Question

What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

Answer

Matthew 12:22-37 is the story of Jesus casting out a demon from a demon-possessed man. This story (and its parallel accounts in Mark 3:22ff. and Luke 12:8ff.) contains the only reference we have to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, as well as the only reference we have to any kind of sin that will never be forgiven. In this story, Jesus casts out the demon by the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit), but the Pharisees attribute Jesus' power to Beelzebul (another name for Satan). Jesus calls this attribution "blasphemy against the Spirit" (Matt. 12:31).

Since this is the only example we have, it is a bit hard to know precisely was does and does not qualify as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. However, it at least seems clear that it includes attributing Jesus' miraculous works to the power of demonic forces rather than to the power of the Holy Spirit. The general idea of blasphemy is that of "speaking against," "slandering," or "using abusive language." When people do this toward the Holy Spirit, they demonstrate that they are not saved and that they never will be saved ("the tree is known by its fruit" [Matt. 12:33]).

It is often rather hard to say that someone actually has committed this sin because it is often difficult to get people to agree on what is and what is not the Holy Spirit's work. For example, some teach that the gift of the Holy Spirit known as "tongues" continues today. Others teach that this gift has ceased, and that some modern manifestations of this activity are actually caused by Satan as he tries to trick people into charismatic experiences. Is this blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Some who believe that tongues are a legitimate modern spiritual gift would say yes -- it is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Others would say no, because the work really is not from the Holy Spirit.

I think part of Jesus' point in Matthew 12, however, was that the work he did was obviously from the Holy Spirit (according to the logic of his argument in Matt. 12:25-29), and that this fact should have been evident to all. Most modern manifestations of tongues, on the other hand, are not so obviously from the Holy Spirit. That is, there are other reasonable explanations of them. This is not to say that it is necessarily unreasonable to think that they are from the Holy Spirit, but only that there are additional explanations that make sense (people are faking it, people are duped into it, etc.). Really, there is no sure way to prove the legitimacy of most experiences of tongues. In contrast, the blind mute Jesus healed in Matthew 12:22 regained his sight and speech, which is pretty good evidence that something miraculous really did happen.

Also, Jesus added that the blasphemers he encountered in Matthew 12 spoke from the evil of their hearts (Matt. 12:34-35). This would seem to indicate that true blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is malicious toward the Holy Spirit. Thus, statements made from ignorance or from mistaken judgment probably do not qualify as being "unforgiveable."

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.