When studying a difficult passage of Scripture, you don't just have to wonder what it means. We'll show you steps you can follow to help you get beneath the surface. To do that, let's examine what Jesus meant when He spoke of what's known as the unpardonable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
First (and always), start with the Bible. Read the passage in context to make sure you know what's happening. Reading just one verse can make something seem confusing. For example, Matthew 12:31 by itself has caused quite a few fears: "And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." By focusing only on this verse, some Christians have worried that they might accidentally blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and some atheists have tried to do so on purpose.
But if we step back and examine the whole section, another picture emerges. Here in Matthew 12, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees who claim that Jesus heals by the power of Satan. They're rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit that's right in front of them.
Next, it's always a good idea to cross-reference this section with other passages of Scripture. You can do so easily on our site by scrolling to the bottom of the reading pane and clicking the "Cross References" tab. Doing that shows us the parallel passages in Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10. Read the context there as well (Mark 3 and Luke 12) to get a more complete picture. While Mark's account is similar to Matthew's, Luke gives us a bit more of what Jesus said. From his gospel, we can see that this warning may be broader than just a "shot across the bow" of the Pharisees because Jesus is talking to the whole crowd about more than healing the demon-possessed man.
So, while we still have questions about this issue, we're not without our options to find out more. For one thing, we can examine the original language for "blasphemy" (here it's Greek). You don't need to know another language because our interlinear Bible does the heavy lifting for you. That will help you see what the word blasphemia meant and where else and how else that word is used (for example, it's translated "slander" in other verses).
After that, you can also examine the free commentaries on our site, which are linked at the bottom of the reading pane. Here we'll find what scholars and pastors have said about this issue. For example, John Wesley tells us: "It is neither more nor less than the ascribing those miracles to the power of the devil, which Christ wrought by the power of the Holy [Spirit]." And here are Matthew Henry's thoughts: "But if, when the Holy [Spirit] is given, in his inward gifts of revelation, speaking with tongues, and the like, such as were the distributions of the Spirit among the apostles, if they continue to blaspheme the Spirit likewise, as an evil spirit, there is no hope of them that they will ever be brought to believe in Christ."
Beyond that, you can also review our Bible dictionaries for even more insight. Baker's tells us:
In summary, we may confidently conclude that "blasphemy against the Spirit" is overt, even verbal, repudiation of the presence of God's Spirit in the ministry of Jesus and those whom he has sent.
Blasphemy against the Holy [Spirit]... is regarded by some as a continued and obstinate rejection of the gospel, and hence is an unpardonable sin, simply because as long as a sinner remains in unbelief he voluntarily excludes himself from pardon.
You can follow these same steps for any difficult passage: pray, read in context, study related Scriptures, examine the original text, and use study materials. Sometimes there are no easy answers, but digging in is well worth the effort.