Blasphemy Against The Holy Spirit!


‘And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Matthew 12:21-32

Now I don’t need to tell you that these are some of the most serious words that ever came from the lips of Jesus Christ. In fact, the more you study this passage, the more terrible it reveals itself to be. It seems that Jesus is indicating a position into which if a man enters his case has become hopeless.

He says, ‘It is possible for us to adopt an attitude that makes it impossible for even God to forgive us.’

And for that very reason whenever we read this passage, either in the Gospel of Matthew or in the other Gospels, we ought to be very careful how we treat it. There are 2 possibilities with this passage.

There are 2 ways of dealing with it

1. There is the possibility of reading into the words, something that isn’t really there, and making it say something that even Jesus never meant them to say. And

2. It is possible to water it down so much, that you deprive them entirely of its meaning and its terribleness.

I think this subject is an interesting one. And I think it is interesting because some people may think that they have committed the unforgivable sin. And even if you don’t think that at least it’s a curious subject. It’s mysterious and it’s strange and terrible and it’s fascinating. It’s also a subject, which has caused a great deal of confusion.

Consequently, a great many speculative theories have been put forward about it. Some of the theories have been so confused and so involved they haven’t helped anybody, they have only created further uncertainty and difficulty. Surely it has to be possible to know what Jesus meant.

I can’t believe God has allowed this passage to be put into His Word by the inspiration of the Spirit and He wants to keep us in the dark about it. Especially with such a serious matter as ‘the unforgivable sin’ is involved.

To understand the meaning of Jesus we’ve got to go back to the original setting. Here is a man who is demon-possessed, and consequently because of that, he is blind and dumb. And he is brought to Jesus and the man is miraculously cured by Jesus.

Now the people standing around are amazed at this demonstration of divine power and they say, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ Matthew 12:23

They believe like Nicodemus that no man could do these miracles except if God is with him. But the Pharisees as usual tried to discredit Him. They say something that even before the words left their lips they must have known was not true. They say, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’ Matthew 12:24

In other words, they deliberately turned their back on the miracle, a miracle that ought to have convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God because remember that is what the miracles were designed to do. John 20:30-31.

And they say, ‘Now this man’s not the Son of God, and the power that He manifests isn’t God’s power either, He works miracles only because He is in league with the devil, the one who really performed that miracle was the devil himself.’ Matthew 12:24

Now this means they not only spoke against Jesus but they spoke against the Holy Spirit by whose power the miracle was performed.

Now, remember that Jesus said in Matthew 12:28, ‘If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God.’

So Jesus claims that this was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power through Him. But they blind themselves to that and they not only insult Jesus but by doing that they speak wicked and insulting words against the Holy Spirit Himself. Now you can see the sin by which these men were guilty. Jesus describes in Matthew 12:31-32 in 2 different ways. He calls it first of all, ‘Blasphemy against the Spirit’ in verse 31. Then in verse 32, He calls it, ‘Speaking against the Spirit’.

Now notice that Jesus didn’t regard this as an attack against Himself. Of course, they were making an attack on Jesus obviously, that was the whole idea in their minds. They spoke against Him when they made this wicked charge. Jesus interprets what they say as directly against the Holy Spirit and for once in His life, Jesus regarded the attitude of these men to be so terrible that He lowered Himself to reply to them.

Now very often when Jesus was attacked by these people, He just ignored the attack. As the Scriptures say in 1 Peter 2:23, ‘When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate.’

Jesus wasn’t concerned on the whole about defending Himself against attack.

But on this occasion when the Holy Spirit was under attack, Jesus said, ‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Matthew 12:32

Notice it is ‘A sin’ against the Holy Spirit. Notice I said, ‘A sin’ against the Holy Spirit, not ‘THE sin’ against the Holy Spirit. Because it is one sin, of many possible sins against the Spirit.

And there is something else to notice too. The passage doesn’t say that ‘any sin or all sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.’ And it doesn’t teach us that there is only one sin against the Spirit. After all the New Testament tells us that there are several sins against the Holy Spirit, and there are several ways in which we may sin against the Spirit of God.

Hebrews 10:29 we read of the sin of, ‘despising the Spirit of grace’. Now that’s the sin that the Hebrew Christians were endanger of committing. Remember that the Hebrew letter was written to Jews who had been converted to Christianity but seemed to want to go back to the old Law. They seemed to have the idea that in becoming Christian they had perhaps sacrificed more than they had accepted.

They had a longing for some of the outdated, superseded ceremonies of the Law of Moses. Which really meant that they were looking back when the author had been looking forward. And the writer tells them, that if you keep on looking back, there is only one end to that, you’re going to end up going back.

And if that happens, if you go back after confessing Jesus, you are committing sin because you’re treating the Holy Spirit with disgrace, you’re affronting the Holy Spirit.

After all, He is the Spirit of grace. He brought you to the light. He led you to the blessings of Christ and to go back now, will be to insult Him. And every time a Christian turns their back on Jesus Christ and goes back into the world that person is committing the sin of, ‘despising the Spirit of grace.’

Again, in Acts 5, you have the sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 5:3 / Acts 5:99 the sin is described in 2 ways. It’s described as, ‘lying to the Spirit and testing the Spirit’.

First of all these people try to deceive the apostles, particularly Peter by pretending that a part of the price they received from the sale of a piece of land was all of the price. And Peter points out to them that their sin has really not been a sin against man at all. They have tested or tempted or tried the Holy Spirit by lying to Him.

Now this sin of lying at this particular moment was certainly for these people, ‘a sin that leads to death’, to use the expression John uses in 1 John 5:16. But that’s not necessarily the unforgivable sin. In fact, it’s not even described as the unforgivable sin.

Again in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and we discover that certain sins of impurity, certain sins of immorality in Christians are sins against the Holy Spirit. He says, ‘Do you not know that your body’.

He’s not talking about the church, the body of Christ. He’s talking about your physical body. He says, ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body.’

And as a Christian therefore he says, ‘The Holy Spirit dwells in you’.

You receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit at your baptism. God’s given the Spirit to all them that obey Him, Peter says in Acts 5:32. His presence in your body marks you out as holy, sanctified, set apart for God. And therefore as Christians, we should be on our guard against any kind of conduct.

Any habit of personal life that is unclean or harmful or unhealthy to our moral or our mental or physical health. The particular sin that is described in the passage of course is the sin of immorality. And such a sin says Paul is a sin against the Holy Spirit who lives within you and makes your body the temple of God because He detests impurity.

Again in Ephesians 4:30, there is another sin against the Holy Spirit mentioned.

‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.’

Now in this passage when you read the context you will discover that Paul is talking about the things that people say. The things that Christians can say, are the way we use our tongue.

He is saying, ‘Look, you have received the Holy Spirit as a token that God intends to redeem you outright one day, therefore watch your tongue, watch your language, watch the things you say, do not cause pain or sorrow but let your words give grace and not offence.’

And again it relates to purity. Purity of speech and thought.

And then finally and there are others but I am trying to demonstrate the various sins against the Holy Spirit that can be committed. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul says, ‘Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.’ Or ‘Do not quench the Spirit.’

The Holy Spirit is in your life as a Christian. He’s there to prompt you to zeal and enthusiasm. He’s there to show you how best to serve God.

But when you refuse to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you refuse to be led to greater service for Him. When you know what to do and you don’t do it. When you know how to be a greater use to God and you refuse to act, then you suffocate the voice of the Holy Spirit in your life.

To an extent that He loses His influence on you. And just as a fire can be put out by water, so you can restrain and dampen down and quench the Spirit of God. And ultimately, if you treat the Holy Spirit like this, He will leave your life.

He won’t constantly try to struggle in your life at all, but He will leave you to yourself. And so the later end of you is worse than the beginning. Matthew 12:45 / 2 Peter 2:20.

Now all of these are sins that can be committed against the Holy Spirit. And notice something else, they are all sins that are committed by Christians. There’s not one of these that applies to the Non-Christian. They all relate to the believer’s attitude and relationship to the Spirit of God. But you’re not told that any one of these is the ‘unforgivable sin’

Let’s be honest, if any one of these sins was an unforgivable sin, how many of us would be saved? How many of us as Christians have not at one time or another committed one of the offences that I have just talked about? So these aren’t the unforgivable sins.

Let’s look at the way that Jesus describes this particular sin. He calls it in Matthew 12:31-32, ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.’

Now blasphemy is ‘evil speaking’. In that sense, you can blaspheme anyone with evil words against them. But in the Bible sense, blasphemy means, ‘Evil speaking against deity’.

It’s a very old sin. Leviticus 24, we find possibly the earliest mention of ‘blasphemy’ in the Bible. And that’s the time when Moses had received the Law from God and there is a man there. The son of an Israelite woman who has married an Egyptian, who has said to have blasphemed the name with a cursed.

Now blaspheming the name; is the name of God. And even it seems at that moment that this was such a terrible thing that even Moses was at a loss to know what to do. Nobody had ever behaved like this before certainly not among the people of God. And so Moses goes to God and lays the matter before God and he asks God what to do.

In Leviticus 24:16 God says, ‘Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.’

Now there is no misunderstanding of the penalty of the sin. And throughout the Old Testament, whenever this particular sin of blasphemy against God was committed either by word of mouth or by attitude, this particular sentence was carried out; people were stoned to death for blasphemy.

They even did it during the times of Jesus. Jesus heals a paralysed man and He said, ‘Son your sins have been forgiven.’ Luke 5:20. And His enemies said in Luke 5:21, ‘This man speaks blasphemy.’

Another time, Jesus said, ‘I and my father are one’. John 10:30. And they picked up stones to stone Him. And they said, ‘For blasphemy, because you being a man, are making yourself equal with God.’ John 10:33

And they were perfectly logical because there are many people today who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God or that He is equal with God. They are much more stupid than the Jews at the time of Jesus because of all their hatred and opposition they raised against Him, they certainly understood the significance of His words. They recognised that Jesus was indeed claiming to be God. And in their eyes that was blasphemy and they were ready to carry out the sentence of the Law.

Now not all blasphemy is unforgivable

Now Jesus said it, He said in Matthew 12:31, ‘Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.’ And again He says in Matthew 12:32, ‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.’ And He’s talking about blasphemy.

We have an example of that haven’t we?

The apostle Paul, says in 1 Timothy 1:13. ‘Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy’. Now, why? Because his blasphemy was against the name of Christ and not against the Holy Spirit.

It is true when he attacked the Lord Jesus, he attacked the Holy Spirit too but in his heart. Even when his heart was full of hatred for the Christians, even when he opposed the name of Christ, Paul in a misguided way thought he was serving God. He loved God and he respected the Spirit of God, so he was not in his heart blaspheming the Holy Spirit but the name of Jesus and he received forgiveness.

Now there is a theory that says that the unforgivable sin is the sin of ‘refusing to believe the Gospel and dying in sin’. And that’s the explanation that is often given as ‘the unforgivable sin’. They say that through the Gospel the Holy Spirit is pleading with men to accept Jesus as Saviour and when they refuse to accept that testimony, they are just like the Pharisees committing the sin of blasphemy, the unforgivable sin.

Well, if that were the case. If the unforgivable sin were the sin of refusing the Gospel of Christ and dying in sin, it couldn’t be committed before the Day of Pentecost, when the Gospel was first preached. And yet Jesus says to these Pharisees in Matthew 12:32, ‘Anyone who commits this sin will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Jesus isn’t saying, ‘This sin has no forgiveness in this life and the life that is yet to come.’

Everyone knows that when we get to the Day of Judgment, forgiveness for any sin is past. So Jesus isn’t talking foolishness. He’s saying to the Pharisees.

‘Look anybody that commits this particular sin has no forgiveness, here and now, in the age in which you and I live, or in the age which is to come, when the Gospel will be preached.’

And again when you think about it. If the unforgivable sin is the sin of refusing the Gospel invitation, rejecting the Gospel. You only have to do that once to commit that unforgivable sin. And if we say that to commit this sin a man must refuse the Gospel and go on refusing it until the day that he dies. What’s so startlingly new about that idea?

And didn’t Jesus say much more plainly in John 8:24, ‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.’

Anybody knows that if people persistently refuse the Gospel time and time again and go on refusing it until they die their sins won’t be forgiven. But this isn’t ‘the unforgivable sin’ in the sense in which Jesus is talking about it here.

Remember that we are dealing with a sin against the Holy Spirit and not against Jesus. But the failure to obey the Gospel would be no more blasphemy against the Holy Spirit than it would be blasphemy against God or against Christ. Because Romans 1:1 says, ‘The gospel is the gospel of God.’

Galatians 1:7 says, ‘It is the gospel of Christ.’ So to refuse the Gospel is as much a sin against God and against Christ as it is a sin against the Holy Spirit.

Now in Matthew 12:27-32 and again in Mark 3:23-29, the sin that Jesus is talking about is shown to be something directly and particularly against the Holy Spirit. It was by the Holy Spirit that that particular miracle was performed. And the Pharisees had said,

‘He has an unclean Spirit.’ Mark 3:22 / Matthew 12:24

Now that’s how they thought about the Holy Spirit. ‘The Spirit of God was an evil Spirit’, they said. Now you must have noticed that they didn’t deny that the miracle had been performed. If they could have disproved the miracle by showing that Jesus had some kind of trick and that He was a conjurer or a magician. They would have discredited Jesus, but they didn’t try to do that, they didn’t even suggest it.

If they had accused Jesus of fraud, they would have been speaking against Him, which wouldn’t have been the unforgivable sin as Jesus says. These men went beyond Jesus and they made a direct attack on the Holy Spirit and what they actually did was to call the Holy Spirit a wicked Spirit, an unclean Spirit, the Spirit of the devil. In other words, it was a deliberate attack on the Spirit of Holiness.

Indeed, the very way that Jesus puts it shows that we’re not dealing with an indifferent rejection of the message of the Spirit like we get in the world today when people refuse to become Christians. But with something aggressive, something deliberate, something active. And that’s what He means when He uses that expression, ‘speaking against the Holy Spirit.’

Remember that Stephen was accused of attacking God and Moses and the temple. ‘Attacking’. They said in Acts 6:11, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’

In other words, they accused Stephen of launching an attack on God. And that’s exactly what these men were doing. They were launching an attack on the Holy Spirit.

In fact, Stephen implies that the Jews were always doing that in Acts 7:51 he says, ‘You stiff-necked people, you always resist the Holy Spirit!’

In other words, ‘You always fight against the Holy Spirit, you are always in opposition to the Holy Spirit’.

So why is this particular sin unforgivable? And why should a sin be unforgivable? Is it because God will not forgive it? Surely that can’t be the answer. Surely God has not marked out one particular sin as being so hideous and wicked, so terrible and grievous that He says, ‘No’. ‘Murder, I’ll forgive that, lying, I’ll forgive that, immorality, I’ll even forgive that, blasphemy against Jesus, yes I’ll forgive that, I forgave Paul for doing that, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, No I draw the line there.’

Does God behave like that? Of course not. That’s an impossible theory, to suggest that there is one sin that God will not forgive is utterly out of keep of all that you know about the character of God. Because time and time again God has shown us, pleading with men.

‘Repent then, why will you die.’ We are shown a God whose deepest longing is for men to turn to God and be forgiven, Isaiah 1:18 / 2 Peter 3:9. And we could go on.

The next question usually asked concerning this sin is whether or not it is still possible to commit it today?

Opinions on this question certainly vary, and scholars seem to be divided in their positions. The evidence, however, seems to point toward the idea that this sin cannot be committed today.

1. The circumstances under which the sin is described cannot prevail today, due to the fact that the age of miracles has ceased, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. No one today will have the opportunity to witness Jesus performing miracles in person. 2 Corinthians 5:16.

2. There is no other mention of the sin in any Biblical passage written after the resurrection of Christ.

None of the inspired New Testament writers refers to the sin in any epistle or in the Book of Acts, and none offers warnings to new converts about avoiding the sin post-Pentecost.

In conclusion, ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ is the only ‘unforgivable sin’ mentioned in the Bible, and it is mentioned in the context of the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being possessed by the devil. The context indicates that it was a specific sin, and not a series of forgivable sins, or an attitude of persistent unbelief. After the resurrection, no inspired writer mentions the sin, and no warnings against it were recorded.

There is no concrete evidence that it can be committed today. The fact that it’s not mentioned after the resurrection, lends itself to the idea that it cannot still be committed. In fact, the indication from passages such as 1 John 1:7 / 1 John 1:9 is that ‘all unrighteousness’ that a person could commit today can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus.