And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)
Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man. The people were astonished and wondered if he was the Son of David, whose coming was predicted by the prophets. When the Pharisees heard this, they said that Jesus drove out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. However, since Jesus in fact drove out demons by the Holy Spirit, the Pharisees had indirectly insulted the Holy Spirit by calling him Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
In reply, Jesus first set forth a theological refutation to their assertion, and then added a warning – anyone who speaks against Christ could be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit could not be forgiven. Most explanations on the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit stress how difficult or even impossible it is to commit this unforgivable sin. But since Jesus intended his statement as a realistic threat, we shall consider how easy it is to commit this sin, a sin for which there is no forgiveness.
Blasphemy against Jesus Christ is categorized as the same kind of sin as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Even if we can think of the latter as another level of blasphemy, although the text does not suggest this, the thoughts and actions involved are similar. The main difference is the object that receives the insult. To commit blasphemy against Jesus Christ is to speak against Jesus Christ. To commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to speak against the Holy Spirit.
Christians scholars are professionals at neutralizing biblical teachings that they dislike, and they dislike this very much. So they scramble to define this sin as so difficult and remote that it is practically impossible to commit. But in the same context, Jesus added, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (v. 36-37). The sin is not difficult or impossible to commit, but it might be so easy to commit that even a careless word could do it.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is often portrayed as only a more stubborn or a final rejection of Jesus Christ. But this does not fit the context, which has to do with the ministry of miracles and the casting out of demons. And it does not fit the explicit teaching, which distinguishes blasphemy against Christ and blasphemy against the Spirit as two different offenses. The objects that receive the insults are different. Jesus said that speaking against the Son is forgivable, but speaking against the Spirit is unforgivable. So it is possible to speak against the Son instead of the Spirit, and it is possible to speak against the Spirit instead of the Son.
The effort to merge the two so that the different offenses become only different points on a scale seems intended to doom Jesus’ teaching to irrelevance. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would become less frightening if it could be absorbed by the blasphemy against Jesus Christ. But Jesus himself distinguished the two. Using words against Christ is not the same as using words against the Spirit. The teaching is intended to be frightening, and as a warning against committing this unforgivable sin. To weaken its fearfulness would only heighten the possibility of committing it.
It begs the question to place the two sins on the same scale in a way that they become only different degrees of the same sin. Speaking against the Holy Spirit could very well be considered a worse sin, but this does not necessarily mean that it becomes only a more stubborn and final rejection of Jesus. He could have said, “Whoever speaks against the Son could be forgiven, but whoever litters the street with chewing gum could not be forgiven.” The statement is entirely intelligible, and the latter would be the unforgivable sin, but the two would not be only two different points on the same scale, or different degrees of the same offense.
Another attempt to render Jesus’ teaching irrelevant suggests that this unforgivable sin was possible only during the ministry of Jesus, because only he demonstrated the truth and power of God without mixture, ambiguity, and imperfection. This argument is unintelligent and self-defeating, since God sends millions upon millions upon millions to burn in hell because they have rejected our imperfect preaching of Christ. God does not think that rejection of the truth is possible only when the truth is perfectly presented. Although we might not preach Jesus Christ with perfect clarity, force, and accuracy, it still counts as blasphemy when someone speaks against him.
Thus although we do not manifest the Holy Spirit with perfect faith, power, or order, it must still count as blasphemy when someone speaks against him. But we are becoming more and more suspicious that the theologians are setting up an excuse for their own disobedience. In addition, when Jesus stated the teaching on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in another place (Luke 12:10), he had in mind a time when the disciples would be ministering on their own and suffer persecution (v. 11-12). Therefore, it is not true that the sin is possible only during the ministry of Jesus.
Scholars insist that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be an informed and deliberate offense. However, this is not the nature of blasphemy as the Bible describes it. Paul indicated that although he acted in ignorance, he was still a blasphemer (1 Timothy 1:13). He did not truly perceive the identity and deity of Christ, but what he said about Christ still counted as blasphemy. And as mentioned, in the same place where Christ taught about this, he warned that “every careless word” would be judged. Therefore, it is possible to commit blasphemy that is not informed and deliberate. Otherwise, an atheist, or almost any non-Christian, could never commit blasphemy against God or Christ, but only an informed believer could do it. But Paul blasphemed when he was ignorant and an unbeliever.
It is possible for a man to blaspheme Christ even if he does not know or admit that Christ is the Son of God. To say or imply anything negative about Christ would count as blasphemy. In fact, one does not even have to strictly suggest anything negative. Jesus himself was accused of blasphemy because he said something that suggested he was equal with God. And if he had not been telling the truth, it would have counted as blasphemy. It was not blasphemy only because he was indeed equal with God, and that God was indeed his Father. But this shows that it is easy to commit blasphemy.
Then, it is said that if one fears that he has committed this unforgivable sin, then it is the strongest indication that he has not committed it. This is based on the assumption that the sin can be committed only by an incurably hardened individual, and in an informed, deliberate, and malicious manner. Thus someone who commits this sin is entirely given over to unbelief and has no fear of the wrath of God. However, by now we have destroyed this assumption. The biblical texts on the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit do not suggest any of this, and even demons are afraid of God, although they cannot be saved. Moreover, the fear that one has committed this sin is no indication that he has not committed it, because this fear could very well be nothing more than worldly sorrow that leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
A man has not committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit only if he has not committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The way to ensure that you have not spoken against the Spirit is to ensure that you really have not spoken against the Spirit. And if you have spoken against the Holy Spirit, then you have spoken against the Holy Spirit, and you have committed the unforgivable sin. There is no way around this or to avoid the issue. The solutions of the theologians – to make the sin harder to commit, to merge it with the rejection of Christ, to designate fear or guilt as the sure indication of innocence – offer false comfort.
The Pharisees called the work of the Holy Spirit the work of a demon, thus indirectly calling the Holy Spirit a demon. This indirect insult was sufficient to incite Jesus’ teaching on this unforgivable sin. But it is likely that even less specific or extreme insults would count as blasphemy against the Spirit. Consider what would count as blasphemy against Jesus Christ. Of course it would be blasphemy to directly or indirectly deny his deity. But it would also be blasphemy against him to deny the necessity or the success of the atonement, or to suggest that he was dishonest when he made a certain statement or that he made a mistake about something. It is easy to commit blasphemy.
The Bible instructs us to test spiritual manifestations, and it is conceivable that after careful examination, we would conclude that some manifestations are false or even demonic. Jesus’ teaching cautions us to test spiritual manifestations with knowledge and integrity, and not to oppose something just because it threatens our theological and ecclesiastical traditions. Now, what if a man truly speaks in tongues by the Holy Spirit, and someone mocks him for it? What if, without an irrefutable biblical basis, he states that the Holy Spirit no longer does something like this? What if he calls all speaking in tongues gibberish and nonsense? What if he declares that the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy and healing have ceased, so that whatever happens now cannot be genuine? If he is mistaken, then he has insulted all such manifestations of the Spirit since the passing of the apostles up to the future coming of Jesus Christ. He has slapped the Spirit across all the centuries.
Cessationists are in imminent danger of committing the unforgivable sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit. They regard themselves as watchers of the cults, defenders of the faith, and guardians of orthodoxy, heading the charge against heretics and fanatics. So did the Pharisees, but they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit left and right, because what they considered as orthodoxy was in fact their own theological tradition and ecclesiastical heritage. Jesus Christ came in the power of the Holy Spirit, and threatened to take away their respect from the people, their status as scholars, and their place as authorities of the faith. So they called Jesus a deceiver, and they called the Spirit a demon.
Do we not need to test the spirits? But how can you test the spirits, when you do not even believe in the true manifestations of the Spirit? You say, “I believe God performs miracles when he wills, but I believe that the sign gifts have ceased, or this and that have ceased.” But the Bible does not separate some powers as “sign gifts,” and most of the Bible does not even refer to the miraculous powers given to believers as spiritual gifts. Gifts or no gifts, Jesus said anyone who has faith can command a mountain to move. And if one can command a mountain to move, he can command a fever, a cancer, or a demon to leave. All this talk of gifts is just a subterfuge, a “divide and conquer” tactic against the power of God.
Jesus said that the Pharisees were like vipers on the inside, and out of their evil hearts they spoke evil words (v. 33-35). You also speak against the Holy Spirit because your heart is full of unbelief and poison. Like the Pharisees, you call yourself a defender of orthodoxy, but you are a liar, because yours is not the biblical orthodoxy of the Spirit. You take what pleases you, and you reject what threatens you. You exalt what makes you look good, and you oppose what makes you look weak.
When someone mentions the Holy Spirit’s power at work today, you say, “Yes, but even Satan works miracles.” Why is this your reaction? Why do you say this as if to dampen the significance of the Holy Spirit’s work? The Bible teaches that even Satan can appear as an angel of light, and I realize that he can appear as a cessationist theologian as well. Rather, when I hear you say that Satan works miracles, I say, “Yes, but the Holy Spirit works miracles! And he can defeat the power of Satan.” In any case, instead of calming the miracle claims, now we end up with miracles all over the place, with you in praise of Satan’s power, and I in praise of the Holy Spirit’s power.
Just as theologians have for centuries undermined Jesus’ teaching on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, of course I expect opposition when I repeat the Lord’s teaching. But I am more afraid of Jesus’ warning than I would ever be afraid of some nobody like you. What you are going to do, do quickly. As for me, I will see to it that I revere the works of the Holy Spirit, including his mighty manifestations of power. “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Come on, let us be witnesses to the words that you will speak and write. Show the world what is in your heart. Perhaps to this point you have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit, and this is God’s way to incite you to do it, so as to fill up the measure of your sins and to seal your damnation.