Blasphemy Against The Holy Spirit
W. W. WINTER
Travelers in Palestine today are shown a place on the Sea of Galilee called Tell Hum. This is the ancient site of Capernaum. The chief ruins are a few heaps of basalt building stones.
Near the shore of the Sea, however, stand the ruins of the great synagogue of Capernaum. This fourth century structure is built on the foundation of a building of first century origin. Into the synagogue that once stood there, often went the Son of God.
When Jesus moved from Nazareth. He dwelt in Capernaum. Somewhere near the city he found the fishermen and called them to be His apostles. From the place of tax collecting in Capernaum, He called Matthew. In this city Jesus healed the centurion's servant and the nobleman's son. The men of Capernaum knew about the healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law, the paralytic let down through the roof, and the man with the unclean spirit. All the towns people had been amazed to hear of the raising of Jairus' daughter, and they never forgot Jesus' matchless discourse on the Bread of Life.
Upon the heads of these people, Jesus brought this scathing denunciation: " . . . thou Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." (Matthew 11:20-23 )
This He said, ". . . because they repented not." (Matthew 11:20b) Besides being unrepentant, the men of Capernaum were the authors of the blasphemous charges that Jesus was .in league with the Devil.
It came about in this way. Jesus and His disciples had returned from the ministry in Judea. Walking through the beautiful fields of grain that surrounded the scenic site of Capernaum, His disciples plucked grain and ate it. The carping Pharisees charged them with working on the Sabbath day. Jesus responded:". . . the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day." (Matthew 12:8)
Still plagued by these ever present hecklers, Jesus turned his course from the rolling country-side, re-entered the city, and went into the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there.The Pharisees asked him, "Is is lawful to heal on the Sabbath-days?" Jesus answered clearly: ". . . it is lawful to do
well on the Sabbath days," and healed the man.
At this the Pharisees went out and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him. The conflict was deepening amidst a rising crescendo of emotions that all the world would hear.
Jesus knew it and withdrew himself from thence. Great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all! The climax came when they brought to Him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb. Jesus healed him; and all the people were amazed, and said, "Is not this the Son of David?" (Matthew 11:23)
When the Pharisees heard of this last miracle and the resultant faith in the heart of the people, they said, "This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of devils." (Matthew 12:24) Mark, writing in his Gospel, says that the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He bath Beelzebub," and, "By the prince of the demons casteth he out the demons." (Mark3:22) We are left to wonder if this charge that Jesus was in leaguewith the Devil was concocted at Jerusalem—headquarters, if youplease.
It was a shrewd and plausible explanation of Jesus' career. The miracles could not be denied. If they could only be attributed to Satan working through Jesus, this explanation would be in harmony with their Sabbath-breaking charges and the other calumnies they had hurled against Him. If only the people could be made to accept it, His power would be destroyed. The demand for miracles would cease, and the crowds that were following Jesus
would be disbanded.
But Jesus saw something far more threatening than an attempt to discredit Him. He perceived the grave depth to whichthe Pharisees had plunged in their senseless attacks against Him.Heartbroken over the prospect of others less hardened than theyfalling into the same blind sinfulness, Jesus went on to say:
"Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven untomen, but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not beforgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against theSon of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shallspeak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgivenhim, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come."(Matthew 12:31,32)
Jesus thus describes the Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.With one bold pronouncement, He has given occupation to thethinkers of all subsequent ages. The language of Christ on thesubject offers itself for the simplest acceptance and the humbleand awed faith of all. Notwithstanding its brevity, its exceedingly simple diction, and apparently designed wording, it remains, after all the centuries, a passage that finds no absolutely satisfactoryexposition. Nowhere in sacred writ or in early Christian literatureis there to be found one really exact parallel by aid of which itmay be determined and defined. To
generalize upon it is easy,and to define some particular aspect of it is not difficult; butalways there is something to be desired.
Here is a sample of some modern double-talk: "In the three accounts of the unpardonable sin, it is the distortion of truth thatis unforgivable. If truth, as Gerald Head suggests, is 'increasingcorrespondence'—that is, what one thinks and says increasinglycorresponds to what actually is (Reality) the
blaspheming of theHoly Ghost would be decreasing correspodence or non-correspondence."1
Another definition left for our amazement and amusement isthis: "The sin against the Holy Ghost is the sin against community—the son of self-isolation."2 Could it be that some of us preachers have forsaken the secluding confines of our studies lest wecommit this 'unpardonable sin' of self-isolation!
William Bancroft Hill, an eminent authority on the Life ofChrist in radical circles of a generation ago, quite seriously explains the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in the followingwords.Speaking of this charge of the Pharisees', He says, "It was more than denouncing Jesus; it was pronouncing light to be darkness, good to be evil (Isaiah 5:20), which is the sin against theHoly Spirit."3
Pronouncing good to be evil and light to be darkness is not the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but it is getting closer.
Some very capable evangelists have added their voices. One wrote:
"The first step in the committal of this sin is that of resisting the Holy Spirit."4 Others less cautious say that the rejection of the invitation is the unpardonable sin.
The hesitating, wavering refusal of one who believes in and loves Christ in a measure but lacks decision to accept Him as Lord is not to be called blasphemy against the Spirit. This is a far cry from the Pharisees' railing against Jesus publicly and calling Him an ally of the Devil. Those who continue to reject Jesus' invitation will be lost, of course; but they travel a different
There is also a tendency on our part to place this slandering of the Spirit, the "falling away" of Hebrews 6:4-6, the "sinning wilfully" of Hebrews 10:26-29, and "the sin unto death" of I John 5:16,17 on the same level. All of these conditions of heart and soul are to be carefully avoided, but different matters are discussed in each of these passages.
The Christian who falls away, as described in Hebrews 6, cannot be brought back into Christ via the steps he took in his primary obedience. A second baptism, for instance, would not suffice to justify him.
A man's wilful sins (as described in Hebrews 10:26-29) cannot be forgiven in any way other than by the sacrifice of Christ. If a backsliding Christian understands the sacrificial death of Jesus and wilfully rejects His invitation to come to God through His blood, we may rest well assured that there will be no other institution of sacrifice—whether a return to the Old Testament sacrifices of bulls and goats, or a sending of angels to die an atoning death, or whatever we might imagine. The wilful sinner's rejection of the blood-bought way leaves him only a fearful expectation of judgment.
Moreover, the hamartia pros thanaton (the sin unto death) of the first epistle of John is not defined in such a way as to equate it with the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is a state or habit of sin wilfully chosen and persisted in: it is constant and consummate opposition to God. In the phraseology of the epistle we might say it is the. deliberate preference of
darkness to light, of falsehood to truth, of sin to righteousness.
The very meaning of the English word blasphemy itself helps us to understand what it is to blaspheme the spirit. From all the various languages—the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin, and the English—we learn something. All these people—the Jews, theGreeks, the Romans and the English—knew blasphemy and had a word for it. As a result we recognize this sin, blasphemy, as being a sin against a person. We also understand that it means to revile, speak evil against, slander. The evil speakings against which we are warned in the New Testament are the outward expression of this blasphemous condition of the heart. The sin of blasphemy
originates in the heart. Jesus says in this very passage that it is of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
Taking this meaning into the circumstances of the occasion when Jesus made the pronouncement, we find our task of definition somewhat modified. The enemies of Jesus had said He had done His work by the power of Satan. They spoke evilly against Jesus. They
At this point some conclude that the enemies of Jesus had blasphemed the Holy Spirit. To put it in their words they would have Jesus say: "You have taken sides against me in the war against Satan. In doing so you have committed an unpardonable sin, because in charging me with being an agent of Satan you have hardened yourselves against a revelation of God's spirit working in me."5 They go on to have Jesus say: "You accuse me of Satanic methods in casting out devils. In reality I cast them out by the power of God's Spirit. In substituting Satan for the Holy Spirit you are guilty of blasphemy. And this is an unpardonable sin. It is the lie in the soul."6
The language of the text must again be consulted. The King James Version says that Jesus said "Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men . . . "
The American Standard Version replaces the word wherefore with the word therefore; and as one wit has said, "When you see a therefore in the Scripture, see what it is there for.
The original language is helpful. Matthew says diatouto (on account of this). Mark says hoti (because, since). Jesus did not give this teaching because they had committed the unpardonable sin; he gave this teaching as a warning lest they go on to this far worse state. He warned them because they had said He was in league with the Devil. On account of their charge, He left this pronouncement.
This seems to be the better view. Speaking evil against the Son would be forgiven. Jesus said so. Slandering the Father had been forgiven through the years whenever men manifested a broken and a contrite heart. Speaking evil against the Holy Spirit would never
be forgiven, however; for then man's rebellious attitude would deny the influence of any divine power in his life. All the members of the Godhead would be ruled out, and man cannot save himself. He would be completely, finally, and eternally settled on his sinful course.
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, then, is slandering the Spirit in much the same way as the enemies of Jesus slandered Him. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is attributing the works of the Spirit to Satan.
At this point we caution ourselves lest we form an incorrect opinion concerning the reason for this heinous sin's being unforgivable. Some hastily conclude that it is because the Spirit is holier than the Son. Actually there is no degree of deity involved in our question. Jesus is just as much God as is the Holy Spirit. This sin is not unforgivable because of any difference between the character of the persons who are reviled.
Neither is this sin unforgivable because of any deficiency in the grace of God. God is always ready and willing to save all who call upon His name and obey His gospel. Although this is true, we must keep in mind that God once said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man." (Genesis 6:3). Man does face the dreadful possibility of continuing in sin until the knocking of God's spirit at his heart's door is not heard above the raucous laughter of riotous living.
The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable because when a man rails against the promised Paraclete and attributes His works to the power of the devil, he has rejected God's last effort to reach him. This was true of the very men who had slandered Jesus. Some of those scribes who came down from Jerusalem to attack Jesus may have been among the thousands
in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. It may have been one of these same blasphemers who trumped up the charge that the Holy Spirit-empowered apostles were full of new wine. If this be true and these men rejected Peter's explanation of what really happened, these men did indeed attribute the outpouring of the Spirit to drunknness—one of the devil's worst weapons. If they persisted in this blasphemous, slanderous railing, their sin would be unforgivable. There would be no other means by which they could be reached. They had known God. They had heard His testimony of Jesus at His baptism. They had seen Jesus. They had witnessed His miracles. They had heard the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostles. They had witnessed the Spirit's miraculous outpouring upon the Twelve; and they had rejected all! How could
they be forgiven?
Such men continued in their blasphemy. When the Scriptures were given by the Holy Spirit, they wrested them to their own destruction. Their slanderous charges can almost be heard echoing in the background of the mighty defenses of the Gospel. Foolishness! Cunningly devised fables! Given by the will of men! they must have cried; and the faithful men of God responded, "We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known unto
you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:16-21).
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable because it is committed by men who have witnessed all the beauties of God's revelation, beginning with the creation of the heavens and the earth—the heavens that declare His glory and the earth that shows forth His handiwork—continuing in the matchless mission of the heaven-born Son and concluding with the outpouring of His will in the Spirit-filled lives of the apostles and the Spirit-filled pages of the Bible. It is unforgivable because men who commit it have rejected every appeal that God has made.
Another caution is also necessary. We cannot tell when a person has committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. It is God's prerogative to judge the world. Only God can read the hearts of
men and tell when they have gone so far in their wicked insults to the Holy Spirit that they have indeed blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
There are, however, ominous evil-speakings in our times which must be denounced. We live in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and to attribute any of His activities to anything less
than His divine power is slanderous. We know how easy it becomes for us to attribute conversion, for example, to the eloquence of the preacher. But conversion is a work of the Spirit. There are some among us, too, who rail against missions as being wasteful,
unnecessary, and uninteresting. The mission enterprise is also an institution begun only after there was power from on high. In like manner, our talk has become dangerous when we speak of Christian living as nothing more than the natural product of a good man's resolution. All these works of the Spirit will be developed in later messages in this Conference, and we will be warned against adopting any blasphemous attitude towards these works of the Spirit.
But there is a specific danger of which we should be aware. It is clearly seen in the slanderous writings of such men as Robert Ingersoll. Denying the power of the Spirit as manifested
in the giving of Scripture, these are his words:
"The Testament was not written for hundreds of years after the Apostles were dust. These facts lived in the open mouth of credulity. They were in the wastebaskets of forgiveness. They depended upon the inaccuracy of legend. And for centuries these doctrines and stories were blown about by inconstant winds. And finally when reduced to writing some gentlemen would write by the side of the passage his idea of it, and the next copyist would put that in as a part of the text. And finally when it was made and the Church got into trouble and wanted a passage to help it out, one was interpolated to order."7
Ingersoll was but mouthing the tidbits which he had picked up from around the worktables of the German rationalists of Europe and America who had made foul the air of Christian lands by their breathings of blasphemies.
And Ingersoll's bones are not being disturbed today simply because he was the latest or the greatest of the men who have openly attacked the Holy-Spirit-inspired word and Holy-Spirit
filled lives and institutions. Notice how similar is the little ditty from the pen of James Moffat as he railed against the authors of the Bible:
"All who told it added something newListen to Frederick Grant as he says :
And all who heard it made enlargement too."8
"What we have in the New Testament .is a series of rich, human-inspired interpretations. "9Think of what Clarence T. Craig has said when he penned these words :"We believe in the inspiration of the Bible because a reading of its contents inspires us . . . The revelation of God is in life, not in a book."10These are the men who foisted upon our generation the Revised. Standard Version. These twentieth-century "scribes from Jerusalem" have delivered another blow against faith in the
The alarming fact about their work is the popularity of their version. This was brought forcefully to my attention recently.The proprietor of a gift shop near our home was displaying a new game he thought would be quite popular this Christmas. It is entitled, "Going Up To Jerusalem," and manufactured by Parker Brothers, a leading manufacturer of parlor games. The game is designed to familiarize the players with the life of Christ through the use
of playing-cards on which are written verses of Scripture. Twelve little figures, representing the apostles are moved on a maplike board. The goal is the completion of a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. No doubt the game will be popular in an American turning more and more towards religion.
The manufacturers provide a copy of the New Testament for reference, but they explain, "The text is from the Revised Standard Version." They go on to say, "We have used this text because it is the version now used by most of the churches."
Is this true? Have most of the churches adopted the new version? Who are these churches?
The answers are obvious. The faithless bishops and secretaries have accepted the faithless translation. They have sat in council together and put their imprimatur on this Christless perversion of the Holy-Spirit-inspired Word.
It is apparent that millions of copies of this new translation have been sold as a result of the multi-million dollar ballyhoo program put on prior to publication; but over against this
pressurized sales campaign (including the withdrawal of the copyright of the American Standard Version) are years and years of sales of the older versions—years, too, when the Bible was always the best seller. Over against the successful promotion of the translators we must also place the millions of copies of New Testaments given to our men and women as they entered the armed forces.
It is probably not yet true that the new version is the one most in use in the homes of God-fearing people of all denomination and description. If these people are the churches, it is not true that the new version is used by most of the churches.
The alarm comes, though, from the fact that there are any God-fearing people who would be taken in by such a hoax. May God grant that it will never be true that the valiant defenders of
the faith and humble men and women of every walk of life have gone so far from the side of the Master as to believe that He was not recognized as God in the flesh while He was on earth. God grant also that we will all be so conscious of the danger of reviling the Spirit that we will never join ranks with those who have denied the work of the Holy Spirit in giving the Word. God grant as well that we will not partake of the products of such perverted faith.
Moreover, voice after voice is heard in this same ominous tone. The air becomes stifling from the spouting of such statements as the following from the Scroll. Writing about the account of creation in Genesis, Clyde C. Smith says: " . . . the people remembered and adopted 'tales of their ancestors."" In the same publication we read "The book of Jonah is protest fiction."12
It is reserved for a voice from the College of the Bible to bring home forcibly the tenor of the times. One of their spokesman wrote:
"The community of which we are members is called a community of the Bible. Each of us who enters this community, whether to learn or to teach, enters a community that is already committed to be the College of the Bible. It is a name and a commitment that not all of us might have chosen, and at least without stating certain reservations.”13
We are left to wonder why a Christian man could possibly be sorry that the institution of which he is a part carries the word Bible in its title. But not for long. The writer goes on to
explain himself :
" . . . in the Bible there is a word to be proclaimed ... The word which must be proclaimed is not identical with the words of the Bible . . . It has been easy for modern man to evade the
challenge of the Biblical Word by suggesting with 'Sportinglife' in Porgy and Bess that:
`the things that you are liable
to read in the Bible
It ain't necessarily so!’14
Little wonder then is it that the charge has been made that Christian institutions become destitutions. Many Bible insitutes are destitute—destitute of reverence for the Spirit who should animate them.
Let those who will bewail the fact that the institute of which they are a part carries in its title the word Bible. But let those who have known the power of the Sword of the Spirit rejoice
that it has withstood the cruelest onslaughts of the prince of the demons himself. Let every Bible-believing, Spirit-filled child of God go forth championing the cause of the Holy Spirit in
the defense of His Word and works.
This conference on Evangelism will awaken us again to the fact that we have the privilege of being acquainted with, participating in, and working for the institutions given us by
the Holy Spirit—particularly the Bible and the Church. In these meetings let us examine ourselves lest we fall after the same error of unbelief that has been manifested in blasphemous
attitudes through the ages. In these meetings let us dedicate ourselves anew to the task of denouncing every slander against the Spirit whether it be by word or action.
From these meetings let us go singing:
I love thy church O God
Her walls before thee stand
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on thy hand
From these meetings let us go singing:
"Mid the storms of doubt and unbelief we fear
Stands a book eternal that the world holds dear
Through the restless ages it remains the same.
'Tis the book of God and the Bible is its name.
"Oh, the grand old book and the dear old faith
Are the bulwark of the land.
Oh, the grand old book and the dear old faith
Are the hope of every land.
Oh, the grand old book and the dear old faith
Are the rock on which I stand."
From these meetings let us go praying:
"Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
"Silently now I wait for Thee
Ready, my God, Thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me
1.Aleck K. Dodd, The Minister's Consultation Clinic. Ed. Simon Doniger, Great Neck, New York. Channel Press Inc., 1955. (Mr. Dodd is a counsellor in Toledo, Ohio.) P. 284.
2.Ibid., p. 285. (Written by David D. Eitzen, Professor of Pastoral Counselling, School of Religion, University of Southern California.)
3.The Life of Christ. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1917, pp. 142,
4.Jesse Kellems,The Deity of Jesus, St. Louis, Missouri:Christian Board of Publication, 1919.p. 264.
5.W. C. Allen, A Critical and Exegerical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912.
6.Ibid., P. 137.
7.Ingersoll recorded this in his "Mistakes of Moses" as recorded in Mistakes of Ingersoll (a series of presentations against him). Chicago: Rhodes and McClure, 1896. p. 385.
8.Jesus Christ the Same. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1940. p. 22.
9.The Earliest Gospel. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1943. p. 164.
10.The Beginning of Christianity. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1943. pp. 17, 18.
11.Clyde C. Smith, "Apprehensions of Creation," The Scroll. Volume XLVIII, No. 2, (Autumn, 1956), p. 28.
12.W. H. Lhamon, "Jonah is a Great Book," The Scroll. Volume XLVII, No. 1, (September, 1949), p. 24.
13.Robert Francis Johnson, College of the Bible Quarterly. "The Old Testament in the Church."Vol. XXXI; No. 2 (April, 1954); p. 78.