In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus declares, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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 world or in the world to come.” Often, Christians worry about whether they have committed this unforgivable sin unknowingly, particularly because this verse does not do much to clarify the nature of the transgression. This quandary provides a prime example of why it’s so important to read Scripture in context: the immediately preceding discussion between Yeshua and the Pharisees shows that the unforgivable sin is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the work of Satan.

When the Pharisees hear that Jesus has cast out a demon from a formerly blind and mute man, they assert, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Matt 12:24). Yeshua replies, “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself… and if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:26-28). Jesus notes the Pharisees’ accusation that he exorcises by the power of Beelzebul (Βεελζεβοὺλ; Hebrew: בעל זבוב)—a Philistine deity that he associates with Satan (cf. 2 Kgs 1:1-4). However, Yeshua dispels this Pharisaic allegation by suggesting that it is not a demon that healed the blind man, but rather the “Spirit of God” (πνεύματι θεοῦ; pneúmati theou). The messianic exorcism that the Pharisees attributed to the work of a foreign god was actually achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Immediately after the Pharisees misidentify the power behind Jesus’ work, the Messiah mentions blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In light of this context, readers can know that to “speak against the Holy Spirit” is to attribute an act of the Spirit to Satan. Therefore, in order for someone to commit the “unforgivable sin,” that person would need to see or hear about a miraculous act of God and reject it as the devil’s doing. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit isn’t just any old error that one might commit unwittingly; rather, the unforgivable sin is a deliberate declaration that identifies divine activity as a diabolic endeavor.

The takeaway from this passage is, on the one hand, that Christians might think twice about rushing to label another self-identified Christian ministry or movement as “demonic”—if the indictment is incorrect, it could lead to an interminable iniquity. This is why Jesus follows his exposition of the unforgivable sin by saying that “people will give account for every careless word they speak” (12:36). On the other hand, as long as believers are not in the habit of slandering their fellow Christians as satanic they can know that they have not perpetrated this unpardonable offense. To be sure, the New Testament says to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1), but testing spirits in order to avoid false teachings need not include accusations of devilish dealings. Jesus advises that, in order to avoid swearing an oath falsely, one should not swear at all (see Matt 5:33-34). A similar principle applies in the case of the unforgivable sin: in order to ensure no slander against the Spirit… don’t slander at all.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. … oh, yes … right from the beginning, the new budding Christianity was plagued by the Judas’ & Simon Magus … thus, leading into an immediate distortion of the Gospel & of the truth & true nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah … yes, how desperately murky are these waters of attribution of miracles, signs & wonders … but, of a certainty the hallmark of the Holy Spirit is compassion in Action (The Acts of the Apostles); also the amazing virtue of Moses & the parting of the Red Sea … God is not so much about spectacle … His Holy Spirit is the delicate impartation of Divine Compassion, Grace, & ‘corrective measures’ … so … as to slander or gossip … well, I should say that slander in any & all cases is worse that the CORONA 19 virus … it’s a devastating blasphemy against body, soul, & spirit … & just as deadly … remember that the next time you ‘suddenly’ feel tempted to slander or gossip, or wag your head in agreement just to please the crowd … keep your soul & your integrity by not allowing such things to enter your mind or part from your lips …

  2. … just to mention as well the apalling History of the ‘lie factory’ that the Romans created to falsify the Resurrection & even to deny there even was a crucifixion as some Faiths believe … & the ‘Holy’ Roman Empire was anything but a ‘shadow’ of atrocities up until the current time… the most distorting factor of budding Christianity came out of the Roman ‘church’ … & thus, the pitfalls of blundering with bickering over dogma we have ‘inherited’ ever since… so, if anything is unpardonable, it’s those that ‘take away’ or ‘add to’ the Word of God decreeing that their opinion is Truth … ‘teaching other’s likewise’ … thanks be to God, for the fragments of the truth of situations that come down to us; such as the Letters of Pontius Pilate, which are totally awesome & enlightening as testament of the truth & reality of the entire experience of our Lord Jesus Christ; our Messiah & His journey to the Cross … & the Miracles at the Temple & throughout Jerusalem at His last breath …

  3. You’re partially right. It’s unacceptable that Jesus accepted the accusation of casting out demons by Blezeebul. There’s a if clause. 2nd, denying Jesus’ Messianic vocation and bringer of God’s Kingdom. Because at the beginning of the chapter he said that the Spirit of Lord is upon me and so on… So denying Jesus as King and his vocation is unpardonable sin.

    • Thanks for your comments, Uday. The article doesn’t say that Jesus “accepted the accusation”; to the contrary, it says that “Yeshua dispels this Pharisaic accusation.” More, the unpardonable sin cannot be a denial of Jesus or his vocation, since he says that “whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven” (Matt 12:32). The unforgivable sin concerns the Spirit, not the Son. Elsewhere, Jesus says “whoever denies me before human beings, I will likewise deny before my Father who is in heaven” (10:33), but denial of the Son can be forgiven (cf. 12:32) whereas blasphemy against the Spirit cannot.

    • There are several so-called “letters of Pontius Pilate,” and an internet search will yield some of them. However, they do not originate with Pilate, nor do they date to the first century (all references to these letters post-date the New Testament).

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  4. Your statement “the unforgivable sin is a deliberate declaration” is backed up in John chapter 3 where Nicodemis, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus at night. He said “We know that you are a teacher come from God”. Nicodemis confesses that the Pharisees knew that Jesus was sent by God yet in Matthew 12 they knowingly attribute the works to Satan. This is different than some believers who unknowingly label others as being from Satan.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  5. At last I found a convincing presentation on the unpardonable sin that tells the whole truth based on The Word. I’ve almost spent a lifetime waiting to see this from so many writers, but this one convinced me that I just found the answer in your article. Thank you.

  6. FWIW – Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. [Ex. 20:7, JPS Tanakh 1917]

  7. Dear Dr Nicholas, your article on “What is the Unforgivable Sin?” has clarified doubts I had. Can you connect Matthew 7:21-23 to the topic and explain how can one cast out demons in Jesus’ name and cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

    • Thanks for your question, Daniel. Since the name of Jesus has power in itself, those who are not his followers can invoke his name in order to cast out demons (see Acts 19:13-17). However, in Matt 7:21-23, Jesus stresses that casting out demons in his name does not translate to relationship with him.

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  8. Thanks for this lesson! I also believe that there is another sin which God finds unforgivable…turning away from Jesus, the true source of all creation, to another god. Personal failure is not the same as trading Jesus for another god. And God knows the difference. Which is why King David did not die but Saul died because of asking for the spirit of Samuel rather than God.

    • Thanks for your comments. Turning away from Jesus would be a sin “against the Son of Man,” which Jesus says “will be forgiven” (Matt 12:32). Saul did ask for the Lord’s counsel but God did not respond to him (see 1 Samuel 28:6). God’s silence led Saul to consult Samuel.

  9. Thanks you so much Dr. Schaser. I didn’t know this and I didn’t find in the past a pastor who could answer this particular question. Thank you. I’m so happy that I find your Bible Center, to learn more. Molte grazie!!!!!!

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