On Unpardonable Sins

Trigger Warning: Post contains OCD triggers, in particular those who are sensitive to religious forms of OCD. If you are changing theme in your OCD or are struggling with scrupulosity currently and are not on any treatment, I would recommend visiting the International OCD Foundation.

This post will be about certain verses that induce anxiety in those with scrupulosity. These will include 4 excerpts that include the Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: Mark 3, Matthew 12, Luke 12, Thomas 44.

Below are the verses that cause many to have anxiety. I’ve tried to include some context to see if it helps. Immediately after each scripture, is my attempt to interpret what the sin of the Holy Spirit is.  I will conclude with how some sects of Christianity deal with this verse as well as what Biblical scholars have to say.

Mark 3:

Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The plain reading of Mark says that all sins are forgiven except any verbal slander against the Holy Spirit. The context is that the scribes accused Jesus of  exorcising demons because he was aligned with Beelzebub – AKA the Devil. It’s important to note that this is a warning and not a declaration that the Pharisees actually committed any sin. Also, note it doesn’t indicate to not “think it.”

Matthew 12

22 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. 23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” 25 He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists[b] cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

The plain reading of Matthew says that all sins and blasphemies are forgiven except any verbal slander against the Holy Spirit. The context is that the scribes accused Jesus of  exorcising demons because he was aligned with Beelzebub – AKA the Devil. It’s important to note that this is a warning and not a declaration that the Pharisees actually committed any sin. Also, note it doesn’t indicate to not “think it.”

Luke 12

8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; 9 but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

The plain reading of Luke says that all sins against men are forgiven except any verbal slander against the Holy Spirit. The context is in denying Jesus. The verses before and after suggest some type of public acknowledgement of one’s allegiance to Jesus. Also, note it doesn’t indicate to not “think it.”

Thomas 44

Jesus says:

(1) “Whoever blasphemes against the Father, it will be forgiven him.
(2) And whoever blasphemes against the Son, it will be forgiven him.
(3) But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, neither on earth nor in heaven.”

The plain reading of Thomas says that all blasphemies are forgiven except any verbal slander against the Holy Spirit. There is no context of this verse in Thomas. Also, note it doesn’t indicate to not “think it.”


Different Christian sects approach this differently.

Roman Catholics do not consider the utterance of blasphemy to be “unforgivable” and whether it meets a certain criteria. “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” Blasphemy is considered grave matter, but it is arguably very different with regards to consent and knowledge in anyone with OCD. Mortal sins can be forgiven. The problem is with OCD we never know if we have “sinned” or not.

Many Protestants have argued.

You will find variants of the above, but most fall into those categories. I, of course, do not know, but I think a historical approach will yield a pretty convincing answer.

Biblical scholars have found a very similar passage in a document called the Didache which is an early Christian teaching similar to a catechism. In the Didache itself, the early church said the following:

And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.

Apparently, this was an early attempt to set the ground rules among Christians who would either speak in tongues or experience ecstasy while “in the Spirit.” The Jesus Seminar rated all the verses in bold above as black; Not from Jesus or from a different tradition. The Didache shows that there was an early Christian tradition that believed it was important for the Holy Spirit to be unhindered, as it were, from their leaders. I don’t know Greek, but from what I’ve read the verse seems to be in legalistic format and to be a later insertion. Another dynamic that Dr Price mentioned on a podcast called the Bible Geek (About 51 minutes in and yes I emailed the question) is the idea of sacredness similar to what Jews do when referring to God as G~d. In other words, it is important to not be frivolous when regarding issues of God.

I would add that, traditionally, when God is referred to, no specific person in the trinity is singled out. As the idea of trinity started to gain prominence it would follow that the Holy Spirit wasn’t to be slandered. It is also important to understand that the Bible’s authors are unknown and that we have multi-generational copies of copies that have been redacted and edited throughout its transmission (this is uncontroversial amongst Bible scholars), so we don’t know if there was another variant that explained this sin in more detail or, what is more likely, never spoken by Jesus.

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3 responses to “On Unpardonable Sins”

  1. Jerome says :

    Interesting one… I never heard of that nonsense before. Anyway, I say “Screw the holy spirit!” Now that I am doomed anyway, I may as well go and murder all my enemies… 🙂

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  1. On Unpardonable Sins II | The Scrupulous Atheist - July 29, 2014

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