Ron Graham of Simply Christians Australia notes that the terms
"unforgivable sin" and "unpardonable sin" do not exist in the Bible.
Thus, salvation is permanent: once saved, always
cites Mark 3:29 which says:
whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never
forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." (Revised Standard
"... he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never
forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation" (King James Version)
Note that the penalty -- guilt of sin or danger of damnation -- is different
in these two translations.
He suggests that this passage, and others in the Bible, refer to an
unforgiven sin, but not necessarily a totally unforgivable sin. He writes:
"Jesus spoke of sin that is 'unforgiven' and 'never forgiven.' He did not
say it was unforgivable. Just as we do not assume that an unloved boy is
unlovable, or an unused tool is unusable, so we should not say that an
unforgiven sin is unforgivable. When Jesus calls a sin unforgiven, even when
he says it can never be forgiven, let us not put words into his mouth and
call the sin unforgivable1
Graham may have a point. It can be argued that The Revised Standard Version
of Mark 3:29a could be interpreted as saying that someone blaspheming against
the Holy Spirit never has had forgiveness. But the sinner could conceivably be
granted forgiveness in the future. Mark 3:29b may imply that he/she may still be
guilty of an eternal sin, but that guilt could be eventually be forgiven.
Mark 3:29a's wording in the King James Version and in the Revised Standard Version
are identical. Mark 3:29b might be interpreted as saying that the sinner is "in
danger of eternal damnation." However, damnation is not necessarily certain.
There might be some wiggle room here.
A search of the King James Version of the New Testament reveals:
17 occurrences in the Gospels of the word "forgive" and 5 of
"forgiveness" (not including Mark 3:29), 13 occurrences of "forgiven" (not
including the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke.
3 occurrences in 2 Corinthians of "forgive"
2 occurrences in Acts of "forgiveness" and 1 of "forgiven"
1 occurrence in 1 John of "forgive," in Ephesians of "forgiveness" and
Colossians of "forgiveness"
5 occurrences in various Epistles of "forgiven" and 2 of "forgiving"
With over 50 references to the concept of forgiving in the Christian
Scriptures, one might conclude that forgiveness is a major theme throughout. God
forgives humans for their sins, and urges humans to do the same to each other.
If Christians adopted Graham's interpretation, then Mark 3:29 and the two
parallels in Matthew and Luke would no longer appear to conflict so radically
with the rest of the Christian Scriptures.
Is it permanently unforgivable?
Matthew 12:31-32 ends with the statement attributed to Jesus that "...
whosoever shall speak against the Holy
Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that
which is to come." (ASV)
Some theologians have suggested that Jesus was speaking during the Jewish
Age, and that his reference to the world to come is to the today's Christian
Age. This passage remains silent about forgiveness after the Christian Age, in
If forgiveness were extended to sinners of the unforgivable sin in the
future, then the three Gospel passages on this sin would be brought into harmony
with the general theme of forgiveness found elsewhere in the Christian
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