This is a question of no little concern for many people, some of whom fear they may have committed it. The thought of being guilty of a sin that can never be forgiven is indeed a very frightening thought.
Let’s try to understand what this is all about. In the first place, let’s make sure we understand what the word “blasphemy” means. To blaspheme means to speak evil of; to revile; to slander or defame. We find the word used more than 50 times in the NT. For instance, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, it says that those who passed by “derided” him. The Greek word is the word for blasphemy. They blasphemed him. They spoke evil of him, slandered him, defamed him.
In the book of Acts, when Paul was preaching in Pisidian Antioch, and large crowds came to hear him, it says, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him” (Acts 13:45). Literally, they “blasphemed” him.
In other places in the NT we read of the word of God being blasphemed (spoken against, Tit. 2:5), the way of the truth being blasphemed (2 Pet. 2:2), angels being blasphemed (Jude 8), and even God himself being blasphemed. In the book of Revelation, as God is shown pouring out his judgments on the wicked, it says that they “cursed [blasphemed] the God of heaven for their pain and sores” (Rev. 16:11; cf. v. 21).
Jesus mentions blasphemy specifically against the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12 and the parallel account in Mark 3. The occasion was this: He had just cast a demon out of a man that made the man both blind and mute, so that when the demon was driven out by the power of Christ the man was able to both see and speak. The Bible tells us that the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” Can this be the long-expected Messiah?
But when the Pharisees heard what the people were saying, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” This is when Jesus says, “Look, every kingdom which is divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?”
He says, “No it’s not by Satan that I cast out demons. The very notion is foolish.” And he goes on to say that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that he casts out demons. He says, “How can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” In other words, “It’s not because I am in league with the devil that I do these things. Rather it is because through the Holy Spirit I have power over the devil.” This, then, is when he says,
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And 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. 12:31-32)In Mark’s Gospel we have the further explanation that Jesus said this because “they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit’ ” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus performed the miracle by the Spirit of God. They said it was by the power of an unclean spirit. They attributed an obvious work of the Spirit of God to the operation of the devil. Thus they blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Now why is it that blasphemy against the Son of Man, against Christ (Matt. 12:32) – will be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I think the answer is this: the glory of Christ’s divinity was hidden, as it were, beneath the veil of his flesh, and thus people might be mistaken as to his divine nature. But there was no excuse for knowingly and willingly attributing an obviously miraculous and good work of the Spirit to the devil.
To ease the conscience of any who are concerned that they may have committed this sin without knowing it, let me say three things. First, it is not at all certain that it’s even possible to commit the sin today when Jesus is not here in the flesh performing miracles by the power of the Spirit. Second, the very nature of the sin requires that it be done consciously by knowingly attributing an obvious work of the Spirit to the devil. Third, the very fact that a person is concerned about it is one of the strongest possible evidences that he has not committed the sin. A person who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit, we have reason to believe, has become so hardened in sin, and so calloused to the things of God, that he doesn’t care whether or not he’s committed it. Such a person has been given over to a depraved mind.