The contextual view seeks to explain the meaning of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit primarily by analyzing the verses that precede and follow the passages in question.
Contextual scholars submit that understanding of this sin can be achieved by examining the context in which it is presented.
Prelude to this teaching
The synoptic accounts of Matthew and Mark begin with Jesus healing a demon possessed man before the multitudes. Amazed witnesses wondered aloud if Jesus was the “Son of David” (Matthew 12:22-23).
Upon hearing this, the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem accused Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul (Satan), and of casting out demons by the ruler of the demons (Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22).
Response of Jesus
Jesus responded with a series of logical statements that exposed the absurdity of their accusations. To summarize these arguments:
- It’s against Satan’s interests to cast his own demons out because it divides his kingdom.
- If Jesus exercised demons by Beelzebul, then by whom did the sons of Israel cast them out?
- If in fact the source of Jesus’ power was divine, then God’s kingdom was present. The unstated implication is that eyewitnesses to this miracle (the Pharisees) should repent.
Jesus concluded this rebuttal with a parable (Matthew 12:29). A strong man cannot be robbed unless he is first bound. In an ironic twist, Jesus symbolized the thief in this parable, and Satan the strong man. In effect, Jesus plundered Satan’s kingdom by robbing him of a demon possessed victim.
The messianic prophecy in Isaiah 49:24-26 illuminates this parable (emphasis added):
Can the prey be taken from the mighty man, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?"
Surely, thus says the LORD, "Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away, and the prey of the tyrant will be rescued. For I will contend with the one who contends with you, and I will save your sons.
I will feed your oppressors with their own flesh, and they will become drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine.
And all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob."
Mark’s insightful postscript
Up to this point, Matthews account provides most of the prelude to this teaching. Following Jesus’ statements about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Mark adds an insightful explanation that reveals Jesus’ motive for introducing the subject, “because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean Spirit’” (Mark 3:30).
This remark correlates with the previous accusations from Matthew 12:24 and Mark 3:22. Jesus’ critics had accused him of having an unclean spirit. As Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38), this was a slanderous accusation indeed.
Some contextual analysts argue that a sin of this magnitude could only be applied to the eye-witnesses who beheld the miracles of Christ. The Pharisees and scribes who witnessed this miracle were guilty of calling “evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Matthew 12:33-34 agrees with this character assessment, when Jesus says, “how can you, being evil, speak what is good?
Still others cite Luke’s account to show that this sin was not limited to first century witnesses of Jesus’ miracles. Luke’s parallel account of the events from Matthew 12:22-32 and Mark 3:20-30 do not correspond with Luke’s mention of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Luke’s parallel account of these events is in Luke 11:4-28. Luke presents blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in chapter 12, within the context of Jesus warning his disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1).
Since this teaching is lifted outside the contexts of Matthew and Mark, they conclude that the sin is not limited to first century eye-witnesses, but that it could apply to Christians today.
To summarize, contextual scholars believe blasphemy against the Holy Spirit directly relates to the act of attributing works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Some conclude this only applied to first century eyewitnesses, while others state this could be applied to Christians today.