The Bible’s Answer
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “[Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:22–30, ESVUK)
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to [Jesus], and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22–32)
8 “And I [Jesus] tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:8–12)
What Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit Is Linked to
First, take note of Mark’s passage. After the Lord Jesus mentions the eternal sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Mark says, “for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit” (emphasis added). Mark uses that special word “for” to explain why Jesus warned the people about blaspheming the Holy Spirit: because they were saying that he had an unclean spirit (i.e. a demon). Thus, in Mark, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is related with saying that Jesus performs miracles not by the Holy Spirit (as he does, according to Mt 12:28), but rather by an unclean spirit or a demon.
Second, take note of Matthew’s passage. Matthew says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt 12:30–31). Here, note that Jesus says “Therefore”—or “For this reason”—”I tell you”. This directs our attention to what Jesus just said in the previous sentence: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30). Thus, in Matthew, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is related with not siding with Jesus, thus putting oneself against him, and refusing to gather with him.
Third, take note of Luke’s passage. Observe what comes directly before Jesus’ warning against blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Lk 12:8–9). Jesus, by speaking about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit directly after warning his disciples against denying him before people, is linking the two together. Thus, in Luke, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is related with publicly denying Jesus, as opposed to publicly acknowledging him.
It’s important to note that in the above Bible passages, Jesus does not explicitly define blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Rather, he describes what is linked or associated with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. To summarise: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is linked with when one says that Jesus performs miracles by the power of Satan, when one doesn’t side with Jesus, thus putting him or herself against Jesus, and refuses to gather with him, and when one publicly denies Jesus.
Have I Committed Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?
With all this being said, we now get to the question that every Christian asks who has come across this passage: have I committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? A sin so great that it is the only sin that is eternal and that can never be forgiven by God?
The short answer is: no, you have not—at least not as long as you still have time to repent and believe in Jesus. In fact, it’s impossible to commit this sin before the moment we die. The reason why it’s impossible to commit the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit while we still live—and why we can say this with absolute certainty—is because Jesus forgave the Apostle Peter.
Why Jesus Forgiving Peter Is Significant
In the passage from Luke above, Jesus said that whoever publicly denies him will be denied before the angels of God, and he said this just before warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit. We know from the Bible, however, that while Jesus was unjustly put on trial before his death and crucifixion, Peter denied Jesus three times. We read, in Luke’s Gospel:
59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with [Jesus], for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:59–62)
As we can see from this heart-wrenching account, Peter betrayed his Lord by publicly denying him three times, and felt terrible afterwards. According to Jesus’ earlier saying, a person who denies him publicly will also be denied before the angels of God. However, despite this, after Jesus rose again from the dead, Jesus found Peter and forgave him:
17 [Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17–19)
What this shows is that even someone who has denied the Lord in his or her lifetime—a sin that is linked with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—can still be forgiven by God. Forgiveness comes when a person repents of their denial and puts their faith in Jesus as their only Saviour, just as Peter did. In fact, the Apostle Paul said that he was even worse than Peter—describing himself as the foremost (or chief) of sinners (1Tim 1:16). But after that, Paul says:
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:17)
Paul, who was infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit when he penned (or dictated to a scribe) this letter to his disciple, Timothy, described himself as the chief of sinners. This means that if Paul was forgiven by Jesus, even though he was the worst sinner, you can most definitively be forgiven, since you are not the worst sinner.
So, Then, What Is Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?
This brings us back to our original question: what, then, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—the one and only sin that can’t be forgiven? In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus links blasphemy against the Holy Spirit with saying that Jesus performs miracles by the power of Satan, not siding with Jesus, thus putting oneself against him, and refusing to gather with him, and publicly denying Jesus. In and of themselves, these do not fully constitute blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What does ultimately constitute blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when one does these things without repenting of them.
The best way of explaining this is by looking at the rest of the New Testament. This is because when we encounter difficult passages, like the passages on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, we can often understand them better by looking at easier—and sometimes more numerous—passages which can shed light on them. The sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not mentioned anywhere else in the entire Bible—it’s only found in the three pericopes mentioned at the beginning of this article. However, elsewhere in the New Testament, there is actually one—and only one—other sin that is also said to be unforgiveable, and that is the sin of unbelief till death—the sin of dying in a state of not having believed in Jesus for salvation. This is plainly taught in the following passages (and many more), which, as we can see, are more numerous than the handful of passages on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit:
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:45–46)
… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:7b–10)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)
11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11–12)
As sinners, we all deserve eternal punishment (Rm 3:23), which is why our only chance of salvation is to accept the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Christ Jesus, while there’s still time to do so (Rm 6:23). It’s too late to repent and believe in Jesus after you die, because: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement” (Heb 9:27). The reason why unbelief till death is an unforgiveable sin is because unbelief is refusal to accept God’s salvation in Christ Jesus. It is the equivalent of refusing to hang on to the life jacket that God has thrown to us, as we were drowning in the sea of our sins. This life is the one chance to grab hold of it and be saved, but the unbeliever who dies in his or her sins has failed to do so.
So, we have not one, but two unforgiveable sins: unbelief till death, and a mysterious sin called blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—or do we? Are these two different sins, or rather the same sin with a different name? When we look at the three passages that mention blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and examine the three things that are linked with it, all three of them involve disbelieving in Jesus. Attributing Jesus’ miraculous powers to Satan rather than the Holy Spirit, choosing not to side with Jesus and refusing to gather with him, and publicly denying him, are all acts of (profound) unbelief. When looked at in this light, the other New Testament passages which talk about unbelief till death help explain what Jesus meant by blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Namely, they explain that when a person continues to remain in a state of unbelief till the day they die, that is when they have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—a sin for which they will be eternally guilty and will never receive forgiveness.
Therefore, when we compare Jesus’ teachings on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit with what the rest of the New Testament teaches on unbelief till death, it becomes clear that these are not two different things but the same. The eternal sin—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—is none other than the sin of refusing or failing to believe in Jesus till the day you die. Every other sin can be forgiven, if only one repents of it and turns to the Lord Jesus in faith for forgiveness, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit (1Jn 1:8–10).
Why Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit Specifically (Rather Than the Son or the Father)?
An interesting question to ponder is why Jesus called the sin of unbelief till death blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, specifically, rather than blasphemy against God the Father, or blasphemy against himself (the Son). After all, technically, to disbelieve till the day you die is also blasphemy against Jesus and the Father. While the Bible doesn’t directly answer this question, we can come to an educated guess based upon biblical evidence as to why unbelief till death is a sin against the Holy Spirit more than anything.
The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity (e.g. Mt 28:19; Ac 5:3–4), whose primary work on the Earth today is not to glorify himself, but to testify and point all people to Jesus (Jn 16:14–15), the Second Person of the Trinity (Jn 1:1, 14; 20:28; Col 2:9). Jesus said:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13–15)
This is similar to when Jesus the Son, during his time on the Earth, lived not to glorify himself, but to glorify his Father in Heaven (Jn 8:49–50), the First Person of the Trinity. Furthermore, we know from the Bible that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings people to faith in Jesus Christ and makes people Christians (1Cor 2:10–14). For this reason, to resist the message of salvation in Jesus (the Gospel), or to speak against it, is to resist and speak against the Holy Spirit, who brings to us the message and testifies to it, and who lives and works within those who proclaim Jesus. This is exactly what we see happening in the following account in the early Church’s history, when the Deacon Stephen said to the unbelieving Jews:
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
54 Now when [the Jews] heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:51–60)
Here, we see a stark contrast between Stephen, a Christian Jew, and the unbelieving Jews. Stephen, who testified to Jesus Christ, was full of the Holy Spirit. But the unbelieving Jews, who opposed Stephen’s message about Jesus, resisted the Holy Spirit. This account is a fulfilment of what we saw Jesus say to his disciples earlier, in Luke’s account on the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, when he assured them that when they get persecuted, the Holy Spirit will teach them what they ought to say (Lk 12:8–12).
So, in light of the above evidence, it seems that the reason why Jesus calls the eternal sin of unbelief till death blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, rather than blasphemy against the Father or the Son, is because the Holy Spirit is the Evangelist of the Trinity, who works through Christians to testify to Jesus in the world. So, to resist or speak against the Christian Gospel is to resist or speak against the Holy Spirit and his testimony. The Holy Spirit is the truth (1Jn 5:6–8), and those who resist him and his message resist the truth of God in Christ Jesus. Those who do so till the day they die have chosen, by their own fault, to be separated from God eternally. But thanks be to God that he continues to send the Holy Spirit into the world to bring people to faith in Jesus (1Cor 2:10–14), so that all who believe may receive the free gift of eternal life in Jesus our Saviour.