The Unforgivable Sin: Matthew 12:22-32

WCSK The Unforgivable Sin

Is there a sin that is so heinous and egregious that the one who commits it is not and shall never be forgiven? The Bible speaks of only one such sin, called the unforgivable sin. The matter is clearly an important one for the Lord saw it necessary to mention it three times in the New Testament: in Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:28-30, and Luke 12:8-10. In this episode, I will make an attempt to explain what the unforgivable sin is to the best of my ability. I say to the best of my ability because, surely, it is one of Jesus’ difficult-to-interpret teachings. So, by God’s grace, I will proceed. Today we will focus on the verses in Matthew since there we have the most content. Matthew 12:22–30 says:

Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak was brought to Jesus, and He healed him so that the man who was unable to speak talked and could see. And all the crowds were amazed and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”

And knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan is casting out Satan, he has become divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? And if by Beelzebul I cast out the demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. But if I cast out the demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or, how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.

The one who is not with Me is against Me; and the one who does not gather with Me scatters.

Next, in verses 31–32, Jesus talks about the unforgivable sin. He says:

Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And 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.

What the unforgivable sin is

So, what is the unforgivable sin? Jesus tells us clearly and plainly: it’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Whoever blasphemes the Spirit will neither be forgiven now nor in the age to come: that means they have no chance at redemption. This is a big deal because God is telling us that what we do right now counts forever and there is an act that guarantees a person’s place in hell for eternity. We now know what the unforgivable sin is, but what does blasphemy against the Holy Spirit actually mean? I will make two assertions and provide evidence for them later.

The first assertion is that if you are troubled about having committed the unforgivable sin, you can be certain you are not guilty of it.

The second assertion defines what the unforgivable sin is: it refers to when a person deliberately rejects Christ and glories in his rejection of Him. The person who is guilty of this sin not only doesn’t believe in Christ—he, with a determined unbelief—doesn’t want to believe in Him. The blasphemer treats Christ with scorn and derision, while turning his back upon Him. The person who blasphemes the Spirit is self-contended and therefore gloats in his rejection of God.

Those were the assertions. Now it’s time to prove them. Let us now begin to examine the Scriptures to gain clarity.

First, in Matthew 12:31, Jesus begins his discussion in a profound way. He says, “Therefore, I say to you.” You and I say amen all the time. But what’s interesting here is that God Himself says amen (by using the Greek equivalent) before He says anything else. Of course, amen comes from a Hebrew word that means, “truth” or “it is true.” This is why if a preacher says something you agree with, you say, “amen.” The point is that Jesus begins His statement by saying, “amen,” or, “Now hear this…what I am about to say is true.” Christ says this introductory phrase as He seems to turn from disputing the Pharisees to instruct and warn His followers.

Next, Jesus says, “every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.” Christ then goes on to clarify in the next verse that no forgiveness will be given “either in this age or in the age to come.” Throughout the New Testament, Christ only talks about two ages: this one and the next. This means that for those who commit the unforgivable sin, they will never be pardoned—either in this age or in the age to come. Christ also makes clear that it is not blasphemy in general that is unforgivable but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is more heinous than all other sins. Notice here what the unforgivable sin is not: murder, adultery, idolatry, false worship, or Sabbath-breaking, just to give a few examples. Furthermore, in these verses, Christ refutes the error of those who suggest that every voluntary sin or that which is committed against conscience is unpardonable. Christ tells us that what is unpardonable is a single, specific sin.

So the unforgivable sin is a specific type of blasphemy against the Third Person of the Trinity. But what is blasphemy? Properly defined, it is reviling, malicious talk, or slander against the Lord (not against an idea or an institution). Blasphemy is a sin in which a person speaks a word against God. The Old Testament penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Blasphemy is thus a verbal sin, one that is committed using the mouth or the pen. A blasphemer therefore weaponizes language against the Lord by desecrating His holy character, insulting Him, mocking Him, or dishonoring Him. As R. C. Sproul once said, a simple way to think about blasphemy is that it is the opposite of praise. In praise, you look up at God and use your words to glorify Him. In blasphemy, you look down on God and use your words to defame Him.

How then can we develop a biblical understanding of what blasphemy against the Spirit means? After all, Christ even says that “every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.” This is where the writings of Jonathan Edwards are tremendously helpful. The great theologian of old helps us to understand the unpardonable sin by having us first observe that in order to speak a word against anyone, you must first have a knowledge about that person. I can’t speak a word against someone I don’t know anything about or who doesn’t have, in my mind, anything that distinguishes them from other people. Without knowledge, it is impossible to develop an opinion, either good or bad. So, to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit means a person begins with some type of working knowledge of God. Those who blaspheme the Spirit are not regenerate but start with some type of light or illumination that opens their eyes to the reality that God is God, that God shows unmerited favor to sinners, and that out of love, God sent His Son to redeem those who could not save themselves.

So, blasphemy begins with knowledge about its object. Second, with that knowledge, the person who commits the unforgivable sin forms an opinion about God and is convicted of that opinion. Moreover, the said opinion is attended with malice. At this point, the person is fully aware of the spite in their heart: they are sensible that the One they revile is God’s Spirit. They know in their heart that God’s truth is in fact correct, yet they suppress the truth and act against conscience in order to form an opinion about God that is contrary to His love, grace, and trustworthiness. Now, why would anyone form such a resolute, negative opinion about God? Because they despise Him. Furthermore, let us remember that blasphemy is a verbal sin and, at this point, the person has not yet committed the unforgivable sin because they have still stopped their mouth and haven’t verbalized what they think in their heart.

Thoughts, words, and actions go together. The heart is the root—language is the fruit. And so, third and finally, when persons are fully persuaded by their own vile contempt, their inward hatred of God will be expressed presumptuously through blasphemy. Here, the blasphemer is so captivated by their own disdain for the Lord that they are no longer restrained by any fear or awe and begin to presume against the Lord Himself. Hence, the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit willfully reproaches that which should illumine their mind, attract their love, and conquer their will. It is therefore no mystery why God would not bestow saving grace upon the person who despises it.

When we look into the economy of the Trinity, it is evident that the Spirit is the agent responsible for teaching us spiritual things (John 14:15–17 and 16:12–15) and pouring out the unfathomable love of God to us (Romans 5:5). He is the Helper that Christ sent after His ascension (John 14:26; cf. Romans 8:9, 26; Galatians 5:22–23). When the Spirit causes someone to be born again, He opens their eyes to God’s truth. The person is convicted of said truth and consequently trusts God based on a sincerely held belief. Particularly, the Spirit reveals Christ to us; He is the Person who enables us to have faith in Jesus, for “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit,” (I Corinthians 12:3; cf. John 16:14; I John 4:2–6). This is the core of the matter and is what peculiarly makes the unforgivable sin one against the Spirit: it is against what He has effectually revealed to a person and what the person sincerely knows is true. And what is true? That Christ is the Son of God. Additionally, what makes this sin especially egregious is that it is against the whole Trinity by implication. If the Spirit convicts a person’s conscience that Jesus is the Messiah and the said person suppresses that truth, they not only reject the Spirit—they also subsequently reject the One who the Spirit testifies about—Christ—and they also reject the One who sent the Messiah, the Father. This is made clear in Matthew 12:22–32, where the Pharisees were said to blaspheme the Spirit with words that denied Christ. Blasphemy against the Spirit is not a sin of ignorance but willful rebellion against the truth.

Jonathan Edwards summarizes the mechanics of the unforgivable sin in Miscellanies:

“Therefore, when men blaspheme the Holy Ghost, they express spite against something that they have an idea or notion of in their minds, that is particularly pertaining to and distinguishing of this divine person. Therefore I determine thus: that those that blaspheme the Holy Ghost unpardonably express their contumely and spite against the Holy Ghost with respect to those acts of his, wherein consists his nature and office, [that is to say] divine love [expressing] the love of God or [that which has] respect to his gracious and holy acts. It is no matter whether they have a distinct notion of a person of the Holy Ghost if they, out of malice, revile those things wherein his nature and work consists.”

Now that we have an idea of what the unforgivable sin is, let us return to the narrative in Matthew. What happened? In Matthew 12:22–32, Christ does something by the power of the Holy Spirit: He heals a demon-possessed man. The truth of what God had accomplished was made clear to everyone and no one (not even the Pharisees) could deny that a miracle had just happened: a man once blind and mute was now able to see and speak. Truly, this was a demonstration not only of God’s power but of His love and grace. God set a man free from the tyranny of darkness and delivered him from captivity to a cruel enemy. But how did the Pharisees respond to this wonderful miracle? Did they praise God? No. They spoke out against God by saying:

This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons. (Matthew 12:24)

You see, the Pharisees, out of malice, abhorred the Spirit for His expression of the love and mercy of God to a lowly and needy man. Moreover, the miracle validated the messenger, Jesus, as God’s Messiah. The Pharisees had tangible, concrete proof of the power of God right in front of them. That an act of God had just happened was undisputable. But what was their response? They denied the power of God in the face of undeniable evidence that God is in their midst. The Pharisees committed the unpardonable sin when they expressed words that reflected not merely unbelief but determined unbelief and defiant rejection of Christ as the Messiah after having seen all the evidence necessary to complete their understanding. Their unbelief was so determined that they willfully refused to accept the implication of God’s wondrous act—that this is the Son of David. So what did they do? They attributed the work to the devil. As Matthew Henry writes:

“No surmise could be more palpably vile than this; that he, who is Truth itself, should be in combination with the father of lies, to cheat the world.”

Who could convince the Pharisees of Christ when they accused Him of collusion with Satan? And, while we’re talking about Satan, it is worth mentioning that he is a prime example of one who has committed the unforgivable sin. As James 2:19 tells us, the devil knows even more truth about God than most people do. By sight, he has experienced God in ways that human beings haven’t. But with the said knowledge, what has he done? He has purposefully and willfully rebelled against the God he hates. This is why Lucifer has said in his heart, “I will ascend … I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). This is also why he will be the spiritual force behind the beast of Revelation 13 that opens his mouth to speak blasphemies against God (Revelation 13:6). It is also important to note that in the last days, blasphemy will be an overriding characteristic of those who rebelliously and insolently oppose God (cf. Revelation 16:9, 17:3).

I will close out this section by quoting John Calvin’s comments on the unforgivable sin:

“[T]hose persons sin and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, who manifestly turn to his dishonor the perfections of God, which have been revealed to him by the Spirit, in which His glory ought to be celebrated, and who, with Satan, their leader, are avowed enemies of the glory of God. We need not then wonder, if for such sacrilege there is no hope of pardon; for they must be desperate who turn the medicine of salvation into a deadly venom … [T]hose who reason in that matter do not sufficiently consider what a monstrous crime it is, not only to profane intentionally the name of God, but to spit in his face when he is evidently before us.”


The unforgivable sin is not something that someone commits from ignorance. As it has been said, the unforgivable sin involves active truth suppression. Furthermore, the Bible makes it plain to us that a man will not be held accountable for what he truly does not know. The clearest evidence of this comes from the lips of the Lord Himself while He is on the Cross. In Luke 23:43, Jesus says:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

Clearly, then, the Bible permits forgiveness for those who commit an egregious sin if they are wholly unaware of the sin they are committing. This idea of invincible ignorance is also communicated by the apostle Paul in I Timothy 1:12–13:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was previously a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.

Let us remember that when he was known as Saul, Paul spent his days denying that Jesus is the Christ and actively seeking out and killing Christians. At the time, Saul was a blasphemer and a violent aggressor; but he also genuinely believed in his heart that he was doing the right thing and following God’s Law. He acted ignorantly in unbelief and “knew not what he was doing.” His ignorance was invincible in the sense that he could not remove it by applying reasonable diligence. Why is that? Because he was blind to truth: God literally and spiritually ended up opening his eyes to the light. So, with invincible ignorance, you generally don’t know any better and can be excused on the plea of ignorance. Let me provide an example to illustrate this point. Let’s say one day, all of a sudden, the secretary of transportation decides that all green lights mean stop and all red lights mean go. The secretary changes the rules in the middle of the night and there is no press release, so millions of people are clueless of this change. The following morning, when you get in your car and drive to work and see a green light, what do you do? You go, because that’s what you believe it means. Consequently, if a cop stops you and tries to give you a ticket for running a green light, you can sincerely say, “Officer, I had no idea I had violated the traffic law because I didn’t know a new law existed.” The judge can then show mercy because a plea of ignorance is valid.

However, when we talk about the unforgivable sin, it is not invincible ignorance but rather vincible ignorance—meaning that the said ignorance could be removed only if the person applied reasonable diligence based upon what is available to them. And, as we have discussed, when talking about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, what is available to a person is a concrete knowledge of God. To go back to the traffic example, let’s say you live in New York and decided to drive in California. The traffic rules are the same, so green means go and red means stop. If you now run a red light, you cannot plead ignorance because any reasonable person knows better and understands that basic traffic signals remain the same from state to state. Thus, in this situation, you cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance. The judge will then say, “Guilty.”

Establishing this distinction between invincible and vincible ignorance helps us to further clarify why blasphemy against the Spirit exceeds all other sins. Certainly, it is not because the Spirit is higher than Christ: all Persons of the Trinity are the same in essence. Rather, it is because those who commit this sin rebel after the power and illumination of God has been revealed and therefore cannot be excused on the plea of (vincible) ignorance. What madness it is for grace to be the cause of shutting one’s heart against the Lord! Additionally, God—the all-knowing Judge—is aware of what He has revealed to a person and thus He can judge justly when a person unreasonably rejects the divine grace that opens the eyes to Christ. He who blasphemes against the Spirit in essence slanders the gifts and power of the Spirit, contrary to his own mind. Hence, in Matthew 12, God warns all who will hear not to fight against Him using His own mercies.

It must be noted that the unpardonable sin in no way diminishes the power or the sufficiency of what Christ accomplished on Calvary. His work remains eternally sufficient. Yet, while one man is saved by faith, another is condemned by unbelief. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unpardonable not due to any defect in Christ but because it inevitably leaves the sinner impenitent.

Scripture interprets Scripture

The haziness of the unforgivable sin will be increasingly cleared when we use other Scripture lenses to analyze Matthew 12:22–32. Two of these lenses can be found in Romans 1 and Hebrews 6. Romans 1 helps us to understand the depraved mind, which characterizes a person who commits the unforgivable sin. The apostle Paul makes clear that the problem with man is never ignorance of the truth but rather its suppression. Romans 1:18–19 says:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (italics mine)

In other words, ungodliness and unrighteousness are never a matter of lack of information; rather, they are a vile, active rejection because a person takes the truth and continually pushes it down, vainly hoping to conceal its light. The consequences of such truth suppression are that God gives the person exactly what they want: less of Him. As a result, the Lord gives the person over to themselves (Romans 1:24, 26, 28): that is, God punishes contempt of His grace by hardening the hearts of the reprobate so that they never have any desire for repentance. Moreover, on account of this judicial abandonment, a person sinks ceaselessly into sin because the farther away you move from the light, the darker things get. As William Hendrickson writes in The Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew:

“But when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the…Spirit,…he had [sic] placed himself on the road that leads to perdition.”

And what is the end result of truth suppression and rebellion against God? It is a depraved mind that begets numerous tongue-sins (e.g., blasphemy) in which a person weaponizes language against God. Here’s what Romans 1:28–32 says—pay attention to the tongue-sins characteristic of those with a depraved mind (italics mine):

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a depraved mind, to do those things that are not proper, people having been filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, and evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unfeeling, and unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them.

The point is that Romans 1 helps us to understand that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a fruit of a depraved mind. This mind stands in direct contrast to the minds of those who are born again and who are new creatures furnished with new hearts and minds (cf. Ezekiel 36:26–27; II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:23–25). The regenerated mind is progressively transformed and does not spite God but loves and enjoys Him. Hence, the blessed hope is that anyone who is born again cannot commit the unforgivable sin (cf. Romans 8:29–30).

The other passage I will discuss is Hebrews 6:1–8. This is another difficult-to-interpret passage in the New Testament and many commentators dispute on what they think the text means. Cognizant of this, I think in these verses the author is referring to the unforgivable sin. That is, those who partook of the Holy Spirit and were enlightened but were not regenerated ended up acting on what was truly in their hearts all along: a contempt of God. As a result, they fall away. The author writes that for these individuals, it is impossible to restore them to repentance. And why would that be? Because they committed the unpardonable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Of course, their restoration is not impossible for God, but it is impossible for the person with a depraved mind to respond with faith. This is what Hebrews 6:1–8 says. I hope that with everything discussed so far, what the text says is readily evident:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and about the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and produces vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

What we don’t know

By grace, we are thankful that Christ has given us precisely what we need for life and godliness—nothing more; nothing less. This recognition is made by acknowledging that there are still some questions about the unforgivable sin that we don’t know, and that’s okay because we’re not supposed to know. For example, in Matthew 12:22–32, it is written that Jesus knew the Pharisees thoughts. No human can read someone else’s mind (they can only read their own). So, without knowing a person’s mind and what they truly know about Christ, how can you or I determine if blasphemy qualifies as sin against the Spirit? This is just one example of an area in which we dare not tread. In regards to the unpardonable sin, Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said:

“[Christ’s] warning is something like the notice you see put up on certain great men’s estates, “Man-traps and spring guns set here.” If you go round the mansion, and say to the owner, “If you please, sir, will you tell me where the man-traps and spring guns are?” He will say, “No. Why should you want to know where they are? You keep from trespassing and then it will not matter to you where they are.” That very indistinctness about the warning is a part of the preventive power which surrounds it.”


Spurgeon’s words are fitting because the purpose of our Christian life isn’t to dwell on the unforgivable sin—it is to glorify God. It’s not to perseverate on the one thing we ought not to do—it is to focus on all the other things God has called upon us to do. Christ is the ultimate concern and everything else is secondary. The way of salvation is paved with faith, not worry. As it says in Habakkuk 2:4:

But the righteous one will live by his faith.

The final encouragement I will leave you with is that if you are troubled about having committed the unforgivable sin, you can be certain you are not guilty of it. Why? Because you recognize that God is God and are concerned that you may have offended Him. You are troubled and unhappy over the fact that you offended a holy God. This is clearly not a person who is actively rebelling against the Lord, for the reprobate delights in their spite. Again, as Matthew Henry writes:

We have reason to think that none are guilty of [the unforgivable sin] who believe that Christ is the Son of God, and sincerely desire to have part in his merit and mercy: and those who have fear they have committed this sin, give good sign that they have not.

Each desire to be right with God is evidence you have not committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. God is good and His steadfast love has opened the door to all sinners who come to Him. It was our Lord who said:

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32)


Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

As far as the east is from the west, so the Lord has removed our sins from us (Psalm 103:12; cf. Isaiah 1:18; Micah 7:18). The blessed assurance of our beloved Savior is that the greatness of our sin shall serve as no obstacle to our acceptance with God if we truly repent and believe in the gospel. Amen.

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

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