Revisiting The Unpardonable Sin: Insight From An Unexpected Source -- By: Duane Litfin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:4 (Dec 2017)
Article: Revisiting The Unpardonable Sin: Insight From An Unexpected Source
Author: Duane Litfin

Revisiting The Unpardonable Sin:
Insight From An Unexpected Source

Duane Litfin*

* Duane Litfin served for seventeen years as the president of Wheaton College, 501 College Ave., Wheaton, IL 60187. He may be contacted at

Abstract: Jesus’s indictment of the “eternal sin” of blaspheming the Holy Spirit has perplexed his church from the beginning, leading to a variety of interpretations. Most of these interpretations have attempted to soften the harshness of Jesus’s indictment by redefining the unpardonable sin or by supplying the unwritten premise “unless they repent.” This article, by contrast, seeks to concede the sharpness of Jesus’s verdict and then asks what there was about the Pharisees’ offense that prompted it. To answer this question, this article looks to the ancient rhetorical treatment of apodeixis. Jesus’s opponents were the beneficiaries of an extraordinary measure of both verbal and apodictic light. To this maximum light they responded with maximum rejection. This unique combination of maximum light and maximum rejection is what prompted Jesus’s adamant verdict. Because these maximal conditions can no longer be met, the “eternal sin” of the Pharisees cannot be reenacted today.

Key words: unpardonable sin, unforgivable sin, eternal sin, Pharisees, blaspheming the Spirit, rhetoric, persuasion, evidence, demonstration, proof, faith

Few of the Bible’s declarations have vexed its readers more than this one: “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 age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:32).1

This is a startling claim, and a puzzling one. Echoed in Mark 3:28–30 and Luke 12:10, its cryptic judgment seems to run counter to the rest of the NT. Everywhere else the NT emphasizes grace and forgiveness. Only here does Jesus so abruptly and conclusively slam shut the door to heaven. Hence the perennial questions: What exactly is this “eternal sin,” and why is it alone unpardonable?2

For some, these questions are exegetical and theological; they seek to understand Christ’s enigmatic declaration and how it fits with the rest of his teaching. For others, the questions are more personal and existential. The notion of an unpardonable sin frightens them. They seek answers because they fear they or someone they know may have committed this unforgivable offen...

You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe
visitor : : uid: ()