Troublesome Topic: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit Explained

Matthew 12:22


Then someone was brought to Him who was demon possessed, blind and mute, and He healed him

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in order for the mute one to speak and see.


Then someone was brought to Him who was under the controlling power of a demon and this was demonstrated by the fact that his ability to see and speak had been taken away. Jesus restored him to wholeness evidenced by the fact that the one who had been unable to speak could now speak and see properly.

Matthew 12:23


And all the crowds were amazed and were saying, “Is not this the Son of DAVID?”


And everyone in the crowd kept asking over and over again, “Doesn’t this prove that this is the direct successor of THE ONE WHO IS LOVED? Isn’t He the One we have been waiting for?”

Matthew 12:24


And when the Pharisees heard this they said, “This [man] does not cast out demons except by Beelzebul

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the chief of the demons.”


When the Pharisees heard what the people were saying they responded by saying, “The only way this man can cast out demons is if he is aligned with the ruler of the demons.”

Two Different Assumptions

The common people were assuming Jesus must have come from God and must be the Messiah because of the obvious work of the Spirit of God through Him. The Pharisees assumed there was no way Jesus was sent by God because He did not agree with them and did not acknowledge their leadership. Therefore they assumed that everything Jesus did that looked like a miracle was actually evidence of His connection to a false god or to evil spirits.

Matthew 12:25


Having known their thoughts, He said to them, “Every kingdom that has become divided against itself is brought to a state of desolation, and every city or house that has been divided against itself will not stand.


Knowing their thoughts, He said to them, “Every kingdom that has become divided and experiences civil war will be ruined and swept bare; likewise every city or household that has been divided and experiences strife and civil war will not last.

Matthew 12:26


So if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?


If Satan is sending Satan away, he is fighting against himself. If he does that, how can his kingdom retain its power?

Matthew 12:27


Now if I cast out demons by Beelzeboul, by whom do your sons cast them out? In this way they will be your judges.


You say that I am casting out demons using the power of Satan; do you say that those among you who cast out demons do so by relying on the power of Satan? NO! Therefore, you are condemned by your duplicity for you are not consistent in your interpretation of my actions and the actions of your own people.

Matthew 12:28


However, if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.


However, if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, that means God’s power to rule over human lives has confronted you, demanding that you decide between letting Him rule your life or ruling it yourself.

The Jewish Concept of the Holy Spirit

To understand this passage it is crucial to understand the Jewish concept of the Holy Spirit prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

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The phrase “the spirit of God” was used in the Old Testament as the way in which God chose to reveal Himself. Usually, people saw God at work when He did something that man cannot do; this was the spirit of God at work. When Jesus mentioned the Holy Spirit in the passages given above, He was understood to be talking about the activity of God in the past. It was a reference to all the times that God had acted in obvious ways.

They would have thought of the way God revealed himself to Pharaoh through powerful plagues. This was the spirit of God at work. Likewise they would have thought of how God led them out of Egypt, including the crossing of the Red Sea. They would have recalled God’s provision in the desert where there is barely enough food for a goat, yet they were a population of over 600,000 men and their families. 

Many other examples of the visible activity of God, or the spirit of God at work among men, would have come to mind as well. These would probably have included the crossing of the Jordan, the walls of Jericho falling down, David’s defeat of Goliath, the fire that came down from heaven onto the sacrifice at Mount Carmel, other miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the time Jehoshaphat defeated an enemy army by marching against them with a choir of singers as his front line, God’s protection of Daniel in the lion’s den, the way a hand wrote on the wall during King Belshazzar’s banquet, and the list could go on.

These were the things that were brought to mind by Jesus’ mention of the Holy Spirit. To them the term focused on the visible and obvious activity of God. Some would have also thought of the miracles Jesus had performed in their midst. They were all wondering, “Could this be the Messiah?” They were uncertain about His identity, but they could not deny the hand of God, i.e. the Spirit of God, that was at work through Him.

Matthew 12:29


Or how is it possible for someone to enter into the house of a strong man and take away the vessels containing his goods if he does not first tie up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.


How then is it possible that I have entered Satan’s realm (the physical world) and I am succeeding at capturing that which he thought he possessed securely (people’s allegiance), unless it is true that I have also rendered him powerless? That is the reason I can take what he thought was his alone.

Matthew 12:30


The one who is not with me is against me, and the one who is not gathering with me is scattering.


The one who is not on my team is on the opposing team; there are no spectators. The one who is not pulling the same direction I am pulling is pulling against me; being a bystander is not an option.

Matthew 12:31


On account of this I say to you that men will be forgiven

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of every sin, even blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.


Because of the accusation made by the Pharisees, and because everyone is either for God or against God, I tell you that men will be forgiven of every type of sin, even blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

The Jewish Concept of Unpardonable Sins

Here I will give a summary of the truth I explain more fully in my lesson called Which Sacrifice Was for Deliberate Sins? Basically, the sacrificial system, explained in the Law given through Moses, had no sacrifice which was designed specifically to atone for willful sins committed in full knowledge. There were a handful of sacrifices intended to deal with unintentional sins, and there was one whose secondary purpose was to seek atonement for the sins of the people as a whole, but there was no sacrifice for willful sins. In the old Testament these were called defiant sins, the word “defiant” meaning “with a raised fist.” All a person could do for that type of sin was throw himself on the mercies of God with contrition and repentance. This was a big hole that the sacrificial system of the Law did not even try to fill; it left those sins without a remedy so that people would be looking for a better solution, something more complete. When Jesus died as a sacrifice for all our sins, He proved that His sacrifice is better than the former system.

So the Jews already had the idea of an entire group of sins that were considered unpardonable. In reality, everyone had committed some of these sins; no one could expect to go to heaven by being good enough. The hope of salvation for anyone has always rested solely on the mercies of God.

But Jesus changed things. He became the sacrifice capable of atoning for all sins, even those committed with a fist raised against God. Obviously, atonement and forgiveness were not available while one was still in rebellion against God; repentance had to come first. That was true of those in the Old Testament whose only recourse was to throw themselves on the mercies of God, and it is true for us today as we throw ourselves on the mercies of God based on the redemptive work of Jesus. The statement that every sin could be forgiven, even blasphemy, was a huge change from what they had been used to. Only after His death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit did His disciples understand why He made such a bold statement.

 Then He goes on to give a couple examples of what He meant.

Matthew 12:32


And if anyone were to speak a word against the SON OF MAN, it will be forgiven him; but whoever were to speak

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against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven to him, neither in this age nor in the coming [one].

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And if anyone questions the identity of GOD’S ANSWER TO MAN’S PROBLEM, the offense can be forgiven, but the person who takes the position of attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to another source, that offense will not be forgiven to such a person. This is true at this time and it will be true in the future.

How Long Will This Sin Go Unforgiven?

I think the intent of Jesus’ words was this: As long as someone is refusing to acknowledge the obvious work of the Spirit of God, he is going the wrong direction; he will suffer eternal punishment unless he changes direction. As long as one can be called a denier of the Holy Spirit’s work, he is an enemy of God, but if he ceases to deny the work of the Spirit of God he can be forgiven.  

The rest of Scripture points toward this being the intent of this passage and its sister passages in Mark and Luke, evidenced by the following points:

1. It agrees with their understanding of the phrases “Holy Spirit” or “Spirit of God” which was simply the supernatural activity of God.

2. It fits the Old Testament understanding of unpardonable sins – as long as one was sinning in defiance, with his fist raised against God, there was no atonement available to cover that sin. However, if he changed his attitude and actions and became a person who no longer sinned defiantly but only unintentionally, there was a mechanism to cover those types of sins. The difference between the Former Covenant and the New Covenant is that the Former Covenant offered no way to retroactively be forgiven of those sins committed in defiance against God, whereas the sacrifice of Jesus is able to do that very thing. 

3. It fits the message of the rest of the New Testament which portrays Jesus as the only efficacious sacrifice. His blood covers our sins. No other sacrifice is needed; His blood is enough. The atonement He offers is usually portrayed as complete. For there to be an exception to the all-encompassing nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, it would have to be explained very well so people know when that line has been crossed. As things stand, even those who try to interpret this passage literally are not able to give a clear explanation of what that looks like. They try, but usually someone is able to give an example of someone who appears to have crossed that line, but later repented and returned to God. Therefore, the line, if any exists, is a blurry one at best. Either the rest of the New Testament must be explained with a qualifying statement, or these passages must be explained by saying the context indicates that it does not mean what it sounds like it means. There are various times when we must say that about some passage in the Bible. We should not feel threatened by that or allow it to hinder our faith, rather it is an indication that life is complex, and the Bible contains a matching degree of complexity.

4. The life of Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul, appears to be a good example of someone who denied the work of the Holy Spirit and resisted everything God was doing, but later was forgiven and used mightily for God’s kingdom. The phrase “blasphemy against the Spirit” is not used to directly describe Paul, but his actions fit the definition of such blasphemy consisting of someone refusing to give God and His Holy Spirit credit for things that are obviously the work of God.

5. It fits God’s constant offer of forgiveness if there is repentance. Throughout the Bible, forgiveness is always contingent upon repentance, even in passages where repentance is not specifically mentioned. The corresponding passage in Mark first says that any sin and blasphemy is forgiven, then it goes on to say that one type of blasphemy is not forgiven. First of all, the statement that every kind of sin or blasphemy is forgiven (think forgivable) was a new concept for the Jews. The sacrificial system that was part of the Law had a big hole in it because it did not offer any atonement for sins done deliberately or in defiance. This statement was a big deal. Then Jesus started telling them that there was yet one sin or type of sin that was outside the reach of even the forgiveness that would be offered in the next era. It seems like a contradiction. I believe Jesus said it the way He did to make his point with great emphasis, but He was not changing the forgiving nature of God.

There are many examples of partial punishments found in Revelation. A partial punishment which leaves some people alive can be seen as a warning, and thus a chance for repentance for those that still have life. Actually, the book of Revelation mentions repentance a number of times, indicating that the opportunity of repentance is granted. People will be punished if they refuse to repent despite the multiple opportunities given them to do so.

6. There are times when the Bible does not mean what it seems to mean, and sometimes that is true of the word “forever.” The Hebrew word often rendered “forever” actually means “long duration, or a long time.” The Greek word often translated “forever” means “age, or for as long as an entire age,” in contrast to a brief lifespan within an age. Sometimes we see this word used in a compound form which is rendered “for ever and ever” but literally means “through the ages of the ages,” or for a very, very long time. So we see that the very words used in the original languages are vague, not specific as we had hoped. God told David that his son would build a temple for God and “his throne will be established forever” (I Chron 17:14). It sounds like everything God was saying would be fulfilled literally. It sounds like God was talking about a physical son (or descendants) sitting on a physical throne. David’s dynasty did last a long time, but it did not last forever. So now we realize that God switched gears part way through and started talking about Jesus, whose reign will never end. In Exodus 21:6 we read that when a slave chose to become a bond-slave for life, his ear was pierced and he served his master “forever,” although it obviously means “for life, or permanently.” When Solomon built the temple God said his eye would be on that place “permanently/forever” (II Chron 7:16). But God caused the first temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians, and the second temple to be destroyed by the Romans. What gives? We must realize that there are times the Bible does not mean what it seems to mean at first glance; it requires additional study.

7. The final evidence I can offer is what Jesus said immediately after this in the Matthew passage and in the last chapter of Revelation. See below.

Why Was it Acceptable to Doubt the Identity of Jesus?

It was possible to have unanswered questions about who Jesus was and still be headed toward God. He didn’t act like the Messiah they had always expected, so the tendency of many people was to wait and see what happened. Yet the miracles He performed were obviously the work of the Holy Spirit. That should not be denied. But once again, it was possible for someone to see the miracles and attribute them to the Spirit of God but still wonder what that meant about Jesus – “Is he a prophet, or is He the Messiah?  Who is he? Will the Messiah be a man like Moses or David or Elijah? Or will He be different?” You can see that the people asking these questions did not deny the working of God.

Matthew 12:33


Either make a tree good and its fruit [will be] good, or make a tree bad and it fruit [will be] bad; by the fruit, the tree is known.


On one hand, if a tree is caused to be a pleasing and beneficial tree, then the natural product of that condition will be fruit that is pleasing to eat; on the other hand, if a tree is caused to not be pleasing and beneficial, then the natural result of that condition will be fruit that is unpleasing and inedible. The products of one’s life demonstrate his internal spiritual condition.

Matthew 12:34


You offspring

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of venomous serpents! How are you, being evil, able to speak anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.


You Pharisees are miniature Satans! Are you capable of saying anything true and right? No, you are not because your spiritual condition is evil. Your own words against the activity of the Spirit of God are the evidence that proves your spiritual condition is evil.

The Emphasis is on Current Condition

The fruit is the evidence that proves the condition of the tree. The tree bears fruit that corresponds with its degree of health. It can be caused to be good by the presence of such things as minerals, water, light, and the absence of malignant bugs, chemicals, and other contaminants. This means that the condition of a tree can be changed from good to bad or from bad to good.

Punishment or reward will be given according to spiritual condition, but one’s spiritual condition can be changed. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage each other every day while it is called ‘today’ so that none of you might become hard and stubborn due to sin’s deceitfulness.” The idea being conveyed by “today” is that we still have opportunity to repent and change our spiritual condition.

This reminds me of Revelation 22:11 which says:

Revelation 22:11


Let the one who is unrighteous be unrighteous still, and let him who is defiled with immorality be defiled still, but the one who is righteous let him practice righteousness still, and he who is holy let him be holy still.”

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Let the one who

is unrighteous continue

to be unrighteous; let the one

who is morally filthy

continue to be filthy,

but the one who is righteous,

let him continue to practice righteousness, and the one

who is holy let him continue to be holy.”

Until That Final Moment Arrives There Is Opportunity to Repent

The message of the New Testament is that the blood of Jesus is enough to cover all sins and that we are still, as of this moment, living in the time called “today” in which we have the opportunity to repent. We do not know what the next second or even millisecond will hold, but up till this moment right now, we are extended one more opportunity to repent and change our spiritual condition. But there will come a time when, as Revelation 22:11 says, the filthy will remain filthy, and the righteous will remain righteous. The opportunity to repent will have passed.


Based on the points made above, I am convinced that this passage and its sister passages, indicate that as long as one is headed in a certain direction there is no forgiveness for him. However, if he changes direction, forgiveness is offered. Jesus said this because the Pharisees and other religious leaders were attributing His miracles to other spiritual powers rather than to the Spirit of God. They were headed in the wrong direction which is dangerous.



The word “heal” means “to serve by restoring someone to a previous condition of wholeness.” In this case, wholeness means not being under the control of a demon.


Neither Beelzeboul nor Beelzebub means “Prince of demons;” that is an explanatory title. Also, this was used by the Pharisees in this passage as a reference to Satan.

Beelzebub meant “lord of the flies.” In my opinion it was not a mockery of an ancient deity for there appear to have been three ancient deities with that title. One of them is found in the story of II Kings 1:2 where King Ahaziah sent messengers to inquire of the god of Ekron named Baalzebub, the “Lord over the flies.” In what way was this god the Lord over the flies? He could supposedly send flies against his enemies or keep them away from his loyal adherents. There was a Greek god named Zeus Apomuios, the “fly-averting god” and his Roman equivalent named Myiagros, “the fly catcher” who had the same power. We must remember that plagues of flies could be severe in ancient times.

Beelzeboul is the form used in this verse and in verse 27; it meant “Lord of dung or Lord of filth.” I find no evidence for an ancient god actually bearing the title “Lord of dung.” It appears to have been an alternate spelling of the ancient Fly-god and was used by the Jews as a reference to Satan who controls all the vile, filthy, defiled and ugly aspects of the spirit world. Hence the title Prince of Demons. It does not fit the context of this passage for the Pharisees to be mocking any deity, rather they were serious in their accusation against Jesus. The Pharisees were saying that the only way Jesus could send away demons was if he were connected to Satan, the evil power who controls vile and filthy things and can therefore send them away just like the Fly-god could send away the flies.


Prior to Jesus’s death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Jews did not have a clear understanding of the trinity.

It was in the teachings of Jesus that this perception began to change. He built on the foundation of the Old Testament, but He was putting things together in a way that was new to them. Jesus made clear that He was somehow different from God the Father, yet He came from the Father. He also spoke of the Holy Spirit as a separate entity. At the same time He spoke of all three of them as one God. If you do a quick online search, you will find lists of verses that mention all three members of the trinity. The verses listed on those sites are not all the same, and the total number is not the same, but they will give you the idea that this three-in-one concept is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament.

Admittedly, this is a confusing issue. It is something we can’t quite wrap our minds around fully. There is a healthy tension here that we cannot eliminate. We either accept the tension and believe the New Testament, or we do away with the tension by rejecting the New Testament. It takes considerable faith and trust to say, “I don’t fully understand this, but the Bible teaches it, so I will trust that it is true.” However, this is not a blind faith, it is a faith based on the repeated statements of the New Testament and on the realization that God is so much more than I can possibly understand.


The word “forgive” actually means “to send away or to let go of.”


The previous clause uses an “if” statement, but this one uses “whoever” with a subjunctive verb which indicates doubt or possibility and is expressed in English with words like “may or might.”


By “this age” Jesus meant the age He and His disciples were born into and were still living in, the age of the Law; by “the coming one” He meant the age He would inaugurate with His death and resurrection, the age we are now living in.


The word used here means “produce” when speaking of plants, and “offspring” when talking about people or animals. Here it is “offspring” because he is talking about the Pharisees and equating them to snakes.

8: “ be … still”

The purpose of this verse is to say that the time for making changes in one’s direction has passed; it is time for either punishment or reward. Much of the vision of revelation has been about punishment and reward, and the history of man has seen God intervene many times with either punishment or reward. But what is implied here is a finality of action which can only mean final and eternal punishment, or final and eternal reward. Jesus has “come” to us many times in our time of need, but there will be one final “coming,” after which there will be no more opportunity for change of direction. Unless it is specified clearly, any passage of Scripture that speaks of punishment and reward may have some aspects that are immediate and some that are final. This verse makes it sound like the time of final judgment has come, but according to Revelation 22:17, that time has not yet come. My thoughts on that are that this was not intended to be sequential, and that God alone knows what time it is. The important thing is that there is opportunity to repent until the final moment, when changing one’s spiritual condition will no longer be an option.