Updated: Sep 4, 2019
Question or Topic
What is the sin against the Spirit referred to in Matt 12:31-32: "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."
Answer This question has been discussed many times. One of the normal explanations is that we are not able to sin against the Spirit today, because we do not possess the Holy Spirit. This approach is a convenient one for us. We are not comfortable with the idea that there is an unforgivable sin, and that we could actually commit it.
The Powers Of The Age
There is at least one relatively powerful argument to support this explanation. In Hebrews we are told: "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. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned." (Heb 6: 4-8)
Ananias and Sapphira ( Example?)
It has been suggested that Ananias and Sapphira were examples of this type of sin. They may well have had the Holy Spirit, which was poured out on many of the disciples at Pentecost. They certainly attempted to lie against the Holy Spirit, which was the power that allowed Peter to discover their sin. Their judgment was a swift and certain death, which served as a powerful example to the other first century converts that gratification of the needs of the flesh was not what discipleship was all about.
To Whom Much Is Given
We can certainly agree with the principle that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." ( Luke 12:48) Those who were given this special gift in the first century, were expected to glorify God, and to support the preaching of the coming Kingdom age. Their punishment would be related to the degree of blessing that they had received. We are not given the same gift today, but we must always remember that we are still subject to the same principle when we are judged.
The Rest Of The Story
Having considered the common explanation for the verses in question, was this really what Christ was talking about? When we look at the context of his comments, (both in Matthew and also in Mark 3:28-30), - he does not appear to be talking about disciples who had abused the Holy Spirit gifts. His words are spoken to the Scribes and the Pharisees, who were trying to discredit the affect of his miraculous acts of healing.
"Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils."(Matt 12: 22-24)
Casting Out Devils By The Spirit Of God
Jesus responded with a simple argument. "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?" ( verse 26) He continues his logical defense by saying: "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you."( verse 28)
It is in this context that Jesus stated: "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." The parallel account in Mark 3 adds another significant point. This reads: "Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith whosoever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation." (His discourse is then climaxed with these words): "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit."( Mark 3:28-30)
They were blaspheming acts that were done through the power of God. They spoke against the miracles that Christ had performed and attributed the glory to their fictitious prince of devils. The called his gift "without measure" unclean.
Speaking Evil About God's Power
Jesus did not end his rebuke at this point. He continued to key in on just how serious their sin was: "O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matt 12: 34-37)
It would appear that these Pharisees were intent on destroying Christ, and they were willingly blinded to his use of the power of God. They sealed their own condemnation by their idle (careless) words. Until a man is able to acknowledge the wonderful power of God he is "without faith". In this state, it is impossible to please Him, and therefore the error is unforgivable.
The mercy of God is possible for those who, through faith, repent from their acts of sin. Their sin can be forgiven because they have demonstrated a belief in God and they follow through with a commitment to change. Blasphemy against the Spirit may only be considered as unforgivable as long as it is an act that is committed without faith, and without any intention of conversion.
We might keep in mind that the Apostle Paul was once one of these Pharisees, who was forgiven by Christ for persecuting him. Had he ever committed blasphemy in his state of unbelief? The answer is yes. In his own words we are told: "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief."(1 Tim 1: 12-13)
We have suggested that it was not the intention of the Master to teach that you must possess the gift of the Holy Spirit in order to blaspheme against it. Blasphemy against the Spirit is when one openly refuses to honor God for his miracles.
If this conclusion is reasonable, then we must consider that the power of God is still working in the world, and that such blasphemy remains a possibility. For example, it may be that to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the hand of God in the re-gathering of Israel, would jeopardize a persons opportunity for salvation.
The question remains for our readers to help with. If there is a true conversion, and this individual turns to the Lord in faith, can he be forgiven for his careless words?