The gospel is to be preached to every person in the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16). Everyone in the world has an opportunity and an obligation to repent. It is a basic rule of sacred hermeneutics that simple, plain passages should govern the interpretation of the more obscure and difficult passages. The Bible is clear that the gospel is to be preached to everyone and that God wants all men to be saved and to come to repentance (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). But the logical conclusion to be drawn under the view of some, is there is a class of people who cannot obey, who cannot be forgiven and are eternally lost even if they were to repent.
Jesus said that “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” (Matt. 12:31,32).
Jesus said this soon after the Pharisees had accused Him of healing one possessed with a devil through the Spirit of God by the Beelzebub the prince of devils. Some brethren take the view that the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is the very specific act of attributing to the power of satan the miracles which Jesus performed through the power of the Holy Spirit. Kyle Butt has written: “Even when faced by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through Jesus, the Pharisees were, in essence, attributing Jesus’ power to Satan, and claiming that Jesus was ‘Satan incarnate instead of God incarnate. It is this, and nothing else, that our Lord calls the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (or Spirit—KB)'”
Another has written, for example, “When the Pharisees saw Jesus cast out a demon, but ascribed the power by which He did it to the devil, Jesus said they would never be forgiven for that” (Blasphemy of the Spirit, Jan. 24).
First, Jesus did say these things because they had affirmed He had an unclean spirit (Mark 3:30). But Jesus also said that a kingdom divided against itself could not stand because they affirmed He had an unclean spirit (v. 25). Jesus also said you first have to bind the strong man before you can spoil his house because they said He did these works by the power of Beelzebub (v. 27). These statements also explain verse thirty.
Verse thirty merely says that Jesus gave this discourse because they accused Him of working for the devil it does not say that the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is “attributing Jesus’ power to Satan” nor does it say that Jesus said that the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost “is this and nothing else.” As brother H. Leo Boles has written: “Many construe this to mean that Jesus defined the attributing the works of Jesus to the evil power as the sin against the Holy Spirit; but the Bible does not say so, nor anything that implies this. Read Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10.” In other words, verse thirty does not give us anything we didn’t already know from the beginning when the scribes and Pharisees actually accused Jesus of working for satan (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22).
The parallel passage in Matthew explains that the “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” is “speaking against the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 12:31,32). Speaking against the Holy Ghost covers a broad spectrum of actions. Certainly denying that the miracles came from God is one, but not the only, blasphemous action. “To disobey and reject God was to blaspheme him; to reject and disobey Jesus was to blaspheme him; to reject and disobey the teachings of the Holy Spirit was to blaspheme him” (Boles, Commentary on Matthew).
Second, there must be a reason why Jesus said blaspheming the Son of man is less offensive than blaspheming the Holy Ghost (Matt. 12:32). It certainly could not be because One was more important than the other. Both are members of the Godhead and equal in divinity (cf. e.g. Acts 5:3,4). However, the Lord made a distinction between His work and the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7,8).
As brother Boles further explained: “Many could and did reject Jesus while he was on earth, but when the Holy Spirit came and testified of him, they accepted Christ. But when the Holy Spirit came and gave the complete will of God, if men rejected this, there was no other evidence to be furnished, no other divine agency to be given, and if they finally rejected the Holy Spirit, there was no forgiveness for them. . .It is in perfect harmony with all these scriptures and with all the facts recorded in the Bible for Jesus, when they charged him with acting by the power of the devil, to warn them that they might do this now to him and find forgiveness; but if they so rejected and treated the Holy Spirit when he came, there would be no forgiveness, for there would be no more testimony and no more opportunity to repent. It refers, of course, to the final rejection of the will of God.”
Those who take the “attribution view” state that Jesus said that those who committed this sin could never be forgiven. They understand Jesus’ words “shall not be forgiven” (Matt. 12:31,32) and “hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” to mean that it was impossible to be forgiven, ever! Kyle Butt states, “Mark’s account, with its emphasis on eternity, shows that the phrase simply is meant to underscore the fact that this sin will “absolutely never” be forgiven.”
Are those who say that this is the specific sin of attributing to satan what Christ has done through the Holy Spirit saying that if the one who said this were to later be convinced of his error, he could not repent and turn to Christ and be forgiven? Are they saying that a sincere, penitent believer would be rejected by the Lord because once, in his past, he blasphemed the Holy Ghost?
If they say that such a one who blasphemed the Holy Ghost would never repent, I would ask “How do they know this?” The text does not say that someone who blasphemed the Holy Ghost would never, could never repent. Jesus does not say that they cannot repent, He says only that “it shall not be forgiven him” (Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10).
But the question is why will it not be forgiven? Brother G. K. Wallace wrote, “The unpardonable sin is a condition of the heart and not a single act. When one’s heart becomes so corrupt and hardened that he cannot be moved to repentance, he has passed the point of redemption. . .Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mat. 12:34). Those who “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” were corrupt at heart. Their hearts were so hardened that they could not be moved. Such a condition makes it impossible to be saved because they cannot be prompted to repent. It is impossible to “renew some again to repentance.” If they could be made to repent they could be saved.” (G. K. Wallace, quoted in The Beacon, Vol. XXXVIII / No. 49 December 7, 2009).
A final question has to be addressed. Some fear that they may have committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Some try to comfort those who ask this question by saying that they cannot now commit this sin because “the situation of those Pharisees cannot be reproduced today. No one today has seen Jesus cast out a demon” (Midway church of Christ). But the particular situation had nothing particularly to do with this sin.
As brother Wallace states, “The very fact that you are troubled shows that you have not gone beyond redemption. It is not a sin of impulse or passion. David made a great mistake for which he was forgiven. The unpardonable sin is a condition of the heart and not a single act. When one’s heart becomes so corrupt and hardened that he cannot be moved to repentance, he has passed the point of redemption. . . Jesus said ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh’ (Matt. 12:34). Those who ‘blasphemed the Holy Spirit’ were corrupt at heart. Their hearts were so hardened that they could not be moved. Such a situation makes it impossible to be saved because they cannot be prompted to repent” (G. K. Wallace, quoted in The Beacon, Vol. XXXVIII / No. 49 December 7, 2009).
Eric L. Padgett