BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT
T. PIERCE BROWN
Many years ago it seemed that almost any gospel paper one picked up had an article “The Sin Against The Holy Spirit”. No matter how much writing or speaking was done, there always seemed to be more questions.
There are at least three reasons for this. First, most writers seem to be very imprecise in their use of words. For example, most would write of “The Sin–” as if the Bible spoke of only one sin against the Holy Spirit. The truth is that “sin” refers to general transgressions; “blasphemy” 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 fact that the simple correct answer left many unanswered other questions caused many to overlook or reject 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” and then discovered that when one did THAT to HER with IT, he would know that such a man 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.
For those who want a list of the words and where they are found in the NT, we provide the following: 1. A noun meaning, “injurious or evil speaking” — Blaspheme– Mt. 12:31, 15:19, 26:65; Mk. 2:7, 3:28, 7:22,14:64; Lk. 5:21; Jn. 10:3; Col. 3:8; Eph. 4:31; 1 Tim. 6:4; Jude 9; Rev. 2:9, 13:1,6, 17:3. 2. Blaspheme — A verb meaning “to speak injuriously, rail at, revile.” Mt. 9:3, 26:65; Mk. 3:28,29; Lk. 12:10, 22:65; Jn. 10:36; Acts 13:45, 18:6, 19:37, 26:11; Rom. 2:14; 1 Tim. 1:20, 6:1; Tit. 2:5; Jas. 2:7; Rev. 13:6, 16:9,11,21. Note: It is also translated by such words as “rail at,” “rail on,” “railing,” “slanderously reported,” “be evil spoken,” “speak evil of,” “being defamed,” etc. in such passages as Mt. 27:29; Mk. 15:29; Lk. 23:29; Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 4:3, 10:30; Tit. 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:14; 2 Pet. 2:2,10,12; Jude 8,9. 3. Blasphemos–An adjective meaning abusive, evil speaking. In some versions it may be translated “railing, railers, a blasphemer.” Acts 6:11, 13; 1 Tim. 1:13; 2 Tim. 3:2; 2 Pet. 2:11.
We can see from EVERY usage in the N. T. that the word refers to speaking evil or injurious words against a person or things. It might be against God (Lev. 24:10-12). It was cursing, reviling or speaking evil against God. It was NOT simply cursing a dog. It was directly against HIM. It might be against Christ (Mt.12:31-32). It was speaking evil against HIM. 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 was speaking slanderous, evil or lying things against HIM. 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. It is SPEAKING EVIL AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT. 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. It has been erroneously supposed by many 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. He 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 found out 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. But as far as I know, one can not have a concept of the Holy Spirit that he does not get from the Bible. 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, the chances are you have not done it.” It is almost impossible for me to conceive of a person having actually cursed or reviled the Holy Spirit Himself accidentally and not know it! The very nature of the act and the Person makes it impossible!