“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
– Luke 12:10, NIV
Jesus declared, “he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.” Just what did He mean? This question has challenged Bible scholars throughout the history of the church.
Matthew and Mark, as well as Luke, record this saying of Jesus. All of the writers draw a contrast between sins that may be forgiven and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which may not be forgiven. The sins that may be forgiven are sins in general as well as the sin of speaking a word against the Son of man. The sin that shall not be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The total New Testament context of Jesus’ saying includes Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We will observe briefly what Matthew and Mark say then turn to Luke’s comments. As we consider these writers, we will discover what Jesus meant.
Matthew and Mark
In Matthew 12:30-32, Jesus deals with forgivable sin in contrast to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says (v. 30), “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Then, Jesus draws (v. 31) the contrast. He says, “any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”
Going further, Jesus declares (v. 32), “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.” In this verse Jesus says, “speak against” with regard to both the Son of Man and the Holy Spirit.
According to Mark 3:28-29, Jesus declares, ” Truly, I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
As recorded in Matthew 12:30-32 and Mark 3:28-30, Jesus uttered His saying right after the Pharisees accused Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul. When Jesus responded to the Pharisees, He indicated (Matthew 12:28) that He was casting out demons by “the Spirit of God.” Mark does not name the “Spirit of God” as the source of Jesus’ power, but this is clear from the context.
Now the question arises, “What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?” According to Mark 3:22, the scribes came from Jerusalem saying, “‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.'” Then, Mark declares (Mark 3:30) that the blasphemers against the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven “because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” Matthew (12:24) reports that the accusation of the Pharisees that “‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.'” Thus, attributing the work of Jesus to demons is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Along with Matthew and Mark, Luke reports the story of Jesus casting out demons and the accusation of the Pharisees. However, Luke separates Jesus’ comment concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit from that story (Luke 11:15). As Robertson (p. 173) points out, Jesus may have made the statement on different occasions. In any case the context of the remark is different.
Although a great crowd had gathered, Jesus speaks in Luke 12:12 “first of all” (verse 1) to His disciples. His emphasis is upon the disciples, against all opposition, making a fearless stand for Jesus. In verse 1 Jesus warns the disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Their hypocrisy will be made known.
Then, in verses 2-3, Jesus puts forward a general principle. Whatever is hidden will be made known. In Matthew 10:26-27 Jesus applied this principle to what He taught the disciples. Whatever He had taught them in darkness, they were to teach in the light. Here, whatever the disciples have said in the dark shall be heard in the light.
The disciples were facing persecution. Thus, there seems to be a special application of this principle to them. The allegiance of the disciples to Christ will become known. Their true constitution as disciples will come to light. The implication is that they should publicly proclaim who they are. What is implied here is explicitly stated in verses 8-9.
Next, Jesus encourages the disciples. According to verses 4-7, the disciples should not fear those who kill the body. Instead they should fear God who has the ultimate power of life and death. The disciples are assured of God’s care for them during persecution, just as God cares for the sparrows.
Then, in verses 8-9, Jesus issues a stern warning: “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” NASU
As in verses 2-3, Jesus states a general principle. Even in the face of persecution, the disciples must boldly confess Christ. If they deny Jesus, He will deny them. To deny Jesus is to become an apostate disciple. Some unbelievers may be persuaded by these comments to confess Christ. Needless to say, the comment about denying Jesus, in verse 9, applies to unbelievers as well.
Momentarily passing by verse 10, we note that the Holy Spirit will assist the disciples when they are in trying circumstances. As state in verses 11-12, the disciples should not be fearful or anxious when they are persecuted, because the Holy Spirit “will teach” them what to say.
We turn now to verse 10. Both Matthew (12:32) and Luke (12:10) record the same declaration by Jesus. Jesus states that words spoken against the “Son of Man” shall be forgiven, but blasphemy, against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven.
A key question with regard to Luke 12:10 is, “To whom do these comments apply?” According to one view, Jesus talks is speaking about unbelievers in the first part of verse 10 and the disciples in the second part. When unbelievers speak a word against the Son of Man, they shall be forgiven. It is disciples, however, who commit blasphemy against the Spirit. They fail to heed the voice of the Spirit and witness during times of persecution. By their failure, they become apostate.
Another view is that throughout verse 10 Jesus is speaking about the opponents of the disciples and the gospel. When such opponents speak against the Son of Man, they shall be forgiven. However, if they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, they shall not be forgiven. By rejecting the Spirit-inspired message of the disciples, they blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
Under both views, the first part of verse 10 applies to unbelievers. Even though they may speak against the Son of Man, they may be forgiven. At first sight, this seems to be in contradiction to verse 9 where those who deny Jesus will be denied by Him. In verse 9 Jesus no doubt refers to people who remain resolute in their denial. People who have known Christ and turn their backs on Him often do so permanently. However, as verse 10 indicates, it is possible for people who speak against Christ to repent and be forgiven
The views stated above differ with regard to the second part of verse 10. According to the first view, it is disciples who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. The second view holds that unbeliever or opponents of the gospel are the blasphemers. The second view is more in harmony with Matthew and Mark. The context in Luke allows for either view.
We are not compelled to choose between these views. Under both views, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a rejection of His ministry and actions. Whether the rejection is by disciples or unbelievers may not be the main point. The crucial point is that the ministry of the Spirit is rejected.
We often call blasphemy against the Holy Spirit the unpardonable sin. It has not been easy for Bible scholars to explain why any sin is unpardonable. Moreover, as a practical matter, it has been difficult for pastors to deal with people who suspect that they may have committed the unpardonable sin. However, there is a general consensus among Bible scholars on several points.
First, the reason why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable lies in the fact that it is through the ministry of the Spirit that we come to Christ. Without Him, we will not come to repentance and remission of sins is not possible.
Second, it is when people have made a permanent and irreversible decision to reject the Spirit’s ministry that the sin is unforgivable. The unforgivable nature of the sin is tied to the continual and permanent opposition to the Spirit.
Third, although we cannot know who has committed the unpardonable sin, we do know that those who come in repentance to Jesus have not. The very fact that they are concerned and seek forgiveness is evidence that they have not absolutely rejected the work of the Spirit. The door of grace is still open to them.
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