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Understanding the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

"Promising a Paraclete" by Johann Michael Rottmayr at the Karlskirche, Vienna  (Domain)

“Promising a Paraclete” by Johann Michael Rottmayr at the Karlskirche Vienna (CC-PD)

What is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Why is it unpardonable? And is it possible for you and me to be guilty of it? Let’s discuss important details of Matthew 12:22-31.

I

After Jesus heals a blind and mute man by driving out a demon, the Pharisees scoff that he could perform such wonders only because he himself is possessed by Satan. This is the context of the idea: the works of Jesus attributed to Satan. What is revealing is the religious leaders never deny the extraordinary things Jesus does. His signs and wonders were real; even in the Talmud Jesus is called a “sorcerer,” a charge contributing to his execution. Yet the religious establishment considered his teaching and works to be a threat to traditional Jewish practice.

II

Jesus states, “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven” (v. 32). There was nothing blasphemous about misunderstanding Jesus, or bad-mouthing or thinking evil of him. Otherwise, the disciples were in trouble and Saul of Tarsus would have never been saved. Being the eccentric figure he was, Jesus seized the attention of everyone and forced them to make a decision about his claims. As it turned out, he convinced many but just as many proved to be loyalists to the Establishment.

III

The attitude of the scribes and Pharisees is what Jesus challenges. A person today can mock and deride God and not approach the blasphemy concept due to their ignorance, misconceptions, and other. Paul testifies to this in 1 Tim. 1:13: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Yet that person would be closer to the sin should their attitude be malicious and evil, which is the case with the religious leaders.

The attitude of the heart is key. Jesus says something poignant regarding this: “But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (v. 28). Jesus wasn’t concerned about people speaking against him; the concern was speaking against the agency by which he worked, the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew everyone wasn’t convinced about him. So he allows them the right to make up their minds, yet he implores their trust simply on the character of the works he did (John 10:37-38; 14:10-11). Based on this, there was no reason not to believe in him.

IV

Let’s summarize this scenario. The religious leaders witnessed the miracles of Jesus up close like others did. Many of them talked with Jesus publicly and privately; they even shared meals with him. Yet the relationship was largely adversarial because Jesus threatened their political hold on Judea. Consequently, they despised him and lied on him and murderously plotted against him. And despite knowing in their hearts that Jesus did good things that were indeed from God, they reviled him and attributed his miracles to Satan.

V

Blasphemy against the Spirit is not possible today in the context in which Jesus spoke. We cannot attribute Jesus’s works to Satan in the firsthand way an observer of his earthly ministry did. The seriousness of the offense was that those who beheld the works of Jesus and chose to slander them discredited Jesus as Messiah; and he deemed it unforgivable. Why? Because the “Spirit of the Lord” was upon him (Luke 4:18) for that moment in time. One might reject Jesus today and die eternally but not blaspheme the Spirit the way a first-century onlooker could have.