BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT
T. PIERCE BROWN
Almost against my better judgment I am writing this article. I say that because there is probably less practical value in it than in almost anything I have ever written. That is, if you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, it will be of no value to you, for you will not care enough to even read this. If you have not blasphemed against Him, the article will probably cause no change in your life. However, I write it because it is my conviction that everything taught in the Bible is worth knowing, and my opinion is that less is probably known about this subject than almost any other.
There are at least three reasons for this. First, most writers seem to be very imprecise in their use of words. For example, most write of “The Sin–” as if the Bible spoke of only one sin against the Holy Spirit. We can find at least seven specifically mentioned. The truth is that “sin” refers to general transgressions and every sin is a sin against the Holy Spirit; “blasphemy” refers to a particular one. All blasphemy may be sin, but all sin is not blasphemy. Under the Law of Moses, one could sin against God and be forgiven, but one who blasphemed Him was stoned to death (Leviticus 24:16).
Second, most preachers who knew enough logic to use syllogisms fell into an error in their use that I do not ever remember hearing discussed in this context. We shall deal with it in a few moments. Third, the usual answers left so many unanswered other questions it caused many to overlook or reject what I believe is the simple correct one.
In this article, I shall attempt to address those three problems, and give what I think to be the simplest, most scriptural and logical answer to the question, “What is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?” Then I shall attempt to answer some related questions produced by that answer.
The proper way to approach this, or any other question, is to define the terms with which we are dealing. If Jesus had said, “Any sin may be forgiven a man except that of beating his wife with a yardstick,” it is reasonably certain that we would try to define the unpardonable sin by defining the terms that make up that statement, then find how the act is to be performed in terms of them. If one discovered the meaning of “beating,” “wife” and “yardstick” he would know that when one did that to her with it, he could not be forgiven! Why we do not apply that same kind of sensible analysis and exegesis to the question under discussion, I do not know!
As far as we know, there is no disagreement among lexicographers about the meaning of the term, “blasphemy.” Even if we did not ever read any “authority” about it, a careful examination of all the passages in the Bible where the noun, verb, and adjective are used should lead us to the same conclusion the “authorities” have, for that is the way they came to that conclusion! The conclusion is that the word in all of its forms refers to abusive, reviling, injurious, impious, or evil speaking against the person or thing that is said to be blasphemed.
The noun, verb and adjective forms are found at least 63 times in the New Testament, but are also translated by such terms as “rail at,” “rail on,” “railing,” “slanderously reported,” “be evil spoken,” “speak evil of,” or “being defamed.”
We can see from every usage in the N. T. that the word refers to speaking evil or injurious words against a person or thing. It might be against God (Lev. 24:10-12). It might be against Christ (Mt.12:31-32). In this case it was attributing His power to the Devil. It might be evil speaking against the Word of God (Titus 2:5). It might be against the name, “Christian” (James 2:7). It might be against Paul (Romans 3:8). It might be against the Holy Spirit (Mk.3:29; Mt.12:32). We do not have to guess about what it was and is. In every case it was speaking evil directly against whatever the object was. When a person reviles the Holy Spirit Himself (not merely a product of the Holy Spirit, such as the Bible) he has blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Any person who denies that is simply denying the logical and proper use of Biblical language as used everywhere else in describing the blasphemy against anything.
Let me emphasize a point made in the parenthesis above. Many have erroneously supposed that rejecting or criticizing the Word of God is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The reasoning goes like this: The Bible is the Word of the Holy Spirit. John Doe says the Bible is a lie. Therefore John Doe has accused the Holy Spirit of lying, and is guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The reasoning is not correct! Let me illustrate. Suppose I know you to be industrious, brilliant and meticulous. I come into an office of an unknown person and, seeing the desk cluttered with insignificant material I say, “Whoever works at this desk is surely lazy, stupid, and careless!” Then I learn it is your desk! I have not spoken evil of you! I have simply had an erroneous conception of the meaning of what I have seen. If I had known it to be your desk and then made the preceding statement, I would have made it about you. So, if a person knows the Holy Spirit gave the Bible and then says, “It is a lie”, he has blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Note carefully: Blasphemy against God was not simply rejecting His word or disobeying His commands–in any dispensation, whether Mosaic or Christian. Blasphemy against Christ was not simply rejecting His word, or disobeying Him. Blasphemy against Paul was not simply rejecting his teaching. Why would anyone then suppose that rejecting the word of the Holy Spirit was blasphemy against Him? One reason is found in the misuse of a syllogism that was presumed to be valid, but is not. It is this:
1. Major premise: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unpardonable sin (Mt.12:32).
2. Minor premise: Rejecting the gospel (until death) is unpardonable.
3. Conclusion: Therefore blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is rejecting the gospel until death.
One can tell it is invalid in at least two ways. First, substitute “lying” or any other sin in the minor premise for “rejecting the gospel.” Any sin until death is unpardonable, and if such a syllogism is valid, it means that any sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But Jesus denies this.
The reason it is invalid is that the term “unpardonable” in the major and minor premises does not refer to the same thing. In the major premise it refers to the kind or manner of sin. In the minor premise it refers to the duration of sin. So, even if the conclusion happened to be right, that syllogism would not prove it!
Denying the validity of the Word, or refusing to obey it was never called blasphemy in the Bible. It was always a slanderous, vile, irreverent, or injurious speaking against the person or thing itself.
Let us answer some other questions relative to the subject. Why did Jesus bring up the subject? Look carefully and you can see. The Jews were blaspheming Him. They had accused Him of casting out demons by the spirit of the Devil. There are those who assume this was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, for they think that since He was really casting them out by the Holy Spirit, they were calling the Holy Spirit the spirit of the Devil. This assumption is wrong for several reasons, but the simplest is that Jesus Himself makes a distinction between blaspheming Him and blaspheming the Holy Spirit. But since they were blaspheming Him and knew they were lying, He warns them, in effect, “If you continue in that direction, you will become so hardened that you may get to the place where you can speak evil against even the Holy Spirit. If you ever get to that condition, you will never be forgiven!”
We need to know that principle: Any time a person sins in a deliberate fashion, calling “good” “evil,” he becomes hardened, and if he persists in that kind of deliberate sin may become so hardened that he may not care if he speaks evil of the Holy Spirit Himself.
Another question may be raised: Why could one blaspheme Christ and be forgiven and not do so in the case of the Holy Spirit? Paul gives a clue to at least one reason, when he says about himself, “I was a blasphemer and injurious, but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly and in unbelief.” He was able to blaspheme Christ ignorantly. One could not do that with the Holy Spirit. One can not even know who the Holy Spirit is and be ignorant of His nature. It was not so with Christ. He was in the flesh, historically as a man, and one could ignorantly assume He was no more than a mere man and thus accuse Him of lying when He claimed to be the Son of God. They could get forgiveness when they learned better, for they could repent.
My conclusion, therefore, is that it can not be forgiven because when one does it he must be so depraved and deliberately hardened than it is impossible for him to repent. The Spirit ceases to strive with him (Gen. 6:3) and when God thus gives up on man, he is without hope. One valid syllogism by which I arrive at that conclusion is:
1. Major premise: Every sin of which one can repent can be forgiven.
2. Minor premise: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can not be forgiven.
3. Conclusion: Therefore blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin for which a man cannot repent. (Cf. Gen. 6:3; Acts 19:9; 1 Tim. 4:2)
Sometimes one raises the question: “But if God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are One, when one blasphemes one, does he not also blaspheme the other?” The answer is “No,” for two reasons. First, Jesus himself makes the distinction, so whether or not one understands why, there is a difference. Second, this illustration may help you understand why. My wife and I are one. But one can say, “I hate that wretched preacher,” and at the same time say, “I think his wife is sweet and precious, and I love her.”
Because of what Paul said, and what God revealed about the result of blaspheming God in the Old Testament, my opinion is that when a person understands the Divine Nature of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit and then reviles or curses either of them, knowing he is thus speaking of all of them, he can not be forgiven. In the Old Testament, when a person cursed God, he was not offered a chance to repent. He was killed! If a person had said, “God is a liar,” but was speaking of his false God, whether Baal, Zeus, Jupiter or some other false concept, he would not be held guilty of blaspheming Jehovah-God.
I knew a person who said, “I hate God.” When I questioned her, I discovered she hated the concept she had that she thought was God. When I explained about Jehovah and His love for her, she obeyed the gospel. She might have cursed her concept of God without blaspheming God. One cannot even know there is a Holy Spirit without also knowing His nature. So, if one knows the God of the Bible and the Holy Spirit of the Bible, and curses them, he has probably gone past the place of repentance (Cf. Heb. 6:7,12:17).
For a person who is worried about having done it, we may say with a fair degree of certainty, “If you can repent of it, you have not done it.” One may do many sins ignorantly, but one cannot actually curse or revile the Holy Spirit Himself accidentally and not know it! The very nature of the act and the Person makes it impossible. The difference in this and “the sin unto death” (1 John1:16) is that any sin of which a person will not repent is a sin unto death. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a specific sin of which a person will not repent because his heart has become too hardened. The first has to do with the duration — he will not repent as long as he lives. The second has to do with the nature of the sin itself — he will not repent because before a person can blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, his heart must become so hard that he does not merely reject God in unbelief (he is simply a fool, Psalm 14:1) but, recognizing the nature of the Holy Spirit, curses or reviles Him. There was never any forgiveness of that either in Old or New Testament.