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Why Is Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit Less Forgivable Than Against Jesus? 


          Why are insults against Jesus more forgivable than insults against the Holy Spirit?   Consider what Christ taught concerning insulting the Holy Spirit in Matt. 12:31-32:  "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever says a word against the Son of man [Jesus] will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."  In context, Jesus was replying against the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan (verse 24).   But Jesus was using the Holy Spirit as the source of His power to cast out evil spirits, the demons.  Perhaps, as “The Bible Background Commentary” explains in its volume on the New Testament  (p. 144), that here “Jesus probably means that [the Pharisees’ hearts] were becoming so hard they would never think to repent.”  The Pharisees were opposing Jesus’ messiahship so strongly that they were resorting to false accusations of sorcery in order to avoid admitting the Spirit’s signs that confirmed His identity.  By rejecting a key proof of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (i.e., His power to do miracles, such as by casting out demons), the Pharisees were permanently rejecting His identity.  If they could explain this power away, they could explain anything else away as proof that God sent Him.  By resorting to extremely tenuous explanations of Jesus’ power to do miracles, they were putting their own chance for salvation at risk.


          So why does God regard insults against the Holy Spirit as worse than insults against Jesus?  Maybe that's because the Holy Spirit is the means by which saved Christians are granted eternal life conditionally.  The continued, conditional presence of the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation (II Cor. 5:5).  Paul told us that (Col. 1:27) "Christ in you [is] the hope of glory [final salvation]." So then, if someone insults the means by which he or she would gain eternal life, there's no way for such a person to be saved.  II Cor. 3:17 says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."  So if Jesus is in us through us having the Spirit, and the Spirit is almost the same as Jesus Himself, then insults against the Spirit of God are really against Him also.   Furthermore, let’s consider an explanation found in Matthew Henry’s Commentary (p. 1675, one volume edition), the Holy Spirit was distributed and gained by Christians on Pentecost after much more knowledge was available about God’s truth (including Jesus’ death and resurrection), but while Jesus walked the earth in the flesh, people could have more doubts and uncertainty despite the miracles He did.  That is, as God allowed more evidence to be given over time, people have less excuse to deny the Holy Spirit than Jesus Himself.


          In Ephesians 4:30, Paul wrote:  "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."  Now the Greek word here is "lupeo," which means "to cause pain," "to distress," "to be sad," "to become sorrowful," and "to grieve."  According to the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English lexicon (p. 481), they think the word means in this context, "vex, irritate, offend, insult."  So clearly we can insult or offend the Holy Spirit by other means than with words.


          Let’s turn to a key proof of Jesus' Deity.  Consider Jesus' ability to forgive sins by His own authority.  While healing the paralytic, Jesus told him "your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5; cf. Luke 5:19).  Immediately, some of the scribes hearing Him questioned His apparent presumption:  "Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7).  Despite knowing their thinking, Jesus proceeded to assert His authority to forgive sins (v. 10), without doing anything to correct their interpretation of His statement.  Remember, He wasn't forgiving sins committed against Himself, i.e., as an individual who had been wronged or offended, but was forgiving sins generically.


          Now does Jesus’ ability to forgive sins really show that He is God (Mark 2:7-11)?   In response to this argument, it’s been said (while quoting John 20:23 as proof) that this power was later given to other men who clearly weren't God.  In this text, Jesus told the apostles:  "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."  Hence, if anyone can forgive anyone else for his or her sins, and assuming this wasn't a specific power given to the ministry about their authority to disfellowship/excommunicate (I Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13), then Jesus' power to forgive sins is no proof of His divinity.  So then, is there a difference between forgiving the sins of someone who did something against you personally, and generically forgiving the sins of someone who sinned against God or someone else?  For example, it makes sense I can forgive a friend in the church for offending me, but could I forgive (say) the sin of idolatry that a now repentant ex-Hindu committed by worshiping an idol in a temple in Calcutta last week?  It seems that this basic distinction between what sins that a man can forgive another man for is not some creation of traditional Protestantism attacking the power of Catholic priests to pronounce absolution upon a parishioner who confessed his sins, but reaches much further back. 


          Notice that Peter, long before the crucifixion, asked Jesus, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?" (Matt. 18:21).  I've heard it said that Peter's question was partially a response to a Jewish teaching that you had to forgive someone only three times for his or her sins against you.  Peter's question doesn't seem to reflect anything particularly innovative or "controversial," as if he were asking for a prerogative that only God had had, but he was asking for additional light on how to conduct his life properly.  Given this background, John 20:23 likely concerns the forgiveness of sins committed against the apostles personally, not the generic power to give absolution to the sins of all repentant comers, similar to what Catholic priests do after confessions.  There is no case in the New Testament in which an apostle forgave the sins of repentant believers that had been committed against God or against others besides himself.  Hence, for the Arians and Unitarians to carry this argument against the Deity of Christ, they have to prove more from Scripture that individual believers can directly forgive any sins committed by anyone else against anyone else.

          In order to avoid the witness of such texts as John 10:30-33 and John 8:58-59 for the Deity of Christ, it has been argued that the Jews misunderstood Jesus.  How is it known that they misunderstood Jesus?  It's assumed before experience (a priori) that the Old Testament almost uniformly reveals God to be one Person.  So when Jesus says anything that causes the Jews to accuse Him of making claims to divinity, it's said that their accusations can't be true in any shape or form.  But let's take a more open-minded approach that doesn’t automatically assume the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament is correct.  This argument's fundamental flaw is if someone allows others to think he is God when he isn't, and he fails to correct it immediately, he is abominably negligent morally.  Since Christ's character was so much higher than our own, an immediate and clear correction would have been morally required had others falsely thought that He was claiming to be God. 


          Undeniably, Jesus could attack clearly the errors and misunderstandings of His listeners when in debate or dialog with them, such as when Peter thought He wouldn't be crucified (Matt. 16:22-23) or when arguing with the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 22:15-46).  He corrected misunderstandings about how to keep the Sabbath when confronted with them (Luke 6:1-10; Mark 2:23-28).  Importantly, when the Jews were wrong on something, frequently it involved a misplaced emphasis or wrong spiritual priorities within a list of requirements to obey God, not complete error (Matt. 23:23; Mark 7:5-13).  Furthermore, three times in the Bible after someone mistakenly started worshiping someone else falsely, he was (or they were) immediately corrected.  When Cornelius "fell at his feet," Peter told him, "Stand up; I too am just a man"  (Acts 10:25-26).  Having been overwhelmed by the visions he had received through one angel, John "fell down to worship at the feet of the angel."  But the angel replied to him, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book; worship God" (Rev. 22:8-9).  After the pagans of Lystra misidentified Paul and Barnabas as the gods coming down to earth as men, they brought sacrifices out to offer to them.  In response, Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and cried out to the crowd, "Men, why are you doing these things?  We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them" (Acts 14:11, 14-15).  These were immediate, clear corrections, not implicit acceptances or "sidesteps" that partially changed the subject. 


          Hence, since Jesus failed to correct the misunderstandings of the Jews concerning His own identity, but was willing to correct them on just about everything else they had wrong (Matt. 23!), the accusations of the Jews can only be seen as correct.  Jesus didn't make His divine claims even more clear because He didn't want to be taken before His time (cf. John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:40).  Since the Jews were quick to pick up stones to throw at Him for committing seeming blasphemy (John 8:59; 10:31-32), there was no need to tempt fate unnaturally.


          It's a rationalization to say the Jews were trying to stone Jesus for asserting He was just a greater human than Abraham in John 8:53, 58-59 since the reasons to stone someone under the law were clear and narrow.  Notice that Jesus' repeated denunciations of the Pharisees never resulted in a stoning threat, including when He called them "sons of vipers" destined for the Lake of Fire (Matt. 23:33).  A person could be stoned for having a spirit (Lev. 20:27), cursing (blasphemy) (Lev. 24:10-23), false prophesying (Deut. 13:5-10), being a disobedient, stubborn son (Deut. 21:18-21), and the sexual sins of committing adultery and rape (Deut. 22:21-24; Lev. 20:10).  True, the Jews accused Jesus of demon possession (John 8:48, 52).  This Jesus plainly denied (v. 49).  The final trigger was Jesus' statement "before Abraham was born, I am" in v. 58, making it clear blasphemy was why they stoned him.  It has been claimed that Jesus was merely saying He was older than Abraham (which ironically undercuts a Unitarian interpretation of John 1:1 as an allegory since it concedes Jesus pre-existed literally, not just mentally in the mind of God).  But had Jesus only meant this, no stoning threats would have come His way, since asserting that He was older than Abraham wasn't blasphemous, but merely (seemingly) eccentric.  For Jesus to say lived before Abraham did, who had lived some 2000 years earlier, still reflected a question about His true identity, since no possible ordinary human could have lived that long before.  Neither in John 8:58-59 nor in John 10:30-39 did Jesus issue an equally plain denial that He was God, despite it would have instantly defused the second incident. 


          Furthermore, as it has been pointed out, the Gospel of John is full of Jesus making "I am" statements of unusual significance (John 4:26; 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8).  It's logical to conclude these statements are tied to one another thematically, so to translate John 8:58 as "I have been" robs it of its apparent tie to these other texts.  The contrast between Abraham's coming into existence and Jesus' "I am" of self-existence is paralleled by Psalms 90:2, which compares the mountains' coming into existence with God's eternal existence:  "Before the mountains were born . . . from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God."  As Robert Morey observes, the Greek words translated "I am," "ego eimi," are undeniably in the present indicative.  If Jesus had merely meant that He had existed before Abraham, He easily could have used the imperfect tense, "I was."  Claiming that Jesus used the historical present (which uses a present tense in order to make a description of a past event more vivid) is not persuasive, because this grammatical construction is found in narratives, not dialogs and debates, as in John 8.  Since Jesus nearly got stoned for saying "ego eimi," it's simply not convincing to believe those listening thought He merely meant, "I have existed," instead of, "I am that I am."


Here above blasphemy against Jesus and the Holy Spirit was explained and described.  We should always be wary of attacking a manifestation of God or His Power when sufficient proof via miracles and revealed character are available.  There’s no good reason to doubt then.


Eric Snow




Click here to access essays that defend Christianity:  /apologetics.html

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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

Do you have an immortal soul? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Here and Hereafter.htm

Does the ministry have authority? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is There an Ordained Ministry vs Edwards.html

Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm

Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm

Is Jesus God? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is Jesus God.htm

Will there be a third resurrection? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Will There Be a Third Resurrection.htm



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