What Is the “Unforgivable Sin?”

Unforgivable Sin


In Mark 3:29 Jesus says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” Matthew’s account adds that even blasphemy against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31–32). What is this unforgivable sin and why is it associated with the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t the blood of Christ cover every sin?

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Mark gives us some help for interpretation by noting that “He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit’” (Mark 3:30). Jesus has been healing the sick and casting out demons in the power the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). Yet the religious leaders attribute the work of the Spirit to Satan (Mark 3:22).

In other words, they look right into the light and then turn to the darkness. The key to the unpardonable sin, then, seems to lie in the role of the Holy Spirit, which is to reveal God and draw people to the truth. Anyone who rejects the work of the Spirit in their life is essentially rejecting any hope of salvation (John 16:8; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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 (Matthew 12:31–32).

The context here (see Matthew 12:24,28,32) suggests that the unpardonable sin was attributing to Satan Christ’s authenticating miracles done in the power of the Holy Spirit and never repenting of that attitude. In other words, the only unpardonable sin is a persistent refusal to acknowledge the presence of God in Christ.

Praying and Receiving

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:14-17

The context is that this is within a letter directed against Gnostic teaching, which denied the incarnation and threw off all moral restraints. It is probable that the “sin that leads to death” refers to the Gnostics’ adamant and persistent denial of the truth and to their shameless immorality. This kind of unrepentant sin leads to spiritual death.

We as humans are not the all-knowing God, and we don’t know when a person has actually reached this point. We therefore should keep proclaiming the gospel and calling for repentance, assuming no one is beyond the opportunity for forgiveness. In fact, no one in Scripture who wants to repent is told they cannot. Those who genuinely seek repentance show that they cannot have committed any unforgivable sin.

Content for this article was drawn from study material in the NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised Edition.


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