CAN A CHRISTIAN BLASPHEME THE HOLY SPIRIT?
“Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matthew 12:31–32)”
Some passages of Scripture have been more misinterpreted and confused than those two verses. Because of their extreme seriousness and purpose, it is crucial to understand them correctly.
Jesus first said that any sin and blasphemy should be forgiven men. Though blasphemy is a form of sin, the two are viewed separately in this passage and context, with blasphemy representing the most severe type of sin. The sin here reflects the gamut of immoral and ungodly thoughts and acts, while blasphemy reflects the deliberate accusation and denial of God. Blasphemy is rebellious irreverence, the uniquely terrible sin of deliberately and knowingly speaking evil against the holy God or defaming or insulting Him (Mark 2:7). The Old Testament punishment for such blasphemy was death by stoning (Lev. 24:16). In the last days, blasphemy will be the distinguishing feature of those who rebelliously and insolently reject God.
Jesus says even blasphemy is forgiven, just as any other sin is forgiven when it is confessed and repented. An unbeliever who blasphemes God may be forgiven. Paul admitted that “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 1:13-14). “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (Verse 15) Peter blasphemed Jesus with curses and was forgiven and restored.
Even a believer can blaspheme, for any thought or word that sullies or defames the name of the Lord is blasphemy. The questioning of God’s goodness, wisdom, fairness, truthfulness, love, or faithfulness is blasphemy. It’s all forgivable by grace. Talking to the believers, John said, “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).
There is one exception: blasphemy against the Spirit cannot be forgiven. Even a person who blasphemes Jesus, who dares to speak against the Son of Man, shall be forgiven. The Son of Man designates the humanity of the Lord, which he experienced in his time of shame and servitude during His Incarnation. A person’s perception may not enable him to see more than the Lord’s humanity, and if he only misjudges at that level and speaks against Him in His humanness, such word against the Son of Man shall be forgiven. If a person rejects Christ with less than complete access to his religion’s proof, he may still be forgiven for that sin if, after having seen the light, he than believes.
It was hard for the disciples to firmly believe that their Teacher was indeed the Son of God. He fed, drank, slept, and was tired as they did. Not only that, but several of the things that He did simply did not seem to represent the glory and majesty of God. Jesus humbled Himself constantly and served others. He took no worldly glory for Himself, and when some sought to put it upon Him, He refused to accept it, as when the crowd wanted to make Him king after He had miraculously fed the five thousand (John 6:15), He declined. This also became more difficult for those beyond the inner circle of Christ to appreciate His deity. Even when He performed His greatest works, He did so without fanfare or flare. Jesus did not always appear or behave like a human lord, much less like a divine lord.
But to misjudge, belittle, and disqualify Jesus from incomplete revelation, the inadequate perception was forgivable, wrong as it was. As already mentioned, the apostle Paul himself had been an ignorant blasphemer of the worst kind of Lord Jesus Christ and a vicious persecutor of His faith. And many of those who had doubted and rejected Christ in His earthly life later saw the light of who He was, begged for forgiveness, and were saved.
But the blasphemy against the Spirit is much more extreme and irreversible. Not only did it reflect unbelief, but a determined refusal to believe having seen all the proof available for full comprehension, even to consider believing in Christ. This means blasphemy against Jesus in His deity, against the Angel of God who lived and inspired Him. This represented an adamant denial of Jesus as the Messiah despite all facts and claims. It reflected seeing the truth incarnate, then knowingly denying Him and condemning Him. It demonstrated an absolute and lasting reluctance to believe, which resulted in a lack of opportunity to ever be forgiven either at this age or the age to come. In this period (all human history), such rejection is unforgivable—the age to come means that there will be no redemption at any point in time. In the era of human history and the period of divine consummation, there is no redemption.
The Scripture is explicit that, during His reign on earth, our Lord was submissive to the Father (John 4:34; 5:19–30) and was inspired by the Spirit. Peter said that God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth “with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38).
The people who spoke against the Holy Spirit saw His divine influence working in and through Christ but willfully refused to acknowledge the consequences of that revelation and, in some instances, attributed the influence to Satan. Many had heard Jesus teach and preach God’s truth, as no man had ever taught before (Matthew 7:28-29), but they refused to believe Him. They saw him heal every kind of illness, cast out every kind of devil, and forgive every kind of sin, and they accused him of deception, hypocrisy, and demonism. In the face of any conceivable confirmation of the Messiahship and deity of Christ, they said no. God can do nothing more for them, and they will remain un-forgiven forever. They substitute hardening for penance and confession plotting. Therefore, through their criminal and inexcusable callousness, they were destroying themselves. Their sin is unpardonable because they are unable to walk the road that leads to salvation. There is hope for a rapist, an adulterer, and a killer. The Gospel’s message may make him cry out, “O Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” But when a person has become hardened, he has concluded not to pay any attention to the Spirit; then, he has put himself on the road that leads to destruction. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord portrayed Israel as a vineyard that he carefully planted, cultivated, and tended. In the middle of it, he constructed a tower, representing Jerusalem, and a wine vat in it, reflecting the sacrificial system. “Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”(Isa. 5:1–6).
After the people had been blessed with all blessings and every chance but still turned their backs on God, He was left with no choice but to turn His back on them.
During the earthly ministry of Jesus, the unbelievers of the Pharisees and the others who blasphemed the Spirit separated themselves from God’s mercy, not because it was not given, but because it was abundantly provided, yet rebelliously and permanently refused and mocked it as evil.
Within forty years, God destroyed Jerusalem, the Temple, the priesthood, the offerings, and Israel’s nation. This was in 70 A. D. The Romans razed Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, killed more than a million people, and wiped out almost a thousand other villages and towns in Judea. His own chosen people said no to Him, so He said no to them. They are as a nation apart from God until He returns and re-gathers part of His people to Himself in the latter days, the faithful few.
To the unsaved Jews who had heard the full gospel message and had seen the evidence of divine power, and to those who would come after them with similar exposure to the truth and the biblical record of miraculous proof, the writer of the Book of Hebrews gave a strict warning: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”(Heb. 2:3-4).
Later in the letter, a more severe warning is given to those who reject with a full revelation: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”(Heb. 6:4–6)
After Christ ascended into Heaven, the generation of men was ministered to by the apostles, taught by their teaching, and given evidence of the truth of the gospel by their miracles. The generation had the same evidence as those who heard and saw Jesus physically. They had the highest attainable revelation from God, and if they don’t believe in the face of such remarkable evidence, there was nothing more that God could do for them. They didn’t blaspheme; they just turned away. The Pharisees were guilty because they attached blasphemy to unbelief, which is more grevious than that of those who saw the same facts and disbelieved but did not speak ill of the Holy Spirit. But in both groups, the rebels left themselves no future but hell.
Similarly, today, people might turn their backs so fully on God’s revelation that they permanently separate themselves from salvation. “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9:4).
During the Second World War, a naval force in the North Atlantic was engaged in a heavy battle with enemy ships and submarines on an exceptionally night. Six aircraft took off from the carrier to search for those targets. However, while they were in the air, a complete blackout was ordered from the carrier to protect it from attack. Without the lights on the carrier’s deck, the six aircraft could not land, so they requested the lights to be switched on just long enough for them to come in. But because the whole carrier, with its several thousand people and all other aircraft and equipment, would have been put in danger, no lights were allowed. When the six aircraft ran out of fuel, they had to ditch in the freezing water, and all crew members had perished forever.
There comes a moment when God turns out the light when the chance for salvation is lost forever. Paul said to the Apostles, “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2). A person who rejects full light can have no more light and no forgiveness.