29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

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Hard Sayings - The Unforgiveable Sin

The passage:  Mark 3: 20-30

In the time of Jesus the rabbis made a distinction between sins which could be atoned for, and sins which led to eternal punishment. The difference was between breaches of the law, versus a fundamental rejection of God and covenant relationship with him. Such a rejection could happen, for example, if someone blasphemed the glory of God.

Jesus' audience would have been familiar with this distinction, and so he appeals to it when he responds to the charge that he was casting out demons 'by Beelzelbul' - i.e. by the power of Satan. It is striking that the scribes, who were opposed to Jesus, did acknowledge that people were being set free by Jesus.  They acknowledged that he had power.

When he faces his accusers, Jesus uses a comparison – a mini-parable – to explain the reality of the situation.  No-one can rob the house of a strong man, he points out, without first dealing with the strong man. The master of a house has to be tied up before his possessions can be plundered.

By the way, notice the mismatch between Jesus' message and the morality in the parable. Jesus compares binding Satan with robbing someone's house! Such a moral tension is not uncommon in Jesus' parables and should be familiar by now from other parables we have looked at this year. Don't let this distract you from the main point, however.

The whole point of the comparison Jesus is making, between casting out demons and robbing a house, is that It is impossible to take things from Satan without overcoming him first: Satan is just not going to declare open house for his possessions to be taken away by all and sundry.  In other words, the idea that Jesus would be casting out demons by the power of Satan was  nonsense pure and simple.

But the bad news is, this accusation was worse than just nonsense.  It was blasphemy.  In Matthew 12:28 Jesus declared, ‘If it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.’  This meant that the power by which Jesus took authority over demons was that of the Holy Spirit: it was the power of God himself.  The scribes, however, were calling Jesus' authority the power of Satan. So they were in fact calling the Holy Spirit Satan.

When the scribes accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, this was not just a mistake, or a slander against Jesus, but a profound rejection of God himself, calling God Satan.  Their condition was far worse than they could have imagined.  They were in very deep spiritual trouble indeed.  The really serious issue was that they had entered 'unforgiveable sin' territory, a concept they ought to have been familiar with.  By calling Jesus demonic, they were not just rejecting Jesus: they were rejecting God.

This was a very serious rebuke.  It highlighted to the scribes the spiritual risks they were taking by accusing Jesus of being demonic.

In Christian tradition, interpreters of the scriptures generally took this passage about the 'unforgiveble sin' as a warning against rejecting God.  The point is that someone's heart could become so hardened against God that repentance – the pre-condition for forgiveness – would become impossible.  This is not about a specific act that is unforgivable, but an attitude of hostility of God and rejection of his forgiveness through a chronically unrepentant heart. 


1. The passage begins with a reference to Jesus' family.  What do you suppose they were thinking, and why were they upset?
2. If you were Jesus, what do you think would have been hardest to handle:  a) constant demands upon you (v. 20), your family calling you crazy (v.21), or religious leaders thinking you were demonised (v.22)?
3. Have you ever done something that made your family, friends or work colleagues think you were crazy?
4. Have you had any experience of encountering evil?
5. If you had such an experience, how did you respond? Were you able to take authority over the situation in the name of Jesus?
6. Jesus says we need to bind the 'strong man'. But how? What are some practical ways in which Christians who are facing evil can 'tie up' Satan when they are facing evil.
7. Have you ever observed a situation where God was at work, and some people were saying this work was demonic? What about the opposite: people doing evil and some were saying that it was God's work?  How can we tell the difference?
8. When there is a risk of calling God's work demonic, what implications does this have for how we evaluate a possible manifestation of the Holy Spirit?
9. What would you say to someone who is afraid they have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit?

Mark 3: 20-30

Then he (Jesus) went home, 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 â€œTruly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Copyright © 2015 Mark Durie, All rights reserved.

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