Some people may think that there are several sins that are not pardonable by God. Almost certainly, they would include murder and, perhaps, rape among these sins. However, the Bible clearly states that there is only one unpardonable sin, and it is not either murder or rape. So, what is the unpardonable sin?
Before we attempt to answer this question, we think is important to define the meaning of the term unpardonable. Since Webster’s Dictionary does not define this term, we will use our own definition of unpardonable in regard to this article. Our definition of unpardonable is unforgivable. And, as the following scriptures indicate, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only sin that God will never forgive.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
In Mathew 12:31-32, Jesus Christ asserts,
I say unto 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 [i.e., Jesus] 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. [Note: The wording of Luke 12:10 is very similar.]
Likewise, in Mark 3:28-30 Jesus Christ declares,
Assuredly, I [Jesus Christ] say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” – because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
So, what does blasphemy involve? Webster’s Dictionary defines blasphemy as “profane or contemptuous speech, writing, or action concerning God or anything held as divine.” Strong’s Concordance indicates that the Greek word that is translated as blaspheme may be even more maligning than what Webster says. According to Strong, the Greek word means “to vilify,” which suggests attacking or injuring the reputation of the Holy Spirit by false and/or malicious statements.
To provide a better understanding of the previously-cited scriptures, we will consider what a number of Bible commentaries say about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
In reference to the aforementioned scriptures, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible explains that the unpardonable sin involves direct insult, abuse, or speaking evil against the Holy Spirit by alleging that certain displays of God’s mercy and power were the work of Satan. According to Barnes,
In [Matthew 12:31-32] and in Mark 3:28-30, Jesus states the awful nature of the sin of which [the Pharisees] had been guilty. That sin was the sin against the Holy Spirit. It consisted in charging him with being in league with the devil, or accusing him of working his miracles, not by the “spirit” or “power” of God, but by the aid of the prince of the devils. It was therefore a direct insult, abuse, or evil speaking against the Holy Spirit – the spirit by which Jesus worked his miracles. That this was what he intended by this sin, at that time, is clear from Mark 3:30, “because they said he had an unclean spirit.” All other sins – all speaking against the Saviour himself – might be remitted. But this sin was clearly against the Holy One; it was alleging that the highest displays of God‘s mercy and power were the work of the devil; and it argued, therefore, the deepest depravity of mind. The sin of which he speaks is therefore clearly stated. It was accusing him of working miracles by the aid of the devil, thus dishonoring the Holy Spirit.
[The phrase “either in this age or in the age to come”] means that the guilt will be unpardoned forever; that such is the purpose of God that he will not forgive a sin so direct, presumptuous, and awful. . . . The Saviour meant simply to say that there were “no possible circumstances” in which the offender could obtain forgiveness.
John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible explains why blasphemy against the Holy Spirt is worse than other sins and emphasizes that people who have been truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit will not commit such a sin. Calvin declares,
Having proved that the scribes could not blame him for casting out devils, without opposing the kingdom of God, [Jesus Christ] at length concludes that it is no light or ordinary offense, but an atrocious crime, knowingly and willingly to pour contempt on the Spirit of God. . . . Christ did not pronounce this decision on the mere words which they uttered, but on their base and wicked thought.
[T]he reason why blasphemy against the Spirit exceeds other sins, is not that the Spirit is higher than Christ, but that those who rebel, after that the power of God has been revealed, cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance. Besides, it must be observed, that what is here said about blasphemy does not refer merely to the essence of the Spirit, but to the grace which He has bestowed upon us. Those who are destitute of the light of the Spirit, however much they may detract from the glory of the Spirit, will not be held guilty of this crime. We do not maintain, that those persons are said to pour contempt on the Spirit of God, who oppose his grace and power by hardened malice; and farther we maintain, that this kind of sacrilege is committed only when we knowingly endeavor to extinguish the Spirit who dwells in us.
[B]lasphemy against the Spirit is a token of reprobation, and hence it follows, that whoever have [sic] fallen into it, have [sic] been delivered over to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28.) As we maintain, that he who has been truly regenerated by the Spirit cannot possibly fall into so horrid a crime, so, on the other hand, we must believe that those who have fallen into it never rise again; nay, that in this manner God punishes contempt of his grace, by hardening the hearts of the reprobate, so that they never have any desire towards repentance.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit involves more than just ignorant denial of and opposition to the deity and nature of the Holy Spirit. Gill asserts,
[The declaration that “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, shall not be forgiven unto men” includes] not every ignorant denial of, and opposition to his deity and personality; nor all resistance of him in the external ministry of the word; nor every sin that is knowingly and wilfully [sic] committed; but it is a despiteful usage of the Spirit of grace, an opposing, contradicting, and denying the operations wrought, or doctrines revealed by him, against a man’s own light and conscience, out of wilful [sic] and obstinate malice, on purpose to lessen the glory of God, and gratify his own lusts: such was the sin of the Scribes and Pharisees; who, though they knew the miracles of Christ were wrought by the Spirit of God, yet maliciously and obstinately imputed them to the devil, with a view to obscure the glory of Christ, and indulge their own wicked passions and resentments against him. . . .
[The assertion that “whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost . . . it shall not be forgiven him” is made] not because the Holy Ghost is greater than Christ; or for want of efficacy in the blood of Christ; or because God cannot pardon it; but because such persons wilfully [sic], maliciously, and obstinately oppose the Spirit of God, without whom there can be no application of pardon made; and remain in hardness of heart, are given up to a reprobate mind, and die in impenitence and unbelief, and so there is no forgiveness for them. . . .
Likewise, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible expresses the belief that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not include all speaking against the nature of the Holy Spirit, as follows:
[Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit] is not all speaking against the person or essence of the Holy Ghost, or some of his more private operations, or merely the resisting of his internal working in the sinner himself, that is here meant. . . . We have reason to think that none are guilty of this sin, who believe that Christ is the Son of God, and sincerely desire to have part in his merit and mercy: and those who fear they have committed this sin, give a good sign that they have not. . . . As for those who blasphemed Christ when he was here upon earth, and called him a Winebibber, a Deceiver, a Blasphemer, and the like, they had some colour [sic] of excuse, because of the meanness of his appearance, and the prejudices of the nation against him and the proof of his divine mission was not perfected till after his ascension and therefore, upon their repentance, they shall be pardoned: and it is hoped that they may be convinced by the pouring out of the Spirit, as many of them were, who had been his betrayers and murderers.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible indicates that people who are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit deny the holiness of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Pett says that although even sins involving blasphemy can be forgiven, these sins will not be forgiven, because the hardness of the hearts of those who commit blasphemy prevents them from repenting. More specifically, Pett declares,
All other sins could be forgiven. All blasphemies of whatever kind against God can be forgiven . . . , but not this. To face the testimony of the Spirit of God, revealed in a revelation of His power, and to deliberately twist it so as not to have to face up to it is to put oneself in danger. To impute to Satan the clear work of the Holy Spirit, and to go on doing so against testimony of mind and conscience, and to teach others so is the greatest of follies. For at length such a mind would become hardened, such a conscience would cease to work, and such a man would then become unreachable by God – through his own ill doing.
Forgiveness is available to all, if, of course, they repent and believe. But what an amazing assurance this is on the honour of Jesus Himself. He is confirming that there is no sin so evil or so blasphemous that it cannot be forgiven through the blood of Christ. That no one can have sinned so badly that he cannot be forgiven. Unless, that is, he has finally hardened his heart against God to such an extent that he is unable to repent. But then he will never know of his sin until the judgment. He will walk unconscious of it because his heart is hardened and unreachable. (It is not those who fear that they have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit who have done so. Those who are in danger of it are those who laugh at the very idea).
Their crowning sin is that they call the Spirit of God Himself ‘unclean’, and say that His power over Satan is imputed to one cut off from God by uncleanness. By this they deny the holiness of Jesus and of the Spirit Who is at work through Him. . . . [The Scribes and Pharisees] saw the holy power of God and dismissed it as of the Devil.
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible states that those who were guilty of the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit were deemed guilty because when they spoke maliciously about the Holy Spirit, who had enabled Jesus Christ to perform miracles, it was the highest form of reproach of the Holy Spirit. According to Poole,
[The sin against the Holy Spirit] is not hard to gather . . . from the context, and what Mark addeth (Mark 3:30). . . . Christ was come amongst these persons to whom he speaketh; he had not only preached, but he had wrought many miraculous operations sufficient to convince them that he acted by the power and Spirit of God. They were not only convinced of it, so far as to acknowledge it, but they attributed these operations to the devil, and said he had a devil, and that he did what he did by the power of the devil. This, out of doubt, was their sin against the Holy Ghost, maliciously speaking to the highest reproach of the Holy Spirit, contrary to the rational conviction of their own consciences.
[With regard to whether any such sin can be now committed,] if there were no other texts that seem to conclude, there may be such as those (Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26, 27; 1 John 5:16) where he speaketh of a sin unto death, for the forgiveness of which he would not have Christians pray. I should conclude that there is no such sin now to be committed, for we cannot have such means of conviction as the Pharisees had, Christ not being on the earth now working miracles; but it is plain from the texts before mentioned, that there is such a sin, that men and women may yet incur the guilt of.
Upon the whole then, if any person hath been instructed in the things of God, and hath made a profession of religion and godliness, and afterwards falleth off from his profession, and becomes a bitter enemy to it; saying that those things are the effects of the devil in men, which his heart telleth him are the operations of the Holy Spirit, and be so hardy as to persecute and seek to destroy such persons for such profession. . . . [B]laspheming (properly taken) can signify nothing else but evil or reproachful speaking. But these words must proceed from a malicious heart, full of rancour [sic] and revenge; for it is not every word, nor every blasphemy, that is here meant, it is (as Augustine saith) . . . a certain word, a certain blasphemy; not words spoken ignorantly or hastily, or according to our real judgment and opinion; but words spoken maliciously, in order to destroy God or Christ, if it were possible, after sufficient means of light and conviction, that the things which we speak evil of are not from the evil, but, probably at least, from the Holy Spirit of God, and yet we will impute them to the devil, in order to the defaming or destruction of those servants of God who do them, or in whom they are found.
Although the Adam Clarke Commentary is in general agreement with the previously-mentioned Bible commentaries, Clarke seems to believe that the punishment for committing the unpardonable sin will involve only the blasphemer’s mortal body, not his (or her) eternal soul. Clarke states,
Even personal reproaches, revilings [sic], persecutions against Christ, were remissible; but blasphemy, or impious speaking against the Holy Spirit was to have no forgiveness: i.e. when the person obstinately attributed those works to the devil, which he had the fullest evidence could be wrought only by the Spirit of God.
Here the matter is made clear beyond the smallest doubt – the unpardonable sin, as some term it, is neither less nor more than ascribing the miracles Christ wrought, by the power of God, to the spirit of the devil. Many sincere people have been grievously troubled with apprehensions that they had committed the unpardonable sin; but let it be observed that no man who believes the Divine mission of Jesus Christ, ever can commit this sin. . . .
The punishment for presumptuous sins, under the Jewish law, to which our Lord evidently alludes, certainly did not extend to the damnation of the soul, though the body was destroyed: therefore I think that, though there was no such forgiveness to be extended to this crime as to absolve the man from the punishment of temporal death, yet, on repentance, mercy might be extended to the soul; and every sin may be repented of under the Gospel dispensation.
It is important to add that, in addition to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, there is another circumstance that will cause God to not forgive a person of their sins. However, this situation can be rectified. Consider, for example, Matthew 6:14-15, in which Jesus Christ declares, “[I]f you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And, similarly, Mark 11:25b declares, “[I]f you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
If we are not willing to forgive someone who has sinned against us, both Matthew 6:14-15 and Mark 11:25b imply that God will not forgive the sins that we commit until we are willing to forgive the person who has offended us. Nevertheless, it may be appropriate to wait for the offending person to ask for forgiveness before we forgive that person, provided that we will be willing to forgive him (or her) if they ask us to do so. [For a more in-depth discussion of forgiveness, click on “Judging, Anger and Forgiveness.”]
The Bible commentaries that we have cited agree that the unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which most of these commentaries indicate involves accusing the Holy Spirit of being an accomplice of Satan. These commentaries also agree that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven by God, whereas all other types of sin are pardonable by God. And, the consensus of these Bible commentaries is that the punishment for committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is eternal condemnation of the soul (or spirit).
There is also another circumstance that will cause God to not forgive a person of their sins. This circumstance involves not forgiving someone who has offended that person. However, this situation can be rectified by being willing to forgive that offender.
Thus, there are two specific circumstances in which God will not forgive a person for his (or her) sins that have not already been forgiven. And, if any of a person’s sins remain unforgiven, God, because He is righteous, will deem it necessary to punish that person for those sins. What that punishment will be is uncertain, but it is generally agreed that genuine Christians are highly unlikely to blasphemy the Holy Spirit, so their eternal salvation is secure. [For a discussion of the basis for believing that a Christian cannot lose his (or her) eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]