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My question is on a specific portion of the unpardonable sin verses. The verses quoted below are from the NASB 1995

Matthew 12:31, 32

31 Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 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.

Mark 3:28-30

28 "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

My question is: what did the people present, including the Pharisees, hear when they heard Jesus say the Holy Spirit in the unpardonable sin verses? I ask because Jesus wasn’t really preaching publicly about the Holy Spirit, up to this point. The people who were present to hear Jesus say this did not have the New Testament to reference and read. So, what was their understanding of the Holy Spirit when Jesus said this? I feel this will give insight into what the unpardonable sin is.

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  • Good question. Please also consider the Old Testament in Greek (i.e. Septuagint LXX) as New Testament oft quotes from that version. You will find that Holy Spirit - πνεύμα τό ἅγιον - spirit of cleansing also comes up as Spirit of Judgement or Separation - Isaiah 4:4 πνεύματι κρίσεως καὶ ἐν πνεύματι κατακαύσεως. So it's only logical that those who do not respect the Judge can not be forgiven by him. Another thing to refer to is Solomon's Wisdom 9:17 (9:15-9:17) which is a blueprint for Pater Noster and should have been known by then by the logic of the gospels.
    – grammaplow
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 12:24

2 Answers 2

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The assertion of the OP about the complete absence of any Holy Spirit teaching before Jesus is untrue. Notice these examples from the OT:

  • Isa 63:10, 11 - But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He turned and became their enemy, and He Himself fought against them. Then His people remembered the days of old, the days of Moses. Where is He who brought them through the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is the One who set His Holy Spirit among them
  • Ps 51:11 - Cast me not away from Your presence; take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
  • Gen 6:3 - So the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days shall be 120 years.”
  • Neh 9:30 - You were patient with them for many years, and Your Spirit admonished them through Your prophets. Yet they would not listen, so You gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.
  • Zech 4:6 - So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts.
  • Zech 7:12 - They made their hearts like flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD of Hosts had sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of Hosts.
  • Ps 106:33 - For they rebelled against His Spirit, and Moses spoke rashly with his lips. ...
  • Joel 2:28 - And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

Now it is true that some were ignorant of the existence and work of the Holy Spirit, Acts 19:2. However, this does not alter the fact that the OT teaches about the Holy Spirit, whose work and theology Jesus greatly expanded.

Now, Jesus never taught anything that was not in some way already in the OT. His teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit is no different. Here is a sample

  • The HS inspired prophets, Dan 5:11, 14, 2 Chron 15:1, 20:14, 24:20, Eze 11:24, 37:1, Num 24:2, 1 Sam 19:23, Job 27:3, Micah 3:8
  • The HS is a source of life, Job 33:4
  • The HS gives special abilities (spiritual gifts in the NT) top some for special duties, Gen 41:38, Ex 31:3, 35:31, 1 Sam 11:6, Judges 3:10, 6:38, 11:29, 13:25, 14:19, 1 Sam 16:13
  • The HS lead God's people corporately, Isa 63:13, 14
  • The HS is also called a counselor, Isa 40:13
  • The HS convicts people of the right way, Isa 59:19
  • etc, etc.

As almost any casual reader of the NT will be aware, this list is very similar to that in the NT for the functions of the Holy Spirit.

APPENDIX - Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit and the Unforgivable Sin

The NT makes an interesting claim about the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Matt 12:31, 32, Mark 3:28, 29, and Luke 12:8-10. This sin, it appears, cannot be forgiven.

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. Matt 12:31, 32.

The question naturally arises: How is it possible that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven but blasphemy against Jesus can be forgiven? Does the Holy Spirit have some especially exalted status?

The problem here is not a matter of status but function of the Holy Spirit. Before dealing with this let us establish what blasphemy actually is. Generally, it means (BDAG), “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates and maligns”. However, the NT provides a more precise meaning when God is involved.

In Matt 9:3, 26:65, Mark 2:7, 14:64, Luke 5:21, John 10:33-36, blasphemy means to claim to be God, or presume the prerogatives and function of God, that is to usurp the place of God (including the Holy Spirit), for example by presuming to forgive sins, Mark 2:7. Thus, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be:

  • usurping His place by presuming to have the function of the Holy Spirit (see above), namely, producing the fruit of the Spirit, trying to reform the life, acting as conscience for others,
  • forgiving sins, trying to confer supernatural abilities on others,
  • deliberately ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, such as conviction of sin and teaching about Jesus and spiritual truths, etc; … all of which are the exclusive job of the Holy Spirit.

Now, if one is usurping the place of the Holy Spirit, then that effectively shuts out the essential work and influence of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life, thus excluding that person from spiritual perception or even the felt need to confess sin. Without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to be a Christian (Rom 8:9).

Such a person is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work. The person then shuts himself away from heaven’s work and feels no need of salvation and becomes spiritually self-delusional. No wonder that forgiveness is excluded, not by God but by the actions and decisions of the person.

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  • As I understood OP was only referring to the teaching of Jesus as we can chronologically derive from the gospels, not all previous mentions of the holy spirit in scripture or elsewhere.
    – grammaplow
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 11:19
  • @grammaplow correct. The Old Testament mentions the Holy Spirit a lot, and since Jesus didn’t really teach publicly up to this point about the Holy Spirit (maybe I am wrong here), it would seem that the ones present for this teaching would have potentially heard a variety of meanings. 1. Jesus said Holy Spirit in reference to God. 2. Jesus expected them to understand the Holy Spirit based off Old Testament teachings. 3. Jesus was teaching them something new about the Holy Spirit. 4. Several of the above. The Pharisees had 0 NT to base their understanding off of, like we do today.
    – Tyler
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:53
  • @dottard based off my comment, could you provide an updated answer? I liked your first answer, but we were essentially just talking about the same thing from different angles.
    – Tyler
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:59
  • @Tyler - you will need to clarify what you are asking. Are you asking for an exegesis of the OT passages about the HS, including judgement, spiritual gifts, etc?
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 20:06
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    Good answer, but from a Christian perspective of the Trinity Doctrine. ¶ "the complete absence of any Holy Spirit teaching before Jesus is untrue." — I think the Question meant that Jesus wasn't teaching that God's holy spirit was The Holy Spirit, a separate person equal to God. Most Christians today understand "Holy Spirit" as something quite different from what the Pharisees did, and the OP wants to know how they understood it. Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 16:19
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What the Pharisees thought then was very likely what Jewish rabbis think today.

Jewish Bibles capitalize references to God, but not his spirit.

Isaiah 63:10 has:

Similarly non-Trinitarian Christian translations do not personify his spirit either:

Dottard has given an excellent list of references to God's spirit throughout the Hebrew scriptures. The Pharisees and others listening to Jesus would have been very well aware of God's spirit and what it was.

But they were unaware of (and as the OP notes, Jesus never taught) the concept of "The Holy Spirit" as a separate being, equal to God.

To them (and to non-Trinitarian Christians), God's spirit would have been known as a tool that God uses to interact with mankind. The unpardonable sin would have been understood as the deliberate rejection of God's means of communication. ("Blocking his calls" in today's terminology.)

If one refuses to communicate with God, one can hardly ask for forgiveness.

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  • Thank you Ray, your answer was very helpful. Your answer also leads into another question I have, but I am unsure if the site wants me to navigate questions in the same thread. Can I ask in this comment section or do I need to start a new thread?
    – Tyler
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 5:52
  • @Tyler. Each posting should contain exactly one question, summarized in the Title and explained in the Body. Comments are intended for suggestions or requests for clarification only, for the purpose of improving the posted Question or Answer. Comments can be deleted at any time without warning. There is no concept of a "thread" here; each item should be self-contained, without discussion. ¶ I believe all of that applies to all Stack Exchange sites. Each site has a Tour page, with a far too brief summary of how the site should be used. Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 14:16

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