According to Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10, there is a blasphemy that can’t be forgiven. That’s frightening enough that we should be very aware of what that is. In the context of Matthew and Mark, the Pharisees have claimed that Jesus casts out demons by the power of Satan. In Luke the statement occurs in the “Sermon on the Plain” and the full element reads as so:
“And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.” (Luke 12:8-10 NASB)
Most can dismiss the “unpardonable sin” because we don’t think we’re attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. But Luke’s version doesn’t let us off so easy. We’re simply left concerned about the meaning of blasphemy, a word that does not roll off the tongue in 21st Century America. Here’s how Webster’s defines the verb, to blaspheme, in English:
: to speak in a way that shows irreverence for God or something sacred : to utter blasphemy.
That still seems a bit vague, so here’s the entry on “blasphemy” (what one utters in the action, blaspheme):
2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable
Basically, being irreverent toward the Holy Spirit puts you within the dangerous eternal sin, at least according to Webster’s definition. In Luke, the Greek verb, “blasphemeo”, is used, in Mark 3:29 it’s used again, and in Matthew 12:31 the noun version of the same word, “blasphemia”, is used. So, in each instance, the word is “blasphemy”. But what did it mean for Jesus and His hearers?
The words in Hebrew translated into these Greek words varied. In some cases the word might be “taunt” or “reproach” (cheraph), in others, “despised” or “spurned” (naats). Other examples seem to be translated from the sense of a phrase rather than word-for-word. So, the Webster’s definition seems to match that of Scripture, regardless of time. Insulting, or being contemptuous of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.
But the same cannot be said of Jesus. In all three references in the Gospels, Jesus specifically says that blaspheming Him is forgivable. Are you wondering where this is going yet? How does it relate to Judges? The connective tissue lies in the correspondence between Jesus, Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit. In the Christian Scriptures, a Triune Nature of God is revealed, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blaspheming one is not exactly the same as blaspheming the other.
Why blaspheming one part of the Trinity is not the same as blaspheming another won’t fit in this entry (or several, probably). But consider Micah and his idols in Judges 17. He (and his mother) claim to be worshiping Yahweh, but do so with idols, and a Levitical Priest. We really don’t know when the Tribe of Dan migrated north, but their capture (or kidnapping) of the idols and Levite indicates that Micah wasn’t alone in his misconception of Yahweh worship, not at this time anyway.
So, was their belief, so distorted from what was clearly stated in the Law, also “unforgivable”? Was this an example of being contemptuous of the Spirit of God, or of the Father or Son? We don’t know. The Spirit of God isn’t mentioned in Judges 17 and 18, and He is when things are attributed to Him, even in the Hebrew Scriptures. So, His absence gives us hope that there was forgiveness available for Micah and the tribe of Dan.
What about us? Micah and the sons of Dan distorted faith in God. This is iniquity, a word no one uses any more. Iniquity, in Hebrew, avon, is one of three words or concepts for how one violates the relationship with Yahweh. The other two are “sin” and “transgressions“. Sin is missing a mark aimed at, and transgression is basically being rebellious against an authority (willfully disobedient). Iniquity has, at the root, the sense of twisting out of shape. This is, in essence, what Micah and the sons of Dan do.
All three types of failure in the covenant relationship with Yahweh can be forgiven. All have consequences, repentance is possible, and forgiveness given graciously by God. So, when is that line crossed, where the Person of the Trinity distorted or rebelled against, makes pardon no longer possible? Did Jonah transgress against the Spirit in his treatment of Nineveh? Or, if he actually did write the book, did his repentance restore the relationship? In the Hebrew Scriptures, the lines defining the Spirit and other Persons of the Trinity are not very clear.
The truth is, we’ll never know whether the sins of Dan and Micah were forgivable. First off, the point of the author excluded telling us if either repented. Secondly, the shrine at Dan lasted until the final destruction of the northern tribes. So, whether Micah and Dan could be restored wasn’t the point, and remains outside our ability to see. It’s probably wise to say that there was forgiveness available had Micah or Dan repented. Dan obviously did not, but we’re never told about Micah.
The vast mercy and grace of God make the existence of something “unpardonable” out of place, or, at least, unexpected. There simply seems to be forgiveness everywhere in Scripture, except in regards to the Holy Spirit. And we’re not really told why, not clearly. So, what’s a closet theologian to do? Stand on the holy mercy of our Omniscient Master. He’s got it covered, and typically does so with mercy and compassion.
What’s your view through the fence this day?