A long time ago, I was praying the gospels. I asked for an answer to this question: Why is the sin against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? Doesn’t that minimize the sacrifice of Jesus, even it’s by only one sin? It took a long time for me to get an answer. Since I’m following up my book The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real with a book about Eternal Life, I was drawn to analyze the question again.
Part of the problem was that I was focusing on the wrong thing. I was assuming the headings given by the editors of various translations of the Bible was accurate. Headings can send you in a direction that might be a deviation from what Jesus meant.
I started looking at the Greek words. Eternal is in the verse and that’s why I was drawn to it.
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” (Mark 3:28-30 NRSV).
Other translations say “eternal damnation” or “eternal condemnation.”
Is this an accurate translation? You be the judge.
(Keep in mind that Jesus’s words came in response to the Pharisees saying he was casting out demons by the power of an unclean spirit, Beelzebul.)
The Greek words literally translated as “has no forgiveness into the age” were replaced with “never.” Never has no end. But as I describe in my new book, every age has a beginning and an end, but its duration is not always definite.
Guilty can also be translated as “subject to, liable, in danger of.”
The primary focus in my book is that eternal (aionios) means “an undefined (but limited) duration of time,” literally, “into the age.” It does not mean “forever.” You’ll have to wait for the book for that full explanation.
Oddly, the noun modified by “eternal” is not the typical Greek word (hamartēma) translated as “sin.” It’s a word (krisis) usually translated “separating, sundering (dividing, splitting), judgment, or condemnation.” The focus is on separation.
If I put all these literal translations together, the verse sounds like this:
whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness into the age, but is subject to an undefined period of separation.
Separation from what? Separation from the grace, favor, or blessing of God? Or maybe Jesus was simply saying he would separate himself from his accusers until they stopped saying he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzubul.
Was Jesus proclaiming this as a blanket statement to all the world? Or was Jesus speaking personally to the Pharisees? If Jesus understood the Holy Spirit had descended upon him at his baptism, to speak against this kind-hearted, holy, loving, compassionate, peaceful Spirit within him was hurtful.
Matthew’s version says, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, not in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32). Two ages of unknown length don’t necessarily make an eternity. Maybe Jesus was saying, “You can insult my human nature all you want, but to insult the Spirit that motivates me is going too far. It will take me longer to let it go than normal.” It’s an explanation that returns the meaning to the context of the passage instead of expanding it into a generalized theology that applies to every person in time.
For how long would there be separation? Maybe for as long as they continued to speak against the Holy Spirit and claim Jesus healed in the power of Beelzebul. If it was for the rest of their lives, then it’s a lifetime. If they saw the Light and changed their minds, then forgiveness would be available to them.
I don’t mind contradicting (blaspheming) the humanness of editors and translators. I’m seeking a way to avoid blaspheming the Holy Spirit. To suggest blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable puts a limit on God’s grace. I believe the saving actions of Jesus open the way to forgiveness for every sin including the one unjustly labeled “unforgivable.”
Let me take this one step further. The verse preceding the passage in Mark says, “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 (3:27 NRSV).
The New Testament says that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit motivates your actions that bring peace, love, hope, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control.
The strong man in each of us is the Holy Spirit who motivates our good actions. If someone wants to steal your peace, joy, patience, et all, they simply have to insult you (blaspheme you) and the strong man (the Spirit of goodness) is tied up within you. It’s difficult to act in goodness when someone questions your motivations. The verse makes sense when you look at it this way.
If the Spirit of goodness is mature and stronger in you than in most people, it can’t be tied up. Jesus proved this when he said from the cross, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
To tie up the strong man, the Holy Spirit, in a person’s house is to limit the ability of that person to bring forth peace, hope, love, and goodness. How do you tie up someone’s strong man? By casting your insulting and unclean spirit into them. That will tie up the Spirit of goodness within them.
Do you want to tie up the good actions of someone? Insult them. Say evil things to their face. That will hurt their feelings and it will take a longer time than usual for them to let go of your insult. It’s human nature and you will reap what you sow.
Is it forgivable? Yes, but it will take longer than usual.
What do you think? Is there an unforgivable sin?