“Truly, I say to you,
all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness,
but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Most importantly, sinners need to take Jesus at his word. So let us look deeper at this word.
Here in Mark's gospel, Jesus has begun to have his confrontations with various groups of people. In this narrative, it is Scribes who have come from Jerusalem to investigate the reports concerning this so-called miracle worker. Skepticism rules their thinking to the point that, as they hear and witness Jesus' miraculous acts, they come to the conclusion that Jesus must be in league with Satan (Beelzebub, in the passage) for him to be able to do the things he is doing. There is a recognition that something -- or better, someone -- other-worldly is at work in what Jesus is doing, but in their view of how God works in the world, this Jesus person is not sufficiently godly. Therefore he must be in league with evil. Their minds were not open to the possibility that God was up to something in an unexpected way. So they blaspheme.
Blasphemy is something little discussed in today's culture, much to our detriment. In the Greek, blaspheme is a compound word -- blax, meaning sluggish or slow, and pheme, meaning reputation or fame. So blaspheming is being slow, or simply refusing, to acknowledge good (worthy of respect or veneration). To blaspheme is finally to reverse moral values by calling evil good or good evil. This is what the Scribes are doing when they say Jesus (good) must be in cahoots with Beelzebub (evil).
Blasphemy is closely connected to the eighth commandment -- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor -- where we are commanded to speak well of others, put the best construction on our neighbors' actions, and refrain from repeating negative aspects of our neighbors' actions and behaviors. Gossip, slander, and libel are all prohibited under this commandment, and in their own way they all fall under the category of blasphemy. Are we feeling guilty yet?
But Jesus is clear that most blasphemy is forgivable. "All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemes they utter." There is comfort in that for us sinners. Consider how often we all sin with our tongues against one another. But the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, denying him proper credit for faith in the world, is highly dangerous. After all, that is his work -- to create faith where and when he chooses! Unbelief is the greatest and root of all sin. When we blaspheme, we end up calling evil good or good evil, contrary to the Word the Spirit brings us. Better to say nothing than to judge wrongly in matters involving the Holy Spirit.
The famous Jewish Rabbi Gamaliel had some very good advice in Acts 5:38-39. Gamaliel was unsure about this "Jesus movement" that the disciples were propagating in Jerusalem. Some Jewish leaders wanted to persecute "those radicals" but Gamaliel addressed the leadership saying (v.38) "... So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"
In humility we listen for the Word of God and do our best to recognize the gifts of God among us. In gratitude and thanksgiving for what God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- has done and continues to do among us, we are and remain forgiven sinners under the care and concern of God. He will never let us go. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not in our destiny because of Whose we are.
Remember Whose you are --