by Johnathan Arnold
The word “blasphemy” is not one which we hear with any kind of frequency. If you’ve heard it at all, it has likely been used as part of the phrase “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” The obscurity of the word alone helps to explain why it is an idea shrouded in confusion, fear, and mystery.
One popular misconception is that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is synonymous with “selling one’s soul to the devil.” But that is not what the word “blasphemy” means and, though horrifying, is not uniquely directed at the Holy Spirit.
The Biblical texts read, “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men” (Matthew 12:31), and “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29, cf. Luke 12:10).
The Divided House and the Strong Man
In order to make sense of the phrase “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” we cannot ignore the other peculiar sayings that come before it in both Matthew and Mark's account: “A house divided against itself shall not stand” and “one cannot enter into a strong man's house and spoil his goods without first binding the strong man.”
Scripture tells us that one Sabbath day, Jesus healed a man who was “possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb.” The Pharisees were incensed that “all the people were amazed, and said, 'Is not this the son of David?' When the Pharisees heard it, they said, 'This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.'”
Jesus proceeds to show the preposterousness of their accusation using airtight logic and, thereby, reveals that their slander was not primarily against him but was a direct, conscious assault on the Holy Spirit.
First, Jesus explains that if He were casting out demons by the power of Satan, that would mean the Prince of Demons was casting out his own demons and, therefore, was acting as his own enemy! “And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?”
Second, Jesus gives the illustration of the strong man. To rob the house of a strong man, one must be stronger than he is.
Now, put these truths together:
The power of Jesus is not the power of Satan, or Satan would be fighting himself.
The power of Jesus is not less than the power of Satan, or Satan (the strong man) would have been able to prevent Jesus from casting out his demons.
Therefore, the power of Jesus must be greater than the power of Satan because He successfully defeated the strong man.
This raises the question: whose power is greater than Satan’s power? God’s power! In this case, the power of God the Holy Spirit, living and dwelling in Jesus. The Pharisees were shrewd and enlightened enough to put together these pieces of the puzzle on their own; therefore, Jesus views their statement as a deliberate spurning of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The life Jesus lived, including the miracles He performed — in this case, casting out a demon — was lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), led by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and instructed by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2). He gave His commandment through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2), offered Himself to God by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), and rose from the dead with the Holy Spirit's power (Romans 8:11).
Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”
The Pharisees deliberately spurned and slandered the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus.
The Pharisees were not ignorant; they were determined not to believe at all costs. When the Pharisees said that Jesus cast out demons by Satan, they were no longer just rejecting their Messiah. Yes, it was serious to deny His teachings. Yes, it was serious to spread rumors about Him. Yes, it was serious to plot to kill Him, falsify testimony, and have a hand in His crucifixion. But in this instance, they crossed a line. They directed their slander against the source of Jesus’ power by making a heinous accusation against the Holy Spirit who was present in their midst, calling Him Satan.
In the general sense, blasphemy is profane, defiant, sacrilegious, irreverent speech. The Pharisees spoke this way against the Holy Spirit. From Mark’s perspective on the same story, “‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’- for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (Mark 3:28-29).
Who Can Blaspheme the Holy Spirit?
Some think that no one can blaspheme the Holy Spirit because Jesus is no longer on earth, and therefore, no one can witness Him doing a miracle and attribute it to the devil. This is too narrow of an understanding of the Biblical passages. Jesus warned that “whoever” blasphemes will not be forgiven, and the gospel authors wrote to people in a time when Jesus was no longer physically present; therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that people can still blaspheme the Holy Spirit today.
On the other hand, some think that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is something we should live in constant fear of. These people confuse blasphemy against the Holy Spirit with grieving or quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin committed knowingly and defiantly, in very rare circumstances, by someone who is enlightened about the truth but determined to defy God; they are so far gone that they are without hope. Grieving or quenching the Spirit, on the other hand, refers to displeasing Him or distancing oneself from Him by fleshly attitudes or actions; it is possible for a sincere believer to do this once or even many times (Ephesians 4:30), but he or she needs to be immediately forgiven by the One who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we confess our sins to Him.
Some people live in fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin because they confuse blasphemy against the Holy Spirit with grieving or quenching the Spirit.
It has been well said that if you are afraid you have blasphemed the Holy Spirit, you almost certainly have not. The only reason that anyone is drawn to God is because the Holy Spirit draws him or her. If a person is expressing godly sorrow which leads to sincere repentance, they have not committed the unpardonable sin. It doesn’t matter how many altar calls they have resisted or how fervently they have spurned Him in the past.
Dear saints, do not allow Satan, the Accuser of the brethren, to bring you into fearful bondage over the ridiculous notion that you may have committed an unforgivable sin because of a fleeting thought or an attitude of rebellion. The Pharisees who committed the eternal sin in Matthew 12 and Mark 3 were rotten, spiteful, sanctimonious, egomaniacal fiends who were willing to violently murder Jesus at the drop of a hat. Is there a sensitivity in your heart — a place where you find repentance? Have you confessed to God? Have you trusted in the Son? You are forgiven. You have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Jesus reassures us that our sins — including profane, defiant, sacrilegious, irreverent speech — will be forgiven: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter” (Mark 3:28). He even says that “whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven” (Matthew 12:32). If we love God, we should not live in fear of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
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Dr. Timothy Cooley, Sr.
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