Blasphemy Against The Holy Spirit
Mk 3:28-30 YLT Verily I say to you, that all the sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men, and evil speakings with which they might speak evil, but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness – to the age, but is in danger of an age-enduring trespass; because they said, 'He hath an unclean spirit.'
The "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" – what was it? Mk 3:30 defines it specifically as the utterly reprehensible sin of attributing or ascribing the pre-Cross ministry of Christ [Jn 5:17, 36; 10:32; 14:10] to that of demonic origins [Mt 9:34; 12:24; Jn 7:20; 8:48, 52; 10:20] – in effect insulting the Spirit of grace [Heb 10:29], as it was the Spirit that testified of Christ through his works [Jn 16:15].
Many of the religious ruling elite along with some of the people were in the precarious position of such blasphemy, so audience relevance is a determining factor in a proper understanding of this sin. Quite literally, the consequences of this blasphemous action were sheeted home to those of that generation. It was a generational sin – AD30-70 and carried overtones of Isa 5:18-21 and thus the Pharisaic woes of Jesus in Mt 23. Again, nothing of the old age would find life [forgiveness] in the consummated new age – but suffer the consequence of eternal [totality of] judgment.
In following the literal Greek text Jesus shows HOW "blasphemy against the Spirit" WAS A GENERATIONAL SIN ALONE, something committed by the Pharisees [Mt 12:24]. When referring back to THEM Jesus says: "Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven those men [τοις ανθρωποις], but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven those men [τοις ανθρωποις]."
The Greek words "tois antropois" [τοις ανθρωποις] SPECIFICALLY means "those men" i.e., the Pharisees. It is a translational oversight to not include this specific variant of the definite article [the] in this passage, elsewhere normally translated as either "those" or "these". Thus Jesus' pronouncement WAS NOT A GENERIC for-all-time judgment, no; but rather a specific prophetic warning and sentence against that end-time generation of Pharisees and ANY who would likewise join in their sin.
Once committed, transgressions or "sinful actions" cannot be undone e.g., if I hit you it is done and cannot be taken back or undone. So the unforgivable nature of this transgression indicates the severity with which God held and would so judge this action, thus becoming part of the malediction [Mt 27:25] that came home to roost on Christ's generation in His AD70 Parousia – fulfilling Christ's own words [Mt 23:35-36]. And nothing of the Old Covenant economy, in this instance – blasphemy, would survive through it – hence not even into eis [εις] the age [Mk 3:29] …to come.
Speaking of this blasphemous sin and error of Jesus' opponents Tom Wright comments:
…and to say: 'This is the work of the devil.' To say such a thing was to paint oneself into a corner from which there was no escape. Once define the battle for your liberation as the work of the enemy, and you will never be free.
N. T. Wright: Jesus And The Victory Of God p. 454
Mt 12:31-32 "Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
Matthew's account "it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age about to mello [μελλω] come" [audience relevance] suggests the nearness and permanency of such actions as touching even through the soon to be Parousia. There were those of the "this generation" who lived through the Parousia [Rev 22:11], yet they simply died in their blasphemous Old Covenant standing, not experiencing forgiveness in life "into the age to come" from that grievous old covenant sin.
We find Paul in 1Cor 3:15 describing as loss such works that will not survive the AD70 refining fire, but will deliver [purge] those passing through it. Mark demonstrates loss in terms of "eternal condemnation" [Mk 3:29], which was the judgment on dead works i.e., works of self-righteous, the same that John references in Jn 5:29. "Eternal" is to be understood in terms of totality or entirety, not the longevity of endlessness. Such an example is found in Jude 1:7 where Sodom and Gomorrah are described as languishing in flames of "eternal fire" – though in that day, long since extinguished and not literally still burning; it speaking rather of the totality of Divine judgment that had a literal fulfilment for a specific or predetermined period of time.
It is also interesting to note that Mark says "never has forgiveness" which in the Greek is in the "present indicative tense." This is similar to the intent of Jesus' words in Jn 3:18 where "he who does not believe is condemned already" – rendering the person who being in a position of continued unbelief or in this instance, constant blasphemy, as not being able to change as long as that position was being held. This thought is further strengthened as blasphemes being in the "aorist tense" means the action as having occurred at some juncture, and being in the "subjunctive mood" meaning the possibility of it reoccurring i.e., as long as they remained in that condition of heart such an action was still possible. Not dissimilar to Esau, who through many tears sought remorse – worldly sorrow, but not unto repentance – Godly sorrow [Heb 12:17; 2Cor 7:10].
So Jesus' words could well have been in this sense a warning to his nation to be careful as to where they found themselves positioned in regards to casting aspersions against him, or more importantly whom he represented i.e., their God. This indeed was Israel's great sin as represented by her leadership that was not repented of, and thus in the end of age would suffer judgment [Lk 19:42-44], and so, as God's covenanted people, not survive into the coming new age. Thus in this sense, their position was totally unforgivable as it was the blasphemous and unrighteous work of the old covenant economy in decrying the prophet of God [Psa 105:15].
Lk 12:10 "And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.
Now to an oft-related issue of a more limited and subjective nature. There may be some scope for considering this "sin of blasphemy" in terms of or being paralleled with the post-Cross "sin unto death" of 1Jn 5:16. There are a number of different options to look at when considering this, as opposed to just consigning this to the same category as the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit carte blanche.
This 'sin unto death' in context could be applicable to the "antichrists" of whom John writes – those who had gone out from among the believers [1Jn 2:19] denying Christ's having "come in the flesh" [1Jn 4:1-3; 2Jn 1:7; Rom 9:5] i.e., as Israel's Messiah. So this again puts this sin in the context of the "this generation" scenario. Paul calls them "false brethren" – Judaizers [Gal 2:4]. Luke describes the same in Act 15:1, 5, 24. This sin leading to death does not appear to be directly related to the covenantal position of separation as found in Paul's "the death" – though indirectly in reversion to Judaism, it is.
Another possible and perhaps more directly related aspect of this "sin unto death" however hits closer to home where Scripture speaks of those brethren perpetually caught in sin, those entrapped in a persistent and undisciplined besetting sin [Heb 12:1] i.e., a transgression that is willfully not repented of, thus becoming somewhat of a millstone. Understood in this setting the "…unto death" nature of things could be seen as a divinely orchestrated judgment whose end consequence is literal physical death, period. It is worth noting that John is only speaking of a "sin unto death" NOT a sin unto eternal conscious torment or annihilation as is often times read into this verse – John is NOT speaking of post-death calamity. Thus the "sin unto death" is to be understood as physical death.
Paul further speaks of those at Corinth who are "weak" and "sick" and some who have even fallen "asleep" – literally died; terms that in context point to possible divine discipline toward wayward brethren [1Cor 11:30-32; Prov 29:1]. Those who slept had persisted and so perished in their sin to the point where God deemed it more expedient that the wayward one be removed than for them to remain and wreak more havoc and ruin more lives around them.
It is possible that Ananias and Sapphira potentially had fallen into this category [Act 5:1-10] – thus the link with blasphemy [lying] against the Spirit, i.e., it had a temporal consequence that could not be undone, in that age or the one coming. Which means such actions were more irreversible than unforgivable – as with the likes of Hymenaeus and Alexander who were to "learn not to blaspheme" [1Tim 1:20], which shows that such "discipline" was remedial and restorative, NOT punitive and permanent, as we likewise find in 1Cor 5:5 and 2Cor 2:6-10 – thus "salvation" was found, i.e., deliverance from toxic ways.
Finally, it could well be simply this: that John's "sin unto death" referenced a known criminal offence under Jewish law for which literal death was the penalty, i.e., a capital offence as per…
Deut 21:22 If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree…
Now when all's said and done this above could well have been all that John had in mind. Either way, whatever this "sin unto death" was, we have James' injunction to his fellow believers concerning such things, that even if should one fail and fall, no one was irretrievable:
Jas 5:19-20 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner [a believer] from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
So even though it was possible to commit such sin unto death in that age, such biological demise was not "the end", for as has already been shown in these Scriptures above [1Cor 5:1-5; 2Cor 2:3-8; 1Tim 1:20; 1Cor 3:13-15], such removal in the long term was again both remedial and restorative, being neither punitive nor perpetual nor permanent – such is the grace of God.