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Can anyone help me to understand why Jesus spoke of the unpardonable sin in different words? Are they the same instance and the Gospel Authors just changed the words a little? Or did Jesus repeat His teaching on the unpardonable sin?

We read:

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” — because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:28-30

Vs

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31-32

Matthew 12:46-50 seems to parallel Mark 3:31-35, yet I've heard that the gospel writers were not being strictly Chronological in their work, so do these 2 teachings overlap?

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  • The original Greek didn't have quotation marks or other such punctuation. Each author could simply be paraphrasing Jesus's actual words. Or are you saying there is some incompatibility or different meaning between the two versions? Jan 27 at 2:23
  • @Ray Butterworth - I am aware of the lack of quotation marks in the original Greek manuscripts as well as extant Greek manuscripts. What I am trying to understand is the overlap of Jesus words, if possible. Is Jesus speaking at the same event both times? Likely, yes, however maybe a Gospel Author omitted some words of Christ since they were already in the former(depending on which was written first). So again, the overlap is what confuses me slightly. I have basic/moderate knowledge with respect to textual criticism of the Bible.
    – Cork88
    Jan 27 at 4:09

3 Answers 3

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There are hundreds of examples in the Synoptic Gospels where two authors have the same story in slightly different words. To be sure, they tend to agree more closely when quoting Jesus than they do when narrating the background of the story, but the pattern is still quite evident.

William Farmer once described the patterns of agreement & disagreement in wording (and order) as the "fundamental problem" in the Synoptic Problem (which studies the relationship among the texts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

I'll address the subject in 3 parts:

  • What did Jesus say
  • Why did Gospel authors vary their words
  • Chronology

What did Jesus say


Jesus was an itinerant preacher--He would have said a lot. Yet every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospels can be read aloud in under an hour. Clearly, there is much that He said that we don't have, and there is every reason to believe He would have told the same story/taught the same principle more than once. A good teacher can tell the same story many times without using exactly the same words each time.

Furthermore, although my research leads me to the conclusion that Jesus would have been able to speak Greek, in the custom & culture of the time Aramaic & Hebrew would have been the more readily used languages in religious teaching. (see my video "What languages did Jesus speak")

Since the Gospels have come down to us in Greek, what we have (at least in most cases) is a translation of what He said. There is no single correct way to translate an idea from one language to another, so variations in the wording used (in translation) is not surprising--it should be expected.


Why did the Gospel authors vary their words


Virtually all Synoptic scholars in the last 300 years have agreed that there is a literary relationship between the Gospels of Matthew & Mark, although there has been much debate on the sequence & process of their composition.

Allowing that whoever wrote second used the other author's work as a source or guide, the reason for the variation in wording is fairly straightforward.

It takes two hands to manipulate a scroll, and writing desks as we know them today did not exist in the first century (people usually wrote with the scroll on their laps). As such, it would not be physically possible for someone to write on one scroll while simultaneously reading from another. Their options would have been:

  • Lay the scrolls out next to each other and crawl back and forth between the two
  • Read one document, then later write a new document and quote from memory
  • Have a second person assist in the process--one reads from the source scroll and the other writes on the destination scroll.

In all cases, the words pass through human memory (either short-term or long-term memory, depending on the option above that is used), and as a result, in the Synoptic Gospels we get numerous nearly word-for-word agreements with slight variation.

If you're interested in a technical discussion of how this worked (whether copying or translating a document), I recently posted a video on my channel: The Synoptic Problem - Patterns of Agreement & Disagreement in Wording


Chronology


The OP asked about chronology--it's perfectly true that none of the Synoptic authors are trying to present their material in a strictly chronological fashion (Luke says he's providing an orderly account in Luke 1:3--we read that with Western eyes and assume he means chronological order, but he never says that).

Matthew's Gospel is largely organized by topic. Luke's is largely organized by geography. The answer for Mark depends on your solution to the Synoptic Problem. Mine suggests Mark wrote 3rd and alternated following the order of the Gospels that preceded him, Matthew & Luke.


Disclaimer - the sources cited above are my own research on the Synoptic Problem

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    Well appreciated insight. I have a book in my library I have yet to read: (Rethinking the Synoptic Problem) I think by David Alan Black. I can’t wait to read that. For your answer +1. I’m not convinced of who wrote which gospel first yet, though.
    – Cork88
    Jan 27 at 4:16
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    @Cork88 David Alan Black is great! Enjoy. Jan 27 at 4:22
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The surrounding material and teaching about a house divided and the seven spirits, etc, suggests that it may have been the same incident reported by two different eye-witnesses.

Whether this is true or not does not matter much; the gospel writers, except for John, did not always write chronologically.

Let us examine a specific case: The feeding of the 5000 is reported by all four evangelists:

  • Matt 14:13-21
  • Mark 6:30-44
  • Luke 9:10-17
  • John 6:1-14

Take a moment to read all four accounts and note the very different language and details included - some by one author and not another. However, all were inspired and reported the same incident in different ways.

The same is true of the incident involving the blind and mute demoniac and the parable of the seven spirits:

  • Matt 12:22-45
  • Mark 3:20-30
  • Luke 11:14-32

It is only in the version of Matthew and Mark that Jesus' comments about the unpardonable sin is reported - Luke omits this part of Jesus' remarks. However, all are still inspired but again, report things from a different perspective.

Unpardonable sin

Despite the differences in the reported speech of Jesus, the teaching remains the same:

  • Blasphemy against the Father and the Son will be forgiven
  • Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgiven

Why Jesus taught this is another question but the accounts of Matthew and Mark do not conflict or contradict.

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  • Good insight/answer +1
    – Cork88
    Jan 27 at 16:45
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Here are the same to scriptures in the Young's literal translation that might help clarify things a bit.

28‘Verily I say to you, that all the sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men, and evil speakings with which they might speak evil, 29but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness — to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment;’ 30because they said, ‘He hath an unclean spirit.’ Mark 3:28-30 YLT

31Because of this I say to you, all sin and evil speaking shall be forgiven to men, but the evil speaking of the Spirit shall not be forgiven to men. 32And whoever may speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven to him, but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming. Mark 12:31-32

In both Mark and Matthews gospel these words were spoken to the scribes after Jesus had just delivered many from unclean spirits. It was the scribes who were committing this unpardonable sin or also called the eonian sin. They were ascribing the casting out of unclean spirits to their head, the chief of the demons. They we're in essence accusing Jesus of having an unclean spirit himself. The people could be pardoned for the blasphemies against the son but not against the Holy Spirit in this age or the coming one. The millennial age is the next age and after that age is another age.

He might show, in the ages that are coming, Eph 2:7

◄ 166. aiónios ► Strong's Concordance aiónios: agelong, eternal Original Word: αἰώνιος, ία, ιον Part of Speech: Adjective Transliteration: aiónios Phonetic Spelling: (ahee-o'-nee-os) Definition: agelong, eternal Usage: age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.

Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn ("an age, having a particular character and quality") – properly, "age-like" ("like-an-age"), i.e. an "age-characteristic" (the quality describing a particular age

In other words the scribes are not going to be able to enter into the kingdom of God in the next age. They will miss out because their hearts were not repenting of who Jesus was, even after all of the miracles and authority he demonstrated over all the unclean spirits.

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  • I’m curious as to what you define the millennial age as?
    – Cork88
    Jan 27 at 6:43
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    @Cork88. The millennial age is concerned with the millennial Kingdom, Israel's hope. The resurrection of the saints in Israel marks the beginning of the millennial kingdom, for we are told that those who are resurrected live and reign with Christ for 1000 years. Blessed and holy—he who is having part in the first resurrection; the second death has no authority over these, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will reign with Him one thousand years. Rev. 20.6
    – Sherrie
    Jan 27 at 18:03
  • Gotcha, but what did you mean by: "The millennial age is the next age and after that age is another age." What is the other age after the 1,000 years?
    – Cork88
    Jan 27 at 18:06
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    The fifth eon will be the new heavens and earth. I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and the sea is no more; Rev21:1 It will be the day of God: As you anticipate and hasten the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 2:Peter 3:12
    – Sherrie
    Jan 27 at 18:34

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