A small percentage of people are anxious about this, but what does the Bible say? Can people commit this sin today?
For many years now, Bible teachers have been taking the verses out of their original context. Let’s see if we can find out what the context was.
Let’s get right to the key verses, using the Gospel of Luke, which places the target verse in the starkest context. I offer Matthew’s and Mark’s version, below, to get an even fuller look at the sin.
1.. The Key Verse
It is highlighted.
8 I say to you, “Everyone who acknowledges me before people—the Son of man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 He who denies me before people will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven him. But he who slanders the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry how or what you will speak in self-defense or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very time what must be said.” (Luke 12:8-12, my translation)
Now let’s focus on v. 10.
“a word”: this comes from the noun logos. The definite article is not used, so “a word” is the probable translation. This can either be a single word, or it can be an entire message (the parallel Matt. 12:32 also says logos). It can also be a logical presentation of the kind that the critics of Jesus spoke against him in Luke 11:14-23. They had everything logically worked out (so it seemed) and used the (false) claim that Jesus was expelling demons by Beelzebub, the rule of demons. Therefore, in context, the blasphemy against the Spirit is probably an entirely (falsely) logical system and presented to the people, in public.
“slanders”: it comes from the verb blasphēmeō (pronounced blahs-fay-meh-oh), and we get our word blaspheme from it. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the NT, and the dictionary says that the verb means, depending on the context: “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns … in relation to humans slander, revile, defame … in relation to transcendent or associated entities slander, defame, speak irreverently / impiously / disrespectfully of or about.” The Shorter Lexicon adds the obvious: “blaspheme.”
3.. Original Textual Context
This is always so important. We look at Matthew and Mark too.
First, many scholars link Luke 11 and Luke 12 in one continuous flow, without chapter break. So what happened in Luke 11? Recall that the scribes and Pharisees had actually believed that Jesus was expelling demons by the prince or ruler of demons, Beelzebub or Satan (Luke 11:14-23). As noted just above, the critics of Jesus presented a (falsely) logical system and presented it to the people, in public. This shows how deceived religious leaders could be. Next, Jesus said the “light” in a person could actually be darkness, so self-deception and evil is intense (Luke 11:33-36). Moreover, Jesus pronounced woes or pity on the Pharisees and legal experts and teachers of the law—the educated religious elite—because they were so self-deluded that they actually approved of their spiritual ancestors who had believed they did God a favor by executing the prophets of old and building their tombs (Luke 11:37-54). Therefore they were under God’s judgment. Finally, Luke’s immediate context shows a man who is dragged before a religious tribunal. Very few people in the western world can say that has happened to them today.
22 Then at that time a demonized blind and mute man was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed and were saying, “Is this man, perhaps, the son of David?” 24 But the Pharisees, when they heard, said, “This man does not expel demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons!” 25 But knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and every town or household divided against itself shall not stand. 26 And so if Satan is expelling Satan, he has become divided against himself. How then shall his kingdom stand? 27 But if I expel demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers expel them? For this reason, they themselves shall be your judges. 28 But if by the Spirit of God I expel demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29 Or how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he shall plunder his house. 30 Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.”
31 For this reason, I tell that every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven of people, but the blasphemy of the Spirit of God shall not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the son of Man shall be forgiven of him. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven of him, neither in this age, nor in the one to come.
33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree rotten and its fruit rotten, for by its fruit a tree is known. 34 You offspring of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good person from his good treasure brings forth good things. And the evil person from his evil treasure brings forth evil things. (Matt. 12:22-36, my translation)
Matthew’s original context of the statement also demonstrates the same sad truth about self-deception (Matt. 12:22-32). It was the Pharisees who said Jesus was expelling demons by the prince of demons. Then in Matt. 12:33-34, Jesus said their hearts were so evil that they could not speak good things. Everything has to do with a long-established (bad) character or fruit in the speaker’s life. The words are not whimsical or casually.
22 Then teachers of the law from Jerusalem came down and were saying, “Beelzebub is his master,” and “He expels demons by the ruler of demons.” 23 When he summoned them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan expel Satan? 24 And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a household is divided against itself, that household cannot stand. 26 If Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he is unable to stand; instead, the end is his master.
27 Rather, no one, entering a strong man’s house, is able to plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he is able to plunder his household.
28 “I tell you the truth: All sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven for people, in whichever way they may blaspheme. 29 But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness forever but is answerable to an eternal sin.” 30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:22-30, my translation)
In Mark the context confirms this total lostness of religious leaders who should know better (Mark 3:22-30). The teachers of the law had come from Jerusalem, the headquarters of Judaism and the old Sinai Covenant, and said that Jesus was expelling demons by the prince of demons and not by the Spirit of God. These mature religious leaders said with full knowledge that he had an “unclean spirit” or a demonic spirit. So once again the religious leaders—not just average Simon or Miriam (two common Jewish names around that time)—were self-deluded. Here is a discussion about the words “forever” and “eternal.” They could just as easily be translated as “age long.”
To sum up this section, the delusion and personal wickedness was so intense that the “light” in them was actually darkness. Their conscience was so shriveled that they could not recognize truth when it was standing in front of them—the Messiah and his wonderful miracles. This religious blindness implies that people cannot commit the sin today because they do not have their Messiah in front of them, though other interpreters say that this requirement is not needed. But deep deception in religious leaders is the important lesson to be drawn from the original context.
And so the above contexts reveals that the environment was not one where ordinary Joe or Jane lived (or Simon or Miriam, two common names in first-century Israel). Those who slander the Spirit must know what they are doing as religious leaders.
But please note: even after the religious leaders said those horrible things, Jesus did not pronounce them guilty of actually committing “the sin.” He issued a warning, instead.
4.. Criteria for Committing This Sin
According to the original contexts, therefore, these conditions must be met before people can blaspheme the Spirit:
(1) The speaker must be filled with religious education, just like these original religious leaders had;
(2) He must be a religious leader whom people can respect and follow;
(3) As noted, in Luke 11:14-23 and Matt. 12:22-32 and Mark 3:22-30, the Pharisees and scribes and teachers of the law worked out a (seeming) logical system, to claim (falsely) that Jesus expelled demons by Satan, and then they authoritatively proclaimed their ideas to the public.
(4) Following on the previous point, the speaker must be so evil that the “light” in him is actually darkness; therefore, his conscience is gone.
(5) Following the fourth point and repeating the third point, he speaks authoritatively in public, as a religious leader, a guide to the blind;
(6) The original speakers could not even speak well of the Son of man, Jesus, their Messiah, a physical person in front of him, so their self-deception ran deep;
(7) He and other religious leaders were so self-deluded that as a class, they were about to crucify their true Messiah;
(8) The speaker’s conscience does not bother him when he spoke blasphemously and slanderously against both the Son of man and the Holy Spirit.
(9) The speaker must not say it as an alcoholic or a drug addict or in depression. The original, potential blasphemers were sober religious leaders who “thought” it through. Today, Satan may be harassing the speaker’s mind to utter the bad words. Then afterwards he feels worried about it. His anxiety indicates that his conscience is not gone. And therefore he did not commit the sin.
5.. Reply to an Objection
At this point someone may object that Jesus said “he who speaks” or “anyone who speaks” (Luke 12:10), so the blasphemer is not narrowed down to religious leaders. This post makes it seem that no one today could commit it.
In reply, however, we must still take the words in their broader context. In v. 10, Jesus still had in mind a religious context—Matthew and Mark prove it. But true enough, the door is open to anyone being so self-deceived that he speaks authoritatively in public as a leader. He is susceptible to this grave sin. But the above historical context makes it nearly impossible to fulfill the conditions today, but theoretically a religious leader could commit the sin. I have seen Muslim leaders (or polemicists) who may have done this sin in public, for example, when they continuously mock the Spirit, but I would not wish to pronounce final judgment on them, for that is not my job.
I have heard of a former pastor who possibly committed this sin, but that story came secondhand, so I won’t pronounce judgment on him.
Further, Luke’s verse sits squarely in the context of being dragged before a religious tribunal. How many people can say they live in this context? Very few in the western world and other free societies.
I believe that Average Joe or Jane today simply cannot fulfill the necessary requirements spelled out in the previous point. though hypothetically, in a unjust and unfree society, it is possible.
However, if the reader believes Joe and Jane can blurt out words insulting the Spirit and those words qualify them to be utterly and irreversibly unforgiven, then that is the reader’s prerogative.
But the good news: if Joe or Jane is worried that they might have committed this sin, then they did not. Worry means they still have a conscience.
How does this post help me know Scripture and minister to people?
Notice that Jesus did not say that those religious leaders in his day actually committed the sin, even when they had attributed the work of the Spirit to the work of the devil. In other words, it is extremely difficult and rare to meet the conditions of being permanently unforgiven.
Someone who has blasphemed is not troubled by his words, because being a religious leader, his self-deception runs so deep that he believes he is right (he has the light), when he is actually wrong (his “light” is actually darkness).
Here is Paul proclaiming how he received mercy and grace after blaspheming:
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1:12-14, NIV, emphasis added)
If you are anxious about having committed it and God won’t forgive you, then look at Paul’s life. He persecuted and committed violence against Jesus’s followers, but he acted in ignorance and unbelief. God forgave him. God will forgive you if you too acted in ignorance and unbelief when you spoke words against the Spirit.
All of this is to say that it is extremely rare to find someone who really meets all of those conditions (no. 4), not just a few of the conditions. It is rare, for example, to be steeped in religious education and be a religious leader of the public.
The man who utters bad words (better: an entire, seemingly logical message) against the Spirit and then feels guilty about it should be reassured that he has not committed this sin. Worry reveals he still has a conscience, while the real blasphemer does not have one.
Repent and be at peace in Christ, anxious person!