Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Matthew 12:30-32:

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (NIV)

This passage causes a lot of people to worry, and it seems to contradict other passages such as 1 John 1:9 which say that God will "forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness".

ἀφίημι is the word usually translated as 'forgiven'. Shouldit be translated that way?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

The word "forgive*"(aphiemi-to send forth*) implies a legal action: it holds one 'harmless' from a legal debt. To be declared "aphiemi", means one's debt has been satisfied; in the case of Matt. 12:30-32, one's penalty of 'sin and blasphemy' shall be "aphiemi" them-following, of course, the prescription of 1 John 1:9,"If we confess our sins; He is faithful and just to forgive(aphemi) our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Therefore, the consequence of Blasphemy Against the Holy Ghost is "ouk aphiemi" or "not forgiven". This implies impending legal action, in which a consequence of not satisfyng the debt has occured. In Mark 3:29, a parallel passage, the word "aphesis" denotes freedom or liberty, "ouk" in front of it means being held "bound for trial". We see this action in Matt. 18, when after the servant who owed his Master much, was forgiven; he instead refused to "hold harmless" one who asked him forgiveness, rather, (vs 30)"...he went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt."

The Master was furious when he found out servant whom He had "aphiemi" and "delivered him over to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due Him."(vs 35) The debt was 10,000 talents-more than anyone could pay in a hundred lifetimes.

We see then the consequence for "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" is severe, and so it would be important to know what it means to do such a thing. We get the implication from the parallel account in Mark 3:30, where it says,"He hath an unclean spirit"; in other words, attributing the works of God which they saw before their own eyes, to the devil. To blaspheme God, is forgiveable; to blaspheme His Son, is forgiveable; the only way one can blaspheme the Holy Spirit is if the Holy Spirit is present, and then one blaspheme's that Presense(ie: attributes that Presense to Satan). The closest example we have of that is in Acts 5:3 where Peter tells Ananias,"Why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?" The consequence was immediate judgement, as Ananias fell down dead.

"Overlooking" does not carry a legal definition; when we are 'forgiven' we are set free from a legal obligation, of which there are legal consequences for not fulfilling. To be told "You are forgiven", is to be before the Court of Heaven, where the Lord is the Supreme Judge, and have your '10,000 talent debt' which is due cancelled, and now you are 'free to go' and enjoy your freedom.

Ref. for 'aphiemi' from letter of Demosthenes: If any man has remitted [aphiemi] to you any part of what was due him, no wrong is suffered by either party to the arrangement. But we have not remitted [aphiemil anything to you, nor have we consented to your voyage to Rhodes, nor in our judgment is anything more binding than the agree­ment.

share|improve this answer
add comment

While this topic is usually called the "Unforgivable Sin" I believe that is a bad translation and it should really be called the "Unignorable Sin".

Verse 32 is:

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (NIV)

The Greek word for 'forgiven' is ἀφίημι (aphiémi). It has several non-relevant senses, but the relevant one is 'forgive'. But that sense also has the idea of disregarding, letting go, or overlooking. All these phrases are very near synonyms: to forgive an offence is to disregard it and let it go. But just because these words are synonymous when positive, does not mean they remain positive when they are negated. To not forgive is very different to not disregard or to not overlook.

When we turn to Jesus in repentance and faith he forgives all sins, even those we don't specifically repent of. There are many sins we have forgotten or don't think of as sin, and they can be dealt with as a package deal. What this verse is saying is that blaspheming the Holy Spirit, whatever that means (see this question) cannot be dealt with along with all the others, but must be specifically repented of, at which time it can then be forgiven.

I propose this alternative translation:

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be overlooked, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be overlooked. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be overlooked, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be overlooked, either in this age or in the age to come.

share|improve this answer
1  
What I'm suggesting is that our English word 'forgive' has a very specific meaning which is distinct from the Greek word ἀφίημι, and that perhaps 'overlook' might be a better translation. If I'm right, then it would be best to alter how it is translated throughout the NT, not just in this one passage. –  curiousdannii Dec 9 '13 at 3:09
1  
I have accepted someone else's edit to the question so it much more along those lines. In general though the question of how to translate is best approached through specific examples, and often seeming contradictions show that our translations are at fault. Not always though! ;) –  curiousdannii Dec 9 '13 at 4:38
2  
It is translated in KJV as follows: leave 52, forgive 47, suffer 14, let 8, forsake 6, let alone 6, misc 13 You have an uphill battle trying to prove that it shouldn't be translated as "forgive." –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Dec 9 '13 at 4:39
1  
The context is specifically that forgive has been negated. I wonder how translations render it specifically in that context? (I haven't really looked.) And note that the KJV is written in language 400 years old - it's possible that 'forgive' has shifted in meaning in that time (though I don't think that is likely.) –  curiousdannii Dec 9 '13 at 4:41
2  
@SomeFreeMason It has been tried ... to disastrous effect. You can't divorce the text from its religious implications any more than you can divorce words from their meanings. The primary motivation for this is a proclivity to reject the meaning as true. As most multilingual folks realize that is a bad recipe for accurate translation. –  Caleb Dec 10 '13 at 12:50
show 9 more comments

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.