The Unpardonable Sin: What Is It, And Who’s In Danger Of Committing It?

(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version).

There is a sin which is unpardonable, and it behooves us all to know what it is, as committing it will not be forgiven, both in this life and in the next. Many Christians are puzzled and troubled by what the unpardonable sin is, and they should be, because of its mortal consequences. In this article, we’ll try to throw some light on the nature of the unpardonable sin, highlighting what it is, who’s susceptible to committing it, and whether or not it can be committed in ignorance. We’ll explore relevant portions of the Scriptures in order to address these issues.

St. Matthew 12:31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

St. Matthew 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

In the passage above, the Lord Jesus Christ gave a hint as to what the unpardonable sin is. He told us it’s blasphemy (slander) against the Holy Spirit. What the Lord Jesus was saying at that time that he had not been glorified was that anyone who spoke ill of him, including calling him a devil, would be forgiven. But, as soon as he was glorified (died for sin, resurrected and ascended to heaven) and the Holy Spirit sent down to take his place among believers, anyone who would speak evil of the Holy Spirit would be in danger of committing the unpardonable sin.

Thus, insulting or reviling the Holy Spirit is a sin that should be dreaded. But, is it all categories of people who blaspheme or speak ill of the Holy Spirit that are in danger of committing the unpardonable sin? It doesn’t appear to be so, as the Scripture makes room for forgiveness for those who blaspheme as ignorant unbelievers. God overlooks and readily forgives all sins committed by unbelievers in their days of ignorance, once they repent when they come to the knowledge of the truth. That’s what makes God just and fair. Paul, before his conversion, was a blasphemer who reviled and spoke ill of the Holy Spirit, the risen Christ and the church, yet he was forgiven and received grace to be the chief of the apostles.

St. Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The Acts 17:29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone —an image made by human design and skill.

The Acts 17:30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

The Acts 17:31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

1 Timothy 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.

1 Timothy 1:13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.

So, if a prominent blasphemer and persecutor of the risen Christ and of the church such as Paul could be forgiven, because he did it ignorantly as an unbeliever, it only means that the unpardonable sin cannot be committed by unbelievers! It means people who have not come to the knowledge of the truth cannot commit the unpardonable sin! This view is corroborated by Scriptures which link the unpardonable sin to those who have once been enlightened and have come to the knowledge of the truth, who have tasted of the good word of God and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit. These are the people who cannot be brought again to repentance if they abandon the faith, revile or insult the Holy Spirit and tread underfoot the blood of the holy covenant by which they were previously sanctified.

Hebrews 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,

Hebrews 6:5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age

Hebrews 6:6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Hebrews 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,

Hebrews 10:27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Hebrews 10:28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Hebrews 10:29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Hebrews 10:30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

Hebrews 10:31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Peter made the same point in his second epistle, stressing the fact that those who had previously escaped from the pollution of the world may backslide and get entangled therein again. Such people are compared to dogs who go back to their vomit, or washed pigs who return to wallowing in the mire. They are in danger of committing the unpardonable sin because, having had a previous knowledge of the truth, if they blaspheme or revile the Holy Spirit, it would be unforgivable. Paul also spoke of some believers whom he handed over to Satan, so that they would learn not to blaspheme, as the consequences of blasphemy for someone who once knew the truth are grave.

2 Peter 2:12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.

2 Peter 2:13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.

2 Peter 2:14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed —an accursed brood!

2 Peter 2:15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.

2 Peter 2:16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey —an animal without speech —who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

2 Peter 2:17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.

2 Peter 2:18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.

2 Peter 2:19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity —for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

2 Peter 2:20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.

2 Peter 2:21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

2 Peter 2:22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

1 Timothy 1:18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well,

1 Timothy 1:19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

1 Timothy 1:20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

The Lord Jesus made the context of the unpardonable sin very clear. He wasn’t talking to unbelievers or heathens who didn’t know God, when he made the remark about the unpardonable sin. He was talking to the Scribes and the Pharisees who were leaders of God’s people, and therefore well informed about spiritual truths and the things of God. Unfortunately, the Pharisees and the Scribes who should have known better were the ones who were busy attributing the works of God through Christ to demonic powers, out of envy and jealousy. They knew Christ was of God, for no man could do the things he did if God wasn’t with him. Though they knew it was the power of God at work in Christ’s life and ministry, they deliberately and maliciously attributed the wonderful works of God he did to satanic powers! To deliberately and knowingly attribute an act of God to Satan is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit doing those works. To maliciously speak evil of the Holy Spirit working through any servant of God is to revile the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to such acts of blasphemy as constituting the unpardonable sin.

St. John 3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.

St. John 3:2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

St. Matthew 12:22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.

St. Matthew 12:23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

St. Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

St. Matthew 12:25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

St. Matthew 12:26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

St. Matthew 12:27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

St. Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

St. Matthew 12:29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

St. Matthew 12:30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

St. Matthew 12:31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

St. Matthew 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

St. Matthew 12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.

St. Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

St. Matthew 12:35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

St. Matthew 12:36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

St. Matthew 12:37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The unpardonable sin is actually a sin against the atonement, for those who had once been saved. When we despise and revile the atonement, after getting to have a knowledge of it, there is nothing else that can save such a person. Like the sons of Eli (priests of the Lord) who despised the atonement by desecrating the sacrifice and God’s temple, nothing could atone for their sins. They had trampled upon the atoning sacrifice which alone could save them, so they were eternally doomed. Their sins could not be forgiven nor atoned for, for all eternity. They had committed the unpardonable sin! It’s the same as those who trample underfoot the son of God and count the blood of the covenant whereby they were sanctified an unholy thing, and have reviled or insulted the Spirit of grace.

1 Samuel 2:22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

1 Samuel 2:23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours.

1 Samuel 2:24 No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the LORD’s people is not good.

1 Samuel 2:25 If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the LORD, who will intercede for them?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.

1 Samuel 2:26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.

1 Samuel 2:27 Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ’Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh?

1 Samuel 2:28 I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites.

1 Samuel 2:29 Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’

1 Samuel 2:30 “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ’I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the LORD declares: ’Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.

1 Samuel 2:31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age,

1 Samuel 2:32 and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age.

1 Samuel 2:33 Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.

1 Samuel 2:34 “’And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you —they will both die on the same day.

1 Samuel 2:35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.

1 Samuel 2:36 Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.”’”

1 Samuel 3:11 And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family —from beginning to end.

1 Samuel 3:13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.

1 Samuel 3:14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ’The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

In conclusion, the unpardonable sin is blasphemy or slander against the Holy Spirit. It involves insulting or reviling the Holy Spirit and attributing his works to Satan, by people who should know better. The unpardonable sin is not a sin that’s committed in ignorance or unbelief, and so cannot be committed by unbelievers. God readily forgives all sins committed by unbelievers in their days of ignorance, when they eventually repent after coming to the knowledge of the truth. It’s therefore believers who are in danger of committing the unpardonable sin. If such people who once knew the truth and were partakers of the Holy Spirit now turn to revile and maliciously slander the Holy Spirit and tread underfoot the blood of the covenant that once saved them, there’s no more sacrifice to atone for their sins, since they have sinned against the atonement. There’s no forgiveness for such people in this age or in the age to come. Such people have committed the unpardonable sin. May we then, as believers, be careful how we speak and respond to works of the Holy Spirit, for our words concerning the Holy Spirit and his works can lead us to commit the unpardonable sin and to eternal condemnation.

Published by Dr. Ndubuisi E. Ojo

Dr Ojo is a student and lover of the Word of God and believes the Bible is the inspired and inerrant revelation of God to mankind.

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