The possibility of blaspheming the Holy Spirit frightens many Christians because Jesus referred to it as unforgivable. The idea that there is a transgression that God’s grace and mercy don’t apply disturbs many believers who have decided to trust him as a disciple. “Did I commit this sin before I knew Jesus?” and “Did I commit this sin without knowing it?” are common questions.
A genuine Christian who has responded to the gospel by repenting of sin, and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, can’t blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Only people who once professed to be Christians and consciously, willfully, and purposefully walked away commit the unforgivable sin.
What led Jesus to teach about blaspheming the Holy Spirit and the unforgivable sin? What exactly is blasphemy? What should people do if they fear they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Does the Holy Spirit Do? to learn more.
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: What did Jesus mean?
Bible readers find Jesus’ teaching about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and the unforgivable sin in a story about him healing a man who was blind and mute. However, rather than rejoicing in the supernatural act of God, the Pharisees became upset, argumentative, and irrational in their thinking. “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons,” said the Pharisees (Matt. 12:24, ESV).
Who is Beelzebub? Beelzebul is another name for Satan. Most English Bible translations say “Beezlebub” because that is what the original Greek says, but some, like the NLT, state who he is, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” The Pharisees credited Satan with God’s work through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees?
Most of the time in the Gospels, when Jesus encountered poor or incomplete theological ideas, he extended patience and compassion to those who were confused or uninformed. For example, he had compassion for the Samaritan woman and patience with Thomas. In contrast, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in this scene is not only logical but condemnatory and final.
- First, Jesus says, that it’s illogical to argue that Satan would cast out his own demons: “Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?'” (12:25-26)
- Second, he says, that the exorcism is evidence of God’s work: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (12:27-28)
- Third, he gives a one-sentence parable that describes his battle with Satan. “Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” (12:29) Jesus is the plunderer. Satan is the strong man.
The last part of Jesus’ response implies that the Pharisees aren’t only opposed to him but God’s work in the world (12:30). Opposing God’s work and assigning it to Satan is blasphemy.
What did Jesus say about the sin that won’t be forgiven? Jesus concludes, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (12:31-32).
Also see What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? to learn more.
What is blasphemy?
Blasphemy means disparaging God, speaking ill of who he is and what he does. It also includes using one of his names in a vain or empty way. According to Thayer’s Greek Dictionary, the Greek word Jesus uses that is translated as “blasphemy” (blasphemia) refers to an “impious [i.e., unholy] and reproachful [i.e., fault-fidning] speech injurious to [i.e., trying to harm] the divine majesty [God’s character].”
Who can be blasphemed? Jesus’ teaching also implies that the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity. Therefore, by definition, people can’t “blaspheme” another human being, even a prophet or an apostle. People can be slandered or spoken ill of, but only God can be blasphemed.
Why can people be forgiven for blaspheming the Son of Man? Many New Testament scholars believe this statement refers to rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, for which there is forgiveness. For example, not all Christians decided to follow Jesus when they first heard the gospel. Some had to listen to it multiple times to respond in faith. Such hesitation, doubt, and second-guessing are forgivable.
What is unforgivable is professing to decide to follow Jesus and later committing apostasy. In addition to Jesus, other passages warn against this: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 6:4).
Also see What Is a Familiar Spirit? to learn more.
What if someone fears they have committed the unforgivable sin?
A genuine Christian who has responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith and repentance, who fears they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit, is likely wrestling with guilt over past sin. On the other hand, a person who is not a Christian who fears they committed the unforgivable sin is encouraged to respond to the gospel so God will forgive their sin. (Also see What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?)
Christians wrestling with guilt over past sin would be wise to read and memorize the verses below that teach about the forgiveness of sin. Growing in their faith in Jesus and understanding of Scripture will help them trust the blood of Jesus that cleanses them from all unrighteousness.
- 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
- Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
- 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Also see What Is a Jezebel Spirit? to learn more.
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