Luke 12:8-12 (AD 29)
Sometimes you bump into a Bible verse or passage that stops you short and – when you take it seriously – can look kinda scary. Such as this one, which seems to refer to the possibility of God refusing to forgive a certain type of sin. That would contradict the rest of Scripture which describes God as loving to forgive ALL sins, no matter how heinous, so what can it mean?
Specifically, what does it mean to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” (v.10)? At least five views have been put forward:
- Rejection of Jesus’ servants’ work on earth as coming from Satan (a very narrow, unlikely definition)
- Apostasy by believers (doesn’t fit the context in Matthew & Mark’s versions)
- Rejecting Jesus after hearing the apostles’ preaching
- Failure to give the message the Spirit has given you when you are persecuted (relies on a very peculiar and abiblically specific understanding of how the Spirit gives us words)
- “a persistent and decisive rejection of the Spirit’s message and work concerning Jesus” [Darrell L Bock, Baker commentary series on Luke] (as distinct from “speaks a word against the Son of Man”, which could be to reject the evidence of one single event.
It’s important to note that whether it is as I think option 5, or possibly option 3 (or, less likely, any of the others), this isn’t a sin you have to get stressed about. You never have to worry about whether you’ve somehow ruled yourself out of being forgiven. You can’t inadvertently blaspheme the Holy Spirit, nor is blaspheming the Holy Spirit something you can commit, then ask to be forgiven of, but be turned down.
In essence, Jesus seems to be saying – after warning against disowning him – that a word against him can be forgiven, but the refusal to ever repent stemming from a refusal to acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s work through Jesus, will not be ignored by God. You can’t ‘repent’ of some things whilst refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Holy Spirit-fuelled Son of God. Repentance is tied to an acceptance of Jesus’ identity.
Similar to the ‘unforgivable sin’ of 1 John 5:16, the emphasis is that if you do not repent, you will not be forgiven. God’s not going to circumvent himself by saying that all must repent but maybe for some of you, if you refuse to repent, that’s OK he’ll forgive you anyway.
For those of us who do acknowledge Christ as God, Jesus warns us that trouble is coming. Most of history is filled with Christians being accused of crimes against society, usually because trying to live by what God says is almost never popular. The world is threatened by Christians’ refusal to submit to groupthink, which is particularly upsetting to control freaks such as the Pharisees, fascists, communists, Catholic countries throughout the middle ages, and in strict Islamic states today. Christian ethics and beliefs are also, once again, becoming unpopular in western society, where phrases like ‘unworthy of respect in a democratic society’ are being used by the judiciary in reference to both sexual ethics and a belief in biological reality.
When you are hauled in front of some authority or other to justify yourself, Jesus said you don’t need to worry about how best to do it, because Holy Spirit will be with you.
He might not give you words resulting in the conversion of all your listeners.
He might not give you words that stun your accusers into silence.
He might not even give you words that you think sound particularly good.
But he will give you the words through which he will achieve whatever is God’s will in that moment, and that is enough.
Identifying with Jesus will cost us unpopularity and possibly worse, but Jesus will acknowledge you “before the angels of God” (v.8) on that great day we see him, and he identifies and lives with you now.