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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'. Should it be translated that way?

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7 Answers 7

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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.

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  • "The word "forgive*"(aphiemi-to send forth*) implies a legal action" - I'd be careful to not be quite so explicit as this, because the word definitely has broader connotations. Josephus uses the word occasionally in his writings, and has other uses of it. For example Antiquities 1, ch12, 3 uses it when describing Hagar and Ishmael on the brink of death.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 13:39
  • @SteveTaylor The Context for forgiveness is the Court of Heaven. We must make the adjustment from the Perfect Judge, vs the imperfect worldly courts, where other factors(influence, breeding, impressions) all make a difference. The Perfect Judge is absolute in His Pronouncements and there is no impartiality in His decisions. The challenge of language isn't because of what the term means, but how it is applied by human vessels, which are subjective.
    – Tau
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 1:48
  • Again, you'll need to do much more work in this answer to make a case for any of those claims. Ancient Israel wasn't particularly known for its multiplicity of courts and judges - in fact more decisions were typically made by elders or landowners. Just because you see a word used in a firmly legal context three hundred years later and in a city 1700 miles away doesn't give you sufficient justification for its usage in an advanced agrarian culture. Your whole second and third paragraphs capitalise on a vassal-servant society like that of 1st Century Israel, and have nothing to do with judges.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 8:05
  • @SteveTaylor Again, you're ignoring the context. Words back in biblical times meant more then the jargon you read in aspirin bottles; wars, treaties, covenants, were sealed with words. To "forgive" is to absolve from guilt: case in point-the woman caught in the act of adultery. Not only was the consequence(stoning) removed, but her shame as well, which means her sin was truly forgiven. Are you going to retry her, because of some perceived 'vagueness' of the translation? Look at the action, and the consequence of the action; this tells you what the words are intended to indicate.
    – Tau
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 15:14
  • You highlighted Mark 3:30, where it says,"He hath an unclean spirit". Could blasphemy of the holy spirit not simply be receiving the in dwelling of the holy spirit (like at Pentacost) and then defiling it through continued sin ..... There by making that spirit "unclean". If you read Paul he seems to insinuate this in Hebrews 10:26. Sins of the flesh can be forgiven but once you receive the holy spirit - spirit is eternal so defiling it potentially makes that spirit unclean eternally. That's why I thought man was cut off from the tree of life in Genesis.
    – Marshall
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 4:52
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I'd like to add something to @curiousdanni answer (and his comments) but from Aramaic perspective. In Aramaic Peshitta the word forgiven in Matthew 12:30-32 is ܢܶܫܬ݁ܒ݂ܶܩ which can also have meanings of left, ignored, omitted, dismissed (see William Jennings' Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament) and it is used in other verses in such meaning. For example:

Luke 17:36 (and similarily in Matthew 24:40)
(KJV) Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
(Murdock) Two men will be in the field; one will be taken, and the other left.

(Murdock = Murdock's translation from Peshitta)

I think that it is possible that in days of Jesus people had different concept of forgiveness than we have now and also Jesus might have used some word-play here. It seems he commonly used word-plays - or so it seems in Peshitta.

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  • Which meaning of the Peshitta word would you use here in Matthew? Also, would you be able to transliterate that? I'd like to look at its cognate in Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew. (And, you're right, Jesus used word plays all over the place. It's a very Hebrew thing to do.)
    – Frank Luke
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 13:34
  • I tried to transliterate it by using translitration table and come up with נשׁתבק. I don't know if I did it right, I might have done something wrong. But, I tried to transliterate root of the word which is ܫܒܩ and in hebrew letters it would be שׁבק which happens to be H7662 in Strong's Hebrew Lexicon: studybible.info/strongs/H7662 Commented May 30, 2014 at 14:21
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    Also, if I was to translate this word to modern English or my native language, Polish, then I wouldn't use forgive as this is too strict. I agree with @curiousdanii that some words have changed meanings over time. In Polish our word for forgive is przebaczyć and what is strange is that przebaczyć literally means to not notice, to overlook and old Polish dictionaries explain that word with that meaning but in modern usage this word has very strict meaning which is very similar to English forgive. Commented May 30, 2014 at 14:26
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    So, modern Polish people have the same problems reading Matthew 12:30-32 as English readers, but Polish people one or two centuries earlies wouldn't have it! Commented May 30, 2014 at 14:27
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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.

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    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."
    – user862
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 4:39
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    The word 'overlook' has a host of potential side implications in English that would do nothing but muddy the waters and even introduce theological contradictions. While 'forgive' may not be a perfect fit, translation never is. What we do know is that its a reasonable approximation in dozens of other contexts that does't set off any theological landslides.
    – Caleb
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 10:40
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    I'd be interested to hear what downsides 'overlook' has.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 10:43
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    @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
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 12:50
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    @curiousdannii A holy God who can get away with just not looking at a known fault is a radically different picture than we get is other passages. The Bible has an elaborate story of God creating a mechanism by which he can forgive (hint: see redemption). 'Overlooking' transgression has the implication in English that its not really a big deal to begin with and ignoring it is enough to make the problem go away. Unless you have support for that as a theological position in this passage, the wording is a very problematic choice.
    – Caleb
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 12:57
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Question: "blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven" -- Is "forgiven" the best word for what is meant?

Short Answer: The word “forgiven” is a common and generally accurate translation of “ἀφίημι.” However, it does not portray the full range of meaning of the Greek word. Additionally, the modern emotional implication of forgiveness can be confused with the actual meaning.


The Greek word “ἀφίημι” (aphiémi) is often translated as “forgiven”, but it means much more than that. Bill Mounce dictionary defines it this way:

  • Gloss: to forgive, pardon, remit, cancel; to leave, abandon; to allow, permit, tolerate

Definition: to send away, dismiss, suffer to depart; to emit, send forth;, τὴν φωνήν, the voice, to cry out, utter an exclamation, Mk. 15:37; τὸ πνεῦμα, the spirit, to expire, Mt. 27:50; to omit, pass over or by; to let alone, care not for, Mt. 15:14; 23:23; Heb. 6:1; to permit, suffer, let, forbid not; to give up, yield, resign, Mt. 5:40; to remit, forgive, pardon; to relax, suffer to become less intense, Rev. 2:4; to leave, depart from; to desert, forsake; to leave remaining or alone; to leave behind, sc. at one's death, Mk. 12:19, 20, 21, 22; Jn. 14:27

In our modern understanding, forgiveness is often tied to emotions - we forgive, and thus overlook someone’s actions, to feel at peace with them. However, the ancient Greek concept of forgiveness, represented by the term “ἄφεσις” (linked with the verb “ἀφίημι”), had a more practical connotation. It was associated with the idea of release - from obligations, imprisonment, ownership, restrictions, and more.

For instance, when Jesus says in John 14:27, “Εἰρήνην ἀφίημι ὑμῖν,” He is not forgiving His disciples for anything they’ve done. Instead, He is releasing peace unto them. Similarly, in Luke 18:16, Jesus demands that the children be released to come to Him, not that they be forgiven for anything.

Take Hebrews 10:18, the term “ἄφεσις” refers to the release from the obligation to bring offerings for sins and lawless deeds. This understanding of forgiveness is more like a release, rather than an emotional state. It's an advent of freedom.

The Strong's defines it this way:

  • Definition: to send away, leave alone, permit

Usage: (a) I send away, (b) I let go, release, permit to depart, (c) I remit, forgive, (d) I permit, suffer.

In the context of sin, the idea of releasing or canceling a debt or obligation, fits well with the English concept of forgiveness.

In the given text, Matthew 12:30-32, the term “ἀφίημι” is used in the context of sins or blasphemies not being forgiven (or “released,” “canceled,” etc.).

Broadly applied, to speak against the Holy Spirit is to reject Him and the work He is doing. Those who continue to speak against the Spirit cannot come to faith in Christ. Those who do not come to faith in Christ will not be forgiven for their sins either in this age or in eternity. [1]

What we know is that 1 John 1:9 affirms God’s willingness to forgive sins.

However, Matthew 12:30-32 warns about the serious consequences of a particular kind of sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit).

We see two sides of God's character: His mercy and forgiveness on one hand, and His justice and holiness on the other.

God setting a boundary does not negate His forgiveness. If one continues to reject and speak against Him, He will not forgive them. If He did, he would be forcing them to have something they do not want.

References
ἀφίημι. (n.d.). billmounce.com. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/aphiemi
Strong’s Greek: 863. ἀφίημι (aphiémi) -- to send away, leave alone, permit. (n.d.). https://biblehub.com/greek/863.htm
What does Matthew 12:32 mean? BibleRef.com. https://www.bibleref.com/Matthew/12/Matthew-12-32.html|
Further Study
Matthew 12:32 Commentaries: "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (n.d.). https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/12-32.htm
Says, B. (2024, March 30). Matthew 12:31-32. TheBibleSays.com. https://thebiblesays.com/commentary/matt/matt-12/matthew-1231-32/|
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Let's concentrate on the critical word, the verb ἀφίημι (Strong's G863 - aphiēmi).

1. In both Matt 12:31 and 1 John 1:9 the verb ἀφίημι appears. So, whatever meaning we attribute to the verb (say X) there would be, anyway, an apparent contradiction between the two verses ...

... every sin and blasphemy will be X men, but the blasphemy of [against] the Spirit will not be X (Matt 12:31)

and ...

... He is faithful and just to X us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

2. If we look at the Strong's/Thayer's lexicon, we can easily see that the the predominant meaning is "to send away". Similarly, if we look at the LSJ Greek-English lexicon for [ἀφίημι][4] we can see that the predominant sense is "to let go", "to send away".

If some objection to translating ἀφίημι arises, logic dictates that we should find a meaning (X) that fits both verses.

It seems to me that "to acquit" works perfectly, even for the most delicate palates.

[4]: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Da)fi/hmi

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Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with something people say. It is an action, a very specific action of a scribe adding or deleting verses to the scriptures. It is a warning that the Law cannot be changed. People can blasphemy against God by what they say but that is not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is why the tradition of exactly copying the Torah letter for letter was very important when producing new scrolls to replace the worn from age and use copies. To have an incorrect Torah would be unforgivable in the sense that those reading and listening would not know what to repent from since they have an incorrect Law to follow, a forceful ignorance put upon the people.

1 John 5:6 was used to define Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. 1 John 5:7 was an interpolation conspiracy to justify the Trinity Theology (For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.)

The inspiration was Revelation 22:18-19. The Law was accepting the Trinity theology and other interpretations were outlawed as heresy.

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Why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? How is this consistent to what else Jesus said? In particular:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37, ESV)

Thus, this unforgivable sin must prevent a person from coming to Christ. Jesus said about the Holy Spirit:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8–11, ESV)

The Pharisees who made the following statement were countering the Holy Spirit's conviction leading them to Christ.

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (Matt 12:24, ESV)

It was not what they said about Christ that was unforgivable. It was that their statement blasphemed the Holy Spirit's conviction, and thus allowed them to reject Christ.

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  • You may give this a negative vote, but I'm leaving it because it is a good answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 1:50

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