“Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit…” I can still remember stumbling across this Gospel passage when I was a young boy. Yikes. It nearly frightened me to death. For several years of my young life I lived in a kind terror that I would accidentally blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and go straight to hell. It’s not that I would do this intentionally. But that was the problem. I was afraid I might goof up and blaspheme by mistake – kind of like if I were to accidentally step on a crack and break my mother’s back, or walk under a ladder, or say or do something which everyone knew was jinxed.
As it turns out, I was not alone. Since the 3rd century, church luminaries have written at great length what Jesus meant about this unforgivable “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” From the earliest times up to the present, there is no agreement in the church – from east to west – on what Jesus meant.
John Wesley, the 18th century Church of England pastor and theologian, thought that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” would be the conclusion that Jesus Christ exercised his miracles by the power of the devil.[i] Wesley asks, rhetorically, “Have you ever been guilty of this, calling good evil and evil good?” He answers his own question: “No, of course you have not.” So, he said, there’s nothing to be afraid of here.
Tom Wright, the contemporary English New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop, says that if we were to call Jesus’ undeniably good work “evil,” we end up in a moral cul-de-sac without any turning room. “Once you declare that the spring of fresh water is in fact polluted, you will never drink from it.” You are stuck, you will dry up. Bishop Wright adds that “the one sure thing about [Jesus’] saying is that if someone is anxious about having committed the [unpardonable] sin against the Holy Spirit, their anxiety is a clear sign that they have not.”[ii]
[i] John Wesley (1703-1791), Church of England clergyman, theologian, evangelist, and brother to Charles Wesley.
[ii] Luke for Everyone, by Tom Wright (SPCK, 2001), pp. 149-150. Nicholas Thomas “Tom” Wright is an English New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop (Durham, 2003-2010), and a prolific author.