Friday, October 14, 2011

The Unforgivable Sin

Matthew mangled a prophesy to associate Isaiah's metaphorical Suffering Servant with Jesus. Then we came upon the story where Jesus is accused of casting out demons through the power of Satan. Jesus could not think of a good reason why Satan would do such a thing, despite knowing that Satan is a top-notch deceiver. The topic of this study is directly hooked to this blaspheming of Jesus by Matthew and Mark, but Luke tucks it away in a different location.

The Unforgivable Sin
The gift of divine forgiveness is unfathomable. There is nothing you can do which cannot be forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus. That goes anywhere from garden variety sins all the way up to world changing evil. Hitler, the man most frequently referenced as evil incarnate in our times, could have been forgiven by God though Jesus. After all, who knows if he finally saw the light of God and repented of his sins in those final moments in the bunker? Whether or not God would have accepted such a last-minute repentance would be up to Jesus, but we know that through Jesus anything can be forgiven. Well, almost anything...

You see, there is one thing which really gets under God's skin, if He has skin to get under. Matthew 12:31-32 and Luke 12:10 both capture this pet peeve similarly to the more-blunt-and-concise Mark 3:28-29:
"I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." NIV

You can torture and slay a thousand people and still enter heaven. You can scream at God for being a wicked despot and still enter heaven. You can call Jesus an hypocritical zombie and still enter heaven. However, if you merely mention that the Holy Ghost is just a tramp in a white bed sheet, then you lose all hope of Salvation, because that sin cannot be forgiven.

The idea that the words you say, even if just said once, can condemn for eternity is difficult to accept from a loving and patient God who perfectly understands the emotional roller coaster that is human life. In fact, the believers of the more-loving version of God which I have encountered reject such a notion. Instead, they try to recast this as a statement saying that this pertains only to who reject God continually throughout their lives.

However, that liberal interpretation is not supported by Matthew and Mark, because this statement is tied to the Pharisees (Matthew 12:24) or teachers of the Law (Mark 3:22) accusing Jesus of casting out demons through the power of Satan. While it is only an implicit connection in Matthew, it is explicitly claimed in Mark 3:30:
[Jesus] said this because [the teachers of the Law] were saying, "He has an evil spirit." NIV

By Jesus' words, these teachers' words had just condemned them for all eternity. That is why you find Jesus saying just a few verses later in Matthew 12:37:
"For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." NIV
Interestingly enough, this attitude is somewhat consistent with what we find in the Old Testament. As part of the popular version of the Ten Commandments, you find God say the following in Exodus 20:7:
"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name." NIV

Not holding anyone guiltless is the same as saying that the guilty will never be forgiven. Jesus tweaks the message to be a little more tolerant here, making it forgivable to blaspheme God the Father or the Son, but not the Holy Spirit. Even so, with all of the wicked and perverse things that people are capable of doing, it seems illogical that the one sin which could condemn you for eternity is a mere slip of the tongue or a voice of protest.

In fact, the concept of being able to speak ill of our leaders is so important, and considered such a fundamental right, that it is included as the very first amendment in the United States Bill of Rights. It is interesting and revealing that one of our most celebrated and basic human rights is the one thing which can be exercised to yield eternal damnation, according to the God of the Bible.


  1. One wonders why an omnipotent deity would be so thin-skinned in the first place. If people can get over being called names, why can't the creator of the universe? Veeeeeery revealing.

  2. Exactly. If you are God and intimately know human nature, you know how often we say things without fully meaning it, especially under stress, or confused, or tired, etc., and how often we change as we experience life.

    On the other hand, if you are making it all up, you cannot afford to have people bad-mouthing the figment of your imagination.

  3. It may please you to know that I have blasphemed the Holy Spirit several times, according to the definition you have given above. So if you're right, we'll be swimming in the Lake of Fire together. ;-)

    But, as you know, I don't believe in a literal lake of fire, and I don't believe that calling the Holy Spirit a tramp is what is meant by "blaspheming the holy Spirit" in Mark 3:28. I hold the so-called "liberal view" that is "unsupported by Matthew and Mark." I won't rehash that view unless requested, because you've heard it before and it doesn't suit your purposes here, but I will say that I think it's the predominant view among Christians.

    I also want to express my disagreement with your statement, "Not holding anyone guiltless is the same as saying that the guilty will never be forgiven." Exodus 20:7 is simply saying that misusing God's name is a sin. Just like any other sin, it's forgivable. Taking God's name is probably the commonest of all sins these days, so if you're correct that this is yet another unforgivable sin, then the great majority of *Christians* will be joining us in the fiery lake. ;-)

  4. @Ollie Wallflower
    I there is a god, that god is the God of the Bible, and my interpretation is correct, then no, it would no more please me to see you in the lake of fire than it would please me to shatter a stained glass window.

    Well, your view is definitely the more comfortable interpretation, and I know you can find verses in other places which may imply something to the contrary. I just try to interpret the words as they are in their localized context. So when Jesus says that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, and then goes on to say things like "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36), to me this presents a position which should not be ignored.

    Regarding Exodus 20:7, I can understand your objection, but consider these facts:
    1) This is the only law where God makes that comment about not being held guiltless.
    2) It is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:11 the same way.
    3) If God forgives someone, then they are held guiltless before Him, right? That is the whole blood-of-Christ forgiveness, right? So if God does forgive someone for this blasphemy, then He contradicts Himself.