There are two biblical passages which state that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin that God will never forgive (i.e., the so-called “unpardonable sin).
In Mathew 12:31-32, Jesus Christ asserts, “I say unto 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 [i.e., Jesus] will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Likewise, Mark 3:28-30 declares, “Assuredly, I [Jesus Christ] 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” – because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
Let’s now consider explanations of the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and why this sin is unpardonable by God.
In reference to the two focal scripture passages, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible says,
In [Matthew 12:31-32] and in Mark 3:28-30, Jesus states the awful nature of the sin of which [the Pharisees] had been guilty. That sin was the sin against the Holy Spirit. It consisted in charging him with being in league with the devil, or accusing him of working his miracles, not by the “spirit” or “power” of God, but by the aid of the prince of the devils. It was therefore a direct insult, abuse, or evil speaking against the Holy Spirit – the spirit by which Jesus worked his miracles. That this was what he intended by this sin, at that time, is clear from Mark 3:30, “because they said he had an unclean spirit.” All other sins – all speaking against the Saviour himself – might be remitted. But this sin was clearly against the Holy One; it was alleging that the highest displays of God‘s mercy and power were the work of the devil; and it argued, therefore, the deepest depravity of mind. The sin of which he speaks is therefore clearly stated. It was accusing him of working miracles by the aid of the devil, thus dishonoring the Holy Spirit.
[The phrase “either in this age or in the age to come”] means that the guilt will be unpardoned forever; that such is the purpose of God that he will not forgive a sin so direct, presumptuous, and awful. It cannot be inferred from this that any sins will be forgiven in hell. The Saviour meant simply to say that there were “no possible circumstances” in which the offender could obtain forgiveness.
John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible provides the following perspective with regard to the two focal scriptures:
Having proved that the scribes could not blame him for casting out devils, without opposing the kingdom of God, [Jesus Christ] at length concludes that it is no light or ordinary offense, but an atrocious crime, knowingly and willingly to pour contempt on the Spirit of God. . . . Christ did not pronounce this decision on the mere words which they uttered, but on their base and wicked thought.
[T]he reason why blasphemy against the Spirit exceeds other sins, is not that the Spirit is higher than Christ, but that those who rebel, after that the power of God has been revealed, cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance. Besides, it must be observed, that what is here said about blasphemy does not refer merely to the essence of the Spirit, but to the grace which He has bestowed upon us. Those who are destitute of the light of the Spirit, however much they may detract from the glory of the Spirit, will not be held guilty of this crime. We do not maintain, that those persons are said to pour contempt on the Spirit of God, who oppose his grace and power by hardened malice; and farther we maintain, that this kind of sacrilege is committed only when we knowingly endeavor to extinguish the Spirit who dwells in us.
[B]lasphemy against the Spirit is a token of reprobation, and hence it follows, that whoever have fallen into it, have been delivered over to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28.) As we maintain, that he who has been truly regenerated by the Spirit cannot possibly fall into so horrid a crime, so, on the other hand, we must believe that those who have fallen into it never rise again; nay, that in this manner God punishes contempt of his grace, by hardening the hearts of the reprobate, so that they never have any desire towards repentance.
[The phrase “either in the present life”] Mark briefly explains by saying, that those who have spoken against the Spirit are exposed to eternal judgment. Every day we ask from God the forgiveness of sins, and every day he reconciles us to Him; and, finally, at death, he takes away all our sins, and declares that he is gracious to us. The fruit of this mercy will appear at the last day. The meaning therefore is: “There is no reason to expect that those who shall have blasphemed against the Spirit will obtain pardon in this life, or will be acquitted in the last judgment.”
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible explains the two focal scriptures as follows:
[The declaration that “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, shall not be forgiven unto men” includes] not every ignorant denial of, and opposition to his deity and personality; nor all resistance of him in the external ministry of the word; nor every sin that is knowingly and wilfully [sic] committed; but it is a despiteful usage of the Spirit of grace, an opposing, contradicting, and denying the operations wrought, or doctrines revealed by him, against a man’s own light and conscience, out of wilful [sic] and obstinate malice, on purpose to lessen the glory of God, and gratify his own lusts: such was the sin of the Scribes and Pharisees; who, though they knew the miracles of Christ were wrought by the Spirit of God, yet maliciously and obstinately imputed them to the devil, with a view to obscure the glory of Christ, and indulge their own wicked passions and resentments against him; which sin was unpardonable at that present time, as well as under that dispensation then to come, when the Spirit of God was poured down in a more plenteous manner.
[The assertion that “whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost . . . it shall not be forgiven him” is made] not because the Holy Ghost is greater than Christ; or for want of efficacy in the blood of Christ; or because God cannot pardon it; but because such persons wilfully [sic], maliciously, and obstinately oppose the Spirit of God, without whom there can be no application of pardon made; and remain in hardness of heart, are given up to a reprobate mind, and die in impenitence and unbelief, and so there is no forgiveness for them, neither in this world, nor in the world to come; that is; they shall never be forgiven.
With regard to the two focal scriptures, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible states,
[Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit] is not all speaking against the person or essence of the Holy Ghost, or some of his more private operations, or merely the resisting of his internal working in the sinner himself, that is here meant. . . . We have reason to think that none are guilty of this sin, who believe that Christ is the Son of God, and sincerely desire to have part in his merit and mercy: and those who fear they have committed this sin, give a good sign that they have not. . . . As for those who blasphemed Christ when he was here upon earth, and called him a Winebibber, a Deceiver, a Blasphemer, and the like, they had some colour [sic] of excuse, because of the meanness of his appearance, and the prejudices of the nation against him and the proof of his divine mission was not perfected till after his ascension and therefore, upon their repentance, they shall be pardoned: and it is hoped that they may be convinced by the pouring out of the Spirit, as many of them were, who had been his betrayers and murderers. But if, when the Holy Ghost is given, in his inward gifts of revelation, speaking with tongues, and the like, such as were the distributions of the Spirit among the apostles, if they continue to blaspheme the Spirit likewise, as an evil spirit, there is no hope of them that they will ever be brought to believe in Christ, for First, Those gifts of the Holy Ghost in the apostles were the last proof that God designed to make use of for the confirming of the gospel, and were still kept in reserve, when other methods preceded. Secondly, This was the most powerful evidence, and more apt to convince than miracles themselves. Thirdly, Those therefore who blaspheme this dispensation of the Spirit, cannot possibly be brought to believe in Christ those who shall impute them to a collusion with Satan, as the Pharisees did the miracles, what can convince them? This is such a strong hold of infidelity as a man can never be beaten out of, and is therefore unpardonable, because hereby repentance is hid from the sinner’s eyes.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible asserts with regard to the two focal scriptures,
All other sins could be forgiven. All blasphemies of whatever kind against God can be forgiven . . . , but not this. To face the testimony of the Spirit of God, revealed in a revelation of His power, and to deliberately twist it so as not to have to face up to it is to put oneself in danger. To impute to Satan the clear work of the Holy Spirit, and to go on doing so against testimony of mind and conscience, and to teach others so is the greatest of follies. For at length such a mind would become hardened, such a conscience would cease to work, and such a man would then become unreachable by God – through his own ill doing.
Forgiveness is available to all, if, of course, they repent and believe. But what an amazing assurance this is on the honour of Jesus Himself. He is confirming that there is no sin so evil or so blasphemous that it cannot be forgiven through the blood of Christ. That no one can have sinned so badly that he cannot be forgiven. Unless, that is, he has finally hardened his heart against God to such an extent that he is unable to repent. But then he will never know of his sin until the judgment. He will walk unconscious of it because his heart is hardened and unreachable. (It is not those who fear that they have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit who have done so. Those who are in danger of it are those who laugh at the very idea).
Their crowning sin is that they call the Spirit of God Himself ‘unclean’, and say that His power over Satan is imputed to one cut off from God by uncleanness. By this they deny the holiness of Jesus and of the Spirit Who is at work through Him. . . . [The Scribes and Pharisees] saw the holy power of God and dismissed it as of the Devil.
Also, in reference to the two focal scriptures, Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible declares,
[The sin against the Holy Spirit] is not hard to gather . . . from the context, and what Mark addeth (Mark 3:30). . . . Christ was come amongst these persons to whom he speaketh; he had not only preached, but he had wrought many miraculous operations sufficient to convince them that he acted by the power and Spirit of God. They were not only convinced of it, so far as to acknowledge it, but they attributed these operations to the devil, and said he had a devil, and that he did what he did by the power of the devil. This, out of doubt, was their sin against the Holy Ghost, maliciously speaking to the highest reproach of the Holy Spirit, contrary to the rational conviction of their own consciences.
[With regard to whether any such sin can be now committed,] if there were no other texts that seem to conclude, there may be such as those (Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26, 27; 1 John 5:16) where he speaketh of a sin unto death, for the forgiveness of which he would not have Christians pray. I should conclude that there is no such sin now to be committed, for we cannot have such means of conviction as the Pharisees had, Christ not being on the earth now working miracles; but it is plain from the texts before mentioned, that there is such a sin, that men and women may yet incur the guilt of.
Upon the whole then, if any person hath been instructed in the things of God, and hath made a profession of religion and godliness, and afterwards falleth off from his profession, and becomes a bitter enemy to it; saying that those things are the effects of the devil in men, which his heart telleth him are the operations of the Holy Spirit, and be so hardy as to persecute and seek to destroy such persons for such profession: the interpretation be to those that hate us and to the enemies of our God: if they have not committed this unpardonable sin, they have done what is very like it; and I know no way they have, but by a timely and hearty repentance to satisfy the world, or their own consciences, that they are not under this dreadful guilt. And that which confirms me in this opinion is, that we rarely hear of such persons renewed by repentance (if any instances of that nature at all can be produced). I know some have thought that this sin might be committed by words, without other overt acts, and indeed blaspheming (properly taken) can signify nothing else but evil or reproachful speaking. But these words must proceed from a malicious heart, full of rancour [sic] and revenge; for it is not every word, nor every blasphemy, that is here meant, it is (as Augustine saith) . . . a certain word, a certain blasphemy; not words spoken ignorantly or hastily, or according to our real judgment and opinion; but words spoken maliciously, in order to destroy God or Christ, if it were possible, after sufficient means of light and conviction, that the things which we speak evil of are not from the evil, but, probably at least, from the Holy Spirit of God, and yet we will impute them to the devil, in order to the defaming or destruction of those servants of God who do them, or in whom they are found. We can define nothing certain in the case, but this cometh nearest to the sin here mentioned, that shall never be forgiven in this world, or the world to come; that is, as Mark expounds it, the persons guilty shall be in danger of eternal damnation. . . .
With one significant apparent exception, Adam Clarke Commentary agrees with the other Bible commentaries we have discussed. The exception is that Clarke seems to believe that the punishment for committing the unpardonable sin will involve only the blasphemer’s mortal body, not his (or her) eternal soul. According to Clarke,
Even personal reproaches, revilings, persecutions against Christ, were remissible; but blasphemy, or impious speaking against the Holy Spirit was to have no forgiveness: i.e. when the person obstinately attributed those works to the devil, which he had the fullest evidence could be wrought only by the Spirit of God. That this, and nothing else, is the sin against the Holy Spirit, is evident from the connection in [Mathew 12:31-32] and more particularly from Mark 3:28-30. “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever [sic] they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. . . .
Here the matter is made clear beyond the smallest doubt – the unpardonable sin, as some term it, is neither less nor more than ascribing the miracles Christ wrought, by the power of God, to the spirit of the devil. Many sincere people have been grievously troubled with apprehensions that they had committed the unpardonable sin; but let it be observed that no man who believes the Divine mission of Jesus Christ, ever can commit this sin. . . .
[Insofar as the phrase “neither in this world, neither in the world to come” is concerned,] though I follow the common translation, yet I am fully satisfied the meaning of the words is, neither in this dispensation (viz. the Jewish) nor in that which is to come (viz. the Christian). . . . When our Lord says that such a sin hath no forgiveness, is he not to be understood as meaning that the crime shall be punished under the Christian dispensation as it was under the Jewish (viz. by the destruction of the body)? And is not this the same mentioned 1 John 1:7, called there the sin unto death; i.e. a sin that was to be punished by the death of the body, while mercy might be extended to the soul? The punishment for presumptuous sins, under the Jewish law, to which our Lord evidently alludes, certainly did not extend to the damnation of the soul, though the body was destroyed: therefore I think that, though there was no such forgiveness to be extended to this crime as to absolve the man from the punishment of temporal death, yet, on repentance, mercy might be extended to the soul; and every sin may be repented of under the Gospel dispensation.
The Bible commentaries that we have discussed agree that the unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which involves accusing the Holy Spirit of being an accomplice of Satan, particularly in regard to enabling Jesus Christ to perform miracles. These commentaries also agree that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not ever be forgiven by God, whereas all other sins are pardonable by God, if there is appropriate confession.
Furthermore, the consensus of these Bible commentaries is that the punishment for committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is eternal condemnation of the soul (or spirit), rather than just destruction of the physical body, as Clarke apparently believes. (In light of statements in Mathew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-30 that either specifically mention, or at least allude to, eternal condemnation, we are unable to understand the logic of Clarke’s belief.)
Lastly, we are not convinced that just because circumstances have changed since Jesus Christ was conducting His ministry on earth, it is no longer possible for anyone to commit the unpardonable sin, a viewpoint expressed by Poole. Many people today blaspheme God. Whether or not they blaspheme the Holy Spirit specifically is less certain. Therefore, we admonish everyone, especially those who are not Christians, to be very careful not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit lest they receive eternal condemnation from God.