I recently spent some time teaching in India at a Bible college. After one class, in which I spent some time teaching about the Holy Spirit, a student approached me and told me how his pastor, at his home church, refused to ever speak of the Holy Spirit as he was afraid of accidentally blaspheming the Holy Spirit. He gets that idea, of course, by wrongly reading a verse from Mark’s gospel…
“‘Assuredly, I [Jesus] say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation’–because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” (Mark 3:28-30, NKJV)
It reminds me of some atheists a few years back challenging people online to deny the Holy Spirit and condemn themselves to eternal damnation. They, like the pastor mentioned above, have no understanding of what this verse in Mark actually means.
To understand this verse you first have to know who Jesus was talking to when He said it. Verse 22 tells us He was speaking to the scribes, the teachers of Israel. The scribes had suggested that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of demons. And of course Jesus’s response was to point out that a kingdom at war against itself can not stand. Jesus had bound Satan (the strong man) and was casting out demons by the authority of God, not by the authority of Satan or an unclean spirit.
A parallel account of this story is found in Matthew 12:22-32. There, Jesus said that one can speak a word against the Son of Man and be forgiven, but one cannot speak against the Holy Spirit and be forgiven. That’s important to know, because the next step to understanding this verse is to put it into its Jewish context. In the book of Deuteronomy it says:
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” (Deuteronomy 19:15, NKJV)
Read the parable in Matthew 21:33-46. God, the Father, sent prophets over and over again to speak to unbelieving Israel. They were all rejected. Then the Son came. But He too was rejected. However, there was still a chance for forgiveness. Finally, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came; the third witness. But after the Holy Spirit was rejected, there was no more forgiveness, as was made evident in A.D. 70.
When Jesus was crucified and, while on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) He was not speaking of the Jews there. He was speaking of the gentile soldiers who were killing Him. The unbelieving Jews knew full well what they were doing.
So, by the testimony of three witnesses (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) were the unbelieving Jews condemned.
What about today? Well, if you are against God, and you hold that attitude to your grave, you will not be forgiven. But, if at any time in your life, you repent and turn to Jesus, you will be forgiven. And if you were one of those idiots who took the “Blasphemy Challenge,” that goes for you too.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the ones who come to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I shall lose nothing, but should raise it up on the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up on the last day.'” (John 6:35-40, NKJV)