The Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit1 -- By: William W. Combs

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 009:1 (Fall 2004)
Article: The Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit1
Author: William W. Combs

The Blasphemy Against
the Holy Spirit1

William W. Combs2

In Matthew 12:31, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”3 This sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is commonly called the unpardonable sin. In Mark’s account of this same incident, Jesus says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (3:29). What is this terrible sin from which there can be no redemption? This essay will attempt to decide that question while at the same time examining most of the solutions that have been proposed.4

History Of Interpretation

This section will attempt to survey the history of interpretation of the unpardonable sin in the Gospels. Though it is not possible to deal with everyone who has ever written on this subject, it is helpful to chronicle, where possible, the origin of different interpretations, as well as subsequent development and modification.

Early Church

The various viewpoints expressed in the early church concerning the unpardonable sin can generally be subsumed in one of the following three categories.

Nonspecific Views

A number of church Fathers make only passing reference to the unpardonable sin. They may offer no explanation as to the nature of the sin; or, if they do, it is often so brief as to raise as many questions as it answers. Therefore, it seems best to place them in this category.

Possibly the earliest reference to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is found in the Didache: “Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven.”5 Apparently, the Didachist connects the blasphemy against the Spirit with trying or judging prophets because prophecy is a function of the Spirit. However, the Didachist’s interpretation of Matthew 12:32 may be another example of reading his own meaning into the Gospel texts, a practice for which he is known to be guilty.6

Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200) seems to connect the sin with a denial of the gift of prophecy, possibly similar to the Didache.

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