Thayer applies the following definitions to the Greek word translated “blasphemy”: to slander, to rail at or revile, to speak evil of, contemptuous speech, impious or reproachful speech injurious to the divine majesty.
In Matthew's account of this sin, the author clarified Jesus' use of the word “blasphemy” with a parallel phrase. After writing, “blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven,” he continued with, “whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him” (Matthew 12:31-32).
Make no mistake; the external manifestation of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is verbal. The context supports this view, as Matthew 12:33-37 shows. Jesus continued by speaking about words and character, concluding with the statement, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Did Jesus’ critics commit this sin?
Some in the literal school believe the Pharisees and scribes committed this sin when they accused Jesus of casting out demons “by the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24).
Others assert they did not commit this sin, but rather Jesus was warning them not to speak further evil. Each view is explained below.
The affirmative answer
Those who believe Jesus’ critics committed this sin cite several scriptures. The Holy Spirit led Jesus (Luke 4:1). Jesus had the power of the Spirit without measure (Luke 4:14, John 3:34). God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). So the Holy Spirit indwelt Jesus.
Jesus’ accusers said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:22, 30). Since the Holy Spirit indwelt Jesus, these critics were guilty of calling the Holy Spirit unclean, Beelzebul (Satan), and “the ruler of the demons” (Mark 3:22). They slandered the Holy Spirit who indwelt Christ.
Many who believe Jesus’ accusers sinned point to the miracles. The apostles worked miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-24, Romans 15:18-19, 1st Corinthians 12:9, 1st Thessalonians 1:5). In like manner, they argue that Jesus wrought miracles through the power of God and the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:22).
So Jesus’ critics not only denigrated the Holy Spirit, they slandered the works of the Holy Spirit, to which they were eyewitnesses. They attributed the miracles they witnessed to the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24-27).
The dissenting answer
Others believe that Jesus did not charge his critics with this sin. Rather, Jesus warned them not to go too far in their accusations.
Up to that point they had sinned by speaking against Christ. Some reason that they had not yet spoken against the Holy Spirit because the Spirit had not yet been sent.
The promised Spirit
In the final dispensation, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles into all the truth (John 16:5-15). This the Holy Spirit did. The truth is revealed in the New Testament, which was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit (2nd Peter 1:20-21, 2nd Timothy 3:16).
The Holy Spirit glorified Jesus (John 16:13-15), and was the final divine authority to bear witness of him (1st John 5:5-7).
Men who rejected Jesus while he was living could find forgiveness. Case in point; Jews who crucified Jesus repented on the day of Pentecost, were baptized, and were added to the church (Acts 2:23, 7-41).
However, those who blasphemed and rejected the Holy Spirit, Christ’s final witness, could never find forgiveness. In rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, they rejected the only source of forgiveness.
Literal view conclusions
Those in the literal school of thought draw very different conclusions.
Some believe that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit could only be committed by those who were eye-witnesses of the divine miracles. Consequently, today’s Christians need not worry about committing this sin.
Some espousing the literal view believe it can be committed by today’s Christians. The sin is eternal because one who rejects the Holy Spirit can never be renewed to repentance (Hebrews 6:6).
Others draw a more distressing conclusion. They believe that a single slip of the tongue, an impious remark or evil comment against the Holy Spirit can eternally separate a Christian from the redemptive power of Jesus’ blood.
While few scholars accept this last view, many conscientious Christians have worried that they may have committed the “unpardonable sin.” The word “unpardonable” does not appear in scripture. Those in the contextual and doctrinal schools do not ascribe to this view.
The literal view is worthy of mention because of the gravity of its conclusion. Eternal damnation for a rash word is a weighty sentence indeed.