“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:” (Mark 3:29 KJV)
According to the ESV Bible notes, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is “one of the most enigmatic, debated, and misunderstood sayings” of Jesus’ ministry. Furthermore, “Christians often worry that they have committed this sin, but such a concern is itself evidence of an openness to the work of the Spirit1”. This devotional briefly explains the meaning of this puzzling expression in an easy-to-understand format.
As with many parts of scripture, the key to understanding this expression is the context in which Jesus said it. The city was Capernaum, and Jesus had healed many and cast out demons such that large crowds from Jerusalem, Idumea, and “beyond Jordan” came unto Him (Mark 3:8). The entire city was so shaken by the miracles and expelling of demons that even Jesus’ friends thought He was mentally ill and attempted to seize Him, probably to put Him in “Mt Zion Psychiatric Hospital in Jerusalem” (Mark 8:21).
News of Jesus’ mighty works in Capernaum and the buzzing in the city soon reached Jerusalem. In response, certain scribes, experts of the Law of Moses, traveled from Jerusalem to Capernaum. But their intentions and perspective were diametrically opposite to those of the ordinary Jews. While the common people celebrated Jesus healing and casting out demons to bring wholeness to thousands, these scribes offered a scholarly and insulting religious explanation:
“And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” (Mark 3:22 KJV)
Could you imagine how ordinary people might have felt after hearing these words from their trusted religious leaders? What about Jesus? How did He feel? Just before these Jerusalem scribes came to Him, the Pharisees in Capernaum had already grieved Him deeply by their unbelief in the synagogue:
“And when he looked round about them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts….” (Mark 3:5 KJV)
So, when Jesus heard the words of these scribes, He said:
“Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness but is in danger of eternal damnation. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:28–30 KJV)
These verses understood in context clearly explain what Jesus meant by the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Here are a few key points to help clarify the meaning. First, these scribes spoke against the Holy Spirit. Second, their comments implied they called the Spirit Beelzebub, (unclean spirit) Satan. They recognized Jesus was operating supernaturally, so they acknowledged His works were not purely human. Since they could not deny the works, they attributed them to Satan. They knew those works were from God. But, because of their religious stance and the consequences of acknowledging the legitimacy of Jesus’ ministry, they rejected God willfully with a frightening hardness of heart and called His Spirit Beelzebub. Finally, they attributed the works of the Spirit to the works of Satan.
Therefore, Jesus used the expression “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” to refer to those deliberate words of profanity from people who knew God’s Spirit well yet disrespected and insulted Him by calling Him Satan.
A present-day picture of the context of the blasphemy of the Spirit will be helpful. It will be a Christian leader grounded in Bible scholarship or theology who recognizes the power of the Spirit working in another Christian minister in casting out demons. Yet, for whatever reason—theological differences, personal issues, envy, etc.—they decide to malign that ministry by speaking against it and telling their followers that the minister is using demonic power to work miracles. Although this present-day picture uses a Christian leader as the prototype for the scribes, anyone who meets the criteria above can potentially commit this unpardonable sin.
In summary, the eternal sin is not a sin of ignorance, mistake, or casual negligence. Instead, it is a deliberate act of well-informed people. It should not be a concern to most of you reading this. However, it should be a sober warning about speaking against ministers operating through the Spirit even when you disagree with them on certain things.
Can an unbeliever commit the eternal sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit from our discussion above?
Apply the Word
Watch your words against God’s ministers.
Ask the Father to help us learn to recognize Him working in other Christians even if we have significant differences.
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