On one occasion, Jesus cast out a demon then was accused by the Pharisees of being able to do so because He was empowered by Satan (Matthew 12:24). Jesus responded to their accusation by attributing His miraculous abilities to the “Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28). What is interesting about this particular story is that it led to one of the most sobering statements that Jesus ever made. In Matthew 12:31, Jesus said, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (cf. Luke 12:10). Mark’s account of the story even goes so far as to refer to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as an “eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). Certainly, the unforgivable qualification of this particular sin has caused a great deal of anxiety among many. Therefore, the goal of this article is to explain what constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
In order to understand what constitutes “blasphemy against the Spirit,” we first need to define “blasphemy.” The term “blasphemy” is an Anglicanized form of the Greek noun blasphemia, which derived from two other Greek terms, namely blapto, which means “to injure,” and pheme, which means “to speak.” Thus, blasphemy can simply be defined as “injurious speech,” much like slander. In fact, the terms “blasphemy” and “slander” are both used to translate blasphemia in certain New Testament passages, depending on which translation you read (e.g. compare Colossians 3:8 and Mark 7:22 in the NKJV and ESV).
By its very definition blasphemy implies a sin of the tongue; however, it does not necessarily imply a sin against God. Any form of injurious speech directed against another person could be considered blasphemy. However, verbal blasphemy against God specifically occurs when His existence or His deity is either denied or demeaned. Consider the following examples.
- •Peter stated that there will be false teachers who “bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). He then indicated that “because of [these false teachers] the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2). Notice that the false teachers are guilty of “bring[ing] in destructive heresies” and causing “the way of truth” to “be blasphemed.” What is the connection between the false teachings and blasphemy? The connection is that some of the false teachings promoted “denying the Master who bought them.” Thus, it appears that Peter identified a denial of God’s existence and/or a denial of God’s involvement in salvation, since he referenced the Master’s redemptive effort, as a form of blasphemy.
- •Additionally, we have the example of King Sennacherib of Assyria who in 2 Kings 19:22 was accused of blasphemy by God. To understand this accusation, you must venture back to 2 Kings 18:28-35 where we are told that Sennacherib’s messenger ridiculed God as a deity unable to protect His people, just like the deities of the other nations that Assyria had conquered, and exalted Sennacherib as an entity greater than the God of Israel. Based on this situation, we can deduce that an exaltation of self above God and a demeaning attitude toward God are blasphemous.
Thus, blasphemy against God, in its strictest since, is a verbal sin predicated on a denial of His existence or a demeaning of His sovereign position and/or abilities.
In order to understand what constitutes “blasphemy against the Spirit,” we also need to notice the context of the particular story in which this statement is said because this is the only place in all of Scripture where this particular sin is mentioned. Therefore, the context of this story must be our basis for determining what it is since this sin was one “that the Pharisees had committed, or at least were dangerously close to committing.”
In the context of this story, the issue at hand was the source of Jesus’ miraculous abilities. The Pharisees attributed Jesus’ power to Satan while Jesus attributed it to the “Spirit of God.” As a result, it appears that “blasphemy against the Spirit” is associated with verbally and publicly denying and/or demeaning the Holy Spirit. In this situation, the Spirit was demeaned particularly by attributing His miraculous activity to Satan. Christian apologist, Kyle Butt, said it this way:
“Even when faced by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through Jesus, the Pharisees were, in essence, attributing Jesus’ power to Satan, and claiming that Jesus was Satan incarnate instead of God incarnate. It is this, and nothing else, that our Lord calls the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.”
However, it should be noted that this was not an isolated incident. After presenting the religious leaders’ accusation of Satanic empowerment, as well as, Jesus’ teaching about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Mark 3:30 adds the following clarification, “for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” That phrase translated “were saying” utilizes the imperfect tense, which is a verb tense that denotes a sustained or continuous activity. In other words, this was “a habitual action and attitude.” Mark 3:30 is saying that the religious leaders were persistently denying the operation of the Holy Spirit through the miraculous ministry of Jesus despite evidence to the contrary. Such is evident from the fact that this was not the first time this accusation was posed. After Jesus exorcised a demon that caused a man to be mute in Matthew 9:34, the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” So, this accusation was a willful and continuous accusation made by the religious leaders, which demonstrated a hard heartedness from which they refused to repent.
Based on the preceding information, it appears that “blasphemy of the Spirit” was a deliberate and continuous rejection of and belittling of the Holy Spirit, specifically by attributing His works to Satan, despite exposure to and evidence of the truth.