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Archive for November, 2014

I just received an email question from a young man who wanted to know what “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is, especially in view of Jesus’ willingness to forgive sin.

Here is my reply: Great question and opportunity to learn more about principles of biblical interpretation! Glad you asked…to understand better, when we examine the broad context of this occasion in Mt. 12:22-32, we find that Jesus is speaking solely to the Pharisees (Mt. 12:24).

First, let’s examine exactly what the Holy Spirit did through Jesus: a “demon-possessed man who was blind and mute” (v.22) both “spoke and saw.”

Jewish exorcists apparently cast out demons during Jesus’ day (cf. Mt. 12:27; Mark 9:38; Acts 19:13), but absolutely nothing like casting a demon out of a man so that he could then both see and speak had ever been done!

Such a miracle was unheard of – a major, messianic miracle – the kind of power that the Messiah was expected to perform (e.g. Is. 29:18; 35:5).

The crowds of people – the common people whom the Pharisees despised – at some level appeared to have recognized that Jesus must be the Messiah (v.23) but their religious leaders did not!!![1]

Worse, instead of rejoicing in this miracle — done on a “hopeless” individual (what I mean by that is that this man – in those days – was doomed to complete poverty) — the Pharisees ignored and arguably even dismissed it out of hand.

Worse, they even accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. That is a shocking, deplorable level of hardness of heart!

In fact, they went so far as to accuse Jesus of sorcery, which was considered a capital offense!

Their hardness of heart was persistent and getting worse; they had already accused Jesus of doing works of power through Satan (Mt. 9:34).

The Pharisees apparently had not yet committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is why Jesus gave them the warning He gave them (v.32).

It is important to note the distinction that Jesus had already given in v.31: other blasphemies could be forgiven, for men blaspheme God all the time. But this is an entirely different level of sin.

We should note that prior to His warning, He pointed out the utter folly of thinking that Satan would cast out Satan (Mt. 12:25-26).

Moreover, Jesus in effect claims to be the Messiah – through the expected proof of His miracles (Mt. 12:29): in Him, the kingdom of God had arrived; the Pharisees had actually witnessed its arrival and power!

EVERYTHING Jesus did was done in full dependence on the Father and on the Holy Spirit (v. 28; cf. Luke 4:17-21).

The Pharisees were so hardened against Jesus that to accuse Him of being demon-possessed” (v.24) was tantamount to accusing the Holy Spirit of being demonic.

So, when a man’s heart is so hardened against God that he accuses God the Holy Spirit of being a demon, he commits blasphemy against the Spirit, according to this passage.

Thus, anyone who is even remotely concerned about having committed this sin can be sure he has not!

Otherwise, he would be so hardened as to not even care. Remember also that the Pharisees were the religious leaders of Israel, so they bore great responsibility for how they viewed God and Scripture.

There is one last point to be made, which I will offer from R.T. France, in his commentary on this section of Matthew:

Is the Son of Man then on a lower level, less than divine, that he can be slandered with impunity? Rather the incognito character of Jesus’ ministry means that failure to recognize him for what he was might be excusable (cf. Acts 3:17); even Peter ‘spoke against’ him (26:69-75) and was forgiven. The difference is then between failure to recognize the light and deliberate rejection of it once recognized; cf. Numbers 15:30-31 for unforgivable blasphemy in contrast with unwitting sin in vv.27-29.[2]

[1] The Greek word translated “amazed” is much stronger than the English word: it means to be totally astounded; to be beside one’s self with amazement and awe. This was spoken of the common man, but not the Pharisees. It was clearly an indictment on their hardness of heart.

[2] R.T. France, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 210.

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