Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

© Copyright 2003 by John Baskette

For a good year and a half after I first became a Christian, I was very worried about the issue of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I thought I might have committed this sin and was therefore eternally lost. I thought that I was like Esau who sold his birthright for one morsel of meat and who, "when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears" (Heb. 12:17). [1]

I also once knew a teenager who, in an attempt to free himself from the moral strictures to which he felt bound, deliberately tried to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Later, after he repented and turned again to the Lord, he deeply regretted his attempt and feared that he, too, was one of those sons of perdition who desired repentance, but whom the Lord could never forgive.

No Christians that I knew at the time (or since for that matter) believed that anyone still living could be in this situation. The belief was that "him that cometh to me (Jesus) I will in no wise cast out." This conclusion I think was correct, but many accompanying arguments were not convincing to me at the time. These other arguments were along the lines of re-defining blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as being "final rejection of Christ" and assertions that once you are saved, you are always saved so it is impossible for a Christian to commit this sin. Since these other arguments were not convincing to me, I had a difficult time dealing with this fear.

I think that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was just what it says in the text of Mark 3:28-29: "I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." Jesus said this in response to the Pharisees, who had called the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus cast out demons an unclean spirit.

My deliverance from this terrible doubt came about through a better understanding of repentance and faith. It seems clear to me now that no one can repent and believe in Christ apart from the working of God. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), and "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37). If my friend or I had actually committed an unpardonable sin, then the Father would not have drawn us to repentance and faith in Christ. We can conclude this because we know that Jesus will not cast out anyone who comes to Him. He would have to cast us out if we were guilty of an unpardonable sin.

Jesus tells us that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to draw us to Christ and bring us to repentance: "When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned" (John 16:8-11). When we are truly sorry for our sin and desire to be forgiven by God, we are repenting. However we get to a place where we are repenting[2], our repentance is, in itself, an evidence of the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit - it is not an evidence of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The test is not: are you sinning and feeling rejected by God? The test is whether you want to be forgiven. If you commit an unpardonable sin, you have utterly and completely rejected the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and you can't care about it - you will have a complete disdain and revulsion to the things of the gospel. If you are worried that you are beyond God's grace, if you fear God's judgment, if you desire to be saved, the Holy Spirit is still working in you and you cannot have utterly and completely rejected God or have blasphemed the Holy Spirit

This is what is taught in Hebrews: "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance" (6:4-6a). Those spoken of here have not necessarily blasphemed the Holy Spirit, but they have knowingly rejected the gifts and power of God. Note that the passage does not say that these individuals can try to repent, but cannot be saved. It says that it is not possible for us to renew them to repentance at all. The same can be said of any individual who blasphemes the Holy Spirit. Their sin is unforgivable; therefore they cannot repent and believe, period. They cannot experience sorrow, regret, fear, worry, or panic that they are beyond God's forgiveness.

What about my friend who says he really did it? He repented; therefore he could not really have done it.

Mark 3:29 says, "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin" because they said, "He has an evil spirit" (30). It would seem that one who "will never be forgiven" is eternally damned, not in danger of eternal damnation. I interpret the passage to mean that while the Pharisees did call the spirit in Christ unclean, it is possible that they did not actually blaspheme the Holy Spirit. They were in danger of doing so, but they may not have recognized that it was the Holy Spirit who was in Christ.

I conclude from these passages that only someone who intentionally and willfully blasphemes the Holy Spirit actually commits an unpardonable sin. Furthermore, a person who commits this sin will not ever repent and come to Christ. A person who has repented and come to Christ necessarily has not committed this sin. I conclude that my friend who actually said the words did not really commit this sin - God knowing his heart also knows he did not mean it.

Also, the Heb. 12:17 passage does not describe someone who is seeking to repent but cannot because he is rejected. Esau was not seeking repentance at all. He was seeking his lost birthright. The earlier verses read, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men. . . . and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights . . . ." The bitter root is an allusion to Deut. 29:18 which speaks of those who turn from God and worship idols. It is not the case that he was trying to repentant and restore his relationship with God, but God would have nothing to do with him.

That he did not find any place of repentance means that he was not able to get his father or God to "repent" and restore his birthright. He was not able to do so because he had rejected God's promise given by way of the birthright to Jacob - i.e. he missed the "grace" of God. No amount of striving, seeking, even with tears, will bring about salvation apart from God's promise. [3]

Is it impossible for a Christian to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? My belief is one's outward profession and appearance offer us no guarantees. If Judas was able to perform miracles and if the once enlightened of Hebrews chapter six can fall away and never repent again, then it would seem that just about any one could one-day fall away and (perhaps) blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul exhorts, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test?" Paul says that we can examine ourselves and recognize with some level of assurance that Christ is in us, but he does seem to allow that one can become "reprobate."

Was such a person never really "saved," or was the person really saved but lost it through apostasy? Was such a person really one of the "elect?" This is a different issue than what I have addressed. I have asked, "Can someone desire to be a Christian and repent of sin, but still be damned because of a sin God cannot forgive?" The answer to that question is "No."


[1]When I shared this article with Answers In Action Director Bob Passantino, he related that he had gone through a similar experience as a new Christian. I thank him for the insights he contributed to this short article.

[2] The process that produces repentance has been debated for many centuries and is worthy of discussion, but it is not the process that is in question here. Determinism and Libertarian freedom are two approaches in regard to this issue. If you are interested in such views, we recommend James W. Felt's Making Sense of Your Freedom: Philosophy for the Perplexed (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994).

[3] Note that the Heb. 12 passage describes Esau as he was when Jacob fled to Haran. Esau has changed considerably by the time Jacob returns, as we can see in Gen. 33. There Esau gives Jacob a warm reception. We ought not, therefore, to conclude from Heb. 12 that Esau remained "profane" for all his life. Also, the attitudes of Jacob and Esau towards God's promise and the birthright go a long way toward explaining why God "loved" Jacob and "hated" Esau and the meaning of "election."


Post-Script

This article is a revised version of a post made to the USENET newsgroup soc.religion.christian back in 1992. While I have tried to be scripturally accurate, it remains a personal and anecdotal response to a common fear (See for example this correspondence: "I believe I'm damned!").

So, I searched the net for articles that would have a more thorough and scholarly analysis of this passage and its meaning. To my surprise, while there were many articles on the subject, hardly any dealt with the passages in any greater detail than I have here. In my judgment, many (if not most) made claims that did not have sufficient scriptural proof to reassure troubled Christians. One common claim was: "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today because we are not eyewitnesses to Christ's miracles." One of the more scholarly articles takes this position (see "The Unpardonable Sin").

Regardless, the best articles took the same approach as I did. Given what we know about the workings of the Holy Spirit and human depravity from the scripture, we can conclude that anyone who is really worried that they might have committed blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, could not have done so. Anyone who has committed this or any other "sin unto death" cannot be restored to repentance and has no sorry or regret or feelings of repentance. See for example Hank Hanegraaff's views on this subject.

Some articles made some points worth mentioning. Steve Kissell points out; "this sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not said to be 'unpardonable.'" Rather, it is a sin that will not be forgiven, not a sin that cannot be forgiven. This is an important, if subtle distinction, because as Kissell points out, many sins will not be forgiven, not because God cannot or is unwilling to forgive the sins, but because the sinner does not repent. All who blaspheme the Holy Spirit become sinners who never repent; therefore this sin is one that never has forgiveness.

A corollary of this interpretation is that to really blasphemy the Holy Spirit in the way Jesus describes is not done trivially or easily. The Assemblies of God statement on the "Unpardonable Sin" gives a good scriptural argument that the Pharisee's blasphemy in the gospels was not by any means casual, but were deliberate, willful, knowledgeable and sustained, and done in full view of the demonstration of God's power. In spite of this, we know of at least one Pharisee who hated Christianity and persecuted the church, but who did not commit this sin -- the apostle Paul! Surely, if blasphemy of the Holy Spirit could be done without some kind of knowing and willful deliberation in the face of undeniable truth, then Saul of Tarsus would have committed this sin.

Heb. 10:26 gives us an idea of what it takes to commit an unforgivable sin. The Jewish Christian recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were in real danger of rejecting the gospel and returning to a legalistic form of worship that rejected the grace of God in Christ. If they did so after they know the truth, and they trample "the Son of God under foot," and they treat "as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant" and they "insult the Spirit of grace" -- then after all that there remains no more sacrifice for sin.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a type of "sin unto death" talked about by John. For more on the "sin unto death," see "Sin unto death" and "Sin not unto death" in I John". This is an outline Bob Passantino made of an analysis by David M. Scholer.



Answers In Action
P.O. Box 2067
Costa Mesa, California 92628
(949) 646-9042
Answers In Action c/o aia@answers.org

The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26