The “Unforgivable Sin” and understanding the Bible
by Paul Gould
Recently, I was asked to preach on Matthew 12:30-32—the passage where Jesus talked about the “unforgivable sin” and “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” After my initial shock at being asked to preach on that passage, I realized that I had questions of my own about it. What is the deal with this passage? What is the unforgivable sin? And more to the point—have I committed it?
This passage has led to much confusion throughout the history of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas was so scared of the “unforgivable sin” that he devoted four articles to this form of blasphemy in is monumental work, Summa Theologiae. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress struggled with fear of this sin for years. Today, we find atheist groups on the internet who challenge others to take the “Blasphemy Challenge”—where people are invited to publically “blasphemy the Holy Spirit” by uploading their denials of God onto YouTube. Over the centuries, people have wondered what this unforgiveable sin is: is it adultery, murder, suicide, fornication, Satan worship, or something else?
So, how do we make sense of the passage? Let’s treat it as a case study in how to properly interpret a passage of Scripture. First, here is the troublesome passage (Matthew 12:30-32):
30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but 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.
Taken in isolation, it is hard to make sense of this passage—how is it that all kinds of sins can be forgiven but one sin will not be forgiven? What is going on here? Well, here is a principle of sound biblical interpretation…
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