I was studying with an eighty-seven year old woman. She was a Methodist, who had never been baptized in the right way, or for the right reason. She wanted to be, and later would be, but at this point she hesitated. Her hesitation was due to the fact that she thought she had, when she was a young woman, committed “the unpardonable sin,” and thus, could never be forgiven.
What a sad thing. She thought that she was without hope. I believe that she misunderstood the following words: Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him: but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or the age to come.” Mark 3:28-29: “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.” Luke 12:10-11: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.”
What is This Sin?
1. Murder? Some have so thought. The Mormon book Doctrine and Covenants proclaims “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood…” (132:27); “Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come (42:18).
However, this does not fit. (a) Murder is not the topic of the immediate context. (b) Murder can be forgiven. David was (2 Samuel 12:9, 13) Paul was (Acts 8:1; 9:1; 22:4; 26:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 4:8). The multitude who cried out “let him be crucified,” were offered forgiveness (Acts 2:36-38; 3:14-15, 19).
2. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or some sexual sin? Some have so thought. Some refuse to forgive those who repent. The Mormon book Doctrine and Covenants declares “he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; But, if he doeth it again he shall not be forgiven…” (42:25-26).
However, this does not fit. (a) No sexual sin is under consideration in the immediate context. (b) Such can be forgiven. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Also consider the man who sinned with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5, cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3-11).
3. Backsliding? Some believe that once one decides to follow Christ, he must not sin, and that if he does, then there is no more opportunity for forgiveness.
Others have said that one is allowed to repent and be forgiven only once. One ancient writing said, “there is but one repentance given to the slaves of God… Whoever is tempted by the devil and sins after that great and reverend calling has one repentance. But if he should sin and repent repeatedly it is of no benefit to him” (The Shepherd of Hermas 29:8; 31:6).
However, this does not fit. (a) It is not the subject of the immediate context. (b) One can be forgiven for falling away. Peter denied the Lord three times (Matthew 26:69-75). We are to help brethren out of sin (Galatians 6:1-3; James 5:19-20). Even multiple times can one repent (Luke 17:3-4).
4. Blasphemy, that is – speaking against God or His message, in general? Some might think this. However, this does not fit. Paul was once a blasphemer (1 Timothy 1:13).
5. A heart so hard that it rejects the evidence that God provides? I believe this is the answer.
This fits the context. (a) Matthew 12:31 begins with, “Therefore I say to you…” This points one back to the context of Matthew 12:22-30. The fact that Jesus performed a miracle could not be denied. They knew that it was by supernatural power that this was done. However, they suggested that it was “by Beelzebub” and not by the Holy Spirit that this was done. (b) Mark 3:30 explains Jesus’ words about “unpardonable sin” by saying “because they said ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” J.W. McGarvey commented, “The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit here denounced is the evil speech just made by the Pharisees, in which a work performed by the Holy Spirit was attributed to Satan” (Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 109).
It seems to me that the reason that this sin was unpardonable is that they had proven themselves beyond reach. They had rejected the strongest evidence that Jesus offered, miraculous evidence. How then could they be reached?
One might wonder, “are there any unpardonable sins today? One certainly can still possess a heart that is so set against Jesus that no evidence can convince the person. Furthermore, there are many sins that remain unpardonable due to lack of repentance, confession, and obedience to the Gospel. These, one day, will become unpardonable. The decisions we make in the life will become irreversible in the next.
“O do not let the word depart, and close thine eyes against the light; Poor sinner harden not thy heart: Be saved, O tonight/Tomorrow’s sun may never rise to bless thy long deluded sight; This is the time, O then be wise: Be saved, O tonight/ O why not tonight? O why not tonight? Wilt thou be saved? Then why not tonight?” (Song: O Why Not Tonight by Elizabeth Reed)