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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.



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.


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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 a 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.
  8. 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.


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.