I received the following question:

Hey Nathan, I was wondering if you could maybe offer me some thoughts on something in scripture I have been struggling to understand somewhat…In Luke 12:10, it says “…but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”  This is similarly echoed in Mark 3:29 “…but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”  Also in Matthew 12:31 “Therefore I will tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”  There may be other occurrences of things involving this, but none come to mind off-hand.  I guess I really don’t understand what “blaspheming the Spirit” means.  I thought maybe you could offer some thoughts.  I appreciate any help you can offer, and hope you are doing well.

I am doing well, thank you. I do think you have identified the three passages in question.

This matter of the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is one that is tossed around in Christian circles, and has been for a long time. A certain brand of evangelist is always looking for some way to scare people into coming to Christ, so that they can claim large numbers saved at their campaigns. This has the positive result of helping them raise money, as well as be invited more often to places to hold campaigns. In times past, hell has always been a favorite topic they will use to scare people to Christ, but when some people start getting used to wild statements about gold being poured down misers’ throats or wicked being stacked like bricks in a kiln, the evangelists would find that they needed new material. One that they used was this matter of the unforgivable sin. They would speak of this as some terrible thing that you never know but that you might have committed it, and warn people that they had better come forward and be saved lest they end up committing it. What exactly this sin was they were very vague about, however, and no one was really sure what it was. If it was really unforgivable and someone had actually committed it, you would have to question the value of that person coming forward at a campaign, but this detail did not seem to bother the evangelists.

All this commotion was really unnecessary, as what the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and the unforgivable sin really are is defined in the passages they are talked about. The key here, as it often is, is to examine the context.

Let us examine the Mark context as a good starting point. There, in Mark 3:20, we read:

20. Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.

It seems the people were packed so tightly in the Lord’s house that there was no room for anyone to eat.

21. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

If we would look into this closely and compare the gospels, we would find that this specifically was his mother and his brothers, who unfortunately failed in their faith at this point, and decided He was crazy. They never succeeded in their attempt to “take Him away,” however.

22. And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”

Certain scribes had come from Jerusalem, and had seen Him cast out demons. However, they attempt to explain this away. They refer to “Beelzebub.” This was a Philistine god “Lord of the Flies.” However, what they actually said here was “Beelzeboul” in Greek, which is probably a corruption of Beelzebub into “Lord of the Dunghill,” which is a pretty good insult for a fly god. It seems this was a term the Israelites used as a derogatory way to refer to Satan. In other words, they said He was casting out demons by Satan the ruler of the demons.

23. So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan?

The Lord calls these scribes to Him and begins to argue against their assertion. How can Satan cast out himself, He asks?

24. If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

He points out that a government divided against itself cannot hope to stand up to any kind of threat.

25. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

The same is true of a household. A lack of unity will bring any functioning unit to its knees in a time of trouble.

26. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.

If Satan is battling himself, and his forces are divided against each other, then he will soon fall, and his forces will come to an end.

27. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

Anyone who wishes to steal from a strong man must get that strong man out of the way first. His first order of business, then, must be to subdue and bind up the strong man. Then, with the protector neutralized, his house can be plundered. What the Lord seems to mean here is that He is plundering Satan’s house. This is not something Satan would allow Him to do unless He had subdued him first. The fact that He was taking demon-possessed men away from Satan shows that He was defeating and binding Satan, not working on his side.

28. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter;

The Lord now looks ahead to the day of judgment, and assures these scribes that on that day, all manner of sins will be forgiven the sons of men, including many blasphemies spoken by them.

29. but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”—

There is one blasphemy, however, that will not be forgiven in that day, not to a single person who committed it. That is, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That sin and that blasphemy will never be forgiven, and the one who commits it is subject to eonian judgment.

30. because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Mark reveals why the Lord said this. It is because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” This, then, must have been what the Lord was talking about, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The words here are “the Spirit the Holy,” so this is definitely the Person of the Spirit Who is being blasphemed. He had worked openly and manifestly to cast out demons, and yet these scribes called Him a demon Himself! So the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is taking the open, manifest works of the Holy Spirit and ascribing them to Satan.

A few things need to be said about this. One most important one is that this is not a sin that it is possible to commit today. We live in God’s secret dispensation. God’s riches given to the world today are all given in secret. God does not work openly and manifestly. If one has never seen an open and manifest work of the Holy Spirit, then one cannot ascribe it to Satan, and therefore cannot commit the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that the Lord is describing here. If anyone today thinks he has committed the unpardonable sin, then I would point him to the Savior Who died in order to pardon him. He need not worry about His ability to pardon, for it is vast, and there is no sin anyone can commit today that will put him beyond its reach.

Secondly, the reason this sin was unpardonable is because it was openly revealing God. No one could see the works the Lord was doing and not see that God was working. To suggest that this was actually the work of Satan was not to be deceived, but to purposefully reject the truth God had shown you. No one could accidentally stumble into this sin. This was a sin of deliberate and purposeful rejection.

Finally, let’s briefly consider the other passages you mentioned.

Matthew 12:22. 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.

Mark did not specifically mention that He had been casting out demons when the scribes accused Him of this, but Matthew reveals that that is what He was doing.

23. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24. Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

It was when they heard the people suggesting that the Lord was Messiah that they made this argument. Thus we see that it was through jealousy that they rejected His works. This time, the argument is ascribed to the Pharisees, rather than to the scribes. Perhaps both were involved in this, or perhaps these were Pharisee scribes. (See Acts 23:9, “scribes of the Pharisees’ party.”)

25. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
26. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

This is the same argument we already saw the Lord use in Mark, though this time it is edited a bit differently.

27. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.

The “sons” of the Pharisees were their representatives. Apparently, the Pharisees had men they sent out as exorcists to cast out demons. These Pharisees had offered no reason as to why the Lord’s casting out demons was being done by Satan. They had simply made the accusation causelessly, out of their jealousy. The Lord therefore points out that the same argument could be made of their own sons who cast out demons, and what would they say to that? Their own exorcist sons, then, could be their judges in this matter.

28. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

This is not the time to deal with this verse (I have talked about it in “Kingdom Problem Passages,”) but what He was saying was that the kingdom of God had taken a step in advance toward them.

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.

Again, this is the same argument we saw in Mark.

30. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.

The Lord also said this the opposite way in a different context.

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.

The Lord makes the same argument as in Mark. Again, it was ascribing the manifest working of the Holy Spirit to Satan that He was referring to, a thing that cannot be done today when the Holy Spirit is not working manifestly.

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.

It was understandable that someone might speak against the Son of Man, since He looked just like any ordinary man. However, the manifest works of the Spirit that He displayed could not be spoken against and forgiven, for they were the clear work of God, and any who rejected them was knowingly rejecting God.

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.

They were trying to say a bad tree (Satan) was producing good fruit (casting out demons.) This made no sense, for this cannot be.

34. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

He reveals that they are a brood of snakes, evil, incapable of speaking good, for their hearts are evil.

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.

They are speaking evil things because they have evil hearts.

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.

They will have to give account for this flippant remark in the day of judgment, and no account can be given by them, for the reason for it is that their hearts were evil.

37. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

These words will be the means of their condemnation in the day of judgment.

Now last of all, let us look at Luke 12:1.

1. In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

A large company of people is gathering together, but He seems to ignore them and speak to His disciples. He starts to warn them about the leaven of the Pharisees, which is their hypocrisy.

2. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.

The hidden reality of their hearts will yet be manifested.

3. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.

This is certainly true of the disciples, for things that they originally spoke quietly in private are now proclaimed in every language and nation on earth where there is the Word of God. The same can be said for the Lord’s enemies, whose secret counsels are right there in the Word for all to read!

4. “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.

He urges His disciples not to be afraid of men like these Pharisees. They can only kill the body, but then they are powerless to do any more.

5. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

It is God they should fear, for He has the power after He has killed to cast into Gehenna.

6. “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God.

Sparrows were a cheap bird, sold for very little, and yet God remembers every one that has ever been!

7. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Their hairs are all numbered. Therefore they can be raised from the dead and put back together into just the same person they were before. They are of more value than many sparrows, and need not worry that God will ever forget them.

8. “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. 9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.

This was true in the gospel period and especially the Acts period, when confessing Christ with the mouth was necessary to salvation. Now it is not confession with the mouth, but belief that is all that is necessary to salvation. Though true belief certainly will express itself with the mouth!

10. “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.

Now we have the same words about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as we had in Matthew and Mark, yet here in a different context. But notice that in view is the Pharisees and their hypocrisy. We could not look here and find out for sure what the Lord was talking about. Yet Luke was not the first gospel written, and we can easily turn to one of the others to find out what He meant. Some of these Pharisees were committing this blasphemy, and they could not be forgiven of it.

Ultimately, this is the same thing as in Hebrews 6, when those who taste of the powers of the eon to come turn around and reject it. It is then impossible to renew them to submission. That is what had happened to these Pharisees and scribes. This cannot happen today, however, since none of us have tasted of these powers.

I pray this helps.

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