“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29, ESV).
Jesus states this theological conundrum in response to the scribes who were accusing Him of being possessed by an evil spirit. He replied that a kingdom can’t be divided against itself: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (vs. 23). Then, Jesus seems to warn the scribes they may be the ones committing blasphemy!
Luke’s account complicates the conundrum. In Luke 12:10 Jesus says, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Today, we use these verses as the basis for the so-called doctrine of the unpardonable sin.
We generally consider blasphemy as contemptuous behavior towards God often exhibited by cursing or reviling God. But, there is an underlying theological supposition to blasphemy–that is, to attribute to oneself the rights or qualities of God.
The scribes’ indictment of blasphemy against Jesus in Mark 3 was based on that theological component. So, when Jesus answered them back, he used the scribes own faulty reasoning against them–their accusation of Jesus’ supposed blasphemy was in itself blasphemous!
In 1 Samuel 2 Eli, the flawed priest and mentor of Samuel gives us some insight into the sin of blasphemy. Eli’s sons, the future priests, had no regard for God’s law: “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17, ESV). They also used their power and authority as the priest’s sons to take advantage of women (vs 22). Today we call that sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Eli admonished his sons for their reprehensible behavior: “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Samuel 2:25, ESV).
Thus, contempt for the person or laws of human beings is forgivable but contempt for the person or laws of God is unforgivable. In other words, it results in eternal separation from God.
If you only have contempt for the One who can redeem you to eternal life, then how can you accept His mercy? Accepting God’s redemption is a choice we make (or not) in this life, not in eternity. When your trust is in yourself and the order of this world (e.g. success, science, religion, etc.), then you make that your god and it’s blasphemous toward the Living God.
As a trinitarian I don’t separate the person of the Holy Spirit from God the Father or the Son of God. If you blaspheme One, you blaspheme All. Thus, if you’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit, you’re effectually blaspheming God.
By the very fact that Christians are human beings that have been redeemed by God, I don’t think they can “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.”
While you may be breathing a sigh of relief that you can cross off “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” from the list of sins you definitely don’t want to commit, that is not the take-away I want to leave with you. And, it’s certainly not the lesson Jesus was teaching in these verses.
Blasphemy against God takes many forms. At one extreme irreverence can be as brazen as worshiping Satan or some other so-called god. At the other extreme irreverence can be as innocuous as denying the existence of the Creator God. In the middle of the scale lies indifference and ignorance about God. Sometimes people’s ignorance is because they are deluded by their desire for wealth or power or even religious traditions as was the case of the scribes.
From a purely theological perspective, it is unbelief or a lack of redeeming faith that is the ultimate “unpardonable” blasphemy against the Spirit of God. Because, if your allegiance isn’t with the Lord God Almighty in this life then you are serving the god of this world, Satan, either by default or on purpose.
It may sound harsh but you either serve God or you repudiate Him–there’s no middle ground!
So, this scripture reinforces the enormity and gravity of the task of sharing the gospel of Jesus. If you’re not serving God, then you’re in danger of eternal separation from your Creator.
Just as Jesus warned the scribes in Mark 3 about the cosmic consequences of their erroneous beliefs, the apprehension that people’s eternal destiny is at stake should weigh heavily on Christians as they proclaim the gospel of Jesus.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10, ESV)