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The unforgivable / eternal / unpardonable sin

What is the unforgivable sin?
Interpretations #1 to 12, all different.

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What exactly is the unforgivable sin?

The three synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke state that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is considered the one sin that God will not forgive. But what precisely is "blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?" Theologians have been debating this question for centuries. Many commentaries and guides to the Bible ignore or gloss over these three critical passages.

A proper interpretation is critical to the Christian who believes in the inerrancy (freedom of error) of the scriptures. A major theme found throughout the Christian Scriptures are the horrors of eternal torture in Hell that awaits the unsaved. Believers need to know what behavior is unforgivable in order to avoid committing the sin and thus losing their personal salvation.

To prepare this essay, and two others to follow, we used various search strings in Google:

  • "unforgivable sin" produced about 387,000 hits
  • "eternal sin" produced about 167,000 hits
  • "unpardonable sin" produced about 305,000 hits

Needless to say, we only analyzed those near the the top of the search.

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Interpretations 1 to 12 of the unforgivable sin, in random order:

  1. Saying the Holy spirit cannot perform exorcisms: Some pastors feel that the verses in Matthew and Mark refers back earlier text which describe Jesus casting demons out of possessed people. They believe that this type of blaspheming is done when a person states or believes that the Holy Spirit is incapable of performing exorcisms, even after they have observed it happening before their eyes.

  2. Attributing Holy Spirit activity to Satan: Other sources believe that this form of blasphemy arises when one attributes to Satan deeds that are actually done by the Holy Spirit. 1

  3. Demons performed exorcisms: Some suggest that this sin occurs when a person believes that demons, rather than Jesus, expelled other demons from possessed people and animals. They point out that this could only have happened when Jesus was on Earth -- that is, in the first century CE.

  4. Inattentiveness to the Holy Spirit: Still others say that it is a "failure to listen to the Holy Spirit in the hour of trial." 2

  5. Denying part of the Bible: "Elijah," author of "The Underground Bible" writes:

    "... contradicting or denying anything written in the Bible is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit: which is the only sin Jesus did not die on the cross to forgive: it is the only sin that will never be forgiven in this world or the world to come." 3

  6. Permanently rejecting Jesus: Henry Morris defines the unforgivable sin as:

    "... rejecting Christ with such finality that no future repentance is possible. ... demonstrating an attitude permanently resistant to the [Holy] Spirit, and to the deity and saving Gospel of Christ." 4

  7. Rejecting message of the Holy Spirit: Robert Wells explains that the unforgivable sin occurs in only a very special case: when the Holy Spirit is attempting to bring the Word of God to a person, and she/he rejects it. 5

  8. Dying unsaved: James Akin provides many quotes from St. Augustine where he discussed the unforgivable sin. 6 Augustine wrote:
    • "he who dies in a state of obstinacy is guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost." 7
    • "impenitence is a sin against the Holy Ghost." 8
    • "to resist fraternal goodness with the brands of envy is to sin against the Holy Ghost" 9

  9. Persisting in evil: James Akin quotes a statement by John Paul II:

    "... it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross. If man rejects the 'convincing concerning sin' which comes from the Holy Spirit and which has the power to save, he also rejects the 'coming' of the Counselor. ... Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a 'right' to persist in evil -- in any sin at all." 10

  10. Apostasy after having fully known God: Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as the LDS Church, or The Mormons) defines the unforgivable sin as the acts of receiving the Holy Spirit, fully accepting the Spirit's teachings as true, and then subsequently & intentionally rejecting them. Smith wrote:

    "All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it." 11

  11. Apostasy, infidelity, schism, and/or heresy: James Akin defines the unforgivable sin as one or more of these four sins. He writes:

    "Like the parallel sins against faith -- infidelity, schism, and heresy -- it only becomes an unforgivable sin if one dies in it. Until death it is always possible, God willing, for an infidel to convert, for a schismatic to return from his schism, for a heretic to renounce his heresy, and for an apostate to re-embrace the faith of Christ." 12

  12. Theologians equating the Holy Spirit and Satan: Rev. Ken Collins writes:

    "... in my opinion, the unforgivable sin, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, consists in misusing one's training and education in the Scriptures to publicly and knowingly slander the Holy Spirit by misleading people into thinking that He is Satan. ... This is not the sort of sin that an ordinary person can commit. Blasphemy is deliberate, public slander. In order to commit this sin, you have to be in a position of learned authority. 13

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Interpretations 13 to 24 are located elsewhere.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. W.A. Quanbeck, "The Letter to the Hebrews" in C.M.Laymon, "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN (1971), Page 905.
  2. Sorry, we have lost this citation.
  3. From "THE UNDERGROUND BIBLE," Chapter 11, Section 2, Part A, at: This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
  4. Henry M. Morris, "The Defender's Study Bible," World Bible Publishers, (1995)
  5. Robert Wells, "The Unforgivable sin," at:
  6. Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, Trans., "The Gospel of Thomas," The Gnostic Society Library, at:
  7. Augustine, "Enchiridion," lxxxiii."
  8. Augustine, "De Verb. Dom., Serm lxxi."
  9. Augustine, "De Serm. Dom. in Monte xxii."
  10. John Paul II, "The Lord and Giver of Life," Pages 46 &47.
  11. Joseph Smith, "The King Follett Sermon," Ensign, 1971-MAY, Page 13. Online at:
  12. James Akin, "The Unforgivable Sin," Eternal Word Television Network, at:
  13. Ken Collins, "The Unforgivable Sin," at:
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Copyright 2006 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2006-OCT-24
Latest update: 2013-JUN-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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