The Blasphemy Challenge: Is It What Jesus Meant?

There is at the present time something called The Blasphemy Challenge put out by an atheist group calling themselves the Rational Response Squad. See also Ed Babinski's Blog on this. Some Christians are responding on You Tube and also claiming that those who made this challenge don’t understand what the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit really is about.

I find this an interesting topic just because it’s another example to me of how Christians interpret their Bible. What is this particular sin? Christians claim that this sin isn't necessarily a speaking sin. With one voice using different words to express it, they argue that this sin is “the willful and wicked rejection of God’s saving power and grace.” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. [“Blasphemy”].

In the The Anchor Bible Dictionary [ABD, “Unforgiveable Sin”] we read: “Those who are so spiritually perverse as to call Jesus’ healing ministry evil, are in danger of completely rejecting the spirit of God and with it any possibility of forgiveness. Such persons place themselves out of reach of God’s forgiveness, not because God’s forgiveness is limited, but because they would refuse it as evil.”

Notice that according to the ABD such people are in danger of any possibility of forgiveness.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Mark 3:28-30]: “In light of the context this refers to an attitude (not an isolated act or utterance) of defiant hostility toward God that rejects His saving power toward man, expressed in the Spirit-empowered person and work of Jesus."

Harper's Bible Commentary (Mk 3:20): “Though Jesus himself has been charged with blasphemy, his accusers commit the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which, in context, is the attribution to evil of a power given by God. Though all sins can be forgiven by God, the inability to distinguish good from evil makes one impervious to the presence of God.”

So even though we see that the scribes have committed such a sin, the real sin is the "inability to distinguish good from evil"?

Self proclaimed apologist JP Holding states: "the 'unpardonable sin' is this and nothing more: UNBELIEF." [Update: Holding updated his entry after I wrote this, but he clearly doesn't understand Greek, as I will explain later. When this former librarian actually takes a Greek class he will understand what the texts mean. Suffice it to say that the Greek in the Matthean passage has nothing to do with whether a particular speech act is finished. It has everything to do with what was said. Even if it was believed that what a person said reflected his heart, Christians today still believe this based upon passages like Matthew 15:7-9].

I usually don’t comment on what Christian are supposed to believe. I tell them to figure that out for themselves and get back to me when they all agree. But on this one issue most all Christians today agree that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not about one act of denying the Holy Spirit. So I decided to take another look. I wanted to see why most all Christians are in agreement on at least one issue. That cannot be, I thought. ;-)

Take a look at the texts themselves [NIV]:

Mark 3:28-30
“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit."

Now the context here is stated in the last verse. Jesus said what he did because the scribes said what they said. That’s the immediate context. What was it about what they said that provoked Jesus to say what he did? They spoke against the Holy Spirit. Yep. That’s what they did when they said of Jesus that “He has an evil spirit.” Therefore, the immediate context tells us that Jesus responded to a speaking type of sin, and this is also indicated by the other gospels in various ways as well:

Luke 12:10
"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."

The contrast here is obvious. Speaking against the Son of Man is contrasted with blaspheming (or speaking against) the Holy Spirit. Just see Matthew's text below and this will be clearer if it isn't here. [If Jesus is God in the flesh, why would he distinguish between the offenses committed here? I see no reason, do you?]

Matthew 12:31-32
"And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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."

The second sentence is key here. The contrast is crystral clear. It's a speaking sin. The two Greek words for the word "speaks" in this passage are both in the aorist mood. The aorist mood means that "the kind of action is punctiliar. The aorist indicates finished action." Essentials of New Testament Greek Ray Summers (Broadman Press, 1950, p. 66]. This is not a continual rejection of the Holy Spirit or even a continual speaking against the Holy Spirit. It's a speaking sin. Once spoken a person has committed it.

John’s gospel omits the sin against the Holy Spirit, even though it seems he talks the most about the Spirit of God. Why is that? Was there something John just didn’t like about this particular saying of Jesus'? Who knows. But in John’s gospel we do read something interesting about what the “Jews” thought blasphemy is:

John 10:30-33:
Jesus said, “ I and the Father are one.”
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

That’s what blasphemy was to the Jews; it’s a speaking sin against God. It didn’t have anything to do with what Jesus did, like his miracles. They were going to kill Jesus for claiming to be God. I don’t think this is any different for Muslims who think blasphemy against Allah or his prophet is something that is said (or done) against them. Muslims will want to kill people who speak and do acts that defame their God and prophet. One act will suffice to be a cause for death. Just ask Salmon Rushdie, or the Danish cartoonists who depicted Muhammad in unflattering ways.

Another way to see this same understanding is to just do a Greek word study on blasphemy:

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament[TDNT]:
A. blasphēmía in Greek Literature. The word means a. “abusive speech,” b. “personal mockery,” c. “blasphemy.”

According to the TDNT the early church had a great deal of difficulty with this particular saying of Jesus'. For them, “The exposition of Mt. 12:32 (for which see above) causes considerable difficulty.” I haven’t done the research on this but I would be interested in these early church debates, for they may tell us more about this particular sin than anything else. It seems that the early church settled this issue for all time, although it seems to me they settled it because of the harshness of Jesus’ actual words, and not because of what the text actually says.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words:
BLASPHĒMIA (βλασφημία , (988)), either from blax, sluggish, stupid, or, probably, from blaptō, to injure, and phēmē, speech, Eng. “blasphemy,” is so translated thirteen times in the R.V., but “railing” in Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:22; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Tim. 6:4; Jude 9. The word “blasphemy” is practically confined to speech defamatory of the Divine Majesty.
B. Verb.
BLASPHĒMEŌ (βλασφημέω , (987)), to blaspheme, rail at or revile, is used (a) in a general way, of any contumelious speech, reviling, calumniating, railing at etc., as of those who railed at Christ, e.g., Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29; Luke 22:65 (R.V., “reviling”); 23:39; (b) of those who speak contemptuously of God or of sacred things, e.g., Matt. 9:3; Mark 3:28; Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 1:20; 6:1; Rev. 13:6; 16:9, 11, 21; “hath spoken blasphemy,” Matt. 26:65; “rail at,” 2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 8, Jude 10; “railing,” 2 Pet. 2:12; “slanderously reported,” Rom. 3:8; “be evil spoken of,” Rom. 14:16; 1 Cor. 10:30; 2 Pet. 2:2; “speak evil of,” Tit. 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:4; “being defamed,” 1 Cor. 4:13. The verb (in the present participial form) is translated “blasphemers” in Acts 19:37; in Mark 2:7, “blasphemeth,” R.V., for A.V., “speaketh blasphemies.”
C. Adjective.
BLASPHĒMOS (βλάσφημος , (989)), abusive, speaking evil, is translated “blasphemous,” in Acts 6:11, 13; “a blasphemer,” 1 Tim. 1:13; “railers,” 2 Tim. 3:2, R.V.; “railing,” 2 Pet. 2:11.

The Greek word for blasphemy (lit. a transliteration) means "abusive speech" in the usage of that day. The context indicates Jesus is talking about a spoken word against the Holy Spirit that the scribes were in danger of committing. The Jews of Jesus' day believed it was speaking against their God. The Muslims have practically the same idea as Jesus expressed. The early church had “considerable difficulty” with what Jesus said. What’s there not to understand?

I deny that there is a Holy Spirit.