What is the “unforgiveable sin” in Mark 3 and Matthew 12?

Take a look at these two puzzling passages from the New Testament.

Mark 3:28-29:

28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Matthew 12:30-32:

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What can it mean?

Well, here’s a post by Dr. Paul Gould to shed some light on it.


Taken in isolation, it is hard to make sense of this passage—how is it that all kinds of sins can be forgiven but one sin will not be forgiven? What is going on here? Well, here is a principle of sound biblical interpretation:

Principle #1: In order to correctly understand a passage, we must always look at it within its context.

And what is the passages context? The broader context can be found in Matthew 12:22-32. In this broader context we read of Jesus performing a miracle (he performs an exorcism and heals a blind and mute man), we read of the crowd’s amazement and wonderment over the identity of Jesus (“Could this be the Son of David?”), we find the slanderous (and murderous) charge of the Pharisees, and we find Jesus’ response to the Pharisees charge (both his reasoned response to their explicit charge that he drives out demons by Satan’s power as well as his warning to the Pharisees if they continue to attribute to Satan what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit).

After looking at this passage in context, we find that the “unforgivable sin” is (basically) attributing what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit to His ultimate enemy, Satan.

Fair enough, you say, but there are other problems passages that talk about the unforgivable sin—Hebrews 6, 1 John 5, and Hebrews 10 come to mind. What about those passages? Well, here is our second principle of biblical interpretation:

Principle #2: Always interpret unclear passages in light of the clear teachings of Scripture (as a whole).

And what is the clear teaching of Scripture related to sin and forgiveness? It is this:

Forgiveness of sins is a consequence of man’s repentance, and repentance is a consequence of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. So in the end, it seems that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is nothing more or less than the unrelenting rejection of His advances.

The only unforgiveable sin is the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s efforts to draw you into a saving relationship with him. What does this mean for you? It means that if you are a Christian and you believe the essentials of the faith, then you aren’t going to be able to lose your salvation by performing sinful actions. Sinful actions will damage you before you die, and you will lose rewards in the after-life, but you won’t be separated from God when you die.

By the way, I do believe in resistible grace, and therefore, I believe that humans are responsible for their choice to refuse God’s drawing them towards him. Many people think that once you are saved, you can’t lose your salvation, but I think that the Bible is very clear that you can, will all the warnings about apostasy and the parable of the seeds, etc. I also think that the Bible is very clear in teaching resistible grace.

5 thoughts on “What is the “unforgiveable sin” in Mark 3 and Matthew 12?”

  1. “The only unforgiveable sin is the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s efforts to draw you into a saving relationship with him.”

    Thank your for this clarification. I’ve heard way too many people apply blasphemy and the unforgivable sin to the wrong things.


  2. Normally WK you’re right on target. This time you’re wrong. Dead wrong. The “unpardonable sin” is clearly defined by “the writer of Hebrews” aka Paul, in chapter 6 of Hebrews. He leaves no room for equivocation on the matter:

    4It is impossible for those who (A) have once been enlightened, who (B) have tasted the heavenly gift, who (C) have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who (D) have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6and who have [then] fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

    And just so we don’t miss the point, in verses 7 and 8 he reiterates in the form of a parable:

    7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

    That is the unpardonable sin. Plain and simple. That is, unless you believe that either a) Hebrews doesn’t pertain to Gentiles, or b) Hebrews isn’t an inspired scriptural writing. I’ve heard both of these excuses as to why chapter 6 doesn’t pertain to the modern Church.


    1. Um, I have no idea what you are talking about there, it’s really unclear. Are you talking about apostasy? Because I would include deliberate apostasy as an example of rejecting God’s attempt to draw you to him through the activity of the Holy Spirit. (I think that the Holy Spirit continues to draw people even when they are Christians, in a process that Protestants call “sanctification”)

      Oh, and Tektonics agrees with me and Paul Gould:


  3. The way I see it, you may wander around in error and end up coming back to God by many different paths, as long as you’re genuinely seeking Him and are only confused or conflicted. But if you set your heart resolutely against Him (declaring that he’s Satan), you’ll always be choosing the path that leads directly away from Him. There will be no hope for you. It’s like someone who insists that all food is poison. Where will he find nourishment? If he insists that liquid is dry, he will try to quench his thirst with deadly dust.


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