If one walks away from his spiritual inheritance through disobedience and rebellion, he looses his claim on life and becomes disqualified (“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27))
Moreover, the word “age” is related to time, in English and in the original Greek. Post Judgment Day afterlife is eternal. That is, the afterlife is not marked by time since time will not exist. Therefore, making the time-based word phrase, “age to come”, mean heaven is grammatically inaccurate.
The “age to come” is the Christian age, not heaven.
(Hebrews 6:5 uses the word phrase, “age to come,” like this paper uses it, such as—the Christian age is the “age to come”—treating the word phrase as a descriptive proper noun.)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
All Jesus has said before is wrapped up in the above verses. The fruit of the Pharisees was rebellion, subversion, and blasphemy. As evil men, they can not speak good things, even to admit the miracle Jesus performed was through the power of the Holy Spirit. We will all be judged according to our words—our good words, and our bad ones. The Pharisees, having blasphemed the Holy Spirit as rebellions leaders of Israel will be judged accordingly.
There is nothing like seeing an example of a thing to understand a thing.
Two or three years ago, Richard Dawkins was promoting his book, The God Delusion, on Good Day L.A., a Los Angeles based television program. During the segment, he said, “God is evil.” Then he said it again, and again, and again. He must have called God evil some twenty times.
Of course, his words, blasphemed God. And he is one of the leaders in humanistic religion of atheism, teaching and promoting others to believe in atheism through his speeches, documentaries, and books. Nonetheless, his blasphemy against God, wherein he called God evil, can be forgiven.
However, just as the segment was coming to a close, he said, “And remember; Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God too.”
As a leader of atheism in rebellion against God and actively leading others away from God in his rebellion, his blasphemy of the Holy Spirit matches the prerequisites laid out in Matthew 12.
Nonetheless, Richard Dawkins’ televised comments are tame compared the blasphemy another group of men commit daily around the world.
The Catholic Church conduct a mass called The Mass of the Holy Sacrifice. This is the mass with the bread and the wine (the Eucharist). In this mass, a priest, bishop, and or the Pope stand over the bread and wine and speak words of consecration: This is the body. This is the blood.
These words of consecration, according to the book, Faith of Millions, command Jesus to come down off the throne of God onto the altar for re-sacrifice for atonement of sins.
When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim. The priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man—not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command. (Faith of Millions, John Anthony O'Brien)
The priests’ words of consecration blasphemes even further by commanding the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation).
Catholic priests, bishops, and the Pope are in full rebellion against God. They lead others away from God’s will in their rebellion. These blasphemes committed during the Mass of the Holy Sacrifice are horrendous enough alone. That they, in their rebellion, speak words that presume a power greater than the Holy Spirit is without a doubt the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 12.
Can a Christian commit the unpardonable sin? Not while that Christian is living his life in accordance to God’s will and word. Moreover, it is not a sin that can be committed casually—it takes a lot of work to put oneself into a position to commit the unpardonable sin.
The idea of an unpardonable sin is hard to digest. As Christians, we want all to have the ability to come to repentance. It chafes the soul to realize that someone who has committed this particular sin is, as they say, a dead man walking. Nonetheless, Jesus’s words are clear. He meant what He said, and He said what He meant.
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with miracles except as the initiator of the particular episode in Matthew 12. It has everything to do with men who rebel against God and lead others away from God in their rebellion. The unpardonable sin appears to apply mainly to if not specifically to leaders. I would say it could apply to anyone who actively teaches error, especially for personal gain or position. (My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1)) If a man obeys or disobeys God, it’s on him. However, if a man teaches others to disobey God, that man has multiplied error, robbing heaven of many souls. It makes sense that God adds up the sum of these wrongdoings into a determination of permanent disqualification.
The lesson here—Obey God in all things at all times in all places for all one's life.
Post Script: The Mass of the Holy Sacrifice is also called the Mass of Christ. Sometimes it’s called Christ’s Mass. The week-long religious holiday associated with this Mass is called by a contraction of the name—Christmas.
When you see me not eating the Christmas dinner or going to the Christmas party or exchanging Christmas gifts or toasting with Christmas eggnog, know this: I have nothing to do with and will never have anything to do with that holiday, even to reply "Merry Christmas" to that cheery but deadly holiday greeting.
Do not tempt God.
TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT,
FOR THIS IS MY BODY,
WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.
TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT,
FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD,
THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT,
WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY
FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
Do This in Memory of Me.