What is the unforgiveable sin?
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He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness. - Mark 3:29
And by him that believe are justified from all things. - Acts 13:39

There's been a lot of concern by various parties over this verse in Mark, with some wondering if they have committed this "unpardonable sin" of blaspheming the Holy Ghost, and this is held against the Acts verse by Skeptics.

But the discussion really warrants no consternation by the believer because the "unpardonable sin" is this and nothing more: UNBELIEF. Thus, there is no contradiction with Acts 13:39 at all, for it sets as a pre-condition, "those who believe" -- and once you believe, you are of course "justified" from your unbelief!

Since this is an important issue, I'd like to explain this a bit further.

The Holy Spirit is God's active principle in the world, as the Son (Word, Logos) is the Father's command and direction. By "active principle" we mean that the Holy Spirit is the personified effect of God in the lives of people and in the world. (See our essay here.) By "blaspheming" the Holy Spirit, Jesus therefore refers to one who denies the divine authority and activity of the Spirit -- as did those who attributed the exorcisms of the story to Beelzebul.

Dunn, in Vol. 2 of Christ and the Spirit, puts it this way:

...the beneficial effect of [Jesus'] exorcisms was so self-evidently of God and wrought by his Spirit, that to attribute it to Satan was the worse kind of perversity -- deliberately to confuse the Spirit of God with the power of Satan was to turn one's back on God and his forgiveness (Mark 3:29).

In terms of the post-resurrection scenario, this also applies to those who refuse the prodding of the Holy Spirit to believe the Gospel. They deny the activity of the Holy Spirit in prodding them to believe, and thus blaspheme the Holy Spirit by putting his activity down to guilt feelings, etc.

This is why we are also told that "whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him" -- the Son of man, God's Word and Wisdom, is the message of God; it is not that part of the Godhead which convicts us. The matter is really rather simpler than some televangelists have supposed.

One Skeptics has claimed that the true blasphemy lies in the act of speaking:

Matthew 12:31-32 "And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
The second sentence is key here. The contrast is crystral [sic] clear. It's a speaking sin. The two Greek words for the word "speaks" in this passage are both in the aorist mood. The aorist mood means that "the kind of action is punctiliar. The aorist indicates finished action." Essentials of New Testament Greek Ray Summers (Broadman Press, 1950, p. 66]. This is not a continual rejection of the Holy Spirit or even a continual speaking against the Holy Spirit. It's a speaking sin. The Greek is very clear: Once spoken a person has committed it.

This is erroneous. "Speaks" indicates the outward expression of the inner person and so indicates unbelief, per above. It was conventional wisdom of NT era that speech revealed one's heart and testified to one's inner character. Speech and thought were a unified whole in the Jewish mind.

The completion of an act of speech is not the same as a permanent decision of the will. The act of speech reflects a condition of the will.

The point about the aorist is of no relevance; the only way an act of speech would not be complete (and in the aorist) is if one said, "I deny the...uh...."

Acts of speech usually do get finished. Taking this and the Jewish understanding into account, Jesus' words as recorded in Matthew mean that one who holds to unbelief is characterized by this sort of speech.

This article has raised a question with a reader that we thought deserved some consideration: If the UFS is indeed unbelief, and the person comes to believe, have they not been forgiven? And isn’t the UFS therefore actually “forgiveable”?

The question may seem a technical nitpick at first glance, but it is actually a fairly good one, and if valid, does leave open a charge of inconsistency in the text. But there’s a very simple solution: UFS is not “forgiven” – it is forgotten.

But, it may be asked, isn’t it a sin that needs forgiving? Not exactly. Let’s remember what “forgiveness” is, as discussed here: It was restoration to a prior position. The unbeliever – the one who commits UFS – had no prior status with Jesus, and so there is nothing to “restore” in that sense. And so: The atoning death of Jesus does erase UFS, but not by “forgiving” it: Rather, the atonement erases and obliterates all recollection of it.

There’s an interesting corollary that emerges from this study as well. It might be wondered, “Well, then what of the fact that our sins prior to being a Christian are forgiven?” The answer is that, in the proper definition of the word in an ancient context – they also are not forgiven, but forgotten. If we check the NT epistles -- after the atoning death of Jesus -- the words “forgive” and its variants are never used of anyone's sins prior to becoming a Christian.

Let us be clear: We can still speak of pre-Christian sins as “forgiven” in a modern sense – that is, the price we would have paid for them, thanks to Jesus, we will now not pay. But in the sense of forgiveness as a restoration to a former position, it isn’t there.

Why not? I think this is why: The "restoration" aspect of Biblical forgiveness implies standing in a covenant. If the unbeliever is not in the covenant there's nothing to restore. But also, keep in mind becoming a Christian is spoken of in terms of a new birth. The old man is dead. That would fit with sins before conversion not so much being forgiven, but forgotten -- as though someone else did them, not us.

So what does this mean, in practical terms? Probably nothing. It won’t change the way we approach sin, or life, or evangelism. However, it does resolve an interesting question.


Reader comment:

To all so-called fellow "blasphemers,"

Last month, I too thought I committed the "unpardonable sin," the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Last week after giving in to a sexual temptation, I was mad, not at myself, but at the Holy Spirit for allowing it to happen. I now it is naive to have blamed Him. When I realized what I had done, I sunk further into depression because I thought I blew my salvation and blasphemed the Holy Ghost. I was so horribly worried about it, you can imagine.

So I emailed a bunch of people in different ministries, read a bunch of people's websites on this, all of them saying I probably didn't blaspheme the Holy Ghost because I felt bad about it. I hated the "probably" and I couldn't open the Bible to read because it was just too painful to read; my carnal mind condemned me repeatably.

I went outside and I cried, tears in eyes, to the Holy Ghost, repenting and remembering all the good that He had done in my life. I said something to the effect of, "you've changed me so much, now you're gone..." But then I heard a still, soft voice whisper, "I am still here..." I knew it was Him. Then I asked Him to show me what blasphemy is and He took me through Scripture:

I saw this in Matthew 12: "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." But then I lowered my eyes to this verse: "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Even though I felt, at the time that I supposedly "blasphemed" the Holy Ghost, anger against Him, I knew as I read that verse that He revealed to me that God knew my heart. He knew it better than I ever did and ever will. Then the Holy Ghost led me to this Scripture: "God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us" (Acts 15:8).

We learn from this Scripture that God knows the heart, or spirit of man, better than anyone including yourself--this means that if you at one time felt anger against the Holy Ghost and maybe said anything mean to Him, even something horrible, Jesus's Blood will atone for you because, even though you thought you meant it, you really didn't. Besides, you said it in your carnal mind, which controls the realm of emotions, intellect, etc. The Bible says that the carnal mind is ALWAYS emnity against God! Emnity! I also learned that anyone who loves God is justified from ALL THINGS (Acts 13:39)! Furthermore look at these two wonderful Scriptures: "For if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" (Romans 10:9-10).

Now look at this: "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:5). And then look at this: "The blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven...[for] out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks [not in this age nor in the age to come]" (Matthew 12:31-34). Are you catching the vibe, here? When Jesus says "speaketh a word" He doesn't mean it literally. He means that whoever has such an unrepentant, hardened heart, capable of saying "You have satan in You" and then never ever being convicted that he did any wrong in saying so, whether due to unbelief or even if that person knows that Jesus is God (like the Pharisees), then that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Ghost led me also to a site called Tektonics.org, and I read this article. Don't you see? The Holy Spirit was the One who first convicted you of the sin if you yelled at/cursed/thought a bad thought again Him! But the fact that you still run around thinking you've blasphemed Him is no more He but demonic oppression. Look, "The Lord [does not want] anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9)!

One last thing. For anyone who is scared of this Scripture: "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, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace" (Hebrews 6:4-6), the word for fall away in Greek is "parapipto" which means apostasy or renunciation of one's faith. This doesn't mean backsliding. It also doesn't mean "I HATE YOU GOD, I DON'T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU!" and then coming back to faith with Him within a year or two. It means that after renouncing their faith, their hearts became so hardened and set against the Gospel, they simply CANNOT be restored to repentance! God has died for their sins, and they once believed and knew God personally, walked with Him and everything, and then decided to go against Him, just like satan and the fallen angels! They can't repent! It's too late for them! Jesus only died once for people's sins! He can't go back and die again for those of whom committed the ultimate blasphemy of the Holy Ghost--unrepentant hardness of heart and leaving Him and rising against Him--that would be disgraceful to God!

So enough with your carnal minds thinking you've blasphemed the Holy Spirit. It's great news: YOU DIDN'T! The Holy Ghost leads me and is with me all the time! I'm so happy and blessed that I didn't commit the unpardonable sin! Read this Scripture here, "for [the Lord] is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). Now if the Lord is kind to sinful and unthankful people, He'll certainly be kind to you who want to get right with Him! Pray this prayer:

Dear God, I love You so much with all my heart and soul. I've been scared and horrified, worrying whether or not I committed the blasphemy against the precious Holy Ghost. I am horribly sorry for [whatever I did.] I may have felt it at the time, or maybe it was just an accidental thought, but I know that you know my heart better than I know mine. I will no longer fear demonic words that I committed the unpardonable sin. I did not blaspheme the Holy Spirit in my heart at all. I may have said some evil with my tongue, or with my brain, but not with my heart! I love You more than anything, and I want to know the Holy Ghost and be His best friend! Thank You for forgiving me, for you are the most merciful in all existance. Thank You so much, dear Father, in Jesus's Name. Amen.

Hallelujah! You're back!

- Justin