Is questioning a so-called prophet blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?

Q. What is the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit"? Why is it called an unforgivable sin? Is there any way for a person to commit this sin today? Is the person who questions a self-appointed prophet guilty of committing this sin?

Jesus taught about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as recorded in Mark 3:20-30 and the parallel passages in Matthew 12:25-32, Luke 11:14-20, and 12:8-10. The people were amazed that Jesus had the power to exorcize demons, but the teachers of the law claimed that he was possessed by Beelzebub himself and that He cast them out by the power of "the prince of demons."

After making several arguments against this claim, Jesus said:

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. --Mark 3:28-29

Mark then adds, "He said this because they were saying, 'He has an evil spirit.'" (v. 30).

The miraculous power Jesus demonstrated was from the Holy Spirit. Here's how the Apostle Peter explains it:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and... he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. --Acts 10:38

The Holy Spirit used the miraculous powers He gave to Jesus as a means of testifying to His divine nature. He authenticated the words of Jesus as having come from God. That's what the anonymous author of Hebrews says:

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. --Hebrews 2:3-4

In other words, the very signs God provided to validate Jesus the Jewish leaders acknowledged as genuine, but they denied the power was from the Holy Spirit, opting instead for a diabolical source. This Jesus will not tolerate. This, he says, God cannot forgive.

The short answer to the question about why this sin is unforgivable, is simply, because Jesus said it was. The person on whom all forgiveness depends is sovereign over sin and over its forgiveness. Jesus takes this offense personally. His eternal, intimate love-bond with the Holy Spirit is at stake. The Spirit is selfless, always pointing to Jesus and lifting Him up. For someone to see the signs and acknowledge their power, yet deny their obvious origin is to insult the Spirit and slander his very character.

Why did the Jewish leaders take this stand? It was because Jesus refused to conform to their preconceptions of what the Messiah would be like and to their traditional way of interpreting the law of Moses. Rather than admit they might be wrong about one or the other or both, they concluded Jesus must be wrong, and therefore His obvious power must be from Satan, not from the "Giver of every good and perfect gift."

Denying or explaining away the very signs that should have prompted faith to grow in their hearts, they turned their backs on their only hope for deliverance.

This volley of rejection against Jesus and the Spirit continued. Later rabbinic writings refer to Jesus as Balaam, the prophet whom the Moabite king hired to curse Israel (Numbers 22 - 24). Try as he did, Balaam could only bless the Israelites. To compare Jesus to Balaam continues the blasphemy of the first century through later generations.

Is it possible to commit this same sin today? Certainly, though people who want to reject Jesus seldom take that approach. Rather than acknowledging his power but explaining it as diabolical, they either deny the historicity of the gospel accounts, or they attempt some rationalistic explanation of his miracles. Often these attempts are made with a self-satisfied pomposity that congratulates its own intellectual elitism: "Of course, no one believes that those poor people were really possessed by the boogy-man. Either they had epilepsy or some form of mental illness." "People were so gullible and superstitious back then. I'm amazed that they could accept at face value a young girl's claim about the Holy Spirit getting her pregnant or that what happened to an even younger girl behind closed doors was a resurrection instead of a fever breaking."

Such a response to the Good News is wrong--it is certainly damning--but it is not unforgivable. It is simply arrogant and closed-minded.

Some would apply the warning about blaspheming against the Spirit to any would would seek to debunk self-appointed prophets, modern-day tongues-speakers, and faith healers. While we should all examine our own hearts and ensure that our motives are pure, a number of passages urge us to put prophecy to the test, and by extension, the same would apply to the other claims of miraculous gifts.

Here's a sampling of such passages, listed in chronological order:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 – Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. Paul is addressing a problem that arose quite early. Some were treating prophecies with contempt. Paul said this should not be done, but neither does he say everything that passes as prophecy should be automatically accepted as such. It all must be put to the test: what passes should be accepted, and what fails should be rejected.

  • 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 – I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders, and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance. Paul is willing for his own powers to be tested, confident that he will pass the test.

  • Ephesians 4:14-15 – Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. – Paul realizes how credulous his fellow Christians are, and he looks forward to the time when they will be more mature, undeceived by charlatans.

  • 1 John 4:1 – Dear friends, do not believer every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. – After this solemn warning, the apostle immediately gives a doctrinal test to determine who is a legitimate prophet. This is similar to the warnings Moses and Jesus himself delivered (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22; and Matthew 7:15-23).

In a future blog, I hope to show how we can test modern prophets, tongues-speakers, and faith healers.

Want to Go Deeper?

Recommended for purchase (at discount)

Graham H. Twelftree. In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians Baker, 2007. 352 pp. – Can evil spirits invade and control individuals---and be expelled? For many biblical scholars, says Twelftree, this is akin to believing in "elves, dragons, or a flat earth." But for Christians worldwide, especially in developing countries, exorcism unlocks the bonds of spiritual captivity. A reliable and historical discussion of exorcism within the early church.

Todd Klutz. The Exorcism Stories in Luke-Acts: A Sociostylistic Reading. Cambridge University, 2004. 314 pp. – Integrates detailed, literary criticism of the exorcism stories in Luke-Acts with wide-ranging comparative study of ancient sources on demonology, spirit affliction and exorcistic healing. Explores the implied author's relationship with Judaism in relation to the stories' original context of reception. Probes largely neglected interfaces between Luke's representation of exorcism and emerging academic discourse about religious experience, shamanism, health care in antiquity, ritual performance and ancient Jewish systems of impurity to shed fresh light on this supremely alien part of the Lukan writings.

Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views. Zondervan, 1996. – Are the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing for today? No, say cessationists. Yes, say Pentecostal and Third Wave Christians. Maybe, say a sector of open-but-cautious evangelicals. What's the answer? Is there an answer? This discussion takes you to the heart of the charismatic controversy by providing an impartial format for comparing the four main lines of thinking: cessationist, open but cautious, third wave, and Pentecostal/charismatic. The authors present their positions in an interactive setting that allows for critique, clarification, and defense. Through this dialogue, you'll find guidance to better understand your own position and the positions of others. 368 pp.

Recommended for online reading

Benjamin B. Warfield. "Mysticism and Christianity." From The Biblical Review, 2 (1917):169-191.

Henry Barclay Swete. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament: A Study of Primitive Christian Teaching. Macmillan, 1904. – Scholarly and balanced presentation of the New Testament teaching about the Holy Spirit. See especially pp. 268-279, 320-321, and 376-388.

Steve Singleton,
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