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What Is Blasphemy?
“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be
forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be
forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it
will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit,
it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to
come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)
It should be in a particular sense of seriousness that we explore the subject of blasphemy, because in part there are unforgivable elements associated with this particular sin. Blasphemy is defined, in word or deed, as injury, defiance, and defiance offered to God. It is referring to that which God says is good and righteous as though it is an evil thing. Generally speaking blasphemy is speaking anything that is untrue, impious and reviling. As Jesus said it, it is to “speak a word against…”
There are in fact a few sins of which we, in New Testament times, are given particularly strong warning against. The writer of Hebrews warned about the danger of falling away and becoming unfaithful after we, “have been once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come…” He wrote that it is impossible, “if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6). John also wrote about sin that leads to death suggesting that if we become aware of a brother in Christ “sinning” (present tense) this kind of sin that we should not even attempt to pray for that brother. He does not reveal what the particular sin is that leads to death. In contrast, however, he wrote that if we pray for a brother who is sinning a sin that does not lead to death that God will give that brother life. There are many of these and other passages that are difficult for us to understand but as troubling as they are to us we should be comforted by the many contrasting passages that secure hope for those in Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit…” (Romans 8:1). And to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Writing about his own experiences in sin, Paul wrote, “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 1:13-14). The only defense against blasphemy is faith and obedience. We should give ourselves every hope of salvation so that no matter what we have done and of which we are guilty we rely on the exceedingly abundant grace of our Lord.
In the book of Leviticus a situation is recorded about a young man whose father was Egyptian and whose mother was an Israelite. The young man was living among the Israelites and on this occasion he got into a fight with an Israelite man. During the fight the young Egyptian “blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed.” (Leviticus 24:11). The witnesses brought the young man to Moses and the Lord instructed Moses saying, “Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land…” (verses 15-16). The penalty for blasphemy, under the Old Testament, was death.
I think the best way to get a good understanding of what blasphemy is would be to examine some examples from the Old and the New Testaments. One of the most poignant examples in the Old Testament appears in the book of 2Kings. The Assyrian armies under the leadership of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had conquered many cities and nations. Sennacherib then set his mind on conquering Jerusalem. He sent a message to Hezekiah, king of Judah to either submit or be destroyed. Sennacherib said to the people of Jerusalem, “Do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations at all delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (2Kings 18:32-33). When Isaiah the prophet learned of Sennacherib’s message he sent word to Hezekiah saying, ”Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his won land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” (19:6-7). A few nights later the Lord sent His angel into the Assyrian camp and killed one hundred and eighty five thousand of their soldiers. Sennacherib was so disturbed by this that he returned home to Nineveh. While he was worshipping in the temple of his god, “his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword…” (19:35-37). It does not pay to blaspheme the one true God.
In the New Testament, the apostle Peter, writing about the depravity of false teachers, compared them to “natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed…” and wrote that they, “Speak evil of things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption…” (2Peter 2:12). The Greek word translated “speak evil of” is that from which we get our word blaspheme. Peter went on to write of these same false teachers, “When they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage…” (2:18-19). Not only are the false teachers doomed to perish in their own blasphemous corruption, but those Christians who are overcome by them and become associated with blasphemers are doomed as well. Peter wrote, “The latter end is worse for them than the beginning…” (v. 20ff).
Jesus was accused of blasphemy on several occasions. When He publicly announced to a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven the scribes who were present denounced Him as a blasphemer. Jesus, however, silenced the crowd and proved His authority to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. On another occasion the Jews demanded that Jesus tell them plainly whether or not He was the Christ. Jesus declared to them that the works He did in His Father’s name bore witness of His identity. He concluded then that He and the Father are one. Having said this the Jews took up stones to stone Him. Before He escaped our of their hand, Jesus said to them, “Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God.’? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:36-38). Finally, Jesus was led away to be crucified, the charge against Him, blasphemy, because He had answered to the Sanhedrin, “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:62). Certainly if a man claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, without offering any proof and without acting in a manner consistent with prophesy and divinity that man would be guilty of blasphemy and under the statute of the Law of Moses would be deserving of death, but in Jesus’ case the true blasphemers were those who saw the proof and knew the prophets and with self-serving motivation denied the power of God. In the most tragic irony the very law that God initiated as a warning to those who would dare blaspheme against Him was used falsely to convict His only begotten Son. It is no wonder therefore that God is still strong in His warnings against blasphemy. It is no wonder that God is so protective of those who wear His name. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7).