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.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

JWL,

I think you mistake the letter of the Word for the Spirit of it.

You need to remember that you need Scripture to interprete Scripture.

Here is the key that unlocks all that you have misapplied:

Hebrews 10:26 - For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

I am glad you know your Greek - Knowledge here is Epignosis [a familiarity garnered of a continual and practical first-person interaction].

Only a born-again Christian can commit the sin unto death. HE does this by renouncing what he has experienced for a fact and has mental recollection of cos the key operative word is AFTER receiving.

I affirm the Holy Spirit and confess that He lives in me and is real to me.

Kindest Regards,

Austin Amadasun (Lagos, Nigeria)

Sharon Mooney said...

HE does this by renouncing what he has experienced for a fact and has mental recollection of cos the key operative word is AFTER receiving.

AFTER receiving? My point precisely.

This is what we cannot get through to Christians. We were born again Christians, and we rejected the holy spirit. We denounce, with memory of salvation in mind, of the faith, and the belief. Former Christians. Christians are implying we were never Christians.

Only a born-again Christian can commit the sin unto death.

Most of us, the majority, were born again Christians, and rejected and do hereby deny, the Holy Spirit. We experienced everything you claim to experience as a Christian.

What is there remaining that fails understanding? We are in fact, the same as any other Christian, but one more, we deny, denounce, reject and with some uttering blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The Bible says scripture is God breathed, and as a Christian I believed that must be true, I remember the joy, the peace, the comfort I found in "the comforter", and today, I mock my own stupidity that I ever was so guillible to have believed. I deny, with full knowledge of scripture, one word of the Bible is "God-Breathed" or inspired.

Does my blaspheme, satisfy the Christian definition of blaspheme yet?

Christians are finding themselves threatened now, with Atheists and non-believers boldly blaspheming the name of the Holy Ghost.

Denying its existence, and these same frightened Christians are reacting with "Well, that's not really blaspheme", but it is real blaspheme, and uttered by people having a solid understanding of what the Holy Spirit is. Okay?

Rich said...

Is there an example in the bible of someone commiting the sin against the holy spirit?

Sharon Mooney said...

Well, the Arian Controversy seems to hint as this (from an article I compiled on the same):
"Arius argued, the Word was not God, but the first of all creatures {it should be noted: Arius did not deny the Word existed before the incarnation of Christ}. All were in agreement on the pre-existence of the Word, but Arius' view held that before anything was created, the Word was created. Alexander's argument was the Word being divine could not have been created, but coexisted eternally with God. To better explain, if to make a distinction between God and Creation, Arius would place the Word on the side of creation, while Alexander would place the Word on the side of God."

"Alexander's rebuttal was that Arius' position denied the divinity of the Word, therefore the divinity of Jesus himself. Jesus was the cornerstone of Christianity, and what Arius had proposed would force an ultimatum, either to cease such worship or to acknowledge the worship of a creature. Neither alternative was acceptable."
/excerpt/
Some feel this was blaspheme.
"However, in 315 AD, Arius began to blaspheme against the Son of God, loudly vilifying Him and saying that He is a creature, born out of nonexistence,"
www.theologic.com

Google arius blaspheme or arius blasphemy

Otherwise, the Bible is filled with other examples, such as the young man who stumbled while carrying the Ark, and was stricken dead. Google "hemorrhoids philistines ark" ...

Anything disrespectful toward God would of course, be blaspheme, but the nt law seems to imply blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, in itself, is unpardonable.

Sharon Mooney said...

Further question. Robert G. Ingersoll states the unpardonable sin was an interpolation (addition) to the scriptures. What basis is there for this claim?

--

Christians are so confused by the scriptures, they're partly unsure themselves, so says Robert Ingersoll, in his lecture on "Blasphemy":

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven to the lunatic asylum by the thought that they had committed this unpardonable sin."

"You know that it is said of a Roman emperor that he wrote laws very finely, and posted them so high on the walls that no one could read them, and then he punished the people who disobeyed the laws. That is the acme of tyranny: to provide a punishment for breach of laws the existence of which was unknown. Now we all know that there is a sin against the Holy Ghost which will no be forgiven in this world nor in the world to come. Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven to the lunatic asylum by the thought that they had committed this unpardonable sin.

Every educated minister knows that that part of the Bible is an interpolation, but they all preach it. What that sin. Is it blasphemy to describe God specified? I say, "Oh, but, my good god, tell me what this sin is." And he answers, "Maybe now asking is the crime. Keep quiet." So I keep quiet and go about tortured with the fear that I have committed that sin. Is it blasphemy to describe God as needing assistance from the Legislature? (Laughter.) Calling for the aid of a mob to enforce his will here. Compare that God with a man, even with Henry Bergh. (Applause.) See what Mr. Bergh has done to awaken pity in our people and call sympathy to the rescue of suffering animals. And yet our God was a torturer of dumb brutes. Is it blaphemy to say that our god sent the famine and dried the mother's breast from her infant's withered lips? Is it blasphemy to say that he is the author of the pestilence; that he ordered some of his children to consume others with fire and sword? Is it blasphemy to believe what we read in the 109th Psalm? If these things are not blasphemy, then there is no blasphemy. If there be a God I desire Him to write in the book of judgment opposite my name that I denied these lines for him. (Great applause.)"

Bill said...

I could careless about the exegesis of Blaspemy of the Holy Spirit. If it was about belief in such entity, I'd be damned before my mouth opened. But, I think the challenge is really a stupid idea. It's like proving your unbelief to other atheists. It's almost like relying on faith that the Bible and Christianity is absurd. So it's fine to say it, but just seems over top.

Sorry, about my rant. I realize your site is dedicated to this kind of analysis.

Sharon Mooney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Left of Center said...

Actualy the passage from Mark about Blaspheming has to do with attributing a miracle performed By jesus while possesed by the holy spirit. Pharisees (sp) said the miracle was due to Satan possesing Jesus and casting out the demons. So... the sin was to deny the holy spirit and say it was performed by other means. With that said. I made my vid for the challenge too.

John W. Loftus said...

Ed Babinski wrote:

I would add that if you as a scholar suspect that Jesus in the Gospel of Mark did not consider himself to BE God, but was an adopted "Son" of God at his baptism (with which the Markan Gospel begins, i.e., citing a psalm at Jesus's baptism that was recited at the enthronement of Hebrew Kings that said, "You are my son, this day have I begotten you") then Jesus was chosen and empowered by God, but not God, and hence, "all manner of words spoken against Jesus" WOULD be forgiveable because he wasn't God, while the "Holy Spirit" was God's Spirit. And that interpretation of the saying makes sense for scholars who argue that Mark, the earliest Gospel, incorporated an adoptionist Christology.

But if you believe that Jesus was part of a "Trinity" and all parts of the "Trinity" were equal parts of one whole God, then why make words spoken against Jesus forgiveable, but words spoken against the spirit of God UNforgiveable? Can you really get away with blaspheming some parts of the Trinity but not others? (Or was Jesus NOT as much "God" as the "Holy Spirit?")

Either way, that verse about an unforgiveable sin has caused even BELIEVING Christians restlessness and worry. It makes them fear that some sort of sin exists out there that isn't defined very clearly, a sin worse than "all the sins and blasphemies of men," as Jesus said about it in Mark 3, and that can "never be forgiven."

Glenn Dixon said...

John, thank you - that's another verse that puzzled me but that I never heard sufficiently addressed. The adoptionist interpretation does make a lot more sense there. Otherwise, if son, the holy spirit and the father are all three god, how can words or actions against one part be treated differently than another? So if I disobey the Holy Spirit I've sinned, but not if I disobey Jesus? That would be cool...

Anonymous said...

Sharon said: "Christians are finding themselves threatened now, with Atheists and non-believers boldly blaspheming"

JWL asks: "Can you really get away with blaspheming some parts of the Trinity but not others?"

Sharon, your belief that any action of words or yours will threaten, nay perturb a true believer is a figment of your imagination.

JWL, why is that question important? Does it perhaps present you with an irresistable oportunity to "debunk" Christianity?

What you fail to understand is that Christianity NEVER laid claim to correctness based on the logical concurrency of Man. The Truths of the Gospel are "SPIRITUALY DISCERNED" and most learned people all through the ages have attacked it based on reason [not realising that they spear only the shadow and not the substance].

Mere fishermen, tax collectors and "sinners" brought down the mighty Roman empire; not by erudite elocution; but by the demostration of God's love and power.

Here is what the Bibe says on the topic by the way: Hebrews 10:26 - For if we sin wilfully..... there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

Allow me to break that down this way:

It is not God that condemns you; it is your actions [there is a cleansing ministry of the Holy Ghost from which you ostracise yourself when you reject the very Thing that was meant to perform the redemptive work].

In one simple example; you can sin against the sponge, you can sin against the soap; BUT IF YOU REJECT THE WATER, your bath will not happen and you will remain UNCLEAN.

Hope I make this Scripture and myself understood enough for your taste.

Compliments of the Season,

Austin Amadasun (Lagos, Nigeria)

Hallq said...

Sharon-

I checked my NRSV, which is pretty good about noting discrepencies between manuscripts, and no alternative reading is marked for Mark 3:28-30. Ingersoll was a good writer, but he did get things like this wrong.

Austin-

Hate to nitpick, but I thought it was Germanic invaders who brought the Roman Empire down...

Sharon Mooney said...

Sharon, your belief that any action of words or yours will threaten, nay perturb a true believer is a figment of your imagination.

Nein. All a true believer needs to disturb them is for a fellow believer to adopt a slight difference on belief. Churches split over issues of less significance than these.

Tommy said...

The Roman Empire was not "brought down" by Christianity. I would argue it was more like Christianity was a mutation of a virus (Judaism) that spread throughout its host, the Roman Empire, until the Empire itself was Christian. It is similar to certain viruses that are present in animals, but occasionally a variation of the virus will jump over to humans. Judaism was essentially the religion of the Jewish people, and therefore was a local religion. But its offspring, Christianity, saw itself as transcending racial and ethnic boundaries and saw all peoples as fair game for potential conversion.

The Roman Empire was the perfect host for Christianity. Unlike Rome's Middle East rival, Persia, which was a Zoroastrian state, the Roman Empire was religiously pluralistic and the government did not care who you worshipped as long as you paid your respects to the Emperor. Therefore, Christianity was able to compete with other faiths in the religious marketplace.

Rome's control of the Mediterranean Sea and its extensive network of well paved roads facilitated travel and communication throughout the empire from Palestine to Britain. This made it easier for Christian preachers to spread their message throughout the Empire, and indeed beyond it to the Germanic tribes of central and eastern Europe.

In the 3rd century C.E., the Roman Empire began to slide into decline. There was a lack of orderly succession and there were constant civil wars between contenders for the throne. Assassinations of emperors were frequent. There were costly wars with the Persians, which resulted in several emperors either being killed in battle or captured. Consequently, the border defenses were weakened and the Germanic tribes increased their raids. Roman coinage became increasingly debased and economic conditions deteriorated.

In this topsy-turvy time, the lot of the average Roman grew worse. In such an environment, it should come as no surprise that the Christian religion held great appeal with its promise of an afterlife of happiness. By the time that the emperor Diocletian began to seriously persecute Christians in the early 4th century, Christianity had reached a tipping point in terms of numbers. With Diocletian's death, the persecution of Christians came to a halt and the religion was officially recognized by Constantine. It is rather ironic that after Thedosius made Christianity the official religion of the empire in 395, the empire split permanently into eastern and western halves.

It is not accurate to say that the western half of the Roman Empire was conquered. It suffered from repeated raids and invasions by barbarians and much territory was lost. Britain was abandoned by 410. Gaul, Iberia and North Africa were taken over by the Franks, Visigoths and Vandals, respectively. The Roman army had become Germanized and many Roman emperors in the 5th century were merely creatures of German generals like Stilicho.

The last Roman emperor was simply deposed by his German patron, and allowed to retire to a villa for the rest of his life. For most Roman citizens in the Italian peninsula, life went on pretty much as it had in previous years. The Empire in the west was not so much conquered as made irrelevant.

Mattie said...

"you can sin against the sponge, you can sin against the soap; BUT IF YOU REJECT THE WATER, your bath will not happen and you will remain UNCLEAN."

I don't get it.

How do you sin against a sponge? I mean, Bill O'Riley had that thing with the loofa, but really...

And we've invented anti bacterial hand gel, water is no longer necessary to get clean, so I guess that means the water is... irrelevant (and therefor also the holy spirit)?

You need a better example.

Cameron Adler said...

Is it not "blasphemous" to alter or misrepresent the "word of god?"

If so then every time it has been translated it has been altered and misrepresented. All of you who read any version of the Bible other than in the original language of its authors are engaging in and encouraging blasphemy. So you're all going to hell. KJV, NIV, Living, it's all blasphemous lies interpreted from other lies.

Since it's all just opinion anyway... For the record, God is a Lie, Jesus (if not just another lie) was just another dead jew on a stick, the Bible is mythical trash, and all practitioners of Proselytical Judeo-Papism and Xianity are malicious, evil and unworthy of basic human respect. Does that about cover it?

Btw, if anyone's version of heaven and hell are accurate, then hell is where the smarter option! Copernicus, Gallileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, all those guys were excommunicated and sent to hell, right? What about Socrates, Plato, Plutarch, and Pythagoras? Those guys lived and died before Jesus was ever invented, surely if you're right then they're in hell too! Who'd want to hang out in heaven with all those serial killers, murderers, rapists, and child molesters who "Found Jesus" in prison?

Get past the religious nonsense and come to your senses.

Cameron
The Daily Atheocrat.org

Two Chix Apologetics said...

John,

Thanks for the invite to read your post! You have some interesting and well-stated ideas. I am not convinced about the idea that merely speaking words is the "ultimate sin." Perhaps, the spoken word needs to be connected with the state of the "heart" or mind in a commitment to the denial of the existence of God. Does this seem reasonable in light of the texts? I will check out the context of your references to BLASPHĒMEŌ and BLASPHĒMOS.

Also, why focus the challenge solely on the Christian version of a monotheistic God?

Thanks again,
MJ