What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? – 5 Views from D.L. Bock

What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? At least five views have been put forward (Fitzmyer 1985: 964):

1. Some regard it as the Beelzebub charge raised in Mark 3:22 = Luke 11:15. Ellis (1974: 176) argues that in Mark 3:28–30 = Matt. 12:32, blasphemy against the Spirit is seeing Jesus’ work as coming from Satan, while in Luke it is regarding the work of Jesus’ servants as being tied to Satan. Ellis reasons that in both Matthew and Mark the remark is tied to the Beelzebub controversy, while in Luke the Beelzebub controversy is absent. However, Ellis’s position can be qualified, though his Beelzebub observation is correct. Even in Matthew, the remark follows a comment about being allied to Jesus (Matt. 12:30), and so it does not relate exclusively to the Beelzebub issue. The distinction that Ellis seeks between Matthew-Mark and Luke does not exist, at least in Matthew. This view, though having merit, is probably stated too narrowly to reflect the diversity of the Gospels.
2. Patristic interpretation often regarded the passage as referring to the believer’s apostasy (Origen, Commentary on John 2.10 on John 1:3; Arndt 1956: 313 [a modern exponent]). This certainly fits the Lucan context of warning about not fearing people but fearing God in the midst of persecution. It is less clear in its relationship to the Matthean and Marcan forms of the saying.
3. A more nuanced position argues that speaking against the Son of Man consists of rejecting him during his ministry, while blasphemy of the Spirit consists of rejecting him after hearing the preaching of the apostles, who preach by authority of the Spirit (Ernst 1977: 395; Schneider 1977a: 280; Danker 1988: 246; Tiede 1988: 231). This view has much to be said for it, since it is historically sensitive to the progress of Jesus’ ministry and places the blasphemy in terms of allegiance to Jesus. However, many who hold it also regard the statement as a product of the church (Procksch, TDNT 1:104), which is problematic.
4. A view that focuses on the Lucan form of the saying relates it to 12:11–12: blasphemy of the Spirit is failure to utter the message that the Spirit supplies when one is brought before the rulers and synagogues (Creed 1930: 172). The main problem with this view is its lack of connection to the concept in Matthew and Mark.
5. The last view is like view 3, but is more intense: blasphemy of the Spirit is not so much an act of rejection as it is a persistent and decisive rejection of the Spirit’s message and work concerning Jesus. When a person obstinately rejects and fixedly refuses that message or evidence, that person is not forgiven (Plummer 1896: 321; Godet 1875: 2.93–94; Manson 1949: 110). Marshall (1978: 518–19) sees it as a warning to opponents not to deny the Spirit’s work and argues that 12:8–9 deals with apostasy, while 12:10–12 deals with outsiders. Nolland (1993a: 679–80) says it well: blasphemy against the Spirit is “the denial or rejection of the manifest saving intervention of God on behalf of his People.… The one who hardens himself or herself against what God is doing as he acts to save places himself or herself beyond the reach of God’s present disposition of eschatological forgiveness.”

Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51-24:53. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (1140–1141). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

© 2012, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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