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Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Question
I know that you understand the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to be attributing obvious works of God's Spirit to demonic forces. This interpretation is given because Jesus talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in the context of the Pharisees saying he drove out demons by the power of Satan in Matthew's Gospel. However, in Luke 12:10 the context seems to be different. Are we sure that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is definitely attributing God's work to Satan, or could it be something else? Most Arminians understand blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to be denying his call in their hearts to repent and accept Christ. This interpretation makes sense to me because rejection of Christ is the thing that ultimately keeps you out of heaven. Any other sin you commit can be atoned for at the cross, right?
Answer
In the immediate context of Luke 12:10, there is not much to indicate specifically what Jesus meant by "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit." It seems to be somewhat paired, at least in a rhetorical way, with Luke 12:8-9. Both Luke 12:8-9 and Luke 12:10 speak of those who will be saved versus those who will not be saved. If we see Luke 12:8-9 as a parallel to Luke 12:10, such that Luke 12:10 repeats the same ideas as Luke 12:8-9 with different words, then we might easily come to the idea that to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to deny Christ before men. The fact that the subject of the second phrase of the first pair ("he who denies me before men") is conceptually very similar to the subject of the first half of the second pair ("he who speaks a word against the Son of Man") makes this approach very tempting, as does the correspondence between the predicates of the second half of the first pair ("will be denied before the angels of God") and the second half of the second pair ("it will not be forgiven him"). This intepretation may be further supported by the fact that the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ, so that to deny Christ is to reject the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Though this may seem like a good option at first, there is some problems with it that, in my opinion, are too significant to overcome. It is simply not the case that the sin of denying Christ before men is unforgivable, neither is the sin of rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit unforgivable. The Scriptures provide explicit proof of this in the person of Paul (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-20). After Paul had denied Christ, implicitly also denying the works that Christ had done and the Spirit through whose power he had done them, and after Paul had punctuated these denials by persecuting those who confessed Christ, Paul came to faith and was forgiven. Yet, Jesus made it clear that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come (Matt. 12:32). Some respond to this objection by saying that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is limited to final rejection of Christ, not just initial rejection. The problem with this response is that final rejection does not differ from initial rejection in any qualitative or quantitative sense. To all analysis, final rejection is the same sin as initial rejection. The only difference is the coincident death of the person. But a person's death does not alter the nature of his/her sin of rejecting Christ.

Further, though we clearly have a similar rhetorical structure between Luke 12:8-9 and Luke 12:10, treating it as such a close literary parallelism that we interpret one by the other is not as helpful as it might look at first. Specifically, to do so is to equate denying Christ with blaphemy of the Holy Spirit, but not with speaking against Christ. It is rather hard to imagine that denying Christ is not a form of speaking against Christ - that's a hair I don't feel comfortable splitting. I would prefer to see the literary similarity as indicating the eternal consequences of our actions on earth, but not as indicating an identity between denying Christ and blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Besides this, the actual nature of Hebrew parallelism is that it rarely says the same thing with different words. The typical idea behind what is commonly called "synonymous parallelism" is "A, and what's more B." That is, the "parallel" phrase does not say the same thing. Rather, it says something related but different. This would argue against equating "A" (denying Christ) with "B" (blaspheming the Holy Spirit).


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.