Mt 12 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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.
Mk 3 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
Lk 12 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
Mt 12 31-32; Mk 3 28-29 and Lk 12 10 all address this same point Jesus is here making.
There seems to be a little contradiction within this text – but not really. In fact, every sin can and will be forgiven if one is but repentant – except for this one against the Spirit. A comforting word from theologian M. Eugene Boring is as follows: “A good exegetical and historical rule of thumb might be that whoever is worried about having committed the unpardonable sin has not done so.” They still have to repent for their sins and be remorseful, but they can be forgiven, except for this sin against the Spirit.
First, it’s important to keep this passage in context. Jesus is here addressing those who have stated their intent to kill him, people who are very clearly arrayed against the purposes of God. These are not people who might have casually or in a moment of great weakness which they later repented of said something against God. Rather, these are people whose entire life’s intent at this moment is to undermine the purposes of God. That is, Jesus is here addressing the sin of those who have their hearts hardened like the heart of Pharaoh. Jesus is addressing people who have totally set themselves against the purposes of God. This is not a sin that has been committed accidentally or that most of us ever have to be fearful about. Theirs is a purposeful rejection of the Spirit.
Secondly, when the Lord himself talks about the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit, that can only be a sin against faith. The unforgivable sin can only be the one found when one refuses to come to the Lord – because there is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven because Christ has died for all and has risen for all. The only sin that can keep us from God is refusing to turn to God in faith – by not doing repentance.
Jesus connects the disciples’ fear and faith as regards their eternal condition to their current (denying or) confessing precisely the activity that generates and is threatened by persecution discussed in v 7 above! Jesus had already spoken about this (cf. 9 16; 10 120, especially 10 16). When a disciple “confesses” Jesus, he says yes to what God has revealed about Jesus and publicly acknowledges his trust in Jesus. This, it is understood, has temporal but also eternal consequences. To “deny” is to say no to Jesus, publicly and before God. The danger of hypocrisy is that it can lead to apostasy (cf. 9 26). However, the example of Peter on Maundy Thursday will show that no disciple is immune to fear and hypocritical denial of Jesus.
Hence there is great comfort in the first of Jesus’ two statements: “Everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven to him” (Lk 12 10a). At first glance this might seem to contradict Jesus’ previous warning that the one who denies him will be disowned in eternity. However, this is not the case if it is understood that the one who speaks against the Son is later turned by the Spirit to repentance and faith. This the Spirit can do if the person is not thwarting God’s purpose by blaspheming the Spirit.
Luke’s hearers, who know the end of the story, were particularly interested in Luke’s portrayal of the disciples and in making applications to situations in the life of the postEaster, postPentecost church. In fact, in Lk no disciple fully understood or confessed the full truth about Jesus until after the breaking of bread at Emmaus (cf. 24 3435, 53). During the passion, no one, not even Peter, could control his fear and withstand the temptation to deny Jesus before people (22 5462). Inconstancy in confession is denial of Christ, and it remains unforgiven so long as there is no repentance and no faith (both worked by the Holy Spirit). In the gospels and in Ac many people, including disciples and apostles, do “speak a word against the Son of Man” (as we see here in Lk 12 10). But the stories of Peter and Saul/Paul, among others, show that forgiveness was and is s possible for those who spoke and speak against the Son.
God himself sends the Spirit to illumine darkened minds with the knowledge of salvation in Christ.
Cf. 12 12 and the work of John the Baptist in 1 7679. The work of the Spirit will be a major theme in Luke’s second volume, Ac.
The Spirit works to turn the hearts of disloyal and fearfully wavering confessors to repentance. Faith lives in repentance (the first of Luther’s Ninetyfive Theses). And God in Christ is never disloyal or wavering as regards his promise to forgive for Jesus’ sake.
This is the assurance of the “faithful word” that we read of in 2 Ti 2 1113: “For if we died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, also that one will deny us; if we are unfaithful [ avpistou/men ], that one remains faithful [ pisto,j ], for he cannot deny himself.”
Thus a word against Christ may be spoken in ignorance (cf. Saul before the illumination of his conversion [Ac 8 1, 3 or in 1 Ti 1 13]) or in fear (cf. Peter in the passion narrative [Lk 22 5462]).
That is, one who has spoken against the Son of Man can be brought to repentance and faith, even if he was a blasphemer, such as was Saul (1 Ti 1 13). For instance, one who has fallen away and publicly denied Christ can be brought back to repentant faith again, as was Peter. In both cases, such a person will be forgiven.
In a sense, when you really understand the underlying theology of this passage, all people are guilty of speaking against the Son. Since “the Fall”, each person sins much and daily. All kinds of sins, including those of believing disciples (whom Jesus taught to pray, “forgive to us our sins” [ 11 41), … all kinds of sins are in a sense “words” spoken against the Son. All people stand in need of daily repentance from sin and they stand in need of daily reliance on Jesus’ promise to forgive those who have spoken against him. That promise extends the comfort of salvation to all sinners that is, to all people who trust his word of promise.
Jesus then follows his statement of comfort for sinners with a stern warning in v 10b that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. What is this sin and how does it differ from the previous “word against the Son of Man” that will be forgiven?
In fact, blasphemy against the Spirit is a conscious, informed rejection and reviling of the Spirit after the Spirit has provided ample testimony that Jesus is the Christ. As such, this sin is possible only where the Gospel has been present and the illuminating rays of the Spirit have been shining. To blaspheme against the Spirit in this manner is to say that the divine Spirit, who has been upon John and Jesus and who speaks today through all the Scriptures, revealing the forgiveness of sins provided by Jesus’ sacrificial death … it’s to say the Spirit is a liar, that this Spirit is of the devil, that this Spirit is the father of lies. This would be the sin committed by some in 11 1423, giving Jesus reason to comment on the sin here. People had seen the power of the Spirit at work as Jesus was plundering the devil’s household. Yet some denied that the “finger of God” ( 11 20) was at work in Jesus, and what is more, they ascribed Jesus’ saving, Spiritsupplied power to the devil.
Thus one can see the connection of 12 10b to the growing opposition to Jesus, as seen in 11 1423. The role of the Holy Spirit in v 10 is rather like that of “the finger of God” in 11 20, and, as there, through further intertextuality, we should have in mind the Exodus from Egypt [see “the finger of God” in Ex 8 15]. Involved here is the denial or rejection of the presence of God in his saving power – when this presence is plain for all who are prepared to see. For instance, in the wilderness wanderings, the Israelites were guilty of such a response. Now, in connection with what God has done through Jesus, the same possibility stands open. That is, one can still reject God and his saving power. And the one who hardens himself [as did Pharaoh] or herself against what God is doing as he acts to save, places himself or herself beyond the reach of God’s present gift of nothing less than that very forgiveness for which one might hope on Judgment Day.
Therefore, the sin against the Holy Spirit is an intentional denial of evangelical truth, which has been acknowledged and approved by conscience, connected with a bold attack upon it, and voluntary blasphemy of it. For we must observe that this kind of sin was proved against the Pharisees by Christ. That is, although they were constrained by the force of the truth uttered by Him and were convicted in their consciences by its illumination, yet they raged against Him by their wicked impiety, to such a degree that they did not even blush when saying Jesus’ doctrines and miracles were done through the power of Satan. It’s hard to imagine one could more forcefully deny the Spirit than as they had. It’s this response of the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing in this text.
The sin of blasphemy against the Spirit may be more grievous than speaking a word against the Son. In God’s plan of salvation, the Son was sent to be the object of scorn and derision as we see in Ps 69 9 [MT 69 101] and as Paul quoted in Ro 15 3. Jesus absorbed the world’s sin in order to procure forgiveness for all. But the Spirit was not sent to suffer abuse at the hands of the world but rather was sent to work repentance and faith in the Son. Therefore, when Jesus was purposely sent to be the object of scorn and derision for God’s ultimate purposes, reviling the Spirit had no place in God’s plan.
Therefore, since repentance and faith in Christ are works of the Spirit, blasphemous rejection of the Spirit prevents one from being turned by the Spirit to repentance and faith. (In other words, “Reject the Spirit and you’re a goner!”) Therefore blasphemous rejection of the Spirit cuts one off from access to the forgiveness of sins. As long as one persists in this blasphemy, the sin will continue unforgiven, and if one persists in it until death, there is no more opportunity to be forgiven.
That now all said, there are some theologians who wrongly postulate that this verse refers to a specific kind of sin, usually called “the unforgivable sin,” which cannot or will not be forgiven by God for the rest of the offender’s life. That is, once committed, this sin necessarily remains unforgiven into eternity. He 6 48; 10 2627; and 1 Jn 5 16 are often cited as pertaining to the same topic. The theologian Arndt [Cf. W. Arndt, Luke, 31213] cautiously proposes that here the Lord has in mind a person who persists indefinitely in the hardening of his heart.
As noted above, the idea of an unforgivable sin often causes frightful alarm among Christians. Pastoral concern recommends extending reassurance such as the following: “One who is worried about his sins and fears that they are an indication of his having committed the unpardonable sin, while at the same time his heart is filled with the longing not to be excluded from the remission which Christ has purchased with His blood in him the Holy Ghost is carrying on His mighty work, as is clearly attested by this worry and this desire. He is a believer.” (F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics [St. Louis: Concordia, 19501 1:574). And always remember, Jesus affirms, “whoever comes to me I certainly will not cast out” (Jn 6 37).
As always, Jesus’ ominous warning here in this text carries a frightful implication of eternal judgment for the impenitent an implication made more explicit in the parallels in Mt 12 32 and Mk 3 29. The synoptic parallels differ from Lk in that they emphasize that the sin of blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven “forever” (Mk 3 29), “neither in this age nor in the coming one” (Mt 12 32). Whether those parallels assume willful persistence in the sin until the time of death, or whether they describe a sin that, once committed, immediately and permanently places the offender beyond the possibility of restoration, is an issue outside the scope of my commentary on this particular text in Lk. My perspective on this text is that Lk 12 10 describes the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in a way that does not preclude the possibility that the offender may be restored to repentance and faith during his earthly lifetime.
However, the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ two statements in 12 10 is not simply to terrify disciples with the prospect of unforgiven sin. Instead, Jesus’ intent is to lead them to their salvation. The example of Saul/Paul clearly shows that God can bring even a blasphemer to faith (1 Ti 1 1316). As such, Jesus’ statements are intended to fortify his disciples so that they might not deny him. And as for those who shrink back in the face of persecution (as will all the apostles, notably Peter), Jesus’ exhortations aim to restore them through repentance and faith.