THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
Part 3: Significance without Fear
By Christopher Schwinger
The SeriesHow Confusion Thwarts Holiness
Significance without Fear
Identifying a Hard Heart
Hope in the Journey to Freedom
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The articles on GotQuestions.org, which confused the person I was helping, said the only unforgivable sin is continued unbelief, to which he objected (in my paraphrase), "But if you 'believe' and have regret but not a transforming repentance, you've not been forgiven." His objection was well-founded, and I helped him come to a good combination of those two absolute statements by Jesus about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and Him never leaving us. I think Jesus' statement about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, more broadly interpreted, means people who see evidence of Him and reject that evidence are doomed, such as His contemporaries who weren't even attracted to the most obvious indications that God was working miracles through Him. Probably what He meant was that ongoing, unrelenting rejection of Him will never be forgiven. I helped the questioner past his worry that one intrusive thought of blasphemy will make God curse him. Some of my wording in this 5-part article is directly from what I wrote to him.
The Ryrie Study Bible says about the Matthew 12 version of "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit":
Technically, according to the scribes, blasphemy involved direct and explicit abuse of the divine name. Jesus here teaches that it also may be the reviling of God by attributing the Spirit's work to Satan. The special circumstances involved in this blasphemy cannot be duplicated today; therefore, this sin cannot now be committed. Jesus exhorted the Pharisees to turn and be justified (vv. 33, 37).The Bible Knowledge Commentary says the same idea about Matthew 12, and about the Mark 3 parallel passage says:
It is one's preference for darkness even though he has been exposed to light (cf. John 3:19). Such a persistent attitude of willful unbelief can harden into a condition in which repentance and forgiveness, both mediated by God's Spirit, become impossible.In its Luke 12 explanation, the B. K. Commentary makes mention of Jesus' brothers later coming to faith (John 7:5, Acts 1:14).
I've heard there are miracles done by Christians in the Third World, like casting out evil spirits and healing. If people continue to persecute them in spite of the miracles, then they are "blaspheming the Holy Spirit" — if that phrase is specifically about rejecting miraculous signs that should point to God. Sometimes they repent later on, like Saul of Tarsus, though he never saw proof that the early Christians were doing miracles until Jesus talked to him in a vision.
Mark 3 says in absolute wording that all sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven unless there's blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because they were saying "He has an unclean spirit." Matthew 12 and Luke 12 convey the idea that blasphemy against Jesus is not as severe as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit and Father are how Jesus got His power. The distinction between blaspheming Jesus and blaspheming the Holy Spirit in those passages in the Gospels is not about whether God will or can (willingness vs. ability to forgive), but the two are combined (whatever God's willing, He's also able), and it's rhetorically pointing to a more severe kind of rejection, which is when people have undeniable evidence but don't want it. In John 15:24-25, He says, "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, 'THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.'" (Actually, "Law" doesn't mean the Mosaic Law here, but their Hebrew Bible/Tanakh. "Hated me without a cause" is a motif in the Psalms.)
When I typed "Luke 10" into BibleGateway.com, misremembering which chapter has the verse about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, I came upon Luke 10:16, which is an important part of this issue: "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me." Remember how I mentioned the "keys of the kingdom" passage earlier, which the Catholic Church uses as justification for excommunication and papal authority. "The one who listens to you listens to Me" could be used by brash people to say "You didn't believe me when I shared the Gospel, so God's rejected you." People often don't go deep enough into the barriers to faith. Motivation by guilt about our sins doesn't work in all evangelism, though it is the primary means used in sermons and street evangelism. As for Jesus, He did miracles to prove His divine authority, but they pointed to His kind character. We are to be gracious people to point to His character (see Part 5 of my "Good and Faithful Servant" article for a discussion of what it means to be gracious). Jesus didn't do miracles to scare people into submission, but to draw them to Himself.
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