What Is the Unforgivable Sin?

David Tae-Kyung Rim
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The Bible talks about sin and forgiveness a lot, especially with regard to salvation. Maybe you have wondered:

What Is the Unforgivable Sin?

Simply put, the unforgivable sin is the sin of unbelief.

In Matthew 12:31, the gospel writer says, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” The discussion concerning the precise nature of this unforgivable sin is both extensive and controversial. Some in the early church thought that this sin was the denial of prophetic inspiration in general; others thought it was a form of post-conversion apostasy. Perhaps the most popular view is to equate the unforgivable sin with the rejection of the gospel. Those who refuse to embrace the forgiveness of sins offered through the cross have no other recourse for the atonement of their transgressions. In this interpretation, the unforgivable sin is the sin of unbelief, which John seems to affirm in 3:18 and 16:9 and also 1 John 5:16.

While this is a possible interpretation, it does not seem to fit within the context of Matthew 12. In this passage, the Pharisees have attributed the energizing force behind Jesus’ miraculous healing to the prince of demons, Satan. They are not persuaded by the testimony and work of Jesus. They want to be a stumbling block to anyone else who might consider becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. Right after the miraculous healing, verse 23 says that all the people were astonished and wondered if Jesus was indeed the Son of David. At this point the Pharisees, in an attempt to dissuade them, say that Jesus is a pawn of Satan.

“Those who refuse to embrace the forgiveness of sins offered through the cross have no other recourse for the atonement of their transgressions.”

A Better Interpretation

The “blasphemy against the Spirit” describes a heart that is so hardened that it not only refuses to see the divine in the work of Christ, but it also actively prevents others from coming to Him. This interpretation fits the context. Those who oppose Jesus seek to scatter the Jews rather than gather them up into the kingdom of God (v. 30). Even in the presence of one of the great miracles in the Gospels—the healing of a demon-possessed, blind, and mute man—the hearts of the Pharisees were unmoved. These religious leaders had closed their hearts to any testimony of the Spirit that affirms Jesus as the Great One sent from God. This is the unforgivable sin.

Other passages within the Bible affirm this interpretation. Deuteronomy speaks of the worship of idols (which may persuade others to do so) as a sin that will not be forgiven (29:18–20). Those who have caused a little one to stumble would be better off with a millstone hung around their neck and thrown into the sea (Matt. 18:6). And the book of Hebrews speaks of those who have experienced the testimony of the Spirit to some degree and then rejected it; how can they be brought back to repentance (6:6)?

Can a Believer Commit This Sin?

Finally, can a believer commit this sin? Personally, I do not believe an individual who has genuinely confessed Jesus as Lord can publicly oppose the work of God in the world by attributing it to something evil. Pastorally, anyone who fears having committed this sin should not worry; an apostate would not even consider worrying about having committed this sin.

For Further Reading:

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