What Is the Unpardonable Sin?

Jesus once said, Therefore I say to 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, it 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 (Matt 12:31-32 NKJV).

Jesus seems to be suggesting that of all the sins that we might commit, there is one sin that can never be forgiven. This has caused no small amount of alarm among Christians, who fear that they may have committed the unpardonable sin in the past, or that they may “slip up” and commit it in the future.  To make matters worse, the unforgivable sin – blasphemy against the Spirit – is not altogether clear to many people.  So, not only do they fear that they may have committed the unpardonable sin; they don’t even know for sure what it is!

In both Matthew and Mark this teaching of Jesus comes on the heels of an encounter that He had with the religious leaders (Matt 12 & Mark 3).  They had suggested that the reason why Jesus was successful in casting out demons was because He Himself was in league with the devil.  In both accounts, Jesus indicated that it is not possible for Satan to be casting out himself, or else Satan’s kingdom could not stand.  Jesus then went on to make the statement about the unforgivable sin.  Although there is room for disagreement in this among sincere Christians, I believe that the meaning of Jesus words can be reasonably deduced by understanding this context.

For the most part, the religious leaders rejected Jesus’ ministry.  Many remained hardened against Him even to the very end of His work among them.  I believe, according to Jesus, that this rejection of Him was forgivable.  It may even be that Jesus had them in view when He prayed from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

After the physical ministry of Jesus was over, the ministry of the Holy Spirit began.  Jesus once said of the Holy Spirit that “He will convict the world of sin” (John 16:8).  That conviction began on the day of Pentecost, when 3,000 converts were added to the Church.  Eventually, some of the Pharisees were converted and became part of the Church (Acts 15:5).  We don’t know if these were the same Pharisees who condemned Jesus to die, but they were certainly of the same group.

But some of the religious leaders continued their rejection by refusing the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that it is of this group Jesus warned were committing a sin that would be unpardonable, “either in this age or in the age to come.”  They began their rejection of God in Jesus ministry, and continued it in the age of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, they committed that which would not be pardonable.

So, it would seem to me that Jesus had in view a particular group of people when He spoke these words.  Sadly, some of them rejected God in that age, and in the age that was to come.

I do not believe that the present-day follower of Jesus has any reason to fear that he or she will “slip up” and commit the unforgivable sin, as long as they are continuing to follow Jesus.  On the other hand, the person who is not a follower of Jesus has some excellent reasons to fear.