What is the sin against the Holy Spirit? / Reply
Christian Bollmeyer 00, 2004-01-07
Those who try to lie to the Spirit.
Those who offend the Spirit .
Those who blaspheme against the Spirit
Can the Holy Spirit be denied in fun?/ Reply Christian
Bollmeyer 01, 2004-02-14
What is actually meant by the phrase “speaking against the
Holy Spirit”?/ Reply Christian Bollmeyer 02, 2004-03-02
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
(…) Finally I think it is very important to mention in this connection what is, so far as I know,
the one and only unforgivable sin, that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Even a superficial acquaintance
with the Catholic Church, about which I admittedly know very little, leads to dismaying results. And yet the
Catholics themselves do after all in principle believe in God, as we do. But if we consider the great number
of unbiblical and sometimes absurd dogmas that have grown up as an ‘accretion’ around this principal truth
- dogmas that must be believed in and practiced by believers - it does actually make me think of the typical
way in which Satan works. It doesn’t seem altogether out of the question that one day the Antichrist may
swoop into Rome by helicopter, thank the Pope for his self-appointed role as deputy and proceed to have homage
paid to himself as the ‘Messiah’. It seems all the more appropriate to ask Catholics above all, as a
matter of urgency, to examine the teachings of their church in the light of Scripture to see if they can be
harmonized. But a full treatment of this topic would perhaps be more than the present context permits.
Just as a suggestion, though - could you please cast some light, when you get the chance, on the meaning of the ominous words of Mt 12,31 and the verses following. This passage is of the very greatest importance, and suggests many separate questions - on the other hand, one does not find that it has often been commented on.
Christian Bollmeyer, Hamburg / email@example.com
Mr Bollmeyer’s observation that this scriptural passage, out of all others, is of the very
greatest importance for believing Christians - and not for them alone - is of course perfectly correct. If
nonetheless we can find only a very limited range of specific comments on this passage, this may partly be put
down to the fact that people prefer, just because of the starkness of the text, to leave it to each individual
believer to form his or her own opinion. But as is so often the case with the interpretation of difficult
biblical passages, this reluctance is also the result of the fact that people just are not prepared - for
whatever reason - to engage intensively with these biblical assertions.
Since this topic has never in the past been dealt with in Immanuel.at’s discussion forum in explicit terms, and in view of the topicality of this question for the congregation and for every individual believer - a topicality that becomes more evident all the time - we will now offer an analysis and attempt an interpretation.
To this end, let us first take a look at the passage quoted and its context:
Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.
Mt 12,31 "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven
people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 12,32 "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. Mt 12,31-32;
As is indicated by the title of this Discourse, we would like to attempt here to clarify the
question what, in concrete terms, this sin against the Holy Spirit really is - that is, to offer an
interpretation of the second sentence of Mt 12,32. We will also examine some other scriptural passages, and we
can start right away with the remarks made by the Lord immediately preceding this statement. Here we are told,
in Mt 12,31 that every sin can be forgiven with the exception of blasphemy against the Spirit.
This too is an extremely important saying, and one that has drastic implications for the picture that some Christians have of their unbelieving fellow human beings. Everything can be forgiven! Even mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin can obtain forgiveness - if they ask for it. That is, if they had converted while they were still alive (and perhaps they even did??). All this is made possible by the redeeming sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. Forgiveness is offered even to one who has spoken against the Lord Jesus. No sin is so great that it could not be forgiven as a result of what happened on Golgotha. With the exception of just one - the sin against the Holy Spirit.
And the implications of this now throw a quite particular light on this question. In Mt 12,32 we find it stated in relatively simple terms: ‘But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him’. But it cannot be as simple as that. We must have to do here with something unbelievable, something that moves heaven and earth and shatters the foundations of faith and of the laws of God. If not before, it now becomes crystal clear to us that it is indeed of the very greatest importance that we should get more precise information from Scripture on the background to this statement made by the Lord.
Now we have in the New Testament a report about an incident which may be able to cast some light on the issue at hand. It concerns a happening that is recorded by Luke, the author of the third gospel and also of the Acts of the Apostles, in Acts 5,1-11:
Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?
Acts 5,1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of
property, 5,2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a
portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 5,3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled
your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 5,4 "While it
remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it
that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5,5 And as
he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
5,6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 5,7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 5,8 And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." 5,9 Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well." 5,10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 5,11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. Acts 5, 1-11;
There are several things we realize at once when we consider this report. We can in the first
place state definitively that Ananias and Sapphira are clearly believing Christians! It is not unbelievers,
then, who here are attempting to cheat Peter - these are members of the congregation in Jerusalem. As we see
from the previous chapter, it was customary in those days for the members of the congregation to sell their
possessions in order to help their brothers and sisters who were in need. This is also reported with reference
to Barnabas in Acts 4,32-37, for instance.
And although Ananias and Sapphira were members of the Jerusalem congregation, and so were certainly Christian believers, we recognize in them a phenomenon which is not completely unknown in our own day among Christian brothers and sisters - namely, the completely misguided notion that we can conceal any of our thoughts from this God and his Holy Spirit. As we know from experience, not a single Christian is completely free of problems. Like our fellow human beings who are unbelievers, we too have the odd little “tendency” - some of us may even have several.
With some it is a striving for power and influence. We invariably find such people in the congregation occupying functions where they can pursue this leaning. If you take them up on it, they will of course indignantly point to the fact that they only have the good of their brothers and sisters in mind, and after all they do not get any remuneration for what they do (if that really is the case). We must acknowledge, admittedly, that of course there are brothers and sisters who are genuinely committed and free from any ambition of this kind, people whose considerable labors in the congregation have been blessed. We can recognize such people more often than not from the fact that they do not make a great song and dance about their activities, and are perfectly happy (unlike your typical “eager beaver”) when they are discharged, or relieved of one or another of their responsibilities.
Then too we have those brothers and sisters who, as in the story of Ananias and Sapphira referred to above, are extremely reluctant to part from their money and can do so only with extreme difficulty. This does not mean those who are out of work and have a wife and children at home who must be provided for, but rather people with a good income and livelihood who prefer accumulation to distribution. This is a matter of avarice, and we can best recognize such people when a voluntary donation is called for or if something needs to be done without remuneration. This may be a collection for brothers and sisters in need, or alternatively a service to the brethren, such as organizing a leisure activity, preaching a sermon or giving a lecture to the congregation. Anyone who, when there is a call to give money for a cause, is happy to take the collection and then forgets, quite by chance, to make a contribution himself, or one who is always unable to organize leisure activities “for professional reasons” or who makes use of his preaching and lecturing activities, and for that matter seminars, to earn good money (like some well known preachers in the USA, or in the Christian TOS in Tübingen) while not putting himself to the inconvenience of doing a job of work in the world - any such person gives evidence of his (or her) suspect tendencies.
(See also Discourse 60: “When should a Christian leave a
Christian teachers, whether in the congregation, in Bible schools, in missions or in
evangelization work, who are really full time employed in the function they exercise, should obtain the
financial resources they doubtless need from their sponsors and not from their students. Believing Christians
- and it is only such people who should teach - are not permitted to sell the word of God! For either the
knowledge of these people comes from the Holy Spirit, in which case they should not expect payment for that
which they have received for free, as Paul commands the elders of Ephesus in the passage quoted below (Acts
20,33-35), and as also witnessed by his first epistle to the Thessalonians; or else their teaching is not of
the Holy Spirit, in which case it is false doctrine - so they should not be teaching it at all, let alone
expecting to be paid for it.
You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.
Acts 20,33 "I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 20,34
"You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.
20,35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember
the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
Working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
1The 1The 2,8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart
to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 2,9
For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any
of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 1The 2, 8- 9;
These are just a few examples of ways in which believing Christians can lie to the Holy
Spirit. Others which are exceedingly widespread are for instance an addiction to drink, sexual abnormalities,
dishonesty, addiction to gossip, compulsive gambling, pride, and so on and so forth. But as we saw earlier,
every single one of these sins can be forgiven if we admit to them and ask the Lord for forgiveness. And here
we come to the crucial point: many Christian brothers and sisters do not want to own that they have any such
problems. They deceive themselves, lie to their fellow human beings and repress these sins into the darkest
recesses of their minds. And then they think that not even God will be able to perceive these sins of theirs,
and so commit the sin that Peter reproaches Ananias with - they lie to the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes into this problem in his second epistle to the Corinthians:
Many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.
2Cor 12,20 For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what
I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry
tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; 20,21 I am afraid that when I come again my God
may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not
repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced. 2Cor 12,20-21;
It is therefore also a matter of the utmost urgency that it should be made clear to our
Christian brothers and sisters that while we may perhaps succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of our
fellow human beings - members of our families, or brothers and sisters in the Lord - with God this is
absolutely unthinkable! The Spirit of God knows every thought we have ever had, and every thought we will ever
have in future. And that is the case with every single human being who has ever lived or who ever will - both
believers and unbelievers. This is why God’s verdict is absolutely just. No one, when it comes to judgment,
will be able to wriggle out by arguing that there has been a “misunderstanding”. So we must be clear on
this point: we cannot lie to God. But we don’t have to, either! While we may sometimes have to protect
ourselves from human beings because they injure, condemn or slander us, in God we find love, grace and
forgiveness. Why do we not just open our hearts in prayer, in our inner chamber, and confess our sins to our
Father in heaven and ask him for forgiveness in the name of Jesus, ask him to put us on the right path? How
could that God who in the person of his Son died on the cross just for these sins of mine ever fail to forgive
them, or refuse to free me from my guilt?
To conclude our discussion of this point, we must now consider the question whether those people who try, even today, to lie to the Holy Spirit are guilty of this fatal sin against the Spirit. Although Ananias and Sapphira paid for their attempt to lie to the Spirit of God, and paid with their lives, they were incontrovertibly believing Christians, and we rather get the impression when reading this passage that death for them was a means of salvation. They were punished, certainly, but not damned. We find support for this view in 1Cor 3,10-15.
If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1Cor 3,10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master
builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
3,11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 3,12 Now
if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
3,13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire,
and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 3,14 If any man’s work which he has built on
it remains, he will receive a reward. 3,15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he
himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1Cor 3,10-15;
Here we are told, on the one hand, of Christians who have built up their works with “gold”,
“silver” or “precious stones”. These are works - it doesn’t matter of what nature they are, or of
what extent or value - which have been performed in a spirit of true faith and at the prompting of an upright
and believing heart. These brothers and sisters will receive their reward. On the other hand, we also find
here Christians whose works are of “wood”, “hay” or “straw”. These are works which have been
performed out of vanity or ostentation or in hope of remuneration (donations!). Their works will be burned up,
as Paul says, but they themselves will be saved, “yet so as through fire”. And this is because they had
the right foundation to their faith - namely, Jesus Christ. And so we can imagine this scenario in the case of
Ananias and Sapphira and their like: because of their egotistical motivation their works will be burned up,
but they will be saved through their fundamental faith in Christ Jesus.
So let us move on now to another, more subtle way in which the Spirit of God can be offended.
In theological circles there have been - and there continue to be, right up to the present time - frequent
discussions of the infallibility of the Bible. Recently it has been made clear that the term “infallibility”
implies a personal subject, whereas a book - even the Bible - is an object and not a subject. And just as a CD
cannot actually sing, and the radio cannot talk, so also the Bible cannot be infallible. The Bible is a data
carrier - of quite special data, admittedly - and these data can serve to provide information to human beings.
Thus, and quite correctly so, the term “infallibility” has gradually been replaced by that of “inerrancy”.
The advocates of this point of view hold that the entire content of the Bible has been dictated by the Holy Spirit, word by word, to the various individual authors. So the term “verbal inspiration” - of Holy Scripture - is also used in this connection. The arguments for and against the inerrancy of the Bible would fill volumes, or even whole libraries. A great many international theological institutes include a statement about the inerrancy of the Bible in their definition of theological fundamentals. Many denominations impose on all those who hold office, as an essential condition for their being ordained to perform Christian service, the obligation to believe in and to teach to others this doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. And vice versa, anyone in such circles who has doubts about this dogma will be stigmatized as being “not sufficiently evangelical”. We can recognize here all the criteria which also characterize the dogmas of the Catholic church - only here it is an evangelical dogma we are dealing with.
The justification for this dogmatic approach - a comparatively unrepresentative approach in evangelical circles - is to be found, essentially, in two scriptural passages. The first is 2Tim 3,16-17, and we will quote here the translation of the Elberfeld Bible to which the advocates of “verbal inspiration” appeal:
2Tim 3,16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 3,17 so that the man of God may be adequate,
equipped for every good work. 2Tim 3,16-17;
This translation of 2Tim 3,16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for
teaching” is supposed to yield the conclusion that the entire Bible has been inspired word by word by the
Holy Spirit (dictated, or in the Greek term, theopneustos - inbreathed by God). But what is overlooked
in this connection is that the Greek “graphe”, being translated, means no more and no less than “script”
- without any direct reference to the Bible or to Holy Scripture, that is. And if we now take a closer look at
the translation here, we will see that we are not being told only about an inspiration of the Bible by God -
but this version tells us moreover that “all scripture” is inspired by God. This means that all written
works in the history of the world, whether written with a chisel, a quill pen or a modern biro, have been
inspired by the Holy Spirit. And that is just a bit over the top. That just can’t be the way it is.
So let us now take a look at the original Greek text (Nestle-Aland edition) in a literal translation:
2Tim 3,16 Each Scripture which is inspired by God is profitable for
Leaving aside the divergent translation, which is hardly relevant, between “all” and “each”,
we notice here a quite different formulation. Here we are told that “each Scripture which is inspired by God
is profitable for teaching.” And that finally does make sense. Not all the scriptures of the world, but just
those scriptures that are suggested by God - and so inspired by the Holy Spirit - are profitable for teaching.
This is a completely biblical position, and we have to express our agreement. For a better understanding of
the implications, we might replace the term “Scripture” with “human being who has faith”. The
resulting statement that “Every human being has faith and is profitable for teaching” makes complete
nonsense. The correct formulation has to be “Every human being who has faith is profitable for teaching.”
On the other hand, 2Tim 3,16-17 says nothing to the effect that only the Bible is meant - still less all the words of the Bible. This saying refers to every scripture that is inspired by God, irrespective of the fact whether it is appears in the Bible or not. The fundamental problem that arises from this - that of recognizing what scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God and what is not - can actually be resolved more easily than might be supposed. Every Christian reader who, in accordance with the promise of the Lord Jesus, has asked for the Holy Spirit to help him in this activity will be able to recognize, through the Holy Spirit that is within him, whether a particular writing has been inspired by the Spirit of God or not.
How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Lk 11,13 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" Lk
It would appear that when Scripture is studied in theological faculties this “technique”,
so to call it, is unknown. This means that the professors have difficulty in distinguishing the inspired parts
of Scripture from those that are not inspired, so they postulate that it is all inspired. This simplifies the
matter, even if it contradicts both Scripture and logic.
So we must not assume that the Holy Spirit has monitored and controlled every word that is written in the Bible. Where God thought it to be necessary, yes - but not in places where believers were in a position to deal with the situation themselves, or where it does not have to do with spiritual things at all, but rather with greetings, communications, warnings, praise, blame and other ways of exchanging information (e.g. Rom 15,1-23; 1Cor 16,19-24; 2Cor 13,11-13; Phil 4,21-23; Col 4,7-18; 1The 5,23-28; 2Tim 4,9-22; etc. etc.). To drag in the Holy Spirit at such points would show a misunderstanding of his nature.
This was plainly also the reason why, when the canon of the New Testament was defined (in the Catholic church in 1546 at the fourth session of the Council of Trent, in the Lutheran church in 1580 in the Formula of Concord), Paul’s so-called “letter of affliction”, mentioned in 2Cor 2,3-4 and 7,8-9, which he clearly wrote between the two canonical epistles to the Corinthians and had probably sent by the hand of Titus (2Cor 7,7 f), was not adopted as part of the canon.
The second passage that is referred to in this connection, as a purported proof, is 2Pet 1,21:
2Ptr 1,21 ... for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but
men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2Pet 1,21;
These words are likewise understood by the advocates of verbal inspiration in such a way as to
refer to the entire Bible, with the conclusion that not a single word of the Bible was uttered by the will of
a human being - it is all exclusively God’s utterance. But what they completely overlook here is that Peter
is not speaking of the Bible as a whole, but only of “prophecy” - of the prophetic words that Scripture
contains. Certainly verbal inspiration applies to this part of Holy Scripture, without any kind of
reservation. Not, however, to the entire Bible or to every word in the Bible.
(See also Discourse 40: “Are there errors in the Bible?”)
This evangelical dogma of the inerrancy of the Bible was adopted down to the last detail at an
international summit conference of Evangelical church leaders at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago in the
fall of 1978, being formulated in what has come to be known as the Chicago Statement. I give an extract from
this below, as it has direct implications for the question we are considering:
THE CHICAGO STATEMENT ON BIBLICAL INERRANCY
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
To form a correct assessment of these assertions, we must be aware that we can find passages
in Holy Scripture, alongside what is very much the greater part of the scriptures where the authors were
indeed inspired by the Spirit of God - such as the formulae of greeting and farewell at the beginning and end
of some of Paul’s letters, for instance - which obviously did not need to be inspired by the Holy Spirit in
any way. These are just such formulae as people have used in their letters in all periods of history. To drag
in the Holy Spirit here by asserting that every word has been inspired would be to form an incorrect judgment
of the Spirit of God. On the other hand, we also find at various points in Scripture different statements
relating to one and the same event. This is surprising, but the problem cannot be argued out of existence.
Anyone who has a Bible and takes the trouble can ascertain that this is the case. This has nothing to do with
biblical criticism, it is just a case of establishing the facts! (See also, in this connection, Discourse 40:
Are there errors in the Bible?).
Although the significance of these differences is admittedly marginal, and there are not all that many of them, they make it impossible for us to maintain the theory that the entire Bible is inerrant generally. If we still want to claim that the whole of Scripture has been inspired word for word by the Holy Spirit and so contains neither error nor mistake, the assertion would lead to the logical consequence that those errors which may be found in passages attributable to the human author - which are plain to see and may be recognized by all - should be laid to the charge of the Holy Spirit. And here we are plainly running into the risk of attributing to the Holy Spirit a human liability to error, and so failing to heed the Lord’s warning in Mt 12,32 and its consequences: “Whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him”. And this is something that we, as believing Christians, really cannot afford to ignore.
But you will hardly find any grasp of the implications of this in theological circles. An example of the way in which the leading theologians of our day move on a theoretical plane that is bereft of all logic is to be seen in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, to which we have referred to already. (The German-speaking member of the International Council for Biblical Inerrancy: Prof. Samuel Külling).
The above-mentioned article XIII of this document declares:
“We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth
and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.”
This states, then, that Scripture cannot be evaluated according to standards of truth and
error, because this is thought to be alien to its usage and purpose! This is to declare the Bible to be a pack
of fairytales - in more concrete terms, even, than those used by some atheists. Were the people who signed
this statement aware of this?
And when on the other hand article VI of the same document explains:
“We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words
of the original, were given by divine inspiration”
this means, taken in conjunction with article XIII which we quoted earlier, that Scripture,
being inspired in its entirety by the Holy Spirit, is not to be evaluated according to any standard of truth,
because the use of truth is alien to the Holy Spirit. This practically defies comprehension. What conception
do these people have of our God, and of the Spirit of God? The Lord Jesus says, “I am the way, the
truth and the life”. So these theologians are asserting, with reference to this God and his Spirit, who
himself is absolute truth in person and cannot tolerate untruth in any form, that truth is alien to him! And
all this just for the sake of defending the supposed inerrancy of the whole of Scripture.
It is then just a logical consequence of this position when we find that the reporting of falsehoods - of lies, that is to say - is not allowed to stand as a reason for placing any limitation on biblical inerrancy.
“We further deny that inerrancy (sc. of the Bible) is negated by Biblical
phenomena such as (…) the reporting of falsehoods. “ (article XIII))
In formulating this sentence the authors of the Chicago Statement are assuming that the Bible
contains lies in the form of “Biblical phenomena”, but that these lies nonetheless cannot negate its
inerrancy. This is a complete reversal of the principles of right and truth: a liar is declared to be right,
and incapable of error. This assertion that no falsehoods in Scripture can make any difference to its
inerrancy, taken in conjunction with the declaration of faith quoted earlier to the effect that the whole of
Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit (article VI), leads to the view that the Holy Spirit promulgates
lies - the discovery of which these good people would now have to prevent by imposing a complete ban on
But then these advocates of the absolute inerrancy of the whole of Scripture proceed to pronounce just this conclusion in explicit terms - a conclusion that appeared earlier only in the form of a logical consequence: anyone who on the one hand attributes the entire Bible to the verbal inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and then, on the other hand, assumes that there are falsehoods in the Bible, is automatically declaring the Holy Spirit to be a liar. This is unbelievable, and it is most certainly an insult to the Spirit of God.
If we look at the writings of these people, we can read a whole lot of stuff about what they believe and what they reject. They argue about who has the sole right of representation and what this amounts to and why. One counter-argument follows another, and then yet another rectification follows. Meanwhile they base their assertions on all kinds of theological “declarations”, and anyone who disagrees with them is put in his place as being a theological layperson. The argument goes back and forth: one expert reproaches another for having interpreted the Bible’s statements incorrectly, without himself making the least attempt to demonstrate his own assertions in the light of Scripture.
Then, too, we find articles like the following:
“Prof. Samuel Külling, the Rector of STH Basel (Staatsunabhängige Theologische
Hochschule [Basel Independent Theological College]), objected to a CTL pamphlet written by Dr. Heinzpeter
Hempelmann (Dr. Hempelmann is the Director of the Theological Seminar of the Liebenzell Mission / author’s
note), in which STH Basel and FTA Giessen were ‘disparaged in veiled terms’. Hempelmann states that
STH and FTA 'actually only have the aim of copying the education of theologians in German (or Swiss)
universities - including, that is to say, all the disadvantages that a one-sidedly intellectual method of
study entails.’ (...)”
Or take this one:
“In a letter to a friend, Dr. Lothar Gassmann (Dr. L.
Gassmann is the officer responsible for world-outlook of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Religiöse Fragen or ARF
[Working Group for Religious Questions] / author’s note) referred to an article in IDEA
(no.14./5.IV.'00/16), in which his criticism of the CTL seminars was rejected as being completely without
substance, while at the same time it was asserted that “the Liebenzell Mission does not admit to being
second to anyone in its ‘fidelity to the Bible’”. Gassmann writes in response: ‘This article is in
urgent need of correction, seeing that we have a setting of points here which has implications for the whole
of pietism in German-speaking Europe.’ (...)”
Both extracts have been taken from CTL-Dokumentation 8 (Chrischona-Tabor-Liebenzell).
As with the dogmas of the Catholic church, the attempt is being made here to set up human conceptions and opinions which - see above - have no basis in Scripture as being uniquely right and incontrovertible, while at the same time any kind of discussion is prohibited. But these people are actually not concerned with the truth at all - otherwise they would have studied Scripture, and of necessity they would have come to the conclusion that some parts of the Bible are no more inspired by the Spirit of God word for word than their own “declarations”. It is sadly the case that in the course of their theological career these people have increasingly turned away from the study of Scripture in favor of the defense of their own preconceived opinions.
Certainly the Bible does not need to be defended by the Küllings and Gassmanns of this world. Almighty God is himself quite capable of defending his Word; indeed, he has always done so. Way back in Jesus’ lifetime the theological leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were disputing the question whether there is a resurrection. The Pharisees thought that there was; the Sadducees disagreed. And then these Sadducees tried to lure the Lord into a trap, and asked him a trick question:
You do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God
Mk 12,18 Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Jesus,
and began questioning Him, saying, 12,19 "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and
leaves behind a wife and leaves behind no child, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to
his brother. 12,20 "There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children.
12,21 "The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 12,22 and
so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. 12,23 "In the resurrection, when they
rise again, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her."
12,24 Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 12,25 "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 12,26 "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob’? 12,27 "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken." Mk 12,18-27;
The Sadducees wanted to show that if there were such a thing as the resurrection, it would
lead to a chaotic state of affairs - you would find seven men competing for one wife. The Lord however
indicated to them that they were in error and ignorant of Scripture, seeing that in the resurrection people do
not live as man and wife, but become non-sexual beings. The Sadducees - although they were of the class of
scribes, and so versed in Holy Scripture - had understood nothing at all. And in just the same way we have to
point out to those theologians of our day who argue the question whether the Bible in its entirety is inspired
by the Spirit of God word for word or not, that they have completely failed to recognize the real problem.
The Bible is not an end in itself: on the contrary, Holy Scripture is given to human beings to enable them to come to faith in God the Almighty and his Son Jesus Christ. And yet in the course of millennia it has always been just a relatively small portion of humanity that has come to believe. Should the Holy Spirit be blamed for this? Certainly not! The reason does not lie with the Holy Spirit, but with human beings. For many people the Bible is a book of fairytales, old-fashioned, insipid and full of incomprehensible assertions. Others on the other hand read it with enthusiasm, understand every parable at first glance and would be happy to read the Bible day and night. And both classes of person are reading the same Bible that was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
This shows that it is not the question whether the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the books of the Bible word for word that is the issue of burning importance for us who are alive today. The Bible has been given to humanity by God: this phase of salvific history, by the will of God, has now come to an end. But what for us today is a much more important issue is the question whether we have the Holy Spirit when we read the Bible. For this is precisely the difference between those theologians who understand the Bible and the others who miss the point completely.
We find in Scripture a clearly comparable situation. When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they started to proclaim God’s message in different languages:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues.
Acts 2,1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2,2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house
where they were sitting. 2,3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they
rested on each one of them. 2,4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other
tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 2,5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout
men from every nation under heaven. 2,6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and
were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 2,7 They were
amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 2,8 "And how
is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 2,9 "Parthians and Medes and
Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 2,10 Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 2,11 Cretans
and Arabs-we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." 2,12 And they all
continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"2,13 But
others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine." Acts 2, 1-13;
Acts 2,5 tells us that the audience here assembled, each of whom heard the disciples speaking
in his own language, were “Jews... devout men, from every nation under heaven”. But then we read in Acts
2,13 that there were also “others” among the audience - unbelievers, who did not understand what the
disciples were preaching. And they mocked them, saying they were drunk. This makes it plain that the Holy
Spirit did not just fill the disciples - he also had an effect on the devout members of the audience,
otherwise this auditory miracle would not have been possible at all. And it is much the same with Holy
Scripture. The authors were filled with the Holy Spirit, and wrote down the Word of God. And among readers of
the Bible there are to this day those on whom the Holy Spirit whom we pray God to send us has an effect, and
who therefore understand Scripture, and those “others” on the other hand who do not have the Holy Spirit,
and so understand nothing and suppose that the Bible is a collection of fables.
And here too it emerges clearly that theological dispute is merely a sideshow. It actually is an end in itself, from which no benefit whatever can be derived. It does nothing for God, since he can look after himself and does not need to be defended by us; nor does it do anything for human beings, seeing that their real problem - namely, their lack of the Holy Spirit - is neither recognized nor dealt with. So we must appeal to these theologians - if they are Christian believers at all - finally to put an end to their senseless disputes, and teach people what is really needed - that is, how they can obtain the Holy Spirit.
To answer this question, let us again refer to what the Lord says in Lk 11,11-13:
How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Lk 11,11 "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he
will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 11,12 "Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not
give him a scorpion, will he? 11,13 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" Lk
Now it is perfectly correct to say that we are told here of “children” asking for
something from their father, and it might be objected with some justice that those people who are reading the
Bible for the first time can hardly be believers as yet, and so cannot be described as the children of God
either. But as we believing Christians know, God does not see the outer man, he sees into a person’s heart.
So it does not seem to matter much either whether this person is rich or poor, important or unimportant, a
believer or a non-believer - it is purely and solely a question whether he has the honest desire in his heart
to understand this book.
This may be the case even if he only wants in the first instance to be able to form an independent judgment, being prompted by intellectual honesty, so that he can argue convincingly if a discussion should come up, rather than - like many of the heathen - making assertions about the Bible when they have never held a Bible in their hands in all their lives, to say nothing of reading it. This is the request of the heart: it may not be explicitly uttered, but it is heard by God all the same. And most certainly it will not remain unanswered. God sends us the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit leads us on the path of understanding. That is the beginning of the process. What comes after would be enough to fill volumes.
If we now seek to answer the question to what extent these Christian theologians are really speaking against the Holy Spirit in the sense of the present discussion, and so committing the unforgivable sin as specified by the Lord in Mt 12,32, we can reflect as follows. It would certainly be an open and shut case if it was their evil intention to attribute lies and falsehoods to the Holy Spirit. But this, one hopes, can be ruled out. Their assertions, just like the idea of the verbal inspiration of the whole Bible, are prompted - whether consciously or unconsciously - by the desire to protect the Bible, as the Word of God. The fact that the obvious consequences have been left out of account seems - at least in the case of theologians who are true believers - to be the result of a deficient ability to reason in the abstract, rather than indicating a lack of faith on their part.
And so here too Paul’s statement that we quoted earlier (1Cor 3,10-15) holds good: we who believe in Christ will be judged in accordance with what we have built upon this foundation that has been laid, which is Jesus Christ. If a person builds with gold, silver or precious stones, his work will be proof against the fire. If he builds with wood, hay and straw, it will be consumed, but he himself will be saved - “so as through fire”.
Let us turn, finally, to those arguments which refer to blasphemy (supposed or real) against
the Holy Spirit. Some scriptural commentators who are faithful to the Bible speak in this connection, in more
or less definite statements, of criticism of the Bible. What, now, are we - as laypersons - to understand by
this term, criticism of the Bible? We do not aim here to cast light on the entire range of the spectrum, but
we will just adduce a few examples to facilitate the recognition of the background and motives that are at
One aspect of this is what is known as the “separation of sources”. As long ago as in the early Middle Ages, for instance, the assertion was advanced that the Book of Isaiah with its 66 chapters could not have been written by one single author, in view of its linguistic peculiarities. Because many theologians also found it impossible to believe that a man could prophesy things that would only happen 150 years later, towards the end of the 18th century chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66 were each attributed to a different author. The second part of the book was rechristened as “Deutero-Isaiah” (Second Isaiah), and the time of its writing post-dated to a later period (post-dating). At the end of the 19th century, chapters 56-66 in their turn were split off and transmogrified into a “Trito-Isaiah” (Third Isaiah).
The Book of Daniel, similarly, was thought to be by two different authors, in view of the difference in content between chapters 1-6 and chapters 7-12. Moreover, in view of the astonishing accuracy with which Daniel in chapters 11 and 12 prophesies occurrences some of which lie centuries in the future, this part of the book was classified as “vaticinia ex eventu” - that is to say, a “prophecy” that was only written down after the events had taken place (falsification). This, though, was to give the lie to the prophetic content of these texts - and while they were about it, they might as well have done the same for the entire Bible.
(See also Table 04: “What is written in the Book of Truth.”)
As there have been repeated attempts of this kind with reference to various books of the New
Testament, some theologians faithful to the Bible are afraid, and not without reason, that Holy Scripture
could be undermined in such a way that there would be nothing left to believe in. Their concern is
justifiable, certainly, but all the same these people shoot way beyond the target. In order to bar the door
once and for all, as it were, against these attacks on the Bible, they advance the assertion that the entire
Bible has been inspired by the Holy Spirit word for word and is therefore infallible - and “not just in all
questions relating to life and faith, but also in respect of history, geography and the natural sciences”,
as Dr. Lothar Gassmann, whom we quoted earlier, puts it. And of course this then does indeed make them
vulnerable to attack from their opponents - who after all are perfectly capable of reading, and can get their
hands on a Bible.
The problems that the objective student of the Bible has with this point of view have already been described in detail above. Before we now get to grips with the problems thrown up by the opposite side - the side of modern biblical criticism - let it be clearly stated that for the believing Christian the points of view of both sides are entirely irrelevant. A person who really believes in God must also believe that this God is all-powerful. What kind of a God would it be who was not able to make his will known to human beings - in whatever way, by whatever means and through however many authors? What kind of God would it be who had to pay attention to linguistic peculiarities, and who could prophesy events only a few years in advance, and not centuries and millennia into the future?
The principle that applies is this: however many authors were responsible for writing the Bible, however many linguistic peculiarities modern biblical criticism may be able to discover and however many prophecies it finds itself impossible to believe in, because they extend too far into the future - which would appear to be too much for the “God” of these so-called “theologians” - the God of the Bible has absolutely no need of theological justification! The Bible was not written for theologians, but for those people who believe in this God of the Bible - and no ifs and buts about it. And it is these very people who have a far better set of tools for judging the credibility of Scripture. This is precisely that same Holy Spirit who in the past directed the authors of the Bible and so knows, far better than any theologian, what he inspired, as well as when, where, how and to whom.
Let us now consider those scriptural passages which deal specifically with blasphemy against God, and so have to do with the Spirit of God.
They did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality.
Rev 9,18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire
and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. 9,19 For the power of the horses is in
their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.
9,20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 9,21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts. Rev 9,18-21;
In the above passage, Rev 9,18-21, we find ourselves contemplating the Day of the Lord, the
Day of the Wrath of God. Specifically, these are the plagues of the sixth trumpet (the second woe). In this
passage we find a few indirect and somewhat cryptic sayings. So we read in Rev 9,18 that a third of mankind
has been killed by these three plagues of the sixth trumpet. This means, then, that a third of the population
of the world has been exterminated by these catastrophes. And the verse Rev 9,20 then tells us that “the
rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands”.
(See also Table 14: “The Revelation - classified by events.”)
This means that a third of humanity has been killed, and among the rest there is not a single
believer left to be found, for a believer surely would have repented. This shows us on the one hand that at
this point in time there cannot be any believing Christians left on earth, while on the other it confirms the
view that the Rapture has already taken place long before, in connection with the sixth seal, after the Great
Tribulation (the fourth seal) - so that the Day of the Lord, the Day of the Wrath of God, begins with the
(See also Discourse 61: “Is the Great Tribulation identical
with the Day of the Lord?”)
We find another indication that human beings did not repent, and thus that no Christian
believers were left among the population of the world, when we come to the plagues of the bowls. At latest
from Rev 16,1-2 on (the first “bowl of the wrath of God”), we know that this is the time when the
Antichrist, the beast from the sea, is already ruling over the world.
It became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.
Rev 16,1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels,
"Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God." 16,2 So the first angel went
and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who
had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. Rev 16, 1- 2;
And then in the following passage, Rev 16,8-11, it is yet again stated that people did not
repent. But we see now an additional escalation in their rejection of God: they now go to the lengths of
blasphemy. People blaspheme the name of God (Rev 16,9), and they even blaspheme God himself (Rev 16,11).
They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.
Rev 16,8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to
it to scorch men with fire. 16,9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God
who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
16,10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 16,11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. Rev 16, 8-11;
When we are told, finally, that “they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these
plagues”, and “they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores”, it
is plain to be seen that at this point in time people know exactly where these plagues are coming from: they
know that it is God in heaven who is pouring out his wrath and ire on these remnants of humanity who serve
idols and refuse to repent.
Already before the first bowl of the wrath of God, in Rev 15,1, we find an announcement that these seven bowls of the wrath of God will be the last plagues that God visits on humanity.
Seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.
Rev 15,1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels
who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. Rev 15, 1;
With the seven bowls of the wrath of God, then, God’s ire is finished. And if we now look at
the description of the seventh and last bowl of the wrath of God, we can see that human beings persist in
their rejection of God right to the bitter end.
Men cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.
Rev 16,17 The seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice
came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, "It is done!" 16,18 And there were flashes of
lightning, voices, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as had never been since men were on the
earth, so great was that earthquake. 16,19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the
nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath. 16,20 And
every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found; 16,21 and great hailstones, heavy as a
hundred-weight, dropped on men from heaven, till men cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was
that plague. Rev 16,17-21;
Besides the important realization that on the Day of the Lord and of the Wrath of God there
will be no believing Christians left on earth, and so that the Rapture necessarily must have happened before
(after the Great Tribulation), we can also infer from this scriptural demonstration that it is the refusal to
repent that prompts humanity to reject God, and so finally to blaspheme against God and the Holy Spirit as
But the repeated comment, “and they did not repent”, also entails a further insight: it appears that even here it would have been possible for people to be saved through conversion and repentance. God, that is, would have been ready to forgive right up to the end. But there was not a single human being found willing to take advantage of this opportunity. And that precisely is the curse of apostasy and rejection of God: you reach a point where there is no going back.
And this is a real danger, in a quite special sense, for the liberal theologians apostrophized here - the theologians who go in for biblical criticism without actually believing in the Bible. While your ordinary unbeliever hardly reads the Bible in his life, and so has very little relation to God, holding no definite opinion on spiritual matters, either for or against, it is these people on the other hand who engage with the Bible, and so have direct contact with God and the Holy Spirit. A person who denies that the prophetic books, like those of Isaiah or Daniel, have been inspired by the Holy Spirit is giving evidence of the fact that he has never experienced the Holy Spirit - and thus has never experienced God - in his life, and so automatically disqualifies himself as a theologian (theology, after all, is the knowledge of God). But what is far worse is that he is speaking against the Holy Spirit, and so can expect to face the consequences that the Lord warns us of in Mt 12,32:
Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.
Mt 12,32 "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. Mt 12,32;
A person who does not convert and do penance is setting out on that path from which he will
find himself unable to return. And he draws all those who follow him into the abyss.
The Biblical Trinity
There is just the one and only God in his three
authorities: God the Father as the legislative authority, comparable
with the legislature in human society; the Holy Spirit as the
authority of execution, similar to the political executive arm; and
the Son of God as the judicial authority, like the court of justice.
God has given human beings the law and the commandments (Ex 24:12),
the Holy Spirit registers the extent to which people observe them,
but only intervenes when human actions might otherwise contravene
God’s plan (2Thess 2:7), and the Son of God will judge every
single human being (Jn 5:22) at the Last
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
I have now read through Discourse 64 as well, and was delighted to find in it a new,
interesting and illuminating contribution. Just a suggestion: the word ‘blasphemy’ is in today’s idiom
unusual, and so is not automatically understood by the person to whom it is addressed. ‘Blasphemy’, in
this connection, must be more than the mere use of the term ‘Holy Spirit’ in a jesting or even
contemptuous context. Among German jurists, for example, there is a rhyme that is quoted in lectures in
connection with the return of engagement presents as covered by § 1300 of the BGB [the German Civil Code],
which I would rather not repeat here. While I take such behavior to be sinning against the Holy Spirit, I
would all the same not regard it as an instance of the ‘deadly sin’ referred to in Mt. 12,31 f. The same
might go for other jokes as well that involve the mention of the Holy Spirit. I think, then, that many people
might benefit from a clear statement of the situation in this respect. For my own part, I am sure that I have
grieved the Holy Spirit in various ways in the course of my life, and so laid some sin to my charge, but all
the same the Spirit is still there - otherwise I would hardly be writing this today. For this reason I believe
that before God really and finally rejects a person, something quite monstrous must occur, something that no
grace can any longer vindicate. ‘Blasphemy’, then, in the sense of Mt. 31,12 f., must mean more than just
a thoughtless utterance which happens to involve a mention of the Holy Spirit. If this is correct, a clear
statement of the position might relieve those of us who really do believe of many unnecessary pangs of
Christian Bollmeyer, Hamburg / firstname.lastname@example.org
You are quite right, this important aspect has been given far from adequate treatment in my
arguments above. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in my view, is not just any kind of sin in a general
sense. I do not think it is an action or a monstrous deed on the part of a human being - in whatever form -
that could no longer be vindicated by grace. Rather, we have to do here with something more, and something
much more fundamental. I would like here to make use of your juristic background in order to present this
issue in greater detail. When a defense counsel represents his client before the court, he will aim to achieve
the lowest possible penalty. Even if his client is a mass murderer, he will try to make use of all the
possibilities the law allows, in order to claim mitigating circumstances. The district attorney’s
understanding of the legal position will be different in the majority of cases, so it becomes the task of the
judge to interpret the law in such a way that justice is done. This is a typical case: the law constitutes the
basis for the legal judgment, and is acknowledged as such by all parties.
But if, now, the defense counsel were to place himself above the law, and to insist that the fundamental legal principles that are generally recognized by society do not apply to him and his client, and if he were then himself to put forward laws of his own which included quite different definitions of what is allowed and what is forbidden, then there would no longer be a common basis for discussion, and neither the district attorney nor the judge would be prepared to accept it. And this is actually the crucial point: the degree of guilt, whatever it may be, does not matter - rather it is that fact that the denial of the Holy Spirit does away with that basis of common ground through which it is possible for us to communicate with God at all.
In the same way as many accused persons are liable to think a law is unjust and to declare the judge incompetent, so also the average unbeliever may give vent to similar remarks about the commandments or about God and the Holy Spirit. This does not yet put him in danger of damnation. But when the jurist (for which read theologian) permits himself to indulge in such behavior, it is a different state of affairs. If a person takes the view, on the other hand, that the laws that are in force have been enacted by criminals and the judge is a mafia boss, and refuses to recognize either the one or the other, then he has lost touch with the society we live in: there is no longer a common basis for understanding.
And so likewise those people who speak against the Holy Spirit, by claiming that it is not the Spirit of God but the spirit of evil, and that God is not anything good but is rather evil in person, as Revelation tells us in connection with the various plagues:
Rev 16,10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast,
and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 16,11 and they blasphemed
the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. Rev
- and when they refuse to recognize that the guilt is their own, seeing that they would
thereby be obliged to repent - then they have willfully abandoned that fundamental principle which could have
obtained for them grace, mercy and forgiveness.
You see, the point at issue is not that God is unwilling to forgive. He just cannot forgive any longer. The system has broken down. These people have put themselves out of the range of God’s forgiveness. Rather as in Plato’s parable of the cave, it is as if I were to complain about the fact that the sun does not shine in my face, when by my own choice I spend the whole day sitting in a dark cellar.
(Texts enclosed in a black frame are quoted from visitors to the site or other authors.)
Your illustrative reference to a court of law is brilliantly effective, and could well be a
big help to many people who have grappled with such questions at some time in their lives. In my own case I
can actually exclude the possibility that I have ever deliberately mentioned the Holy Spirit in a profane way
- at least I was outraged by that miserable rhyme, even in those days. On the other hand, I cannot rule it out
altogether for the whole of my life, for the simple reason that there are areas that I do not well remember.
And there remains, then, the thoroughly disturbing question - “And what would be the case, if...?” This is
a question by which I have been seriously troubled at times. Now, I arrived some time ago at the conviction
that mere words are not enough to make a person guilty of committing this sin, and I am glad that you see the
matter in the same light. Anything else would also be in contradiction of my own experience. But why,
actually, should this be the case? After all, we do read in Mt. 12, 32 (Luther, 1984):
Mt 12,32 "Whoever speaks something 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. (Mt. 12, 32)
In the revised Elberfeld Bible (and also NAS, 1995) the passage reads as follows:
Mt 12,32 "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. (Mt. 12, 32)
Here I assumed that “a word” is not to be understood as strictly singular, but rather
indicates an extended speech - a speech directed against the Holy Spirit (against rather than about). If we
now apply techniques of interpretation that might be called juristic, we might conclude from this “against”
(in older German translations we sometimes find it expressed as “in opposition to”) that this speech must show that the will is directed to a deliberate
rejection of God (in terms of criminal law we might speak, in this connection, of malice aforethought).
But the passage begins, in each case, with an “and”. And here we find it written in the previous verse (Luther, 1984 and also Revised Standard Version 1947):
Mt 12,31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven
men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
12,32 And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mt 12,31-32)
The use of the word “and” would lead a jurist to conclude, in normal circumstances, that
we are being presented here with two different states of affairs, both of which carry the threat of punishment
by death - namely, blasphemy on the one hand, and “speaking against” the Spirit on the other. But in that
case “blasphemy” must actually be a term that means something different from “speaking against the Holy
Spirit”. As you correctly point out, however, the semantics of the word “blasphemy” enable us to infer
that this is actually not the case, and that we just have to do here with a repetition of the same state of
affairs - possibly also for the reason that otherwise the outcome would depend on this concept of “blasphemy”
exclusively, and this term is so vague that today - to the extent that it is used in present-day colloquial
speech at all - it can actually be interpreted just in the sense of mere derogatory talk “about” someone.
You will doubtless object at this point, and with justification, that the Bible, of all things, is not to be measured by juridical yardsticks of the kind that have been developed for the formulation of human statutes. You are also likely to criticize me for splitting hairs with reference to my discussion of the exact wording of German translations of the Bible (I’m afraid I don’t know Greek). All the same, I have pondered these matters intensively, and have asked myself a good many questions. Now that I have spent some time with these issues, I have realized that we cannot come at the meaning of these verses by looking at them in isolation; rather we must look at the entire context in which these passages appear. Jesus did not just spin these words “out of the air”, so to speak - no, he spoke them after the Pharisees (Mt. 12, 24 ff.) had charged him with driving out evil spirits with the help of Beelzebub, thus denying the Holy Spirit (through the power of whom the apostles later drove out demons - c.f. Acts 16,16), so going against their better judgment and attributing the works of Jesus to Satan. In Mk. 3,30 (Elberfeld Bible) we are told, accordingly, with refreshing clarity:
Mk 3,30 ... because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."
And this question you have dealt with in your illustrative example of the court - with
wonderful cogency, and in such a way that anyone will understand it immediately.
Christian Bollmeyer, Hamburg / email@example.com
Let me first of all express my appreciation of your really very deep commitment to the
analysis of this theme. This kind of methodical approach to the text of Scripture has rarity value these days,
I am sorry to say, although experience proves - and your example proves it as well - that the actual sense of
the biblical sayings can often be realized and demonstrated far more effectively in this way. The conclusion
you come to - that we must first and foremost take issue with the context, if we are to understand the
significance of a scriptural passage - is also a point that I constantly emphasize. So I am by no means going
to charge you with splitting hairs - on the contrary, I am grateful to you for pointing out this gap in my
argument, and glad that your comments give me the opportunity of putting the matter right.
As with your previous reply, here too I must concur with your sentiments without reserve. My arguments are of course based on the context (Mt 12,24-28 and Mk 3,30), otherwise I would not be so confident of my interpretation. Here now are the texts you quote, and I will transcribe the entire passage:
This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.
Mt 12,22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus,
and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 12,23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying,
"This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" 12,24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said,
"This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons."
12,25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 12,26 "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 12,27 "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 12,28 "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Mt 12,22-28;
Because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit.
Mk 3,28 "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and
whatever blasphemies they utter; 3,29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness,
but is guilty of an eternal sin"- 3,30 because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."
In my remarks above, I am afraid that my arguments “got stuck”, so to speak, in Revelation
and I therefore failed to make a final explicit reference to these other passages. And this constitutes a
problem, for the reason that these passages are actually the basis for the conclusion I reached. Thankfully,
you have not only pointed out this fact, but have also immediately demonstrated the correct links, so
appositely that I think any further elucidation would be superfluous.
But perhaps we still ought to address the question which you have frequently voiced in your remarks above, and which, in my experience, is one that many brothers and sisters in the Lord often ask themselves - namely, “Have I committed this sin against the Holy Spirit?”
For those individuals who ask this question coming from a position of faith, and not in a spirit of evil such as would immediately go on, “If not, I must get on with it quick!” - yes indeed, there are such people (Satanists and the like) - there is an answer to hand, which in my view is just as simple as it is correct:
One who, as a believing Christian, asks himself (or herself) the question, “Have I committed the sin against the Holy Spirit” - never mind at what moment in his (or her) life - may assume that the answer is “No”. (Because otherwise he surely would no longer be a believing Christian!)
And this also covers, with a fair degree of precision, the intuitive opinion expressed in your first reply above:
“For my own part, I am sure that I have grieved the Holy Spirit in various ways in the course of my life, and so laid some sin to my charge, but all the same the Spirit is still there, otherwise I would hardly be writing this today.”“