What is the unpardonable sin?

All comments relevant to this post, should be made at this chap’s blog. It’s only fair. He started it. 🙂

In a recent post, this author interpreted Matthew 12:32 as meaning:

It was not the Pharisees’ criticism of Christ that was the problem – it was their criticism of the Power by which Christ did what He did; the same Power by which Believers are to move in (and, according to Christ in John 14:12, in more remarkable ways than even He moved in – this is a message for today).

So, when a brother “speaks in a tongue, writes a song, donates to charity,” etc and you judge falsely you could “surrender your seat for a few ill thought and fool-hardy words.”

I have serious problems with this interpretation. Some assorted points:

1) I find it at odds with NT exhortations to judge false teachers and for shepherds to guard their flocks. We are all fallible. Our leaders are fallible. There has to be some margin of error allowed for judging error. If not, wouldn’t all leaders who take the NT commands to shepherd their people seriously be in danger of hell?

2) If this interpretation is correct then we’re all screwed. Who here has not mocked a Christian author, movement or belief? And this even as Christians. What about before we knew Christ? Who hasn’t mocked Christ and the Spirit’s work? Isn’t the cross a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek?

3) How does Paul factor into this? Consider Acts 8:1-3 and 9:1-20. Paul clearly did what this author is exhorting us not to do. Yet, I’m pretty sure Paul is hanging with Jesus right now.

4) Look at the parallel account in Luke 12 where the unpardonable sin is seen as denying Christ. What do we do then with the repentant Christ-denying Peter?

5) Interpretation of this text needs to make clear the significance of why it is ok to speak a word against Christ but not the Spirit. Steve Hays is right to suggest that this probably has something to do with corroborated and uncorroborated testimony. There is an OT principle taken up and affirmed by Jesus that one shouldn’t believe something without corroborating evidence (Deut. 9:15; Matt. 8.16). This is why it’s more heinous to reject the Spirit because it’s the Spirit who corroborates Christ’s self testimony.

6) What are the similarities between Christians who struggle with texts like these and the Pharisees? Not much. Consider – we’re not people who never accepted the claims of Christ. Also, there is no evidence as to whether the Pharisees ever fretted over whether they had committed this sin, unlike the many Christians who are frightened by this text.

7) One commenter had it right on Hays blog: As John Frame says in his Intro to Systematic Theology book (Salvation Belongs To The Lord), if you’re worried that you’ve committed the unforgivable sin, you can be assured that you probably haven’t.

8. So who does this text apply to? Both texts that speak of the unpardonable sin have two descriptions in common: a) the person should have known better; b) the sin has to do with public testimony. Considering all the other texts I briefly looked at it seems Hays is right (again) to conclude that the text most probably applies to: “an apostate, a public enemy of the faith, and/or someone who never made profession of faith, but is in a position to know better.”

9) One of the most important thing to remember in discussing things like this from a pastoral perspective is the importance of this promise from 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”