Matthew 12 and speaking against the Holy Spirit

In Matt 12: 32, it says, “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 the age to come.” Why the distinction, what does it mean to speak against(deny?) , and are there any other verses that shed light on this? tx Kathleen


@plantaseed Great question :slight_smile: I think the short answer is that because it is God’s Spirit who testifies to our spirit of the truth, to blasphemy the Spirit is to deny the only means there is of knowing God - it is a rejection of the knowledge of God. God always forgives those who repent from a sincere heart - no matter what they’ve done - but a person who has blasphemed the Spirit is hardened against God Himself - against the witness of God’s Spirit - and has therefore cutoff their only path to repentance. Some more below.

Some people become very anxious because they believe they have committed the unforgivable sin. But there is no need for this anxiety if a person is afraid they have committed the sin, because a person who has committed blasphemy of the Spirit would not care that they had done so . This sin is not a one time act - it is a life long attitude of suppressing the testimony of God’s Spirit.

“Ambrose and the Didache understand the unforgivable sin to be opposing the Spirit’s work—not just in Jesus’ day, but continuing through his Spirit-inspired prophets in the contemporary church. Many in the church connected this saying with the “sin unto death” of 1 John 5:16, understood as an unforgivable post-conversion relapse, while others interpreted it more generally as a rejection of the gospel. Augustine, who dedicated at least one whole sermon to this topic, is typical and influential in arguing the blasphemy isn’t a specific act but a state of enmity and impenitence lasting unto death. It’s a hardness of heart that, if not repented of in this life, will prove to be unforgiven. In this sense, then, the blasphemy is understood simply as unbelief that persists throughout life.”

You Asked: What Is the Unforgivable Sin?

The Gospel Coalition is a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ

“This was not a one-time, momentary slip or inadvertent mistake in judgment. This was a persistent, life-long rebellion in the face of inescapable and undeniable truth. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not a careless act committed only once in a moment of rage or rebellion, but a calloused attitude over time; a persistent defiance that hardens and calcifies the heart.”

“First let me point out that my response to each and every caller is exactly the same as what my father told me: “If you are truly concerned, you have not committed the unforgivable sin.” Rather than demonstrating concern, those who actually commit the unpardonable sin are cavalier about Christ and Christianity. In other words, they have no interest in His forgiveness.”

“Furthermore, let me point out that those who have committed the unpardonable sin have no godly regret. As Paul emphasizes in the book of Romans, they not only continue in their evil ways but approve of others who do so as well (Rom 1:32). Conversely, “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). Thus, as with the Apostle Peter, sorrow for sin and the desire for Christ’s forgiveness is proof positive that you have not rejected the Savior of your soul. Three times Peter denied his Lord with vile oaths. Yet Christ forgave him.”


again, thank you. I remember agonizing when reading Hebrews over 35 yrs ago about the unforgivable sin. This new way of reading through the Bible that I have adopted is really making me think and connect things.

I would follow this up with this question: My brother was baptized as a teenager but went to college and completely lost his faith, turning to evolution. I have never had the confidence to discuss this with him, so now I wonder if he has turned his back on the Holy Spirit. How on earth would I even have a conversation with him about this? We are poles apart on many things, from Christianity to politics and he tends to go the sarcastic route. Does this question belong better in another forum here? or what search words would I put in to find previous discussions as I am surely not the first to wonder about this.


@plantaseed I’m not sure if there is another thread on that specific topic. My personal perspective is that we should not try to determine the state of someone else’s heart - the best thing we can do is love them and speak truth at the right time. You might find the Engel Scale to be a helpful tool as you engage with your brother. Praying that your brother would experience the love and grace of Jesus in his heart and mind :slight_smile:

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@plantaseed, excellent question! First off, let me warn you that theologians and Biblical scholars have been wrestling with this very question since those words were spoken, so don’t think that you’ll get any answers that you can trust as definitive :smiley: And to be quite honest, that’s probably a good thing. Given man’s rebellious nature, having an indisputable answer to it might tempt the more defiant of us to prove our defiance – and our presumed superiority to God – by attacking God in a way that He cannot overcome.

The answer that @SeanO gave fits the general consensus that’s been maintained throughout church history, and he did a good job presenting it, so I have nothing to add there. I do, however, have a more oddball, unorthodox possibility to present.

Note the context of the passage that you reference. Just prior to the verse, the Pharisees were debating that perhaps Jesus was casting out devils by Satan’s power rather than by God’s. When Jesus spoke, He explained why that suggestion made no sense, how it was self-defeating. It’d be a good bit of theological teaching to waste on a group of people who could no longer benefit from such a warning, so that tells me that, whatever the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, the Pharisees had NOT committed it. Yet. Hence the warning.

This event is mentioned in two other Gospel accounts – Luke 12:10 and Mark 3:29. Luke ties the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to rejection of the Gospel, as SeanO said. But both the Matthew account and Mark precede the warning with an odd piece of encouragement: “all manner of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven”. Luke’s account doesn’t include that assurance, but it does specifically say that any sin or blasphemy leveled against God the Son (Jesus) can be forgiven, just before it specifically names the Holy Spirit as the One against whom no blasphemy can be forgiven.

Note that God the Father is never specifically mentioned, neither in the assurance nor the warning that follows. As He is the only UN-named Person of the Trinity, He can arguably be placed in either category – with the Son or with the Spirit. But because “all manner of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven”, I’m persuaded that He falls in category with the Son. If that’s the case, one can blaspheme both the Son and the Father and be forgiven, leaving ONLY sins against the Spirit as unforgivable.

To me, this makes perfect logical sense. Many of those who come to salvation, both in scripture and throughout history, have been openly and intentionally hostile to the Father. Scripture makes it a point that He sent Christ to die for us “while we were yet sinners”, or as Paul suggests in Romans 8:7, while we were the ENEMIES of God.

But the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit isn’t the only place in scripture where the Spirit is singled out, even among the Son and the Father…

John 14:16-17 – And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Note that. The world knows, and can know, the Father. The Old Testament attests to that. The world knows, and can know, the Son. That’s what the Gospels are all about. But the world does not know, and cannot know, the Spirit. That intimacy is one reserved specifically for those who have received Christ.

So of all sin and rebellion, on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. And of the three Persons of the Trinity, only the Holy Spirit is unknowable to the lost world.

To me, this suggests that whatever the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, it’s something that only a Christian – or a once-Christian, anyway – can commit: the sin of apostasy. In other words, a “divorce” from God of one who had previously received Christ, and with Him, the Holy Spirit.

Now to be clear, I’m not talking about backsliding. Jeremiah 3:8 speaks of Israel backsliding and being divorced from God, only to assure Israel in verse 14 that God is still married to her, and still wants her to be reconciled with Him. Rather, I’m talking about intentional, willful rebellion, where the once-Christian knows exactly what he’s doing and chooses to make an enemy of God (a la Hebrews 10:26).

Like I said, this is not a view I’ve heard from anybody else. It’s just food for thought.

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@Jeremy God wants us to return to His word again and again. Maybe that’s why some of it is crystal clear and other parts not so much. For example, I would have liked to know more about the building of the ark, and how Noah , who wasn’t a carpenter, dealt with it. Conversely, I was just reading in Matthew about how the apostles travel somewhere and forget the bread. This is mentioned 3 times and it always makes me chuckle. ( I know it is a backdrop for the bad yeast of the pharisees and Sadducees) but still. Anyway, thank you for your cogent and well thought out letter.

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I know, right?!? What I find fascinating about that exchange is that Jesus Himself had already provided the context of the “yeast” before they even got to that point. They should have KNOWN that He was speaking in a parable. It was obvious. I mean, they had just watched Jesus chew out the Pharisees and Sadducees in the preceding verses. So they set off in the boat, and Jesus is still talking about the Pharisees and Sadducees, but because the disciples had “forgotten” the bread, they think Jesus’ conversation has to do with bread.

What an indictment, that. Jesus had just got done ripping the Pharisees for seeking after signs, and here’s the disciples, looking to Jesus for a sign like the ones He’d already performed twice before. And they didn’t even know they were doing it until Jesus pointed it out to them.

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makes me feel better in a small way. If the disciples can miss so much with Jesus, how much easier is it for me to miss stuff? Although I am out of excuses because I have the Bible and Holy Spirit! “Jesus chew out” haha

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