Vol. 8, No. 3
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The passage from which the question arises is Matthew 12:31-32 and the correlating verses in the other Gospel accounts.
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
Before much consideration can be given to the question itself, terms must be defined. "The word 'blasphemy' is practically confined to speech defamatory of the Divine Majesty" (Vine's) Blasphemy means "'defamation' or 'evil-speaking' in general...'impious and irreverent speech against God'" (ISBE). The term "speak against" is simply a definition of blasphemy.
The context of the passage shows Jesus responding to an accusation. Jesus had just healed "one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb" (verse 22). The Pharisees thought he had done so "by Beelzebub the prince of the devils" (verse 24), implying that a servant of Satan cast out Satan. The Pharisees were in direct denial of the miraculous power of Christ as the miracle was done by the Spirit of God (verse 28) and not the power of Satan.
It was through this denial the Pharisees blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. They refused to see the truth that came through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees saw firsthand the miraculous ability of Jesus, yet hardened their hearts so as not to believe. "The sin...would appear to have consisted in attributing to the power of Satan those unquestionable miracles that Jesus performed by 'the finger of God' and by the power of the Holy Spirit" (New Unger's).
As to Christ's teaching concerning 'blasphemy' against the Holy Spirit, e.g., Matt 12:32, that anyone, with the evidence of the Lord's power before His eyes, should declare it to be Satanic, exhibited a condition of heart beyond divine illumination and therefore hopeless. Divine forgiveness would be inconsistent with the moral nature of God. As to the Son of Man, in his state of humiliation, there might be misunderstanding, but not so with the Holy Spirit's power demonstrated. (Vine's)
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was attributing the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit, of which the blasphemers were eye-witnesses, to Satan...To attribute the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, whether manifested through Christ, the apostles or others, was a denial of undeniable evidence. (Rushmore 83)
It was through their hard heartedness the sin was unpardonable. It is not the case God would not forgive them; rather it is through their hard hearted nature they would not seek repentance, thus God could not forgive them.
The text also relates a harsher punishment for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit than for blasphemy against God or Christ. Notice, if one refuses Christ as the Messiah, he can still be corrected through the work of the Holy Spirit. Use the apostle Paul as an example. He was once the great persecutor of the church. He arrested, tortured and murdered countless Christians. On the other hand, he "obtained mercy" (1 Timothy 1:13). The Holy Spirit guided Ananias to him. The Spirit taught Paul through Ananias; thus Paul became obedient. One who blasphemes against Christ still has the possibility of seeing the truth.
But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is in its nature an eternal sin, for if one rejects the evidence given by the Holy Spirit and ascribes it to Satan, he rejects the only evidence upon which faith can be based; and without faith there is no forgiveness. The difference in the two sins is therefore in no way due to any difference in the Son and Spirit as to their degrees of sanctity or holiness. (McGarvey)
The Holy Spirit represented the Godhead's final visitor to earthly habitations to call men to redemption. Rejecting the Holy Spirit, therefore, meant rejecting every Divine effort (including Jesus Christ) and the Godhead's last attempt to save fallen men. (Rushmore 83)
Another question that comes to mind while discussing this topic is whether or not it is possible for one to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit today. In a sense, the answer is "No." We are not able to refuse the miraculous ability of the Holy Spirit working before our eyes and attribute it to Satan. This cannot be done directly because miracles do not occur today. Miracles had a purpose which is now fulfilled. They were designed to confirm the Word (Mark 16:20). Hebrews 2:3 shows they have already confirmed the Word. The miraculous ability was given to servants of God as proof they were servants of God. In addition, only the apostles were able to pass the miraculous ability to other persons (Acts 8). When all the apostles died, passing miraculous ability to others died with them. When all who could perform miracles died, the miraculous era died with them.
In a sense, "Yes" one can blaspheme against the Holy Spirit today, as we have the Bible to see if what is taught is indeed the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Through the Scriptures, the miraculous events of the New Testament stand as evidence for Christians today (John 20:30-31). Those who deny these events actually occurred are essentially blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Those who attribute these events to Satan and his workers are essentially blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. A man can harden his heart to the point the Word will not soften it; thus the individual refuses to seek repentance (1 Timothy 4:1-2). The Holy Spirit gives us the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16); refusing the Scriptures as the Word of God is refusing the Spirit as the messenger of God.
To sin against the Holy Spirit is to refuse to do what the Holy Spirit commands, or to go beyond his commands, just as to sin against Jesus or against God was to sin against their commands...The sin against the Holy Spirit, I believe, is to persistently and finally reject his teaching and refuse his testimony...To blaspheme the Holy Ghost is to speak reproachfully against the Spirit and its teachings, or authority. To sin against the Holy Spirit is to refuse and reject or disregard his teaching. (qtd. in Rushmore 84)
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
McGarvey, J.W. and Phillip Y. Pendleton. The Four-Fold Gospel. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.
New Unger's Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody, 1988.
Rushmore, Louis. The Spirit Summarized. Steubenville: Louis Rushmore, 1994.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.