Just what is the unpardonable sin?
Question: In Matthew 12:31–32, Jesus spoke of an unpardonable sin. What is this sin, and why can it not be forgiven?
Answer: The thought of being cut off from God forever is horrible to contemplate. Yet many sincere people have misunderstood this matter and are needlessly worried.
In Matthew 12, a demon-possessed man was brought to Jesus for healing. After the demon was cast out, this man regained his eyesight and ability to speak. A crowd witnessed this amazing miracle and exclaimed, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22–23). They thought Jesus might be the prophesied Messiah, for such power “was never seen like this in Israel!” (9:32–33).
The Pharisees, seething with envy, tried to discredit Christ by saying that He performed this miracle “by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (12:24). Jesus responded with a somber warning: “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 in the age to come” (vv. 31–32). Jesus held these unconverted Pharisees responsible for their attitudes.
The word “blaspheme” comes from the Greek blasphemeo—”to rail against, to speak contemptuously of God or of sacred things” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 69). Jesus called it blasphemy to “speak against” the Son of Man and the Holy Spirit. Why was blasphemy forgivable against Jesus Christ, but unforgivable against the Holy Spirit?
Jesus came in the flesh as a common Jew of his day—a humble carpenter’s son. The average person could easily misunderstand who He was. Physically, He did not appear special or unique (Isaiah 53:2). Yet no one—not even the resentful Pharisees—could mistake the power of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, knew that Jesus was a teacher from God. He knew God’s power was with Christ (John 3:1–2)! The multitudes, too, loudly acknowledged this truth that the Pharisees tried to deny.
In spite of knowing better, the Pharisees attributed Christ’s miracles to the evil work of Beelzebub, another name for Satan the Devil (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). The Pharisees’ actions insulted the very power of God, calling it “an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28–30).
The Apostle Paul also warns Christians about dangers leading to the unpardonable sin: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4–6).
The unpardonable sin involves falling away after experiencing the “good word of God” and God’s power, and doing so to such an extent that repentance becomes “impossible.” The Pharisees had observed firsthand many wonderful miracles performed by the power of God’s Spirit, so they were in danger of willfully rejecting not only Jesus Christ, but also the very power of God that transforms people into the Sons of God (Romans 8:15). They were about to “sin willfully” (Hebrews 10:26), irreparably searing their consciences. The Pharisees needed to repent and change the way they were thinking before it was too late!
True Christians must carefully watch what they allow into their minds. They desire to be led by God’s Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) in order to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
For more information about the unpardonable sin, go online to read our March-April 2015 article “Is There an Unpardonable Sin?” at TomorrowsWorld.org.