Definition. In English "blasphemy" denotes any utterance that insults God or Christ (or Allah, or Muhammed) and gives deeply felt offense to their followers. In several states in the United States and in Britain, blasphemy is a criminal offense, although there have been few prosecution in this century. In Islamic countries generally no distinction is made between blasphemy and heresy, so that any perceived rejection of the Prophet or his message, by Muslims or non-Muslims, is regarded as blasphemous.
The biblical concept is very different. There is no Hebrew word equivalent to the English "blasphemy, " and the Greek root blasphem- [blasfhmevw], which is used fifty-five times in the New Testament, has a wide meaning. In both Testaments the idea of blasphemy as something that offends the religious sensibilities of others is completely absent.
The Old Testament At least five different Hebrew verbs are translated "blaspheme" in English translations. Translators choose "blaspheme" when, for instance, the verbs "curse" (qalal [l;l'q]), "revile" (gadap [@;d"G]), or "despise" (herep) are used with God as the object. No special verb is reserved for cursing or insults directed at God.
However, to curse or insult God is an especially grave sin. It can be done by word or by deed. There is little distinction between the sinner who deliberately abuses the name of the Lord ( Le 24:10-16 ), and the one who deliberately flouts his commandments ( Nu 15:30-31 ). For both, the death penalty is prescribed. Similarly, the prayer of the Levites in Nehemiah 9 calls "awful blasphemies" all that Israelites did when they made the golden calf (9:18).
David's flagrant sin with Bathsheba may be called a blasphemy ( 2 Sa 12:14 ), but a more likely translation is that David has "made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt" (NIV). Instead of testifying by lifestyle to the character of the Lord, David's action confirms the blasphemous belief of the nations that the Lord is no different from any other national god.
The New Testament. The Greek root blasphem- [blasfhmevw] can be used of strong insults thrown at other people ( Mark 15:29 ; Acts 13:45 ; Eph 4:31 ; 1 Peter 4:4 ), or even unjust accusations ( Rom 3:8 ), but it is more usually used of insults offered to God (e.g., Rev 13:6 ; 16:9 ). Jesus is accused of blasphemy for pronouncing forgiveness and for claiming a unique relationship with God ( Matt 26:65 ; Mark 2:7 ; John 10:33 ).
Jesus picks up the Numbers 15 passage about blasphemy in his famous saying about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit ( Matt 12:31-32 ; Mark 3:28-29 ; Luke 12:10 ). Numbers 15:22-31 distinguishes between unintentional sin committed in ignorance (for which forgiveness is possible), and defiant sin, called blasphemy, for which there is no forgiveness. Jesus teaches that the blasphemy for which there is no forgiveness is that against the Holy Spirit; all other blasphemies, particularly those against "the Son of Man, " may be forgiven. Insults thrown at "the Son of Man" may be forgiven because they are committed in ignorance of who he really is: his heavenly glory does not appear on earth. But to ascribe obvious manifestations of the Spirit to the devil's agency is a much more serious offense not committed in ignorance.
This downgrading of the significance of blasphemy against Christ marks an important difference between Christianity and Islam. Whereas Muslims are bound to defend the honor of the Prophet, for Christians Jesus is the one who says, "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me" ( Rom 15:3, ; quoting Psalm 69:9 ). He deliberately accepts the vilification of others and prays for the forgiveness of those who insult him ( Luke 23:34 ). In this, he sets an example for Christians to follow. According to Peter ( 1 Pe 2:19-25 ), they must accept insult and blasphemy without retaliation, as he did.
There is only one kind of blasphemy that Christians must resist: the blasphemy they will bring on themselves if they cause a fellow believer to stumble through the thoughtless exercise of their freedom ( Rom 14:15-16 ; 1 Cor 10:28-30 ).
Bibliography. I. Howard Marshall, Theology 67 (1964): 65-67; R. Simpson. Blasphemy and the Law in a Plural Society.
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In the sense of speaking evil of God this word is found in Psalms 74:18 ; Isaiah 52:5 ; Romans 2:24 ; Revelation 13:1 Revelation 13:6 ; Revelation 16:9 Revelation 16:11 Revelation 16:21 . It denotes also any kind of calumny, or evil-speaking, or abuse ( 1 Kings 21:10 ; Acts 13:45 ; 18:6 , etc.). Our Lord was accused of blasphemy when he claimed to be the Son of God ( Matthew 26:65 ; Compare Matthew 9:3 ; Mark 2:7 ). They who deny his Messiahship blaspheme Jesus ( Luke 22:65 ; John 10:36 ).
Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost ( Matthew 12:31 Matthew 12:32 ; Mark 3:28 Mark 3:29 ; Luke 12:10 ) 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. Others regard the expression as designating the sin of attributing to the power of Satan those miracles which Christ performed, or generally those works which are the result of the Spirit's agency.
in its technical English sense, signifies the speaking evil of God and in this sense it is found ( Psalms 74:18 ; Isaiah 52:5 ; Romans 2:24 ) etc. But according to its derivation it may mean any species of calumny and abuse: see ( 1 Kings 21:10 ; Acts 18:6 ; Jude 1:9 ) etc. Blasphemy was punished by stoning, which was inflicted on the son of Shelomith. ( Leviticus 24:11 ) On this charge both our Lord and St. Stephen were condemned to death by the Jews. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, ( Matthew 12:32 ; Mark 3:28 ) consisted in attributing to the power of Satan those unquestionable miracles which Jesus performed by "the finger of God" and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is plainly such a state of wilful, determined opposition to God and the Holy Spirit that no efforts will avail to lead to repentance. Among the Jews it was a sin against God answering to treason in our times.
In classical Greek meant primarily "defamation" or "evil-speaking" in general; "a word of evil omen," hence, "impious, and irreverent speech against God."
the town clerk of Ephesus repels the charge that Paul and his companions were blasphemers of Diana (Acts 19:37).
(i) uttering impious words (Revelation 13:1,5,6; 16:9,11,21; 17:3); (ii) unworthy conduct of Jews (Romans 2:24) and Christians (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:5, and perhaps 1 Timothy 1:20); (iii) of Jesus Christ, alleged to be usurping the authority of God (Matthew 9:3 = Mark 2:7 = Luke 5:21), claiming to be the Messiah, the son of God (Matthew 26:65 = Mark 14:64), or making Himself God (John 10:33,36).
The Unpardonable Sin:
"Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy of Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come" (Matthew 12:31,32 = Mark 3:28,29; Luke 12:10). As in the Old Testament "to sin with a high hand" and to blaspheme the name of God incurred the death penalty, so the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit remains the one unpardonable sin. These passages at least imply beyond cavil the personality of the Holy Spirit, for sin and blasphemy can only be committed against persons. In Mt and Mr a particular case of this blasphemy is the allegation of the Pharisees that Jesus Christ casts out devils by Beelzebub. The general idea is that to attribute to an evil source acts which are clearly those of the Holy Spirit, to call good evil, is blasphemy against the Spirit, and sin that will not be pardoned. "A distinction is made between Christ's other acts and those which manifestly reveal the Holy Spirit in Him, and between slander directed against Him personally as He appears in His ordinary acts, and that which is aimed at those acts in which the Spirit is manifest" (Gould, Mark at the place). Luke does not refer to any particular instance, and seems to connect it with the denial of Christ, although he, too, gives the saying that "who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven." But which of Christ's acts are not acts the Holy Spirit, and how therefore is a word spoken against Him not also blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? John identifies the Holy Spirit with the exalted Christ (John 14:16-18,26,28). The solution generally offered of this most difficult problem is concisely put by Plummer (Luke ad loc.):
"Constant and consummate opposition to the influence of the Holy Spirit, because of a deliberate preference of darkness to light, render repentance and therefore forgiveness morally impossible." A similar idea is taught in Hebrews 6:4-6, and 1 John 5:16: "A sin unto death." But the natural meaning of Christ's words implies an inability or unwillingness to forgive on the Divine side rather than inability to repent in man. Anyhow the abandonment of man to eternal condemnation involves the inability and defeat of God. The only alternative seems to be to call the kenotic theory into service, and to put this idea among the human limitations which Christ assumed when He became flesh. It is less difficult to ascribe a limit to Jesus Christ's knowledge than to God's saving grace (Mark 13:32; compare John 16:12,13). It is also noteworthy that in other respects, at least, Christ acquiesced in the view of the Holy Spirit which He found among His contemporaries.
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